Ohio unions pushing workers’ comp restoration vote

TOLEDO — Ohio unionists are seeking signatures for a referendum this fall to reverse the drastic cuts the GOP-run Legislature and GOP Gov. Bob Taft made in workers’ compensation.

Facing a June 30 petition deadline, the unionists need 193,000 signatures statewide to get the initiative on the November ballot, UAW Regional Director Lloyd Mahaffey told his area’s convention delegates in May.

If the measure makes it on the ballot, Ohio voters would get a chance to approve or disapprove the new workers’ comp law. The legislation cuts the maximum number of weeks an injured worker could draw payments, from the present 200 down to 26. After that, a worker is considered “maximum medically improved” and payments stop. The new law also redefines “pre-existing conditions,” making it easier for employers to avoid workers’ comp judgments. Taft signed the legislation March 28.

“This doesn’t affect just UAW workers or union workers, but every worker” in the state, said Mahaffey.

Justice for Florida tomato workers

AFL-CIO e-activists have sent nearly 125,000 letters to McDonald’s and Chipotle fast food executives urging them to pay fair wages and improve working conditions in Florida’s tomato fields.

Last year, after a four-year national campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Taco Bell agreed to require the contractors who supply their tomatoes to pay field workers a penny a pound more for tomatoes, nearly doubling the compensation of those workers. In April, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney visited the Immokalee Workers in South Florida and pledged the federation’s support for the McDonald’s/Chipotle campaign. The 125,000 letters are “just the beginning of AFL-CIO efforts to help bring justice to Immokalee,” said a statement from the federation.

‘Sleep with the right people’

A new web site goes online this week for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender supporters of a major campaign by hotel workers in the United States and Canada to improve their working conditions and lives. The site, “SleepWithTheRightPeople.org,” was created by LGBT activists in conjunction with the Hotel Workers Rising campaign of Unite Here, the union representing hotel and restaurant employees.

According to the union, 2006 is an important year for hotel workers. Contracts covering 60,000 hotel workers will expire in several major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada, at the same time that the industry is predicting record profits.

“Hotel companies are very interested in the money that LGBT travelers spend,” said Cleve Jones, the campaign’s national liaison to the LGBT community. “But LGBT travelers expect fair and equal treatment for all workers.”

“As both a union member and a lesbian, I know there is strength in numbers and power in community,” said Lolita Rodriguez, a buffet runner at the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki. “With the support of the LGBT community, I know that my co-workers and I will feel that much stronger as we stand up for what we need.”

USLAW alert on Bush Iran threat

Just in time for the 2006 elections, President Bush is warming up for a war with Iran, U.S. Labor Against the War warns in a June 6 statement. “If the administration in Washington were serious about reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, it could begin by dismantling its own nuclear arsenal, which is larger than that of all the rest of the world combined.” USLAW also calls for an end to research aimed at developing new tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Cleveland JwJ rallies for health care

There are currently 1,362,000 uninsured people in Ohio, said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) in a message to a June 7 Cleveland Jobs with Justice rally in support of legislation for universal single-payer health care. “The time has come to change our inefficient and costly fragmented non-health care system.”

Tubbs Jones called for passage of HR 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” bill. “The goal of the legislation is to ensure that all Americans will have access, guaranteed by law, to the highest quality and most cost effective health care services regardless of their employment, income or health care status,” she said.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org). Press Associates Inc. contributed.