A pair of reports released this week show that the federal government routinely ignores worker safety and labor law violations when awarding contracts to private companies—and that American taxpayers are cheated in the process.
The first comes from the staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee, which conducted a yearlong investigation of federal contracting records. Unveiled Wednesday by HELP Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the report provides a long list of specific companies that break safety and labor laws yet continue to receive big government contracts. In particular, it names 49 law-breaking contractors that got more than $81 billion from Uncle Sam in 2012 alone—including AT&T, Home Depot and GM.
The HELP report was paired with one from the Center For American Progress (CAP) Action Fund, a Democratic Party advocacy group, which examined whether government contractors are actually fulfilling their contracts. The CAP report found that a number of companies shortchange taxpayers through poor performance, and names specific companies that stand out in this respect, including Lockheed Martin and KBR. Some of these scofflaw companies, such as international oil giant BP, overlapped with the HELP report lists.
WASHINGTON, DC - After a ceremony and celebration on the National Mall marking the end of their fast, "Fast for Families" issued the following statement:
"Today, as we transition from the 'Fast for Families' tents, we celebrate the sacrifice of the fasters and rededicate ourselves to our campaign to pass commonsense immigration reform. For 30 days, thousands of friends and allies have chosen to fast to focus attention on the moral crisis caused by our broken immigration system.
"We have built the strongest, most diverse movement for immigration reform in our nation's history. We represent a diversity of faiths and creeds and have gathered on common ground to shed light on the suffering of immigrant families and to ask our elected leaders to stop telling our communities to WAIT. We have heard that word for far too long.
"Congress has heard our call and many members have responded. Others have remained silent. But our movement has grown stronger and larger every day. As we have said time and again over the last month, we call on Speaker Boehner to bring an immigration reform bill with a pathway to citizenship to the floor of the House as soon as possible. The American people want immigration reform and now is the time to get it done.
"Throughout our fast, we have been humbled by the outpouring of support we have received from the President and First Lady, Vice President, members of Congress, countless friends around the world and the American people. With their help, we have broken through the political noise and touched our nation's moral conscience like never before.
"Our commitment to act, fast and pray does not end today. We are more determined than ever to make commonsense immigration reform a reality. It is no longer a matter of IF reform will pass, it is a matter of WHEN. Until that time, we will not stop and we will not tire. We will never give up until 11 million immigrants have a path to citizenship."
The teaching force at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), which unionized in 2011, has been at the bargaining table fighting for changes that include improved compensation for non-tenure-track professors and shared governance in the university decision-making process. And after 15 months without results, they’re starting to get fed up. Faculty voted last week to authorize a strike if contract negotiations remain at an impasse.
About 79 percent of union members participated in the vote, with 95 percent agreeing to authorize a strike if necessary, according to John Shuler, spokesperson for the University of Illinois Chicago United Faculty (UICUF). This overwhelming endorsement reflects “the conviction that we deserve a fair and honest contract, and the frustration with how long this process has taken,” says Shuler, who is also a member of UICUF’s bargaining committee.
In the hopes of averting a walkout, bargaining will continue through early January with the help of a federal mediator. Such a strike would be another unprecedented labor action at the University of Illinois from UIC faculty, whose push to organize in 2011 was both a first for the state’s public research universities and one of the first nationwide since a wave of unionization at state universities during the 1960s and ’70s died down.
After years of being backed into a corner, on Monday public-school teachers stood up in defiance against what they see as their chief bully—budget-slashing school reforms that have made school more stressful and less fulfilling for both them and their students.
Under the banner of a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, educators, students and community groups coordinated demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings in dozens of cities. In the long run, the day of action kicked off a broader campaign by a coalition of unions and community groups to chart an alternative path to education reform.
According to a policy statement by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the leading union behind the campaign, and its partner groups, the goal is to foster “a community-union movement for educational equity and excellence.” While that agenda may sound neutral to the uninitiated, it speaks to growing resentment toward the prevailing reform rhetoric pushed by the White House and many politicians: corporate-oriented “standards” and “management,” leading to a test-heavy curriculum focused on math and reading at the expense of all else. First imposed under the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration, this hardline approach rests on the belief that a lack of academic rigor and “ineffective” educators are impeding U.S. students' performance. The prescription has been an avalanche of high-stakes testing, public-school funding cuts and free-market privatization measures such as charter schools, often funded by corporate-oriented philanthropists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
There isn't much time. In just a few days, Congress will vote on a budget deal and our kids' futures are on the line.
As you read this, extremists on the Budget Committee - like Chair Paul Ryan - are pushing to keep the disastrous sequester in place and make even more cuts to services that help our children thrive. That's why I'm traveling to Washington, DC this week to speak with my representatives, face-to-face.
Pledge now to call your Representative on Dec. 12.
The cuts, which have already eliminated 57,000 Head Start seats, are slated to stay in place for a decade unless Congress takes action.
Our representatives can stop these cuts by closing tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy. Congress can turn around the damaging politics of austerity and instead make smart investments in the programs that support kids and keep communities strong.
Thousands have already stood up to demand that Congress do their job. Will you join them? Stand with children and families in your community:
Join the call-in day on Dec. 12 and urge your Representative to protect early learning and other vital programs.
Thanks for standing with us.
WASHINGTON, DC - After the introduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) issued the following statement:
"The FAMILY Act is a vital piece of legislation that would help working families, already struggling to make ends meet, provide for their families if they become sick and cannot work. Too many workers in our economy don't have paid sick leave for themselves, let alone time to care for a loved one. This bill would provide working people with the peace of mind that their families will not suffer if they are unable to work due to illness or the need to take care of an ailing family member. Congress should pass the FAMILY Act so that working families have support in times of need.
By Mike Elk
CHATTANOOGA, TENN.—Volkswagen America recently told Working In These Times that it was not funding efforts to stop the United Auto Worker (UAW) union drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga, and that it supported the right of employees to unionize. Now, evidence has emerged connecting VW to another anti-union group.
Last month, WITT asked VW why it donated to a gala held in June by the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute—whose then-employee, Matt Patterson, had launched a media and community-awareness blitz against the UAW campaign in Chattanooga. Volkswagen America spokesman Carson Krebs responded, “We didn’t support CEI for any specific action or any action against UAW. Our Governmental Affairs Department attended a dinner featuring Senator Rand Paul—so did Ford and the Auto Alliance. As a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants.”
However, Working In These Times has uncovered that Volkswagen America supports a second group engaged in anti-UAW activity in Chattanooga: the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturer Association (CRMA). The local industry group boasts VW as a member, and the CEO of Volkswagen America’s Chattanooga Operation, Frank Fischer, sits on its board of directors.
CRMA engages in a variety of anti-union and anti-worker activities that would seem to run counter to Volkswagen’s stated position of supporting “the right of employees to representation at all its plants.” The organization promotes Chattanooga as attractive to manufacturers because workers receive “cost-competitive wages that are below national norms, including total average industrial earnings (83%), manufacturing wages (75%), and service sector salaries (81%).” In a membership brochure, CRMA advertises its “union avoidance/labor relations” seminars.
One of those seminars, scheduled for August 14, was billed as teaching local companies how to remain “union-free” despite “the unionization threats of the UAW at Volkswagen.”
There’s more: On its website, the CRMA posted an invitation to July 18 anti-UAW forum organized by anti-union consultant Matt Patterson. The event featured Don Jackson, former president of manufacturing at Volkswagen of Chattanooga. Jackson blasted the union drive in his remarks, saying, “I’m not sure what the union can improve. … A third party drives a wedge between management and employees.”
Asked for comment, Volkswagen spokesperson Scott Wilson wrote in an emailed statement
As major manufacturers in the Tennessee Valley, it is important for Volkswagen Chattanooga to be involved in the civic conversation in our region and lead to the way with cutting edge education programs and innovative models of employee /management engagement.
We are involved in the manufacturing community, but ours is not the only voice in the conversation. We allow for differences in professional opinions while working together to strengthen the manufacturing base in our region and bring more jobs to the community. Along with several other manufacturers, we sponsor the annual dinner of the CRMA and we are members. We have never been a part of any anti-union workshops.
VW did not respond to queries about whether it still has a relationship with Jackson, who left in 2012. (It is not uncommon for large corporations to retain high-level executives as consultants after they retire.)
Local activists say these revelations are yet another reason why Volkswagen needs to more vocally demand that outside parties stay out of a union election in which Volkswagen has pledged its neutrality.
“It’s no wonder that [CRMA] are doing everything they can to keep Volkswagen workers from organizing, since they have spent decades adamantly fighting the rights of our local workers to negotiate for better wages, working conditions, benefits and pensions,” wrote Patricia Bazemore, an organizer with labor-community coalition Chattanooga for Workers, in an email to Working In These Times. “The question we have is, why is Volkswagen once again supporting an organization that is obviously trying to undermine what should be the personal choice of their workers, not to mention the global social contract the company has with its workers?”
UAW is a website sponsor of In These Times.
Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times, where this post originally appeared. He can be reached at email@example.com.
by Eric Lee
In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.
The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.
That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement.
The Histadrut has made extraordinary progress in its organizing campaigns recently by using audacious tactics in the workplace, getting labour laws changed, and using new technology effectively.
The result has been that unlike unions in many other industrialized countries, the Israeli labour movement is growing.
They began the year with union recognition at the mobile phone carrier Pelephone. This victory followed four months of struggle that culminated in a historic decision by Israel’s national labour court which ruled that an employer cannot intervene in the right of its employees to form a union.
They repeated this success in April with Cellcom, another large mobile phone carrier. Hundreds of new members were signed up, initially in a secret campaign and then openly.
Cellular telephone companies have been very difficult targets for unions in some other countries, as evidenced by the campaigns being waged by American unions to organize German-owned T-Mobile, or the struggle Britain’s unions have had with Virgin Media.
The Histadrut’s successes were not confined to the high-tech sector.
In June, the Histadrut’s youth arm announced that it recruited over 7,000 young workers at McDonald’s. In most countries, unions struggle to successfully organize McDonald’s workers – or workers in any other fast food chain.
In late October, the Histadrut announced a “lightning campaign” to sign up one third of the employees of Migdal Insurance on a single day. The campaign followed on the successful unionization earlier this year of Clal insurance. One reporter said the organizing drive “began to acquire the form of a full-scale military campaign.”
“There is no place where we are not active. We came organized and with the goal of winning,” a Histadrut source said. “D-Day was set for today, and all Migdal employees received an SMS and link to a website to join the Histadrut digitally … Activists from the union and employees are distributing brochures as we speak, calling on the employees to enter the special Facebook page set up for the unionization.”
At the same time, the Histadrut launched a 6.5 million shekel (1.36 million Euro) television ad campaign to promote union membership.
The Manufacturers’ Association condemned the planned ad campaign as “wretched timing” — not specifying when precisely was a good time, in their view, to promote union membership.
But Ofer Eini defended the plan: “It is precisely at this time that unionization of employees is needed, especially at a time of vilification of organized labor.”
Few unions outside of Israel will be aware of any of these successes in part because of the reluctance to engage with the Jewish state.
But another problem is that the Histadrut itself makes almost no effort to share its successes with the outside world, and instead focusses its very limited international activity at attempting to block anti-Israel resolutions at union congresses.
It’s very rare for a Histadrut representative at international trade union events to speak about anything other than the conflict with the Palestinians. But when they do – as happened at a global food workers congress in 2011 – they may find themselves facing an audience that is far less hostile.
Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart. the global labor news and campaigning site. His website is hereand his blog here.This article appears in German in Jungle World with the headline “Per SMS zum Arbeitskampf”.
With union membership in a decades-long decline, recruiting a new generation of workers is crucial to keeping labor alive. Yet young workers are (and always have been) less likely to be in a union than their older counterparts: As of 2012, only 9.5 percent of 25-34 year old workers and 4.2 percent of 16-24 year old workers were union members, compared to 11.3 percent of all workers.
At the same time, nearly two-thirds of 18–29-year olds have a favorable impression of unions, more than any other age bracket. The time is ripe for labor leaders to bring the next generation into the fold.
In practice, however, unions attempting to recruit younger workers butt heads with the same forces that threaten labor’s existence writ large. Declining union density means younger workers may be less aware of the value of unionization or, within unions, less acquainted with older leaders who carry the tradition of rank-and-file leadership. With changes in the nature of work, such as the rise of minimum-wage and precarious employment, younger workers have fewer experiences with good jobs to compare against the new, worse ones and, in turn, less clarity about what organizing could accomplish. And there are sometimes generational tensions within unions: For instance, in industries such as auto manufacturing, some unions have submitted to two-tiered contracts, which set wages or benefits at lower rates for new workers—undermining intergenerational solidarity and relegating younger workers to second-class status.
Stephanie Knighten (pictured top left) and Shanisha Robinson embarked today on a journey to South Africa - to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela and infuse their work with the anti-apartheid movement Mandela led.
In preparation of their trip today, Stephanie and Shanisha attended a remembrance ceremony for Mandela at the Washington National Cathedral. They heard from activists who had met Mandela, had been arrested while challenging injustice alongside him, and who had carried freedom fighter songs back to America from South Africa.
"It brings me back to my Millennial committee and the energy we are creating at ULTCW," Shanisha reflected. "We have such a strong voice, than can at times go untapped. But not anymore. We're ready to step up for real change in this country. Uplifting our voice is the only way to true democracy."
Stephanie similarly stated, "One speaker reminded us how young Mandela and other revolutionaries were when they became involved with the anti-apartheid movement. They were just babies. This is exactly why I stepped up as a Millennial - why I knock doors and organize at my union hall."
Stephanie added, "We left the Cathedral singing a quote by Mandela put to music, 'No easy walk to freedom'. I felt like it was speaking straight to me. If you don't stand up for what you believe in, no one else will."
"It's going to be a journey," Shanesha nodded. "I just feel lucky to be able to partake in such a historic moment in civil rights."