When negotiations broke down in France over proposed cuts at a Caterpillar plant in Grenoble, the workers reacted by using what has now become a frequent tactic in that country : They took their bosses hostage.

It was the fourth such incident in France in the last four weeks.

The CEO at Gucci was recently trapped in a makeshift prison that consisted of four walls that workers built with garbage cans. Francois Henri Pinault was held at bay behind the wall of cans together with the car he was driving.

Workers at a 3M plant held their boss for more than 24 hours and at a Sony plant the boss was held hostage overnight, until he agreed to better severance packages.

“The traditional way of holding a strike is to occupy the workplace, showing that it’s our company too,” Antoin Lyon-Caen, a labor professor at the University of Paris, told the press. “It’s not unheard of that the managers get taken hostage but until recently it was very rare.”

The Caterpillar execs were forced to listen to “pounding revolutionary rock music all night,” according to a company spokesman in Geneva, “and were not released until French President Sarkozy told union leaders the plant would be kept open.”

663,000 jobs lost in March

The bleeding continues. 663,000 workers, about 30,000 a day, lost their jobs in March. Since the recession began in December, 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost, with almost two thirds (3.3 million) of the loss occurring in the last five months.
Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Sheirholtz said: “This morning’s unemployment report offered no hint of light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, it showed that the labor market is still in its darkest months.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said: “It is unacceptable that America’s workers are suffering through the worst job loss in a generation while many politicians are still sitting back and standing in the way of reform. Fixing our unemployment problem is as important to ending the recession as addressing the banking system.

‘West Wing’ actors go to Capitol Hill to pitch for employee free choice

Through all their years on television Martin Sheen, Brad Whitford and Richard Schiff were often seen in the West Wing of the White House. On March 31 the three stars came to the Capitol, however, where they led a parade of entertainment workers up to the halls of Congress and unveiled new ads for the Employee Free Choice Act and urged senators to support it.

“It’s those workers, camera operators, grips, aids, stagehands, and all other workers nationwide who really need the improvements in wages and working conditions that unions bring,” Sheen told a crowded news conference.

Another businessman defies right wing

The largest seller of Postal Service uniforms has endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act, adding another company to the growing list of businesses supporting the measure.
In a letter to Letter Carriers President William Young, John Jared, general manager of Brookfield Uniforms of North Kansas City, Mo., said his firm “supports the labor movement’s continued efforts to ensure that hard-working men and women achieve the pay, health care and retirement they deserve – and that their families need, particularly in today’s difficult economy.”

AFL-CIO starts polling workers on health care

The nation’s largest labor federation has launched on its website a survey of U.S. workers, asking them to describe the problems they have with health care, particularly those caused by the economic crash. The federation says it will forward the information gathered to the Obama administration and to the key congressional committees that have begun to tackle the issue of devising a system that will work for everyone in the country.

Labor Department calls for rejuvenating OSHA

A newly released report by the Labor Department says that at least 58 unnecessary deaths occurred because of lax enforcement of job safety standards by the Bush administration. The department says it will drastically increase the number of inspectors and strengthen enforcement of job safety regulations.

Labor economists: Europe must do more

European governments are not doing enough to stimulate their economies to fight the global economic crash, and even the United States might have to do more, three top labor economists said this week.

Dr. Gustav Horn of the German Institute for Macroeconomic Studies said his country’s two stimulus packages “are too little, too late and half is in tax cuts, which will not be efficient in stimulating a recovery.”

“The situation in the rest of Europe is similar,” said Andrew Watt, chief economist of the European Trade Union Institute. “You’ll see double-digit unemployment, and many European countries lack the short-term aid measures Germany has for workers,” he said.

Jeff Faux, chief economist for the Economic Policy Institute in the United States, said the Obama administration realizes the depth of the crash, but the $757 billion two year stimulus package it pushed through Congress in February, just two weeks after taking office, may not be enough “We haven’t reached the bottom yet, and we don’t have the Europeans’ safety net for our workers,” Faux said.

Trade unionist to head Federal Aviation Administration

Former Air Line Pilots Association President J. Randolph “Randy” Babbitt, an expert in airline safety, was nominated by President Obama to be the next head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Babbitt, named on March 227, is the second former union president nominated to a top administration post dealing with transportation. The other, former Association of Flight Attendants President Linda Puchala, was nominated in mid-March to be a member of the National mediation Board, the regulatory agency that oversees labor-management relations in the airline and railroad industries.

SAG, AFTRA reach tentative agreement

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and radio Artists have reached agreement on commercials that provides for a $36 million increase in wages and all other payments for all categories of performers in the first year. It also includes some $21 million in increased contributions to the SAG Pension and Health Plan and the AFTRA Health and Retirement Fund and call for the establishment of a payment structure for work made for the Internet and other new-media platforms. The deal must be approved by a majority vote of the membership of both unions.

Sources: PAI, Department of Labor, AFL-CIO and The New York Times.