T Mobile workers step up their organizing campaign

T-Mobile Workers United (TU) solidified their position as a permanent force for worker rights at the US’ third largest wireless carrier when on July 25 it opened its first field office in Wichita, Kansas.

“T-Mobile workers in Wichita are ready for a seat at the table, and the opening of this local office is proof of the momentum of our campaign to come together as workers and collectively bargain with our employer,” said Angela Melvin, a customer service representative at T-Mobile’s call center in Wichita. “We have come such a long way in building our union at T-Mobile, and I know there is much work to be done.  I cannot wait to see what the building of this union has in store for us!”

TU has been fighting since 2008 to improve workers lives at call centers and retail stores owned by T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s affiliate MetroPCS.

As a result of TU’s work, T-Mobile workers now have paid parental leave, a scheduling policy that doesn’t punish people for being sick, and the right to speak freely on the job..

In April, TU took another step toward becoming a more effective organization by electing chief stewards at seven T-Mobile call centers.

The stewards will listen to workers as they talk about the changes that they would like to see at the company, lead the workers’ meetings with management, train others on labor laws and workplace rights, and truly represent the workers’ voice at T-Mobile.

The ultimate goal of TU is to win a collective bargaining agreement that ensures that these victories can’t be taken away and that more improvements can be achieved.

Melvin discovered what it looks like to work in a call center where workers belong to a union when she took a recent trip to Germany to address the annual stockholders meeting of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s owner.

Deutsche Telekom’s workers belong to a union called ver. di.

“What I took away is that the Germans are a great role model on how to treat employees with dignity and respect,” said Melvin. “What I loved most about their call centers is how the environment was a smaller work space and not so hectic with noise and other distractions and that their metrics just don’t randomly change from month to month. It is also amazing to learn that they have unlimited paid sick days and they are an extremely productive company. I also love their scheduling model, which provides predictable schedules for a whole year that take workers’ personal situations into consideration and is not based on performance.”

Ver. di has taken a special interest in the union organizing drive undertaken by TU and together with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has been supporting TU, has established the TU Council, a cross Atlantic organization of T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom workers that fosters cooperation between the two companies’ workers.

As a gesture of solidarity with their counterparts in the US Lothar Schröder, a leader of ver.di, attended TU’s office opening in Wichita.

“Ver.di and CWA have been working in solidarity and friendship together for many years,” said  Schröder, who is also the vice chairman of the Deutsche Telekom board of directors. “Forming TU in 2008, we made an important and unique step for the global labor movement in furthering our international union cooperation. Now with the opening of the TU field office in Wichita, we continue on this path. Ver.di and I are committed to do what it takes so that T-Mobile workers can freely decide whether they want to join a union to have a voice in the workplace.”

French government imposes new labor law without a vote

For the third time since May, France’s President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have refused to allow Parliament to vote on a bill that weakens the country’s labor standards.

Instead, Valls on July 20 invoked Article 49.3 of France’s Constitution, which allows the government to enact legislation without a vote of Parliament.

Valls and Hollande chose to bypass a vote on the new labor bill because they could not garner sufficient support for the measure among members of their own party–the Socialist party.

The bill has now been pushed through the National Assembly and Senate three times without a vote and will become law unless France’s constitutional court agrees to review and reject it.

Unions opposing the bill have said that they plan to renew protests against the new law in September and condemned the government’s disregard for democracy.

CGT, the labor confederation that led strikes and demonstrations against the bill and conducted a citizens referendum on the bill, said in a statement that “Poll after poll, shows popular opposition to this regressive legislation. . . .The latest, the Odoxa FTI poll published July 18, noted that 7 out of 10 French are ‘dissatisfied with the final adoption of the labor bill’ and more than half of them ‘would like the protests against the text continues.'”

 “From the beginning, the government has continued to ignore the real needs and expectations of wage earners and more generally the public interests,” continued CGT’s statement. “Instead the government has provided corporations and their owners new freedoms and new protections.”

Hollande’s new law makes it easier to fire workers, promotes the use of temporary labor, erodes the country’s 35-hour work week, reduces overtime pay, and gives bosses more control over their workers’ time, including time away from work.

Most important, the new law aims to weaken workers’ bargaining power by expanding company level bargaining.

In France, industry level collective bargaining agreements between unions and employer organizations with some exceptions set wages and working conditions.

Industry level bargaining prevents companies from seeking a competitive advantage by cutting labor costs.

The new law eliminates most restrictions on company level bargaining, which unions fear will create a race to the bottom as companies seek local deals that will lower pay and working conditions below industry standards.

President Hollande argues that his new labor law is needed to combat France’s high unemployment rate, which hovers around 10.5 percent.

There may be other reasons for the new law.

According to Corporate Europe Observatory, the European Council, the body that “defines the European Union’s political direction and priorities” is pressuring France to change its labor laws.

“The current struggle in France over labor law reforms is not just between the government and trade unions – a European battle is being waged. The attacks on social rights stem in no small part from the web of EU-rules dubbed ‘economic governance’, invented to impose austerity policies on member states,” reads the opening paragraph of the Observatory’s analysis of the fight over the new labor law.

The analysis goes on to argue that the Council has threatened to impose fines on France unless it takes steps to lower its budget deficit by imposing austerity measures such as the new labor law.

The argument against France’s current labor law is that it is obsolete, cumbersome, and too complicated which serves as a drag on the economy.

Opponents of the government’s new law agree that the labor law should be modernized, but not by making work more precarious, lowering wages, and weakening protections designed to enhance workers’ quality of life.

CGT said that it would continued to fight implementation of the new law and at the same time called on the government to engage in a dialogue with the new law’s opponents in order to agree on changes to the labor law that will modernize it without weakening protections in it.

This government has not listened to us, said the CGT in its statement, but we will continue to fight “this regressive reform and to replace it with . . . a labor code of the XXI century.”

“The government has lost the ideological battle,” said the CGT statement referring to the lack of public support for its new law. . . . “Our responsibility is to continue to build solidarity, organize, and mobilize to force an end to social regression and to gain new rights.”

Lunchroom workers honor Philando Castile with vigil

Union lunchroom workers from Philadelphia’s public schools on July 14 held a vigil to honor Philando Castile, an African American man killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota on July 6.

The Philadelphia workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 634.

Castile, a nutrition services supervisor for the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools, was member of Teamsters Local 320.

“I felt it was important to do this vigil today as a food service worker and mother of two Black sons who have been victims of ‘stop and frisk’ policies,” said Nicole Hunt, a food service worker and UNITE HERE organizer. “We have to come together as a nation to make changes and stop making excuses.”

A posting on the union’s Facebook page expanded on the reasons for the vigil.

“We gathered to honor the life of Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker and union member who died unjustly during a traffic stop. As a union, we stand against systemic racism, police brutality, and a violent culture that disproportionately affects men and women of color. Join us in the effort to make this change! ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬‪#‎Justice4PhilandoCastile‬ ‪#‎SayTheirNames‬ Unite Here Philadelphia.”

Castile was shot four times by a police officer as Castile was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year old daughter were seated in the car at the time of the shooting.

Castile had been a member of Teamsters Local 320 for 14 years.

“I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served,” said Sami Gabriel, Local 320 president. “He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

In Philadelphia, UNITE HERE members gathered in the early evening at Benjamin Franklin High School to honor Castile.

“Our union represents a lot of people of color,” said Saudia Durrant, communications coordinator for UNITE HERE to the local CBS News affiliate. “We really wanted to make it an issue, and a conversation on assessing racism, assessing how we as a union can do our part to make sure a change comes about.”

A statement issued by UNITE HERE said that “The loss of Philando Castile echoes a persistent culture of violence and hate that disproportionately affect communities where our member and their families live and work. In order to stop cases such as Castile’s from happening again, our country needs to organize to change the economic conditions and social biases that perpetuate this culture of violence and hate against people of color.”

“In UNITE HERE we confront power and forces of oppression with collective action,” said D. Taylor UNITE HERE president. “Young Black men getting killed is an affront to everything we stand for. We believe every man and woman has value and rights. As a union, we will confront and take on racism whenever we see it.”

Union condemns coup attempt in Turkey

As the failed military coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unfolded, Birleşik Metal İş, a left-led union of metal workers, condemned the coup and urged supporters to reject it despite Erdogan’s authoritarian rule and anti-worker policies.

“Suspension of the Constitution, dismantling the rule of law, suspension of freedoms cannot be acceptable regardless of which kind of juntaist and authoritarian mindset they are coming from,” said the union in its statement.

The coup plotters may have thought that Erdogan’s suppression of workers rights would create popular support for the coup.

Certainly, Birleşik and its members had legitimate grievances against the president.

In January 2015, Birleşik called a strike of auto workers after the union rejected a national collective bargaining agreement negotiated by Türk-İş, a union with close ties to employers and the government, and the Turkish Employers’ Association of Metal Industries (MESS).

The contract, which covered most workers in Turkey’s auto industry, was a substandard contract that did nothing to raise the low wages of Turkey’s auto workers.

When 15,000 workers and 22 factories joined the strike, Erdogan broke the strike by declaring it a threat to national security.

In other conflicts between labor and capital, Erdogan has always sided with capital.

For example, a 2010 mine explosion in the province of Zonguldak killed 30 miners. It was one in a number of mine disasters that since 2000 had injured and killed hundreds of miners.

In response, lawmakers proposed legislation that would increase and improve government safety inspections.

The coal interests opposed the proposal and so did Erdogan. As a result,  the proposal failed to become law.

The Erdogan’s decision to scuttle the bill proved deadly.

In 2014, an explosion at a mine owned by a mining company called Soma Holding in the province of Bursa, killed 301 miners.

Safety at the Soma mine had deteriorated badly since it was privatized in the 1990s.

A 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers cited problems with the mine’s ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms, and wall supports.

The mine also had no rescue chambers, which are required by mines in Europe and North America.

After the explosion, Erdogan shrugged of the tragedy, calling mine disasters common occurrences that shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

Erdogan is not only indifferent to workers low wages and lack of job safety, he has stifled working class leaders who have spoken out against his indifference.

In June, Arzu Cerkezoglu, general secretary of DISK, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, was detained and interrogated for insulting the president during a speech she gave.

Cerkezoglu isn’t alone. Since 2014, 1850 people have been investigated on similar charges.

Despite Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his disregard for worker rights, Birleşik and DISK chose to condemn the coup attempt.

They did so because their experience has shown that replacing one authoritarian leader with another doesn’t benefit the working class or the nation in general.

Since 1980, Turkey has suffered through three coups in which the military has taken control of the government.

In every case, the working class and its organizations fared badly.

During the periods of military rule, strikes were outlawed, independent working class organizations were banned, and union leaders were imprisoned.

Basic labor rights were ignored, and workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions deteriorated.

“Our country many times has encountered military coups and coup attempts in the past and our country couldn’t recover from the pain and sufferings of these attempts for many years,” read the anti-coup statement issued by Birleşik. . . “Workers and people of the country are the those who got most damages and paid the heaviest price because of coup d’etats which suspends most basic human rights, destructs freedoms, and attacks workers’ rights.”

Both Birleşik and DISK said that now that the coup attempt had been defeated, the unions would work with other progressive people to build democracy in Turkey.

“(The) working class in Turkey will rebuild secular, democratic, independent, social state of law with determination and common sense,” said Birleşik in its statement on the coup attempt.

Kemal Özkan, a leader of DISK and assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, a global confederation of industrial unions that represents 50 million workers in 140 countries, said that the struggle to restore democracy and workers rights must begin immediately.

IndustriALL Global Unions demands full democracy in Turkey according to international norms and standards,” said Özkan. “Oppressions and restrictions on labor rights must immediately be lifted.”

Trump Taj Mahal workers take strike to owner’s doorstep

Casino workers at Trump Taj Mahal  traveled from their home in Atlantic City, New Jersey to New York City to protest the anti-worker policies of the casino’s owner.

One thousand housekeepers, cooks, servers, and bellmen at Trump Taj Mahal went out on strike on July 1 when their union, UNITE HERE Local 54, and the casino’s owner could not reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.

On July 13, they rallied at the Manhattan office of Carl Ichan, the principle owner of Trump Taj Mahal.

At the rally, speakers criticized Ichan’s business practices that prioritize short-term profits at the expense of sustainable, long-term growth.

Those practices, according to the union, have cost the workers their health care benefit, driven down their wages, and left many on public assistance.

Ichan became owner of the Taj Mahal in 2016 when the casino emerged from bankruptcy for the fourth time, but between 2010 and 2014, Ichan was Trump Taj Mahal’s main creditor. During that time he extracted $350 million in profit from the casino.

When Trump Taj Mahal went into bankruptcy in 2014, Ichan used the bankruptcy court to take away the casino workers’ health care benefit.

Under Ichan’s stewardship, wages, which once supported a decent middle-class life for the workers, were reduced by more than one-third.

“I’ve worked hard for twenty-six years cleaning dozens of guest rooms per week at this casino,” said Patsy Heath, a housekeeper at the Trump Taj Mahal. “Now I’ve injured myself on the job, my bills are piling up, and Carl Icahn has taken away my health care so that he can pad his own profits. Icahn has been a disaster for working people at the Trump Taj Mahal, and Donald Trump is crazy if he wants to put him in charge of our country’s economy.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has indicated that if elected, Ichan could be his choice for Secretary of the Treasury.

After the rally at Ichan’s offices, the striking workers marched to Trump Tower to protest the role that Trump has played in the decline of the once prosperous working class of Atlantic City.

Trump owned Trump Taj Mahal when it opened in 1990 and maintained control of the casino and the company that owned it until 2009. During that time, the company that owned Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy three times.

In 2009, he was forced out of ownership by the company’s creditors.

Between 2009 and 2016, when Trump Taj Mahal emerged from bankruptcy for the fourth time, Trump maintained a 10 percent stake in the company.

When Ichan Enterprises assumed full control of the casino in 2016 after it emerged from bankruptcy, Trump’s relationship with the casino ended.

As the striking Trump Taj Mahal workers headed to New York to begin their rally and march, UNITE HERE Local 54 announced that other Atlantic City casino workers represented by the union had ratified new collective bargaining agreements with the owners of Harrah’s, Bally’s and Caesars.

Details of the newly ratified collective bargaining agreements have not been made public.

The striking casino workers have started to get support from other unions.

On July 13, the Communications Workers of America, which won a six-week strike against Verizon, sent a message to members urging them to support  Trump Taj Mahal strikers.

“Trump Taj Mahal workers have had it hard in recent years. First Donald Trump bankrupted the property while extracting millions in earnings. Then billionaire Carl Icahn took it over, using the bankruptcy process to strip workers of their healthcare and even paid breaks,” states the CWA message to its members.

The message asked members to show their solidarity by adding their name to a union letter to Carl Ichan.

“The cooks, housekeepers, bellmen and servers from the Trump Taj Mahal are taking a stand for all of us against corporate bullies like Donald Trump and Carl Icahn who abuse the bankruptcy process to make themselves richer while making it harder for everyone else to makes ends meet,” said the message.

Nuclear clean up workers stop work over safety issues

Workers at a nuclear waste cleanup project in the state of Washington stopped work on July 11 after the private contractor managing the clean up of the Hanford Site, a former plutonium processing facility, refused their demand for additional safety equipment.

Dave Molnaa, president of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, a partnership of 15 unions working at Hanford, issued an unprecedented stop work order after Washington River Protections Solutions (WRPS), the cleanup contractor, ignored HAMTC’s demand that the company supply respirators connected to air supply tanks to everyone working at the site’s tank farms, 177 underground tanks that store millions of gallons of radioactive liquid left over from the time when Hanover was processing plutonium.

“We’ll do the work,” said Molnaa as he explained the stop work order to KDNO News. “But I simply demand that they don’t kill (the workers).”

Hanford is located in Benton County, near the town of Richland in Eastern Washington.

Hanford stopped processing plutonium in 1989, and after that a massive project was undertaken to clean up the dangerous residue left behind, including contaminated water, equipment, and other radioactive waste.

The US Department of Energy oversees the cleanup project and has contracted with WRPS to mange it.

Hanford’s underground storage tanks  require maintenance, repair, and monitoring to make sure that the water does not leak into the environment.

As long as the project has been in progress workers have complained about the health risks associated with working so close to such toxic material.

According to Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, who has sued DOE and WRPS over health and safety issues at Hanford, hundreds of workers over the last 20 years have experienced a wide range of illnesses from nose bleeds to permanent loss of lung capacity after being exposed to chemical vapors at Hanford.

Ferguson also said that some of the chemicals found in the tanks are known carcinogens and others have been linked to nervous disorders.

Most of the tanks at the tank farms are single-walled tanks, some of which have a history of leaks.

Workers working near these tanks wear air respirators connected to an air supply.

Twenty-eight double-walled tanks have been installed to provide greater protection, but workers working near the double-walled tanks are not issued respirators with air supplies.

During the last few months, more than 50 Hanford workers have sought medical treatment after they were exposed to chemical vapors on the job.

That led HAMTC to send a letter to WRPS demanding that the company agree to a list of safety improvements.

The company agreed to some of the demands but refused the demand to provide respirators for all work at the tank farms, including work at or near the double-walled tanks.

That refusal resulted in the stop work order.

“The only solution to my stop work order is to put people in supplied air at any tank farm including the double-shelled tanks.” said Molnaa.

One of the reasons that WRPS may be reluctant to provide respirators with air supplies to all workers is that WRPS and the Energy Department are under a court ordered deadline to cleanup the toxic mess at Hanford, and the tanks that supply air to respirators are heavy, which slows down production.

 

The Energy Department and WRPS have downplayed the health risks posed by the chemical vapors at Hanford, but a study commissioned by the department states that the risks are real.

Attorney General Ferguson cited that study in the suit he filed last against DOE and WRPS about safety problems at Hanford.

In his pleading, Ferguson quoted from that the commission’s report which said that its data “strongly suggests a causal link between chemical vapor release and subsequent adverse health effects experienced by tank farm workers.”

“Hundreds of workers have fallen sick after vapor exposure, experiencing nosebleeds, headaches, watery eyes, burning skin, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, dizziness and nausea. Some workers have suffered long-term disabilities, including the permanent loss of lung capacity,” states a media release issued by Ferguson about the suit.

“For years, Washington workers have been exposed to noxious fumes and chemical vapors as they clean up the federal government’s nuclear site at Hanford,” said Ferguson in his media release. “Enough is enough. The health risks are real.”

Oakland votes no on coal

The Oakland City Council on June 27 voted to ban coal from the city.

The 7-0 vote prohibits the transportation and handling of coal within the city limits.

The vote puts on hold a plan by private developers to export coal mined in Utah through a new shipping terminal being built in Oakland.

At the council meeting where the vote was taken, dozens of local residents spoke in favor of the proposed ban. One of the speakers was Derrick Muhammed, secretary treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10.

ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34, both of whose members work at the Port of Oakland, last year voted to oppose the shipment of coal through Oakland.

In an open letter written before the city council meeting took place, Muhammed said that “the ILWU is pro-terminal and anti-coal.”

“Oakland residents already deal with highway emissions, asthma and other concerns,” wrote Muhammed. “The community doesn’t want or need nine million tons of coal added to their list of worries.”

Supporters of the coal project said that the health and environmental concerns were overblown and that the new coal export facility would create good paying jobs

Muhammed responded that workers and their families need both good health and good jobs.

“We urge you not buy into the false ‘health versus jobs’ dichotomy that the pro-coal side is perpetuating,” wrote Muhammed in his letter. “The simple fact is that we can – and must – have both.”

The plan to bring coal to Oakland originated with California Capital & Investment Group, a real estate investment company that is building the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site of the old Oakland Army Base, owned by the city.

When the construction of OBOT was first proposed, the developer promised that it would not be used to store and ship coal.

But last year California Capital and Terminal Logistics Systems, the company hired to manage OBOT, made a deal with the State of Utah to export Utah’s coal through OBOT.

The deal called for Utah to invest $53 million from its Community Investment Impact Fund in the construction of OBOT.

As soon as the deal became public, some local residents began to worry about its impact on the health and safety of the community.

One of the communities in Oakland that would be affected is West Oakland, a predominately African American neighborhood that already has a high rate of childhood asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related diseases.

“According to a national train company,” reports the Sierra Club, one of the first opponents of the deal,  “each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails.”

These concerns led the No Coal in Oakland coalition to begin organizing opposition to the deal.

The coalition sent a letter to Oakland  Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city council urging them to take action to stop the shipment of coal.

“Coal is bad for the climate, community and worker health, and the environment,” said the letter. “Oakland and California have standing policies opposing the export of dirty energy, including explicit opposition to coal export by both the city and the Port of Oakland.”

The letter was signed by a number of community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses as well as 18 union locals.

The Alameda County Labor Council, ILWU  Local 6, and ILWU Local 10 sent their own letters urging the mayor and city council to reject the shipment of coal through the city.

In response to the letters and other actions taken by No Coal in Oakland, the city commissioned a study to determine the impact that shipping coal would have on the city.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the report, prepared by ESA, an environmental consulting company, said that “fugitive coal dust can damage vital organs, cause cancer and stunt children’s growth.”

Subsequently, Mayor Schaaf proposed a city ordinance banning coal from Oakland.

As the city council prepared to debate the proposed ordinance, supporters of the deal, mailed flyers to residents claiming that the proposed ordinance would eliminate 6500 good paying union jobs.

During public testimony on the ordinance, Josie Camacho, leader of the Alameda County Labor Council, denounced the flyer as a lie.

In his open letter, Muhammed pointed out that other oversized and bulk terminals on the West Coast are thriving without shipping coal and that OBOT could do the same.

“Bulk shipping without coal is a lucrative business, as our 25,000 longshore brothers and sisters can attest, as they work in all West Coast ports from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California handling grain, gravel, potash, salt, steel, and many other bulk commodities,” wrote Muhammed. “If the developers keep looking for better cargoes to export, they will find them.”

The city council’s June 27 vote was a vote on the first reading of the “No Coal” ordinance. A second vote on the ordinance will be held on July 19.

Supporters of the deal to ship coal through Oakland have threatened to sue the city if the ordinance passes on the second vote.