THIS WEEK IN LABOR: August 2

Bush continues to block job safety rules

A special subcommittee of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued stricter rules this month regarding cranes at construction sites. The additional rules were promulgated because of the recent deaths and injuries following the collapse of these cranes at various locations. The new regs were quashed, however, when Joshua Bolten, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, issued a memo retroactive to June 1. The memo instructs OSHA, retroactively, not to issue any new job safety rules.

The memo also quashes stricter rules to protect workers exposed to dangerous chemicals that another OSHA committee had drafted.

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario told the press that the cancelling of better crane safety rules was particularly outrageous because at least 17 workers have died since May 30 as a result of construction crane accidents. Seven were killed in the most recent accident, a mid-July crane collapse in Houston.



Immigration raid killed a town, witnesses say

Witnesses told Congress, July 24, that the now infamous immigration raid at the nation’s biggest kosher meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, literally destroyed that town.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surrounded the Agriprocessors plant on May 12 with agents and helicopters. 390 Spanish surnamed workers were hauled out and locked up in a cattle processing facility several miles away.

Witnesses told Congress that the workers had less than 30 minutes to talk with lawyers, many of whom had no experience in immigration issues. It was the only time they were given to make decisions about accepting jail terms and then deportation or to contest their citations and get longer jail terms and deportation.

A lawyer told Congress that he was given barely enough time to learn names of his “clients,” much less time to develop any type of defense.

Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, pastor of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic, described how his Church had to “bed down 800 people a day and feed them their meals because they were afraid to go home. Kids were afraid to go to school for fear that they would be arrested like their parents were.”

Ouderkirk said that 15 years of work to build relations and respect for diversity among the town’s white majority, the immigrant workers and the Orthodox Jewish managers and workers at the plant was “destroyed in one day” with the raid.

Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called the company “the poster child for how companies game our immigration system and how they exploit workers and drive down wages and working conditions in our industry.”

Hansen said the company employed children as young as 13 and that there was documentation of incredible company abuse including a supervisor who duct taped the eyes of a child worker and beat him with a meat hook.

The solution witnesses called for was an overhaul of U.S. immigration law that provides a path to legalization for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers now in the United States. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told the hearing, “If you take these workers out of the country, you wouldn’t have any meat to eat, your hotel rooms wouldn’t be clean and half of all the fast food places would close.”



Letter carriers endorse Obama

In another sign of healing wounds from the long Democratic presidential nomination race, the Letter Carriers endorsed Barack Obama for president at their July 21 convention in Boston. The move followed a speech by Hillary Clinton, urging that they do so. The Letter Carriers had endorsed Clinton in the primary.

This leaves only two AFL-CIO unions, the International Association of Machinists and the Carpenters, who have yet to endorse Obama. The federation as a whole and its 54 other unions have already endorsed, as has the Change to Win federation.



Freedom of speech and assembly?

The union for the nation’s foreign service officers has filed a formal grievance with the State Department over the Bush administration’s order that foreign service workers and their families stay away from the July 24 speech by Barack Obama in Berlin. The American Foreign Service Association has protested the ban but told its Berlin based members it could not compel the administration to change its policy before the speech.

This Week in Labor is compiled by PWW Labor Editor John Wojcik, jwojcik @pww.org.