Unions swell NYC march; demand fairness for 99 percent

As 36,000 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators marched past the Verizon building near the Brooklyn Bridge Thursday evening, they saw giant projections on the wall of the skyscraper reading “It is the beginning of the beginning,” “We are unstoppable,” and simply “99%.”

These weren’t corporate slogans; these projections came from the Occupy organizers. They represented the spirit of the November 17 day of action against corporate greed.

The march was the culmination of a day that saw Occupy supporters attempt to shut down Wall Street trading earlier in the day.  During acts of disobedience in the morning about 200 were arrested. In the afternoon, protestors regrouped to march to the Brooklyn Bridge. The march, according to BBC reports was swelled by union members as the got off from work.

One union member, expressed the frustration and anger that has led people like him to join the march. “I worked hard and played by the rules, but when (New York City) budget cuts hit last year I lost my job as an (Emergency Medical Technician) and now I’m about to lose my family’s home,” said Bronx resident Carlos Rivera. “I’m sitting down on the Brooklyn Bridge today because it’s not fair that our taxpayer dollars bailed out big banks like my mortgage holder, Bank of America, but they refuse home-saving loan modifications for struggling families like mine. It’s time banks and the super wealthy paid their fair share and Congress helped people get back to work.”

Rivera was joined on the march by members of the Communication Workers of America who work for Verizon, the 16th largest corporation in the US. Some of the CWA members walked all the way from Albany to protest Verizon’s greed.

Verizon like Bank of America has received government handouts, but Verizon’s handouts were in the form of tax loopholes and subsidies. According to a recent report by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Verizon exploited tax loopholes to receive a $951 million tax rebate in 2010. For a three-year period from 2008-2010, Verizon received more than $12 billion in federal tax subsidies and paid an effective federal income tax rate of -2.9 percent.

Verizon’s tax avoidance efforts extend to local and state governments. The report finds that Verizon received $180 million in local  tax breaks and grants and another $1.4 billion state tax subsidies.

Some of this public money could have been used to improve education, repair and maintain roads and bridges, or prevent layoffs of public servants like Rivera.

During the last three years, Verizon has recorded $33.4 billion in pre-tax profits. Some of this wealth, which its workers helped create, could have been used to offer a fair contract to its union workers. Instead the company, is demanding a billion dollars worth of concessions in a new contract that would significantly reduce health care and pension benefits and lead to less job security. Verizon is demanding the concessions to make sure “that its top executives stay in the top 1 percent of American earners,” said George Kohl, CWA senior director.

Verizon isn’t the only company that avoids paying taxes. Another report from Citizens for Tax Justice says that 78 out the 280 of the US’s most profitable companies paid no federal income tax in at least one year of the past three.

This lack of fairness in US tax policy and the fact that many financial firms like Bank of America received bailouts even though their financial speculation caused the recession that continues to cause working-class misery has led another Occupy Wall Street union supporter to call for a financial transaction tax.

National Nurses United, whose members joined Occupy days of action across the US, is pressing for a small tax on Wall Street financial transactions, which economists estimate could raise up to $350 billion dollars that could be invested in public projects that put people back to work.

“There’s an economic emergency  in every corner of our country. We need to put thousands to work repairing our crumbling infrastructure–bridges, roads and schools, said Malinda Markowitz, RN and co-president of the California Nurses Association/NNU. “We need to keep people in their homes. We need to fund our schools so they can provide quality education. We need to ensure that all people have access to quality affordable health care.”

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UAW: Proposed higher fuel efficiency standards will create more green jobs

The United Autoworkers on Wednesday announced that it is supporting new light-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards recently proposed by the US Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The proposal represents a historic step forward for the US automobile industry, ” said Bob King, UAW president. “It will provide certainty for the manufacturers, significant savings at the gas pump for consumers, and it will create tens of thousands of jobs engineering and producing the technology needed to make vehicles more efficient.”

The EPA and Transportation Department have been working together to produce new emission standards that if enacted will require manufacturers to significantly improve fuel efficiency in passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and SUVs. The standards would be phased in over an eight-year period beginning with model-year 2017 and ending with model-year 2025.

The proposed emission standards were published in a Notice of Rule Making issued on November 16. Interested parties will  have a chance to submit comments on the proposal. After reviewing the comments and holding hearings, the agencies will issue final rules governing new emission standards.

The proposal would require manufacturers to produce vehicles that on average produce 163 grams/mile of carbon dioxide. To achieve this standard, manufacturers’ vehicle fleets would need to average 54.5 miles per gallon by model-year 2025, which the EPA and Transportation Department estimate would save 4 billion barrels of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicle fleets.

Customers driving model-year 2025 vehicles would save between $5,200 and $6,000 per year, easily offsetting the $2,000 increased cost of the more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The standards are flexible enough to allow consumers to continue to have access to the same wide a choice of vehicles that they now have.

The UAW estimates that the new green technologies that will need to be created to meet the fuel efficiency standards will create 190,000 new jobs by 2020.

According to a report published jointly by the UAW and the Natural Resource Defense Council, “The move to greater fuel economy means greater labor content per vehicle and higher employment across the fleet. This will include new investment in a host of incremental improvements to conventional gasoline powered internal combustion engines, from new controls for valves and timing, to variable speed transmissions and advanced electronics. It will also include entirely new systems like hybrid drive trains and advanced diesel engines.”

Another study conducted by the UAW, the NRDC, and the National Wildlife Federation found that currently there are 500 facilities in the US engaged in the development of green technology that will improve fuel efficiency. These facilities currently employee 150,000 people.

“We believe that (developing more fuel-efficient vehicles) sets the stage for a green-based revival of the US auto industry,” said King.

Report finds mental health understaffing threatens patient health and safety

Despite recording $5.6 billion in profits since 2009, Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest HMO, jeopardizes patient health and safety by refusing to adequately staff its mental health facilities. That’s the conclusion of a report, entitled Care Delayed, Care Denied, recently published by National United Healthcare Workers, a union representing Kaiser healthcare providers in California.

Based on the results of a survey of 300 mental health professionals working at 57 Kaiser-owned facilities in Northern and Southern California, the report finds that:

  • 90 percent of the respondents reported delays in scheduling patient return appointments caused by understaffing at the facilities where they work,
  • Patients must frequently wait four to six weeks for a return appointment even though California regulations require a return visit within 10 days,
  • Kaiser requires clinicians to “speed up” their evaluations, which sometimes leads to miscoding errors and subsequent fraudulent Medicare and other insurance claims, and
  • Kaiser falsifies records to conceal return appointment delays.

NUHW is currently engaged in contract talks with Kaiser. One of the major concerns of workers represented by the union is that understaffing at Kaiser facilities seriously undermines the health and safety of the patients served by the providers.

“What we’re dealing with as providers is that we work for a company that is requiring us to provide the bare minimum type of service,” said Emily Ryan, a psychiatric social worker. “And what happens because of that is that patients suffer.”

Bill Hawkins is a patient at Kaiser, says he has seen service at Kaiser deteriorate as the wait time for return visits have become longer and less reliable. Hawkins suffered a stroke, then was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which led to some mental health problems.

“I began to notice a shift in the practice three or four years ago when it became very difficult to get an appointment,” Hawkins said. “The therapist would try to schedule a return appointment, but would be told that the next available appointment was six to eight weeks down the road. They would put me on a waiting list in case an appointment time opened up before then, but they didn’t give you much advanced notice when that happened. The impression I get with Kaiser Mental Health is that there are far too many patients and not enough staffing.”

Timm Sinclair’s 76-year old mother is being treated by providers at Kaiser. She too suffers from Parkinson’s as well as depression and anxiety disorder, which causes falls and serious injuries. “A Kaiser psychiatrist prescribed medicine for her anxiety disorder,” Sinclair said. “But he resigned, and Mother was put on a three- to four-month wait list for a follow up visit to determine how well the medicine was working. There weren’t enough psychiatrists to see my mother in a timely way.”

The California Chapter of the National Social Workers Association reviewed Care Delayed, Care Denied and issued a statement on its findings. “We are seriously concerned with the key findings of this report. It appears that there are very serious and clear violations of California law relating to timely access to care and inadequate health care practices at Kaiser that appear to fall short of recommended clinical standards,” reads the statement.

The California Psychologists Association also reviewed the report. It issued a statement of concern saying that “We are seriously concerned with the key findings of this report. It appears that there are very serious and clear violations of California law relating to timely access to care and inadequate health care practices at Kaiser that appear to fall short of recommended clinical standards.”

NUHW and Kaiser Permanente, which describes itself as a health care organization for the 21st Century, have been negotiating a new contract since 2010. The union is seeking guarantees that will ensure that Kaiser will address the understaffing issues that lead to poor patient care. The union also opposes benefit cuts that the employer is seeking. In September, NUHW members staged a three-day strike to press their demands for adequate staffing at Kaiser facilities.

Workers march from Albany to Manhattan to participate in Nov. 17 day of action against corporate greed

“We are the 99 percent,” chanted members of the Communications Workers of America as they began the first leg of their 150-mile march from Albany, New York to Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan where they will join Occupy Wall Street on November 17 for a national day of action against corporate greed.

Many of the marchers work for Verizon Communications.  Verizon, the 16th largest corporation in the US, and the CWA and IBEW, the two unions representing Verizon workers, have been locked in a contract dispute. The company insists on hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, pension, and job security concessions  that would erode workers’ standard of living.

Verizon is making these demands even though over the last four years it has reported $22.5 billion in profits and paid its top five executives $258 million.  The excessive executive pay puts the five in the top 0.1 percent of the richest 1 percent in the US.

“Verizon and Verizon Wireless workers are the 99 percent, and we are joining the Occupy Wall Street movement’s campaign to focus the world’s attention on the destructive power of corporate greed,” said Chris Shelton, CWA District One Vice President as  CWA members rallied before their march began. “Everywhere you look in America, corporations are squeezing the middle-class in an endless race to the bottom of low wages and benefits. If Verizon can roll back fifty years of gains by their workers while they make billions in profits, then no one’s standard of living is safe. These marchers will demand that the American economy start to work for the 99 percent again, not just the Verizon top 1 percent.”

The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly called the November 17 day of action.  People will rally, march, and engage in “peaceful direct action to reject the economy that divides us,” said a statement issued by the General Assembly. It will be a chance for people to demonstrate solidarity with all victims of corporate greed.

Similar days of action are planned in at least 13 US cities including Portland, Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Detroit, Minneapolis, Baltimore,  Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

More than 30 unions and other labor groups have announced support for the day of action. “I’ll be at the November 17 (day of action),” said Nina Howe, a nurse and member of 1199SEIU. “There’s plenty of money in this country, but the 99 percent don’t have it. It’s time for that to change–and to fund jobs, health care, housing, and education.”

In addition to CWA and SEIU, the Transport Workers Union, UAW Region 9A,  United Federation of Teachers, Laborers Union, Teamsters, and AFL-CIO are just some of the unions that will participate in the day of action.

Among other things, those participating in the day of action will be demanding that Congress pass a jobs bill that puts people back to work and that it reject austerity measures, such as cutting Social Security and Medicare, that will likely be recommended by Congress’ joint deficit reduction committee.

The Occupy movement itself supports these demands but also recognizes that a decent jobs bill and stopping the austerity measures won’t be enough to end the mess that most working people find ourselves in today.

“The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. . .,” reads the Occupy statement announcing the day of action. “But corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth. . . . No true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

A recent report on negotiations between Verizon and the CWA and IBEW says that the company presented a new proposal on job security that does little to keep good-paying, middle-class jobs secure at Verizon. When it comes to job security, the CWA bargainers said, the company says, “trust us.” But they have done little to earn our trust.

CWA marchers, who left Albany on November 10, will march 20 to 25 miles a day and stop for rallies and leafletting at Verizon stores and work sites along the way. They will arrive in New York City on November 17 in time for the day of action.

“We’re at a critical point in this country’s history,” said Jake Lake, a CWA Local 1111 member in Binghamton, New York, who joined the march. “People need to get involved because if it tips one way, we’re in bad shape.”

As strike enters 7th month, San Antonio workers seek domestic and international support

By Pancho Valdez

“We really need to go back to work. But we’re not going back in there until they treat us like human beings, not slaves!” – Loretta Ramirez, 18 yr. employee at Pioneer Flour, member of Teamsters Local 657

San Antonio,TX- Workers at the C.H. Guenther & Sons flour mill d.b.a. Pioneer Flour went on strike on April 25th after the company demanded concessions on their health care coverage that would have imposed an increase of 20% on the workers who average about $14 per hour.

Also in dispute is the worker’s retirement plan. At present the company matches worker contributions with a maximum of $925 annually. This $925 has proven to be a hardship on many of the mill workers and they are demanding that Pioneer pay the full contribution to their pension plan.

Another key issue is safety. Tony Diaz who has worked at the mill for 25 years said that in the summer the temperature inside  the mill is at least six to ten degrees higher than outside. Temperatures of 100 degrees fahrenheit or more are very common in San Antonio. Diaz went on to say that he is aware of at least one worker who has died on the job when he plunged from the top of one of the tall buildings at the mill.

Both Diaz and Manuel Arcos a 28-year veteran of the mill expressed disgust and anger because in the past the union has made concessions in effort to keep the company afloat. Now that it is prospering, the company continues to demand more concessions.

Another source of their anger is the fact that the City of San Antonio gave Pioneer a 15-year tax abatement when the company purchased the abandoned Richter Bakery on Broadway. The strikers feel it is wrong for the city to give the company economic assistance in light of the company’s stingy attitude toward the workers.

Johnny Davila who has worked at Pioneer 34 years and who is the picket captain said; “My father worked here and was involved in the first strike back in 1966.” He expressed concern over the strike and the length of the strike. “I need this job. I may very well lose this job, but at some point in a person’s life one has to stand up for what is right for ourselves, our family, the whole country!”

The Guenther flour mill, which produces Pioneer brand flour products, was built in the late 1800s and is considered a historical site. This is only the second strike at the mill, the first one was in 1966.

At the San Antonio mill pancake mix, white flour, gravy mix, biscuit mix and packaged flour tortillas are produced. The company provides white flour for McDonald’s in the U.S. and in Europe.

The company owns and operates several plants in the U.S., UK and in Belgium. The members of Local 657 are appealing for support from trade unionists in the U.S. as well as globally. They especially hope to gain the support of their peers in the UK and in Belgium as well.

The strikers request that people call or e-mail Pioneer CEO Dale Trembley at 210-227-1061 or dtrembley@chguenther.com Urge Trembley to return to the table and bargain in good faith with the workers.

Messages of solidarity can be called in: 210-590-2013 or e-mailed: info@teamsters657@yahoo.com The strike has been video taped and can be seen on YouTube under Teamsters 657 On Strike.

Toll drivers “treated like dirt” fired for speaking up

They wanted to use clean bathrooms in the company’s office. When the company said no, they decided to form a union. When they showed up for work one day last month wearing their union t-shirts, the company fired them. That’s the story of 26 port truck drivers, who haul containers from the Port of Los Angeles to Los Angeles’ high-end fashion stores. Before they were fired, they worked for Toll Global, an Australian company that is one of the world’s largest transportation companies.

The fired workers and about 150 of their supporters on November 10 picketed the Australian consulate in Los Angeles urging the Australian government to convince Toll to rehire the drivers.

“They work in deplorable conditions, and that’s why they wanted to join the Teamsters,” said TJ Michaels a spokeswoman for the Teamsters at the demonstration.

“They treat us like dirt,” said Alberto Quiteno, one of the fired drivers who has worked as a port driver for 17 years.

Conditions at the Toll facility at the Los Angeles port led workers to begin thinking about joining a union. For one thing, drivers are required to use portable toilets in the parking lot where there is no drinkable running water. Because the portables are dirty and unsanitary, the workers asked the company to allow them to use the same bathrooms that management and office workers use.

The company refused their request. A company spokesperson told the Los Angeles Business Journal that the outhouses that the drivers were required to use were “deluxe portable private bathrooms” and that when it got hot, the company provided them with bottled water.

The drivers, who are mostly immigrant workers from Latin America, also wanted the better pay and benefits of union jobs. They contacted the Teamsters after they learned that their union drivers in Australia who work for Toll earned middle-class wages and benefits and were treated with more respect than the Toll workers in the US.

After the Teamsters started to help them organize, Toll hired a union avoidance company from Texas. The workers filed unfair labor practices charges against the company for its harassment and threats against union supporters.

Things came to a head in October. Union supporters circulated a petition demanding access to the company’s clean bathrooms. sixty-two out of the 75 drivers who work for Toll at the Los Angeles port signed the petition. Quiteno along with a representative of Teamsters Local 848 and local clergy who are supporting the workers took the petition to the Toll headquarters in Melbourne, Australia and presented it to the outgoing company CEO Paul Little during the corporation’s annual shareholders’ meeting.

While the shareholders’ meeting was going on, members of the Transport Workers Union, which represents Toll workers in Australia, demonstrated in support of their Los Angeles brothers and sisters outside.

In the meantime, 25 Los Angeles Toll workers showed up for work on October 26 wearing Teamster t-shirts. Outside, supporters organized by the Teamsters and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, an environmental and labor coalition fighting to clean up the Los Angeles ports and their surrounding neighborhoods, picketed and rallied for the workers.

The next day, Quiteno and the workers who wore their union t-shirts were fired. They have since filed more unfair labor practices against Toll.

A delegation from the November 10  demonstration met with Australian consul-general Chris De Cure.  Before the meeting, Michaels told the media, “We want to call attention to the fact this Australian-based company does not treat its workers in the US in the same humane manner it treats its truck drivers in Australia. We want to expose what is going in the LA operations and hope we can turn it around and get the drivers’ jobs back.”

After the meeting, De Cure told the Sydney Morning Herald that ”I . . .  told the delegation that Australia had one of the fairest and most  balanced industrial relations systems in the world and that it would be  regrettable if anyone were to use this dispute in the United States to infer  otherwise.”

LA carwash workers win payment for wage theft

Attorneys for Los Angeles area carwash workers on Wednesday announced a settlement of a class action lawsuit for the recovery of stolen wages owed to about 400 workers. The defendants, who own four carwashes, will pay $1 million to settle the suit. The suit alleges that the workers routinely worked 10-hour  days for less than half the minimum wage and that some received no salary, working only for tips.

The settlement, which attorneys for the workers describe as that the largest monetary settlement to date in the carwash industry, resolves a suit filed in 2008 by workers active in the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, which seeks to stop abuses in the carwash industry. Last month, the campaign announced the first ever union contract between a carwash owner and its workers.

“These workers demonstrated remarkable resolve and courage by demanding the lawful wages they had earned through their hard work,” said David Adelstein, a partner at Bush Gottlieb Singer López Kohanski Adelstein & Dickinson, who litigated the case.  “The settlement demonstrates that low-wage carwash workers will not quietly accept this kind of exploitation.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are Benny and Nisan Pirian. After the workers filed their suit, the Los Angeles City Attorney took an interest in the case and filed misdemeanor charges for what amounted to wage theft against the Pirians. Last summer, the two pleaded no contest and were sentenced to a year in jail. They will sell one of their carwashes to cover the cost of settling the civil suit.

The success of the lawsuit will likely have an industry wide effect, at least in Southern California, because carwash owners have assumed that they can abuse their workers without fear of repercussions. “For years, these businesses relied for their success on an assumption that workers can be intimidated into silence about fundamental violations of their workplace rights, said Kevin Kish, co-counsel and director of Bet Tzedek’s Employment Rights Project.  “The plaintiffs in this case have proven that assumption wrong.”

Carwash owners now appear to  have two choices regarding the way they treat their workers. They can take the high road and treat their workers with dignity and respect like the owners of Bonus Car Wash, who last month signed the first union carwash contract with the United Steelworkers Local 675, or they can continue to abuse their workers and either face jail time or large payouts to settle lawsuits.

“The Pirian-operated carwashes exemplified the carwash industry’s worst practices,” said Chloe Osmer, acting director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign. “To see their employees recover a settlement of this size sends a powerful message to the estimated 10,000 other carwash workers in Los Angeles County that exploitation is no longer the default practice in this industry.”

“What we are beginning to see in this industry is a clear ‘high road,’ with some employers bringing their operations into compliance with minimum labor, health-and-safety, and environmental standards,” Kish said.  “This settlement is an example of what happens when employers remain on the ‘low road’.”

Bet Tzedek (Hebrew for House of Justice) Legal Services, which provided co-counsels for the workers, describes itself as one of the premier public interest law firms in the nation. It provides free legal services in matters involving consumer rights, elder law, housing, public benefits and workers’ rights to low-income, disabled and elderly people of all racial and religious backgrounds.

Bush Gottlieb Singer López Kohanski Adelstein & Dickinson, which litigated the case, describes itself as a law firm dedicated to the practice of law to advance the cause of working people. The firm’s attorneys appear and advocate regularly throughout the nation before federal, state and local courts, administrative agencies and arbitration panels in their representation of unions, collectively bargained trust funds, and employees, with respect to a broad range of labor relations and employment matters.