Sprint workers strike

Almost 1,000 Sprint workers were forced to strike Oct. 10, the Communications Workers reported. Picket lines went up in Ocala, Fla., where CWA Local 3176 represents 500 workers, Bluff City, Tenn., where Local 3871 represents 300 workers, Hickory, N.C., where Local 3672 represents 100 workers and Evansville, Ind., where Local 4700 represents 40 workers

The top issue is Sprint’s demand to eliminate the cap on employee contributions to health premiums. That would let management shift up to 100 percent of health costs to the workers, CWA said. Sprint also wants to get rid of limits on contracting out, dump its contributions to the workers’ 401(k) plan, cut disability benefits and eliminate overtime pay for Sunday work. It wants to cut vacation time, holidays and sick leave and weaken workers’ seniority rights.

The telecom giant is flush with cash, so much so that it diverted $8.7 billion since 1999 from local phone service to its wireless network construction, said CWA Vice President Jimmy Gurganus.

Card check wins

The Communications Workers racked up two more card-check wins in late September among former AT&T Wireless workers now employed by Cingular. The union has a card-check recognition agreement with the telecom firm. In Illinois, 191 retail sales consultants were certified as part of Local 4202 on Sept. 30, after the American Arbitration Association verified that a majority had signed cards. In Maryland, CWA Local 2107 will be the bargaining representative for Cingular’s statewide unit of 23 former AT&T Wireless network technicians. Since August, CWA has added 6,100 ex-AT&T Wireless workers to its rolls, with most of them in the South.

AFL-CIO approves return of Transportation Union

The AFL-CIO approved the reaffiliation of the United Transportation Union on Oct. 6, four years after the union’s departure. Talks with the AFL-CIO began last year, following the election of Paul Thompson as president of the 60,000-strong UTU. Formal affiliation will take place after the union’s delegates vote on the issue on Nov. 8.

UTU spokesman Frank Wilner said, “It’s more about a philosophical belief that there should be one umbrella organization in order to send a clear and unambiguous message to lawmakers.”

Community support for copper miners

Tucsonans turned a “Community Town Hall” meeting on Asarco into a rally against the policies of Asarco and its parent company, Grupo Mexico. Copper miners here are on strike over the company’s unfair labor practices. The Oct. 10 meeting filled Tucson’s First Christian Church to capacity.

Cheryl is a single mother of three who works as a shovel operator at the Silverbell mine. During the three-month strike, her 13- and 14-year-olds have sold their CDs and video games to help pay the bills, she testified. “I’m not doing this because of what I believe in, but because of what I don’t believe in — Asarco’s cutting pensions, and disability payments and their drive to make taxpayers shoulder the costs of environmental cleanup,” she said.

Carolyn Trowbridge. a member of the Pima County Board of Health, called for holding Asarco/Grupo Mexico accountable for poisoning the communities where they operate.

Daniel Patterson from the Center for Biological Diversity, commented that this struggle against corporate greed unites striking workers and environmentalists.

There is an Arizona law allowing for confiscation of a concern that creates a public nuisance, pointed out Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal. “We should have a way to take the mine and use its income to clean up the environment and care for the community,” he said.

AFSCME, SEIU in joint campaign

“This should stop the presses,” joked AFSCME President Gerald McEntee in announcing that his union and SEIU have launched a joint radio advertising campaign in Iowa, Maine, Oregon and Rhode Island. The campaign will oppose the Republican’s efforts to cut vital public service programs and give new tax breaks to the wealthy in the name of funding hurricane relief efforts. The GOP legislators have proposed $35 billion cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and Housing and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They are also pushing $70 billion in tax breaks for the wealthy.

Asked about the collaboration between the two unions, which have been at odds since the SEIU left the AFL-CIO in July, McEntee said he has always thought that “on major issues and major political campaigns,” the two would pursue “a lot of cooperation.”

Wal-Mart: Sells hammers and buys them too

When former GOP Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted for illegally funneling corporate money to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature, what did Wal-Mart do? They cut him a check! Wal-Mart Watch reports that DeLay’s Congressional Committee received $5000 two days after a Texas grand jury handed down the indictment. Wal-Mart’s Political Action Committee doled out $2.1 million to politicians in 2004, with $1.6 million going to Republican candidates or organizations.

NLRB paves over worker rights

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that an employer’s right to control its parking lot trumps the workers’ right to engage in on-site job actions. The Board’s decision gave its stamp of approval to Houston air conditioner manufacturer Quietflex Co. which fired 83 non-union employees who gathered in the company parking lot to air their grievances in January 2000.

The workers who gathered were Latino immigrants who felt that their managers were treating them unfairly compared to other workers, according to American Rights at Work. The workers also sought a raise and improved vacations and holiday pay.

After 12 hours, the company president, who refused to meet with the workers, threatened to fire them if they remained in the parking lot. But they stayed until police escorted them off the property. When they returned to work, they were fired. Although the workers were not union members, the Sheet Metal Workers Union stepped in on their behalf and filed charges with the NLRB.

Four-and-a-half years later, the board ruled that after 12 hours, the workers had exhausted their rights and Quietflex could reclaim its parking lot.

American Rights at Work slammed the board’s decision. “All workers are supposed to be protected under the National Labor Relations Act when they engage in reasonable on-site … job actions,” the group said, “but the rights of employers far outweigh the rights of employees in this country …[and] the board keeps tipping the balance of power even further in favor of employers.”

Fortunately, soon after the action, the SMWIA was able to help the workers get their jobs back in spite of the board’s action.

Labor Update is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org). Joe Bernick and PAI contributed.