Monday, May 13, 2013

Bangladesh to allow labor unions

With the death toll from the Bangladesh building collapse now over 1,100 people, the calls for greater safety have become deafening. The government of Bangladesh, in order to create safer work environments, has turned to the most proven method of making workplaces safe: labor unions.

Today, the Bangladesh government agreed to allow the more than 4 million garment workers to form trade unions without previous restrictions.

The Guardian reports:

The cabinet decision came a day after the government announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for garment workers, who are paid some of the lowest wages in the world to sew clothing bound for global retailers.
Those working at the eight-storey Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories when it collapsed on 24 April, were paid as little as £25 ($38) per month.
Also from the Guardian story, a government spokesperson talks about the changes:
Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, a government spokesman, said ministers had agreed to amend the law to lift legal restrictions on forming trade unions in most industries. The old law required workers to obtain permission before they could unionise.
"No such permission from owners is now needed," Bhuiyan told reporters after the meeting presided over by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. "The government is doing it for the welfare of the workers."
Local and international trade unions have long argued for such changes.

Laborers worldwide rally against closed TPP negotiations

Protests erupted around the globe over the weekend in advance of the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Why the worldwide uproar? Because the TPP is bad for workers not only in the U.S., but for those in 10 other countries whose governments are currently taking part in super-secret trade negotiations.
The TPP would ease trade restrictions between participating nations while lining the pockets of company executives and shareholders. It also would result in lower wages and fewer workplace protections. Activists in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Peru joined Americans in raising awareness in their home countries about this big businesses boondoggle. The secret TPP discussions are set to begin Wednesday in Lima, Peru. 
Back in the U.S., supporters argue that a TPP deal would increase trade opportunities with TPP member nations and therefore lead to more U.S. jobs. A much more likely result, however, is jobs moving overseas where impoverished workers will earn a fraction of what those earning fair wages in the U.S. receive.
Mark Weisbrot, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote in a piece published in McClatchy-Tribune newspapers Saturday that American workers have been sold this bill of goods before.
When our government tells us such an agreement will create jobs in the United States, they are saying that the agreement will increase our exports faster than imports.
So, for the TPP, they are saying that we will increase our exports to Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and now possibly Japan faster than our imports from these countries. That is unlikely.
We were promised the same thing with NAFTA two decades ago, but it didn't work out that way at all.
Author Michele Nash-Hoff also sounds the alarm about TPP for U.S. laborers, saying in a Huffington Post piece that the trade agreement could do away with an 80-year-old law that gives preferential treatment to American producers in the awarding of federal contracts.
The TPP treaty would exacerbate our trade deficit problem and make it even harder for American manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace. Instead of weakening "Buy American" requirements through additional trade agreements such as TPP, we need to strengthen the requirements.
This drastic curtailment of "Buy American" procurement provisions is another reason why we must make sure Congress rejects any fast-track authority the Obama administration seeks to invoke when it comes time to get final congressional approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
In a statement, Teamsters Canada expressed concern about what the deal could mean for the country’s dairy supply management system.
We respectfully remind the head of the Canadian delegation, Kirsten Hillman, and Trade Minister Ed Fast that Canada has joined several trade pacts, including the NAFTA, and maintained supply management. Like the dairy farmers and processors with whom we work, Teamsters Canada expects the government will defend the stability of the Canadian dairy industry, which supports over 200,000 good middle class Canadian jobs, in these TPP talks.
Ultimately, Congress will have to approve any TPP deal, so now is the time to start contacting your elected representatives and telling them that TPP is a step in the wrong direction. It’s bad for our nation’s workers. It's bad for America. 

Today's Teamster News 05.13.13

Garment Workers Gather To Demand More Wages, Better Conditions Voice of America   ...Thousands of garment workers gathered in a demonstration to demand better salaries and improved working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of workers in Cambodia’s factories. Workers say a government increase of the minimum wage, to $80 per month, is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living in the country...
Mark Weisbrot: Proposed international trade pacts no aid to workers  Appeal-Democrat   ...The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a very special trade agreement. It is so special that our government officials who are negotiating it want to keep it completely secret from us...
Furlough Watch: Agency-by-Agency Impacts of Sequestration  Government Executive   ...Across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration are having have serious implications for federal workers, as mandatory unpaid furloughs planned for hundreds of thousands of employees begin to take effect. Check out the list of possible agency-by-agency plans and effects...
Large Corporations Seek U.S.–European 'Free Trade Agreement' to Further Global Dominance  AlterNet   ...The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the latest plan of conglomerates to strengthen their grip over the planet...
Obama, in Texas, presses middle-class jobs agenda  Associated Press   ...Offering a more upbeat view of the economy, President Barack Obama resurrected his jobs proposals Thursday, advancing modest initiatives as he pushed for action on more ambitious efforts that face resistance from congressional Republicans...
Detroit Fast Food Workers Join Strike Wave  Labor Notes   ...“Want to know what all the fuss is? “We are standing up for justice!” At a busy intersection dotted with fast food brands, that is what 80 fast food workers and supporters chanted outside a Detroit Popeye’s Friday morning...
Demand more from Walmart (opinion)  Boulder Weekly   ...Walmarts have been popping up all over the country in the last five years. For several years, Walmart has placed or tied for last among department and discount stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The situation for the workers is even less satisfying...
In Ga. and NC, Republican legislators reach into local governments controlled by Democrats  Associated Press   ...Even with Republicans holding unprecedented political power across the South, Democrats remain mostly in charge of urban centers in otherwise conservative states. Yet increasingly that control is threatened, not at the ballot box, but by Republican-led legislatures...
Missouri lawmakers OK state income tax cut  Associated Press   ...Battling back against tax cuts in neighboring Kansas, Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to an income tax cut for businesses and individuals that could reduce state revenues by about $700 million annually when fully phased in...
Florida prepares for massive insurance signup  Sun Sentinel   ...Facing the next big health-care challenge in Florida, Uncle Sam plans to enlist hundreds of consumer "navigators" over the next several months to help enroll up to 3.5 million uninsured state residents by January, when everyone is required to have health insurance...
After Plant Explosion, Texas Remains Wary of Regulation   New York Times   ...Five days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled a wide swath of West, Texas, Gov. Rick Perry tried to woo Illinois business officials by trumpeting his state’s low taxes and limited regulations. Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades...
Michigan health centers get $3.8M to boost staff  Associated Press   ...Michigan’s community health centers can receive about $3.8 million from the federal government to help uninsured Americans enroll in health insurance coverage under the Federal Affordable Health Care Act...
Workers complete spire on New York's One World Trade Center   Reuters   ...Workers cheered and whistled as they completed the spire on New York's One World Trade Center on Friday, raising the building to its full height of 1,776 feet and helping fill a void in the skyline left by the September 11, 2001 attacks...
Illinois Senate passes pension bill, sets up showdown with House  Chicago Tribune   ...Senate President John Cullerton sent his version of pension reform to the House, setting up a high-profile clash with the rival plan Speaker Michael Madigan already pushed through the House...
Liquor store union ad campaign raises questions in Harrisburg  The Sentinel   ...There’s a good chance you’ve heard a commercial running on Harrisburg radio stations, but it’s mostly intended for the ears of lawmakers who are mulling liquor privatization...
Tax breaks, lawsuit liability left for Missouri Legislature in final week  Kansas City Star   ...With next year's budget plan finalized and an income tax cut passed, Missouri lawmakers now will turn their attention to resolving differences over tax credits and liability lawsuits before their mandatory adjournment on Friday...
NC Senate plan expands sales tax base far and wide  Associated Press   ...Senate Republicans argue that exponentially expanding the number of transactions subject to the sales tax would promote fairness in a North Carolina tax system now packed with exemptions and loopholes...
Washington state courts hacked; potentially up to 160,000 Social Security numbers accessed  Associated Press   ...The Washington state Administrative Office of the Courts was hacked sometime between last fall and February, and up to 160,000 Social Security numbers and 1 million driver’s license numbers may have been accessed during the data breach of its public website, officials said...
Teamsters Energized at 2013 Unity Conference  IBT   …The 2013 Teamsters Unity Conference convened Sunday, May 12, welcoming thousands of Teamsters from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico to share their accomplishments, their challenges and the work they are doing to advance the lives of workers…
Hoffa Statement On YRCW Efforts To Acquire Frieght Division Of ABF  IBT   ...Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa issued a statement regarding recent reports that YRC Worldwide Inc. attempted to acquire ABF Freight Systems...
Slippery slope? NYC threatens to fire school cafeteria workers for buying butter  Washington Times   ...The butter police are on the job. New York City school kitchen managers said they’re being targeted and “bullied” by bureaucrats who have threatened “disciplinary action” for buying butter, in violation of a five-year-old policy against using or offering the spread in cafeterias...
Advanced Business Agents’ Seminar Scheduled July 29-31  IBT ...The IBT Training and Development Department will conduct an Advanced Business Agents seminar July 29-31, 2013 at Teamsters Joint Council 25 in Chicago...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A history of standing up to intolerance

Boston Teamsters standing up to the sickening trolls of Westboro Baptist Church gave union members everywhere a sense of pride. But it was far from the first time the Teamsters have had to deal with hate groups.
Being on the front lines of the civil rights movement, the Teamsters Union has had to deal with its fair share of hatred, including from the Ku Klux Klan.
In a 1946 issue of Teamster magazine (then called “The International Teamster”), a story ran about organizing efforts in the South. “Industry Mobilizes for Fight as Klan Rides Again,” reads the headline to a story about the push to organize in the South: 
It appears, therefore, that the unions will face organized resistance on an unprecedented scale before the deplorable standard of living in the southern states can be increased through union contracts. 
A more sinister aspect of the industrial resistance is the revival of the Ku Klux Klan almost simultaneously with the labor campaign.
Under the pretext of “Saving the South from Communism,” the Klan is preparing to inject itself into the struggle to maintain the open shop.
Every union organizer will probably be branded a “Communist” as the Klan attempts to ride the crest of a wave of patriotic prejudice to organize the South itself and promote the sale of cotton fabrics woven into the hoods and shrouds of its official costume.
But the union’s history with the Klan goes back to the turn of the century, to the earliest days of the Teamsters Union—all because the union fought for colorblind contracts and gender equality. Here’s more from 
The Teamsters did not just talk equality -- they lived it. Early Teamsters would not allow southern locals to follow the practice of segregation, and in fact threatened to pull charters in cases where this was violated. The first local in New Orleans was governed by an Executive Board that consisted of black and white members, defying southern tradition. By 1906, editorials in the Teamsters magazine were making impassioned pleas for all local unions, but especially those in the south, to organize African-American workers.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also championed the cause of women's rights early on. The following was printed in the July 1917 issue of the Teamsters Journal:
"Equal pay for equal work should become a constant, vigorous slogan among all employees in all crafts. The strength and brains of women and girls are exploited the world over and especially so in the United States. All working men and women should become actively, and, if necessary, drastically interested in fighting for equal pay for duties performed by either sex. The standard of living in every workingman's home is lowered by sexual inequality of pay and both sexes should band together and swat the curse from all parts of the earth where it exists."
Later that same year the Teamsters won a clause in a contract for women laundry workers that required equal pay regardless of race. This was a huge achievement and became the first "color blind" contract for workers. This action brought criticism and even threats to the union and its leaders, but they would not be intimidated. By 1919 the Teamsters adopted "Equal Pay for All" as their national slogan.
The Civil Rights Movement
As the civil rights movement grew in the 1950s and 1960s the Teamsters became very involved. The union provided money and supplies to many civil rights groups, including the more than 700 families living in "Freedom Village," who faced retribution for registering to vote in 1960.
The Teamsters had a good working relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with representatives on civil rights boards and committees. And, union members and leaders were active participants in the movement at a time when such actions were considered risky, if not down right dangerous for any organization.
Scores of Teamsters members were among the more than 200,000 people who participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963. Buses carrying Teamsters arrived from near and far, some driving through the night to join the activities on time. Members who attended described the event as "the greatest peaceable demonstration in the history of the nation." Others reported feeling great pride in the union for its support of the civil rights movement.
But the Teamsters' involvement in social causes was not without consequences.
Viola Liuzzo, the wife of a Teamster business agent was murdered as she drove Marchers to Selma, Alabama in 1965. Dr. King as well as many rank-and-file members, James R. Hoffa and other Teamster leaders attended her funeral.
The Teamsters have met prejudice with demands for equality for a century and have dealt with far more formidable hate groups than the pathetic clowns of Westboro. But it’s great to see that the union still stands strong in the face of intolerance.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Relief for Teamsters affected by Hurricane Sandy

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit U.S. shores in late October 2012, the outpouring of Teamster support for those affected was tremendous.

“Teamsters care. It’s in our DNA,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President, after reports of Teamsters loading trucks with relief supplies, delivering them to staging areas, working with the Red Cross and other groups, and doing a lot of the heavy lifting that comes with rescue and recovery efforts after a natural disaster of that magnitude.

After the storm, Teamsters in the stricken areas worked long hours in horrific conditions to get storm-struck areas back to normal—or at least a semblance of normal. But Teamsters who weren’t close enough to physically help still dug deep and donated to the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fundto help out those Teamsters who had to rebuild themselves.

A couple of months ago, relief checks from the Teamsters Union made their way into the hands of Teamsters whose property was severely damaged.

It was ugly outside on the day Mike Klein got his check from the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund. “It was raining, I was upset, but getting that help from the Teamsters Union brought some light into my day,” said Klein, a Local 831 Teamster who works for New York City’s Department of Sanitation. Klein is one of many Teamsters who, despite being affected by the hurricane personally, worked through the deadly aftermath.

“We live in an evacuation zone and knew an evacuation order was coming. A year earlier, during Hurricane Irene, we were also ordered to evacuate,” said Klein, who lives on Long Island and works in the Bronx. “We rode out Irene at home. My wife didn’t want to leave the house. It wasn’t that bad. We had a little damage…lost some shingles but we didn’t lose power. We thought it would be the same this time.”

But it wasn’t. Hurricane Sandy turned out to be one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history. It was the second-costliest hurricane in American history after Hurricane Katrina. It cost tens of billions of dollars in damage, destroyed thousands of homes, left millions without power and caused dozens of deaths, including some Teamster members and their families.

“We’re on the water, on the bay side. We were completely destroyed. We were allowed to go back in and then directly out a week or so later to get our belongings. We couldn’t stay there, though. We had to go back and forth, back and forth to get our things. The place was in bad shape. Our foundation was destroyed. Engineers said we had to get it redone. A lot of things have to be redone—all the plumbing and electric, for example.” It took months before he and his family could get back into their home, incurring many expenses along the way.

“When we got back in, obviously we hadn’t had a chance to repair much yet. The insurance money hadn’t come through yet. We did what we could just to be in the house…to have a roof over our heads,” Klein said. “It’s hard to describe to people what it was like to watch the houses on either side of me get ripped apart.”

Normalcy has since returned to his life thanks, in part, to the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund.

“When I came home from work with the check from the Teamsters, it brought my wife to tears,” Klein said.

“You don’t know what that relief fund has meant to our members. We have sanitation workers that live and work in New York City and our claims were really high,” said Harry Nespoli, President of Local 831 in New York City, which represents sanitation workers. “I went out to Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island—all the hardest-hit areas. It was devastating. Many of our men were there working in the neighborhoods with their own homes wiped out. They were living and sleeping in the garages. They worked 12-hour shifts. We had guys that took the trucks out on their own time and worked for nothing, just to help.”

Joey Manuel was one of those workers who went right into work directly after the storm despite the trauma of losing his own home.

“This whole experience has really changed my life,” said Manuel, a steward and clerk with the New York City Sanitation Department. “After an experience like this, you see how fragile life can be. It’s there at one point and it could be gone the next.”

Manuel was watching football on TV when he noticed water rising outside of his house. There wasn’t much at first…just a sidewalk underwater. It’s didn’t take long for it to get worse.

“Sure enough the whole corner of my block is soon underwater…within half an hour, me and my mother were paddling through it. We didn’t realize the whole basement had been filling up underneath us. It has an 8-foot ceiling and it filled up then started coming in the rest of the house,” he said. “I told my mom that we had to get out so we got in the car, which was ankle deep in water in the back yard by then. By then the whole neighborhood was full of water. The car got submerged while we were in there with all of our personal belongings that we were trying to take with us. We had to get out because water was coming into the car. I open the door, water rushes in. I get out, get my mom out and bring her back to the house. We go up to the top floor and stay there.”

Through it all, Manuel and his mom were dodging boats floating down their street, power lines coming down and other hazards. In the end, his home was almost completely destroyed, but he still went to work that day.

“I was a zombie,” he said, but he realized there were people—his neighbors, friends and family—that still needed help. So he got to work, like hundreds of other Teamsters. Manuel recently got his check from the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund.

Teamster magazine wrote about the union’s reaction to the storm in the Winter 2013 edition and had this to say about the city’s sanitation workers:

New York sanitation workers, members of New York City’s Local 831, quickly became the most popular people in storm-ravaged neighborhoods. Even President Barack Obama referred to their hard work, mentioning the sanitation workers “who sometimes don’t get credit but have done heroic work.”

Those Teamster sanitation workers cleared more than 300,000 tons of debris from neighborhoods after the storm. The Staten Island Advance newspaper reported,“The Sanitation workers arrive like heroes in Staten Island’s devastation zone…New York City’s Strongest are showing up in force—with bulldozers, dumpsters, and hundreds of workers on duty at a time, clad in gloves and dust masks, doing the back-breaking work of cleaning up, neighborhood by neighborhood, in the hardest-hit zones.”

“We really appreciate everything from the Teamsters. It really helps,” Manuel said.

“Getting that check with the Teamster name on there made them feel good. The checks went to buying groceries, some are still making repairs on their homes,” Nespoli said. “It’s not so much the money, though. It’s that people care. New York had never been hit anything like this before and it was good to see other people, our Teamster brothers and sisters, reach out and help. I was really proud of the Teamsters on this particular front. It meant a lot.”

Teamsters ask NLRB to look into illegal firing of pharmacist

Chicago-area Teamsters are going after retailer Jewel-Osco for engaging in unfair labor practices while the union is negotiating a new contract with the company. Local 727 filed charges against Jewel-Osco this week for its unjustified firing of a pharmacist employed by the chain for 30 years, saying it violates the National Labor Relations Act.

Harold Collier, the pharmacist who was terminated, is a bargaining committee member for the Teamsters. Since negotiations began, Local 727 representatives have met eight times with company officials in an effort to reach an agreement, to no avail. Teamsters Local 727 filed notice of Collier’s improper firing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on May 8.
“After our investigation and watching the company stonewall us through the grievance process, it because obvious that Harold’s dismissal was just another cynical negotiating tactic,” said John Coli, Teamsters Local 727 secretary-treasurer and lead negotiator for the 400 pharmacists.
The union has represented Jewel-Osco pharmacists for more than three decades. During that time, there has never been a labor action.
“The Teamsters and Jewel-Osco have a long history of cooperation and flexibility at the negotiating table,” Coli said. “It is a shame that the company has decided not to engage in good faith bargaining.”

Next week is National Police Week

On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 57 hours. In all, more than 19,000 law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791.

Next week, National Police Week, will be a time to reflect on the heroes that ensure our communities are safe. This includes honoring the growing Teamster contingent of correctional officers, correctional probation officers and those in related fields.

“Our members who work in correctional institutions, as well as those who monitor offenders when released, are steadfast in their role of keeping our communities safe,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “Each of us has an obligation to be an advocate for those who serve and protect us, and the Teamsters will continue fighting for the passage of laws that provide for superior pay and benefits.”

The justice system would be incomplete were it not for the valiant efforts exhibited on a daily basis by these brave men and women who perform this vital function at the local, county, state and federal levels.

“We must also realize that one of the best ways to guarantee we maintain a professional and courageous corrections workforce is to demand that public safety be the first priority,” said Michael Filler, Director of the Teamsters Public Services Division.

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls as National Police Week. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

There are many events and activities planned in D.C. and around the country for National Police Week, which you can find here.