House backs paid leave for federal workers

The Democratic-run House voted along party lines June 20, 230-194, for eight weeks of paid family leave for the nation’s 2.7 million federal workers. The remaining four weeks of the annual family leave that federal workers get would be unpaid, as are all 12 of the weeks they now receive.

The vote was a victory for the two unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union that led the lobbying effort for the measure’s passage. The bill is also supported by the National Partnership for Women and Families and other women’s groups.

It is not yet known whether President Bush will sign the bill. The Labor Department has been busy trying to weaken even the present unpaid leave law by re-writing some of its rules to make it more difficult for workers to take leave.

Supreme Court kills company neutrality law

The nation’s highest court struck a blow against the labor movement June 19 when it ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that companies can use government funds to campaign against unionization drives.

The justices did this by killing an 8-year-old California law that forbade companies that receive government funds from using that money to campaign against unions.

In its ruling the court caved into the business lobby which said the California law infringed on employer free speech during organizing drives and therefore violated the Constitution. The court also caved into the Bush-controlled National Labor Relations Board which had argued that the law amounted to the state (California) interfering in matters of federal labor law.

The ruling means if the labor movement wants employer neutrality in organizing drives, the National Labor Relations Act itself has to be amended. The Employee Free Choice Act does not explicitly guarantee employer neutrality. If EFCA were to become law, however, it would outlaw one of the most blatant employer violations of neutrality – the mandatory closed door “captive audience” meeting — where workers are required to listen, under threat of being fired, to anti-union propaganda and unions are not given the chance to respond.

Mine safety mandates yet to be instituted

Miners told senators June 19 that a tough mine safety law enacted two years ago after fatal disasters in West Virginia and elsewhere is yet to be implemented.

The biggest problem, they said, is that mines still lack special breathing equipment needed in emergencies. Witnesses from the United Mine Workers told senators during hearings that while 125,000 new self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) have been purchased for underground coal miners, the equipment gives miners only an hour of breathable air as the mine fills with poisonous fumes after an explosion. There are new types of SCSRs available that provide much longer breathing times by allowing miners to switch to canisters of fresh oxygen.

A second big problem is the failure thus far to install wireless communications systems in the mines to allow trapped workers still alive to communicate with the surface. Miners, they noted, still rely on old-fashioned telephone lines which are often destroyed in underground blasts.

The third area of concern was what miners described as either the failure or the unwillingness of the Mine Safety and Health Administration to enforce mine safety and health rules.

Working mothers hit McCain on sex discrimination bill

Armed with 29,000 signatures on petitions, a group of working mothers from, went to John McCain’s Capitol Hill office June 17 and blasted him for his stand on the Lilly Ledbetter pay discrimination bill.

McCain had ducked the vote on a bill that would have lifted the time limit that women have to file suit against companies for pay discrimination. (The Supreme Court had ruled that women must sue within 180 days of their hire date even though many don’t discover they have been victimized until much later.)

McCain was not in his office. Aides accepted the petitions from the women, some of whom had babies in carriages.

Liz Hourican, one of the demonstrators, came from Phoenix which is in McCain’s home state. She joined the other women after having spent 18 months in Washington protesting her home senator’s support for the war in Iraq.

“I completely support their efforts. Through the years, McCain has voted wrong on anything that would help women to be treated more equally,” she declared.

This week in labor is compiled by John Wojcik