Nurses demand adequate staffing

More than 500 nurses, led by the Washington State Nurses Association, rallied Feb. 5 at the State Capitol at Olympia to demand legislative action on a new nurse-patient staffing ratio bill.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Dawn Morrell (D), a registered nurse, would form a 15-member state committee to set minimum nurse staffing levels for every hospital. Morrell said that understaffing is responsible for high turnover of overworked nurses. They can’t provide top quality care, so “I watch them drop out. They go to other jobs,” she told local media before the rally. “This is a retention bill.”

Get mass transit rolling

The first streetcars to be built in the U.S. in years will be union-made, at the Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, Ore., the Northwest Labor Press reports. The $4 million contract will provide “dozens of good union jobs” for members of Iron Worker Local 516 there, said Business Manager Mike Lappier.

The prototype streetcars will be used in Portland, and there is already interest from 80 other cities, officials told a Jan. 26 press conference. The money came from a grant from last year’s federal mass transit and highway law.

The prototype streetcar is based on the model manufactured in the Czech Republic by Skoda, which makes the streetcars Portland now uses.

Charter school goes union

Charter school teachers in the southeast Florida city of Pembroke Pines voted by a 4 to 1 margin to be represented by the Broward Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. This win is considered significant because charter schools are often created as nonunion alternatives to the more unionized public schools, writes James Parks on the AFL-CIO Now blog.

The newly organized group includes 295 teachers. Because Florida is a “right to work” state, the union must recruit each individual worker to join, even after a majority have voted for the union.

“Our hope has always been that by negotiating a contract, we will be able to give all teachers a voice,” said third-grade teacher Grace Thomas.

Union vote electrifies TXU

Workers at TXU, Texas’ largest power company, voted 254-218 to be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Dec. 18.

The organizing victory came after the IBEW helped workers conduct a public campaign against TXU’s contracting out plans. Last June, the utility giant announced its intention to outsource the jobs of hundreds of employees, from linemen to clerks. The results would have been reduced holidays, vacations, sick days and overtime pay while service for both homeowners and industries would be jeopardized.

After the state public service commission rejected the outsourcing plan, the workers voted in the union.

Kentuckians against union-busting

Not even zero-degree weather prevented Communications Workers, Teamsters, Carpenters and Letter Carriers from protesting union-busting. CWA reported that on Jan. 29, their rally outside the Lexington, Ky., Chamber of Commerce’s meeting drew 40 picketers against the union-bashing seminar inside.

Organized by CWA Local 3372 Secretary-Treasurer Barbara Pierce, the new president of the Bluegrass Central Labor Council, the pickets called attention to the seminar titled “How To Keep Your Workplace Union-Free.” CWA reports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting similar sessions elsewhere.

In Lexington, the pickets drew backers with “people honking their horns in support like crazy” from a nearby four-lane highway, said Local 3372 Executive Vice President Bryce McGowan. One Teamster paid his way inside to join 32 business owners at the $399-per-head program, to learn what he could “until he got sick to his stomach,” McGowan added.

Massachusetts nurses call Romney plan bad medicine

The national media have given extensive positive coverage to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s health care bill, but Massachusetts nurses aren’t buying it. Instead, the 23,000 member Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the Bay State’s largest statewide health care union, supports single-payer health care and has endorsed HR 676, national legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

The MNA’s endorsement of HR 676 was unanimous, reports RN Sandy Eaton, a member of the group’s board of directors. Eaton is also chair of MASS-CARE, Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care. MASS-CARE has developed a slideshow presentation on the Massachusetts insurance company boondoggle. Go to: .

N.Y. CLC safety seminar

Chemical hazards, ergonomic risks, machine tool and lock-out systems, and other hazards are being reviewed at worker safety and health course initiated by the New York City Central Labor Council for its affiliates. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health is providing the expertise.

A second goal of the seminar is to promote support for labor’s issues in the state Legislature under the administration of newly elected Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer. These issues include stronger enforcement for public sector safety and health regulations, fairer workers’ compensation laws and the establishment of a multi-union coalition that will be ready to jump into action when the need occurs.

UFCW blasts Wal-Mart health care hypocrisy

United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen blasted Wal-Mart, “the largest corporation that provides the least health care to employees,” for its sudden advocacy of “health care for everyone.”

“Wal-Mart is actually decreasing health care coverage to employees,” said Hansen in a Feb. 7 statement. Hansen charged that while Wal-Mart is changing its public posture, “it also needs to change its actual corporate practices and that practice begins with taking responsibility for its own employees.”

Hansen’s statement began with the 1.3-million-member union’s commitment to “universal, affordable and quality health care coverage” and the need to build a broad-based coalition to bring about health care reform. The statement also emphasized the union’s commitment to continue to fight for good health care benefits at the bargaining table even while fighting for reform of the current system.

Korean, U.S. unionists march together

Korean activists joined U.S. unionists at a rally Feb. 12 outside the Washington, D.C., hotel where a “free trade” agreement between Korea and the U.S. is in the final stages of negotiation.

The Bush administration is pushing for passage of the agreement, known as KORUS FTA, before the president’s “fast track” authority expires June 30. Under the fast track procedure, Congress can only vote a trade agreement up or down; it cannot amend it. Without fast track, trade deals such as KORUS or NAFTA, which the former was modeled after, would encounter a difficult time passing in Congress.

Hyun Lee, a Korean American who traveled from New York City for the protest, explained that many Koreans are upset about the proposed agreement, which they fear may weaken workers’ rights.

The protesters included representatives from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) as well as the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and affiliated unions.

U.S. labor groups are pushing for agreements to include enforceable provisions on workers’ rights and environmental protections.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood @ Phil Benjamin and Press Associates Inc. contributed.