Goodyear strike solid

“Our people are solid. We haven’t had anyone cross the line,” USW Local 12 President Dennis Battles told the World Oct. 24. The threatened closure of Goodyear’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., along with the company’s Tyler, Texas, facility was the main issue precipitating the strike at 16 plants which began Oct. 5.

“The issue is jobs — jobs in the USA,” said Battles. Among the Gadsden plant’s 1,250 strikers are hundreds of transplants from both Akron, Ohio, and Huntsville, Ala., who made the move when their respective plants closed.

Florida Wal-Mart workers walk off the job

Nearly 200 Wal-Mart workers weren’t wearing smiley faces when they walked out of their store in the Miami suburb of Hialeah Gardens, Oct. 16, protesting management’s move to cut their work hours. Almost the entire morning shift rallied outside the store, Business Week reported, shouting “We want justice,” and “Forty hours, forty hours,” during an hour-long demonstration.

The workers also oppose new corporate-wide policies cracking down on “unexcused absences” and instituting scheduling policies that will vary their days off from week to week.

Shifts will now be set arbitrarily by a computer in company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., interfering with childcare arrangements and the ability of workers to work second jobs, according to two department managers who initiated the protest action.

The cut in working hours are in line with a Business Week report that Wal-Mart executives recently told Wall Street analysts that the company wants to transform its workforce from 20 percent part-time to 40 percent part-time, and to get rid of full-time and unhealthy employees who are more expensive for the company to retain.

Faced with 400 employee signatures on a protest letter, Wal-Mart backed down on at least one of its moves and restored the cut hours for the Hialeh Garden workers. The corporate office blamed the cut on a store manager’s “mistake.”

U.S. charged with int’l labor law violations

The recent set of NLRB decisions that threaten to strip millions of U.S. workers of their union organizing rights violates international labor standards, a complaint by the AFL-CIO to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization charged. The complaint, filed Oct. 23, says that through this decision the U.S. government denies workers’ their right to form and join trade unions in violation of the principles of freedom of association.

The NLRB cases, known as the “Kentucky River” decisions, allow employers to reclassify professionals who work alongside non-professionals as well as workers who act as group leaders, line leaders, lead persons, or workplace coordinators all as “supervisors.” With that designation, employers would have legal immunity to fire or discipline them for union activity.

ILO principles state that all workers “without distinction whatsoever” have the right to freedom of association. In previous cases, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association has ruled that changing employees’ status to undermine the membership of workers’ trade unions is contrary to the principle of freedom of association.

Stuck with Stickler, mine safety down the shaft

With a total of 40 coal miners having been killed on the job this year, even a Republican-controlled Congress was hard pressed to approve President Bush’s nomination of a coal company executive as head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. After the Senate twice rejected Richard Stickler, known for favoring production over safety, Bush used a recess appointment to put his nominee in office. “The pleas of coal miners throughout the land for him to appoint a strong advocate for their safety to that position have fallen on deaf ears. The companies are in charge of mine safety in America, not the safety professionals,” said Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts.

AK Steel workers won’t go back without pension guarantee

After eight months on the picket line, workers at AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio, members of International Association of Machinists Lodge 1943 rejected a contract that didn’t guarantee the pension provisions and working conditions they demanded. The vote was 1,050 to 489. The Associated Press reported that a roar of approval drowned out the initial announcement at the union hall, which is located within sight of the mill.

The rejected contract would have given the company the sole right to withdraw from the IAM National Pension Plan and substitute a 401(k) plan. Members also objected to the company’s proposed back-to-work terms which included a six-month period in which union members would be required to work and even be retrained by “replacement workers.”

In July, AK Steel workers voted to affiliate their formerly independent union with the IAM in order to boost their bargaining strength.

Striking janitors sweep across Houston

Houston janitors put down their brooms and picked up picket signs in the first wave of a well-prepared strike that their union says could escalate and spread nationwide. The Service Employees International Union charges five large national cleaning companies with failure to bargain in good faith.

The janitors typically earn just $20 a day for part time work and have no health insurance coverage.

Night shift workers who do the cleaning of the majority of Houston’s downtown office space walked off their jobs Oct. 23 and marched straight to “strike boot camp” where they broke into teams to review strike strategy.

As the strike expands, it could spread to other parts of Houston as well as to other cities, says the union. “Union janitors in other cities who work for the same national cleaning companies have pledged to do whatever it takes to help Houston janitors win a fair contract, including honoring the picket lines of the Houston janitors,” said a union statement. Last week janitors from other cities contributed $1 million to the Houston janitors’ growing strike fund.

Contract talks for the 5,300 workers ended several days earlier with the companies — ABM, OneSource, GCA, Sanitors and Pritchard — refusing the workers’ demands for more hours, health insurance and a pay raise to $8.50 an hour.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood ( Pat Burnham in Houston contributed.