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Janitors Commemorate 21st Anniversary of Justice for Janitors March

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R.M. ArrietaTwenty-one years ago, on June 15, hundreds of low-wage janitors marched in Los Angeles, demanding better working conditions.

The march turned into a bloody scene when police on horseback surrounded the janitors and their supporters, beating them back with clubs. It sparked a movement. The Justice for Janitors campaign was born and janitors won their first ever union contract.

Yesterday, nearly 1,000 janitors again rallied in Los Angeles to demand fair wages and a better quality of life.

They were part of the national Justice for Janitors Day, protesting an economy many consider unbalanced and unjust as the working class is squeezed to a breaking point. And it seems the gains made over the years that lifted janitors out of poverty have since dwindled, with wages not keeping up with the cost of living and affordable health care becoming just a memory.

One worker held up a sign: “What’s Dignity?: New shoes for my daughter. A birthday party for my son.”

“The middle class in this country is under the gun,” said Martha Martinez, a janitor employed by ABM, a facility services corporation, at the Century City Towers in Los Angeles. “While big corporations are getting all the money, a lot of people don’t have jobs. And even more people are working for a living but not making a living.”

Union organizer Mike Chavez said that the paid wages are so low that ”janitors struggle to meet the basic needs of their families.”

Some workers, according to Chavez, earn as little as $312 per week after taxes.

Other rallies were held in Chicago, Seattle and Denver and similar events were held across the globe in Germany, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Janitors are fighting on all fronts. According to a June 2011 report by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, unregulated temp agencies are hiring janitors and other blue-collar workers at low wages, often in dangerous environments and without benefits.janitors

The Boston Globe states that, “Some are paid less than minimum wage and often do not receive due overtime pay because both the agency and the employer split 40-plus-hour work weeks into two paychecks.”

The Massachusetts House is looking at a measure that would regulate temp agencies.

Back in the Bay Area at Stanford University, it’s a story whose theme many readers are probably familiar with: workers are employed by one janitorial subcontractor (ABM) then traded to a new subcontractor hired by the employer, in this case, UGL UNICCO, whom the university said would provide “superior services.”

In many cases that means another subcontractor submits a lower bid. As has played out in various supermarket labor fights, the new contractor cuts the staffing and the remaining cleaners are forced to work longer hours with less help. Most recently, this dynamic led several janitorial workers to go on a hunger strike in Minneapolis, as reported in this May 27 post.

Under the agreement at Stanford between UGL and the SEIU (which represent 225,000 janitors nationwide), UGL was obligated to offer all ABM workers the opportunity to keep their jobs as long as they submitted to background checks to verify their identity and check their criminal history.

In a letter from UGL, according to The Stanford Daily, the purpose of the checks was to verify employees’ legal right to work in the U.S. While UGL could have used an I-9 form, which does not ask for a social security form, the company chose to use “no-match” letters, which are issued if the social security numbers on W2 forms don’t match up to Social Security Administration records.

The Student Labor Action Coalition, a student advocacy group calling for UGL to rehire all former ABM janitors, requested the university to step in. They submitted a letter to Stanford and UGL with 2,000 signatures that read:

“Workers should retain their employment and the wages and benefits associated with their seniority rights through a subcontracting transition.”

The letter states that as many as 70 workers are at risk of being unjustly fired or losing their seniority and benefits.

UGL denies this and says “only” 29 workers will be affected, claiming they are not the longest working or highest paid, and that none have worked at the university for more than 15 years.

This Blog Originally Appeared in These Working Times on June 16, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Milestone for World’s Domestic Workers

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Domestic workers Guillerma Castellanos and Juana Flores during the historic committee vote.

Image: Liz ShulerToday, at the International Labor Organization’s 100th annual conference in Geneva Switzerland, the global community took a major collective step towards achieving economic and social justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers with the overwhelming adoption of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and accompanying recommendation.

More than 80 percent of the world’s governments, workers and employers voted in favor of the convention’s adoption, with 90 percent supporting the accompanying recommendation. In practice the convention and recommendation set out basic minimum rights and protections to which domestic workers within countries that ratify the convention are legally entitled. Symbolically, however, these instruments achieve much more.

By shining a global spotlight on domestic work and the conditions in which it is carried out, this convention and recommendation make the invisible visible. Today, for the first time in history, the international community acknowledges that domestic work—work performed in or for private homes—is indeed work. Further, the people who perform this work—overwhelmingly women, migrants and people from historically marginalized communities—are indeed workers, and thus entitled to the same rights and protections all other workers enjoy.

In approximately 40 percent of the world’s nations, the simple recognition of domestic work as work and domestic workers as deserving the same rights and protections that other workers enjoy flies in the face of exclusionary national labor laws and social protection regimes. The United States, unfortunately, is one such country. Domestic workers are excluded, along with farm workers, from the protections afforded to other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act. Today the global community definitively declared that such exclusions undermine the basic human rights of domestic workers.

For domestic workers in the United States, the practical consequences of the passage of this convention and recommendation are not immediately clear. International law does not take effect in a country unless that nation’s government agrees to ratify the law, and the United States very rarely does so. Still, domestic workers in the United States regard the passage of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention and recommendation as a major victory. Juana Flores, U.S. worker delegate to the ILO and co-director of Programs at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (Women United and Active) in San Francisco explains its significance for domestic workers in the United States:

This convention strengthens the voice of domestic workers in the United States who continue to organize, mobilize and advocate for the full realization of our basic human rights. As we work to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California and other states, as we have in New York, we now know we have the support of both the U.S. government and the international community. Knowing this emboldens us and gives us strength to continue fighting for the protections and benefits we, like all workers, deserve.

The AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Juana and the millions of domestic workers both within and outside the United States who have fought for this day for generations. Just last month the AFL-CIO formed a historic partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to work together to advance the voices of all workers. Today as we celebrate this momentous accomplishment we look forward to continuing to work together to make the full fulfillment of the rights of domestic workers a reality.

As Toni Moore, worker delegate from Barbados, expressed so eloquently at the convention’s adoption, “the time is always right to do what’s right,” and “we must not let dignity delayed become dignity denied.” The workers of the world call on our governments to do what’s right and ratify and fully implement the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Convention and Recommendation.

After the vote, the workers unfurled a banner that read “C189. Congratulations! And now for the “domestic work” of governments. RATIFY.” Check out the video here.

Read the Convention here and the ILO Recommendation here.

This blog originally appeared on Afl-cio Now Blog on June 16, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Auhtor: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

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Clerical Vs. Strategic

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Image: Bob RosnerRecently I worked at a job with a wonderful woman. She had been a administrative assistant all of her career. So when I asked her to create a data base for our sales calls, she immediately turned it into a clerical function.

She created an Excel spreadsheet that had a lot of columns that was chock full of tons of details about every client and potential client. There was only one problem, it was like a file cabinet, it stored everything. It was unwieldy and almost defied you to explore our best prospects or do any real analysis of our sales opportunities.

I sat down with her and discussed my concerns about what she’d done. I struggled to find a word to describe the limitations. Finally it came to me, the data base wasn’t strategic. It needed a lot of work to become a tool that was nimble and flexible enough to guide our sales process.

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with a friend this weekend. She is bright, creative and very talented. But it appears that she is going through the motions when it comes to her career. It feels like she is filling a file cabinet with all the contacts and ideas for everything that she feels she should be doing with her career. But her entire search process seemed to lack a strategic element.

Most of us are raised to fill a box on an organizational chart. We have expertise and experience that allows us to do a heck of a lot more than fill a box on a chart. But that’s what we do, we gather data on the job possibilities that are out there for us.

But we need to be much more creative and directive in how we go about this process. Need I say, we need to be more clever in how we approach our job exploration.

Note I said job exploration, not job hunt. It’s really important that we sort out where we want to go before we start looking at jobs.

A job shouldn’t be just the way you pay your bills or pass the majority or the hours that you’re awake each day. I believe that a job should be your gift to the world. Really. It should be a unique contribution of your talents that only you can provide.

Sounds great. But it’s also difficult to dig deep enough within yourself to sort out why you are here. What your purpose is. But it is well worth the effort.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

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How a Raise in the Minimum Wage Could Benefit Both Workers and the National Economy

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Andy PictureOn June 7, 2011, the Center for American Progress hosted a panel discussion on research conducted on minimum wage increases, and the economic effects these increases caused. Participants included: David Madland (Center for American Progress Action Fund), Helen Neuborne (Ford Foundation), Heidi Shierholz (Economic Policy Institute), Celinda Lake (Lake Research Partners), Sylvia Allegretto (University of California, Berkeley), Michael Reich (University of California, Berkeley), and Paul Sonn (National Employment Law Project).

The most basic rationale behind raising the minimum wage is widely known: the current minimum wage is not a “living wage”, i.e. compensation that can truly allow an individual to meet regular monthly expenses. Data provided by the panel indicated that a woman with two children would need to work three minimum wage jobs in order to place herself in a stable position in most communities across the country. Over two-thirds of those polled on the issue of the minimum wage regularly state they favor an increase, so political action on this front would probably not be overwhelmingly unpopular. Yet the question remains: are there other reasons for raising the minimum wage besides its effect on livings standards and its widespread support?

Perhaps the most important point discussed by the panelists was that the minimum wage can be raised without destroying jobs. Conventional wisdom long held that raising the minimum wage would cause this effect, but recent economic research has tended to disprove this theory. Whether a minimum wage increase is studied at the national level or within a smaller unit (like an individual industry), these recent studies have shown that a minimum wage increase actually has no effect on the number of jobs in the marketplace.

A minimum wage increase would actually be economically beneficial since it would increase the spending power of consumers, which would result in increased aggregate demand. Furthermore, a higher minimum wage would strengthen job stability, decrease job turnover, and benefit the middle class. Job stability and decreased turnover are benefits that would be shared with employers, since they normally must expend additional company resources to train new hires when individuals rapidly cycle in and out of jobs. With less job turnover, employees can also become more experienced.

An increase in the minimum wage could also directly stimulate the economy, and be part of a larger national economic recovery. In a sense, a minimum wage increase involves shifting profits from corporations to workers, since without an increase in pay corporations would normally keep these funds. Research indicates that although allowing companies to keep this money would benefit the economy, the profits can do more economic good when they are transferred to the minimum wage workers. This is because corporations often don’t go out and spend this extra money in the marketplace. Minimum wage workers, however, need to spend what they earn in order to obtain basic necessities. So the extra money put in the pockets of minimum wage workers is actually immediately spent obtaining goods and services.

Finally, a minimum wage increase could be used in conjunction with the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide even greater support for the working class. Using only the EITC in isolation with no minimum wage increase might actually result in a decrease in wages: the EITC encourages individuals to seek employment, but with an increase in the amount of labor available, wages go down. Using both the EITC and a minimum wage increase together would actually increase the positive effects of both. This two-pronged approach also has the benefit of dividing the financial burden of paying for this support: with a minimum wage increase, the employers must face additional costs, and taxpayers cover the EITC. Using both methods results in a more equitable distribution of who pays for the assistance.

The Center for American Progress’s panel raised many interesting questions, and the research cited indicates that the minimum wage need not be seen as an economic burden, but a tool for national growth. With bipartisan support for an increase in the minimum wage already in place, perhaps federal and state governments will take action soon on this important issue.

About the Author: Andrew Laine is a law student and intern at Workplace Fairness.

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Cancer Victim Fired For Disclosing Brain Tumor Has Claim For Disability Discrimination

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ellen simonA U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that a  Houston P.F.Chang’s restaurant may have violated the Americans with Disability Act when it fired one of its restaurant managers three days after he disclosed that he had a brain tumor.

On June 8, 2009 Jason Meinelt was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He told his boss, Michael Brown, the same day and also told him that he would probably have surgery in August and could be out for six to eight months.  Brown was supervised by Glenn Piner.  Bown told Piner immediately about Meinelt’s condition.

Two days later, Piner began an audit involving  employee clock-out time punches.

The next day, Meinelt was fired for improperly editing employees’ time records. Meinelt testified that he was “completely baffled” and “shocked” about the firing and that editing time was a common practice among all of the managers including the ones who preceded him.

P.F. Chang’s first argument, that Meinelt’s brain tumor was not a disability, was rejected by the Court. Under the ADA, a disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  The ADA was amended in 2008, and the amendments specifically included cancer in its definition of what may be considered a disability. As the Court noted,

Under ADAAA, “a major life activity includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to,… normal cell growth .. [and] brain .. functions. 42 U.S.C. s. 12102(2)(B). The disability test can be met by actually suffering an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or “being regarded as having such impairment.”

Therefore, since Meinelt was terminated after the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 came into effect, he was covered under its “more expansive definition” of disability according to the Court. As to P.F. Chang’s contention that Meinelt was fired because of the time entries, the Court had this to say:

[T]here is undisputed evidence of the temporal coincidence of Meinelt revealing his medical condition and the employer’s decision to fire him. The record contains ample evidence supporting an inference that Piner’s belief that Meinelt had improperly edited time was not the reason he terminated Meinelt. Piner fired Meinelt only tree days after Brown told Piner about Meinelt’s tumor. ..(citations omitted)

Summary judgment on the ADA claim is denied.

This decision means that Meinelt has the opportunity to take his case to the jury but it has broader implications.  It’s another victory for cancer victims who have been discriminated against by their employers.

Before the ADA amendments, these types of cases were routinely thrown out by courts which narrowly interpreted the ADA and held that the employees with cancer were not disabled — and therefore not protected from disability discrimination. Those same arguments, raised by P.F. Chang’s in this case, failed and it’s about time. For another case on point  see here. For more about cancer discrimination and the workplace, see here. For the Meinelt opinion, see here.

This blog originally appeared on Employee Rights Post on June 10, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the first and foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. Today, Ellen offers legal advice to individuals with legal problems surrounding employment rights, age/gender/race or disability discrimination, workplace retaliation and sexual harassment.

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Boeing Targets Union with Legal Probes in ‘Wisconsin of Manufacturing’ Fight

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mike elkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Late last week, three workers at Boeing’s North Charleston, S.C., factory filed for a right to intervene in the upcoming National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case against the aerospace company. As I have reported, the federal agency has charged Boeing with illegally shifting work away from a union facility in Washington state to South Carolina as punishment for a 2008 strike at a Puget Sound facility.

The three South Carolina workers claimed that that they would be hurt if production was moved back to Washington because of the NLRB ruling. By gaining the right to intervene in the NLRB case, the nonunion South Carolina workers would have had the right to subpoena the union—and more important, be seen as the public face of Boeing’s argument that the jobs should not be moved back to the union facility in Washington state. Today, an NLRB judge dismissed the three workers’ motion.

International Association of Machinists (IAM) officials disputed that the workers were acting on their own without support from Boeing to file their charge. The legal brief was paid for by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which is rumored to be funded in part by corporations like Boeing. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation refuses to release records of its donors. The organization’s spokesman declined to respond to questions about whether or not the foundation is funded by Boeing. A Boeing spokesman could not be reached for comment.

IAM officials claim all three workers did not work in a section of the South Charleston facility that would be affected if work was moved back to the union facility in Washington State. The NLRB agreed, and denied the motion by the three South Carolina workers to have the right to intervene on the grounds that they had no direct financial interest in the proceedings.

But the complaint is still significant to understanding the anti-union strategy of Boeing.

The complaint represents a strategy by Boeing to say that enforcement of the law against Boeing would cost American jobs overall. In Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Boeing CEO Jerry McNeiry, McNeiry claimed closing the factory would cost Americans jobs at a time when they desperately need them.

Union officials say this is a false dichotomy: Whether or not the Boeing plant is located in South Carolina or Washington state, it would create jobs. Also, IAM officials claim that the nonunion facility in South Carolina would eventually result in the loss of nearly 1,800 jobs at the Everett, Wash., facility as work is shifted to the South Carolina facility.

Perhaps even more significantly, the complaint of the three nonunion workers proves IAM’s point that work was shifted to South Carolina because the facility was nonunion. According to the Wall Street Journal, one of three employees involved in filing the complaint was involved in an effort to decertify the union at the North Charleston, S.C., facility. In the motion filed by the three workers, the worker says they led the effort to decertify the union “in part to improve Boeing’s chances of building the new facility.”

Additionally, the motion by three nonunion workers represented a broader legal strategy by a nervous Boeing to pressure workers involved in the rulings. Boeing recently subpoenaed all the communications of several union officials involved in the matter. “They issued a very broad reaching subpoena that may or may not have anything to do Boeing or the NLRB case,” said IAM Local 751 spokesman Bryan Corliss, which represents several thousand union Boeing workers in Washington state.

It is extraordinarily rare for a company to subpoena all the documents of union in an NLRB case and is seen by union officials as an attempt to intimidate the union. Meeting the requirements of the subpoena will be very costly to the union. The subpoena request is troubling to union officials since Boeing would be allowed to acquire sensitive union documents that have absolutely nothing to do with the NLRB case at hand. Boeing could acquire documents relating to new organizing at facilities and use the documents to disrupt the organizing and the privacy of the workers involved in the matter.

Boeing, with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, appears to be involved in a no-holds-barred legal and media fight to stop the NLRB from siding with the Boeing workers. The company’s campaign is aimed not only at intimidating IAM Boeing workers, but also at union workers in other sectors who would be inspired to file similar charges against a company for moving work away from union facilities.

“For private sector manufacturing workers, this is our Wisconsin. If Boeing prevails, these corporations will have the right to pack up and move for any reason at all,” says IAM Local 751 spokesman Bryan Corliss. “Being able to punish American workers for exercising the rights under federal law is a threat to all workers. If you can’t discriminate based on the basis of race creed or religion why should you be able to do it on first amendment of freedom of association.”

The question remains: Will progressives respond to the Boeing case the way they responded to Wisconsin? The answer could be vital to future fights over the fate of the country’s manufacturing industry.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on June 9, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times as well as Alternet, The Nation, The Atlantic and The American Prospect.

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House Cuts TSA Funding, Eliminates Collective Bargaining Amid Union Election

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It was just a few months ago when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers were granted the right to form a union following months of contentious debates in Congress.

The move paved the way for the largest federal labor election in U.S. history; balloting began in early March. But two amendments recently passed by the House of Representatives could undermine the efforts of more than 45,000 airports workers to organize as union run-off elections are set to conclude in the weeks ahead.

Last Thursday, the Republican-led House approved legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining and cut the TSA’s budget, which the unions and the federal agency say would cost thousands of jobs. The amendments were part of the 2012 homeland security budget bill for fiscal year 2012.

Rep. Todd Rokita’s (R-Ind.) amendment, which passed 218–205, prevents the use of federal funds for collective bargaining by the TSA workers, who provide security for the nations’s airports. Another measure cuts more than $270 million from the agency and was led by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), who is also House Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The timing of the bill coincided with a report released by Rep. Mica on Friday, which found that private screeners operate more efficiently and could save the government at least $1 billion over five years. A TSA spokesperson told the Washington Post that the 10 percent workforce reduction would cutabout 5,000 jobs.

In a statement, Rep. Rokita echoed similar sentiments, but went further by saying collective bargaining “would hamper the critical nature of TSA agents’ national security responsibilities.” He added that collective bargaining would make it difficult for people to settle disputes with the security workers.

The financial undercutting and rollback of union rights comes as the workers are currently voting to decide whether the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) or the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will represent them.

In April, neither union received a majority vote, leading to a run-off election that will continue until June 21; ballot counting will occur two days later. The landmark voting came just two months after TSA administrator John Pistole allowed limited collectively bargaining rights for the first time in the agency’s ten-year history.

In spite of the election, both unions have separately called on their supporters to mobilize against the House bills. “AFGE will not allow these corporate, right-wing politicians to make being in a union un-American,” saidnational union president John Gage in a statement. “This amendment is nothing but a repeat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s unfounded attack on the right of all Americans to have a voice at work and the right to bargain collectively.”

The NTEU also appealed to some Senate members in hopes that the bill will not pass under the Democratic majority. President Colleen M. Kelley also called Rep. Mica’s study “partisan” and refuted the report. She writes:

In the wake of 9/11, Congress and the President determined, with wide public support, that airport security functions are better performed by federal employees. Not only does NTEU question the validity of the study, I believe the American traveling public would be loathe to return to the days [of] less than a decade ago, when low-paid, ill-trained employees of private contractors handled air passenger screening duties.

An updated study by the Government Accountability Office found that using private screeners would cost 3 percent more after an analysis of revised data from the TSA. A 2007 GAO study found that the costs were upwards of 17 percent. In January, Pistole suspended private screening programs because he did not find any “substantial advantages.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on June 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer and reporter for Kyodo News. He regularly contributes to the In These Times blog covering labor and workplace issues. He lives in New York City.

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China Drops Some Wind Power Subsidies After USW Complaint

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Image: James ParksHere’s some good news on the trade front: U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk announced today that China has ended certain wind power equipment subsidies that gave its companies an unfair advantage in the global market.

The action came after the United Steelworkers (USW) filed a Section 301 trade complaint last October charging that China’s government uses hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, performance requirements, preferential practices and other illegal trade activities to dominate the renewable energy market.

The subsidies take the form of grants to Chinese wind turbine manufacturers that agreed to use key parts and components made in China rather than purchasing imports. The size of the individual grants range between $6.7 million and $22.5 million, according to the USTR.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Today’s news is a significant move in the right direction.  But much more must still be done to enforce our trade laws consistently and create good jobs here at home…  We must work to end unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, export subsidies and the suppression of workers’ rights both here and abroad.

USW President Leo Gerard said in a statement that the union’s complaint and the Obama administration’s pursuit of the complaint brought China’s government to the table with a commitment to end this program. He adds:

That’s good news for our members, U.S. companies and American workers. It needs to be followed up with continued vigilance to ensure the Chinese keep their commitments.

America’s workers and our nation face many more clear World Trade Organization (WTO) violations of obligations by China’s government, Gerard said.

With this first green technology issue behind us, we encourage the administration to continue to work to level the playing field for clean technology companies and American workers to grow sustained employment and good job opportunities.

Read Kirk’s announcement here , Gerard’s full statement here and Trumka’s statement here.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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ILO Seeks Protections for Domestic Workers

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Image: Mike HallDomestic workers around the world play a crucial role in raising children, caring for the elderly and the infirm, and generally supporting those in need of household help. But these same workers are all too often exploited and have little recourse because they are largely excluded from the legal protections that safeguard almost all other workers.

This month at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates will take a special look the plight of domestic workers and are expected to set a global standard outlining basic rights for domestic workers. The ILO is part of the United Nations.

In the opening statement for the United States at the first session of the Decent Work for Domestic Workers discussion, the Department of Labor’s Robert Shepard, said:

Domestic workers often work longer hours and receive less wages, while performing work that we can all agree involves a high level of responsibility.  Domestic workers are pillars of the modern service economy.  The majority of domestic workers are women and girls—oftentimes from predominantly migrant populations who work in isolated workplaces.  For these reasons domestic workers, and particularly for migrants and children, are vulnerable to many forms of exploitation, from nonpayment of wages to trafficking.

He noted that laws in many countries do not offer domestic workers the same kind of wage, working condition and other protections most workers enjoy. Even the ILO has not issued a global standard that offers these workers the promise of equal treatment. He urged the delegates to adopt a convention that would apply to all domestic workers. Shephard said the conventions should:

  • Ensure domestic workers have the same opportunity as other workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of  their work;
  • Include special provisions to prevent protect domestic workers from abuse, harassment, violence and trafficking;
  • Acknowledge that all parties must “respect, promote and realize . . . the fundamental principles and rights at work.”

Shephard also said employment agencies should be scrutinized. Many global employment agencies provide vital services for workers and employers, but:

We must be careful, however, that those intent on engaging in exploitive or abusive behavior toward domestic workers cannot hide behind the words “employment agency,” engaging in improper behavior while marring the good names of  real employment agencies.  And second, it is useful in this somewhat uncharted area to set down guidelines for the benefit of both the agencies and those they employ.

As Shephard told the delegates to the conference, which The conference runs through June 7:

We look forward, in the end, to all the governments, the workers, and the employers voting yes to equal treatment and voting “Yes” for justice.

Click here to learn more about the fight to win fairness for domestic workers around the globe.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and 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. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

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Blog #12. Fired in Real Time: From Fired to CEO

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Image: Bob RosnerWhen I was fired I had no idea that within a month I’d be firing people. You just can’t make this stuff up.

The evening that I was fired I got a call from a friend who invited me to help with his start-up. Pretty quickly we realized that the organization was in real trouble. Within weeks he asked me to fire the CEO and to take over leadership of the company.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a rags to riches story, until we raise money for the new business I’m still in rags. I’ve just got a better title. Hopefully we’ll raise money soon and I can stop volunteering and start getting paid. At least that’s the plan.

It’s interesting to get fired and fire someone within a month. Instead of being disconnected from their emotional state, you become like a ping pong ball, bouncing across the table from the firer to the firee. Anyone who has to fire someone should have this level of insight about what’s going on inside of everyone’s head.

I’ll give you one example. At one point the subject of turning off the ex employee’s email came up. I said that we wound need to do this, but it could take a few days. Outside of humiliating the employee, it just didn’t make any sense to shut off their email immediately. Especially since there is stuff in their email box that will help the company moving forward.

Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one who needed to be let go. Most of the staff followed him out the door.

But the meeting where people were let go was one of the most surprising of my business career. Not only didn’t anyone complain, the staff just wanted to talk about what could be done to save the business. A few people even volunteer to continue to contribute without being paid.

It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Which leads to my biggest piece of learning from this whole experience. It can all be summed up in one word, pride.

As much as people complain about work and their jobs, most of us derive great satisfaction from punching the clock. Like it or not, work plays a central role in most of our lives.

I’m reminded of the time I was getting a haircut. The barber was yawning a lot. I asked him if he’d been up partying the night before. He said no, that he’d given a bad haircut the night before and whenever that happens he ends up spending most of the night tossing and turning in bed.

Who knew that people could approach their jobs with such a sense of pride?

I’m going to try to carry the emotional pummeling of my firing with me every day for the rest of by working career. Because I think it is essential to never become disconnected from the pain and humiliation.

We can all rise from the ashes of a firing. But it takes a lot of rebuilding of your confidence along the way. The good news? There are a lot of people who are taking a similar journey. Hang in there.

My a-ha: There is life after being fired. Even success.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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