Steelworkers urge Drummond probe

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard has urged U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to join his counterpart in Colombia, Attorney General Mario Iguarian, in investigating the links between paramilitaries and Drummond Coal Co.

The USW urged the probe as Gonzales and Iguarian planned to meet in Washington this week on the issue of support by U.S. companies, including Drummond, for right-wing terrorist groups in Columbia.

Gerard demanded in a letter to Gonzales that the U.S. Justice Department commence “its own investigation of Drummond’s paramilitary ties.” This investigation is made all the more crucial by the revelation last week that a high-ranking official of Drummond, Julian Villate, allegedly developed a plot to murder Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, who the USW brought to Washington three weeks ago to help the union lobby Congress about Drummond’s cooperation with death squads.

Since 2002, the USW has been involved in a lawsuit against Drummond stemming from the assassination of three union leaders at Drummond locations in Colombia. Drummond gave material support and encouragement to the thugs who killed the trade unionists, the USW says.

Laundry workers determined to outfox the Fox

Laundry workers in Arizona have gone on a Fox hunt. They’re trying to catch Sam Fox, the Arizona restaurant mogul, who has been hiding from them since March when they tried to serve him with copies of a petition to be represented by the union, Unite Here, and with a list of grievances.

The workers at Milum Textile Laundry wash all the tablecloths and napkins used at the Arizona locations of the Fox restaurant chain. Unite Here tried to catch Fox April 30 at his newly opened restaurant in Blanco. Workers and supporters showed up wearing appropriate foxhunting attire, including spyglasses, and toting hobby horses and a 6-foot stuffed hound.

The National Labor Relations Board is seeking an order that Milum recognize Unite Here as the workers’ bargaining agent.

Share of U.S. income going to workers’ pay hits record low

The share of national income going to wage and salary workers fell to a new low in 2006 while corporate profits’ share hit a record high.

Employees’ pay declined to 51.6 percent of national income from the previous low of 52.4 percent in both 2005 and 2004, according to an analysis of federal government data by the Washington-based research organization, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Small percentage declines can make a big difference, because one tenth of 1 percent amounts to $117 billion in national income, the researchers said. In contrast, corporate profits’ share of national income has increased sharply each year since the 2001 recession, when they bottomed out at 8.5 percent. They hit 13.8 percent in 2006, matching the record high set in 1942.

“For the first time on record, corporate profits have captured a larger share of the income growth in a recovery (46 percent) than wages have,” the researchers say.

‘Homeland Security’ rules offer no security

The United Steelworkers union says that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rules issued this month concerning chemical facility antiterrorism standards fail to protect either the workers in the plants or the communities that surround the facilities.

“We would not be surprised,” USW President Leo Gerard said, “if the chemical industry wrote these regulations, because nowhere is there any requirement to invest in safe technology or less hazardous chemicals.”

The DHS rules also offer no protection for whistleblowers. This means that workers who might have knowledge about potential problems won’t come forward and any potential threat to both workers and the surrounding community would remain.

The USW is also concerned about the DHS requirement for background checks of existing employees. There is nothing in the new rules, the union says, that would prevent companies from using information gathered to control workers’ behavior and violate their right to privacy. While the rules call for background checks on workers who have been with the company for years, highly paid corporate contractors come in and out with no background checks, union members point out.

This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik