THIS WEEK IN LABOR: Dec. 15

Labor cites the Bush record

The AFL-CIO reported this month that since Bush has been in office, 5 million Americans have slipped out of the “middle class” into poverty and 8.5 million people have lost their health insurance. During his tenure, median household income for working families has gone down by $2,500, over 3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost and 3 million workers have lost their pensions.

Wages and salaries are now at their lowest share of the GDP since 1929, and the wealthiest 1 percent earn far more than the bottom 50 percent.

All of this coincides with an explosion of modern technology and a workforce that is more productive than at any time in U.S. history.



Fewer pennies for pickers, big bonuses for execs

Migrant farmworkers marched in Miami recently to protest actions by growers that will slash tomato pickers’ wages by 40 percent. Growers who supply Burger King refuse to honor deals struck by growers who supply McDonald’s and Taco Bell, who have agreed to a demand by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that they pay a penny a pound more for what the pickers harvest. Most pickers earn under $10,000 a year.

Goldman Sachs, one of the chief owners of “the home of the Whopper,” feels that more pennies for the pickers might result in less money for its executives. Last year at this time, more than $200 million in holiday bonuses were paid out to the top 12 executives at Goldman Sachs. The bonuses collected by the 12 were more than twice the annual combined wages of all 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida.



United Airlines workers on the move

Leaders of the three largest unions at United Airlines, representing pilots, flight attendants and mechanics, are furious about the decision by the board of directors this month to pay out over $250 million in “special payments” to shareholders.

Employees are excluded from the payouts despite the fact that they have yet to recover wages, pensions and benefits they lost during the airline’s period of bankruptcy. Since the airline came out of bankruptcy, top executives have given themselves huge pay hikes, while the workers have gotten no increases or even repayment of any kind for the sacrifices they made to bail the airline out.



Labor slams Bush mortgage plan

On Dec. 6 John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, issued a statement on the Bush administration’s mortgage rate freeze plan. “After sitting idly by for months while countless Americans saw their dreams slip away,” Sweeney said, “the Bush administration has put forth a plan to deal with the subprime mortgage crisis that is both too little and too late.”

The federation’s president said that the Bush plan covers only a small fraction of mortgages at risk and that “this is not the time to pick and choose who deserves help and who doesn’t. We need a moratorium on subprime mortgage foreclosures for at least six to 12 months — enough time to restructure the loans in question.”

Sweeney said this would “dam the flood of Americans losing their homes and life savings” and “that’s the kind of bold leadership we need.” He said that otherwise the wave of foreclosures “is going to crush our economy.”

Sweeney said that the mortgage industry and government must create a structured program providing for the replacement of teaser rate loans with conventional 30-year mortgages at the teaser rate.



World union leaders gather in U.S.

The Bush administration and anti-labor governments all around the world were the target of labor leaders from all over the globe who gathered in Silver Spring, Md., Dec. 10-11. The purpose of the gathering was to launch a fightback by labor against those who are attacking the right of workers anywhere in the global economy to form unions.

The AFL-CIO hosted the conference, which brought together 200 trade union leaders from the United States and 63 countries.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, who chairs the AFL-CIO Committee on Organizing, said, “Today the United States has the lowest collective bargaining coverage of any democratic country by far.”

On Dec. 11, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) joined with the union leaders to express support for the proposition that the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively is crucial to the survival of human rights and democracy around the world.

On the same day union leaders lobbied members of Congress for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org).