Iraq unions fight oil theft law

The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions has put the Iraqi government on notice that it intends to strike as early as next week to demonstrate the federation’s strong opposition to what amounts to a proposed oil theft law now pending before Iraq’s Parliament.

The Bush administration has made adoption of the oil law one of the “benchmarks” of “progress” and Iraqi “cooperation.” The law has been unanimously and strongly condemned by Iraq’s major labor federations, all of whom announced May 14 that they will join in any strike called by the oil unions.

If adopted, the law would allow foreign oil corporations to obtain contracts to exploit up to two-thirds of Iraqi oil reserves for as long as 30 years and to reap the lion’s share of the profits earned on that oil. Iraqi unions and supporters around the world point out that it makes a mockery of Iraqi sovereignty and would deprive the Iraqi people of the resources they need to rebuild their country, shattered by the U.S. occupation.

The Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq has also given the Oil Ministry a list of demands regarding wages and working conditions. The unions, originally set to strike last weekend, have given extra time for the Oil Ministry and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to respond.

California grocery workers and kids rally

Grocery workers, customers and their children rallied in front of an Albertsons supermarket in Los Angeles May 10 to demand that the chain honor its responsibilities to the families and communities that make up that city.

While L.A.’s top grocery chains are enjoying high profits, supermarket workers and their families are facing a growing crisis. In just three years, employer-based health insurance benefits for grocery workers at major chains has fallen 40 percent, while the number of children covered by employer-based insurance has dropped by more than 20,000.

Miami’s mayor backs EFCA

With passage of a resolution May 8 supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, the Miami-Dade County Commission and the mayor of Miami joined nearly 30 state and local bodies that have stood up for the rights of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

“We are grateful for the efforts of the Miami-Dade County Commission … and also for the energy, hard work and passion of South Florida’s union members and their families, whose dedication made this resolution a reality,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “Local officials see firsthand the community-wide harm done by stagnant wages, skyrocketing personal debt and out-of-control health care costs. These elected leaders know that a union contract is the best economic uplift program for working people in our nation’s history and are brave enough to tell the U.S. Congress that it’s time to take action.”

The EFCA makes a fundamental change in U.S. labor law because it gives workers, not bosses, the option of deciding how they will choose whether to form a union. The workers may choose either of the options that exist today — ballot elections or majority sign up, which enables them to form unions when a majority indicate in writing that they want one. The legislation, already overwhelmingly approved in the House of Representatives and now pending before the Senate, also creates real penalties for employers who illegally interfere with organizing. It also sets up a system to ensure that workers get a first contract even if their employers refuse to bargain in good faith.

Labor cool to new trade standards

Congressional Democrats made a small inroad with the White House in establishing some labor and environmental standards in pending trade agreements with Panama, Peru, Colombia and South Korea. But many union workers, battered by job loss, wage stagnation and a global race to the bottom fostered by so-called free trade, are saying the bipartisan agreement doesn’t go far enough and they will oppose the Colombia and South Korea pacts.

In a statement from the AFL-CIO, President John Sweeney commended Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel for making inroads, but warned that “the progress on workers’ rights and the environment does not clear the way for other flawed agreements, and we will vigorously oppose the Colombia and South Korea agreements and renewal of fast track trade authority.” Change to Win unions, including the Teamsters, said they were “disappointed” in Democrats for joining the Bush administration in the trade deal and oppose the agreement.

Unions are skeptical — to say the least — of the Bush administration’s commitment to enforcement of labor and environmental standards.

This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik