Workplace Issues Today

Despite its leading position in Europe?s economy, Germany still trails behind other European countries when it comes to female participation in the labor force and advancement to management positions. Perceptions that women are unfit for the board room, are perpetuated, and reinforced by social institutions and government policies that in many ways penalize two income households. This labor market that employs fewer women than France, Great Britain and Scandinavia, and in which less than four percent of women reach top executive positions, is coming under increasing fire not only from women?s rights advocates, but from business and management circles as well.

See Gender Equality Lags Behind Times in German Business., NORA FITZGERALD, Chicago Tribune, Apr 23 2002

In Rosemead and Santa Fe Springs, California Project Avanzando---advancing in Spanish---is preparing recent immigrants to take the General Educational Degree (GED) Exams and helping them to escape lives defined by unsteady employment and poverty wages. The program offers its students free transportation, child care and college counseling to encourage them to take three to five months worth of high school classes, after which they take the GED exam. Project Avanzando has graduated forty-two students since it first started in January 2001---a third of whom have gone on to community college---and is one of only a few such programs in Southern California.

See Education Program Quietly Creating Change., MILTON CARRERO GALARZA, Los Angeles Times, Apr 23 2002

Klaus Zwickel, president of Germany?s 2.8 million member IG Metall union, announced today that---with contract talks deadlocked and no settlement on raises in sight---the union?s leadership will likely hold a strike vote in the coming weeks and encourage members to authorize long-term industrial action. Negotiations with Germany?s industrial employers broke down last Friday with employers offering a 3.3 percent increase, up from an earlier offer of 2.5 percent, and the union insisting that in order to offset losses in real wages caused by inflation last year, its members needed a raise of around four percent, down from an initial demand of 6.5 percent (see WIT for March 19, 2001). The union has been engaging in rolling warning strikes across the country for the past five weeks (see WIT?s for March 27 and April 1, 2001), but if the union goes on the extended strike that M. Zwickel has said is a forgone conclusion, it will be the first major industrial action in Germany in seven years.

See Extended Strike a Distinct Possibility in Germany., Reuters, Detroit Free Press, Apr 22 2002

In the latest departure from the practices of former CEO Jacques Nasser taken by the Ford Motor Company under new CEO, and great-grandson of the company?s founder, William Clay Ford Jr. (see WIT for Oct. 31, 2001), the company is changing the name of a manager evaluation system that has already been the subject of several major substantive changes. The Performance Management Program (PMP), as the system was known, had originally established an evaluation process leading to A,B and C ratings, with a requirement that at least ten percent of managers be assigned the lowest rating. The PMP had resulted in class action discrimination lawsuits against the company by older, white workers who felt that under they received a disproportionate number of C ratings as compared to women and minorities.

See Ford Drops Controversial Evaluation System., ED GARSTEN, Detroit Free Press, Apr 22 2002

The U.S. Senate begins debate this week on a bill that would---for the first time in 8 years---give the president the power to negotiate trade agreements with other countries that will be subject only to approval or rejection as a whole by the Senate. Labor and environmental groups have lobbied intensely to preserve the Senate?s ability to reject, accept or modify individual lines of foreign trade treaties as a vital defense against treaties that do not provide for adequate protection of the environment and labor rights. Much of the Bush Administration?s foreign trade policy to date has been tempered by a desire to appease such groups and their political allies, in an attempt to secure passage of the trade agreement fast track bill.

Last Friday, the membership of the Screen Actors Guild voted down what would have been a historic agreement with the Association of Talent Agents in a vote that showed the deep divided within the union over the issues involved (see WIT for Feb. 25, 2002). The agreement called for the end of a sixty-three year old ban on outside investment in talent agencies---intended to prevent the conflicts of interest that would arise if talent agencies were partially or wholly owned by companies that they contracted with for advertisements---in exchange for support of the union?s efforts to end runaway productions (see WITs for Dec. 5 and 12, 2001). Although the failure to reach an agreement means that there is a potential for a major showdown between the two sides, talent agencies have indicated that while they are not interested in signing a new agreement on the old terms, for the time being they will adhere to the now expired agreement.

See SAG Membership Votes Down Tentative Agreement with ATA., JAMES BATES, Los Angeles Times, Apr 21 2002

Less than a month has elapsed since the Supreme Court ruled five to four in Hoffman Plastics v. NLRB that the labor rights guaranteed to workers by the National Labor Relations Act do not extend to undocumented immigrants (see WIT for Feb. 28, 2002), but employers are already taking advantage of this ruling in ways that further undercut the rights of such workers. Labor leaders and immigrant advocacy groups alike have been stunned by the speed with which employers have moved to broadly interpret the ruling---which eliminated penalties for employer retaliation against undocumented immigrants? union activities, but left other workplace rights intact---to declare open season on a wide range of rights. Examples of this dangerous trend include: meat processing companies in Kentucky and Nebraska asking for the immigration papers of workers filing a sexual harassment complaint and a workers? compensation claim for a thirty-foot fall, respectively; a California jewelry manufacturer using a workers? compensation hearing to determine the immigration status of an employee and then firing her; a Manhattan meat market warning employees not to picket the store for failing to pay minimum wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

See Recent Ruling On Immigrant Labor Rights Already Having Major Impact., NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Apr 21 2002

Despite initially strong support in the wake of the Enron scandal, a proposal for a twenty percent maximum limit on employee 401(k) investment in their employers? stock has been abandoned due to its failure to garner the support expected from organized labor. The measure was intended to protect the large numbers of workers who have only vague and seriously flawed understandings of 401(k) plans from attempts by employers to convince employees to bolster failing company stock with their retirement savings. Ironically, union officials have attributed their inability to support the measure, to rank-and-file opposition stemming from a misunderstanding of the role 401(k)s play in their post-retirement income.

See 401(k) Reform Limited by Public Misperceptions., PETER G. GOSSELIN, Los Angeles Times, Apr 21 2002

United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President, and ILR alumni, Randi Weingarten announced yesterday that an agreement between the union representing New York City?s 80,000 teachers and the Board of Education could be in the offing. Despite continued pressure for concessions from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Harold Levy---who are locked in a dispute over control of NYC?s schools---the last round of negotiations saw an improved tone and an agreement by the city and the union to adopt the basic provisions of a recent fact-finding report (see WIT for April 10, 2002). Although she is optimistic that an agreement can be reached before a May 8 strike vote scheduled this past Wednesday, Ms. Weingarten made it clear that the strike will still be held if the two sides have not settled by that time on such remaining issues as the uses of a $56 million recruitment fund and of an agreed upon 20 minute increase in teachers? workdays.

See Settlement in Sight for NYC Teacher., ABBY GOODNOUGH, The New York Times, Apr 18 2002

The Bush Administration?s proposed voluntary ergonomics standards came under intense criticism from Democratic committee members yesterday, at a public hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today (see WIT for April 5, 2002). Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao?s attempts to counter concerns about the voluntary standards by promising that her department would use lawsuits against uncooperative employers, backfired when Democrats cited an article by current Labor Department Eugene Scalia condemning such lawsuits. Democrats on the Committee also pointed to the standards? restriction to the nursing home industry, and cuts in occupational health and safety training and enforcement, in further condemning the Bush Administration on its approach to both repetitive stress injuries and workplace hazards in general.

See Democrats Question Sincerity Voluntary Ergonomics Rules, STEVEN GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, Apr 18 2002

Labor relations at United Airlines are once again on the rocks as talks over a new contract for the 30,000 ramp and customer service employees represented by the International Association of Machinists drag on (see WIT for April 9, 2002). New CEO Jack Creighton had hoped to settle all outstanding contract negotiations by March 25, and begin bargaining over wage-concessions with all the unions at United on an equal footing. Despite the IAM?s initial praise for the new CEO (see WIT for Oct. 29, 2001), and the successful negotiation of a contract for United?s mechanics (see WIT for Feb. 19, 2002), Creighton and the president of IAM District 141 have fallen back into the name-calling and accusations that preceded the ouster of Creighton?s predecessor (see WIT for Oct. 25, 2001).

See United CEO Critical of IAM., JOHN SCHMELTZER, Chicago Tribune, Apr 18 2002

Dozens of black employees joined unions and environmental groups outside Coca-Cola's annual shareholder meeting in New York City today, to protest what they assert is the corporation's continuing race-discrimination. Despite Coca-Cola's recent establishment of a company-wide diversity committee and other diversity management practices, some employees claim that the company is doing more to improve its public image than it is to end bias within the organization. Coca-Cola paid $192.5 million to settle a class-action racial discrimination suit in 2000, but seventeen individual suits are still pending against the company---brought by employees who insist that the company's allegedly racist practices must be made public through the courts.

See Minority Employees Picket Coca-Cola Stock Meeting., BEN WHITE, The Washington Post, Apr 17 2002

Britain's Fire Brigades Union (FBU) plans to end a nationwide no strike agreement dating from a nine-week walkout in 1977-78, and begin engaging in massive industrial actions if the government fails to address wage issues. Union officials assert that the agreement---which was once the pride of the FBU and the envy of other workers---is outdated and has caused firefighter' wages to fall to an unacceptable level. The FBU is calling for a one-time ten percent raise this year to bring their members' wages up to par, and a new automatic raise system to replace the old system that provides for automatic annual wage increases mirroring those achieved by the top twenty-five percent of male industrial workers.

See In Britain, Firefighters End No-Strike Accord., KEVIN MAGUIRE, Guardian Unlimited (UK), Apr 17 2002

Unions in New York City were less than enthusiastic yesterday following the release of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget for the coming year, and his calls for union cooperation in cutting costs. District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees---the largest union in NYC with 125,000 members, and a trend setter for many smaller unions---will be submitting its proposals for a new budget to Mayor Bloomberg in the coming weeks, and officially had no comment. Several candidates for the presidencies of the Sergeants Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, meanwhile, were vocal in their criticism of Bloomberg's proposed cuts in funding for the Police and Fire Departments.

See NYC Unions Cautious in Appraisal of Bloomberg Budget., WILLIAM MURPHY, Newsday, Apr 17 2002

Over 13 million Italian workers followed through on a general strike promised by the country's three largest trade unions, staying out from work yesterday and shutting down major factories and transportation throughout Italy. 2 million of the striking workers took to the streets, marching and demonstrating against President Berlusconi's proposed loosening of job security laws in what was Italy's first full-day national strike in twenty years. Both sides remain publicly adamant in their positions---with the unions arguing that the legislation is the first step towards eliminating Italy's long-standing just-cause dismissal laws, and Mr. Berlusconi insisting that the change is needed to stimulate the economy---impending municipal election may mean that a deal is in the offing.

See In Italy, Unions Carry Through with Strike, Shutdown Industry and Travel., MELINDA HENNEBERGER, The New York Times, Apr 16 2002

A study released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that for the year 2000, women engaged in part-time work made fifteen cents more an hour than their male counterparts. This gap is largely due to the fact that many female part-timers are women who already have established careers and switch from full to part-time work in order to take care of children---as opposed to male part-timers who are more likely to be starting off in their careers and have less experience and earning power. Both the higher pay-rates for part-time female workers revealed by this study, and the fact that women make on average twenty-four cents less an hour than men, can be linked to the greater tendency among working mothers, as opposed to working fathers, to seek part-time employment while their children are growing up.

See In Part-time Jobs, Women are Higher Paid., Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, Apr 16 2002

India became the latest country to experience massive labor unrest yesterday, when close to 10 million public-sector workers went on strike to protest the government's plans to continue the privatization of many of India's publicly owned companies and firms. The strike was lead by unions at government-owned banks, railways and factories, and resembled recent anti-privatization strikes by Britain's railway unions and utility, manufacturing and transportation unions in South Korea. With India's 23-party coalition government increasingly hesitant to engage in unpopular economic policy revisions, the public-sector unions are likely hoping that increased pressure will prevent further privatizations like that of India's government-owned international telephone utility earlier this year.

See Privatization Plans Lead to Nationwide Strike in India., EDWARD LUCE, Financial Times, Apr 16 2002

In a charge filed with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), the National Labor Relations Board Professional Association (NLRBPA) has complained that the NLRB is engaging in bad faith bargaining---an unfair labor practice of the type that the Board is supposed to prevent in the private sector. This is the second unfair labor practice charge filed in slightly over a year with the federal sector labor body by the union representing 160 non-managerial lawyers at the NLRB. The NLRBPA alleges that the NLRB has employed surface and regressive bargaining tactics in ongoing negotiations over non-wage issues, and in addition to filing the charges plans to hold a rally outside NLRB headquarters tomorrow.

See NLRB Accused of Unfair Labor Practices by its Employees., EDWARD WALSH, The Washington Post, Apr 15 2002

Thousands of United Federation of Teachers members and NYC parents picketed as planned yesterday to remind New York City officials, and the community at large, that they have been working without a contract for almost a year and a half now (see WIT for April 2, 2002). Billed as an "informational picket," the action also served as an indicator of parents' support for the teachers, and of possible strike action to come if the city does not take action on a fact-finding report that both sides have praised as the basis for a possible settlement (see WIT for April 12, 2002). The impact of the massive show of determination was immediately evidenced by Mayor Bloomberg's announcement yesterday that he is willing to make use of $204 million earmarked by Governor Pataki for raising teachers' salaries in NYC---reversing his earlier position that he did not want to use this one time only source of funding for recurring costs (see WIT for March 15, 2002).

See NYC Teachers Picket., NICK CHILES and JESSICA KOWAL, Newsday, Apr 15 2002

In a struggle that mirrors the one currently dominating the political landscape in England, trade unions in Scotland are locked in an increasingly bitter debate with the Scottish Government over private finance initiatives (PFI's) and the two-tiered workforces they create. At a meeting yesterday with delegates and officials from Scotland's public sector unions, Scottish Prime Minister Jack McConnell's pledges to address organized labor's privatization concerns were met with polite acknowledgement from some but outright derision from others. Meanwhile, the announcement by GMB officials that their union would not support the Labour Party in next year's elections, because of that party's continued support for PFI's and failure to adequately address the erosion of wages and benefits experienced by privatized workers, was met with immense approval.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America have reached a tentative 18 month contract with AT&T covering 27,900 workers whose current four-year contracts will expire May 12. The IBEW and CWA had rejected AT&T's request to extend the current contract for 18 months, citing massive layoffs in recent years and the existing contract's lack of job-security guarantees and (see WIT for Feb. 13, 2002). The new contract keeps the shortened period that the company wanted due to poor sales, but includes a six percent raise, a $250 bonus, an eight percent increase in pensions, and an agreement by the company to pay 5.5 percent on cash in workers' retirement accounts, without raising health insurance payments by workers or tapping pension funds for severance pay.

See AT&T, IBEW, CWA Reach Tentative Settlement., Bloomberg News, The New York Times, Apr 14 2002

With over seven months having passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, recent reports show that heightened security measures adopted or predicted in the immediate wake of the attacks have not become fixtures of the American workplace. The predicted massive exodus from skyscrapers and other high profile office spaces failed to materialize, business travelers report that flights seem as crowded as ever, and the vast majority of employers have not stepped up background checks of employees. A recent poll by USA Today, CNN and Gallup showed that only fifty percent of Americans feel that another attack is likely to occur---down thirty percent from October.

See Workplaces Returning to Normal as Post-9/11 Fears Relax., STEPHANIE ARMOUR, USA Today, Apr 14 2002

In a story reminiscent of the Enron scandal, auto parts manufacturer DCT Inc. went bankrupt on February 7, bouncing 400 employees' paychecks, leaving them with no health insurance, $700,000 in unpaid medical bills to be accounted for, and unable to access their 401k pension plans. The U.S. Department of Labor recently contacted the lawyers working for the trustee appointed by the bankruptcy courts to find out if DCT misused employees' health insurance payments to pay off other debts. A former manager who had access to DCT's financial information has, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the company did indeed illegally divert insurance premium payments from employees' paychecks for other purposes---causing doctors and hospitals to come after laid off workers for large medical bills.

See Department of Labor Asking Questions in Bankruptcy Case., JEFFREY MCCRACKEN, Detroit Free Press, Apr 14 2002

Despite the numerous hazards presented by the maze of sharp twisted metal, precariously balanced rubble, easily collapsed voids and burning jet fuel at the World Trade Center site, there have been no life-threatening injuries to any of the workers involved in the massive cleanup effort. With most of the work at the site done, federal records reveal that out of the 1,500 workers who put in a total of approximately 3 million hours of labor removing 1.5 million tons of debris, only thirty-five workers were seriously injured. While these reports do not include long term health problems that may result from exposure to chemicals and other health hazards at Ground Zero, the low number of serious injuries puts the cleanup effort far below the average injury rate of the demolition industry.

See Injury Record for Ground Zero Cleanup Impressive., ERIC LIPTON, The New York Times, Apr 11 2002

A report released yesterday by the Mexican Government shows a continuing decline in Mexican industrial production---down 1.8 percent from last February---with border regions bearing the brunt of the decreases in productivity and employment. A central part of the Mexican economy, manufacturing has now gone over a year without a period of major growth and has seen a 4.3 percent fall in employment since 2001, with over 240,000 jobs lost in the duty-free maquiladora factory sector that was one of the driving forces behind the Mexican economy. The fact that other economic indicators have shown positive trends in past months has led some to believe that the downturn in manufacturing is less a function of the worldwide economic slowdown last year, than a result of manufacturers leaving Mexico in search of ever cheaper sources of labor.

See Mexican Manufacturing Not Sharing In U.S. Recovery., GRAHAM GORI, The New York Times, Apr 11 2002

A Farmingdale, New York company was found guilty of multiple labor and wage law violations by a U.S. District Court last month, and has been ordered to pay its workers almost $120,000 in back wages and the same amount in damages. The charges were brought by the U.S. Labor Department based on a 1997 investigation of the practices of the Vidtape company between 1995 and 1996. The investigation revealed that the company's owners had paid sixty-seven mostly Indian and Central American immigrant workers below minimum wage, did not pay them the required time-and-a-half for the twenty to thirty hours of weekly overtime they routinely worked, destroyed payroll records, and violated child labor laws.

See NY Videotape Manufacturer Found in Violation of Labor Laws., CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN, Newsday, Apr 11 2002

Mexican migrant workers who participated in the bracero programs run by the U.S. in the 1940's, 50's and 60's protested outside the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles yesterday with their families, demanding the back wages that they claim are owed to them. Braceroproa Alliance---a group representing the WWII-era guest workers---embarked on a "caravan" of protests last month in Washington State that is winding its way towards Mexico City and a planned lobbying of the Mexican Congress. The organization and the former guest workers claim that the Mexican Government owes the braceros up to $1 billion worth of ten percent deduction from the braceros' wages, which were supposed to be paid back to the workers when they returned to Mexico.

See WWII Guest Workers Protest., GARIOT LOUIMA, Los Angeles Times, Apr 10 2002

The normally uneventful process of electing an alumnus of Yale University to the university's top governing board, the Yale corporation, has become a hot political topic on the campus and among alumni as Yale's clerical and custodial unions have taken a stake in the elections. The two unions have donate a combined $60,000 to Minister W. David Lee---a Yale alumnus who grew up in a housing project in the New Haven area, and is conducting an aggressive campaign as a candidate who will give a greater voice to Yale's workers, students, and members of the New Haven community. Lee's campaign has raised some concern among university officials that transforming the usually routine elections into a politicized event will deprive alumni of the voice in university affairs that the process was designed to give them, and will cause the Yale corporation to become a forum for the discordant relations between Yale and its workers.

See Unions Get Involved in Yale Alumni Election., KAREN W. ARENSON, The New York Times, Apr 10 2002

The one million members of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation joined the mot powerful private industry association in Venezuela Yesterday, in vowing that a two day-old general strike will indefinitely. The strike started six weeks ago when Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez replaced his own appointee's to the board of directors of the country's state oil company in a move that is largely seen as political cronyism. The state oil company has long seen itself as a meritocracy immune to politics, and directors and workers responded to the new appointments by joining forces first in opposing the change, and now in a call for the replacement of President Chavez.

See Massive Strikes Roil Venezuela., PATRICE M. JONES, Chicago Tribune, Apr 10 2002

Members of United Teachers-Los Angeles (UT-LA) elected union vice-president John Perez to the presidency yesterday, defeating the more moderate Becki Robinson---also a vice-president in the union---by a margin of just under one percent. The choice may have a significant impact on currently ongoing contract negotiations between the UT-LA and the City of Los Angeles if a settlement is not reached before President-elect Perez takes office on July 1. The 47,000 member UT-LA is asking for a five percent raise for LA teachers this year, but the city is balking at the cost of such a raise as it is already facing a budget deficit.

See LA Teachers Elect More Militant of Two Candidates for President., DUKE HELFAND, Los Angeles Times, Apr 9 2002

General Motors has reached an agreement with the union representing workers at South Korea's Daewoo Corporation. The 13,000 workers currently employed by Daewoo will not be laid off when GM takes over the bankrupt company, and 300 workers laid off last year will be rehired. The deal will likely allow GM to complete negotiations with Daewoo's creditors that had been stalled due to protests by South Korea's powerful unions (see WIT for Oct. 25, 2001).

See GM Will Not Lay Off Daewoo Workers., DON KIRK, The New York Times, Apr 9 2002

A fact-finding panel appointed by the New York State Public Employment Relations Board released its report yesterday on its recommendations for a settlement in the 16 month old contract negotiations between New York City and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) (see WIT for April 2, 2002). The proposal calls for a fifteen percent raise in pay over twenty-seven months, a twenty minute increase in the working day for NYC teachers, and the formation of a committee to look into possible solutions to the bitter disputes between the city and teachers over merit pay. Both sides have indicated that the report represents a reasonable foundation for a settlement of the deadlocked negotiations, but UFT officials are still concerned that attempts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to abolish the Board of Education and assume direct control over the city's schools may interfere with bargaining.

See Fact-Finding Panel Releases Recommendations for NYC Teachers Contract., STEVEN GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, Apr 9 2002

The International Association of Machinists indicated yesterday that it still plans to request that an impasse be declared in its current negotiations over a contract for 23,000 United Airlines ramp and public relations employees, when the two sides meet with the National Mediation Board this Thursday (see WIT for Feb. 26, 2002). Talks between IAM and United broke down three weeks ago due to disagreements over wages and benefits, and the two sides have not met since (see WIT for March 21, 2002). The IAM has indicated that the positions of its own and the company's negotiators are very close, and wants the government to allow a strike countdown to begin in the hopes that this will lead to a settlement as it did in the union's negotiations with United over a contract for machinists earlier this year (see WIT for Feb. 14, 2002).

See IAM Again Asks Government Not to Interfere., Reuters, Chicago Tribune, Apr 8 2002

Ben & Jerry's ice cream company co-founder Ben Cohen is taking on the oft-cited argument of the American garment industry that clothing manufacturers cannot afford to pay decent wages to their workers because of competition from companies in developing countries. Cohen borrowed $1.5 million from his own social venture fund to start the SweatX company which will pay its Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) organized workers $8.50 an hour plus health and other benefits, pension and profit-sharing. The company will focus on the upper end of the casual market with hemp and natural cotton fabrics with social awareness slogans, gearing their product towards students and college campuses in the hopes of tapping into anti-sweatshop sentiments.

See Ice Cream Activist Turns Attention to Garment Industry., NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Apr 8 2002

When United Cerebral Palsy of New York holds its annual fundraising dinner this coming Monday, attendees will be greeted by picketing members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) who have been locked in negotiations with the organization for the past twenty months. United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) has a long history of anti-union animus, and it was not until the last two years that 600 of its education service and after-school program workers---many of whom make less than $20,000 a year, and some of whom make as little as $15,000 a year---were organized by the UFT. While the union and workers have so far decided not to strike because of the delicate nature of their position, in their growing frustration they decided to picket next week's fundraiser and have filed "bad faith" charges against the UCP with the National Labor Relations Board.

See Union to Picket Charity Event., STEVEN GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, Apr 8 2002

In their annual study on government funding of education to be released today, the National Education Association finds that throughout the 1990's teachers' salaries across the country only rose 0.5 percent above inflation on average, and in many states fell behind inflation. Despite increased spending on education from 1990 to 2000, and an overwhelmingly strong economy, teachers in many states suffered losses in their real wages of up to fifteen percent. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that in the last decade, increases in the nominal pay of elementary school and high school teachers fell short of national averages for all full-time workers by two percent and seven percent, respectively.

See Study Finds Teachers Barely Keeping Ahead of Inflation., The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Apr 7 2002

A bill sponsored in the New York State Assembly by the Democrat chair of the Assembly's Labor Committee seeks to extend Workers' Compensation benefits to all those who worked at the World Trade Center site as rescuers or on clean-up and recovery crews. The bill---which is also supported by the Republican chair of the State Senate's Labor Committee---would extend the same benefits received by workers injured on the job, to WTC workers who suffer any ailments stemming from their work at ground zero. Unions are urging state legislators to support the bill despite some indications of opposition by insurance companies.

See NYS Legislature Considers Workers' Comp. for WTC Workers., The Associated Press, Newsday, Apr 7 2002

The British government's plans to implement European Union anti-discrimination laws by 2006 are running into heavy opposition from major business leaders, who claim that anti-age discrimination provisions will cause huge problems for businesses. The EU directive would likely require Britain to prohibit businesses from adopting mandatory retirement ages---something that the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) argues would cause massive staffing and workforce planning problems, and result in large increases in lawsuits by older workers. The CBI's opposition to curtailing the ability of companies to force older workers to retire is not shared by the British Chamber of Commerce which represents many small businesses that do not set mandatory retirement ages.

See Britain's Big Business Interests Oppose Anti-Discrimination Law., CHRISTOPHER ADAMS and ROSEMARY BENNETT, Financial Times, Apr 7 2002

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced yesterday that in a strike vote among CBS employees represented by the union, ninety-eighty percent of the workers voted to give the WGA negotiating team the power to call a strike after a contract extension expires at midnight tonight. The current contract between CBS and the WGA was to have expired on April 1, but the two sides agreed to extend the terms of the contract until Friday as negotiators continued to bargain over remaining areas of disagreement. CBS's demands for reductions in benefits, permission to use non-union writers, and a clause that would allow the media giant to withdraw from the contract if it underwent a merger, are among the remaining obstacles preventing an agreement according to the union.

See CBS May be Struck by Writers This Week., Reuters, Chicago Tribune, Apr 4 2002

The United Nurses Association of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals---an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees---has sued Tenet Healthcare Corporation for failing to maintain sufficient staffing levels. The union alleges that as a result understaffing at the corporation's hospitals nurses have not received lunches and paid breaks required under California labor laws, and is seeking class action status for the suit on behalf of up to 7,000 Southern California nurses. A spokesman for the corporation claimed that the suit was baseless, and suggested that the union is using the courts to leverage its position in negotiations under way at two of Tenet's hospitals.

See Nurses' Union Sues Hospital Company for Understaffing., Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, Apr 4 2002

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to release a set of voluntary ergonomics guidelines today, that will be subject to public hearing and review by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on April 18. The guidelines represent the latest round in a fight between labor, worker rights, work safety and business groups, in which business won a major victory when mandatory regulations enacted late in 2000 were overturned after President Bush took office. Labor officials and pro-labor politicians are expressing extreme reservations about the impact that a voluntary system will have, and a bill that would require the development of enforceable regulations is currently being prepared.

See Ergonomics Guidelines to be Released Today., DIANE E. LEWIS, The Boston Globe, Apr 4 2002

A study released yesterday by the National Governors' Association and the American Public Human Services Association representing state welfare officials blasted President Bush's proposed welfare plans as unrealistic and fundamentally flawed. The bipartisan consensus of the governors and welfare officials in the thirty-eight states that weighed in on this report was that the president's plan would trap welfare recipients in low-paying workfare and community service work without helping them to enter the normal workforce and achieve self-sufficiency. The twenty-one Republican, fifteen Democrat and two independent governors cited Bureau of Labor Statistics data in characterizing as "unworkable" the Bush administration's plan to require seventy percent of welfare recipients in all states to put in workweeks five to six hours above the national average without increasing funding for affordable child care.

See Governors, Welfare Officials Criticize Bush's Welfare Proposals., ROBERT PEAR, The New York Times, Apr 3 2002

The U.S. Justice Department ruled yesterday that Attorney General John Ashcraft can grant state and local police the power to enforce immigration laws and deputize them as agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Most police departments have, in the past, opposed police involvement in combating civil violations of immigration statutes as discouraging immigrants from reporting crimes, and driving a wedge between local law enforcement and immigrant communities. Coming on the tail of the Supreme Court's decision to deny undocumented immigrants the rights and protections afforded by the National Labor Relations Act (see WIT for March 28, 2002), this ruling by the Justice Department is likely to further reduce the willingness and ability of documented and undocumented immigrants alike to seek redress from violations of their remaining labor, wage and safety rights.

At a meeting being organized by Domestic Workers United (DWU), New York City Council members will hear testimony this Saturday from domestic workers---mainly immigrant women---about wage and employment abuses they have suffered at the hands of their employers. The recently formed coalition group is pushing for fundamental labor rights for nannies, maids and personnel care attendants, and is one of the driving forces behind a bill introduced in the City Council last week to require domestic worker employment agencies to inform employers of their responsibility to obey wage, overtime and other employment laws. Many of the workers that DWU seeks to protect are undocumented immigrants who are too afraid of being deported to complain when their rights are violated---even in cases as outrageous as that of a San Salvadoran woman who was locked in a basement every night by her employer.

See Coalition Fights for Workplace Justice for Domestic Workers., LYNDA RICHARDSON, The New York Times, Apr 3 2002

In the latest example of a recently developed legal tactic for bringing private causes of action against employers who intentionally hire undocumented immigrants in order to lower their labor costs, several former employees of Tyson Foods Inc. filed suit against their former employer under federal anti-racketeering laws yesterday. The workers allege that Tyson Foods conspired to smuggle undocumented workers into its plants in order to lower labor costs---a charge also leveled against Tyson Foods by the U.S. Justice Department in a criminal case filed last year (see WIT for Jan. 25, 2002). The recent reinstatement of a similar case by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has supported such suits for treble damages brought under a 1996 extension of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization act to human smuggling cases.

See Former Employees Sue Tyson Foods., NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Apr 2 2002

Under intense pressure from some community members to close down a job center used by day laborers, the Costa Mesa Town Council voted to raise fees for workers and begin charging employers---but will continue to operate the center. Critics of the center claim that the hiring hall draws poor and out of city workers, and encourages undocumented immigration and the illegal hiring of undocumented workers. The center---which provides legal services to workers who are cheated out of wages, and is widely considered to be one of the best run centers in the county---will increase its one time only five dollar fee to a yearly charge of ten dollars for city residents and fifteen dollars for non-residents.

See California Job Center Remains Open, Raises Fees., H. G. REZA, Los Angeles Times, Apr 2 2002

Still working without a contract (see WIT for Feb. 15, 2002), and with negotiations with New York City once again stalled, members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) are calling for the first city-wide teachers strike in thirty years. UFT officials have indicated that with much of the membership feeling that at this point a strike may be the only way to achieve a just contract, a strike vote could be held as early as this month. Despite heavy penalties for striking public-sector workers under state and city laws, the UFT plans to picket schools on April 15th and has promised a strike vote if a Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding report expected later this month does not bring the union and the city closer to a settlement.

See Strike Possible in NYC Schools., NICK CHILES, Newsday, Apr 1 2002

In an unsigned unanimous decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed as improvidently granted, a case brought by approximately 120 former employees of the Florida Power Corporation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ( see WIT for March 21, 2002). The workers were seeking to extend the approval given by the Supreme Court to "disparate impact" claims brought under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to cases brought under the 1967 ADEA. ILR professor Michael Gold pointed out that, in light of ideological leanings indicated by recent rulings by the Supreme Court on labor issues, the dismissal of the case may be in the best interests of older workers in general---leading him to believe that pro-labor, pro-worker justices made an effort to have the case dismissed rather than see a ruling adverse to worker interests.

See Supreme Court Drops ADEA Case., The Associated Press, Newsday, Apr 1 2002

Power company workers in South ended their five week old strike protesting the impending privatization of the publicly owned utility and further privatization of Korea's railway and gas utilities earlier today (see WIT for March 26, 2002). While the workers have secured promises form the government that workers will not be fired for striking---and have been offered in increased job security and shorter work weeks---the government plans to continue with privatization, and is insisting on its right to fire union leaders for what the government considers an illegal strike. The preliminary agreement is extremely vague on many points, and union leaders have made it clear that if these ambiguities are not ironed out more strikes are possible.

See Five Week Strike Ends in Korea., ANDREW WARD, Financial Times, Apr 1 2002

With no settlement on wage raises yet in sight in negotiations over a general contract for its 2.7 million members, Germany's largest trade union carried through on its plans to expand warning strikes into western areas of the country today (see WIT for March 27, 2002). With economists predicting a recovery this year from the economic slump Germany has experienced in recent years, the auto, electronics, and metal workers union is hoping to recoup losses in members' real wages last year due to inflation. Economists and politicians are concerned, however, that a significant raise for IG Metall workers could jeopardize this recovery, as well as the reelection prospects of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder---as could a protracted full-scale strike.

See IG Metall Takes Strikes Nationwide., The Associated Press, The New York Times, Mar 31 2002

85,000 laid-off and retired former employees of the LTV Steel Company, and their dependants, lost their health insurance coverage today as an order by a federal bankruptcy judge allowing both their former employer and the buyer of its closed plants to avoid continuing the benefits went into effect today. This loss of coverage is a major blow to the steelworkers---many of whom have severe health problems from years spent in the mills, and some of whom will also see drastic cuts in their pensions---and brings to well over 100,000 the number of former steelworkers who have lost benefits due to steel corporation bankruptcies in the past two years. The United Steel Workers of America has vowed to fight for federal government protection of the health benefits of the approximately 600,000 steel industry retirees and dependents.

See Former LTV Steelworkers Lose Health Benefits, Pensions., STEPHEN FRANKLIN, Chicago Tribune, Mar 31 2002

A report issued yesterday by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed a significant decrease in minimum wage and time and a-half overtime violations by New York City garment factories during the period from 1999 to 2001. Among the sixty-seven companies investigated, minimum wage compliance increased by ten percent to ninety-three percent compliance, and overtime pay compliance increased twenty percent to sixty-two percent compliance. The head of the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division was quick to point out that although the improvements represented a significant change in an industry notorious for its sweatshops and labor and wage law violations, much improvement is still needed.

See Pay Violations Decrease in NYC Garment Industry., STEVEN GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, Mar 28 2002

In a move largely considered window dressing even by members of his own administration, Illinois Governor George Ryan offered to forgo raises for himself and his cabinet if state employees would agree to give up the raise they won in their last contract negotiations (see WIT's for March 15, 2002 and March 27, 2002). The executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees has pointed out that with an annual salary of $150,000 the governor can easily afford to do without his 3.8% raise---unlike some state employees who support families on as little as $25,000 a year. In addition to giving up their 3.75 % raise, Governor Ryan wants state employees to take an unpaid one-day leave and agree to the privatization of a number of public services.

See Illinois Governor Offers to Forgo Raise., CHRISTI PARSONS, Chicago Tribune, Mar 28 2002

A New York City limousine corporation has agreed to a $108,000 settlement with its former drivers for back wages that it denied them following its post-September 11 closing. Although it continued to collect payments from customers for runs completed prior to its dissolution, the company claimed it could not afford to pay the drivers for these runs---until an investigation and threatened lawsuit by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer convinced the company's owners to settle. The agreement could have a major impact on New York State's taxi and limousine industry, as until now livery drivers have often been treated as independent contractors---not as employees entitled to back pay awards and other protections under wage laws.

See NYC Limo Company Forced to Make Good on Back Pay., KATIA HETTER, Newsday, Mar 28 2002

A study published in this month's edition of the American Journal of Public Health reveals that 1.36 million health care workers in the country have jobs that do not provide them with health insurance---an increase of eighty-nine percent in the past 4 years. According to the study, the decrease in the availability of health coverage for health care workers is symptomatic of an overall decline in the quality and conditions of available employment across the health care industry. The authors of the study attribute the decline to the increasing prevalence of private-sector health care jobs, and to a decline in union membership.

California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante has teamed up with the United Farm Workers in an attempt to increase awareness among UFW members of pension benefits they may be eligible for. Started over thirty years ago by UFW founder Cesar Chavez, the Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Plan covers all UFW members who meet the minimum employment requirements---regardless of immigration/citizenship status. Despite large Spanish language education campaigns in both the U.S. and Mexico, the difficulty in tracking migrant farm workers has resulted in up to 2,000 eligible workers not taking advantage of the pensions they are entitled to---a problem that union officials hope will be remedied by television advertisements featuring Mr. Bustamante.

See UFW, CA Lieutenant Governor Seek to Publicize Farm Worker Pension., BETH SHUSTER, Los Angeles Times, Mar 27 2002

In a shattering defeat for organized labor, immigrant rights groups, and undocumented workers throughout the country, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that undocumented immigrants fired for union activities are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act (see WIT for Feb. 19, 2002). Writing for the majority in the bitterly divided five-four decision in Hoffman Plastic v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 00-1595, Chief Justice William Rehnquist found that the defendant company was not liable for back pay---which along with reinstatement is the usual remedy for firing a worker based on union activity---because the fired worker was an undocumented immigrant who got the job using false identification. The four dissenting justices, along with labor and immigrant rights leaders, have condemned the majority ruling in the case as allowing employers to higher undocumented immigrant workers for extremely low wages and fire them if they attempted to organize---a tactic which depresses wages for all workers.

See Supreme Court Strips Undocumented Immigrants of Labor Law Protections., DAVID G. SAVAGE and NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Mar 27 2002

Germany’s largest trade union IG Metall began holding short part-day warning strikes throughout eastern Germany on Monday, making good on its promise last week to engage in preliminary industrial action if progress was not made in industry-wide contract negotiations (see WIT for March 19, 2002). The union has indicated that it will continue to hold warning strikes in eastern regions throughout the week, and will begin holding warning strikes in western Germany when an injunction against strikes in the area ends this Friday. Despite the union’s insistence on a 6.5 percent raise to offset losses in real wages due to inflation last year, some experts feel that Metall would be willing to compromise on across the board raises if businesses meet its demand to end pay discrepancies between wage-workers and salaried employees who perform equivalent jobs.

See IG Metall Holds Warning Strikes., TONY BARBER, Financial Times, Mar 26 2002

The Illinois State Government began mailing out approximately one hundred layoff notices to state prison guards this Monday, in the first wave of a 1,000-employee cut in the state workforce that will have a major impact on prisons and Department of Health Services facilities. The firings follow through on an announcement by Governor George Ryan two weeks ago, that if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees did not allow the terms of their current contract to be renegotiated, he would be forced to terminate public sector workers to reduce spending. The union is sticking to its position that with Governor Ryan already proposing a budget to take effect in July that will call for the elimination of over 3,500 state workers, it will not be pressured into making concessions on wages and benefits in return for 1,000 jobs that will be lost regardless of concessions.

See Illinois Governor Begins Layoffs., CHRISTI PARSONS, Chicago Tribune, Mar 26 2002

Britain’s Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation has announced a settlement with part-time workers, represented by banking unit Unifi, who were denied pension rights by the company. The deal represents the first major settlement in a suit brought under a ruling last year by the House of Lords---complying with an earlier ruling by the European Court of Justice---that grants part-time workers backdated pension rights equivalent to those of their full-time coworkers. The settlement could apply to as many as 3,500 former and current employees and cost the banking corporation over $35 million, and will have a huge impact on the approximately 60,000 similar claims that have been brought under the Lords’ ruling.

See HSBC Settles in Major Part-time Worker Benefits Case., CHRISTOPHER ADAMS, Financial Times, Mar 26 2002

In a major victory for organized labor, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit ruled eleven to zero yesterday that fees paid by non-union employees at unionized workplaces in states without “right to work” laws, can be used to fund organizing. In reaching this decision, the court was swayed by research, conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, which shows that increased unionization due to organizing within an industry leads to improved wages, benefits and conditions for all union represented workers in that industry. With unions spending as much as fifty percent of their funds on organizing, and the AFL-CIO leadership under President John Sweeney putting an ever increasing emphasis on organizing to reverse labor’s decline in past decades, this ruling could have a significant impact on U.S. labor relations.

See U.S. Court of Appeals Okays Use of Non-Member Fees for Organizing., HENRY WEINSTEIN, Los Angeles Times, Mar 25 2002

With a historic first strike in twenty years by London area teachers not a week past (see WIT for March 15, 2002), Britain’s three teachers’ unions have made it clear that they are ready to engage in nationwide strikes if the government does not agree to meaningful regulation of teacher workloads in the current round of contract negotiations. The country’s three teachers’ unions are showing a new militancy---and continuing to present the united front instrumental in achieving a review of the teachers’ contract last year---in their demand for limits on teaching hours, duties and total working hours. In addition to the possibility of industrial action and even a merger by the teachers’ unions, the government is also faced with the growing likelihood that headteachers and school governors will refuse to administer a new performance pay system which they claim is too severely under-funded to be implemented.

See British Government Faces United Front over Teachers’ Issues., JIM KELLY, Financial Times, Mar 25 2002

The strike over privatization plans entered its fifth week at the state owned Korea Electric Power Corporation yesterday, passing the deadline set by management for all workers to return to their jobs or be fired. The government corporation has announced that it will begin processing the terminations of the thousands of workers who remained on strike to protest the planned privatization of Korea’s electric, gas and railroad utilities. Far from calming the unrest Korea has experienced in recent months (see WIT for Feb. 25, 2002), the announcement drew a response from a union spokesman that the government’s actions will have major repercussions when Korea hosts the World Cup this summer.

See Industrial Conflict Over Privatization Escalates in South Korea., ANDREW WARD, Financial Times, Mar 25 2002

Despite the low wages they are often paid, Mexican immigrants to the U.S. send $9.3 billion in monthly money orders to Mexico each year, providing the country with its third largest source of national income. It is estimated that the output of the 23 million Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. equals over seventy-five percent of the output of individuals living in Mexico, and remittances from immigrants living in the U.S. exceed government budgets throughout much of rural Mexico. In a move that has already benefited economies on both sides of the border, the Mexican government has begun providing identification cards to immigrants in recent months that many U.S. based banks have agreed to accept for the purposes of establishing accounts---resulting in an influx of $50 million to banks in California alone since the accounts were made available.

See Mexican Immigrants Generate Billions for Mexico, U.S., GINGER THOMPSON, The New York Times, Mar 24 2002

In another sign of the growing split over privatization and deregulation between Tony Blair’s “new” Labour Party and Britain’s unions, the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has vowed to take whatever action are necessary to protect its members---including ending financial support for the Labour Party. The sources of this dispute are a planned restructuring at British postal company Consignia that is expected to result in massive layoffs, and the government’s plan to deregulate the postal industry. Despite laws forbidding it from striking over political issues, the CWU will also likely hold a fifteen-minute strike this week in order to maintain the authorization granted for more drastic industrial action by a strike vote among postal workers.

See British Postal Workers’ Union Prepares for Fight Over Job Security., CHRISTOPHER ADAMS and SARAH LAITNER, Financial Times, Mar 24 2002

Earlier this month the European Union Employment Ministers’ Council adopted an Information and Consultation Directive, which will eventually require all companies with over fifty employees in any member state to form and negotiate with works councils. Already common throughout much of continental Europe, works councils will be required at all companies above the minimum staffing levels within the decade---representing a drastic change for countries such as Britain that are unfamiliar with this form of industrial democracy. Regardless of whether they recognize unions, employers will be required to meet minimum standards of transparency, cooperation and openness with meaningful works councils or a council system outlined in the EU directive will be imposed on them.

See New EU Regulations Will Require Works Councils., FRASER YOUNSON, Financial Times, Mar 24 2002

Huge protests involving workers from approximately twenty different factories in the industrial city of Liaoyang have been quieted by pressure from the Chinese Government. The protests were triggered by the widespread corruption and massive layoffs experienced under the transition to capitalism (see WIT’s for Jan 21, 2002 and March 19, 2002), and involved tens of thousands of workers. The weeklong protests were quashed by what has become a common carrot and stick strategy of arresting strike leaders and placating the remaining workers with a combination of partial paybacks and promises of future assistance.

See Chinese Government Succeeds in Discouraging Strikers., JOHN POMFRET, The Washington Post, Mar 21 2002

Reversing its previous position on the matter, the Burmese government has decided to grant the United Nations’ International Labor Organization agency the right to begin permanently monitoring the use of forced labor in the country. Although Burma’s military government officially banned the use of forced labor two years ago, an ILO investigation last year revealed that laborers are still conscripted for government projects and forced to supply soldiers with food. Having refused the allow the ILO to set up a permanent branch office until now, the Burmese Government is promising to cooperate with an agency representative who will be assigned by June of this year.

See Burmese Government Opens Doors to ILO., FRANCES WILLIAMS, Financial Times, Mar 21 2002

Less than a month after a strike threat convinced the management of the London Underground to agree to the pay demands of Britain’s Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), the public transportation system is again facing possible strike action. This latest dispute stems from the alleged violation by management of job security provisions in the existing contract. The recently elected left-wing leader of the union, Bob Crow (see WIT for Feb. 14, 2002), has accused the Underground’s management of weakening “jobs for life” guarantees designed to protect workers in a planned partial privatization of the transportation system.

See Labor Disputes Continue on Britain’s Rail Lines., CHRISTOPHER ADAMS and JULIETTE JOWIT, Financial Times, Mar 21 2002

Contract negotiations for United Airlines’ 23,000 ramp and public-relations workers came to a halt yesterday when the company floated proposals that the chief negotiator and president of the workers’ union characterized as less than industry leading (see WIT for Feb. 26, 2002). The union---District 141 of the International Association of Machinists---has asked government mediators involved to declare the talks at impasse and begin the thirty-day countdown required before a strike can be held. United has indicated that it considers the offer it currently has on the table to be industry leading, and will oppose the formal declaration of an impasse and the initiation of the pre-strike cooling off period as it feels that negotiations are not yet hopelessly deadlocked.

See Talks Between United and IAM Fall Through., SUSAN CHANDLER, Chicago Tribune, Mar 20 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a class action lawsuit brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by 117 workers laid off in the mid-1990s in what they allege was a discriminatory corporate restructuring. The case hinges on whether the concept of “disparate impact” used in race and sex discrimination cases can be applied to age discrimination cases such as the instant one---in which over seventy percent of the workers eliminated were over the age of 40. Plaintiffs in a “disparate impact” discrimination case, unlike those in a “disparate treatment” discrimination case, need only show that an employer’s actions had an unequal affect on employees of different genders, races or religions, without proving that the employer had a discriminatory intent.

Following up its success in organizing and negotiating a first contract for graduate students working as teaching or research assistants at New York University, the United Auto Workers yesterday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to organize the university’s adjunct professors. The American Federation of Teachers---which has represented clerical and technical staff at NYU for over twenty years---announced yesterday that they would be filing such a petition today. While there may be disagreement over which union to join, with average pay of only $2,500 per a course and no chance of gaining tenure many of the 3,000 to 4,500 adjuncts at NYU are eager achieve greater voice and protections through unionization.

See AFT, UAW Seek to Represent NYU Adjuncts., The New York Times, The New York Times, Mar 20 2002

In a five to four decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Labor Department’s practice of granting misinformed and uninformed employees twelve additional weeks of leave in order to penalize employers who fail to make Family and Medical Leave Act regulations clear, is unsupported by federal law. The penalty is part of a 1995 Labor Department regulation requiring employers to inform their employees in writing that company-authorized leave can be counted against the twelve weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed by the FMLA. While the five majority justices struck down the penalty, they left the notice requirement intact and indicated that other means of enforcement may be acceptable.

See Supreme Court Eliminates FMLA Penalty., CHARLES LANE, The Washington Post, Mar 19 2002

President Dennis Rivera of District 1199/Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced yesterday at a press conference with Governor George Pataki that the union will support Mr. Pataki in the upcoming gubernatorial elections. The announcement fulfilled expectations that New York’s Health and Human Services Union---the largest health care workers’ union in the state---would back Pataki following the governor’s efforts to secure raises and other legislation favorable to the state’s health care workers (see WIT for Feb. 19, 2002). SEIU is considered by many to be the most politically influential union in New York, and has historically been closely identified with the state’s Democratic Party---making its backing of Mr. Pataki a major blow for Democratic challengers H. Carl McCall and Andrew M. Cuomo.

See Health Care Workers’ Union to Support Pataki., ADAM NAGOURNEY, The New York Times, Mar 19 2002

Overturning an earlier High Court ruling, a British Court of Appeal decided yesterday to uphold a judgment of the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) that the Committee need only decided whether proposed bargaining units are appropriate---not whether they are the most suitable. The use of an “appropriate unit” standard, as opposed to a “most suitable” standard, parallels language in the U.S. National Labor Relations Act and decisions by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board---the U.S. equivalent of the CAC. The suit was brought by the Transport and General Workers Union and lawyers for the CAC, and represents a major victory for Britain’s unions, as it allows them greater flexibility to propose bargaining units based on the extent of worker support rather than mirroring the management structure of a business.

See British Unions Win Fight Over Bargaining Unit Determinations., NIKKI TAIT, Financial Times, Mar 19 2002

Having rejected an offer from employers of a two percent raise per year for the next two years, German industrial trade union IG Metall has announced that it will begin holding brief warning strikes next week. With 2.8 million members, IG Metall is the country’s largest industrial trade union and its contracts usually set the pattern for collective bargaining settlements throughout Germany. The union is calling for a 6.5 percent increase in wages, pointing to the fact that the 2.1 percent increase negotiated in 2000 fell short of Germany’s annual inflation rate for 2001---leading to a decline in real wages for its members.

See IG Metall Set to Strike., TONY BARBER, Financial Times, Mar 18 2002

Worker advocates are raising concerns that many residents of New York City and State are unaware of, or uncertain about their eligibility for, the thirteen-week unemployment benefits extension passed by Congress. Although the New York State Department of Labor is attempting to publicize the extended benefits, most of the department’s publications and services are in English and Spanish. Many of the 35.5 percent of NYC residents who are from other countries speak neither of these languages, and are unable to get information on the extension or apply for it without the help of bilingual friends or family members. In response to this dilemma, one local officer of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) has suggested that the Labor Department work with unions and other community groups to solve this problem.

See Many Confused About Unemployment Extension., PATRICIA KITCHEN, Newsday, Mar 18 2002

Continuing allegations of mismanagement and exploitation arising from China’s transition to capitalism and the dismantling of cradle-to-grave job security (see WIT for Jan. 21, 2002) are leading to a wave of labor protests that are likely to increase as more industries are transitioned to capitalism under World Trade Organization regulations. In what are being called the largest labor demonstrations since the Communist Party’s rise to power in 1949, up to 30,000 or more workers laid off at the Daqing Oilfield have protested in front of the complex every weekday since March 1st. Told that the corporation was facing bankruptcy, and pressured into accepting severance packages that will leave them in poverty, the workers---who were once praised as national heroes---began protesting when the company announced that it would drastically cut back their already meager benefits.

See Growing Labor Unrest in China., ERIK ECKHOLM, The New York Times, Mar 18 2002

The longest nurses’ strike in Long Island history ended yesterday, as 450 members of the New York State Nurses' Association went back to work at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. The nurses struck the center for 111 days when negotiations with a new management group deadlocked over staffing levels and health insurance (see WIT for Nov. 27, 2001). Under the new three-year contract, the nurses will receive fifteen to nineteen percent raises, health retirement benefits, and the minimum staffing level and mandatory overtime regulations that many of the nurses felt was the central issue.

See Medical Center, Nurses Settle on Long Island., ERIK HOLM, Newsday, Mar 17 2002

Despite a law prohibiting correctional officers from striking, Britain’s 34,000 member Prison Officers’ Association has indicated that its members are pressing the union to engage in labor actions in a bitter dispute over pay. The newly elected leftwing chairman of the union has indicated that widespread anger over proposed changes in pay and conditions may lead the union to use human rights laws to challenge the legality of the law prohibiting prison guards from striking. The union is already challenging an injunction preventing prison guards from leaving their workplace on lunch breaks, issued in response to growing unrest with plans to reduce the use of overtime---which many officers rely on for much of their pay.

See British Prison Guards Threaten Industrial Action., JAMES BLITZ, Financial Times, Mar 17 2002

Stirred by the government’s refusal to address cost of living issues, teachers went on strike for the first time in thirty years across the Greater London area yesterday demanding that the government increase allowances for teachers in the capital. The strike shutdown 2,000 schools in whole or in part and directly impacted over 250,000 students as thousands of members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) walked off the job---many of them marching on Parliament to press their demands. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of Education Estelle Morris have taken a hard line towards the teachers, but the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association have joined the NUT in suggesting that refusal to address teachers’ concerns may result in additional industrial action. Stirred by the government’s refusal to address cost of living issues, teachers went on strike for the first time in thirty years across the Greater London area yesterday demanding that the government increase allowances for teachers in the capital. The strike shutdown 2,000 schools in whole or in part and directly impacted over 250,000 students as thousands of members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) walked off the job---many of them marching on Parliament to press their demands. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Secretary of Education Estelle Morris have taken a hard line towards the teachers, but the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association have joined the NUT in suggesting that refusal to address teachers’ concerns may result in additional industrial action.

See Teachers’ Strike Rocks London., JIM KELLY, Financial Times, Mar 14 2002

In a move that has solidified opposition among Italy’s labor movement, the center-right government of Italian President Silvio Berlusconi yesterday reached a binding decision to implement labor market legislation that will severely weaken Italy’s job-security laws. The response of Italy’s trade unions was swift, with moderate trade unions Cisl and Uil---the second and third largest in Italy---joining Italy’s more radical largest trade union Cgil in promising a nationwide general strike. Cisl and Uil had declined to join in Cgil’s call for a strike until the government decided to break off negotiations with labor leaders, and committed itself to increasing labor market flexibility without providing funding to establish safety nets for those laid off as a result.

See Italian Government Faces Nationwide Strike., JAMES BLITZ, Financial Times, Mar 14 2002

In response to a major budget problem, Governor George Ryan of Illinois informed the leaders of the state?s largest public sector union this week that refusal to give up a contract-guaranteed raise later this year will lead to the layoff of 1,000 employees. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)---which represents the 45,000 government workers who are set to receive the raise--has replied that it will not allow the governor to make its members foot the bill for the state?s problems. AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer has made it clear that the while the union is willing to discuss alternative plans, it will not allow Ryan to use the threat of layoffs to extract concessions on raises that its membership deserves.

See Illinois? Public Employees Face Off with Governor., CHRISTI PARSONS and ADAM KOVAC, Chicago Tribune, Mar 14 2002

In a major victory for the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a daylong occupation of the administration building yesterday has led to a new compromise offer by the administration. Formed in 1994, the GEO won an Illinois State Court of Appeals decision in 2000 protecting the right of graduate employees to bargain collectively---but experienced a major setback when the Illinois Labor Board sided with the university and excluded ninety-five percent of the 5,000 workers the GEO wants to represent from a proposed bargaining unit. The university administration had refused to negotiate a contract for a larger unit since then (see WIT for Nov. 29, 2001), deadlocking negotiations until yesterday?s labor action convinced them to seek a compromise.

See Graduate Employee Protest at UIUC Leads to Reopening of Negotiations., MEG McSHERRY BRESLIN, Chicago Tribune, Mar 13 2002

In a 145-page study of forty cities with living wage laws---scheduled to be released today by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California---outspoken minimum wage increase opponent David Neumark concludes that living wage laws are in fact reducing poverty. Since 1994 when Baltimore adopted the first living wage law, approximately 80 living wage laws have been passed by cities and counties across the country (see WIT for May 25, 2001)---almost always over extreme opposition by business and employer groups (see WIT for Dec. 06, 2001). While conservatives and business groups are already questioning the study Neumark has asserted that although he is not convinced that living wage laws are necessarily the best way to reduce poverty, they do help the poor and there is no scientific basis for opposing them.

See Conservative Economist Reluctantly Admits that Living Wage Laws Work., NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Mar 13 2002

With Lockheed Martin and its employees already embroiled in a major labor dispute, the aerospace industry may experience even more labor unrest as the clock runs down on the Boeing Company’s contracts with its employees. The International Association of Machinists (IAM)---which represents 22,700 workers at Boeing, and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA)---which represents 24,000 workers at Boeing, have both struck the company in recent negotiations and have contracts that expire later this year. With Boeing’s weak financial position likely to make it reluctant to take a strike, however, neither union yet sees the need to strike arising in the upcoming negotiations.

See More Unrest a Possibility in Aerospace Industry., Reuters, Chicago Tribune, Mar 13 2002

The House Budget Committee will meet today to work out a plan for federal spending in the year 2003, with much of the discussion likely to focus on the inequality in the raises President Bush has proposed for civilian and military employees. The Bush administration has continued to argue that the almost thirty-five percent difference in raises for military and civilian personnel is justified by current military operations in Afghanistan. Many member of Congress, however, have argued that in light of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, and subsequent anthrax attacks, past efforts to keep military and civilian raises on par should be continued.

See House Budget Committee Confronts Raise Parity Issue., STEPHEN BARR, The Washington Post, Mar 12 2002

Presidential elections for Local 420 of the Association of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)---the largest union representing employees at New York City’s public hospitals--- resulted in a surprise win for challenger Carmen Charles yesterday. Former president James Butler was widely expected to win reelection, as the president of almost thirty years exercised considerable influence over voting procedures for the 7,500 member union. President Charles attributed her upset victory to what she feels is dissatisfaction among the membership with increasing dues, Mr. Butler’s large salary, and massive job cuts at city hospitals that affected many of the union’s members.

See Election Upset in NYC Hospital Workers’ Union., STEVEN GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, Mar 12 2002

In a highly controversial move, the Norwegian government announced a plan last week requiring public and semi-public companies to ensure that forty percent of the members on their boards of directors are women. Made public the day before International Women’s Day, the new law gives affected companies a year to comply voluntarily with the quota or risk enforcement involving sanctions that will be specified in the coming year following discussions with business and labor groups. The plan, which has come under fire from at least one far-right political party, also requires that at least forty percent of board members of public and semi-public companies are men.

See Norway to Combat Sex Discrimination with Quotas., ALISTER DOYLE, Chicago Tribune, Mar 12 2002

In a decision signed Friday and distributed yesterday to the lawyers involved, a federal judge for the Southern District of New York threw out the sexual and racial harassment charges brought against New York City by five women in its Work Experience Program (WEP). Judge Richard Conway Casey pointed to the facts that WEP workers receive very low compensation and no health or pension benefits in agreeing with the city's argument that WEP workers are not legally employees of the city and cannot sue for on the job harassment. The women in the case---who were required to work for city agencies including the Parks and Sanitation Departments in exchange for their welfare benefits as part of the WEP program---complained of such acts as the placing of racist cartoons and a noose on one of their desks.

See Judge Rules that Workfare Participants Cannot Bring Harassment Charges., THOMAS J. LUECK, The New York Times, Mar 11 2002

Members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, representing low-paid tomato pickers in Florida, on a nation-wide caravan protesting at Taco Bell stores drove their point home yesterday with a rally outside Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California. 500 local supporters of the Immokalee movement's Taco Bell boycott met the farm workers at the start of a two-mile march from a local park to the protest in order to help raise awareness of what they feel is Taco Bell's responsibility to push for improvements in the low wages and poor working conditions of the workers who supply its tomatoes. Taco Bell met with the workers but continues to insist that because it buys its tomatoes through a broker firm that buys from several tomato packing companies---including the Six L Packing Company that employs the workers---they have no responsibility to become involved. [Members of the ILR School may be familiar with this issue from the activities of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) on behalf of the Immokalee Workers, and can contact Tomer Malchi at for more information.]

See Tomato Pickers Protest Outside Taco Bell Headquarters., JERRY HICKS and MARC BALLON, Los Angeles Times, Mar 11 2002

Labor/management disputes continued to rock the airline industry this weekend, as talks between the Air Line Pilots Association and US Airways collapsed over job-security issues. The president of the ALPA's US Airways unit has said that the union made multiple concessions to the company on the issue of increasing the use of small regional jets, but called off talks when they found out that management negotiators were not even authorized to address job-security issues. The union was willing to allow the company to increase the use of cheaper regional jets from seventy to 315, but wants job protection for 287 pilots with twelve-plus years of experience that the company currently plans to furlough.

See Negotiations between US Airways and the ALPA Deadlock., Times News Service, Mar 11 2002

A Sikh ex-traffic policeman and members of New York City?s Sikh community are pressing the city to change a police guideline that they feel unfairly discriminates against members of their religion. The controversy started when the traffic policeman was told during his training last year that he would have to shave his beard and stop wearing a turban---actions which would violate Sikh religious tenets---and was later fired while a hearing on the matter was pending. The traffic policeman wants the NYPD to follow the example of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by creating a regulation turban for uniformed Sikhs and allowing them to keep their beards.

See NYPD Comes Under Fire for Allegedly Discriminatory Regulation., SEAN GARDINER, Newsday, Mar 10 2002

Having approved $55 million in bonuses to 550 managers only two days before it became the largest U.S. corporation to go bankrupt, the Enron Corporation is now seeking permission to pay further bonuses to top executives. A company spokesperson has announced that Enron may petition the court overseeing its bankruptcy proceedings as early as today for approval of what is known as a retention bonus package (see WIT for Dec. 7, 2001). This announcement comes three weeks before a hearing scheduled to address the issue of severance pay for Enron?s laid off workers, who received initial severance payments of only $4,500.

See Enron Seeks to Pay Further Bonuses to Executives., THOMAS S. MULLIGAN, Chicago Tribune, Mar 10 2002

Contract ratification votes at three Lockheed Martin Corporation plants yielded very different results yesterday, as workers at the company?s two California plants accepted the contract while workers at the Marietta, Georgia plant rejected the proposed contract and voted to strike by overwhelming majorities. The three-year contract included raises in the first two years, a ratification bonus and a new eye-care plan paid by the company, but failed to address the job-security concerns of the Marietta workers who have seen employment at the plant drop over sixty percent in the past decade despite the company?s success. The company announced that it had made its best and final offer, and International Association of Machinists represented workers at the Georgia plant prepared to begin picketing around midnight last night.

See Employees at Lockheed Plant Strike Over Job Security., KIRSTIN DOWNEY GRIMSLEY, The Washington Post, Mar 10 2002

Today marks the graduation of an unlikely class of University of California at Los Angeles students, as twenty-six low-wage immigrant workers identified as potential leaders by the unions representing them finished up a one week seminar at the school?s Labor Center. The seminar for Spanish-speaking union members recognized for their grassroots efforts gave a brief background in labor history and focused on workplace strategies for organizing, mobilizing and bargaining. Similar training sessions are planned for Asian immigrant, African American, homosexual, and female workers who show promise as leaders in the labor movement, and like the session for Hispanic workers will be funded through the state sponsored Institute for Labor and Employment while each union makes up the wages of the members they send.

See First Union Leader Class of UCLA Graduates Today., NANCY CLEELAND, Los Angeles Times, Mar 7 2002

A little over a week ago, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was counseling extreme caution in what he felt could be a slow turn around that was just starting to pick up following the economic downturn in the second half of 2001. Speaking before Congress yesterday, however, Mr. Greenspan cited new data in announcing that, while caution is still necessary and the increases in spending by businesses and consumers are still unknown quantities, the recession is over and a post-recession expansion already well begun. Among the encouraging economic indicators are an unexpectedly high growth rate this quarter, massive productivity gains at the end of 2001, an increase in retail sales last month that was the largest in two years, and a drop in first time applications for unemployment insurance over the past four weeks to the lowest level in almost a year.

See Recession Over, Economy Expanding Says Greenspan., JOHN M. BERRY, The Washington Post, Mar 7 2002

The Screen Actors Guild recently announced that raising health care costs will force the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans to raise costs and drop a large number of participants---a major blow to the vast majority of low-paid members who live infrequent role to infrequent role. Although as much as three-quarters of the union?s membership does not currently make enough to make the minimum annual income required to qualify for SAG?s health benefits plans, many members count on eventually meeting the requirements. That goal will be even harder to achieve with the annual income requirement being increased by thirty-two percent for even the lowest coverage plan.

See Many SAG Members to Lose Crucial Health Care Benefits., RONALD D. WHITE, Los Angeles Times, Mar 7 2002

The Bush administration released a welfare plan last week that emphasized work requirements. Some, including Bush's staff members, believed the plan would pay welfare workers below the minimum wage and that they would not receive the same protections as other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, said that the administration is committed to guaranteeing that welfare recipients receive the minimum wage and that reports to the contrary were due to a misinterpretation of the plan.

President Bush will unveil a plan to make corporate chief executives more accountable during a speech at the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards. The president's plan is focused on providing better information to investors, making corporate officers accountable and developing a stronger audit system. CEO's would be required to return salaries and bonuses if fraud was later found on corporate financial statements. Some securities-law experts have criticized the proposal saying they are extreme and an overreaction to Enron.

See Bush proposes to make CEO's vouch personally for their companies' finances., Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post, Mar 6 2002