The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning ordered a Mexican Consulate in Canada to conduct an anti-union campaign
Three former employees of the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver revealed before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (in Canada) that they had received specific orders from Mexican public service employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores or the SRE] and of the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social or the STPS] to conduct an ''anti-union, rejection and blacklisting'' campaign on compatriots registered in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), who, during their stay in that country, had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in order to demand that their labour rights be respected.
Before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, where the charges brought against the Mexican government were publicly laid, ex-employees Diego Prieto, Javier Valdez and Félix Martínez made testimonies in relation to Ángel Villalobos, a consul general in Canada. Vice-consul and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning official Estela García León and agricultural worker protection expert Guadalupe Palacios would ask them to produce a ''list of farms where it has been suspected that there are workers who are in contact with UFCW'' in order to put them on a ''blacklist'', which would then be sent to the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning, so that they would not be accepted in the SAWP again or that they would be sent to farms where there was no union.
Furthermore, according to testimonies – of which La Jornada has obtained a copy – made last February by the former employees of the Consulate before the BCLRB, Mexican workers would be warned ''not to contact anyone'' from UFCW and to speak only to Consulate staff.
UFCW lodged a complaint against the Mexican government and the owners of several Canadian farms – where, every year, Mexican citizens registered in the SAWP work – on the ground of an ''alliance'' to prevent farm workers from defending their labour rights and for committing acts such as ''unfounded rejection and barring from SAWP''.
The Union alleges that ''Mexico wrongly interferes with Mexican workers who support the Union by denying them permission to return to Canada or, in other cases, by refusing to send a worker back to a unionized place of work''.
The Mexican government has already requested before the BCLRB that the hearings concerning case 61973/, which was opened after several workers at Sidhu Farms had complained, be ''temporarily suspended''.
''Mexico will suffer irremediable harm if the Sidhu Farms hearings keep on going their current course'', the Mexican government argued after requesting, before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, on February 28th, that the BCLRB be obligated ''not to admit any evidence as to what Mexico has done'' and be forced to ''suspend the hearings''. In stating its arguments, Mexico accused UFCW of ''seeking to violate its immunity and leading the BCLRB to meddle in a foreign state's sovereign actions in relation to its own citizens''.
Below are reproductions of parts of the long testimonies that were made before the Canadian labour authorities last February.
''Excuse me, Mr. Valdez, you were telling us about orders that you received from Mrs. García, Mrs. Palacios and Mr. Villalobos.''
''All of them warned me that I would have to be shrewd and that I was not allowed to speak to anyone who would come to me on the union's behalf. Villalobos would jokingly press me to tell the workers not to contact the support centres because they might stop signing up for the program and that, if they needed anything, they had to contact the Consulate. They would also tell me that if the employers were annoyed because the workers would go to the union, they would stop requesting their help and the consuls and I would lose our jobs. Those warnings were constant, especially from Guadalupe Palacios.''
At another hearing Prieto revealed that ''every time a worker got in contact with the union, there would be a report sent to the Ministry of Labour (...) nothing would get done without someone's letting Estela (García) know about it, as she was the person asked for instructions, and she would say, 'All right, we have to write a comment on the blacklist' ''. This blacklist had the words follow-up on the cases written on it.
Migrant Farmworker Awareness Week,
March 26 - March 29, 2012
University Contact: Kerry Preibisch Community Contact:
University of Guelph Students Against Migrant Exploitation
Phone: 519.830.0040 Phone: 416.420.6992
E-mail:email@example.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ufcw.ca, Mon Mar 19 2012
VICTORIA - British Columbia's governing Liberals prefer the terms "net zero" and "co-operative gains" to describe their plans to rein in the cost of public-sector contracts, but unions say what they're really talking about is a wage freeze for government workers.
That reality could forecast a potentially stormy labour season this spring as collective agreements for hundreds of thousands of B.C.'s public-sector workers expire on March 31. Most of them have already seen at least two years of frozen wages.
Thousands of government and hospital workers are seeking wage increases, and the nurses want the government to hire 2,000 more nurses — demands that would be difficult or impossible to meet under the government's insistence that labour contracts cannot saddle the province with higher costs.
Prof. Ken Thornicroft, an employment relations expert at the University of Victoria, said he senses the unions will be in a fighting mood as their contracts expire.
"In the broader public sector, everything I hear from the union leaders is, 'Well, we took our lumps and we went one, two or three years without a pay increase, and now it's time for some increases because we've been falling behind,'" he said.
During the previous round of contract negotiations, the province called its approach the net-zero mandate. Under that model, any gains in a contract needed to be offset by other concessions.
This time, unions will be dealing with net zero's younger sibling: co-operative gains. The province is willing to consider wage increases or other improvements, but only if a union and its employer identify equivalent savings elsewhere in a department's budget.
Thornicroft, who also has experience in labour arbitration, said most public-sector unions accepted the government's net-zero mandate because even though the contracts didn't include wage increases, they offered job security during a steep economic decline.
"The public service just wasn't in an appetite to create a fight," he said.
"What they were able to get for their members were job guarantees for the most part. But there is a different view about what should be done in this bargaining round."
The province's 41,000 teachers felt the government's resolve to hold back wage increases last week, when the Liberal government passed back-to-work legislation that put legal force behind its net-zero mandate.
Teachers had been scaling back their work since last September and staged a legal three-day walkout earlier this month to back demands for a 15 per cent wage increase.
Now, the teachers have been ordered back to work during a six-month cooling off period, and negotiations will be in the hands of a mediator who will be bound to net zero.
The government says it negotiated 133 contracts covering about 180,000 workers under the net-zero mandate. It says more than 99 per cent of the government's 300,000 unionized public service workers could be in bargaining this year.
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon suggested the grumbling from unions is little more than public "posturing," and he insisted he was optimistic settlements will be reached at the negotiating table.
Falcon argued the next round of bargaining has the potential to both save the government money and increase the wages of pubic servants.
"I think reasonable public-sector union leaders recognize the world we live in and the economic conditions that we have," said Falcon.
"Now is the time to try and be creative and work together, and ... at the same time, see if we can't find identify ways through doing things differently to perhaps even provide modest wage increases."
In the budget tabled last month, Falcon said the government's net-zero mandate likely saved the province $3 billion over the past two years.
Barry O'Neill, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees of B.C., said his members signed contracts under the government's net-zero mandate that actually included improvements for some workers.
For example, O'Neill said education assistants in the public school system negotiated improvements to their workload and job security in exchange for the wage freeze.
"That was a big gain for us," O'Neill said.
But O'Neill said unions are concerned that the new co-operative gains model isn't adequately defined, and they see it as an attempt by the government to control negotiations.
"I can't really figure out what a co-operative gain is in a negotiation," he said.
O'Neill said so far it appears that whenever a union suggests an option to save its employer money, which in theory could result in a wage increase, the suggestion is rejected.
"When these kind of fluffy statements come out around co-operative gains, and start off a negotiation saying, 'Here are the strict parameters and you can negotiate within that framework only,' you're probably never going to get a deal," he said.
O'Neill said he expects rough negotiations as the unions push for wage increases against a government that claims a shallow cash pool. Government directions telling negotiators to stick to a restrictive co-operative gains mandate won't help, either, said O'Neill.
"It's going to be tough, but I think if it's left to its own then it will work out," he said.
"Workers, probably as much as anybody, understand economies better than governments give them credit for. They know when it's time to go to the table and try to negotiate a large increase and they know when it's time for them to do something else."
660News, Sun Mar 18 2012
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), his lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators will face voters in recall elections this spring under an agreement approved today by a Dane County Circuit judge.
If a primary election is needed to determine who will run against Walker and the others, that will be held May 8 and followed by a June 5 general election. If there are no primaries, the vote will be May 8. Two Democrats have declared their candidacies in the governor's race and others could enter.
Judge Richard Niess approved the agreement today that lawyers for the state elections board, recall committees and recall targets had reached Tuesday.
Last year, after Walker and the state legislature pushed through a bill that eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees, working families mobilized to recall Walker and key lawmakers who stood with him. In the first round last summer, two Republican senators were recalled.
On Monday, the Government Accountability Board announced that just over 931,000 signatures had been submitted to recall Walker and nearly 843,000 signatures were submitted against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
AFL-CIO Now, Wed Mar 14 2012
One year longer, one year stronger
One year ago, after a month of extensive protest, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker illegally rammed through a union-busting bill through the state legislature in the middle of the night. He wanted to silence the voices of working people. Instead, his attacks kicked off a grassroots movement that continues to this day.
Since then, Wisconsinites have replaced two of the republican senators who voted for the bill and gathered over a million signatures as part of a campaign to recall Governor Walker.
One year later, they will gather together to reclaim Wisconsin for working families: in candlelight vigils across the state Friday, March 9, and in a mass march in Madison on Saturday, March 10.
CUPE stands in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin as they fight to protect quality public services, and make sure that the people who provide those services are treated with respect.
How you can show your support:
Follow Twitter hash tag #ReclaimWI for tweets and to send your pictures and videos. You can also send them to email@example.com.
Post one of these images as your Facebook and Twitter profile photos. Download images from the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO website.
Favourite or comment on photos on the Wisconsin AFL-CIO Flickr page.
Like and share videos on the AFL-CIO YouTube channel.
Get updates on the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO blog
Follow the events online:
Facebook: Wisconsin State AFL-CIO
Twitter hashtags: #ReclaimWI #wiunion #wearewi #solidaritywi #recallwalker #wipolitics
cupe.ca, Fri Mar 9 2012
Burma must take significant steps to end human rights abuses, especially forced labour, before the EU can consider easing further sanctions against Burma, a leading British union body has warned.
Free and fair elections on 1 April are not enough to warrant a significant revision of the EU sanctions policy against Burma, the General Secretary of the Trade Union Confederation (TUC) said in a letter to UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
"We do not believe that the time is yet ripe for a major revision of sanctions," said the letter. "However it appears that some EU member states are considering lifting significant economic sanctions as part of the renewal of the EU's Common Position on Burma in early April."
He cited a new report by the International Trade Union Federation (ITUC) outlining four key benchmarks that would first need to be met. This included an end to forced labour and restrictions on free assembly, liberating all remaining political prisoners and ending human rights abuses.
"The government has utterly failed to rein in the army, which is responsible for most of the forced labour, or ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and face appropriate criminal penalties if convicted," said the report. "Other serious human rights abuses continue throughout the country, with little accountability for those committing these crimes."
Legislative and judicial reform were also listed as necessary pre-conditions, including amending the controversial 2008 constitution, which is widely perceived as un-democratic.
"Much remains to be done in these areas where steps have already been taken, as these issues are far from resolved and fundamental legislative and institutional reforms are yet to be enacted," said the report.
The global trade union movement has continuously lobbied for improved labour conditions in Burma and remains concerned about its limited progress.
In 2011, a Committee of Experts from the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported to have found "extensive and detailed documentation referring to the persistence of widespread forced labour practices by civil and military authorities in almost all of the country's states and divisions."
More recent reports also suggest that forced labour, especially in ethnic minority areas and those affected by natural resource development, remain commonplace.
The Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) continues to lobby against a premature lifting of sanctions. "We are concerned that the British government has not been taking a strong line to ensure EU sanctions are maintained," said its director Anna Roberts.
The EU began easing sanctions in January this year in response to the democratic reforms carried out by Thein Sein's government, including releasing political prisoners, easing media restrictions and establishing a human rights commission. There are rumours of a split within the EU, with one camp pushing for further easing of sanctions and others urging restraint.
"We know from experience that EU members such as Germany prioritise trade before human rights, and would like to see sanctions relaxed now," warned Roberts. "[But] to do so will remove the incentive for the military backed government to make deeper and more fundamental changes."
Democratic Voice of Burma, Tues Mar 6 2012
More than 3,800 miles of deep Pacific Ocean separate the remote tropical island of Guam and Honolulu, charter city of Local 1260, but that has not stopped the Hawaii-based local from becoming the fastest growing union on the U.S. territory.
While the Aloha State is one of the country's most unionized jurisdictions, Guam traditionally existed on the fringes of the American labor movement, too often ignored by unions on the mainland and Hawaii.
But more than a decade ago, Local 1260 made a conscious decision to bring the benefits and wages enjoyed by IBEW members in their state to the people of Guam – efforts that are now bearing fruit.
It currently has contracts at six different employers on the island, with two more in the works, making Guam, with nearly 1,000 IBEW members, home to a third of the local's membership.
Reflecting the IBEW's rapid growth on the island, Local 1260 members overwhelmingly approved a bylaw change late last year that that adds two new seats to the local's executive board – seats reserved for members from the territory.
Says Local 1260 Business Manager Brian Ahakuelo:
The addition of Guam to the board is a major milestone in our campaign to bridge the Pacific. It shows that we are serious about making a long-term commitment to our members there.
The rapid growth of the IBEW on the island marks a remarkable turnaround from only a decade ago, when Guam was, for all intents and purposes, a union-free zone – at least when it came to the private sector.
A strong culture of anti-unionism – combined with a general lack of knowledge about unions among residents – permeated Guam. The business establishment was uniformly hostile to collective bargaining, and in 2000 successfully prodded the territorial government to pass a right-to-work law. To this day the Guam Employers Council still uses a graphic on the labor relations section of its Web site that says "Unions: Not Necessary."
Furthermore, company propaganda successfully portrayed union organizers as outsiders – an alien force set on upsetting traditional culture.
Says Local 1260 Business Representative Russell Yamanoha:
Guam can be a very insular community, and strangers are not always welcome if they don't take the time to earn people's trust first.
Guam: An Overview
Lying on the edge of the Western Pacific, Guam is much closer to the Philippines – by about 1,500 miles – than it is to Honolulu. Approximately 178,000 people live on the 30-mile-long island, which has been under U.S. control since 1898.
Scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific theater during World War II, Guam became an official American territory in 1950.
Populated mainly by native Chammaros, a people of Micronesian descent, Guam's economy is largely dependent on tourism and the U.S. military, which has seven bases on the island.
Workers on Guam earn less than a third of their counterparts in Hawaii, but even more galling is that they make less even when working for the same company, on the same federal contract.
The disparity made the dozens of private contractors that provide support staff to the island's military bases – everything from maintenance workers to day care teachers – ripe for organizing.
Then-Assistant Business Manager Ahakuelo made his first visit to the island in 2000, meeting with civilian support workers employed by Navy contractor Raytheon Technical Services.
The workers were receptive. Their work had recently been outsourced by the Navy, so anxiety about job security ran high.
It took two years, but the months of meetings, workplace discussions and round-trip flights finally paid off. In January 2002 the more than 900 employees voted overwhelmingly in favor of IBEW representation in the biggest union victory in Guam history.
It was soon followed by victories at other contractors, whose employees were impressed by the strong wage and benefit packages Raytheon workers negotiated.
The close-knit nature of Guam society that had thwarted unions for so long began working in the IBEW's favor, says Ahakuelo. Existing social networks among friends and family served as an island-wide worker-to-worker network that spread the good word about the benefits of collective bargaining.
The IBEW became like rock stars on Guam. Workers were jumping at the chance to work at a company represented by the IBEW.
The IBEW's strong contracts have not only helped attract new members, but employers as well, who were eager to recruit employees looking for a good-paying career, not just a job.
Some of the companies see an IBEW contract as a way to attract new hires.
This new attitude toward unions was illustrated by the IBEW's latest organizing victory. Advance Management Inc., which has a contract to perform janitorial services for Navy facilities, disregarded the employers' council advice on fighting unions, instead choosing to respect the decision of 30 of its employees to sign up with Local 1260 earlier this year.
Many IBEW members now hope that their organizing success can create a race-to-the-top situation for Guam's working families, with union shops setting the standard for wages and benefits – reversing decades of low-pay and poverty.
Says Pastor Ranoco, who works for the military contractor DZSP 21:
The union works for Guam. Look what working conditions used to be like compared to what we have now. There is no question things are getting better.
A Renewed Commitment
With the flight time between Honolulu and Guam's economic center Tamuning, averaging eight hours, Ahakuelo says that servicing the island from the local's central office in Oahu is a formidable challenge. But last fall, the local assembled a team to make sure Guam gets the attention it deserves, dedicating two fulltime organizers to territory, including Kenneth Laguana, who lives there. Also involved in servicing Guam are Local 1260 Assistant Business Managers Russell Takemoto and Thomas Decano and Senior Assistant Business Manager Teresa Morrison.
Says Guam member Robert Mafnas, an island native who, along with Jose Salas, joined the local's executive board last December:
For a few years, we felt somewhat adrift and isolated here.
Mafnas is a six-year member and building inspector by trade who says that the local's renewed commitment to organizing the island has motivated members to get active and stay mobilized.
We're seeing more attendance at meetings and more enthusiasm.
And with the military looking to further beef up its presence on Guam, more organizing opportunities continue to emerge. Efforts underway include a 200-person unit at the Guam Naval Station Shipyard and utility workers at Guam Power Authority. The local has also redoubled its efforts to grow its membership in Hawaii, building a strong IBEW presence throughout the Pacific region.
The IBEW's growth is also being felt in the territorial capital of Hagåtña. Members of the territorial legislature have started to attend unit meetings, as have staff representatives from the office of Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, Guam's non-voting delegate to Congress.
Some of our elected officials were shocked at first to see that we were growing so fast. But some have already let us know that they consider themselves allies of labor.
ibew.org, Tues Mar 6 2012
One million Canadians work in federally regulated workplaces. They deserve a government that respects their fundamental rights.
Stop Federal Interference in Free Collective Bargaining
Since winning a majority government, Mr. Harper has repeatedly interfered in the free collective bargaining process, essentially removing the right to strike and fixing the rules in favour of employers. Workers at Canada Post and Air Canada learned all too well that employers have little incentive to bargain in good faith when they know the government will intervene on their behalf. Labour relations experts have called Harper's interference "unprecedented," highly unusual," "a wholesale departure," and "creating problems, not solving problems" (CBC, October 13, 2011).
A Paul Dewar government will restore free collective bargaining and stop federal interference.
Establish a fair, neutral mechanism to resolve deadlocked labour disputes
Even though free collective bargaining produces a negotiated settlement 97% of the time, there needs to be a fair, neutral and timely way to resolve those labour disputes that become deadlocked. This is particularly important with the growing trend, seen at US Steel in Hamilton, ON, Rio Tinto in Alma, QC, and Caterpillar in London, ON, where employers lock out workers to force deep wage, benefit and pension cuts.
A government led by Paul Dewar will legislate, at the federal level, Manitoba's innovative "60 day rule," to enable either party involved in an impasse to ask the Canada Industrial Relations Board to impose binding arbitration and end the strike or lockout. Since this rule was implemented in 2000, it has brought several protracted disputes to a fair and neutral resolution while creating a strong incentive for employers and workers to negotiate in good faith. Since its implementation, the number of days lost to strikes and lockouts in Manitoba has fallen by more than 2/3 compared to the previous decade.
Reduce the length and divisiveness of strikes/lockouts by banning the use of replacement workers
The use of replacement workers by employers during a strike or lockout has been deemed a "serious violation of freedom of association" by the United Nations' International Labour Organization. When employers can use replacement workers, negotiations are undermined, work stoppages are prolonged, conflict is heightened and the risk of picket line violence rises.
For decades, BC and Quebec have banned the use of replacement workers by law, recognizing that their use only poisons the collective bargaining process. The federal Parliament passed a partial ban on replacement workers in 1999, but exceptions permitted have been interpreted so broadly that the provision is completely ineffective. Since that provision was passed the use of replacement workers has actually increased by 6%, including high profile conflicts at Ekati Mine, NWT, at Telus in Alberta and BC, and at Vidéotron and Sécur in Quebec.
A government led by Paul Dewar will ban the use of replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces.
Take on the disgraceful workplace injury rate in federally regulated workplaces
While workplace injury rates have been declining by an average of 25% in provincially regulated workplaces, the injury rate in federal workplaces has actually increased by 5% over the past five years. This federal embarrassment is the direct result of deliberate decisions by the Harper government, which has cut the number of workplace safety inspectors by 15% and required any safety regulations to be balanced against the cost to business. As David Macdonald put it, Mr. Harper has used his so-called "war on red tape ... to redefine the problem of injured workers as a cost of doing business."
A government led by Paul Dewar will improve workplace health and safety by: hiring 50 additional workplace safety inspectors, enough to replace those cut by Mr. Harper and to make progress on injury reduction by adding more; and
putting workers' lives before profit by exempting workplace health and safety from the 2007 Conservative budget directive requiring all new regulations to be balanced against the cost to business.
Reinstate the Federal Minimum Wage and implement a Living Wage Plan
In 1996, the Liberals abolished the federal minimum wage. This has left the federal government without a key tool in the fight against poverty. Paul Dewar believes the federal government has a moral responsibility to show leadership in improving wages for working families, and that if you work full time you deserve a living wage.
A government led by Paul Dewar will reinstate the federal minimum wage and set it at a level that raises living standards for working families; and implement a phased, multi-year plan to raise the minimum wage to a living wage (defined at 60% of the average Canadian wage).
Stop the attack on public sector workers
Conservative politicians and pundits are waging an aggressive war against public sector workers, attacking their hard-won pensions, benefits and collective bargaining rights. This is not just an attack on middle class working families; it is an attack on the people who care for our loved ones when they are sick, who police our streets and staff our jails, who keep our food and water supplies safe, who protect our environment, who deliver supports for the unemployed, and who deliver the other public services working families count on.
Instead of attacking public sector workers, a government led by Paul Dewar will stop the attacks on public sector workers, restore free collective bargaining, and honour contracts.
Reject Bill C-377, the Conservatives' discriminatory attack on unions
Hiding behind phony rhetoric about accountability, the Conservatives are pushing Bill C-377, a discriminatory attempt to saddle unions with costly and unnecessary red tape. Unions are democratic organizations whose leaders are selected by regular elections and whose members already have a right to detailed financial reports. This discriminatory bill unfairly singles out unions and ignores business and other lobby organizations that don't have the democratic structures unions have.
A government led by Paul Dewar will oppose, or if necessary repeal, Bill C-377.
Extend language rights to all Quebec workers employed in federally-regulated industries
There are 130,000 private sector workers under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. Unlike 3.8 million of their fellow workers in Quebec, these workers are denied the rights enshrined in the Quebec Charter of the French Language. All workers in Quebec, regardless of jurisdiction, should be allowed to carry out their activities in French. All work-related documents should be available in French. Employers should be forbidden from firing, laying off, demoting or transferring a staff member who speaks only French or who has insufficient knowledge of a language other than French.
A government led by Paul Dewar will extend language rights to all Quebec workers in federally-regulated industries.
Enforce the "Westray Bill"
More than eight years ago, Parliament passed a law, known as the "Westray Bill," enabling criminal charges for employers responsible for workplace deaths. Despite this breakthrough, few charges have been laid and none have been laid in federally regulated workplaces. A 2011 CLC symposium involving police officers, crown and private legal counsel, federal labour department officials and labour activists found that few resources have devoted to enforcing the Westray Bill, that law enforcement officials lack training about the Westray provisions, and that investigative protocols have not been updated to facilitate Westray prosecutions. It was clear that it will take a deliberate, coordinated effort supported by appropriate resources to successfully prosecute employers responsible for workplace deaths under the criminal code.
A Paul Dewar government will invest the resources necessary for criminal prosecutions of employers responsible for workplace deaths. These resources would support training for law enforcement officials, development of appropriate investigative protocols, and hiring dedicated prosecutors for workplace health and safety.
pauldewar.ca, Wed Feb 22 2012
A proposed new pension system puts the retirement security of New York firefighters, teachers, police officers and other public employees at risk, and the New York State AFL-CIO is fighting back.
In this new video and in state-wide radio ad and newspaper op-eds, the state federation urges lawmakers to "rebuild the middle class, not attack what's left of it.
A proposed new pension system, known as Tier 6, puts workers between "a rock and hard place," says New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. In a column in Journal News, he writes the system would force new state and local workers to:
choose between a dramatically diminished defined-benefit pension plan and a defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan.
Strong defined-benefit pensions offer a reliable, predictable benefit based on a retiree's number of years worked and salary. It allows workers to plan for the future and provides retirees with predictable income. It also pools risk for all members of the plan. Defined-contribution, 401(k)-style plans base a retiree's benefit on how much he or she can save in an individual account.
He also warns that private employers will see the state's shift "as an invitation to reduce or eliminate benefits." If you're a New Yorker, click here to send a message to your state legislators to oppose the Tier 6 plan.
afl-cio now blog, Wed Feb 22 2012
INDIANAPOLIS - Union members went to federal court Wednesday to ask a judge to block Indiana's new right-to-work law from being enforced, the first lawsuit and latest conflict over the divisive legislation.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Hammond, said Marc Poulos, an attorney representing the union. The suit names Gov. Mitch Daniels, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Labor Commissioner Lori Torres.
The right-to-work lawsuit is the latest filed over a wave of conservative legislation pushed through the Indiana General Assembly over the last two years. Indiana also faces lawsuits over 2011 legislation that cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics because the group provides abortions, and the state is in court over tougher illegal immigration laws and the nation's broadest use of school vouchers.
Daniels signed the right-to-work legislation into law last month, making Indiana the 23rd state to ban unions from collecting mandatory fees for representation. Indiana was the first in the generally union-friendly Rust Belt to pass such legislation, and the first nationally in about a decade, as Oklahoma did so in 2001.
Indiana Democrats vehemently objected and boycotted the House session for several days, and union members turned out by the thousands to protest what they called "the right to work for less bill."
Indiana enacts right-to-work law
Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the governor's office had no comment, but Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said late Wednesday that his office would defend the state from the legal challenge.
"Legal challenges are part of the process to test whether laws are constitutional. Though we respect the right of private plaintiffs to disagree with this new law, the State's position is that the Legislature was within its authority to create a new policy concerning mandatory union dues. My office's duty is to defend the laws the Legislature passes and we will do so diligently here," Zoeller said in a statement.
Poulos said the union would file a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to block the law for 10 days until a judge can decide on its longer-term fate. He hoped a hearing could be held as early as Monday, but said he did not know how long it would be before the judge ruled.
Last year, a federal judge in Indianapolis struck down a law restricting Medicaid funds from abortion providers about six weeks after Planned Parenthood went to court. The ruling is under appeal.
A draft copy of the lawsuit provided to The Associated Press by the union, which has 4,000 members in northern Indiana, claims the right-to-work law contains multiple violations of both the state and federal constitutions.
Among other things, the union claims the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating building and construction workers and public workers differently from others. The law's provisions regarding construction trades took effect immediately, impairing existing contracts, the union said. Public employees aren't allowed to opt out of union membership to the same degree as private-sector worker, the union said.
"No legitimate state interest is served by requiring public sector employees to subsidize the cost of representation services for private sector employees who refuse to pay any fees to the Union," the lawsuit said.
Union members had protested that the law unfairly makes union members who pay dues also pay for the representation of non-union members who choose to opt out under the new law.
The lawsuit also said that the law violated the prohibition against ex post facto laws — retroactively making legal activity illegal — in both the state and federal constitutions. The Indiana law makes violations a class A misdemeanor.
The union also claimed the state law is pre-empted by and conflicts with the National Labor Relations Act.
CBS News, Wed Feb 22 2012
Legislation would require workers to reaffirm unions with votes every 3 years
In an effort to loosen labor's grip on workers, two GOP lawmakers want legislation that would require workers to re-affirm the existence of their unions with new votes every three years.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina are pushing the Employee Rights Act that also would place limits on strikes, how fast a union can organize and how membership fees may be used to support political candidates. The bill has yet to receive a committee hearing in either chamber.
"It's neither anti-union, nor pro-employer," Mr. Hatch told The Washington Times. "It's pro-worker."
The move comes as unions are showing new signs of a turnaround in growth. The number of members spiked by about 50,000 workers to nearly 14.8 million in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That follows two years of declining membership, during which unions lost nearly 1.4 million workers.
Conservative groups are joining in the fight to handicap unions. The Center for Union Facts recently started running a $10 million campaign to promote the bill. The advertisements are running in the District and were aired nationally on Fox News during the South Carolina presidential primary debate.
Supporters of the bill are taking a new approach. Rather than pitting unions against businesses, they are spinning it as unions against workers.
"There's not a single provision in this bill that will empower employers at the expense of the union," Mr. Hatch said. "The only parties whose position will be improved by the Employee Rights Act are employees."
They paint a picture of workers in the middle of a spectrum, surrounded by businesses on the right and unions on the left.
"It's about time we start worrying about the employees and the workers, rather than unions and management people," Mr. Hatch said. "It is fair to both employers and unions, and, far more importantly, it's fair to workers."
Secret-ballot elections, instead of card checks, would be the voting method of choice under the Employee Rights Act, which was introduced last August in both chambers.
Few workers - less than 10 percent of union members - vote to organize. Instead, most workers join an existing union as a condition of employment.
This bill, however, would give workers a chance to voice their opinions. Union officials would be up for re-election every three years. At that time, employees could decide whether to keep or eliminate their union.
"My goal is to make sure that employees of a company make the decision on joining unions," Mr. Scott said. "This just gives them an opportunity to say, 'Yes, I want to be a part of the union.' "
"Voters get to choose senators every six years, they decide on the president every four years, and on me every two years," he said. "To me, it makes sense that union members should decide on their leaders at least every three years."
Mr. Hatch agreed.
"I think the right of an individual to not join a union is just as essential as the right to unionize," he said.
In the instances of nonunion workplaces that want to organize, the bill would require a minimum of 40 days between the time a petition is filed and a vote is taken. That would give employees time to hear from both unions and employers before they decide.
This provision comes in response to the National Labor Relations Board's recent decision to speed up union elections, including in some cases to less than 10 days.
"Nobody has enough time in 10 days to decide the benefits and the negatives of joining a union," Mr. Scott said.
The bill would also combat strikes. It would streamline the federal process, requiring a majority of union members to approve a strike.
"Strikes can be damaging," Mr. Hatch said. "Employees lose work and may not get back to work. Shouldn't they at least have a chance to vote on whether to go on strike?"
He pointed out that strike funds, which provide financial assistance to union members during work stoppages, rarely pay more than 20 percent of an employee's salary. And they usually have to be actively involved in the strike, such as on the picket line, to get that money.
Unions also would be required to receive written consent from each member before donating portions of their membership fees to political candidates. This would be determined individually, member by member, so some members could agree to support a certain candidate, and others could decide against it. Their money would be split up.
Union membership is split fairly evenly between Democrats (49 percent) and Republicans (47 percent). But 93 percent of campaign contributions go to Democratic candidates.
"I'd like anyone who would oppose this provision to explain to me why it is fair to force workers to contribute to political campaigns at all, regardless of the party on the receiving end," Mr. Hatch told the Senate when he introduced the bill in August.
The penalities would also be updated, so unions that violate labor laws are held to the same disciplinary measures as businesses that do so.
"We've all heard the accounts of unions obtaining signatures through deception and intimidation," Mr. Hatch said.
The AFL-CIO and SEIU did not respond to requests for comment.
The Washington Times, Sun Jan 29 2012