Service workers of the world unite!

CHICAGO — Fifteen hundred unionists from 140 countries gathered here Aug. 22-25 to advance plans to increase workers’ power through global solidarity.

The second world congress of UNI, Union Network International, brought together 1,500 delegates from 900 service sector unions. They agreed to focus on the 100 largest corporations in their sector, leveraging the power of their established organizations and pension funds to compel global pacts with multinational corporations. They want to guarantee fellow workers in other countries rights to union recognition.

“The market leaders are big global companies,” said UNI General Secretary Phillip Jennings. “When we meet these companies, we will meet them together.” Jennings said the federation has global plans for commerce, property services, financial services, telecom and IT sector unions.

“Up until today, workers of the world unite, was more words than deeds,” said Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney greeted the congress at its opening session, saying, “Unless we put new rules around the global economy, 19th century sweatshops will become the centerpiece of 21st century capitalism.”

UNI has 14 affiliates in the U.S., including SEIU, United Food and Commerical Workers, three postal workers unions and the Communications Workers. It is chaired by Joe Hansen, president of the UFCW.

Youngstown newspaper strike ends

After 261 days on the picket line, Youngstown Newspaper Guild members voted 50-41 to approve a three-year contract that gives them their first raises in five years, the Guild Reporter reported.

A week earlier, striking reporters, photographers editors, page designers and classified and circulation employees of the Youngstown Vindicator had rejected by a vote of 85-17 a company ultimatum that they return to work or lose their jobs to permanent replacements. Instead, according to the Reporter, union members stepped up pressure on the newspapers advertisers prompting two big accounts to notify the newspaper they would suspend their business until the contract dispute was resolved.

Autoworkers push fuel efficiency

DETROIT (PAI) — Auto Worker Local 600 leaders joined with student activists Aug. 22 to demand U.S. automakers produce fuel-efficient “hybrid” cars and cut production of SUVs to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Leaders of the “Road to Detroit” and “JumpStart Ford” campaigns gave a symbolic key for a hybrid to the UAW at Ford’s River Rouge plant.

The Model-T was produced at the plant and “it got better gas mileage than any of the Big Three fleets gets on average today,” organizers explained. “The delivery is to demonstrate to Detroit the growing consumer demand for super fuel-efficient, low-emissions” vehicles “that can help break America’s oil addiction, a leading cause of auto industry job losses, the asthma epidemic, the war in Iraq, global warming, pollution and economic strain due to high gas prices,” they added.

NLRB upholds ban on friendship

We’re not making this up. A recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board gives your boss the right to regulate who you hang out with even when you’re off the clock. The board let stand a rule by security firm Guardsmark that bans fraternizing or “becoming overly friendly” on duty or off duty with co-employees.

The Service Employees International Union had filed an unfair labor practice with the board, claiming that the company’s work rules inhibited the workers’ rights of free association and speech.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants workers the right to “self-organization … and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Hard to do without fraternizing!

The board’s ruling was 2 to 1, with the two Bush appointees voting with the employer. The dissenting board member wrote that “the primary meaning of the term ‘fraternize’ is ‘to associate in a brotherly manner,’ and that kind of association is the essence of workplace solidarity.”

Privatizing food stamps

AUSTIN, Texas (PAI) — Apparently Texas Republicans will stop at nothing to promote privatization schemes for public services — and that includes breaking federal laws. The Communications Workers report the Texas State Employees Union, a CWA affiliate, is probing a privatization scheme for food stamp call centers planned by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is controlled by Bush’s successor, Gov. Rick Perry (R). “The Texas plan may very well be in violation of federal food stamp policy guidelines. Privatization of the system and initiation of privately run call centers could cost the union thousands of jobs,” CWA reported.

Labor Update is compiled by Roberta Wood (