Arizona labor won’t back down

GOP leaders in the Arizona Legislature admit that the reason they are putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to weaken unions is to divert labor’s resources from its drive to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Sen. John Huppental (R-Chandler) told Capital Media Services that the amendment, which would bar public employee unions from using dues money for political activities, is meant to scare unions and put them to the defensive. Huppental, who chairs the state Senate’s judiciary committee, said he hoped the proposed amendment would persuade Arizona unionists to drop their initiative drive to require the state’s employers to pay $6.75 an hour minimum.

“We have no intention of negotiating on the minimum wage initiative,” Arizona AFL-CIO President Rebekah Friend told the World in a phone interview. Friend said the federation and allied groups are close to achieving their goal of 188,000 signatures and polls indicate 81 percent of the states’ voters support the measure.

N.Y. docs organize

About 250 doctors have joined Teamsters Local 1149 in Baldwinsville, N.Y. The doctors work for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit insurer that reportedly paid its five top executives more than $1 million recently. Doctors are upset with payment cuts by the insurer and policies that limit the physician’s ability to prescribe drugs and make patient care decisions, Dr. Dennis Nave, vice president of the Central New York Physician Teamster Alliance, told the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Retired can workers save medical plan

A federal court in California approved the settlement of a class action suit that guarantees lifetime health care coverage and lower prescription costs for 6,100 retired employees of American National Can, American Can and National Can.

The Steelworkers union filed the suit against Pechiney Plastic Packaging Inc., which had bought out the can companies. In 2005, Pechiney unilaterally changed the retirees’ benefit plans, substantially increasing their drug costs.

Guest worker contract signed

In the midst of a national debate over guest worker programs, the United Farm Workers announced April 11 that it had signed an agreement with Global Horizons, a Los Angeles-based company which contracts with growers in 28 states, to supply local and guest worker farm laborers. The guest workers come from Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa and Mexico under the existing H2A visa program. “This gives us a chance to have a national contract that protects the rights of agricultural guest workers,” UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told the Los Angeles Times. The contract provides for medical care, bereavement pay, seniority, and a grievance system as well as a two percent wage increase.

Under the H2A program, contractors or growers can import guest workers after demonstrating there are no domestic workers available for those jobs. The H2A program includes no path to permanent residency or citizenship for the guest workers. The first union contract covering H2A workers was signed in 2004 by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and the North Carolina association of cucumber growers.

Boston rallies for New Orleans

Boston unionists rallied outside FEMA’s office April 11 to protest the agency’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina. Robert Hammond, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 130 and United Teachers of New Orleans President Brenda Mitchell addressed the crowd. New Orleans workers have been excluded from the rebuilding process, said Hammond. More than 90 percent of contracts have gone to construction companies outside Louisiana. Mitchell reported that the school district has torn up its contract with the city’s 4,700 teachers.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has introduced legislation requiring half of all jobs created by federal funds to rebuild New Orleans go to local businesses and workers.

The Greater Boston Labor Council raised more than $100,000 for Katrina victims.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (