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In the Wake of Oslo Attacks, a Path Forward for Labor?

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Michelle Chen“For all dead comrades, not a minute’s silence, but a life of struggle.”

—Olav Magnus Linge, Norway’s Socialist Youth

The labor movement has always derived its power from its ability to mobilize people as a collective whole. But that potential to catalyze social action, and to resonate across lines of color and nationality, is precisely what makes the movement a political target around the world. And that’s why the attack on young progressive activists in Norway was both shocking and yet not unpredictable.

When taking aim at the Utøya summer camp of the Labour Party Youth Movement (AUF), the killer knew exactly what he was destroying: the next generation of young people who would challenge right-wing ideologies. Though it was a relatively mainstream political gathering, the camp symbolized the kind of inclusive society that extremists like Anders Behring Breivik view as a key obstacle to their agenda of engulfing Europe in racist barbarism.

The attack could have been directed at a cultural symbol of “foreignness” in Norway—an immigrant neighborhood or a religious institution, perhaps. But what made the camp a more ideal target was that it encouraged transcendence of cultural allegiances and envisioned a society that could move past ethnic and sectarian conflict. That is, labor was attacked because its strength stems from solidarity rather than divisiveness and exclusion–the political currency the far-right trades on.

The bloodshed in Oslo appears to have injected fresh urgency into campaigns for workers’ rights and social equity. The Norwegian trade union coalition, LO, has posted statements of support from other unions around the globe, including some in places where assaults on economic and human rights are more routine, like Palestine, Syria and Colombia.

In a collection of solidarity messages on the International Transport Workers’ Federation website, Victor Moore of Australia’s Rail Tram and Bus Union said the victims “shared a dream of hope for the future and support for the cause of labour.” Reflecting on labor’s history of youth organizing, he added:

we remember also the many sacrifices and acts of courage by youth across the globe in support of democracy and trade union rights. Trade union solidarity knows no borders and is a powerful force for hope and change.

M. Raghavaiah, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, said the “barbarian acts” resonated with past attacks in Mumbai, which spurred citizens and workers’ organizations “to come together and put up an act of substance” by aiding in the post-crisis recovery.

Although Breivik, who had been linked to the right-wing Progress Party, saw Labour as a whole as too tolerant of immigrants and Muslims, the AUF was known for more radical leanings than the mainstream Labour Party. According to Britain’s Socialist Worker Party paper, the AUF often publicly criticized the government’s policies on issues like Norway’s refugee community and involvement in the Afghanistan war under NATO.

Representatives of the International Socialists are reportedly planning a mass mobilization in the wake of the attacks that will include Oslo’s LO, with hopes that AUF members will also “continue their political activities in honour of the victims. … We want a demonstration in solidarity with the AUF, but also for a multicultural society, tolerance and unity against racism.”

In the wake of such unimaginable horror, a path forward through direct action is difficult to contemplate, particularly when many unions in highly industrialized countries tend to focus on bread-and-butter workplace issues. Yet some hope the Oslo attacks could reinvigorate militant labor activism.

To socialist commentator Dave Stockton, it isn’t the state of Norway per se that needs protection from the right, but rather, “the values of international solidarity,” which encompass Norwegian Muslim communities as well as peoples struggling against oppression in Palestine and across the Middle East. In the labor movement at home, Stockton pointed to “the need to organise our own stewards, our own security, our own defence against the far right who will aim to use the crisis to rally ever more enraged people to their ranks.”

So far it’s not clear what shape this united front would take, but the discussion does give new valence to strategic mass mobilization. And it sheds light on ongoing threats that fueled the political climate from which Breivik emerged.

The Socialist Worker pointed out that among the many groups and outlets that inspired Breivik’s rhetoric (on both sides of the Atlantic), the ultra-right wing English Defence League had a special place. Weyman Bennett of London-based Unite Against Fascism told the paper, “There’s a network of Nazis across Europe who support and sustain racists like Breivik. What happened in Norway shows we have to redouble our efforts against the racist ideology of Islamophobia.”

Writing from London, author and activist Alan Woods said labor’s most effective tactic against the extreme right would be organizing on the street, rather than alignment with the official law enforcement response. Norway’s government, he argues, has pivoted to the right along with other European leaders, and an act of terror should not drive people to duck obediently behind the state.

The Labour leader, having correctly emphasized that this was an attack against the Labour Movement, then went on to say that the matter should be left in the hands of the police. This is a mistake. The state cannot be relied upon to provide effective defence against the fascists. The state intelligence services have ignored the activities of fascist groups, and a section of the state always has fascist sympathies. …

The Labour Youth, the Youth Wing of the trade unions, and the Youth of the Socialist Left party should immediately link up to form self-defence committees, linked to the trade unions and the shop stewards committees….

The organised working class must learn to depend only on itself. Only the Labour Movement can combat the menace of fascist and right wing groups. But to do so effectively, it must respond to every fascist provocation by mobilizing the full might of the organised working class. The Norwegian Labour Movement is very powerful. It must use its power to teach the fascists a lesson. The Norwegian trade unions should call a 24-hour general strike to protest this attack.

We’re used to seeing strikes and demonstrations in the day-to-day business politics of unions, while grassroots organizing is increasingly distanced from bureaucratic leadership structures. Can labor effectively  militate toward ideals of justice, democracy and equality in the face of terror? Now that so many youth have perished in the name of those principles, labor can turn a time of mourning into a moment for reaffirming its purpose.

This blog originally appeared in These Working Times on July 27, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

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Republican FAA Shutdown Costs 4,000 Jobs, Threatens 90,000

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Image: Mike HallWhen Republican House leaders forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week, they not only forced the layoff of 4,000 FAA workers, they also put at risk nearly 90,000 construction jobs at airports around the country.

FAA funding expired after midnight Friday because Republicans blocked temporary funding in an effort to overturn a new rule making union elections among rail and airline workers more democratic.

With a long-term FAA funding bill stalled, Congress could have passed temporary spending authority, as it has 20 times in the past without controversy. But  like their tactics on debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans  are demanding their way at any cost.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on Republicans “to stop playing ideological games” and to:

get down to the serious business of creating jobs, instead of laying off FAA aviation experts and tens of thousands of construction workers, who are already experiencing close to 20 percent unemployment rates nationally. Adding insult to injury, just as the government reaches its debt limit, this disruption of the FAA means that aviation taxes—totaling up to $200 million a week—that normally fund our aviation infrastructure may instead end up in the airlines’ pockets.

Says AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Edward Wytkind:

Here we go again. House Republican leaders are playing political games at the expense of vital services and thousands of good jobs….Unfortunately in this game there are no winners. Republican leaders are holding hostage a simple funding extension of vital air safety programs, forcing furloughs on 4,000 FAA employees, jeopardizing thousands of construction jobs as airport projects are at risk and even sticking it to rural America by threatening their air service.

The FAA partial shutdown means no one is collecting the tax on airline tickets, costing the federal government $200 million a week.

It also means airport improvement construction jobs will be lost in every state and FAA aviation experts furloughed in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Florida, for example, a total of 3,088 jobs are shut down or at risk, in Illinois it’s 3,286 and in Ohio it’s 1,358.

The laid off FAA workers include engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists and community planners.

Says AFSCME President Gerald McEntee:

FAA employees should not have their livelihoods jeopardized because a few politicians want to play political games.  The FAA employees we represent are hardworking public servants who are committed to maintaining what is undeniably the most efficient aviation system in the world.  Congress should pass a short-term extension at once and recommit themselves to passing a long-term bill that does not take away the rights of working men and women.

The union election rule in question, adopted last year by the National Mediation Board (NMB), says air and rail union elections should be decided by a majority of votes cast. Previously, each worker who did not cast a vote in an air or rail  representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote. If the old rule were applied to Congress, not a single sitting member would have been elected.

Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America (CWA) president, says:

It’s a sad day when extremists would rather shut down the FAA and force the layoff of thousands of workers than allow airline workers to vote in a union election under the same standards used in every other American election.

This blog originally appeared in Afl-CioNow Blog on July 25, 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 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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Hyatt Hotel Puts the Heat on Striking Workers—Literally

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kari-lydersenCHICAGO—The Hyatt hotel chain turned up the heat on striking and picketing workers—literally—here Thursday, as 10 hanging heat lamps normally used in winter were turned on workers picketing outside the downtown Park Hyatt. This occurred on one of the year’s hottest days—with a heat index well above 100 degrees and the temperature over 80 degrees, with high humidity even early in the morning—part of a lethal nationwide heat wave.

CBS reported:

Combined with the outdoor air temperature, Linda Long says it was hotter than the Hyatt kitchen she’s worked in for eleven years. “They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing,” Long said. “If the heat didn’t kill us, the heat lamps would.”

Workers at Hyatts in nine cities nationwide were holding a one-day strike and picket to draw attention to contract negotiations, which have been stalled for 22 months, and what workers and union leaders call atrocious treatment of housekeepers, including sub-par wages, subcontracting out of work, and the speed at which housekeepers are expected to clean rooms.

The Chicago Tribune quoted a 42-year-old bellman about the heat lamps. He said only bellmen, engineers and select other employees can turn the lamps on, and it could not have been an accident.

This is one of the hottest days of the summer. Work at that door every single day and only in winter time do those need to be turned on. Somebody did it on purpose. It’s ridiculous.

Hyatt workers also held a one-day strike and picket last month, as Candice Bernd reported for Working In These Times:

After months of bargaining, Unite Here Local 1 has won a 3-year contractual agreement with Hilton and Starwood hotel companies this year. While Hyatt has indicated support for a contract that would match some of the settlements of Hilton and Starwood for union employees, the company continues to refuse a fair bargaining process for workers at nonunion hotels, remaining the last of the three largest hotel chains to do so. Another sticking point for Hyatt is the subcontracting out of new work.

The chain is owned by the influential Pritzker family. Chicago blogger Michael Klonsky (an occasional In These Times contributor) writes:

Heiress Penny Sue Pritzker chairs Obama’s national campaign finance committee. She is also big player in Democratic Party politics as well as in the world of anti-union, corporate school reform and was recently appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a seat on the Chicago school board.

In a statement Hyatt said the heat lamps went on by accident and were turned off about an hour later after they were notified. Workers said they suspected that’s because media had been alerted. Klonsky reported the heat lamps seemed to energize the picketers, who chanted “You can’t smoke us out.”

This seemingly inhuman and probably illegal response seemed to have had just the opposite effect. Picketers began chanting, “Hyatt can’t take the heat, but we can!” The lamps were left on until word got out and media began to show up.

The day of action Thursday came three weeks after a report by rabbis that described the Hyatt working conditions as “not kosher” and hundreds of religious leaders picketed with workers at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. The UNITE HERE unionwebsite says: “Hyatt Hotel Housekeepers suffer abuse. Our injury rates are high, our wages are low, and our immigrant sisters are exploited and cheated by Hyatt’s housekeeping subcontractors.”

The Chicago Tribune reported the company’s official response to Thursday’s picket:

In cities from Chicago to Waikiki and here at Park Hyatt, we have offered union leaders contract proposals that match wage and benefit packages identical to what Unite Here has accepted from other hotel companies. Yet, union leaders have rejected every one of these proposals.

This Blog originally appeared In These Times on July 22, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen is an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

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What Younger Generations Think about Social Security- Maybe Not What You Thought

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Jesci“We are in the midst of the most dangerous threat to Social Security I have seen in my lifetime,” exclaimed Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President for the Economic Policy Institute during opening remarks last Wednesday for a panel discussion on young people and Social Security. As discussions got underway it became apparent that while Social Security may be threatened, the youth of America thought it was one of the most important benefits the government provided and Social Security would stay strong as long as politics allowed it.

Celinda Lake, one of the panel members from Lake Research Partners, shared her findings with the audience explaining younger generations were fearful of the economy because of the recent economic crisis, and therefore, opposed any cuts to Social Security, even with the growing deficit. She explained if Social Security wasn’t offered, the older generations would stay in their positions even longer not allowing for the younger generations to take their places in the workforce. She found in her research that younger voters, whom have been hit the hardest by the economy are more supportive towards Social Security, and think it should be guaranteed because employees pay taxes on it. Lake explained that young people do agree with Social Security, so the question needs to be: how do we mobilize them and get that message heard through the polls? Her bottom line was that we can entrust Social Security to young people in the country even if we can’t trust the people in Washington.

The next speaker, Teresa Ghillarduci, author of When I’m 64, The Plot Against Pensions and Plan to Save Them, explained that the days of the 1960’s when men had to continue to work to define themselves has ended. People want the freedom to retire and enjoy life after working 45 years. If we erode retirement savings plans then people will have to stay in the workplace longer and their health and well being is at risk. People who retire when they want to enjoy a much healthier and stress free life, and get to enjoy the freedoms retirement is meant for.

Finally, Kathryn Edwards, author of the Economic Policy Institute’s Young Persons Guide to Social Security, got up and shared her experience when dealing with young people and their views of Social Security in a nutshell. She referred to this idea as the “Youth Challenge: because they don’t think they’ll need it and they don’t think they’ll get it.”  She was quick to point out that Social Security is not, “just money for old people but a system of social insurance.”

Social Security is a program utilized more strongly by the middle class than people think. It is not simply to provide for the elderly who do not have good retirements already, but it is a tool people can rely on and a promise made to them to provide a supplement to them when they are in need and unable to work. Social Security is all about the risk associated with not being able to work whether you are disabled, elderly or suffer from an untimely death. But, the main difference between Social Security and other forms of privatized insurance is that Social Security only spends $.01 for every dollar on administrative costs. This figure would be unheard of in a private insurance provider.

Kathryn’s message was simple in that you cannot outsmart risk, so the bottom line is that you need protection from it. People have fears about the future of Social Security, including the idea that people are living longer and we will run out of money to support them. But, life expectancy increasing over the years is a reason to celebrate Social Security, as it is working and allowing people to live longer because they can live out their elder years more stress free.

According to the research conducted at the Economic Policy Institute, to continue Social Security working smoothly and as promised for the over 53 million people receiving its’ benefits, it would cost only 1.5% of the GDP, which was the same amount spent on national defense between 2001 and 2007. Social Security is a well thought out and functioning plan which has provided people with their chance at enjoying retirement since 1935. The younger generations need to step up and ensure politics don’t get in the way of this honorable American program and break the promise made to millions of American workers.

About the Author: Jesci Drake is a current law student and legal intern for WorkPlace Fainess.

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I’m a Guy and I’m Stressed Out

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Image: Bob RosnerAh, the good old days. It’s 1977 and the Labor Department’s Quality of Work study found that 34 percent of men say that they’re experiencing some kind of work and home life stress. About one in three.

Fast forward to 2008 (okay, it’s 2011, but the Labor Department sometimes gets too much labor on it’s plate to produce reports in a timely fashion. Don’t get me started on the stress they’re experiencing) and the same question gets agreement from 49 percent of men with families. Just about half.

Where does this stress come from? Not many surprises here. 60 percent of me who have a spouse who also works report substantial conflicts in the demands of work and family, as do men with young kids (55 percent) and men who work the longest hours (60 percent of those working more than 50 hours a week, versus 39 percent of those working 40-49 hours/week).

There are many reasons for this: wages have remained essentially flat for almost 40 years, long hours, working not only your job but the job of laid off coworkers, greater job insecurity and boundaries between work and home life that are breaking down. Heck, just writing this list is stressing me out.

Okay, my take is that this is all a good thing.

Men should assume more stress from their home life. Take more responsibility. In my significant relationships I did 80% of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids. I think that men should contribute in all these areas.

Because participating in family life does bring stress. But it also brings joy and meaning. So this is one of those areas where stress is not 100% bad. It can complicate your life but it also enriches your life at the same time.

Why should women have all the joys and stress from home? Dive in there fella.

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 workplace911.com. 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 bob@workplace911.com.

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Bay Citizen First Start-Up News Website to Join Union

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Image: James ParksThe editorial staff at the nonprofit news website The Bay Citizen voted to affiliate with the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA). This is the first start-up news website to form a union.

In a letter to the website’s CEO Lisa Frazier before the vote, the editorial staff wrote:

We believe The Bay Citizen, as one of the pioneering exponents of new civic journalism, should also be a leading example in the area of workplace democracy.

The workers had the support of union journalists at The New York Times and KGO radio, which have agreements to obtain local news content from The Bay Citizen.

TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said the result marks an historic advance for media workers in an industry that is struggling to find new ways to stay competitive in the online era.

The future of quality journalism depends on reporters and editors shaping the vision of innovative new media organizations. By voting to be represented by the Guild, employees at The Bay Citizen have given themselves this voice.

The Bay Citizen was founded in 2010 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to fact-based, independent reporting on civic and community issues in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its journalists cover Bay Area civic and cultural news topics. The site also partners widely with independent media organizations and produces the Bay Area pages of the The New York Times.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on July 20, 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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NFL Players Have Fewer Rights Than Their Counterparts

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Image: David WeisenfeldBlue-collar workers toiling on assembly lines and elsewhere have little in common with National Football League players.  So it’s no surprise that few tears have been shed over the labor strife which engulfed the NFL for the last several months.   Most of the angst understandably has been over the concern that games could be missed on Sundays this fall.  Many viewed this dispute as one between overpaid millionaires (the players) and greedy billionaires (the team owners).

But now that a new collective bargaining agreement appears ready to be ratified, it is worth noting that while football long ago eclipsed baseball as the nation’s most popular sport, its players enjoy the least employment rights of those in the four major professional team sports.

A baseball or basketball player who signs a six-year contract and then suffers a career-threatening knee injury during a game will receive every cent of that deal whether he ultimately returns or not.  If a player in those sports loses his effectiveness and no longer competes at the all-star level for which he is compensated, the money will still pour into his bank account for the remainder of his contract.

In contrast, NFL players stand alone in professional sports with one-way contracts that are not guaranteed.  A five-year, $50-million contract is certainly nothing to sneeze at.  But it binds only the player, not the team.  For instance, if the player is injured or brings less star power than advertised in year one, the team is free to release him and owes him no compensation beyond that first season.

Oftentimes, teams will come to players and ask them to renegotiate their already-signed contracts significantly downward.  If they agree, their jobs will continue.  If not, the team will wash its hands of the player.

Now the more sophisticated football fans are surely thinking about the lucrative signing bonuses NFL players receive.  Agents insist that player X receive say $10-to-$12 million up front to guard against the possibility of a premature termination of the contract.  It’s certainly not bad money if you can get it.  Those bonuses, however, tend to go to the players at the top of the sport.  So Peyton Manning or Tom Brady can easily command them, but reserve offensive and defensive tackles will not.

The NFL also stands alone with the generally poor care of its retired players from the past.  A disproportionate number, like the recently-deceased Baltimore Colts tight-end John Mackey, have suffered or still suffer from dementia.  Others are afflicted with life-long disabilities and impairments stemming from the violent nature of a game which involves high-speed collisions on every play.

And the average career of an NFL player lasts only four years.  That’s significant because the rookie wage-scale along with the amount of guaranteed money they can receive in the new collective bargaining agreement will be going down.  At the same time, players must wait at least four years to gain their free agency and a pay day which statistics show the majority of them will never reach.

Make no mistake:  many red-blooded American workers would do anything to have the ability to play in the NFL and have those problems.  After all, it’s not to be confused with wondering if your company will be in business at the end of the week or how the mortgage will be met.

Still, for the nation’s most popular and profitable sport, where most teams sell out all of their home games, it is notable that the players fall well behind their baseball counterparts when it comes to the security of their contracts and longterm benefits.   And that’s something which will not be altered by the new labor agreement.

About the Author: David Weisenfeld served as U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for LAWCAST from 1998 through June 2011.  During that time, he covered every employment law case heard by the Court, and also wrote and co-anchored the company’s employment law newscasts.  In addition, his work has appeared in the American Bar Association’s Supreme Court Preview magazine.

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Unions Continue Pushback Against Split Telecom Workforce

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Industry’s growing wireless sector is mostly nonunion—and companies want to keep it that way

The telecommunications company Verizon is seeking concessions from its unionized members in order to shave labor costs and shift more resources to its wireless service.

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) represent more than 45,000 employees in the northeastern United States. The unions are currently in negotiations over a new Verizon contract in lieu of a three-year deal that will expire on August 6, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The negotiations come as telecommunications companies are focusing on expanding wireless technology, an area that has relatively fewer unionized workers than the landline sector. In turn, unions are now looking to expand their presence in the wireless field while fending off concessions in traditional communication services.

Thirty percent of Verizon’s 200,000 employees are unionized, most of whom work in wireline jobs. The company has proposed a plan that would freeze pensions, increase employee healthcare contributions, amend job security and pay provisions for its unionized workers. Verizon says increased competition and declining revenue from the wireline services is the reason for the cuts: wireless revenue from last year increased by 5.1 percent, while its wireline revenue decreased 2.9 percent to $41.2 billion. Verizon Communications Inc. profited $2.5 billion last year.

Unions view the proposal as aggressive. “This is not a company coming to its union employees seeking ways to work together to face the challenges of the future. Their proposals seek to destroy our future,” wrote the CWA on itswebsite. Bob Master, political director for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 1, called the contract an “attack on the middle class,” according to New Jersey newspaper The Record.

Workers are planning a July 30 rally at the Verizon’s headquarters in New York City. A walkout also seems possible if an agreement isn’t reached. A July 19 bargaining update posted on the website of IBEW Local 2222 says negotiations with Verizon are ongoing, but also wrote “locals should continue conducting their strike votes.”

Verizon is not the only communications company dealing with labor. With ashrinking workforce in traditional telecom, unions are hoping to organize in the wireless sector.

On Tuesday, a group of technicians in Connecticut became the first unionized T-Mobile employees in the United States after voting to join the CWA-TU. A spokesperson for the union confirmed the workers are employed in the wireless division.

The vote comes after the U.S. management had tried to stifle unionization, the union said, even though the company’s German-based parent, Deutsche Telekom, allows its workers employed in the home country to freely organize.

AT&T acquired T-Mobile recently. The move was supported bysome unions, but drew dismay from consumer groups. And although AT&T and Deutsche Telekom have a strong union presence, it’s not clear if there will be any layoffs due to the merger that is not yet finalized.

As companies compete to update their mobile technology, organized labor, as they have done with T-Mobile, are looking to unionize the growing wireless sector. But U.S-based telecommunication companies seem ambivalent.

A Verizon spokesperson quoted by the Wall Street Journal did not seem receptive. Sprint has been historically nonunion, but the market has changed in the traditional sector. Jobs have declined, costs have been reduced and productivity has increased. As a result, unions will be looking to minimize the wireless-wireline division through more organizing.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on July 20, 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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First NAFTA-Wide Union Could Emerge This Year

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mike elkUnited Steelworkers and Mexico’s Los Mineros union could develop a unification proposal as soon as this August

In Mexico, few independent union exist that are not effectively controlled by the Mexican government. According to United Steelworkers International Affairs Director Ben Davis, fewer than 1 percent of Mexico’s unions are truly independent unions. As a result of the lack of independent unions in Mexico, Mexican workers have had a very hard time advocating for higher wages. Further, those unions that are independent in Mexico—like the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Related Workers of the Mexican Republic, aka Los Mineros—have faced severe oppression at the hands of government-affiliated unions.

In 2006, Los Mineros President Napoleon Gomez Urrutia was forced to flee to Canada after the Mexican government charged him with what union officials characterize as trumped-up charges of embezzlement. A federal Mexican court has dismissed the charges against Gomez Urrutia, but the charges against him remain pending at the state level. Supporters of the exiled labor leader says that he was only charged with crimes after he demanded an investigation of 2006 mine explosion that killed 65 workers at the Pasta de Conchos. Gomez Urrutia has been running the 180,000-member Los Mineros union out of the Steelworkers’ District 3 offices in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Despite the charges against Gomez Urrutia and his forced exile, his continued relevance was demonstrated late last week when officials for the Mexican operations of steel corporation ArcelorMittal traveled to Toronto to negotiate with the exiled Mexican labor leader. The trip was made possible in part through the assistance of the United Steelworkers (USW), who may merge with Los Mineros later this year.

Last month, In These Times Contributing Editor Kari Lydersen profiled how the unique cross-border solidarity emerged between USW and Los Mineros. In 2005, steelworkers went out on strike at an Asarco owned copper mining and smelting mill in Arizona in 2005. Many Mineros members who work at the Grupo Mexico company, which owns Asarco, went out on strike and performed other solidarity actions in support of striking miners in Arizona.

As a result of that strike, a solidarity agreement was formed between those two unions in 2005. In 2010, USW and Los Mineros formed a joint commission to look at merging their two unions. According to United Steelworkers Public Affairs Director Gary Hubbard, the joint commission is working toward a  unification proposal for discussion at the Steelworkers’ convention in August in Las Vegas.

As Kari Lydersen noted, “If the merger occurs, the new USW-Mineros union would represent more than 1 million workers—the USW has 850,000 members, while the Mineros has 180,000.”

If the USW/Los Mineros merger passes, as many expect it will, it would be the first between a Mexican-based union, an American affiliate of a union and a Canadian affiliate of a union—marking a new phase of cross-border solidarity. The merger has the potential to reshape labor markets in both countries.

“We are directly affected everyday by the low-wage competition from Mexico. The reason that competition is low-wage is because Mexican government keeps wages low by busting unions,” says USW International Affairs Director Ben Davis. “It’s a matter of survival for us to have democratic unions that support workers’ rights and raise wages. It’s really about closing the gap the right way by bringing Mexican wages up, not our wages down, through strengthening alliances between workers who quite often have the same employers.”

Correction: The original version of this article stated that members of both USW and Los Mineros would vote on a unification proposal if it were part of USW’s August convention. In fact, only USW members can vote on proposals presented at the convention.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on July 15, 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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Weighty Matters

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Image: Bob RosnerOkay, this one is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, we have bias against people who are overweight. That’s the boring part. But it gets interesting when it comes to how the bias is different for men and women.

A study by a University of Florida professor found that thinner women had a higher salary. And so did heavier men.

That was interesting enough. But the reason why thinner men earned less was fascinating. Thinner men are often seen as a pushover or nervous.

I didn’t see that one coming.

And I’ve heard that overweight women are seen as lacking discipline. Isn’t it amazing that we can judge the same thing, being overweight, so dramatically different for men and women?

We all know that men earn up to 25% more than women and that this gap has held relatively consistent through the years.

Here is my question, with all of us getting fatter, will this pay differential just keep growing along with our butts?

Call me old school, but I think that bias not only does exist, it should exist at work. But our bias should be focused on the quality of our contributions and not on the size of our bodies.

This sounds to some of you as naive and to others as utopian. But I see it differently. For anyone who is able to see past these biases, there are a large number of high performers who most people are overlooking, heavier women and thinner men.

Get behind these overlooked workers and you’ll pound the competition.

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 workplace911.com. 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 bob@workplace911.com.

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