THIS WEEK IN LABOR

1 in 5 activists axed

If you’re a union activist in an organizing campaign, you’ve got a one in five chance of getting fired as a result of your activity, according to a report issued Jan. 4 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“Aggressive actions by employers — often including illegal firings — have significantly undermined the ability of U.S. workers to unionize their workplaces,” said John Schmitt, lead author of the paper “Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaigns.”



Mail Handlers rejoin AFL-CIO

The National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a 47,000-member affiliate of the Laborers Union, returned to the AFL-CIO on Dec. 12, the federation announced. The Mail Handlers had left the AFL-CIO earlier this year when their parent organization disaffiliated, following the Change to Win unions. AFL-CIO said the union is the first to take advantage of the federation’s decision to reissue charters to once-independent unions that had been affiliates before merging into one of the unions that disaffiliated. The Mail Handlers will also continue its affiliation with the Laborers.



‘Union tide’ sweeps Carolina

North Carolina may have one of the lowest rates of unionization in the country, but union leaders there report a “new tide” of fighting back against workplace oppression.

In a dispute over holiday pay, sanitation workers in Durham kept their trucks idling, Nov. 30, refusing to go out until the Sanitation Department director met with them. Over the weekend, a local newspaper had reported that they would not be paid overtime pay as promised for the day after Thanksgiving, which was a holiday for all other city workers.

The issue was resolved when the director promised to pay time and a half for Nov. 24. According to an article in UE News, the action was inspired by the example set by their colleagues in nearby Raleigh two months earlier when a walkout of sanitation workers evoked an outpouring of support from Raleigh residents.

Sanitation workers across the state have been signing up as members of UE Local 150, reports local President Angaza Laughinghouse. The union, he says, is taking advantage of its victory for state workers in August when an executive order from the governor granted unions workplace access to state workers for the purpose of organizing.



School bus workers drive to victory

More than 750 school bus drivers and aides in Anchorage, Alaska; Central Valley, N.Y.; Norwich, Conn.; and Charleston, S.C., have voted to join the Teamsters, the union reported Dec. 15. All the new union members are employed by First Student, a private school bus company. Last summer First Student bus drivers and aides in Baltimore and Iowa City joined the Teamsters.



Child care workers organize

Forty thousand Michigan home-based child care providers have formed a union with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers in what a joint statement by the two unions calls “a historic public service organizing drive.”

The way to give Michigan children the best possible care “is to make sure providers have a voice,” said Pam Stewart, a child care provider from Benton Harbor, Mich.“We work our hearts out for these children,” she added.

The new union, called Child Care Providers Together Michigan (CCPTM), has members in urban, suburban and rural areas and includes both English- and Spanish-speaking providers.

Stewart is one of 16 members on the CCPTM bargaining committee, whose members were elected by their co-workers in regional meetings around the state. Top priorities for their first contract include enhancing professional development opportunities and stabilizing the provision of child care through better pay and benefits for providers.

The providers are not state employees. They are paid through state and federal funds including the Child Care and Development Fund, a national block grant program that provides child care assistance to help low-income parents enter and remain in the workforce.



Walking to rescue hospitals

Workers from several western New York hospitals are marching 320 miles to Albany to protest a recently released state commission report calling for the closing and privatizing of hospitals throughout New York state. “The Walk to Rescue New York Hospitals” left western New York on Jan. 2 and plans to arrive in Albany on Jan. 26 with stops along the way at hospitals in other cities that are targeted for closing.

While many workers are walking for smaller sections of the journey, Pat Sullivan of DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and Dawn Mele of Millard Fillmore in Buffalo, both members of the executive board of Local 1168, Communication Workers of America, plan on walking all 320 miles.



Exporting union-busting

A group of U.S.-based corporations is lobbying hard to weaken worker protection provisions in Chinese law, 30 members of the U.S. Congress charged. As the government of China takes up consideration of a new labor law with strengthened worker rights and labor standards, transnational corporations such as Microsoft, Nike, Wal-Mart and AT&T are conducting a “shameful lobbying campaign” in opposition, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) charged.

Legislation introduced by the 30 House members protests the anti-labor rights campaign.



EPA action stinks

The EPA received 34 comments, mostly from chemical companies, favoring its new rules on pollution release. It also received 122,000 comments in opposition, including from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the House of Representatives and numerous labor and environmental groups. Nevertheless, the agency issued the new rules that will allow corporations to release up to 10 times more pollution without reporting it. New rules issued in December also allow corporations to withhold data on the toxic chemicals they release into the environment.

“This is the most arrogant, dishonest and undemocratic action we’ve yet seen from the political appointees running EPA,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard. “I know that the many dedicated career employees at EPA are just as appalled as we are. Along with other organizations, we are reviewing our legal and legislative options. This action will not stand.”



CLCs lead charge on health care

Central labor councils are the core of labor support for HR 676, legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. to institute a single-payer health care system in the U.S. CLCs in Reading, Pa., and Riverside, N.J., recently brought the number of labor councils endorsing the legislation up to 54.

In December, the Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Unite Here, representing 45,000 members in eight states, added its support.

“What we’ve got to do is furnish the vision, the determination and the foresight to make this happen,” said Conyers at a recent meeting organized by the N.Y. Metro Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. He noted crucial labor support for HR 676.

The legislation would cover every person in the U.S. for all necessary medical care, including prescription drugs, preventive care, dental work, mental health care, rehab, vision care and long-term care. HR 676 ends deductibles and co-payments. It would save billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs, supporters say. For information or a sample endorsement resolution contact nursenpo@aol.com.



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