Postal workers union launches national effort to protect jobs and postal services

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said that a new method that the US  Postal Service is using to determine duty assignments in local post offices “is an all out assault on our jobs” that will reduce service to customers and disrupt the lives of thousands of post workers.

The union also said that the new duty assignment method, which local managers are supposed to use to determine staffing levels at local post offices, “blatantly violates” the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service.

Consequently, APWU has launched a nationwide, coordinated effort to stop the contract violations.

“We are gearing up for a large fight,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “I know that if we stick together and stay united, then – just like the Stop Staples and contract struggles – we will be victorious.”

APWU successfully mobilized members, postal customers, and other unions to stop the Postal Service’s plan to privatized services by contracting with Staples, the US’ largest office supply retailer, to provide postal services in Staples stores.

APWU also mobilized members to win a fair contract through its Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract! campaign. The solidarity shown by members during this campaign made it hard for the Postal Service to win the concessions it was seeking during the negotiations, which lasted nearly a year.

When an impasse between the two sides was declared, the contract went arbitration.

As a result, according to Government Executive magazine, “the union won a series of new rights and benefits for non-career workers, and protected the benefits of regular, full-time employees the Postal Service had previously threatened.”

The union also won protections against layoffs .

But the Postal Service now appears to be using the back door to achieve what it couldn’t achieve through contract negotiations–reducing layoff protections for career postal employees.

Article 37.3.A.1 in the postal workers collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service contains specific language about how managers are to determine duty assignments at local post offices.

This language requires Postal Service managers to use “all available work hours” to determine duty assignments.

The new method that the Postal Service wants managers to use ignores Article 37.3.A.1 and instead relies on a fanciful estimation of work hours needed to determine staffing levels at local post offices.

The union is concerned that if the Postal Service uses this new method, local post offices will be left under staffed, customers will be under served, and postal worker jobs will be in jeopardy.

 

The union is planning a national strategy to protect jobs and services at local post offices.

In addition to meeting with management at all levels of the Postal Service to protest the new duty assignment method, the union is conducting a national coordinated fight to stop its implementation.

The union is providing local officers and members with specific training about the duty assignment issue across the country, so that if local managers ignore the collective bargaining agreement when assigning duties locals of APWU will be able to file effective grievances.

Locals are also conducting a public outreach campaign aimed at informing the public about possible threats to services created by the new duty assignment method.

The Baltimore APWU local on June 10 held an informational picket at the city’s main post office. The picket was attended by local members and community supporters.

The union has also designated National Business Agents in each area to work with local officers and members “to develop strong grievances, coordinate our actions, and put our best foot forward in addressing these issues.”

“As postal workers we must fight together against the Postal Service ongoing willingness to blatantly violate the contractual agreements they made with us. It is important that postal workers attend their local union meetings where we can learn from each other and work on strategies to slow or stop management’s plans to reduce service to the community and disrupt the workforce. If we come together in an organized manner, we can win a better Postal Service and a better workplace,” reads a statement issued by the union.

Immigrant construction workers fight for equal pay in KY

About 100 Immigrant workers on June 16 walked off their jobs at a Louisville, Kentucky construction job complaining that they were being paid as much as $20 an hour less than other workers at the same job site doing comparable work.

This is the second time in three weeks that the same workers have gone out on strike at the construction site where a new Omni Hotel is being built. The new hotel will also contain luxury apartments for permanent residents.

According to the striking workers, their hourly pay is between $20 and $26 an hour while other workers are making between $35 and $45 an hour.

The striking workers work for Professional Drywall Concepts, a subcontractor of Performance Commercial Contractors, a contractor for the site’s general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie.

Earlier in the  month, the workers filed a union representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers want to join the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

The first strike ended after the workers met with representatives of Brasfield & Gorrie to discuss their complaints about low wages.

At this writing, the second strike is still in progress.

The strikers are metal stud installers, drywall hangers, and drywall finishers. Union workers in the same craft belong to the carpenters union.

The first strike took place over a prevailing wage dispute.

Some immigrant workers from the Omni Hotel construction project in 2015 complained to the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKOCG), an affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, that they were being paid less than other workers doing the same work on the project.

The union filed a complaint with the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission charging that the workers weren’t being paid the correct prevailing wage on the job.

The prevailing wage is like a minimum wage for construction workers working on government contracts. It is supposed to be the base wage that a majority of workers in a particular craft or trade in a particular labor market are paid.

For example, if the base hourly wage rate for a  majority of carpenters in a city is $35 an hour, then the base rate for all carpenters on a government project should be $35 an hour.

Until January, Kentucky was one of thirty states that had prevailing wage laws that applied to government contracts.

The Omni Hotel project was considered a government project because half the cost of the $300 million project is being paid for with public funds.

When the Human Rights Commission ruled on the workers’ complaint, it ruled against the union and the workers. It did grant a small raise, but not one that brought the workers up to the level of the prevailing wage of other workers on the job.

Despite the setback, the union and the workers continued to fight to bring their wages up to the prevailing wage.

They suffered another setback in January when the right-wing controlled Kentucky Legislature voted to eliminate the state’s prevailing wage law.

Supporters of the prevailing wage law said that eliminating it would lead to lower wages for all construction workers.

A few months after the prevailing wage law was eliminated, Brasfield & Gorrie sent a change order to Performance Commercial Contractors informing its contractor that neither it nor its subcontractors needed to pay the prevailing wage effective May 14.

On May 24, immigrant drywall workers walked off the job to demand equal pay for equal work.

While they were out on strike, some of the workers were informed by the general contractor that the strikers might be replaced if they did not return to work.

The strikers returned to work on May 26, but they continued to collect signatures on a petition for a union election.

About a week after they returned to work, their attorney filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election. He also filed a charge against Brasfield & Gorrie, charging the contractor with unfair labor practices.

At a subsequent public hearing, Brasfield & Gorrie suggested that it might fire the protesting workers and replace them with contract workers brought in from Georgia.

On July 16, the drywall workers walked off the job for the second time and established a picket line at the worksite.

The immigrant workers have not only been supported by the carpenters union, they have received the support of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, which urged union members to support striking workers.

“Once again, Brasfield & Gorrie isn’t playing fair with their workers,” reads a statement issued by the labor council. “Whether you came out last time or not, we hope you will join us in standing in solidarity with the workers on the Omni Hotel project in downtown Louisville.

“Come and go as you please any time during the day. We want as many as possible at the start to show strength and solidarity with these workers.”

Ohio Legislature considers denying Workers’ Comp to some workers

The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would exclude some workers from Workers’ Compensation protection.

The Ohio House of Representatives in May passed a budget bill–HB 27– for the state agency that oversees the state’s Workers’ Compensation program. The bill contains an amendment that bars undocumented immigrant workers from receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The bill was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee.

That committee held hearings on the bill on June 13.

Prior to the hearing the Central Ohio Worker Center mobilized people to oppose HB 27.

“This bill is bad for all Ohio workers, and will work against those employers who comply with the law,” states the Worker Center in a posting on its website. “If this bill passes, it will reduce the incentive for companies to provide safe conditions for its workers—and serious injuries among Ohio workers in the most dangerous industries will increase.”

Immigrant workers work in some of Ohio’s most dangerous industries. There are two in particular that rely heavily on immigrant labor–agriculture and food processing.

According to the National Agricultural Work Survey, 78 percent of agricultural workers in the US are immigrants and according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “agriculture ranks among the most dangerous industries in the US.”

Meat and poultry processing plants also rely heavily on an immigrant workforce.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “immigrant workers often constitute a significant portion of the worker population on poultry farms and poultry slaughter and processing facilities.”

CDC goes on to report that these workers have a high incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, skin disease, and job related accidents.

Reported injuries in the meat and poultry processing industry are 40 percent higher than in other industries.

By all accounts, undocumented workers make up a significant percentage of the immigrant workers in these two industries.

These workers as well as thousands of others would be left unprotected should HB 27 pass in its present form.

A letter from Ohio faith leaders to senators on the committee, states that denying Workers’ Compensation to one subset of workers exposes them to unacceptable risks and “is an affront to common sense and our common faiths.”

But it’s not just undocumented workers who will suffer if HB 27 passes with its limitations on Workers’ Compensation intact.

In another letter to the senators, food justice advocates point out that “HB 27 will create a subclass of workers who are outside the normal protection afforded to them by Workers’ Compensation. This could encourage employers to subject workers to greater physical risk without fear of legal or financial consequences. Cutting corners with regard to workplace safety will ultimately make all workers less safe.”

According to the Workers Center, saving money by scrimping on safety will give unscrupulous employers a competitive advantage over other employers, which could result in a lowering of safety standards for all workers regardless of their immigration status.

As HB 27 is taken up by members of the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee, there is some evidence that senators are having doubts about establishing a two-tiered Workers’ Compensation program.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, who chairs the committee, expressed doubts about how the ban on Workers’ Compensation would work in practice.

Hottinger  told reporters after the committee hearing ended that it would be difficult to track people’s immigration status for the purpose of denying them Workers’ Compensation benefits.

“How do you get it beyond just making political statement or a policy statement and actually impact change on it, that’s yet to be determined,” said Hottinger.

Hottinger’s committee will take up HB 27 again on Tuesday, June 20.

Unions want renegotiated NAFTA to put interests of workers first

In written comments to the US Trade Representative, unions urged the Trump administration to put the interests of workers and the public first when it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Trump in April set in motion the process for renegotiating NAFTA.

After that process was set in motion, interested parties had a chance to submit written recommendations for changes to NAFTA.

The deadline for submitting recommendations ended on June 12, and on that day, several unions and the AFL-CIO issued statements outlining their recommendations

The general theme of the recommendations was that NAFTA should be a new kind of trade agreement–one that “prioritizes benefits for working families, not simply benefits for multi-national or global enterprises,” reads a statement from the AFL-CIO.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said that a new NAFTA must be “New Deal” that benefits workers in Canada, Mexico, and the US.

Leaders of other labor organizations made a similar point.

“We must replace this deal written by and for multinational corporations with an agreement that is designed to live up to our values, create jobs, and raise wages for working men and women across North America,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America.

To make sure that workers receive the benefits of a renegotiated NAFTA, the new agreement must protect workers rights, added Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers.

“Most important among our recommendations,” said Gerard. “Is the need to ensure that internationally-recognized workers’ rights are promoted and also protected through aggressive enforcement provisions. Mexico has become a magnet for foreign investment in sectors like autos and auto parts because workers are not paid fair wages. That must change.”

The AFL-CIO’s recommendations also included changes that would protect the general public against corporate abuses.

“(Our) recommendations include changes to labor and procurement rules, as well as improved consumer protections and new rules to prevent currency misalignment and tax dodging. The improvements are meant to ensure working people receive a fair return on their work and new rules aren’t written to benefit wealthy corporations and CEOs,” reads a statement about its recommendations from the AFL-CIO.

In addition to ensuring that workers benefit from and their rights are protected by a revised NAFTA, unions called for other changes that protect consumers and the environment.

Unions urged the trade representative to eliminate the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section from NAFTA.

ISDS creates a process allowing investors and corporations from a foreign country to sue a government if the government passes a law or enacts a regulations that might hurt future profits.

ISDS clauses in other trade agreements allowed Phillip Morris, the international tobacco company, to sue Australia for requiring health warnings on cigarette packages and Dow to sue Quebec after the Canadian province passed a law banning certain lawn pesticides because they were a threat to the environment.

ISDS suits aren’t heard in a court of law; instead, they are heard by an arbitration panel composed of trade attorneys.

Hearings before an ISDS tribunal are held in secret and aren’t subject to appeal.

“Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren last year in a Washington Post op-ed piece criticizing the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Other recommedations from the AFL-CIO  include:

  • Democratize the negotiations process
  • Protect consumers by ensuring that pharmacuetical companies can’t use intellectual property rights to “undermine affordable medicine”
  • Strengthen rules of origin language to maximize benefits for workers, farmers, and NAFTA companies and
  • Add strong environmental rules with swift and certain enforcement.

“If President Donald Trump follows our recommendations—if he renegotiates NAFTA, so it’s a real force for higher wages and broadly shared prosperity—we will help him pass it,” said Tumka. “If he uses renegotiation to further rig the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him with everything we have. And if President Trump breaks his promise and leaves the worst pieces of NAFTA in place, we will never forget it.”

Texas AFL-CIO: “We’re choosing to stand united” against “show me your papers” law

The Texas AFL-CIO, the state’s federation of labor unions, launched a website urging union members and other workers to take a stand against SB 4, a repressive law that threatens basic rights that people living in the US take for granted.

The state legislature passed SB 4 in May, and Gov. Gregg Abbott immediately signed it into law. It becomes effective on September 1.

SB 4 authorizes local police to demand proof of citizenship or residency status from people they detain for any reason including traffic stops or domestic violence calls.

“We must stand together as working people and union members to oppose the ‘show me your papers law’–SB 4. SB 4 is wrong–morally and economically. So we’re choosing to stay united. We have a different vision of Texas and we’re going to fight for all working people,” proclaims the federation’s website.

SB 4 takes aim at cities that have come to be called sanctuary cities. These cities have chosen to respect their immigrant residents instead of cooperating with the Trump administration to harass and intimidate them.

Under the new law, local officials could be fined or jailed if the state attorney general believes that they are not fully cooperating with efforts by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to deport people who the agency believes are in the US without permission.

Sanctuary cities in Texas, which include most of the states largest cities, are taking legal action to stop enforcement of SB 4.

The Austin City Council recently voted to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of the city of San Antonio to stop the implementation of SB 4.

The Dallas City Council also voted to join the suit and the Houston City Council will soon be asked by Mayor Sylvester Turner to join the suit.

Cities that have joined the suit have questions about the constitutionality of the law.

They are also concerned about its impact on public safety.

Local law enforcement officials are worried that if immigrants fear that contact with the police might result in their deportation or the deportation of a loved one, they will be less likely to cooperate with the police to prevent and stop crime.

For the Texas AFL-CIO, SB 4 is a threat to all workers not just immigrant workers.

In a video appearing on the state labor federation’s website, a number of union members explain the impact that SB 4 will have on the working class in Texas.

First, SB 4 will subject immigrants and other workers who look like they might be immigrants to racial profiling.

It also will drive immigrant workers into the shadows as they try to avoid any confrontation that might lead to deportation proceedings.

For example, if an immigrant worker isn’t being paid overtime that she is due, she may decide to not confront her boss about it out of fear that her boss try to have her deported.

Too often attacks on immigrants “are used as cover to suppress the rights of working people who speak up for safe, just, and dignified working conditions,” states the website.

That could be dangerous for all workers.

If immigrant workers are afraid to stand up for their rights on the job, some employers will take advantage and cut their pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Once employers see that they can cut pay, benefits, and working conditions of one group of workers, they will use this leverage to do the same to other workers whether they are immigrants or not.

To stop these potential attacks on all workers, the Texas AFL-CIO is urging workers to stand in solidarity with those who are directly under attack by SB 4 by signing the “Pledge to Stand United.”

It also provides a toolkit that labor and community organizers and others interested in resisting SB 4 can use to fight for justice for immigrant workers.

The toolkit helps people understand immigration laws and recognize the abuses used to intimidate and harass immigrant workers.

“By providing these resources in a single toolkit, we hope labor organizers and advocates may be better prepared to tackle the many challenges that arise in their efforts to help immigrant workers assert their labor rights and gain a voice on the job,” states the federations on its website.

Day Against Banks in Puerto Rico

June 2 was the Day Against Banks in Puerto Rico.

Organizers of the Day Against Banks were protesting the role played by banks in creating the debt crisis and the crushing austerity measures that resulted from it.

Organizers called on people to take collective actions against banks including closing bank accounts en masse, flooding customer service call centers with complaints about practices of banks, participating in agitprop performances in bank lobbies, and other actions to disrupt business as usual at the banks.

The debt crisis was years in the making and banks were at its center.

Puerto Rico has never recovered from a recession that began in 2007 after the US government ended a tax benefit to corporations that made Puerto Rico an attractive site for business investment.

According to a report issued in December by Hedge Clippers and Committee for Better Banks–two groups with strong ties to the US labor movement–banks, especially Santander, took advantage of Puerto Rico’s troubles to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

Since the recession began, living conditions for most Puerto Ricans have deteriorated. The US Census Bureau estimates that more than 45 percent of the island’s residents live in poverty.

But during the same period, banks skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and commissions by encouraging the Puerto Rican government to engage in risky financial deals.

In 2008, Puerto Rico’s newly elected governor Luis Fortuño looked to banks to help Puerto Rico get out of its recession.

He appointed Carlos M. García, the CEO and President of  Santander Bank in Puerto Rico, to lead the Government Development Bank (GDB), the government’s financial advisor.

García brought with him other Santander executives to the GDB.

During their tenure, they advised the government to borrow heavily to pay off Puerto Rico’s bond debt and devised new debt instruments to do so.

One of their creations was called COFINA, a bond that was secured by setting aside a portion of revenue from a sales tax created and implemented by the Fortuño government.

That money should have gone toward providing services for people; instead, it was diverted into a fund used to guarantee payment on COFINA bonds.

In 2009 alone, Puerto Rico issued $5.3 billion worth of COFINA bonds used largely to refinance previously existing debt.

Some of the COFINA bonds were Capital Appreciation Bonds (CAP), which some experts have called abusive because their interest rates are so high. States such as California and Texas have restricted their use.

The compound interest rate on these bonds was between 6.875 percent and 7.125 percent.

One of these CAB deals underwritten by Santander in 2009 raised $139 million, but its final payout will be $730 million, more than five times the amount borrowed.

GDB also recommended using interest rate swaps as a hedge against future interest rate increases that would affect some of the bonds sold by the government.

But when interest rates declined, the government was forced to pay a $400 million to banks and other bond holders in penalties to get out of the interest swaps contracts. If it had not done so, the government would have lost even more money.

While the government and the Puerto Rican people were getting burned by bad bond deals, the banks that engineered the deals took home hefty fees and commissions.

Banks like Santander played the middle man in the sale of bonds by underwriting the bond sales.

Santander was the underwriter for $61.2 billion worth of bonds. Puerto Rico paid Santander and other banks more than $1 billion in underwriting fees and other fees for these deals.

While Santander and other banks enriched themselves, things got desperately worse for Puerto Rican workers.

The unemployment rate increased to 15 percent by 2015 and the island lost nearly 300,000 jobs.

Wages that were already low, remained low. The median household income is just under $19,000 a year.

But prices on basic necessities–water, power, food, and other consumer goods have increased.

The island is facing foreclosure crisis causing many people to lose their home.

And now the situation could get much worse.

After the Puerto Rican government in 2015 announced that it could no longer service the interest on its $70 billion public debt, the US government took action to protect banks and other investor bondholders.

The US was able to do so because Puerto Rico is still a colony of the US.

Legislation passed by the US Congress created the Puerto Rico Financial Control Board to oversee the island’s debt restructuring and ensure that investor interests are protected.

To do so, the board has recommended harsh austerity measures including a 10 percent cut to pensions, cuts in public workers pay, $550 million in cuts to Puerto Rico’s health care system, and cuts to public education including higher education.

In calling for the Day Against Banks, organizers of the action said that they want banks to feel some of the pain that ordinary Puerto Ricans feel every day.

“The time has come for the banks to feel the heat of a people tired of abuses,” reads an announcement calling for the Day Against Banks.

Quebec general strike ends after government orders workers back to work

The provincial government of Quebec on May 30 passed legislation ordering 175,000 striking construction workers back to work.

A general strike by construction workers that began on May 24 had shut down building projects both large and small all over the province of Quebec.

Workers walked off their jobs after negotiations between their bargaining representative Alliance Syndicale-Constuction (AS) and the construction employers’ association could not reach an agreement on a new contract.

According to AS, the employers’ association was seeking concessions that would among other things disrupt workers’ family lives and keep them at the beck and call of their employers during their time away from work.

“Employers are asking us to sacrifice time with our families to be available at work. There are limits on what you can ask of your workers, and those limits have been reached, “said Michel Trépanier, an AS spokesperson, explaining why the workers were on strike.

After the strike began negotiations between AS and the employers’ association continued, but Trépanier said that the employers did not take the negotiations seriously and instead pinned their hopes of ending the strike on a public relations campaign.

“We were laughed at,” said Trépanier describing the employers attitude toward the negotiations to the Toronto Star.

After AS broke off negotiations, an employers’ association spokesman told the media that he was surprised that AS decided to walk away from bargaining because the employers’ association had offered the workers a win-win compromise on the family time issue.

But Trépanier said that the employers’ offer was no compromise because it still required workers to be on call during much of their free time.

Perhaps one reason that employers did not take the negotiations seriously was because they knew from past experience that the government would step in to end the strike if negotiations could not produce an agreement.

After all, in 2013, Quebec’s National Assembly ended another construction workers strike by ordering the workers back to work under similar circumstances.

And that’s what happened again in 2017.

Shortly after negotiations broke off, Quebec’s Prime Minister Phillipe Couillard announced that he would seek passage of a back to work order from Quebec’s National Assembly.

AS called on its members to gather at the Assembly on May 29 to demonstrate their opposition to a back to work order.

When the National Assembly convened,  construction workers were on hand to demonstrate against Couillard’s proposal.

CBC News reported that, “riot police were called to monitor the boisterous crowd, which threw beer cans and urinated on the nearby press gallery building before thinning out by mid-afternoon.”

“People are angry, really angry,” said Trépanier to CBC, because Prime Minister Couillard’s proposal “contains exactly what the owners want.”

The demonstration caused the bill to be pulled down and reworked, but on May 30, the National Assembly passed a reworked back to work order, Bill 142,  that still gives employers much of what they wanted.

In addition to forcing workers to return to work, the bill gives workers a 1.8 percent pay increase, slightly more than the 1.6 percent raise proposed by employers but much less than the 2.6 percent raise proposed by AS.

It also requires the two sides to continue negotiating other issues under the guidance of a mediator.

It sets a five-month time limit on the negotiations. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement by then, the outstanding issues will be decided by arbitration.

Construction workers returned to work on May 31, but some were not happy with the bill that ended the strike.

“Arbitration takes away the conditions that we fought so hard for,” said Sylvain Boivin, a union representative for steelworkers to CBC. “It isn’t fair play, it benefits employers more than the unions.”

“We shouldn’t have been here today,” said Damien Leblanc, a construction worker at a work site explaining how he felt about the end of the strike to CBC.