Labor Notes #375, June 2010

“There are no jobs on a dead planet,” said one union leader to those arguing unions should care only about jobs, not the Earth. But is it fair to put the cost of halting ecological devastation on the fossil-fuel economy's workers?

It’s been a very bad couple of months for worker safety, as deaths mount in horrific disasters from Connecticut to the Gulf Coast. But behind the headlines is a far quieter but equally disturbing story of entirely preventable daily carnage.

Clearly, unions avoid strikes because they fear they can’t win them. How do we break this mold? We brought the question to Peter Olney, organizing director of the Longshore and Warehouse Union. In Boron, California, 560 borax miners—ILWU members—just won a 15-week lockout by their multinational employer, Rio Tinto.

The anti-immigrant bill passed by rightwing forces in Arizona has mobilized immigrant and community groups. When will organized labor raise its voice loudly in opposition?

Hundreds of Farm Labor Organizing Committee members and supporters rallied in Winston-Salem North Carolina, bringing complaints of abuse in the tobacco fields straight to R.J. Reynolds.

Weeks after the Labor Notes conference the energy is still pulsing. As the strain of economic crisis pulls on every city and workplace, the biggest crowd of labor activists we can remember—1,200 of them—came to Detroit looking for answers, eager to make connections, and ready to turn the ship around.

When management meets with a union member (or telephones the worker at home) to ask questions about possible misconduct, the employee can request the presence of a union representative and refuse to answer until the rep arrives. These are known as Weingarten rights (from a 1975 Supreme Court case).

While the Bay Area’s Castlewood Country Club hosted a Mother’s Day brunch, its locked-out workers were outside on a three-day hunger strike.

Since December workers from UNITE HERE Local 2850 in Pleasanton, California, have struggled over health care with management. The dispute arose when management amended the contract to include a $739 qualification fee for family medical coverage. Previously, family medical was fully covered in the contract. The fee would put the coverage out of reach for workers, whose average wage is $12.50 per hour.

After a hard-fought, month-long strike at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, the nurses and technical/professional staff can proudly say, “We won!” They beat back concessions demanded by the hospital on union rights, wages, and working conditions.

Lingerie workers in the Philippines and Thailand knew that they had to take action against cut-and-run bosses when managers at Triumph International announced plant closures and layoffs of more than 2,000 workers last June.

The Filipino union, the New Union of Workers of Triumph, tried to keep some jobs or negotiate adequate severance pay for the fired workers, but management refused to come to the table.

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