This week in labor

Bush abandons safety regs

The Bush administration continues, on all fronts, to abandon enforcement of job safety and health standards. Recent Congressional hearings shed light on the administration’s almost total disregard of ergonomic injuries. The lax attitude was displayed in testimony by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao who tried on May 7 to defend the administration’s budget proposals for enforcement of rules to prevent ergonomic injuries, widely seen as totally inadequate.

Chao told Sen. Tom Harkins (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Labor Appropriations subcommittee, that 700 workplaces were inspected last year for ergonomic injuries. Harkins countered that Occupational Safety and Health Administration records show that only 449 inspections had been done. Government records indicate, however, that there were 375,540 ergonomic injuries last year. These injuries include musculoskeletal disorders that develop from repetitive motions, lifting, turning and hauling.

NLRB nominee withdrawn

The Bush administration has withdrawn its nomination of management lawyer Robert Battista, former National Labor Relations Board chairman, to a new five-year term on the board. Unions celebrated the withdrawal after having lobbied hard to urge senators to turn down the nomination. Under Battista’s five year reign the NLRB, established to protect workers, instead became known for a series of rulings that restricted workers’ organizing rights and eased penalties for employers who violated labor law.

Jobless benefits added

In a challenge to the GOP, the Democratic-run Senate Appropriations Committee passed a measure extending federal jobless benefits to 39 weeks in most states – and 52 in a few – up from the present 26 weeks. The panel added the benefits, and money to pay for them, to Bush’s Iraq War funding bill.

Auto worker victory in Virginia

By a 93-7 percent margin, UAW represented workers at the Volvo trucks plant in New River, Va., ratified a new three-year contract. The union represents 2,600 workers who were on strike for seven weeks. The contract gives each worker a $2000 lump sum payment in its first year and 2 percent raises in each following year. It also features better vision and hearing benefits and protected recall rights for workers should there be any layoffs.

Better deal for state workers

By a 524-147 margin on May 3, convention delegates of the previously unaffiliated State Employees Association of North Carolina voted to merge into the Service Employees, SEIU has announced. The state association became SEIU Local 2008 which represents 55,000 North Carolina state workers in one of the least unionized states in the United States.North Carolina workers lag far behind national averages in pay (35th), health care (45th) and pension benefits (30th), SEIU said.

AFL-CIO backs Guatemalans

The AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan unions formally protested workers’ rights violations to a panel established under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to hear such cases. The panel, though, has no power to enforce any remedies. In their April 23 complaint the U.S. labor federation and the Guatemalan unions said workers are being left unprotected. Union workers in Guatemala are being systematically harassed, intimidated, assaulted, raped and even murdered, the unions charge.

jwojcik @ pww.org