THIS WEEK IN LABOR: March 29

Modern-day slavery

Modern-day slavery in the Pascagoula, Miss., shipyards has drawn protests from the International Trade Union Confederation. The ITUC, to which the AFL-CIO belongs, demanded March 18 that the U.S. take action on behalf of 500 dockworkers from India who have filed suit against Signal International. They accuse the marine construction company of subjecting them to forced labor, trafficking, fraud and civil rights violations.

Enticed by deceptive advertisements promising legal and permanent work-based immigration to the U.S. for them and their families, the workers borrowed up to $20,000 to pay recruitment fees. It got them only a 10-month residence permit, their families were not included and their salaries were barely enough to repay the loans. They live in labor camps monitored round the clock by armed security forces. For the privilege of being jammed 24 people per small trailer, $1,000 per month is deducted from their pay.



Unions: no deal with murderers!

Labor is geared up for a major fight in Congress, March 31, when President Bush says he will submit the Colombia Free Trade Agreement for approval. Unions oppose the deal, saying it hurts workers here and in Colombia.

Under pressure, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe agreed earlier this year to insert pro-labor provisions into the text of the pact, but unions and Democratic lawmakers say the changes don’t address stopping right-wing paramilitaries that have murdered over 2,000 trade unionists and organizers.

Polls show a majority of Americans oppose passage of so-called free trade agreements that don’t protect U.S. jobs and don’t encourage good labor standards overseas.



Oregon AFSCME backs Obama

The Oregon state council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has announced its endorsement of Barack Obama in the state’s coming Democratic primary. AFSCME nationally has backed Hillary Clinton. The Oregon council is the second AFSCME state organization — after Obama’s home state, Illinois — to endorse Obama.



Laborers rejoin AFL-CIO Trades Department

By unanimous vote of the department’s executive council, the Laborers rejoined the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department this month, Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan and new Building Trades President Mark Ayers said. The Laborers are members of Change to Win, as is another former Building Trades Department union, the Carpenters.



Justices hear key labor case

In a case that could have ramifications for all workers, the Supreme Court on March 19 began tackling whether a state can use its power of the purse to guarantee company neutrality in union organizing drives.

At issue is a California law, enacted in 2000 but never enforced, that says any firm that receives state funds cannot use those funds to thwart a union organizing drive.

The California Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO submitted briefs on California’s side. Several trade associations and the radical right National Right to Work Committee, along with the Bush administration, are siding with the Chamber of Commerce, against the state of California.



Warehouse workers win one

After a two-year struggle, workers at Rite Aid’s distribution center in Lancaster, Calif., have won their fight to join International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 26.

The workers began organizing in March 2006. Among issues were mandatory overtime, punishing production quotas and lack of job security.

Rite Aid responded with an all-out anti-union campaign. After months of investigation, the National Labor Relations Board found evidence to try the company on 49 labor law violations, including disciplining, demoting, suspending and firing union supporters.

The company settled last May rather than face an NLRB judge. Earlier this month, with most eligible workers participating, the warehouse workers voted 283 to 261, with 18 challenged ballots, to join the union.

Compiled by John Wojcik. Marilyn Bechtel contributed.