THIS WEEK IN LABOR

‘Worker Squeezinart’

Employees of the Albertsons supermarket chain in Los Angeles dramatized their struggles Feb. 22 with street theater. The skits featured “Fatcat Albertson” showing off his “Amazing Profit Machine” churning out money at the expense of workers.

Attention-grabbing visuals included giant signs, costumes and a “Worker Squeezinart.”

Tens of thousands of LA grocery workers struggle to make ends meet as company profits soar. In 2005 Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions, the three big LA grocery chains, each raked in about $2 billion in profits.

Much of that profit comes from slashing workers’ benefits. While 94 percent of LA grocery workers in the three big chains had health insurance in 2003, only 7 percent of those hired since have any coverage. Wages have dropped dramatically.

Determined to reverse this trend, labor, community and faith-based groups have gotten together to form the Los Angeles Grocery Workers and Community Health Coalition. The coalition, which sponsored the skits, seeks to insure that the grocery industry becomes, once again, a source of good paying, stable jobs in Los Angeles.

EFCA ads

Full-page ads in The New York Times, the Washington Post and three Capitol Hill publications are giving millions of readers the dramatic stories of what happens to U.S. workers when they try to form a union.

The first ad in the series features Bill Lawler, a forklift driver who worked at Consolidated Biscuit in McComb, Ohio. Lawler is still not back on the job five years after being illegally fired during a union organizing campaign.

The Employee Free Choice Act, which the ads are promoting, would rein in these employer practices by expediting the unionizing process and establishing stronger penalties for employer violation of worker rights. The ads are being sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

LA Times workers organize

Faced with the possibility that their paper would be sold out from under them, press operators at the Los Angeles Times reversed 16 years of failed organizing efforts by voting for union representation with the Graphics Communication Conference, says The Guild Reporter. The vote “marks a significant cultural change at the newspaper,” says the Reporter, adding that newsroom employees have been talking with The Newspaper Guild-CWA organizers.

Was there ever any question?

In an undisguised reward for “a job well done,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the nation’s business community, named former U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Stephen J. Law as its new general counsel.

During Law’s tenure, brags the Chamber’s press release, the DOL made “historic changes to its overtime rules, required unions to adopt new financial transparency standards and successfully intervened in the West Coast ports’ shutdown of 2002.” Read that as: Law helped eliminate overtime pay for millions of the hardworking Americans his department was supposed to help, forced unions to spend a billion of their members’ hard earned dollars on useless paperwork and did his best to break the strike of the West Coast longshore workers.

Observers note that Law’s new appointment proves beyond doubt who he and the whole Bush Department of Labor have been working for all along.

Hold the date!

A “lively” public presidential candidates forum will be sponsored by the AFL-CIO in Chicago during its executive council meeting there this August, federation President John Sweeney announced.

To “maximize the impact of organized working-class voters in this election,” Sweeney asked individual unions to hold off on final decisions on endorsements until late in the year, even though, he acknowledged, various unions are already starting their presidential endorsement processes.

Sweeney said the federation will be sponsoring forums for each of the presidential candidates to hear directly from its members. “We’ll be finding out from our members what questions they want answered and what issues they want raised,” he told a February session of the AFL-CIO’s General Board.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood @ pww.org). John Wojcik contributed.

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