Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, February 13, 2005
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

Lowest Working Age–Always
The Department of Labor isn’t one to crow about their achievements. They reached a settlement with Wal-Mart about child labor law violations on January 6--but made no public mention of it. Only after New York Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse–acting on tips from DoL employees–confronted them did they acknowledge and describe the deal.

Without admitting any wrong doing, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a fine of $135,540 for 24 child labor violations in three states. Most involved using kids under 18 to operate equipment such as cardboard balers and chain saws. At least one of the chain saw incidents involved a serious injury. In the settlement, Wal-Mart agreed not to employ any worker under age 14 and to prohibit any employee under 18 from operating cardboard balers–in other words, they agreed to comply with long standing law. For their part, DoL pledged to give Wal-Mart 15-days notice before any future investigations of such complaints.

One of the DoL whistle-blowers posed the question to Greenhouse, "With child labor cases involving the use of hazardous machinery, why give 15 days' notice before we can do an investigation?" After relaying this query, Greenhouse reports this reply, "Victoria Lipnic, assistant labor secretary for employment standards, called the settlement typical, saying that giving Wal-Mart notice before conducting investigations would encourage the company to correct the problems sooner." Makes sense to us.

Wal-Mart Bids Quebec Associates Adieu
No doubt reeling from the draconian fine leveled against them by the DoL, Wal-Mart announced last week they will close its first unionized store in JonquiPre, Quebec in the spring, saying it wasn't able "to reach a first contract that would allow the outlet to be profitable." It must be said the Québécois are not accepting this with good grace. The UFCW has filed charges of bad faith bargaining with the provincial labor board, the Quebec Federation of Labor is considering a boycott of all Wal-Mart stores, the federal NDP (Canadian labor party) called the Wal-Mart situation "economic terrorism," and several stores were temporarily closed because of bomb threats.

Tyson Prevails In Election Rerun
Another good corporate neighbor based in Arkansas was in the news last week. Tyson, the chicken outfit that now dominates red meat production as well, succeeded in ousting Teamsters Local 556 at their Wallula, Washington beef plant. This was the second de-cert election at the plant in less than a year. The union won the first one but the top level of the NLRB voided that vote on a microscopic technicality. After relentless company threats and promises enough workers finally caved in and gave up 28 years of union representation. Management promptly reassured the work force: "Tyson's core values and code of conduct will continue to guide the company and its relationship with Team Members as we operate without a union," said Ray McGaugh, plant manager. "Together, we believe we can create a more positive work environment and an even more successful plant." Those core values and code of conduct were recently well documented in a report by Human Rights Watch.

USLAW Open Letter to AFL-CIO Leadership
US Labor Against the War began seeking signers last week to an Open Letter to John Sweeney and the AFL-CIO general executive council, urging them to take a clear stand against the war/occupation in Iraq.

Where There’s Smoke They’re Fired
Four employees of a Michigan medical benefits administrator, Weyco Inc, were terminated as of January 1 for smoking–not on the job but at home. Weyco Chief Financial Officer Gary Climes said, "We're not saying you can't smoke in your home. We just say you can't smoke and work here." 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws giving various degrees of protection to workers who smoke against such discrimination. Michigan is not one of them. In the absence of such laws, or union contracts requiring just cause for discharge, employers can freely carry out such intrusive policies at home.

Consequence Not Reprisal
The contract agreed upon at the conclusion of a faculty strike last fall at City Colleges of Chicago guaranteed there would be no reprisal against "union members, students, clerks or any other person as a result of participation or non-participation" in the strike. Nevertheless the system Chancellor, strongly backed by the board of trustees, fired 140 part-time faculty–outside the union bargaining unit–for not teaching during the full-time faculty action. Many of those axed were retired formerly tenured full-time faculty. The management guardians of education argued the terminations were for failure to perform under the conditions of their contract and this was a "consequence" not a reprisal.

There Was Some Good News
1500 SEIU Local 113 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, laboratory aides, midwives, X-ray technicians, surgical technicians, dental hygienists and others at 27 HealthPartners clinics in the Twin Cities approved a new contract by a 98 percent vote. The three-year agreement beat back company demands for worker contribution to health insurance and provided three percent raises each year. By today’s standards quite a victory.

Workers at a Dana auto parts assembly plant in Buena Vista, Va., who have been in the UAW less than two years, overwhelmingly defeated a decertification effort organized by the fraudently named National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation–a boss sponsored group dedicated to destroying unions.

KC Labor Party Meeting
The Kansas City Labor Party will meet Saturday, February 19, Noon, at 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. A hot lunch will be served. Following the business meeting a planning meeting for the April 22-23 Future Of American Labor conference will begin. For more information call 816-753-1672.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all

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