NLRB decision looms

An upcoming decision by the Bush-appointed National Labor Relations Board threatens to impact millions of workers.

The danger is that the board could potentially designate almost anyone as a “supervisor.” Once you’re classified as a supervisor, it becomes legal for your employer to fire you or punish you for activities such as discussing your working conditions and wages with other workers. These activities are protected by federal law for non-supervisors.

The looming decision, expected any day now, relates to a group of NLRB cases known as the Kentucky River cases.

Panelists at a recent forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress estimated that 8 million workers, from nurses to construction carpenters, could lose their rights to unionize and the legal protections current labor law provides.

‘Ring my bell’

There are hundreds of volunteer opportunities for working family activists to make a difference in next month’s election, according to the Working Families

e-Activist network. At, union members can find more than 400 canvasses and phone banks across the country in an online event-locator tool. More ways to get involved are added every day, says an urgent communication from the network, which urges activists to check the web page regularly.

CBTU calls for Zimbabwe solidarity

A delegation from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists was denied entry into Zimbabwe last week. The CBTU called this action by the Zimbabwe government “a desperate effort to prevent international labor officials from seeing the dreadful conditions” of the country’s economy and its impact on everyday workers. On Sept. 13, police arrested 256 union activists during a demonstration in Harare.

The workers’ demands included higher wages and availability of antiretroviral drugs to deal with HIV and AIDS.

Among those arrested were Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary Wellington Chibebe, President Lovemore Matombo and First Vice President Lucia Matibenga. The AFL-CIO, citing reports that Chibebe and Matombo were severely beaten, gathered members of U. S. unions outside the Washington, D.C., embassy of Zimbabwe, demanding “the swift and unconditional release” of the imprisoned trade unionists.

The CBTU delegation, headed by William Lucy, called for the American labor movement and the global labor movement to come to the aid of Zimbabwean workers.

Union pie

When longtime Domino’s driver Jim Pohle saw a competitor’s sign offering an extra 25 cents an hour, he didn’t jump ship, he formed the nation’s first pizza delivery drivers’ union. Pohle, 37, is president of the recently formed American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers Inc., representing 11 drivers at the franchise store where he has worked off and on for more than a dozen years in Pensacola, Fla.

Two workers die, manager sentenced to teach safety class

In 2001, two employees of Far West Water and Sewage Company, James Gamble, 26, and Gary Lanser, 62, were suffocated by hydrogen sulfide. They were working on an underground sewer tank. “The air in the tank had not been tested, the workers weren’t properly trained and the required safety and rescue procedures weren’t followed,” Jordan Barab reports in his workplace safety blog “Confined Space.”

A jury found company president Brent Weidman guilty of two counts of negligent homicide and two counts of endangerment. But Superior Court Judge Andrew Gould apparently saw it less seriously — he sentenced Weidman to probation, a fine and 840 hours of community service. Weidman will teach safety training classes for the Arizona Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Yuma.

Weidman seems to have gotten off easy, but what kind of working conditions did Judge Gould sentence Arizona workers to, now that those responsible for their safety are going to be trained by the likes of Weidman?

More workers in debt

More than a third of workers surveyed have been forced to go into debt in the last year just to pay for basic necessities like food, utilities and gas, according to a poll of 800 non-supervisory workers released Aug. 30 by Change to Win.

Now in aisle 6 — Wal-Mart voter guides

In the latest Wal-Mart outrage, the retail giant is now trying to tell its employees how to vote. The company is mailing 18,000 “voter guides” to its employees in Iowa, the state of the first presidential primary in 2008, AFL-CIO Now reports. The guides attack potential candidates for president — all of them Democrats — for supporting groups that opposed the company’s “every day low wages.”

World Bank’s dirty business

The Marshall Islands and Palau are given high ratings by the World Bank’s top development book because, among other features, both allow workers to be forced to work up to 24 hours per day and up to seven days per week and require no vacations or advance notice for dismissal, charged a spokesman for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The World Bank’s book “Doing Business” explicitly encourages countries to dump worker protections, the ICFTU charges

When the World Bank lends money to developing countries, it often requires that they change their labor standards and social programs. The bank has frequently ordered nations to make it easier to fire workers, ban unions and abolish social programs.

Whistle blowers silenced

Federal employees who complain about public safety hazards, environmental problems or unhealthy working conditions could face retaliation now that the Bush administration has declared itself exempt from legal precedent that protects whistle blowers, according to James Parks writing in the AFL-CIO Now blog.

The Department of Labor has used an unpublished opinion issued by a Justice Department office to do away with the rights of federal workers to pursue whistle-blower claims under the Clean Water Act. The opinion was only made public after Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained a copy of it under the Freedom of Information Act.

It may come as little surprise to our readers that the opinion invoked the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity, writes Parks, is based on the old English legal maxim that “the king can do no wrong.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the position that absolutely no laws protect its employees from reprisal.

The Labor Department ruling comes just weeks after Cate Jenkins, a senior scientist at EPA, accused the agency of using misleading data about the health hazards of World Trade Center dust.

This week’s tally for health care

State labor federations in Vermont, Wyoming and South Carolina have announced their support for HR 676, in conventions held in September. The bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) would institute a single-payer health care system in the U.S. covering every person in the country.

Other recent endorsers include IBEW Local 2313 representing Verizon directory assistance operators in Hanover, Mass., Amalgamated Lithographers Local 1 in New York City and Northern New Jersey, SEIU Local 3 in Pittsburgh, and the St. Louis chapter of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.

Workers’ comp for 9/11 workers

Out-of-state workers who worked for months on cleaning up the toxic remains of New York City’s World Trade Center after Sept. 11, 2001, should now register with the New York state workers’ comp board so they may file future claims for cleanup-caused illnesses, the New York Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health says.

The registration for the out-of-state workers runs until Aug. 14, 2007, and eligibility for workers’ comp is indefinite if the worker is registered, NYCOSH adds. A new law, signed in mid-August, waives the two-year statute of limitations for workers’ comp claims in the cases of workers who worked on “The Pile,” at the city morgue, on barges which took tons of debris to the Staten Island landfill, or at the landfill. But the workers must register — even if they aren’t ill now — by the deadline, NYCOSH notes. Recent studies show 70 percent of workers who responded to the attack and who worked afterwards at the site did not develop 9/11-related illnesses until years later.

Unionists from all over the country traveled to New York to help in the rescue-then-cleanup operation in the days after 9/11.

Contact NYCOSH at or (212) 227-6440 x23 (English) or x24 (Spanish).

Laborers get to work

With a goal of increasing their membership and market share by 20 percent over the next five years, 1,700 delegates to the Laborers convention voted to commit 25 cents an hour per member to an organizing fund. Areas of concentration for the 700,000-member union include California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Colorado as well as the Southern right-to-work states of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and the Carolinas.

The union’s plans to grow include expanding its apprentice programs and its outreach to Spanish-speaking workers, including hiring and training of Spanish-speaking organizers.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood ( PAI contributed.