Last week's massacre of at least 57 politicians, journalists, and innocent bystanders in the province of Maguindanao in the southern Philippines has galvanized the country's labor movement to fight government-sanctioned warlords. The Maguindanao massacre is the largest mass killing of journalists in history.
A coalition of labor unions is demanding an end to the prevailing culture of impunity. The man suspected of being behind last week's massacre is a powerful local tribal leader and a key ally of President Gloria Arroyo.
Chally of Feministe has a good summary of the massacre and its aftermath. She notes that the lead suspect is currently in custody. If he ultimately goes to jail, he will be the first journalist-killer in Filipino history. Scores of working reporters have been killed in the country since President Arroyo came to power in 2001.
I'm off to the Building the New Economy conference, which kicks off tomorrow in DC.
Scott Paul, the president of the American Alliance for Manufacturing summarizes some of the issues on his mind ahead of the conference:
Ahead of the Oct. 29 'Building the New Economy' conference in Washington, one can state the obvious: something has gone terribly wrong with the U.S. economy. But chalking up the blame to a few bad apples on Wall Street and their risky financial instruments, and responding by simply providing appropriate regulation in the financial services sector, will ultimately be unsatisfying. There are much deeper, structural issues which must be urgently addressed.
It stands to reason that America needs to produce things of value in order to assure its continued prosperity and security. I'm still weighing the arguments about what role manufacturing should play in that equation.
Obviously, we shouldn't fall into the trap of propping up heavy manufacturing for heavy manufacturing's sake. But it's impossible to deny that manufacturing has historically been a source of good, skilled jobs.
I'm excited to learn more about green manufacturing jobs. We're going to have to spend a lot of money to become more fuel efficient and less polluting. Someone will have to make the solar panels and wind turbines. Why not Americans?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week issued a scathing indictment of Nevada's OSHA program. Nevada has a well-deserved reputation for being a dangerous place to work. Last year, a spate of construction deaths on the Las Vegas Strip prompted a congressional hearing. The Las Vegas Sun won this year's public service Pulitzer for exposing the carnage.
Nevada inspectors told federal investigators that their superiors pressured them not to write up employers for willful violations of safety laws. Willful violations are the most serious category of infraction. Federal investigators found that NOSHA only issued one willful violation in the course of 23 fatality probes--even though at least one of the employers (Boyd Gaming Corp.) had previously been cited for the same hazards on other sites in the state, which legally should have made Boyd a willful violator by definition.
The House Education Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing on the report on Thursday. I hope the committee asks some tough questions about why these problems exist. The failures are so grave and systematic that I have to wonder whether corruption is afoot. Many of the worst offenders are powerful casino interests, a contingency known to donate lavishly to both Democrats and Republicans.
In the Nation, Annette Bernhardt, Ruth Milkman & Nik Theodore discuss their shocking new study of wage and hour abuses for low-wage workers: Each week, the average respondent took home about fifty dollars less than she earned.
Employers simply flouted any number of laws to deny workers compensation to which they were entitled: One in four workers surveyed earned less than minimum wage in any given week, three out of four were stiffed on overtime pay, two thirds didn't get the meal breaks they were owed, and on, and on.
The Perez Stern blog just published some awkward emails that SEIU sent out to a group of academics who had signed an open letter about the SEIU raid on UNITE HERE.
The "spam" emails at the top look normal, but keep scrolling down, a few messages got appended that probably weren't meant to go live.
The preeminent folklorist of American labor, Archie Green, has died at the age of 91:
Green moved comfortably through the halls of Congress and the halls of ivy, but he preferred life on scaffolding or in a welder's shed or machine shop. Work was where his heart was — doing it and convincing others to document what they did. He coined the term "laborlore" and actively encouraged filmmakers, steel workers and pile drivers, among many others, to keep the stories of working people alive.
Green's infectious enthusiasm and firm belief that labor culture had a place in what he called "a marble mansion" was largely credited with convincing Congress to pass the American Folklife Preservation act of 1976. It established the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. [NPR] (link added)
Green was received a Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2007 for his tireless efforts to document the creativity of working Americans.
More on Green's extraordinary life and work.
The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is on:
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would make it easier to form unions, said in an interview, “We have enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate.”
But then Mr. Harkin acknowledged, “I’m not sure if we have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.”
Business groups are spending millions of dollars to spread misinformation about Employee Free Choice. The biggest lie is that EFCA would threaten the principles of union democracy that Wal-Mart and CINTAS have long held sacred.
Management groups object to majority signup (aka "card check") for the simple reason that it would make it easier for workers to have a union if they want one. The anti-EFCA groups make it sound like card check would be a departure from the status quo under which the right of the worker to a secret vote is respected.
Far from being an exotic reform proposal, unionization by card check is already an option.
In fact, every unionization effort starts with organizers collecting the signatures of workers who are interested in forming a union.
If organizers can get at least a third of the workers in a shop to sign up, then the union can ask management for permission to represent those workers at the bargaining table. One third is just the legal minimum. In practice, organizers don't try to organize shops without strong majority support. It's just not worth their time.
At this point, the employer has the option of recognizing the union based on the card check. Alternatively, the employer can demand a National Labor Relations Board election.
Let's be real. Employers don't ask for NLRB elections to preserve right of their workers to democratic self-determination.
Forced elections buy management time to bring in high-priced union-busting consultants who teach the bosses how to propagandize workers and fire organizers. Such tactics are illegal, but under the status quo, the penalties are trivial and enforcement is negligible.
In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, T. A. Frank describes how Rite Aid used classic illegal union-busting tactics to thwart California warehouse workers who sought to join the ILWU.
Frank argues that, in terms of facilitating unionization, the majority signup provision of the Employee Free Choice Act is less important than toughening up our existing laws against union-busting. Of course, EFCA would also crack down on punitive firings, captive audience propaganda sessions, and other abuses of power in the runup to NLRB elections. However, Frank notes, anti-EFCA management groups have framed the debate as a fight over card check because they'd rather paint themselves as champions of democracy than as champions of union-busting. Democracy focus-tested better.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would still have the right request an NLRB election.
Under the status quo, the employer gets to decide whether there will be an NLRB election. Under Employee Free Choice, the employees choose how their votes will be counted.
If most people in the shop are satisfied with card check, then the employer will have to defer to the will of the majority. That's democracy.
Update: TAPPED plums
A major union investment group demanding that the Bank of America fire its CEO and chairman Ken Lewis.
The executive director of the Change to Win Investment Group sent a letter to the lead director of the Bank of America Corporation on Thursday demanding that Lewis step down.
If Lewis doesn't leave voluntarily, the letter warned, the CTWIG will launch a campaign to unseat him...and the lead director, and the chair of the corporate governance committee:
Absent prompt action to remove Mr. Lewis, we will have no choice but to call upon BAC shareholders to join us at BAC’s upcoming annual meeting in voting against Mr. Lewis, Thomas Ryan, as chair of the Corporate Governance Committee responsible for CEO succession, and you as lead independent director.--William Patterson, Executive Director, CTWIG [03/05/09]
CTWIG wants Lewis out because the Bank of America imploded on his watch, losing about $900 million of CTWIG's members' money in the process.
The group alleges that Lewis squandered shareholders' money in a reckless bid to acquire Merrill Lynch. Since Lewis announced the merger five months ago, BoA stock has lost 90% of its value.
Moreover, the New York Attorney General's office is investigating whether Lewis lied about his role in doling out $3.6 billion in bonuses to Merrill Lynch employees.
It's not clear how many votes CTWIG would need to make good on its threat to oust the three senior executives named in the letter.
Another union-busting ruling...
A New York court has ruled that drumming does not constitute a legitimate weapon of self-help for trade unionists:
ALBANY, N.Y. - A divided New York Court of Appeals ruled Monday that union members drumming outside the Empire State
Building in efforts to organize the building's security guards are not protected by federal labor law and are subject to nuisance complaints.
In a 4-2 decision, the court ruled that the unionists could hand out leaflets, which the National Labor Relations Board concluded was their federally protected right, but that doesn't automatically include drumming on a plastic container, metal pot or tin can.
"It cannot be said that Congress ... intended to pre-empt states from protecting its citizens from obnoxious conduct," Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote for the majority. "The drumming in this instance does not constitute an 'economic weapon' or 'self-help' remedy akin to, for example, the employee walkout ... or a lockout by an employer." [AP]
Where does this leave the Strike Rat?