Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’
Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
Yesterday morning in Stoughton, Massachusetts, 14 IKEA workers walked out on a one-day strike—the first ever in the furniture giant’s U.S. stores.
“I’m fighting for my rights,” said striker Veronica Cabral, a 36-year-old single mother and immigrant from Cape Verde. “I want better for me, my family, and my co-workers.”
The union would consist of the 32 people who work in the “Goods Flow In” department, where workers receive shipments and stock the store. Last week they delivered a petition demanding union recognition, signed by 75 percent of the department.
They would form a so-called “micro-bargaining unit,” affiliated with the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—following in the footsteps of retail workers at Target and Macy’s who have formed small bargaining units since a 2011 National Labor Relations Board decision, Specialty Healthcare, opened the door.
“It’s been a long fight. Three years ago we started with the Teamsters and we had 70 percent since then,” said Chris DeAngelo, 45, who’s worked at the store for eight years. “What changed is that we can have a micro-unit now.”
Ultimately, DeAngelo said, “our plan is to unionize the whole store. But it is difficult with the different shifts and different parts of the store. We are working up to getting everyone else.”
Fears and reprisals
The same day the workers delivered their petition, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders sent letters to IKEA U.S. President Lars Peterson, urging the company to recognize the union.
Sanders castigated the company for “blatant intimidation coupled with subtle yet effective psychological warfare against workers who wish to unionize.”
“We had a ‘code of conduct’ training that seemed routine until we were asked to go around the room and talk about our union sympathies,” said machine operator Shawn Morrison, 28. “That was routine, just a part of the training, until someone called it out. Another time the store manager called us up to the H.R. office. He dropped union literature on the table and asked us how we felt about it.”
“IKEA has team leaders on the floor trying to scare everyone about what will happen if there is a union,” Cabral said. “They tell us we will be fired.” She’s been urging her co-workers not to get scared off.
But managers have begun targeting pro-union employees for arbitrary discipline—which made the petition and strike urgent, workers said.
“We couldn’t wait any longer. We had to make some sort of decision,” DeAngelo said. “We know that we all have targets painted on us, especially those of us who have been there longer and are making more than the new recruits.
“This store has been open 10 years and I have been there eight, and there has been no improvement. There is all this tension, all this instability, all this insecurity. You never know when the other shoe is about to drop.”
At the end of their shift November 14, workers in the Goods Flow In department were called together to hear the store manager and head of H.R. give the company’s official response to their petition.
The letter from IKEA management said that “by recognizing the UFCW as the representative, we would be taking away the chance for each individual co-worker to make a choice” and that a secret-ballot election supervised by the Labor Board would be “more consistent with the approach we have taken in our U.S. distribution centers.”
Workers were livid. “Their excuse for denying the petition is ridiculous and disrespectful to the 75 percent of people who signed their names,” DeAngelo said. “That is why we are going on strike. It is a slap in the face. It is absolutely disgusting.”
The American model
IKEA, a Swedish company headquartered in the Netherlands, touts its commitment to social responsibility and worker rights. In Europe its retail workers are overwhelmingly unionized.
But like pro-union workers in Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant, the Stoughton IKEA workers are realizing that their employer is not so much a socially responsible European company doing business in the U.S. as an American-style company that just happens to be headquartered in Europe.
“The American Model—that is what they are calling it,” said DeAngelo. He points to IKEA’s hiring of the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to bust the organizing campaign. “A truly socially responsible company wouldn’t do that.”
Morrison traveled to Milan, Italy, last month to attend the IKEA Global Alliance meeting, which brings together unions representing the company’s retail and warehouse workers from all over the world.
“One of the things that our European co-workers felt was that the company was shifting more and more towards the American model and that their labor unions would be in danger,” he said.
“In Europe they kind of believe that the United States does not want unions,” Morrison said. “Europe has gone such a long time thinking that the U.S. is just a barren wasteland of union activity, but we are showing them that that is not true.”
This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on November 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Chris Brooks is a graduate student in the Labor Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an organizer living in Chattanooga.
Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Pedro started getting worried when his hands were so swollen he needed a larger size of plastic gloves.
Pedro (which is not his real name) would arrive at the chicken processing plant for Tyson in North Carolina at 5 p.m. to clock in for the second shift. For the next three hours, he says he wouldn’t get a single break from breaking down slaughtered and defeathered chickens, cutting the shoulders and pulling out the tenders, until he was allowed to take a half-hour lunch at 8 p.m. Then it was back to the line until all of the chickens were processed, sometimes at 5 or 6 in the morning.
He says the line moved so quickly that he was processing 45-50 chickens every minute, or nearly one each second. The fast, repetitive motions soon started affecting his hands, which swelled up painfully. They got so large he had to wear 3XL sized plastic gloves. But when he was sent to the plant’s infirmary, he says the nurse simply told him to take ibuprofen and soak his hands in epsom salts and hot water. “The infirmary nurse told me it was nothing to worry about, just your body getting used to it, like when you lift weights and your muscles swell up,” he said on a call with media.
But he didn’t adjust and his hands kept getting worse. He eventually sought out medical treatment from a doctor, who told him he’d never seen injuries as bad as Pedro’s and gave him work restrictions. Yet Pedro says his supervisor ignored the doctor’s orders and put him back to work on the line. “They do not care about the safety of the person, they just care about putting the chickens out,” he said.
He’s worked lots of jobs, many of which — such as construction — were physically demanding. But nothing was quite like the job processing chickens. “Of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, working at the processing plant was the worst job ever,” he said.
In a report released on Tuesday, Oxfam America is launching a new campaign to address what it says are rampant health and safety issues, as well as low pay and few benefits, that face the people who process chicken in the country’s plants. Consumer demand has been growing such that the average American who consumed about 20 pounds of chicken a year in 1950 eats 89 pounds today, and today the industry sells 8.5 billion chickens a year, earning $50 billion.
That demand has come with increased pressure on processing line speeds, which are twice as fast today as they were in 1979, with an upper level of 140 birds per minute today versus 91 back then. But the report claims that speeds can go even higher than that, given that each line is run by a supervisor with the capacity to slow it down or speed it up at any time. In interviews it conducted with current and former workers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina, they reported averaged between 35 and 45 birds per minute, or processing more than 2,000 chickens an hour and 14,000 a day.
Workers have to hang, cut, trim, bread, freeze, and package chickens, actions that require multiple motions on each bird. That means that the average worker has to repeat the same motion — cutting, pulling, hacking, twisting, and hanging — 20,000 times a day with force, although some reach as many as 100,000 of the same motion each shift.
This speed, coupled with repeated motions, is a recipe for injury. Workers report pain in their hands, fingers, arms, shoulders, and backs, plus swelling, numbness, tingling, twitching, stiffness, and loss of grip. Some workers say the pain is so intense that it wakes them up at night. Sharp knives and even chicken bones lead to cuts, which can also expose workers to pathogens. The conditions can be long-lasting if not permanent.
They end up with high rates of injuries, although Oxfam warns that even the official numbers can be an undercount. They have ten times the rate of repetitive strain from microtasks than the rest of the workforce, seven times the rate of carpal tunnel syndrome, and five times the rate of musculoskeletal disorders generally. Human Rights Watch has found that poultry workers are 14 times more likely to have injuries such as “claw hand,” where their fingers get locked in a curled position, or ganglionic cysts where fluid is deposited under the skin. In a 2013 survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 86 percent of workers reported hand and wrist pain, swelling, or numbness or the inability to close their hands.
They also report being exposed to harsh chemicals, often used to clean up the blood, offal, and grease that flows from the birds. One survey found that every single worker reported being exposed to chemicals on the job, with half exposed to chlorine and 21 percent to ammonia.
“Despite industry claims that conditions are improving and injury rates are dropping, we don’t believe that they’re true,” Oliver Gottfried, senior advocacy and collaborations advisor at Oxfam, said on the media call.
In a statement, Tyson said, “we believe in fair compensation, a safe and healthy work environment and in providing workers with a voice.” It said it has the highest entry-level pay in many poultry communities, provides health and dental benefits, provides health and safety trainings, requires workers to report injuries and illnesses, allows them to leave the line to use the bathroom, and employs 500 health and safety professionals. Perdue said in a statement that it provides “competitive wages” above minimum wage, comprehensive benefits, and paid time off. It also pointed to its lost-time rate as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 0.17 per 100 workers compared to .8 for all industries, and its incident rate as recorded by OSHA of 2.23 compared to 4.5 for the industry. Pilgrim’s and Sanderson representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The industry also says the injury rate has steadily fallen over the last 20 years. But that data is often based on self-reported rates. Meanwhile, sending a worker to the company infirmary and instructing him to take Advil rather than to a regular doctor, as Pedro says he experienced, means a company doesn’t have to official record an injury in its log.
“Employers have been going to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for these injuries,” said Celeste Monforton, professional lecturer at George Washington University and a former legislative analyst for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Then there’s the problem of breaks. The bathroom is particularly challenging, as workers say they have to get a supervisor to find another employee to fill their spots to keep the line running while they relieve themselves. Workers report that they have to wait an hour or more to get a break. Some say that to cope, they severely cut back on drinking liquids or even wear diapers. Pedro has seen people urinate on themselves while working on the line out of fear of losing their jobs if they leave to use the bathroom.
Tyson specifically refutes this issue in its plants, saying in a statement, “we make it very clear to our production supervisors that they are to allow Team Members to leave the production line if they need to use the restroom. Not permitting them to do so is simply not tolerated.”
All of this is undertaken for low wages. Oxfam reports that they average about $11 an hour, or between $20,000 and $25,000 a year. For every dollar spent on a chicken product, a worker sees just two cents. That kind of pay qualifies a poultry worker with two children for food stamps and free school lunches.
And they still might not see all of their promised pay. Workers report often working more than 40 hours a week — they’re required to stay at most plants until all chickens are processed — but rarely get overtime pay. There have also been investigations and lawsuits finding that plants fail to pay workers for time spent putting on and taking off all of their safety gear or for their lunch breaks. SPLC found that nearly 60 percent have to pay for some or all of their protective equipment, eating into their wages.
On top of all of that, Oxfam did not find a single worker who got paid time off for illness, vacation, or personal leave.
Yet the industry is profitable. The top four companies — Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson — control about 60 percent of the market. Tyson made $856 million in profit last year, Pilgrim’s made $711 million, and Sanderson made $249 million.
Oxfam is hoping that by drawing attention to the issue of safety, consumers will be inspired to push back. Its reforms include lower line speeds and higher staffing numbers, stronger training, more frequent breaks, and dealing with and reporting workers’ injuries. “They need to have respect for workers,” Minor Sinclair, Oxfam America’s regional director, said. It’s targeting the four largest because, he said, “They’re the ones that have the lion’s share of employees and the lion’s share of the market. They influence the market for other poultry companies.”
Pedro will miss out on any improvements, as he was fired, he says because he had been raising awareness about rights among his coworkers at the Tyson plant. He noted people used to ask him why he would put up with those conditions at work, but there are few other jobs on offer in his area.
“I’m trying to pay my bills, pay my rent, feed my family,” he said. “I have to do what I have to do to survive.”
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.
Sunday, October 18th, 2015
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman keeps cracking down on wage theft, and around 250 workers will be sharing in a nearly $500,000 settlement from four current and former Papa John’s franchisees.
“Once again, we’ve found Papa John’s franchises in New York that are ripping off their workers and violating critical state and federal laws,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Once again, I call on Papa John’s and other fast food companies to step up and stop the widespread lawlessness plaguing your businesses and harming the workers who make and deliver your food.”
Though it often isn’t treated this way, it actually is illegal to fail to pay minimum wage or overtime, to make people work off the clock, to force workers being paid at the tipped worker subminimum wage to do non-tipped work, and a disturbing list of other ways businesses have found to keep money that workers have earned. And about that “once again”:
In July, the attorney general’s office arrested Abdul Jamil Khokhar, owner of nine Papa John’s stores in New York, accusing him of breaking minimum wage and overtime laws. According to his plea agreement, Khokhar could serve up to 60 days in jail. In another case, the attorney general’s office secured a judgment of nearly $3 million against two other Papa John’s franchisees.
So while the workers were technically employed by—and cheated by—the franchisees, at a certain point you see a pattern and start to think maybe the parent company has something to do with it. That’s one of the reasons the National Labor Relations Board pushed to treat some fast food chains as joint employers responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants.
In 2013, a report from Fast Food Forward found 84 percent of New York City fast food workers reporting that they’d been victims of wage theft. Fully 100 percent of fast food delivery workers said the same. Schneiderman’s efforts to crack down have also led to settlements at franchises of other chains, including Domino’s and McDonald’s.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Monday, October 12th, 2015
GameStop and all of its brands will keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving Day this year so that its workers can stay home and celebrate the holiday.
All GameStop, Spring Mobile, Simply Mac, Cricket Wireless, and ThinkGeek stores will stay closed on November 26. They’ll re-open at 5 a.m. local time on Black Friday.
“We believe strongly that our customers and associates should have the opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving holiday relaxing with family and friends,” said Mike Buskey, executive vice president and president of U.S. stores, said in a press release announcing the decision. “We know this is in stark contrast to what many other retailers are doing, but we are taking a stance to protect family time during this important holiday.”
It’s the second brand to make the announcement that it won’t open on the holiday and require workers to come in so far this year: last week Staples said it would also close, reversing its decision for the past two years to be open. (GameStop closed last year as well.)
But it’s likely that many stores will once again be open for shopping on the national holiday, as 12 decided to do last year. While companies often say that their stores are only staffed by volunteers who want the extra hours, workers have reported a different story. Those at Target and Kmart said they weren’t allowed to request the day off and risked termination for refusing to come to work if they were scheduled on that day.
Others were outspoken about deciding to stay closed. Beyond GameStop, 17 shut their doors, many of them citing the fact that they wanted to respect their employees’ ability to celebrate a holiday with friends and family.
They may also have made a financial calculation. Last year’s holiday sales numbers showed that while more people shopped on Thanksgiving Day, fewer shopped on Black Friday, meaning no net increase for stores that opened on the holiday. There was also a strong consumer backlash against the idea of being open, as well as a legislative one.
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 8, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.
Saturday, October 10th, 2015
Setting the stage for The White House Summit on Worker Voice, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) today introduced The Workplace Democracy Act. According to Sanders’ office, this legislation “would make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”
The Workplace Democracy Act allows the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards, also called “card check.” Companies must begin negotiating within 10 days after certification. If no first contract is reached after 90 days, either party can request compulsory mediation. After 30 days of mediation, the parties will submit the remaining issues to binding arbitration.
From the Workplace Democracy Act summary:
According to data released in early 2015 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers’ wages are 27 percent higher than for nonunion workers. 79 percent of unionized workers receive health insurance from their employers, compared to only 49 percent of nonunion workers. 76 percent of union workers have guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans, compared to only 16 percent of nonunion workers, and 83 percent of union workers receive paid with sick leave compared to only 62 percent of nonunion workers.
The Workplace Democracy Act is similar to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that had majority support but was filibustered by Republicans in 2007. It was dropped in 2009 after “centrist” Democrats would not support it, thereby ensuring the success of another Republican filibuster, again despite majority support.
The White House Summit on Worker Voice
With labor under increased attack from the corporate right, the White House convened an all-day “summit” Wednesday, called “The White House Summit on Worker Voice.” (Note the choice of “voice,” not “power.”)
For the summit, the Council of Economic Advisors released an issue brief titled” Worker Voice in a Time of Rising Inequality,” that begins:
The rise of wage and income inequality in the United States over the last 40 years has been well-established. However, the factors that may have contributed to the fall of earnings at the bottom of the wage distribution relative to the top continue to be the subject of research and debate.
Research suggests that one important factor may be institutional changes in labor markets, perhaps the most notable being declining union density. … in the middle of the 20th century, as union membership rose and remained high, lower-wage workers earned a larger share of total income. However, in recent years this trend has reversed, with union membership falling and the share of income going to the top 10 percent increasing at the expense of lower- and middle-income groups. In the 21st century, the decline in the number of unionized workers has coincided with overall rising inequality.
The brief cites research showing that union members get higher pay, have better working conditions, job training and higher safety standards, are much more likely to get benefits like health insurance and that these gains spill over to nonunion workers in the same workplaces.
The summit continues through the day and can be viewed online here.
In honor of today’s White House summit, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka penned an op-ed, “No PR campaign will save Walmart from being ‘exhibit A’ of bad worker policies“:
Americans are increasingly fed up with an economy that rewards wealth over work, a message that’s made it all the way to the top. That’s why when the White House hosts a Summit on Worker Voice on Wednesday to highlight the power of working people standing together to demand better jobs and better lives, one notable corporation has been excluded – Walmart.
Walmart is the embodiment of our broken economic system. The company pays poverty wages, has discriminated against women and minorities, harms our environment, wreaks havoc on the global supply chain and continues to lead a race to the bottom where workers are treated like numbers on a balance sheet instead of human beings with families to sustain. Walmart’s motto: “Save Money. Live Better” seems only to apply to its heirs, who haveamassed more wealth than 42 percent of the poorest American families combined.
Trumka listed some of the things Walmart is still doing to suppress worker rights, including closing stores for “plumbing issues” when workers in those stores begin organizing. Trumka called this just “the latest in a long line of incidents to silence the voices of workers.”
Time For Everyone To Get On Board For Labor
Labor is under attack by the corporations and the conservatives and Republican party they fund. It is important for all Democrats and progressives to get behind the Workplace Democracy Act, and not let it disappear without the public at least being fully informed of its benefits and who is blocking it.
This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal comput
Thursday, October 8th, 2015
It’s a familiar situation: being sick and at work—or having a sick family member who requires care. While most of us would prefer to stay home and get well or provide care, for the majority of American workers taking a sick day means taking a pay-cut. Not only is the idea of losing pay unappealing, but many American workers simply cannot afford the loss. For some, taking an unexpected day off may even mean risking termination.
Up until now, the push for paid sick leave has been limited to the state and city levels of government. Progress was made with 4 states and Washington, D.C. mandating a paid sick leave accrual system for all employees, and multiple localities passing similar city ordinances (see our state and local paid sick leave laws page).
But now, change is happening at the federal level. On Labor Day, September 7, 2015, President Obama announced an executive order establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors. The order requires federal contractors to provide their employees with up to 7 days of paid sick leave per year beginning in 2017.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or “FAMILY” Act (House, Senate), is proposed legislation that aims to extend paid sick and family leave to all employees in the United States. These standards would provide all employees with at least some partial income, based on a monthly income benefit standard and subject to a capped amount, when such periods of leave are necessary.
If the foreseeable public health benefits aren’t enough to convince you that paid sick leave is beneficial for the workplace, take a look at this letter to Congress signed by over 200 business professors from universities throughout the United States. Among the benefits of paid sick leave discussed in this letter are more productive and engaged employees, as well as long term cost-saving for businesses who offer paid leave.
We need employers and employees everywhere to urge Congress to make legislative changes that support workers, families, employers, and our nation’s economy. Tell your members of Congress to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act and make paid leave a reality for all!
About the Author: The author’s name is Grace Baehren. Grace Baehren is a student at The University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.
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