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Postal Workers to USPS: Don’t Shred Our Contract

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The U.S. Postal Service’s plans to cut more than 220,000 jobs—that’s right, nearly a quarter million—and break a collective bargaining agreement has its employee unions up in arms.

The financially-strapped U.S. Postal Service revealed last week that by 2015 it plans to trim its workforce by nearly one-third, close 300 processing facilities and institute its own health and retirement system to replace existing federal programs, according to several reports. About 100,000 of the jobs are expected to be eliminated through attrition.

The proposal, which requires congressional approval, has drawn concern from unions and labor observers for its potential to further erode the middle class. And it’s renewed fears that other employers will soon follow with their own cost-cutting measures.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat—nor collective bargaining contracts?—will stay the USPS from the swift completion of its appointed rounds. (William Thomas Cain/GETTY IMAGES)

The decision comes after the USPS has suffered continuous declines in recent years due to drops in mail volume, advertising, an increase toward online communication and private competitors like FedEx and UPS. The postal service makes most of its revenue through postage fees and receives little support from taxpayers.

As a result, the agency posted $8 billion in losses last year and $20 billion in the past four. Moreover, the postal service expects to be insolvent by next month when the fiscal year ends.

The USPS has already implemented a number of cost-cutting moves, including plans to reduce their current career workforce of 583,908. More than 110,000 jobs have been eliminated in the last four years and the AP reports that currently 7,500 administrative staff jobs are also in the process of being removed. In June, the agency stopped funding pension contributions, which it says are over-funded. Almost 3,700 post offices across the country, mostly in rural areas, could be eliminated. Saturday service may also cease.

The agency also plans to reduce labor expenses. Last week, the Washington Post obtained “white papers” (PDF link) written by the USPS that seek to withdraw its employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, essentially because they view as it as too costly and want greater employee contributions.

The postal service also wants legislative changes that would allow collective bargaining agreements to be broken in order to implement layoffs. USPS workers represented by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) with more than six years experience are protected. The National Association of Letter Carriers‘s (NALC) contract also has a clause restricting layoffs.

There’s plenty of disagreement about whether Congress’ decision to nullify a labor contract would be unprecedented, and whether it’s merely a reflection of the current employment climate or a ploy to get an anemic legislature to find a solution. A USPS  spokesman has said that “everything is on the table.”

Bill Fletcher of the American Federation of Government Employees union tells the Washington Post: “When you break a contract, basically what you’re saying is that we have left the era of good-faith bargaining and negotiation and entered into employer unilateralism.”

University of California at Berkeley labor professor Harley Shaiken told Bloomberg News that the job cuts would be “politically damaging” to the Obama administration. He adds: “It would make the federal government the largest contract breaker in the country.”

The APWU, the NALC and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association have opposed the post office proposals and viewed it as an attack on their bargaining rights. The unions say that labor costs aren’t the source of the USPS’s budget crisis.

The labor groups instead point to a congressional mandate from 2006 known as the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The measure requires the postal service to pay for the healthcare benefits of future retirees for the next 75 years, all within a 10-year period at the rate of $5.5 billion annually. It is the only federal agency with such a requirement. The payments started in 2007 and unions cite the pre-funding plan as the reason why the postal office has declared its inability to pay the future healthcare costs by September.

NALC President Fredric V. Roland wrote in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun that the postal service would have been profitable during the downturn and losses would have been minimized if it weren’t for the pre-funding mandate.

The unions, however, are not asking to remove the legislative requirement but are instead pressing legislators to support a bill that would allow payments to be made using funds from a pension surplus. H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would address the budget crisis, maintain bargaining rights and avoid further cuts, the APWU and NCLA said.

“This responsible business move, with zero taxpayer involvement, would leave pensions and retiree health benefits fully funded well into the future while putting the USPS budget back on sound financial footing,” Roland said.

Meanwhile, a job that had been a staple for the middle-class mobility is being threatened, echoing similar reverberations in the private sector where Verizon workers are currently on strike. The USPS is scheduled to begin negotiations with the letter carriers union this week and the smaller National Postal Mail Handlers Union next week.

*This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on August 17, 2001.

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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New Whistleblower Legislation – A Step in the Right Direction for Employment Rights

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Jesci“What exactly is a whistleblower?” I thought to myself when first given the task of updating some content on our website. I had heard the term and had a general understanding that it meant you couldn’t get in trouble by your employer for telling on them. Little did I know there is an entire area of law dedicated to the subject and new legislation was bringing about some major changes.

Luckily, the law seems to be heading in the right direction for employees on whistleblower issues. The government has expanded the law to allow better incentives for corporate employees who are reporting fraud to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) including monetary incentives for certain claims up to 30% of total funds recovered as a result of the SEC claim. These changes were brought about with the enactment of the Dodd Frank Act, which also created a whole new office to handle corporate whistleblower claims.

But, corporate employees were not the only ones to see beneficial whistleblower changes as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was recently passed. FSMA gives workers in the food industry an easy outlet to express their claims against companies concerning food safety issues. The act is meant to help prevent foodborne illnesses and promote safety in food handling. Also, the government has extended the reporting claims deadline to 180 days for most all industries.

With giving more days to file a complaint and offering better rewards and incentives, it is clear the law is moving in the right direction. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) provides the ease of online complaints as well as the option to call in and give the complaints over the phone. These changes are all in an effort to give incentives to employees to speak out when they see things going wrong in the workplace and not have to fear they will be retaliated against by their employer.

We want these violations in the workplace to be reported for the safety of workers everywhere and for the safety of the general public. Some whistleblower complaints can uncover major health hazards, economic downturns or disasters. Please speak out if you see illegal practices or activities going on in your workplace.

Whistleblower laws continuously are changing across numerous industries to protect your employment rights by making adverse actions against you illegal when you come forward with claims against your employer. Please explore the Workplace Fairness Worker’s Rights section for more information regarding whistleblowing as well as any other employment issue. It is important to know your rights and make sure you are heard.

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

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Support Grows for Striking Verizon Workers’ Fight for Middle-Class Jobs

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Image: Mike HallThe huge crowd outside the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., Saturday wasn’t there for a basketball game or concert. They came to tell Verizon to stop its attack on middle-class jobs.

The Verizon Center demonstration and dozens and dozens of other actions at Verizon worksites and Verizon Wireless stores are part of the growing support for the 45,000 Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Electrical Workers (IBEW) members forced on strike by Verizon Aug. 6.

Photo credit: Scott ReynoldsThe company, with $32.5 billion in revenue in the past three years, is demanding $1 billion in concessions from workers, which amounts to $20,000 per Verizon worker per year. While talks resumed last week, those demands remain on the table. Says CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson:

If wealthy companies like Verizon can continue to cut working families’ pay and benefits, we will never have an economic recovery in this country. This is a fight for all middle-class working families.

Verizon’s demands include outsourcing jobs overseas, gutting pension security, eliminating benefits for workers injured on the job, eliminating job security, slashing paid sick leave and raising health care costs.

CWA filed unfair labor practice charges against Verizon Aug. 12 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charging the company with refusal to bargain in good faith.

Union workers and community allies are joining striking CWA and IBEW members on the picket lines. Barbara Smith of CWA Local 1109 In Brooklyn, N.Y., told Labor Notes that when Verizon Wireless pickets are up:

pedestrians stop and thank us because they understand that this fight is about more than Verizon.

While Verizon is demanding that workers take home less, it paid its top five executives more than $258 million over the past four years, including $80.8 million for its former CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Friday night, more than 500 CWA, IBEW members and their allies held a candlelight vigil outside Seidenberg’ West Nyack, N.Y., home.

They carried a coffin to symbolize the death of the middle class. CWA Local 1101 member Ron Canterino, told reporters:

The middle class is dying here, and we’re here to be together as one class, one people—whether it’s union or nonunion working people.

Here are some other actions you can take to support the strikers:

  • Find a local picket line to support here.
  • Download leaflets here.
  • “Like” the strikers on Facebook here and change your Facebook and/or Twitter profile picture in solidarity here.
  • Click here to demand that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam value employees’ work and share his corporation’s success with those who make it possible.
  • Click here for a list of picket sites in the New York and New Jersey area. `
  • Click here to sign and Tweet an act.ly petition demanding Verizon drop its outrageous concessionary demands.
  • To Tweet about the strike, use the hashtag #verizonstrike and feel free to direct to @VZLaborfacts.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on August 15, 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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Tea Party? More Like the Donner Party

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Image: Bob RosnerBusiness guru Tom Peters once observed, “You can’t shrink your way to greatness.” Clearly Tom left his tri-cornered hat at home, because that’s not how today’s Tea Party operates.

In the recent debt ceiling negotiations budget cuts were the sole strategy to address what ails our nation. Raising taxes? Are you crazy? Questioning entitlement programs? Downright unpatriotic. Nope, to the Tea Party there is only one mantra, cut today, cut tomorrow and then put together a commission to cut in the future.

Unfortunately these “patriots” chose the wrong party to affiliate themselves with. They’re much more like the Donner Party than the folks who threw tea into the Boston Harbor to protest a British tax on tea in 1773.

To refresh your memory, the Donner party was a group of 87 pioneers who set out for California in 1846. Choosing a new route to follow, the Hastings Cutoff, they got trapped by a huge early snowstorm near Donner Lake, Utah. Food supplies ran very low and some of the members chose to munch on other pioneers to survive, resulting in only about half of the group reaching California. Yep, the other “C” word, cannibalism.

Cannibalism? Isn’t that a bit strong to describe efforts to get the Federal debt under control? Which leads to another “C” word, Clinton.

According to FactCheck.org, Clinton’s combination of spending restraints and tax increases, which fell almost exclusively on upper-income taxpayers, produced a surplus of $1.9 billion in 1999 and $86.4 billion in fiscal 2000. Please note that I used the more conservative calculations that eliminated the Social Security surplus, which tended to hide the size of the actual Federal deficit. Contrary to popular belief, this short-lived bout of rational economics was not the motivation for Prince’s anthem “Party like it’s 1999.”

As a best-selling business author and award-winning internationally syndicated columnist, I’m a business guy, not a political pundit. But watching my beloved country suddenly saddled with a AA+ bond rating and trillions lost in stock markets worldwide, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch pseudo-patriots drive my country into the ground any longer.

Before looking at any solutions, let’s reflect on the Tea Party’s roots and the fateful day of February 19, 2009. That afternoon, from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNBC’s Rich Santelli criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages. He called it “promoting bad behavior” by “subsidizing losers’ mortgages.” Santelli suggested holding a tea party for traders to gather and dump the derivatives in the Chicago River on July 1st.

Yes, when I think of populism and fighting for the little guy my mind immediately thinks of the , CNBC and how losers’ mortgages are what really drove our economy off the cliff during the late ‘aughts. Personally if anything should have been tossed into the Chicago River on that day I think it should have been executives from AIG, Washington Mutual, Bank of America, etc. who profited from those bad loans and who were the real source of any bad behavior.

Watching the world’s economy teetering on the edge, Treasury Secretary Paulson proved that my grandfather’s admonition “In America we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us,” was right on target. Instead of investing in keeping people in their homes, we tossed money willy-nilly at banks. At least Goldman Sachs, Paulson’s former employer, was able to get paid dollar for dollar by AIG on the money it was owed due to this bailout. And don’t even get me started on the “Let them eat cake” Bush tax cuts.

I’ve got my MBA and have served as an adjunct professor to MBA students. No, I’m not a credit-swap-smoke-and-mirrors-MBA. I’m a put-everything-on-the-table-MBA who believes that you have to look at all your options before you can solve a business problem as complicated as the Federal deficit.

Sure budget cuts must be a part of any solution moving forward. But revenue increases and entitlement programs must also be in the mix. Heck, forget Afghanistan and Iraq, we might want to consider closing the book on World War II and finally bring our troops home from Japan and Germany. Just sayin’.

Any attempt to address our budget shortfall by just cutting budgets is like trying to treat a case of the measles by cutting off the patient’s hand.

According to Wikipedia, some commentators claim that the “tea” in Tea Party stands for “taxed enough already.” Comedian Lewis Black sums up my feeling about taxes when he asked the question, “Why don’t we ever see paying our taxes as being patriotic?” If you really love America, shouldn’t you help to support it to keep it strong?

We can continue down the Donner Party, oops Tea Party, route and cannibalize our future. Or we can put everything on the table and actually return to the days of a balanced budget. Sure it will be painful, any effort to remove sloth requires some work to achieve.

And the next time you hear someone say that something is off the table in any budget negotiations, let’s join together to toss them off the table, because the Donner Party approach is nothing but a dead end.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is the author of the Wall Street Journal and Amazon best-seller, the Boss’s Survival Guide, and an award-winning journalist who writes the internationally syndicated Workplace911 column. He received a B in his MBA Finance course, which he believes qualified him to write this article.

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Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Gets It Right: ‘The United States Is In The Dark Ages When It Comes To Maternity Leave’

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Image: Pat GarofaloFox News’ Megyn Kelly returned to work yesterday after three months of maternity leave, and during her first show, she pummeled shock radio host Mike Gallagher, who back in May called Kelly’s maternity leave “a racket” that was “unbelievable.” Kelly not only took Gallagher to task for poo-pooing the notion that women should be able to stay home with their newborns, but she also pointed out that the U.S. is in “the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave,” as it is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t require employers to give new mothers paid time off: megynkelly0809

KELLY: What a moronic thing to say…Is maternity leave, according to you, a racket?

GALLAGHER: Well, do men get maternity leave? I can’t believe I’m asking you this, because you’re just going to kill me.

KELLY: Guess what honey? Yes, they do. It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. If men would like to take three months off to take care of their newborn baby, they can. […] Just in case you didn’t know, Mike, I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gave me paid leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn’t require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about getting pregnant and carrying a baby for nine months, that you don’t think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place, hmm?…You can’t answer the question because there is no answer, my friend.

Watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5BfSBxk0FMc

Kelly is spot-on. As the Project on Global Working families found during a survey of 173 countries, the U.S. is in some bad company when it comes to paid maternity leave:

Out of 173 countries studied, 169 countries offer guaranteed leave with income to women in connection with childbirth; 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave. Although in a number of countries many women work in the informal sector, where these government guarantees do not always apply, the fact remains that the U.S. guarantees no paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force, leaving it in the company of only 3 other nations: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.

The U.S. hasn’t required paid maternity leave even though such leave results in “a decrease of complications and recovery time for the mother and [a decrease in] the risk of allergies, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome for the child.” So it seems that even a Fox News host can be sensible when personally faced with the implications of government policy.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on August 9, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

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A Friend to Day Laborers

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kari-lydersenCHICAGO—Gretchen Moore was coming home from the dentist in December 2009 when she saw about 125 men at the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee avenues in sub-zero weather and, baffled, decided to find out what was going on. “Hi guys, what are you doing?” she naively asked some men, she remembers.

When told they were looking for work, she invited about five of them to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and began to hear their stories. Mostly immigrants, many of them undocumented, the men had come from Latin America and Eastern Europe searching for work.

Gretchen Moore advocates for day laborers in Logan Square on Chicago's North Side.
Gretchen Moore advocates for day laborers in Logan Square on Chicago's North Side.

Moore could relate—her husband came to the United States from Germany as a child and World War II refugee. Her husband’s father struggled to make a living opening a laundromat that burned down and later he opened a wholesale business on Canal Street. Her grandfather sponsored refugees during that period too, and told his family that it was their duty to protect immigrants who make this country as diverse and strong as it is, Moore explained.

She grew up in a racially homogenous part of Rockford, Ill., so moving into Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood about 20 years ago was a new experience for her, she said. She founded a chamber of commerce for the neighborhood, and the majority of members were immigrant local business owners.

So shortly after talking with the day laborers, Moore began dedicating the majority of her free time to working with them. She drove groups of men—arranged by country of origin—around the city pointing out social services and low-cost housing. She leveraged her network of friends and contacts to help the men get legal services and healthcare. Shortly after meeting them she got a shoe store to donate 50 pairs, she said, and a Michigan Avenue hotel to donate 500 soap and shampoo sets.

After she mentioned her work and the issue to the priest at a nearby Catholic Church, Resurrection, he urged her to gain 501(c)3 status—which she did in December 2010—to expand her reach.

She notes that many groups, including the similarly-named Instituto del Progreso Latino have offices on Chicago’s South Side, but the North Side lacks the same cohesive and politically organized culture among immigrants even though many neighborhoods on the city’s wealthier side have increasing immigrant populations.

Even though she speaks little Spanish, many workers turn to Moore for assistance on various fronts. Recently she was helping a Honduran with a special needs teenage son deal with a flooded basement. “If you’re undocumented, you don’t get insurance,” she said. She was also assisting a worker who had been arrested for selling bootlegged Mexican DVDs.

“Every morning they run up to my car with new problems, real human problems,” she said.

Now Moore is trying to raise at least $55,000 to open what she calls a “Latin men’s center” which would be similar to a workers center of the type the Latino Union runs in Albany Park just to the north. That one was formed primarily by immigrant day laborers who used to wait on the corner of Foster and Pulaski avenues. She sees it as a place workers could learn more English and business and construction skills, and also a place for injured day laborers to recuperate.

Like the Albany Park workers center, Moore sees her idea as a way to cut down on the wage theft that is rampant in immigrant communities. She said that along with the priest at the Catholic church where her 501(c)3 is now based, she calls contractors who haven’t paid workers. Sometimes they hang up and even change their number, she said, while other times they have come through with the money. She’s also verbally tussled with police officers who are known to harass the workers at Belmont and Milwaukee.

“The workers are taken advantage of horribly,” she said.

Ironically, in her hometown of Rockford, Moore made the news because her small construction firm was known for hiring nonunion workers. Now that Moore is a full-time advocate for day laborers, she doesn’t see the day labor issue through a lens of labor rights or worker organizing necessarily, but rather as a human rights and civil rights struggle—and as a matter of economic well-being for the workers’ families and the city as a whole.

“These are marvelous guys who have really needed skills,” she said.

Moore said that donations of funds, jeans (preferably size 32 to 36), shoes (size 6 to 10) or other goods can be dropped off at or otherwise made to the Resurrection Church, 3043 N. Francisco Ave. Chicago, Illinois 60618. For more information, e-mail northsidelatinprogress@hotmail.com.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on August 8, 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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Dumb, Dumber and the Downgrade

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Image: Bob RosnerThe recent debt ceiling debate and S&P downgrade of the U.S. government reminded me of a fight between an ex-spouse and boss over who can make your life the most uncomfortable. You realize that they both have lots of weapons to do it and there is precious little that you can do to change the outcome.

Congress fiddled and S&P lit the match last week and the rest of us will suffer. That’s the bad news. The good news? It shouldn’t be any more than nine to eighteen years that we’ll be stuck in purgatory. At least that’s what a S&P official said when asked how long it took previous downgraded countries to regain their AAA rating.

Ironic that a rating agency would start the ball rolling on this most recent downgrade, when it was the rating agencies sloppy ratings that started the recession in the first place by giving their highest ratings to what could only be charitably called junk bonds. Or worse.

But my favorite moment, is when the Treasury Department found a $2 trillion dollar mistake in the rating agency’s calculations about how bad our fiscal hole is moving forward.

It was Senator Everett Dirksen who said, “A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, soon it adds up to real money.” Senator, the quote still works, you’ve just got to change the “b” to a “t”.

One more metaphor, you know how I love my metaphors. This one comes from Africa, “When the elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers.”

We can dig ourselves out of this mess. But so many of our institutions need to be cleaned out an refocused on actually addressing our long terms financial health. I guess that last statement would officially make me an optimist. Or crazy.

Okay, I’ll accept a combination of both.

We can rise above this but only when we put self interest in the side and do what’s best for everyone moving forward. Okay, I’ve not seen it in my lifetime, but I’ll choose to keep an upbeat tone to this missive.

Wish us luck. We’ll need it.

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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45,000 Verizon Workers on Strike

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Credit: Joe Kekeris
Credit: Joe Kekeris

UPDATE: Tomorrow morning, Aug. 8, thousands of striking workers will join mass picket lines and rallies at more than 100 Verizon work locations across New York and New Jersey to push the highly profitable company to back off its sweeping demands. The list of picket lines and rallies is here: http://district1.cwa-union.org/news/entry/verizon_workers_fight_for_middle_class_jobs_-_join_the_picket_line

And in the Washington, D.C., area, you can show your support for striking workers at a mobilization rally Monday at noon at the Chesapeake Complex, 13100 Columbia Pike Silver Spring.

More than 45,000 workers from New England to Virginia went on strike just after midnight today at Verizon Communications. Since bargaining began July 22, Verizon has refused to move from a long list of concession demands. As the contract expired, Verizon, a $100 billion dollar company, was still was looking for $1 billion in concessions from 45,000 workers and families. That’s about $20,000 in givebacks for every family.nearly 100 concessionary proposals remained on the table.

This despite Verizon’s 2011 annualized revenues of $108 billion and net profits of $6 billion. At the same time, Verizon Wireless just paid its parent compny, Vodaphone, a $10 billion dividend. Meanwile, Verizon’s four top executives received $258 mllion over the past four years.

The workers, members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Electrical Workers (IBEW), say they are striking until Verizon “stops its Wisconsin-style tactics and start bargaining seriously.”

Read updates at www.cwa-union.org/verizon

Verizon already has outsourced some 25,000 jobs. It’s trying to destroy middle-class jobs and the middle-class standard of living that workers have gained over the past 50 years.

Follow the events on Twitter with the hashtag #verizonstrike and direct tweets to @VZLaborfacts.

This blog originally appeared in alf-cio Now Blog on August 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

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Good News for Wage-Theft Victims in San Francisco

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R.M. ArrietaWage theft is a national epidemic: It’s estimated that $30 billion or more is stolen from U.S. workers every year by employers.

In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors yesterday took a major step to prevent wage theft and protect low-wage workers by unanimously approving the Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance. Mayor Edwin Lee still has to sign it into law.

“While Washington was engaged in a manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling, workers and their advocates were working together with ethical businesses and government officials to make a real difference for working people and their families in San Francisco,” stated  Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Co-sponsored by Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar, the ordinance, among other things, will slap stiffer penalties on employers who disregard the law and strengthen the ability of the city’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to do its job.

The measure would do the following:

  • double penalties fro employers who retaliate against workers who stand up for themselves (i.e., try to enforce local labor laws).
  • penalize employers who refuse to post notice of minimum wage requirements, who neglect to notify their workers when a workplace investigation is being conducted, or who fail to comply with settlement agreements following a dispute.
  • allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.
  • establish a timeline in which worker complaints must be addressed,  and allow investigators to immediately cite employers for violations.

The Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance was drafted in partnership with theProgressive Workers Alliance, which launched the Campaign to End Wage Theft this past May.

The PWA has helped Bay Area workers recover almost half a million dollars in stolen wages via legal claims, suits, employer negotiations and community campaigns.

Many victims of wage theft are recent immigrants who speak little English. They work in restaurants, as domestic workers, day laborers and the garment industry.

Many don’t know what the laws are, and even if they do they are reluctant to report for fear of losing their jobs.

But there are places that treat their workers well. For that, Young Workers United launched a “Dining With Justice” which lists of local businesses that treat workers fairly.

Low-wage restaurant workers often speak of not being granted breaks, having their tips stolen, not being paid for sick days, not being paid overtime, nor for all the hours they work.

The Chinese Progressive Association conducted a study that found 76 percent of employees did not receive overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Approximately half were not paid San Francisco’s minimum wage of $9.92 an hour.

Take, for instance, the case of a Chinatown restaurant being sued by the City of San Francisco for $440,000 in wages plus interest for seven employees.

In their complaint, workers say they were paid twice a month with earnings of about $550, which comes out to approximately $3.02 to $3.91 an hour. All worked six days a week, 11 to 14 hours a day.

“Robbing employees of wages to which they’re entitled doesn’t just hurt working families—it also hurts honest businesses and their employees by corrupting a competitive marketplace,” stated City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Herrera said the case stands out even “among the most egregious perpetrators of wage theft in San Francisco. They paid wages well below the legal minimum, demanded long hours with no overtime, instructed workers to lie to labor investigators, and retaliated against those who sought to protect their rights.”

An attorney for the Dick Lee Pastry owners claimed the workers lied.

Donna Levitt of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standard Enforcement, (OLSE) the agency in charge of overseeing claims of employers withholding wages, told the SF Bay Guardian that 500 claims of wage theft have been handled by the office since the minimum wage law was put in place in 2004.  The office has a staff of 16 to enforce labor law. Last year they received 81 complaints about wage theft.

Since the wage law, San Francisco has recovered nearly $4.4 million in back wages for workers according to OLSE.

Supervisor Campos told the Guardian: “The fact is that even though we have minimum wage laws in place, those laws are still being violated not only throughout the country, but here in San Francisco.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on August 4, 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 rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

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Issa and NLRB Continue Duel, as Boeing CEO Threatens to Shift More Production

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mike elkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this month, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Lafe Solomon with a subpoena if he did not hand over key internal deliberative documents relating to the Boeing case by 5 p.m. on Tuesday July 26.

Solomon hasn’t complied. On July 26, he wrote to Issa asking him to reconsider his document request, saying “I respectfully ask that you reconsider our request to apply your June 17 ruling at the South Carolina hearing to our production of documents, which would allow the Committee to have access to requested information as soon as it becomes available to the parties and the administrative law judge at the hearing. “

Solomon’s reason for not handing over the documents was that “disclosure of documents and information not available to both Boeing and the Machinists could result in an unfair advantage to one party over another and risk harm to the integrity of the Agency’s legal process.” He said Issa’s document request flies in the face of Issa’s previous ground rules for Solomon’s testimony at a June 17 hearing held in South Carolina.

You ruled that “[a]ny time which is not discoverable by the defendant, will be considered out of bounds for any question.” In other words, you concluded that it would be inappropriate for Committee members to ask me to provide information not yet available to Boeing.

In justifying his decision not to hand over documents, Solomon cited a legal ruling handed down in the case by the judge in the Boeing case, Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson, denying the requests made by Boeing for the identical documents.

If the NLRB General Counsel’s office refuses to hand over documents after they are subpoenaed, Issa could then move to charge Solomon with contempt of Congress. Solomon would become the first Obama administration official charged with contempt of Congress—creating a political headache for the Obama Administration. Issa’s office did not respond to requests for comment despite numerous requests.

In another interesting twist to the case, while Boeing has demanded a large amount of documents from both union and NLRB officials, the company is not willing to let the public know about documents related to the tax incentives it is receiving from South Carolina where union work from Washington state was moved. Likewise, Boeing is refusing to disclose some of the details related to “Project Olympus” – a 2003 deal with the State of Washington that was thought to ensure the 787 aircraft would be built there.

Among some of the documents that IAM Local 751 Spokeswoman Connie Kelliher says Boeing won’t release are studies comparing the cost of leaving 787 production in Washington State and studies showing what it would cost Boeing to shut down a third temporary assembly line in Washington.

Despite the fact that details of the tax deals from Washington state would help legally establish Boeing commitment’s to expand in Washington State, Boeing has asked that the NLRB clear the courtroom anytime these documents are discussed.

“We suspect the documents Boeing wants to keep secret prove that Boeing executives didn’t make a legitimate business decision to transfer work from Everett to Charleston, but instead broke the law by moving because of union activity here,” Kelliher said in a press release. “It doesn’t surprise us that Boeing would want to keep any incriminating documents secret, but our laws don’t permit secret tribunals.”

A hearing is scheduled on Boeing’s motion to keep documents from the public today in Seattle. The scene is expected to be tense, as yesterday Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney shocked the aerospace world when he announced on a conference call that 737 jet production intended for Renton, Wash., may go elsewhere.

“It just sounds like they are basically threatening to abandon Puget Sound,” said IAM Local 751 Spokesman Bryan Corliss. The production was widely expected to go to Washington state

Tensions are quickly rising, with Congress threatening to subpoena the NLRB and Boeing considering moving even more production away from the unionized workforce in Washington. The push by Boeing and its Republican allies in Congress against NLRB and the union could have a huge effect not just on labor law, but on the role of the NLRB in enforcing labor law for generations to come.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on July 28, 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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