Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’
Monday, October 5th, 2015
In Atlanta this weekend, negotiators rushed through a deal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and working families were quick to respond, asking why the deal has to be rushed when there are many unanswered questions, and demanding that the details of the agreement be released as soon as possible so the people most affected by the deal—working people—know what to expect. Here are the responses from the AFL-CIO and other working family organizations.
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president:
We are disappointed that our negotiators rushed to conclude the TPP in Atlanta, given all the concerns that have been raised by American stakeholders and members of Congress. The Administration had a hard time reaching this deal for good reasons: it appears that many problematic concessions were made in order to finalize the deal. We ask the Administration to release the text immediately, and urge legislators to exercise great caution in evaluating the TPP. As we’ve said, rushing through a bad deal will not bring economic stability to working families, nor will it bring confidence that our priorities count as much as those of global corporations. We will evaluate the details carefully and work to defeat this corporate trade deal if it does not measure up.
Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA):
Negotiators from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal countries, meeting in Atlanta, have announced an agreement. Despite all the hype, and given what we’ve learned over the past many months and years of negotiations, it’s clear that this TPP remains a bad deal for working families and communities. The corporate lobbyists who make up the majority of U.S. trade advisers have been pushing hard for an agreement, mainly because they’ve known all along that what’s in the TPP represents a sweet deal for multinational corporations and the 1 percent. For the rest of us—U.S. working families and communities, and workers in the other TPP countries—this agreement is bad news.
Despite broad promises from the Obama administration and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman that the deal would deliver for middle-class families, working people know that TPP would be a disaster. It would continue the offshoring of jobs and weakening of our communities that started under the North American Free Trade Agreement and hasn’t stopped. It would mean labor and environmental standards that look good on paper but fall flat when it comes to enforcement. It’s a corporate dream but a nightmare for those of us on Main Street.
We’re still very concerned about the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process. The window dressing changes adopted in Atlanta don’t change the fact that corporations still have an extra-judicial process—ISDS 0151to enforce their rights. That’s not the case for labor and environmental standards. And we’re concerned that the protections given to pharmaceutical companies will mean that life-saving drugs won’t be affordable for millions. Before the TPP is put to a full vote in Congress, there must be adequate time for full review and discussion. Even on the quickest timetable, a vote that can’t happen until early 2016. Few members of Congress will want to vote in an election year on the mass giveaway of U.S. jobs that this TPP allows. CWA and our allies will be certain to hold accountable those members of Congress who support this giveaway to the 1 percent.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW):
The only good thing about a TPP agreement being reached is that the American people will finally be able to read every line of this deal. Given what we already know from leaked drafts, we should prepare for the worst, and expect even worse than that. This deal will most likely fail to address currency manipulation, offer big pharmaceutical corporations unacceptable protections that will limit access to life-saving medicine and threaten every hardworking American family with job losses and lower wages. How could this be good for America? Contrary to the rosy rhetoric and false promises, a long history of trade agreements proves that the TPP will have a devastating impact upon our families, our jobs and this nation. In the coming months, hardworking men and women who are a part of the UFCW family will be pushing every member of Congress—Republican and Democrat—to see the harmful effects of this deal through the eyes of everyday American families. Make no mistake, this fight is not over.
R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the Machinists (IAM):
As a labor union whose members build products that are exported all over the world, the IAM has always taken a strong interest in the development and growth of international trade. We know firsthand that trade done right will improve living standards and strengthen our economy to the benefit of all Americans. Unfortunately, the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) represents a new low in corporate dominance of our nation’s trade agenda. Despite the rhetoric, this deal represents a step backward in efforts to achieve effective labor standards and human rights. Negotiated in secret by and for multinational corporations that have no allegiance to any flag or country, the TPP will facilitate the export of American jobs to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Mexico, which lack fundamental labor rights, some of which even engage in slave labor. Reports of a secret side agreement with Vietnam are especially offensive to anyone who takes internationally recognized labor standards seriously.
Earlier this year, Congress passed Fast Track legislation that laid out an ambitious set of negotiating goals that we, and others, warned were completely unenforceable. Reports indicate that we were correct in our assumption about the congressional negotiating goals; the U.S. Trade Representative simply ignored them. Although the agreement has not been made public yet, these reports indicate that, substandard labor standards remain weak and ineffective, currency manipulation has not been effectively addressed, rules of origin for autos are greatly weakened, access to affordable medicines is reduced, post Great Recession financial regulations were made less effective and secret non-governmental tribunals will interpret and enforce the agreement. As job and income growth continue to stagnate, Americans know that the economic system is rigged against them and the TPP is just the latest example. Congress must put the American people first and reject this deeply flawed trade agreement.
National Nurses United:
National Nurses United today urged Congress members to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership final agreement, warning there remains inadequate guarantees to assure patients and consumers will not be harmed by pharmaceutical price gouging.
NNU, the nation’s largest organization of nurses, says it also opposes any trade agreement that permits transnational corporations to use extra-legal proceedings to overturn public laws and regulations, the Investor State Dispute Settlement corporate tribunals seen in prior trade deals.
The nurses said they are in full agreement with Sen. Bernie Sanders who said today, that “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”
While full details of the final pact remain murky, “there is simply no basis for any concessions that give the pharmaceutical corporations a green light to continue pricing patients in the U.S. or other countries out of affordable medications,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN.
Recent outrage over the decision of one pharmaceutical CEO, Martin Shrkeli to jack up prices by 5,000 percent on Duraprim, an anti-infection drug critical for people with weakened immune systems, “symbolizes why we need to close down on the handouts to big pharma, not give them greater monopoly control over high prices,” Ross noted.
With profits for the five largest pharmaceutical corporations topping $56 billion last year alone, and increased reporting on how much of the “innovation” drug companies claim they need is actually financed with taxpayer subsidies, “no one should be assisting the price gouging that puts patients’ lives at risk,” Ross said.
Ross cited concerns voiced by economist Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Hirsh who warned last week about the U.S. insistence on TPP language that permits the drug companies to maintain “their monopolies on patented medicines, keep cheaper generics off the market, and block ‘biosimilar’ competitors from introducing new medicines.”
The nurses “will also protest any agreement that allows any corporation to sue a government for ‘lost’ profits due to laws or regulations that establish public protections,” Ross added. News reports today said that the final TPP agreement had excluded tobacco companies from ISDS, which have committed some of the most notorious abuses under the corporate tribunals. “Why just tobacco when you have had many other corporate giants exploiting the same disgraceful extra-legal proceedings, Ross said. “No corporation should ever have the right to override laws that protect public safety.”
Professional and Technical Engineers:
Negotiators from the United States, Canada and 10 other countries reached an agreement in principle on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the ‘free trade agreement’ that has essentially been negotiated in secret over the last several years.
Representing workers across North America, IFPTE has and will continue to oppose TPP, which has been dubbed “NAFTA on steroids.” Unless major changes were included by negotiators, the pact’s contents are designed to primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers, domestic manufacturers, and IFPTE members’ local and national economies and communities. The TPP is likely to further exacerbate the loss of well-paying jobs in both the Canadian and US manufacturing sectors, grant foreign corporations rights to contest local and national laws and regulations, and undermine financial regulations. TPP further perpetuates the global race to the bottom as TPP nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei have shown little to no commitment to international standards of human and workers’ rights. The trade agreements that TPP is modeled after have repeatedly failed to enforce language on labor and environmental standards.
IFPTE and its members will continue to urge legislators in Congress and Parliament to oppose ratification of TPP when it comes before their respective chambers.
Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW):
Since negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) started, the cleared advisers of the USW have devoted substantial resources and time to working with the trade negotiators responsible for developing and advancing U.S. interests in the trade talks. Because the USW is the largest industrial union in North America, we see the real-life effects of trade policy every day. That is why we are paying close attention to the provisions that have the potential to harm the majority of our membership.
From what we know, the draft TPP threatens the future of production and employment. It compromises the so-called 21st century standards that were supposed to form the foundation for this agreement. It will deal a critical blow to workers and their standard of living in the United States. Although the final text has not been made available and will contain some new bells and whistles; from what we have seen and know, at its core the hastily concluded TPP deal will simply continue today’s outdated, disastrous approach to trade. This TPP deal shouldn’t even be submitted to Congress and, if it is, it should be quickly rejected.
You only have to look at the consistently dismal job numbers in manufacturing to understand what every manufacturing worker already knows. We have been on the losing end of trade deals. Once again, it appears that misguided foreign policy and global corporate interests have trumped sound economics and the opportunity to get things right. Our negotiators are trying to beat the clock to close a deal so they can rush it through Congress before next year’s elections.
TPP is sold as a way for the United States to write the rules of trade before China does. In many areas, the agreement fails this objective and the language on rules of origin will put a smile on the faces of China’s leaders. China didn’t get to write the rules in their favor because our American negotiators did it for them. The rule of origin on autos governs how much of a vehicle’s content must be produced by the twelve TPP countries to get the preferential treatment the TPP will provide. In this quickly concluded deal on rules of origin, Chinese-produced auto parts could account for more than a majority of a car’s parts and still get sweetheart treatment. While China is not as yet a party to the twelve-nation TPP, the TPP is designed so that other countries can join.
In many other areas critical to workers, U.S. negotiators refused to take the advice that was provided to them time and time again by the representatives of working people. But while supporters tout the deal, those promises will fall on deaf ears. Workers across this country have had to fight to get our trade rules enforced in the face of inadequate enforcement and constant cheating by our trading partners.
Even the best rules, which were not included in TPP, if unenforced, are essentially worthless. How trade rules are implemented, how we monitor imports, obtain market access for our exports and how we enforce our rules are all critical to any deal’s success. So far, there has been no progress or willingness of the Administration to even discuss specific steps that could be taken. TPP may be the final blow to manufacturing in America. Our producers and workers are under siege from other nations’ massive overproduction, foreign currency devaluation, our own lack of long-term infrastructure investment and the strong dollar.
Therefore, trade policy is not the only issue that determines what the economic prospects will be for working people. But, trade is the critical link to the world economy and global pressures are being felt in virtually every occupation and in every workplace.
Unions weren’t the only ones to express concern about TPP, Ford Motor Co. said the following via press release:
As a top U.S. exporter, Ford supports free trade agreements that result in real market openings and a level playing field for all to compete. Within the U.S. Congress, there is bipartisan consensus that currency manipulation needs to be meaningfully addressed. This summer, U.S. lawmakers took unprecedented action to set a clear negotiating objective for addressing currency manipulation in all future trade deals. The TPP fails to meet that test. To ensure the future competitiveness of American manufacturing, we recommend Congress not approve TPP in its current form, and ask the Administration to renegotiate TPP and incorporate strong and enforceable currency rules. This step is critical to achieving free trade in the 21st century.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on October 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
Monday, September 21st, 2015
Corporate America has been tireless in trying to sharply limit, or simply eliminate, all class action lawsuits. When corporations break the law by doing things such as not paying workers for time they work, paying women less than men, or by violating privacy rights in willful ways, Corporate America knows that workers and consumers can band together in a class action. If that ability to organize is taken away, however, in a great many cases consumers and workers will not be able to fight illegal conduct at all.On too many occasions, corporations that don’t want to be hemmed in by consumer protection and civil rights laws have found a willing partner in battling those actions among the five conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court. On several key occasions in recent years, the Court has invented new rules of federal law that have sharply limited when individuals can join together and enforce the law through class actions.
Things could get much worse, though. There are no less than three cases in the Court’s upcoming term that could be disastrous for consumers, workers and small businesses cheated by anti-competitive behavior that violates antitrust and other laws. In each of the three cases, the plaintiffs won in the trial court under laws that have been on the books for years and accepted by nearly all of the lower courts. In each case, Corporate America is asking the Supreme Court to invent a new federal law that would immunize them.
These are the three cases, and questions, the Court will tackle in the coming weeks.
Tyson v. Bouaphaekeo: Should Courts Ignore Statistical Evidence If It Proves a Corporation Broke the Law?
As part of their job, meat processing employees in an Iowa plant had to put on and take off certain protective clothes when they were working in an area using certain knives. Tyson Foods estimated it would take four minutes to do these tasks, and that’s all it paid them for. In fact, it takes a lot longer. That’s why a jury found that Tyson owed workers $5.8 million for underpaying its employees. (This is what we would call “wage theft.”)
One of the pieces of evidence the jury considered was a statistical sample of 744 observations of employees putting on and taking off the protective gear. That data clearly showed that it took far longer than the four minutes Tyson claimed. Tyson now says that using this statistical evidence was illegal, because it was a “trial by formula.” Tyson now says it should be able to have an individual trial for every single employee, and that using a sample of 744 observations is improper.
That’s a pretty staggering idea. Courts have allowed juries and judges to infer facts from statistical evidence for decades; the idea that no jury could consider statistical evidence without it being a supposedly illegal “trial by formula” is radical. Our military and intelligence services use statistical analyses in their national security strategies, and pharmaceutical and medical companies all rely upon statistical analyses of results and observations in their work, too. They do because it has been shown to be effective. Now, Tyson is arguing that when it comes to proving a corporation violated the law in a class action, courts should pretend that in that one context, statistical analyses of data is banned. This is pretty convenient for corporations engaged in wage theft, but it makes no sense at all as a matter of law.
Spokeo v. Robins: Should the Court Essentially Repeal Hundreds of Statutes that Let People Sue for Set Sums When a Company Breaks the Law?
Spokeo is a company that “scrapes” information from a variety of sources on the internet, and then sells it to people who want to find out about others. In this case, the plaintiff says Spokeo got a lot of facts wrong about him: his age, education, employment and marital status, and a number of other facts. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if an agency that gathers information about people sells false information about someone; and willfully uses lousy procedures that are likely to make substantial mistakes, they have to pay a set amount (up to $1,000) to any consumer about whom they made a false statement. The consumer doesn’t have to prove they lost money or suffered physical injury because of the false statement. Congress just presumed that it would bad for consumers to have corporations lying about them and wanted to discourage corporations from willfully doing so.
This idea of “statutory damages” is a very old one in American law, and is included in literally hundreds of statutes. That’s because, if someone lies about you, how can you put a number on how much it hurt you? So rather than bar victims of this kind of illegal act from receiving anything, legislatures give them a flat dollar figure, as sort of rough justice.
Now, Corporate America is asking the Supreme Court to say that if an individual can’t prove in what it calls a “concrete way” just how much they were harmed because of a lie, that the Constitution says they were not injured at all. In an extremely clever but very ugly feat of focus group politics, corporate advocates call this a “no injury” case, and say that the hundreds of statutes that Congress passed creating statutory damages for hard-to-measure injuries are all unconstitutional.
This would be a sweet deal for corporations that willfully create procedures through which they report false things about consumers, and if Spokeo wins, it will suddenly become much easier for corporations to violate Americans’ privacy. If the Supreme Court does invent this new rule of law, it will essentially strike down hundreds of existing laws (talk about activism!) by doing so.
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez: Does the Constitution Authorize Corporations to Bribe Named Class Representatives to Sell Out Everybody Else?
The basic idea of a class action is that one or more people are going to come forward on behalf of everyone in a group who’s been treated a certain way. The people who bring the case are called the “named class representatives,” and they have an obligation to protect the interests and stick up for everyone whom they’re representing. The idea is not that someone files a case and says “I’m suing for a group of people who were all cheated the same way, but if you pay me off, I’ll toss them all under the bus and just take some money for myself.”
But in Campbell-Ewald, that is exactly the argument the defendant is making. The corporation wants to pay off the named class representative by offering the exact amount of money he is owed under the law, and then argues that the Constitution magically requires that every other person who has a claim disappear.
First, this argument runs exactly counter to the core idea that the named class representative is supposed to adequately represent everyone else in the class. As a system, we want the people who come forward on behalf of a class to take their obligations to the rest of the class seriously. We want people who know that it’s not all about them, but that it’s about protecting the rights of a group.
Second, the defendant’s repulsive argument here encourages the worst kind of game playing. Are you a corporation who’s been caught red-handed, cheating a crowd of people? Well, under this theory, you can just pay off the people who step forward to bring a case one by one. You’llnever have to pay off anywhere near all of the people you cheated. (If there’s no class action, no one will ever be able to find them all, explain to them what happened, and get them to come forward). So, corporations just have to individually pay off the people who step forward. The laws won’t be enforced, and the corporation will get to keep nearly all the money it took. Is that justice? Maybe it’s considered justice in the board rooms of corporations that break the law and cheat people, but nowhere else.
So What Will Happen?
It’s really hard to know. There is no doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court has five justices who have a very strong deregulatory impulse; they seem to feel that we have way too many laws protecting consumers and workers, and they don’t mind reining them in. On the other hand, even the five pro-corporate justices on this Court sometimes fail to get a full majority to support very radical changes in the law. When the Court was asked to basically eliminate nearly all class actions in cases involving securities fraud a few years ago, that was a bridge too far for the majority. The betting here is that Corporate America has asked for too much in each of these cases: they want rulings that are so radical, so counter to what the law has been for years, that there won’t be five votes to let them get away with such behavior. But if I’m wrong, we’re in fora lot of trouble.
This Blog originally appeared on Public Justice and was reprinted by Daily Kos on September 21, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author: Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.
Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
UNITE HERE Local 54 members speak to the press outside of their “strike pod.”
While Donald Trump’s push for the Republican nomination for president is showing no signs of slowing, worker unrest at a hotel and casino that bear his name appears near the boiling point. Strike preparations have begun for over 1,100 non-gaming casino employees at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 54, gathered near their local headquarters last Tuesday to load strike materials like bullhorns, signs and drums into a storage container in a public attempt to prove to management that they are ready and willing to strike over large compensation package cuts that occurred last year.
The Trump Taj Mahal has been at the mercy of billionaire investor Carl Icahn since 2009, when bankruptcy led Donald Trump to cut ties with the casino and resort’s operator, Trump Entertainment Resorts. After months of courtroom drama, Trump exchanged the rights to his name and likeness over to Icahn (who Trump has mentioned in recent months as a possible cabinet member if he were elected president) in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the restructured company.
While Trump has run into his own problems in Las Vegas, where workers at his current gaming jewel, the Trump Casino, have started a union drive (though Trump is adamant that his workers love him), conditions at his namesake in Atlantic City have deteriorated into escalated conflict between new management and the organized hotel housekeepers, bartenders, servers, cooks, and sanitation workers at the Trump Taj Mahal.
Since Icahn began his attempt to gain control of Trump’s Atlantic City gaming empire, the unionized workers at the Trump Taj Mahal have consistently derided Icahn’s alleged role in driving the casino-hotel toward bankruptcy, with workers and UNITE HERE arguing that Icahn, as Trump’s main debt holder, pushed higher interest rates onto the company as a way to reach personal profit of hundreds of millions of dollars and ultimately maneuver into ownership position.
In October 2014, Icahn successfully gained permission from a bankruptcy judge to end company contributions to health care and pension benefits as a way of cost-cutting, saying it would help keep the casino-resort open. “Workers were stripped of their health and retirement benefits; they even cut paid lunch breaks. Our calculation was that the average full-time worker would lose approximately $12,000 over the course of the year as a result of these cuts,” says UNITE HERE spokesperson Ben Begleiter.
UNITE HERE Local 54 contends that the bankruptcy court was out of its jurisdiction with the decision, and because Icahn has declined to renew the union’s contract since its expiration in September, the matter is a labor dispute fit for the NLRB, who has since agreed in a January statement. The union’s case against the cuts is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
A survey of workers conducted by UNITE HERE in March found that 44 percent of responding workers, who had previously been covered under a health care plan since their first day of employment, no longer had health insurance. This was a much-valued health care package that had led workers over the past decade to accept near-stagnant wages in order to maintain their health benefits.
“I’ve been part of the negotiating committee for the past 11 years, and I voted to have my pay frozen numerous times in order to preserve our health insurance. I got one 25-cents-an-hour raise in the past decade,” says Paul Smith, a surveyed cook, who has been at the site for 21 years. “In 2005, I had a massive heart attack. The bill was over $1 million. If I hadn’t had the union health insurance, I would have been destroyed financially. Right now, my health is out of whack. I need three surgeries, which is difficult because I have no insurance since Icahn took it away.”
The survey also claimed to shed light on the mental toll of out-of-reach health care, finding that at least 70 percent of participating workers suffered from symptoms of depression at least every other day.
Dr. Alan Glaseroff, Co-Director of Stanford Coordinated Care and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, reviewed the results and commented: “Strictly from a financial perspective, depression as an ‘add-on’ condition combined with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions more than doubles the cost of treating those illnesses, making the lack of coverage an even greater problem for patients and those paying for and providing their care.”
When the October cuts were announced, 24 people were arrested staging a sit-in and shutting down traffic in front of the Trump Taj Mahal. In June, 68 more were arrested for participating in a similar action. Workers authorized the union’s contract negotiating committee to a call a strike if necessary on July 16, a decision that was followed up by reports that the Trump Taj Mahal was preparing to take on several hundred replacement workers.
Casino-hotel employees in Atlantic City last went on strike in 2004 when 10,000 UNITE HERE Local 54 members walked out for over a month at seven different locations; Trump’s casino-hotels workers did not participate in this strike. The Trump Taj Mahal and the Tropicana Entertainment, Icahn’s other bankruptcy capture in Atlantic City, are currently the only casino-hotels in the city working with an expired contract. The possibility remains open for Local 54 members at Tropicana to go on strike as well.
Workers like Hannah Taleb, a casino-hotel employee in Pittsburgh, allege that Icahn’s hardball tactics are an effort to lower workers’ standards throughout the industry. “If the standards are lowered in Atlantic City, how can I expect to fight for high standards in my city? All casino workers are linked in that way,” Taleb told the Press of Atlantic City before being arrested in June’s intersection-shut-down.
Icahn has a history of eliminating worker benefits at various companies he’s acquired over his years, building a reputation of as a corporate raider. “Mr. Icahn is worth more than $20 billion, but two months before the contract for PSC’s union workers was scheduled to expire in late 2013, management told them that it was dropping their health insurance benefits and that they would have to buy their own insurance through the new exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act,” the New York Times reported last December. Unsurprisingly, Icahn was the one of the inspirations for the Gordon Gecko character made famous by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
“Jobs that provided benefits, that were middle-class jobs where a worker could support a family on [are] part of the promise of casino gaming,” Begleiter says. “Casino gaming in Atlantic City is unlike any other industry in the state, because it’s an industry that came into existence by a vote of the people of New Jersey to change the constitution—specifically to rebuild Atlantic City. That means in part, making sure that it provided for workers,” Begleiter says.
As the protests expand and the so-called “strike pod” storage container is filled up with the essentials, the workers at Trump Taj Mahal say they are ready to defend their share of that promise.
This blog was originally posted on In These Times on August 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at [email protected]
Monday, February 23rd, 2015
A new AFL-CIO report released today finds that four nations that would be major players under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are out of compliance with international labor standards and, therefore, with the commitments they would undertake under the TPP. The report—The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Four Countries That Don’t Comply with U.S. Trade Laws—finds that workers in Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei face ongoing and systematic abuse and violations of workers’ rights with the complicity or direct involvement of the governments.
The Obama administration is pressing Congress to grant it Fast Track trade authority for the TPP, the largest Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in history. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO is pressuring lawmakers to hold potential trading partners to comply with U.S. trade laws and international labor standards.
Under Fast Track, the public, lawmakers and others would have no input in a trade deal that would grant countries with troubling human and labor rights records greater trading privileges without having to first undertake fundamental reforms.
The highest labor standards the United States has embedded in FTAs require parties at a minimum to adopt and implement laws that protect the rights enshrined in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
The report points out that previous FTAs have forced countries to compete on the basis of lowering labor costs and attracting business by ignoring, or in some cases actively interfering with, the fundamental labor rights.
By not requiring fundamental changes of these countries first, the TPP gives away leverage that could be used to protect workers and raise standards. If workers do not have the legal freedoms to act collectively, they will not be able to exert the power needed to raise wages, increase worker protections or gain the social policies necessary for the creation of a middle class and broadly shared prosperity.
Tell Congress to stop Fast Track on the TPP because we should not turn a blind eye to countries that abuse workers.
Here are just some of the ways the four nations violate these core labor standards:
Mexico is currently facing a human and labor rights crisis. The recent disappearance of 43 students, now declared dead, from the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, by local police and criminal gangs is a horrific example of violence, corruption and dissolution of the rule of law. Corruption, abuse and impunity are also root causes of the near absence of genuine industrial relations in Mexico, which artificially depresses wages and limits economic growth. Many workers are covered by collective agreements (“protection contracts”) they have never seen or ratified through a vote. When workers attempt to organize independent unions, employer-dominated unions respond with threats and intimidation. Further, child labor, forced labor and inhumane working conditions exist on farms that export fresh produce into the United States, which is then sold at major retailers, including Walmart and Safeway.
Malaysia has grave problems with forced labor and human trafficking, especially in the electronics, garment and palm oil sector, which also contains child labor. Malaysia currently has the lowest possible ranking—tier 3—in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, meaning the government “does not fully comply with the minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so.” Because of this pervasive exploitation, virtually everyone who regularly uses electronics in the United States has come in contact with forced labor. Some of the most recognizable electronics brands source components from Malaysia, where about 28% of electronics workers toil in conditions of forced labor.
Vietnam has an authoritarian government that tightly controls political rights, freedom of speech and other civil liberties. The government maintains a prohibition on independent human rights organizations and other civil society groups and restricts union activity outside the official unions affiliated with the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), which actually controls the union registration process. Vietnam also has significant problems with forced labor and child labor in the production of bricks and garments, Many of the clothes produced in Vietnam contain textiles from small workshops subcontracted to larger factories. These workshops frequently use child labor, including forced labor involving the trafficking of children from rural areas into cities.
Brunei is ruled by a repressive regime and offers few human rights protections. Last year, the sultan of Brunei, whose family has ruled Brunei for more than six centuries, imposed a strict penal code based on Sharia law. The Islamic criminal law includes punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, alcohol consumption and homosexuality. Under emergency measures in place for 65 years, freedom of speech is severely limited and the country’s legislature has a limited role. Further, the government prohibits strikes, and the law makes no explicit provision for the right to collective bargaining.
This article originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research Coordinator at AFL CIO
Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
In Los Angeles yesterday, Walmart workers participated in their boldest action to date: the first-ever sit-down strike at a Walmart store. They were protesting an end to retaliation when they speak out for $15 an hour, full-time hours and respect at work.
The striking workers entered the Crenshaw Walmart shortly before 10 a.m. PST and refused to move, holding a sit-in near cash registers and racks at the store. The workers chanted, “Stand Up, Live Better! Sit Down, Live Better!” before placing tape over their mouths signifying the company’s attempts to silence workers who are calling for better jobs.
After several hours, they left peacefully and headed to another Los Angeles-area store, where they held a rally. Then workers and their supporters took over the intersection near the Pico Rivera Walmart, refusing to leave until they were arrested and removed from the intersection. A total of 28 people were arrested, including clergy, community members and strikers.
Paramount Walmart worker Martha Sellers said:
“I’m striking today for workers like Evelin, Victoria, Rosa, Maria Elena and Graciela who Walmart retaliated against for standing up for change. Walmart and the Waltons need to know that they can’t silence us all.”
Sellers was referring to the owners of Walmart, the Walton family, the richest family in America who own nearly $150 billion in wealth while most Walmart workers make less than $25,000 a year. Kiana Howard, a mother and Walmart striker, said she took part in the sit-down “to protest Walmart’s illegal fear tactics and to send a message to management and the Waltons that they can’t continue to silence us and dismiss the growing calls for $15 an hour and full-time work.” She added:
“Walmart and the Waltons are making billions of dollars from our work while paying most of us less than $25,000 a year. We know that Walmart and the Waltons can afford fair pay, and we know that we have the right to speak out about it without the company threatening the little that we do have.”
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on November 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/Striking-Walmart-Workers-Stage-L.A.-Sit-Downs-at-Stores-and-in-the-Street.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
Monday, May 26th, 2014
The United States lags far behind other nations in protecting workers’ rights, according to a new survey from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The rankings are based on 97 internationally recognized indicators and standards to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labor laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind. A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions or simply join a union at all.
The nations are ranked on a scale from 1 (the best with just irregular violations of workers’ rights) to 5 (with no guarantee of workers’ rights at all). The United States received a mark of 4, which, according to the ITUC system, means:
Workers in countries with the rating of 4 have reported systematic violations. The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.
Along with the United States, 29 other nations received a 4 rating, including Argentina, Botswana, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand. Belgium, Finland and South Africa were among the 18 nations that received a 1 rating, while 24 countries were rated 5, including Belarus, Bangladesh, Egypt, Guatemala and Qatar. Eight countries where the rule of law has broken down received a special 5+ grade.
The report also found that in the past year, governments of at least 35 countries have arrested or imprisoned workers as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages and safer working conditions and secure jobs. In at least nine countries, murder and disappearance of workers were commonly used to intimidate workers.
Burrow also noted that the ITUC Global Poll 2014 found nearly two-thirds of people want governments to do more to tame corporate power.
The World Bank’s recent Doing Business report naively subscribed to the view that reducing labor standards is something governments should aspire to. This new Rights Index puts governments and employers on notice that unions around the world will stand together in solidarity to ensure basic rights at work.
In the map above, nations in red have the worst workers’ rights ratings while lighter-shaded nations are rated progressively better.
Read the full report, ITUC Global Rights Index: The World’s Worst Countries for Workers.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on May 22, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
In October 2012, In These Times revealed that the Koch brothers had instructed 45,000 employees of Georgia-Pacific, a paper company owned by Koch Industries, to vote for Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election. But even as the Kochs took advantage of expanded free speech rights for corporations under the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling, Georgia-Pacific was busy circulating a strict policy that prohibited workers from speaking poorly of the company or its officers on social media. Thanks to a new decree by the National Labor Relations Board, however, employees can now feel free to post about their jobs to Facebook or Instagram without fear of retribution.
Georgia-Pacific’s now-defunct social media policy, which it implemented in 2011, warned,
“Even if your social media conduct is outside of the workplace and/or non-work related, it must not reflect negatively on GP’s reputation, its products, or its brands.”
Many employees took this to mean that they could not post anything criticizing the company on social media.
Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Papers Workers (AWPPW), which represents workers at Georgia-Pacific paper plants in the Pacific Northwest, says that the policy was emblematic of the Koch brothers’ hypocrisy when it comes to workers’ rights.
“It all ties back into the last round of politics,” he says. “On one hand [the Kochs] say they believe and want free speech [for themselves], but on the other hand, they don’t allow their employees to have free speech.”
Though labor law does not unequivocally protect workers’ free speech on the job, it does give employees the right to advocate on behalf of their co-workers. With this in mind, in July 2012, AWPPW filed charges with the NLRB arguing that Georgia-Pacific’s overly broad social media policy interfered with employees’ ability to speak out about working conditions there. AWPPW also alleged that the company should have included the policy, as well as parts of the Employee Code of Conduct, in the union’s contract negotiations as a mandatory subject of bargaining.
In December 2013, after a year and a half of investigation, the NLRB reached a settlement with Georgia-Pacific requiring the company to rescind the policy and to post a statement in all its facilities assuring workers of their rights under federal labor law. The statement will read, “WE WILL repeal our social media policy and WE WILL NOT issue policies that interfere with your right to share information relating to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, including on social media.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Georgia-Pacific must also now allow employees to use the company email system to share information about working conditions. In addition, the corporation revoked the portions of its Code of Conduct that forbade employees from “sharing personal employee or compensation information with others”—a ban expressly prohibited by federal labor law.
Greg Guest, spokesperson for Georgia-Pacific, said in a statement, “Georgia-Pacific worked cooperatively with the National Labor Relations Board to better understand its position on employees’ rights, including employee rights in the social media space, and we are pleased that we were able to find a compromise that worked for both parties.”
Despite Guest’s talk of compromise, however, Pallesen feels the settlement is a clear victory for AWPPW and Georgia-Pacific’s workers.
“It was a good win for us. It slows the company down on just implementing things, which they tend to do. This forces them to come to us to negotiate policy,” says Pallesen. “Instead of the employer having 100 percent of the control of speech in the workplace, this gives employees some protection when it comes to ‘protected and concerted efforts’ [to organize at work].”
This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on January 7, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
In most workplaces, it’s common to see a poster somewhere public – like a shared lunchroom – notifying employees of their workplace rights on issues such as equal opportunity and health and safety. Most workplaces don’t, however, have posters notifying employees of their rights (e.g. to form a union) under the National Labor Relations Act. And after a D.C. Circuit Court ruling this week, this seems depressingly unlikely to change anytime soon.
The NLRB tried to fix this in 2011 with a rule requiring employers to post an informational notice in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of other corporate-backed groups challenged the rule and delayed its implementation.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court (known for its pro-business bias) put the final nail in the coffin and struck down the rule.
This decision is undoubtedly bad for workers.
For a sliver of optimism about the future of the labor movement, check out Harold Myerson’s May 8th op-ed in the Washington Post.
This article was originally posted on SEIU on May 10, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
Author: SEIU Communications
Sunday, April 14th, 2013
With 12 votes needed, only 11 members of the Philadelphia City Council were willing to override Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of the sick leave bill. For the second time in three years, corporate interests defeated a measure that would allow more than 180,000 Philadelphians to finally earn sick days.
“I’m very disappointed,” said city councilman Bill Greenlee, who tried but failed to get the 12 votes needed to override Mayor Nutter’s veto. “I’m particularly disappointed for the 180,000 workers who could have had a benefit that other cities are providing.”
Instead of listening to the people of Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter sided with business interests: specifically the Philadelphia-based ALEC corporation Comcast, who spend more than $100,000 opposing sick leave in 2011 and is a big contributor to Mayor Nutter’s campaign.
“We’re not surprised the mayor vetoed this….he hasn’t exactly been a champion of workers,” said Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth McElroy. “The majority of the City Council and the majority of Philadelphians wanted this—it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep working on it.”
Comcast also contributed $3,000 to Councilman Brian O’Neill and $1,500 to Councilman Denny O’Brien, both who voted against the sick leave bill and refused to override Mayor Nutter’s veto. All of this despite the fact that 77% of Philadelphians favor the sick leave policy.
Not all hope is lost, however. Working America worked with a broad coalition to drive thousands of messages and phone calls to Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia City Council. And while sick leave proposals move forward in Portland, Oregon, New York City and elsewhere, there will be more pressure on city officials as time goes on.
The fight isn’t over for bill sponsor Councilman Greenlee either:
“I still believe in and want to have earned paid sick leave in Philadelphia. So we’ll see what the future holds on that,” he said.
This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on April 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Student guest workers on the J-1 cultural exchange visa program walked out of their jobs at Pennsylvania McDonald’s restaurants Wednesday morning, citing abuses of the same kinds that caused a walkout from a Hershey’s supplier in summer 2011. As a result of that strike, the State Department investigated the program and strengthened protections somewhat, but not enough, according to analysts at the time and as demonstrated by the fact that once again student guest workers are coming forward with allegations of wage and hour abuses and having unreasonable rents deducted from their paychecks for basement rooms shared by several people.
Sean Kitchen reports that, at a recent meeting in Harrisburg, some of the student workers described their living and working conditions:
While at work, these “students” were often forced to work from 6 or 7 in the morning to as late as 11 at night with only one 30 minute to hour break. And to top it off, these students are paid minimum wage for all the hours they worked, despite working well over 40 hours per week, qualifying them for overtime pay. […] Fernando told us about a story of retaliation from his employer. When he spoke out against the company’s tactics, the manager gave Fernando a 4 hour work week. When Fernando was explaining that this story to the room, he asked, “how am I suppose to pay a $300 rent when only working 4 hours in 1 week?”
One of the striking workers contacted the State Department, only to face intimidation in response:
Rios said that the US government responded by contacting GeoVisions, the organization that sponsored the trip; that triggered an unannounced visit to Rios’ shared basement room by a GeoVisions representative and Rios’ boss, McDonalds franchisee Andy Cheung. (GeoVisions did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)Rios said that Cheung yelled at him, while the GeoVisions staffer stood by, hands shaking, acting like Cheung was his boss as well. “You could see he was scared,” said Rios. “He would say things like, ‘This doesn’t look so bad to me.’”
Participants pay $3,000 or more for the chance to join the program, which is billed as cultural exchange, an opportunity to experience the United States. Arguably, being mistreated at a low-wage job is an important part of the American experience these days, but should the State Department really be running that?
This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 6, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.