Government adopts ‘Wal-Mart’ personnel policies

Hundreds of federal workers, members of American Federation of Government Employees, took to Capitol Hill last week to protest a new personnel plan for the Department of Defense that would eliminate collective bargaining for nearly 750,000 civilian employees.

Last year Congress gave Defense Secretary Rumsfeld the power to rewrite the department’s personnel rules. Rumsfeld argued that managers needed more power over the work force in the name of the war on terrorism. John Gage, president of the AFGE, called the new rules “union-busting,” and said, “This has nothing to do with national security.”

Under the new rules, current collective bargaining contracts would not be renewed, and management could institute policy changes that conflict with existing contracts.

“The Bush administration would like to dictate that federal workers have no more options and right than the typical Wal-Mart worker,” said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

Flower growers stink

Dozens of Central Coast flower workers were fired on Feb. 6, four days after the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board certified their election for the United Farm Workers Union. The UFW says 24 workers were fired for trying to improve working conditions at the nursery owned by Watsonville, Calif.-based McCahon Floral. They seek clean bathrooms, decent drinking water and fair pay. The UFW is asking consumers to pressure Trader Joe’s, one of McCahon’s biggest customers, not to carry its potted plants.

Judge puts anti-union reporting rules on hold

A one-year injunction has halted the enforcement of new financial reporting rules for unions. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler came in response to an AFL-CIO lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s proposed new rules which the federation says could cost local and national unions as much as $1 billion a year. The rules would require unions to devote vast amounts of time and money to purchase new computers and train staff to fill out forms. Judge Kessler wrote that forcing unions to wade through bureaucratic red tape on such short notice would cause unions “irreparable harm.”

Unless things change, future jobs will pay less

The Steelworkers Union Rapid Response newsletter says, “According to a forecast released Feb. 11 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a large share of new jobs will be in occupations that don’t require a lot of education and pay below average. Indeed, educated workers are hardly exempt from the forces roiling the economy. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute calculates that workers with at least a bachelor’s degree have seen a bigger increase in long-term unemployment since 2000 than workers with a high school degree or less.”

The report points out that workers with less education are being battered by two powerful forces. Computerization and automation are wiping out jobs in both manufacturing and office work. Offshoring is sending other jobs abroad.

Steelworkers for Healthcare

Over 110,000 Steelworker union members have signed on to a petition calling for support of the “USWA Health Care Bill of Rights for All Americans.” The Bill of Rights calls for universal health care coverage, cost controls and a prescription drug benefit for all, according to the Feedback Report of the USWA Rapid Response network. In addition to asking co-workers to sign the petition, local unions’ Rapid Response teams from across the U.S. have met with their congresspersons and delivered the signed petitions.

Poverty reduction key to peace

Overwhelming majorities in both industrialized and developing countries believe that “poverty reduction is key to achieving global peace and stability.” So says the International Labor Organization’s newsletter, ILO Focus, reporting on a survey on globalization conducted by the World Bank among leaders in government, labor, business media and academia. Poverty reductions will be difficult, the survey report admitted, given that the gap between rich and poor has widened in the respective countries.

Labor Update is compiled by Roberta Wood ( Jackie LaValle contributed to this report.