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82 posts categorized "Labor"

July 24, 2008

NYC Council passes construction safety measures

Good news:

NEW YORK - After a spike in construction accidents throughout New York City in recent months, the City Council has passed several measures intended to increase safety on building sites.

The package of bills passed Wednesday includes one that would allow buildings inspectors to classify maintenance violations as immediately hazardous. Those violations include problems such as loose material and debris, unsafe storage of combustible materials and falling hazards.

Another bill requires regular structural inspections on buildings that have been weakened by fire or other damaging elements.

A third bill requires better monitoring of retaining walls, mandating structural inspections every five years. [AP]

July 22, 2008

No more dirty secrets: Chicago laundry workers fight Cintas for safer jobs

Injured laundry workers in Chicago are demonstrating today against unsafe working conditions at Cintas, a multi-billion dollar uniform rental firm with close ties to the Bush administration.   

Elana Levin of UNITE HERE has more on the Make Cintas Safe campaign:

Maybe you haven’t heard of Cintas, but you come into contact with its products everyday.  The multi-billion dollar industrial launderer delivers more than uniforms, floor mats and hand soap to our communities; it has also brought narrower hazardous waste regulation, and complaints ranging from  "deceptive sales practices," and suppression of workers’ right to organize, to discrimination against women and people of color, and wage and hour violations
(Thanks TomP for your great coverage of Cintas).

(I should mention that the company’s founder and chairman Richard Farmer is a top GOP fundraiser—he’s helped to raise hundreds of millions for Bush   and has started to fundraise for McCain.) 

This is Elana's first post on behalf of UNITE HERE.

Learn more about Cintas' full-spectrum array of sketchy business practices from this award-winning expose published by Forbes in 2006.

June 07, 2008

Signal International workers continue hunger strike

Indian workers who were lured to the U.S. with false promises of long-term visas and high-paying jobs are continuing their hunger strike on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C.

The metalworkers hope that their action will move the Indian government to negotiate with the

American authorities on their behalf. The men are skilled metalworkers who came to Mississippi to work for shipbuilder Signal International.

Like many so-called "guest workers," these welders and fitters paid thousands of dollars to predatory middle-men. To afford these fees, many sold their family's property, mortgaged their homes to local loan sharks, and left behind good jobs in India or the Persian Gulf. When they arrived, they were horrified to discover that Signal was paying a fraction of the wages promised.

The hunger strike is attracting attention on the Hill:

In a letter this week, three top Democrats in the House of Representatives — George Miller and Zoe Lofgren of California, and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan — asked the Justice Department and immigration officials to investigate the workers’ fraud accusations and offer them protection as victims. The Justice Department this week confirmed it had opened an investigation. [NYT]

Yesterday, hunger striker Paul Konar was hospitalized after 23 days without food, according to the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice.

May 27, 2008

RIP: Utah Phillips

Beloved musician, activist and folk historian Utah Phillips died of congestive heart failure at his home in Nevada  City, California on Friday at the age of 73.

I've been a Utah Phillips fan since as long as I've been listening to music. I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing. We have lost a truly great American.

Amy Goodman pays tribute to Utah Phillips at DemocracyNow. Labor Beat released this video tribute to Phillips.

May 20, 2008

Indian guest workers from Signal International strike in DC

Ruchira Paul reports that Indian guest workers are striking in New Orleans:

During our vacation a week ago, my daughter and I stopped by at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice. The organization is an advocacy group for workers involved in the reconstruction of New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina. The vast rebuilding effort led the US government to permit recruitment of foreign laborers who were accorded "guest worker" status for the duration of their employment but apparently not the same rights and protection that are guaranteed to domestic workers under US labor laws. Lacking safeguards, the foreign workers are ripe targets for exploitation and abuse by contractors. 

The Louisiana guest workers group includes citizens of several countries. Among them are a few hundred welders and pipe-fitters from India, recruited by Signal International, a Marine & Fabrication Company, apparently with the lure of lucrative jobs and immigrant visas. The promise proved to be false and the Indian workers have done the unthinkable - they have launched a strike on foreign soil, demanding justice from the host nation and advocacy from their own embassy spokespersons.

Read the whole thing. Please circulate widely.

Twenty-four guest workers from Signal International have been on a hunger strike at the White House since May 14. Fifteen more hunger strikers will join them tomorrow and another fifteen will arrive on the 31st.

Various labor and civil rights organizations are supporting their campaign including D.C. Jobs with Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the AFL-CIO.

The workers are asking for the Indian government to press the United States for fair treatment. India has already pressed other countries to do right by Indian guest workers, including Malaysia and Bahrain:

"The Indian government needs to show the kind of courage with the US that it showed in labour talks with Malaysia and Bahrain," said Sony Sulekha, who is on hunger strike. "If we could sit down and talk with the US Congressmen, we believe our leaders can too."

"This hunger strike is a last resort," said Saket Soni, a worker's advocate who directs the New Orleans Workers' Centre for Racial Justice.

The workers are demanding that Indian parliamentarians press their US counterparts for a Congressional investigation into abuses in the US guest worker visa programme.

They also want the ministries of foreign affairs and overseas Indian affairs to press the US State Department to secure the workers' right to participate in a human trafficking investigation into Signal International and its American and Indian recruiters. [Hindustan Times]

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action suit on behalf of the Signal workers in March.

I reported on the plight of the Indian guest workers at Signal International last year. These skilled welders and pipe-fitters are being trafficked to the US under false pretenses. Fraudulent immigration brokers in the US and India promise them green cards and highly paid jobs. All of them go heavily into debt to come here. When they arrive, their wages turn out to be a fraction of what they were promised.

Worse still, they find out that their H-2B visas are only good for a short time. So, there's no way they can pay back the huge debts they've incurred. To make matters even worse, they are forced to live on company property with room and board subtracted from their wages. Many of these men have mortgaged everything they own to come here. Typically, they are in debt to loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest.

Desperation sets in.

I interviewed one Signal worker, a father of two, who attempted suicide because he was so overwhelmed by his situation. Guest workers at other plants in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida have taken their own lives.

Because of their living situation and their immigration status, guest workers at Signal are under 24-7 control by management. They can be sent home at any time, for any reason. Immigration authorities consider H-2B workers to be a major flight risks under these circumstances.

So, immigration authorities tell management to forcibly detain any worker they are planning on firing and deporting.

When Signal wanted to send two guys back to India for "making trouble" in the camp (i.e. complaining about working and living conditions) they sent company guards to detain the guys in a trailer at gunpoint pending deportation.

No matter where you stand on immigration, it's clear that what's happening at Signal and in guest worker programs all over the country is wrong.

Legal workers are being systematically abused and exploited all over the country and US immigration and labor authorities are looking the other way.

May 02, 2008

Thousands of dockworkers protest war in Iraq

Bravo, dockworkers:

Yesterday, more than 25,000 dockworkers in 29 West Coast ports stayed off the job in order to protest the Iraq war, according to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “Longshore workers are standing down on the job and standing up for America,” Bob McEllrath, the union’s president, said in a statement. “We’re supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it’s time to end the war in Iraq.”

The organized labor working for peace. I hope this is a sign of things to come.

April 28, 2008

Confessions of a Sweatshop Inspector

T.A. Frank has a great piece in the Washington Monthly about his career as an international "compliance consultant" hired by big American companies to check up on wages, hours, and conditions in factories overseas.

Frank talks about how to distinguish companies that are serious about staying sweatshop free from those that merely want cover for their unethical business practices.

Companies that are serious about spurning sweatshop labor will ask for assessments before they enter into purchase agreements, request unannounced inspections, and make the results of these audits public.

Of course, as Frank makes clear, the inspectors are themselves private for-profit consultants who serve at the pleasure of the companies that retain them.

April 14, 2008

Another fatal construction fall in New York City

Another construction worker fell to his death this morning in New York City, the cause of his fall has not yet been determined.

In other news, Michael Idov recently published an outstanding piece in New York Magazine about the new Trump "hotel"/condo ascending by fits and starts in SoHo. Idov's piece touches on just about everything that's wrong with building in New York these days, including that breakneck pace of construction that makes dangerous jobs even riskier.

April 11, 2008

May Day union vote for Connecticut casino employees

On May Day, employees of the engineering department at Foxwoods Resort Casino will cast ballots to determine whether they join the International Union of Operating Engineers.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The National Labor Relations board has set a union election at the Foxwoods Resort Casino for May 1 for the 310 employees in the engineering department.

The employees in the engineering department will have the opportunity to vote for or against union representation by the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The first union election at the casino, which is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, took place in November. [AP]

If the workers vote to unionize, the tribe intends to contest their right to organize and bargain collectively. The case could end up in federal court.

March 20, 2008

Inspector arrested in New York crane collapse

The inspector responsible for checking the crane that toppled over last Saturday in Manhattan has been arrested for allegedly falsifying his reports.

The NYC Department of Buildings sent Edward Marquette to inspect the crane after receiving a tip that the apparatus was unstable. It is alleged that Marquette never checked the crane, but filed paperwork saying that he did. 

Buildings officials would not discuss why Marquette failed to inspect the crane.