Struggling workers, Biden and Solis to be part of AFL-CIO gathering

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MIAMI — Hilda Solis, the former Latina congresswoman from East Los Angeles and now the U.S. Secretary of Labor, south Florida workers reeling from the tanking economy, and national labor leaders will kick off a four day meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council March 2 in a Miami church. Solis will hear from workers about how the “Bush crash” has hurt them and she will take their suggestions about what needs to be done.

Solis will then join the executive council the following day when it moves to IBEW Local 349’s union hall here where she will meet with more workers – this time, workers who are involved in almost all of the construction-related trades.

Solis and the unions are saying that the second meeting is a direct response to January jobless figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the Labor Department’s agencies. Those figures peg construction unemployment at 18.2 percent, as opposed to a national 7.6 percent jobless rate.

When the public meetings at the IBEW hall conclude the leaders of the federation’s 56 member unions will meet in executive session. According to an AFL-CIO statement, that session will address “the economic crisis sweeping America’s working families through a variety of angles including bargaining, legislative, organizing and political work.”

Vice President Biden will address the gathering on March 5. Both Biden and Solis are expected to join workers and labor leaders at press conferences.

On March 5 the federation will launch a major push for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, its top legislative priority.

President Obama, Biden and Solis all strongly support the measure, which would simplify procedures for workers seeking union representation and strongly penalize employers who violate labor laws.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, said last week that businesses are spending at least $1 million a week to campaign against the law. Their goal is to get 41 senators, mostly Republicans, to filibuster the bill. The Chamber of Commerce and others seek to deny labor and its supporters the 60 votes they need to prevent the filibuster.

The executive council will outline plans for a concerted effort by labor to counter the drive against employee free choice. It is expected those plans will include major union mobilizations in 16 or more key states.

The federation is also saying that it will release, during the executive council meeting, results of a new study, documenting heightened company attacks against workers who try to form unions.

In addition, the federation plans to discuss bargaining in this “extremely challenging” climate and how to create good-paying “green” jobs.

Sources in the labor movement say it is possible that the federation may, while it meets, try to resolve a major labor dispute in the south Florida area. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reports that they have yet to receive raises they negotiated last year with tomato growers and that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is helping to block those raises. They also report that there has been little or no improvement in the working conditions they face in the fields. The AFL-CIO has given strong support to those workers.