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Posts tagged Labor

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Bhaskar Sunkara on the media's CTU strike coverage

Bhaskar Sunkara gives his take on Ryan as all show and no substance, but this piece really shines when he begins to analyze similar distractions in debate about public sector unions:

Just look at the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike, which prompted a quick editorial from the New York Times. Called “Chicago Teachers’ Folly,” it claimed that “Teachers’ strikes, because they hurt children and their families, are never a good idea” and then placed much of the blame for the strike on a “personality clash between the blunt mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and the tough Chicago Teachers Union president, Karen Lewis.”

What’s politics and the battle of ideas when we have personalities to dissect?

TheTimeswasn’t alone. Slate’s Matt Yglesias and frequent Klein collaborator Dylan Matthews also tried to find the middle-ground in a conflict between a “blunt” neoliberal Democratic mayor and a “tough” public sector union. Even theNation’s Melissa Harris-Perry pitied the children stuck “between the leaders and teachers who are supposed to have their best interests at heart but who seem willing to allow this generation to be lost.”

Empirically, the pundits’ dismissal of the CTU, which had widespread support in Chicago, were unjustified and misleading. Wage and benefit issues were never at the center of the strike. It was a response to a “reform” movement that blamed failing schools solely on bad teachers rather than poverty or other structural issues. The CTU offered a compelling countervision—functioning, well-funded schools with smaller classes and less standardized tests. It was a vision that could’ve been debated on its own terms, but it wasn’t: these “ideas” weren’t discussed by the ostensibly idea-loving commentariat; big-shot blowhards and their egos were…

[I]nstead of countering this argument by asserting that public employees also produce goods and services, and should have a say about the conditions under which they work, Beltway liberals like Matt Yglesias drew the ever-so-reasonable conclusion that:

CTU members get what they want, that’s not coming out of the pocket of “the bosses” it’s coming out of the pocket of the people who work at charter schools or the people who pay taxes in Chicago.

In other words: union members, according to Yglesias, enjoy whatever privileges they’ve earned at the expense of the middle-class taxpayers of Chicago. It’s a subtly nefarious move: Yglesias, the “liberal,” is pitting one largely Democratic group (the CTU) against another (the vast majority of tax payers and charter school employees in Chicago), in a way that right-wingers couldn’t do better themselves.

This sort of red herring argument always comes up when laborers agitate for better conditions (or in this case, better conditions for the students); even the ‘liberals’ in the discussion frame the course of events as the conflict originated as a dispute between two headstrong personalities, and that concessions to labor are at the expense of the middle class. It’s a complete distraction from the arguments that are being presented and their specific merits, in favor of a side show that’s tightly controlled by corporate media. 

Filed under labor ctu matthew yglesias

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mohandasgandhi:

Mystery Disease In Central America Kills Tens of Thousands 

A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central  America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua  since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease  at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have  received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and  as far south as Panama.
Last year it reached the point where El Salvador’s health minister,  Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, appealed for international help, saying the  epidemic was undermining health systems.
Wilfredo Ordonez, who has harvested corn, sesame and rice for more  than 30 years in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador, was hit by the  chronic disease when he was 38. Ten years later, he depends on dialysis  treatments he administers to himself four times a day.
“This is a disease that comes with no warning, and when they find it,  it’s too late,” Ordonez said as he lay on a hammock on his porch.
Many of the victims were manual laborers or worked in sugar cane  fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Patients, local doctors  and activists say they believe the culprit lurks among the agricultural  chemicals workers have used for years with virtually none of the  protections required in more developed countries. But a growing body of  evidence supports a more complicated and counterintuitive hypothesis.
The roots of the epidemic, scientists say, appear to lie in the  grueling nature of the work performed by its victims, including  construction workers, miners and others who labor hour after hour  without enough water in blazing temperatures, pushing their bodies  through repeated bouts of extreme dehydration and heat stress for years  on end. Many start as young as 10. The punishing routine appears to be a  key part of some previously unknown trigger of chronic kidney disease,  which is normally caused by diabetes and high-blood pressure, maladies  absent in most of the patients in Central America.
“The thing that evidence most strongly points to is this idea of  manual labor and not enough hydration,” said Daniel Brooks, a professor  of epidemiology at Boston University’s School of Public Health, who has  worked on a series of studies of the kidney disease epidemic.
Because hard work and intense heat alone are hardly a phenomenon  unique to Central America, some researchers will not rule out manmade  factors. But no strong evidence has turned up.
(Continue reading….)

It is not uncommon for many of these individuals to work themselves to death, all the while receiving little to no pay, and leaving their families behind in a tough situation. This is precisely why workers’ rights are so vitally important. Many workers around the world aren’t even afforded what we would consider the bare minimum of protection. It’s absolutely critical that we grant workers’ rights that will place them in conditions that would be considered humanly decent to all and to do away with the parasitic political/economic structures and institutions that make such poor conditions not only necessary for those workers to survive but for our capitalistic system to function as it does.

mohandasgandhi:

Mystery Disease In Central America Kills Tens of Thousands

A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama.

Last year it reached the point where El Salvador’s health minister, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, appealed for international help, saying the epidemic was undermining health systems.

Wilfredo Ordonez, who has harvested corn, sesame and rice for more than 30 years in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador, was hit by the chronic disease when he was 38. Ten years later, he depends on dialysis treatments he administers to himself four times a day.

“This is a disease that comes with no warning, and when they find it, it’s too late,” Ordonez said as he lay on a hammock on his porch.

Many of the victims were manual laborers or worked in sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Patients, local doctors and activists say they believe the culprit lurks among the agricultural chemicals workers have used for years with virtually none of the protections required in more developed countries. But a growing body of evidence supports a more complicated and counterintuitive hypothesis.

The roots of the epidemic, scientists say, appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims, including construction workers, miners and others who labor hour after hour without enough water in blazing temperatures, pushing their bodies through repeated bouts of extreme dehydration and heat stress for years on end. Many start as young as 10. The punishing routine appears to be a key part of some previously unknown trigger of chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high-blood pressure, maladies absent in most of the patients in Central America.

“The thing that evidence most strongly points to is this idea of manual labor and not enough hydration,” said Daniel Brooks, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University’s School of Public Health, who has worked on a series of studies of the kidney disease epidemic.

Because hard work and intense heat alone are hardly a phenomenon unique to Central America, some researchers will not rule out manmade factors. But no strong evidence has turned up.

(Continue reading….)

It is not uncommon for many of these individuals to work themselves to death, all the while receiving little to no pay, and leaving their families behind in a tough situation. This is precisely why workers’ rights are so vitally important. Many workers around the world aren’t even afforded what we would consider the bare minimum of protection. It’s absolutely critical that we grant workers’ rights that will place them in conditions that would be considered humanly decent to all and to do away with the parasitic political/economic structures and institutions that make such poor conditions not only necessary for those workers to survive but for our capitalistic system to function as it does.

Filed under El Salvador Nicaragua worker's rights labor labor rights human rights

188 notes

Bosses renege on labor agreement, Foxconn workers threaten mass suicide

As American consumers ogle over shiny new gadgets at this week’s Consumer Electronic’s Show, the workers that make those products are threatening mass suicide for the horrid working conditions at Foxconn. 300 employees who worked making the Xbox 360 stood at the edge of the factory building, about to jump, after their boss reneged on promised compensation, reports English news site Want China Times. It’s not like this is the first time working conditions at Foxconn have made news outside China. But iPhone and Xbox sales surely haven’t lagged in the wake of those revelations and neither Apple nor Microsoft has done much of anything to fix things. 

Instead of the raise they requested, these workers were given the following ultimatum: quit with compensation, or keep their jobs with no pay increase. Most quit and never got the money. That’s when the mass suicide threat came in. The incident actually caused a factory wide shutdown, reports Record China. 

After the incident, Microsoft gave Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft the following statement. 

Foxconn has been an important partner of ours and remains an important partner. I trust them as a responsible company to continue to evolve their process and work relationships. That is something we remain committed to—the safe and ethical treatment of people who build our products. That’s a core value of our company.

If the “the safe and ethical treatment of people who build” Microsoft’s products was an actual core value of the company, they would treat people who build their products safely and ethically. Instead, they choose to export the labor to a Chinese work force in a manner that’s barely distinguishable from slavery- all to save a few million bucks. Profit over people.

Filed under Foxconn Apple Microsoft Labor wage inequality

21 notes

FDR’s Championing of Labor Unions Key to Prosperous Post-War Economy

“It is now beyond partisan controversy that it is a fundamental individual right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer.” FDR –Address at San Diego Exposition, October 2, 1935

Just over three quarters of a century ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed one of the most important — though frequently overlooked — pieces of the reform legislation to come out of the New Deal: the National Labor Relations Act. More often referred to as the Wagner Act, after its champion, Senator Robert Wagner of New York, this landmark bill established the National Labor Relations Board, an independent, quasi-judicial government agency that played a critical role in the remarkable expansion of union membership that took place during the Roosevelt era.

Prior to the passage of the Wagner Act, and thanks in part to the anti-union climate of the 1920s, union membership in the United States had declined precipitously. At the onset of the Great Depression, for example, membership in the American Federation of Labor had fallen from a high of five million in 1919 to less than 3 million in 1933. Seeking to expand workers rights as part of his administration’s efforts to launch the New Deal, FDR created a weaker NLRB as part of the 1934 National Recovery Administration. But the 1934 agency proved largely ineffective and in 1935 FDR endorsed Senator Wagner’s efforts to make the NLRB permanent and more powerful. The new law declared a whole series of coercive management practices to be illegal, and gave private sector workers the right to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining. It also gave the NLRB the right to determine bargaining unit jurisdictions, oversee union elections and certify the results as legally binding. The law also insisted that management had a duty to bargain with a properly certified union, though of course it did not compel the union to agree with the union demands.

As with many other pieces of New Deal legislation, the establishment of the NLRB was bitterly attacked by employers as a measure that would ruin the US economy. But such fear mongering proved completely unfounded. Over the next ten years both union membership and the size of the US economy would grow hand in hand, so that by 1945 the ranks of unionized worker had reached a record 35 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, while wages had increased by 65 percent, unemployment had fallen to less than one percent, and the US economy exploded to meet the demands of the Second World War.

Moreover, the labor legislation of the New Deal helped form the basis of a long period of post-war prosperity that vastly expanded the size and wealth of the American middle class. Yet sadly, the right of American workers to form unions and engage in collective bargaining — and hence protect their job security and wages — is once again under attack. The recent attempt by conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives to challenge the NLRB authority to act through the introduction of such bills as the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act is but one example of this ongoing attempt to weaken the NLRB’s authority and with it the power of unions to fight against unfair labor practices. In 1935, in the wake of the Wagner Bill, FDR asserted that the “fundamental…right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer” was “now beyond partisan controversy.” Based on the recent activities of this Congress, and the strong anti-union movement among conservatives in states like Wisconsin and New Jersey it would appear that he was sadly mistaken.

Filed under FDR New Deal labor labor rights unions recovery

38 notes

Hyatt Apologizes for Using Heat Lamps on Striking Employees

Hyatt apologized Friday morning for an incident in which heat lamps were turned on above workers on strike at the Park Hyatt Chicago hotel Thursday, saying a manager is responsible for the controversial move.

Hotel workers on strike were taken by surprise Thursday morning when 10 heat lamps hanging above their picket line flipped on and stayed on for what they claim was nearly an hour.

"Hyatt regrets the events that occurred at the Park Hyatt Chicago and apologizes to everyone who was impacted by them," the company said in a statement. "After looking into the incident, we have determined that the decision to turn on the heaters was made by a manager.  It was clearly a decision that was not in line with our values or with our corporate policies. We have a long history of respecting our associates’ rights and caring about their well-being and this unacceptable behavior is certainly is not illustrative of that history.  We can assure you that this was an isolated incident and such a thing will not happen again.

"We appreciate the effort made by most of the associates of the hotel to cross the picket line and report to work and look forward to settling our differences with Unite Here, and securing a contract for our associates at the bargaining table."

I can’t help but note that as sorry as they are, the manager was not fired.

Filed under strike breaking labor organized labor

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Union Workers Replaced With Prison Labor Under Scott Walker’s Collective Bargaining Law

cognitivedissonance:

While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) law dismantling collective bargaining rights has harmed teachers, nurses, and other civil servants, it’s helping a different group in Wisconsinites — inmates. Prisoners are now taking up jobs that used to be held by unionized workers in some parts of the state.

As the Madison Capital Times reports, “Besides losing their right to negotiate over the percentage of their paycheck that will go toward health care and retirement, unions also lost the ability to claim work as a ‘union-only’ job, opening the door for private workers and evidently even inmates to step in and take their place.” Inmates are not paid for their work, but may receive time off of their sentences.

The law went into effect last week, and Racine County is already using inmates to do landscaping, painting, and another basic maintenance around the county that was previously done by county workers. The union had successfully sued to stop the country from using prison labor for these jobs last year, but with Walker’s new law, they have no recourse.

Wow. They’re totally cool with giving prisoners a day pass to do union jobs to save a few bucks. Isn’t this a close cousin to indentured servitude? Aren’t there extra costs for guards or police officers to watch the inmates to be sure they don’t wander off?

This is all in the name of “cost-cutting.” Interesting to see what happens to privatized services. Will they contract inmates instead of paying a work force? This is what happens when the rights of workers are stripped. They’re replaced by a workforce that’s little more than indentured servants. 

Disgusted? I am. 

Indentured servants had many more rights than American prisoners do today. The Pentagon regularly uses slave prisoner labor to construct weapons of war:

Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems…

Prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder…

The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. imprisons more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned in the world.

There are more than 2.3 million prisoners in federal, state and local prisons in the U.S. Twice as many people are under probation and parole. Many tens of thousands of other prisoners include undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing and youthful offenders in categories considered reform or detention.

The racism that pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society — from jobs, income and housing to education and opportunity — is most brutally reflected by who is caught up in the U.S. prison system.

More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. Seventy percent of those being sentenced under the three strikes law in California — which requires mandatory sentences of 25 years to life after three felony convictions — are people of color. Nationally, 39 percent of African-American men in their 20s are in prison, on probation or on parole. The U.S. imprisons more people than South Africa did under apartheid.

The United States couldn’t exploit Africans for slave labor so we passed Jim Crow laws to keep their labor cheap. They organized and did away with those laws, so the U.S. government, under the tutelage of Nixon, created the War on Drugs that resulted in the most prisoners per capita in (to the best of my knowledge) all of history.

(via ziatroyano)

Filed under unions labor prisoner rights

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Despite Mining Disaster, Report Says Coal Giant Massey ‘Has Not Changed’ and Execs Stay on

Buried within the damning report released yesterday on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster that killed 29 workers last year were some interesting details about what could lie ahead for Massey Energy, its executives, and the safety of its operations.

The report, which was commissioned by West Virginia’s former governor, noted that 18 current and former executives invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with investigators. Nonetheless, investigators concluded that the preventable disaster was a result of a “total and catastrophic systemic failure” by Massey Energy.

“It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense,” the report said. It also noted that the company’s practices haven’t improved much—if at all—since the disaster occurred.

“More than a year after 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has not changed the manner in which it operates its mines,” the report said.

Investigators said the coal giant had “used the leverage of jobs it provided to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system,” casting inspectors, regulators, and even politicians and community residents as enemies. According to the report, the company’s former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local politicians by spending “vast amounts of money to influence elections.”

As we have noted, Blankenship received $2 million when he retired at the end of last year, and is scheduled to receive another $10 million in July. He’s expected to stay on as a consultant.

Other top executives are faring just fine too, it seems. Shortly after Blankenship’s retirement, another company, Alpha Natural Resources, announced an agreement to buy Massey Energy, but Massey executives still scored some key management roles.

Notably, Massey’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Adkins, will oversee Alpha’s main safety program along with another Alpha executive. According to the report, “Adkins’ history makes him a questionable choice to run a safety program. One need look no further than [Upper Big Branch],” investigators said.

Massey Energy is a company willing to kill people to increase it’s profit margin, and it’s not changing. 29 human being died needlessly because orders came down from the top to disable the methane sensors in order to save money. A union could have helped enforce the safety regulations: according to United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, “if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work…and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions”.

But remember, in the eyes of Massey ex-CEO (now a consultant), Union Busting is invaluable to the bottom line!

Filed under Massey Don Blankenship Coal Mining Unions Labor