Fed workers, like others, can sue

By a 6-3 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled May 27 that federal workers, like private sector workers, can sue when their employer retaliates against them for filing discrimination claims. In a case involving Puerto Rican postal worker Myrna Gomez-Perez, the justices ruled the Postal Service discriminated against her in 2002 on the basis of age. She was then 45.

Gomez-Perez had sued under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. After losing a grievance she started suffering discrimination on the job, the justices noted. That retaliation, they said, was illegal.

Labor launches campaign for infrastructure

The Laborers have launched a massive grass-roots campaign to mobilize both unionists and the general public in favor of dedicated, extensive investment in reconstructing the nation’s airports, highways and railroads. Union President Terry O’Sullivan unveiled the drive in a May 30 speech in Washington D.C. He said that without such reconstruction, the U.S. would fall behind economically as our goods would be unable to be transported – and workers would be unable to get jobs.

Congress hikes penalty for child labor

The House gave final approval May 30 to legislation increasing fines on employers who break child labor laws. Sponsoring Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said President Bush is expected to sign it. The child labor bill was folded into another pro-worker measure – a bill banning insurers from discriminating against people based on information about their genetic makeup. The bill increases fines from $11,000 to $50,000 for violations of the child labor laws.

Jewish leaders blast meat firm for “un-kosher” treatment of workers

A leading national organization of Jewish trade unionists has blasted the country’s largest kosher meat firm, Iowa-based Agriprocessors Inc., for its distinctly un-kosher treatment of its workers – including calling in the feds to stop unionization. In its statement, the Jewish Labor Committee said the May 12 immigration and customs Enforcement raid on Agriprocessor’s Postville, Iowa plant which rounded up hundreds of workers, was only the latest problem at the plant.

The plant produces the majority of glut kosher (extremely kosher) meat that Orthodox Jews consume in the United States. The plant’s owners are leaders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Before the raid, the plant had been cited and fined $182,000 by Iowa for workplace health and safety violations. Workers there are suing plant owners in federal court over the company’s refusal to pay them for time required to put on and take off protective equipment before and after working.

The Jewish Labor Committee noted that the failure to pay the workers violates both U.S. labor law and the Torah, five sacred books of scripture which Orthodox Jews follow. The committee’s statement read, in part, “American Jews share a common conviction that all workers must be free to exercise their rights and challenge employer abuses. Our belief is grounded in the collective memory of American Jewry of the gross exploitation of Jewish immigrants by employers. Judaism is clear on the topic of treating workers with dignity and respect. We understand that we must treat our workers decently and justly, ethically and legally.”

Iraq’s attack on unions challenged

The AFL-CIO issued a statement on May 27 protesting what it describes as “violation of labor rights” in Iraq.

The statement read, in part:

“The Al-Maliki government in Iraq continues to enforce Sadaam Hussein’s anti-labor laws that ban unions for public sector employees and create government-dominated sham labor organizations. These laws were kept on the books by the U.S. after the invasion, and have been enforced by subsequent Iraqi regimes. Relying on them, Al-Maliki’s government has refused to recognize unions organized by workers themselves in the oil and other industries. It has raided union offices, seized records, arrested and brutalized union leaders, and frozen union bank accounts – with the knowledge and cooperation of U.S. occupation forces.

“From the day the dictatorship fell, Iraqi workers have demanded the right to organize their own unions, free of government interference. They have demanded all of the rights established by the International Labor Organization – foremost the rights to freely organize, bargain, and, when necessary, to strike. The new Iraqi constitution calls for the adoption of a basic labor law that recognizes and codifies these rights.

“The Maliki regime has instead ordered “labor elections” in June in which workers are to designate their unions and elect union leadership. However, workers in public enterprises, including the entire oil industry, are barred from voting, and the government retains the right to disqualify union leaders chosen by the workers in those elections. The elections will apparently result in only one government-approved labor federation, rather than providing union pluralism required by the ILO standards (and already established in fact by the workers themselves in a variety of labor organizations they created).

Pilgrimage for teen who died from heat begins

A four day “pilgrimage” to honor the memory of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jiminez began June 1 in Lodi, Calif. at St. Anne’s Church. The United Farmworkers led the action which drew supporters from all over the state. The pilgrimage is slated to end in the state capitol on June 4.

Vasquez-Jiminez, who was two months pregnant, collapsed on May 14 while working for Merced Farm Labor in a vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming in Stockton, Calif. Maria had worked for nine hours in temperatures that reached 101 degrees.
According to witnesses, the labor contractor failed to provide shade or cool drinking water for several hours. Maria’s body temkperature was 108.4 degrees when she was finally taken to the hospital that day, two hours after she collapsed. She died two days later. The labor contractor had been cited for prior violations of the state’s heat regulations. The rules went into effect in 2005 after a campaign by the union that followed heat related deaths that year.

“Super Union” to be created

The long discussed merger of the United Steel Workers with Unite, their British counterpart, is seen as a key step in labor’s global strategy, allowing workers to negotiate with the multi-national corporations for which they work. The merger, the two unions say, will differ from the loose alliances that the USW has been entering since the 1990’s. While the two unions will still operate independently, when need be, they will join at the top of the organization for both membership drives and negotiations with common employers. “There really are no American companies any more,” said Wayne Ranick, USW spokesman. The big companies that we think of as being American, “all of them are multinational,” often with a presence overseas.

Retiree pensions slashed

Hundreds of retired steelworkers from the former Republic Technologies International are being notified their pensions will be cut, in some cases by as much as 75 percent, to less than $300 a month, due to new calculations by the federal agency that guarantees employer paid pensions. The company had declared bankruptcy in 2002.

Unionization raises wages

After decades of disappointing wage growth for American workers, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy research shows that unionization significantly boosts the wages of low-wage workers. The report, “The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers,” finds that unionization raises the wages of the typical low-wage worker by 20.6 percent. Unions also have a substantial impact on the wages of workers at the middle and top of the wage distribution, but the report found that the effect for the low-wage worker was the largest. For the typical U.S. worker unionization raises wages about 13.7 percent, according to the report.