NC Republicans stiff teachers and public education; Moral Monday responds

On Friday, July 26, North Carolina lawmakers went home after passing a $21 billion two-year budget that among other things cuts public education spending by $100 million and provides no pay raises for the state’s public school teachers whose average salary ranks 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

On Monday, July 29, about 10,000 people took part in what police and the event’s organizers called the largest Moral Monday demonstration since the weekly protests began on April 29.

The ranks of the Moral Monday participants were swollen by teachers and other public school employees who traveled from all over the state to voice their anger at the Republican led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for their attack on public education.

“Public educators and public schools are not  failing our students, politicians are,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Educators Association to the thousands who filled the streets near the capital in Raleigh.

The July 29th demonstration was the 13th consecutive Monday since April 29 when demonstrators have gathered in Raleigh to protest legislative actions that among other things eliminated the earned income tax credit for workers, made it harder for thousands of low-income workers to qualify for Medicaid, left 70,000 long-term unemployed workers without unemployment insurance, endangered the health of women by limiting access to abortions, suppressed voting, and reduced funding for public education.

Some participants in Monday’s action wore green armbands signifying that they were one of 930 who had been arrested for acts of civil disobedience protesting the legislature’s agenda that privileges the wealthy and their corporations over the interests of the people.

Moral Monday organizers said that similar actions would continue across the state as their coalition seeks to build the power needed for long-term, progressive change in the state.

“We have suffered several temporary defeats in the People’s House over the past few months,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Forward Together Movement, the coalition that led the Moral Monday demonstrations. “But we’ve not gone anywhere. And we’re not going anywhere. We understand that we’re not in some mere political movement. We’re not in some mere fight over 2014. We’re in a fight for the soul of this state, the soul of the South, and the soul of this nation. By attacking poor children, sick workers and the environment, as well as committing the ultimate crime against democracy through attacking voting rights, they have united the movement that we’ve been building for several years like never before.”

Forward Together will be holding rallies throughout the state as it mobilizes and organizes opponents of the Republican actions. They will also be joined by members of the North Carolina Educators Association and organized labor.

“On August 28, we will co-sponsor 13 rallies to be held in localities throughout North Carolina to mobilize voters to go to the polls in 2014 and elect candidates who support North Carolina’s public school system,” said Ellis.

“Legislators seem to think that just because they went home that somehow we will forget what happened here,” said Mary B. McMillan, secretary treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. “I’ve got news for them: we will never forget the meanness, the arrogance, and the injustice that they brought on North Carolina. We will not go away, and we will not back down. Over the course of this next year, and over every corner of this state, from the mountains to the sea, we will organize and mobilize.”

In addition to taking the fight for North Carolina beyond Raleigh, the NAACP and Forward Together will challenge the state’s new voting rights suppression law, which among other things requires voters to show identification papers before voting, reduces early voting, and ends same-day voter registration.

“(The voting rights suppression) bill targets nearly every aspect of the voting process, restricting who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, which will provide legal services for the challenge. “Far from having anything to do with election integrity, the legislation is about politicians manipulating voting laws for political gain.”

More adjunct faculty join unions

Inside Higher Education reports that adjunct faculty who belong to unions have better salaries, more benefits, and better working conditions than their non-union counterparts.

“(Unionization) does empirically make a difference,” said Adriana Kezar to Colleen Flaherty reporting for Inside Higher Education.

Kezar, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, directs the Delphi Project, which studies issues regarding the use of adjunct faculty at the nation’s colleges and university.

Flaherty also referred to a report published in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce that shows that the salary of unionized adjunct faculty is 25 per higher than non-union faculty. Union members also are more likely to have benefits such as health insurance and better working conditions such as paid office hours and more regular class assignments.

Teaching at a college or university was once considered a middle-class job, but today when 50 percent of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty, whose pay is low, whose work is precarious, and who have little if any input about the terms of their employment, that is no longer the case.

Given the conditions of their work and the advantages gained by collective action, it’s no wonder that union organizing among adjunct faculty has gained momentum and more adjunct faculty are joining unions.

In May, adjuncts at Georgetown University in the District of Columbia voted to join SEIU Local 500.

They joined their fellow adjuncts at Montgomery College, American University, and George Washington University as members of Local 500, which has members in local governments and community service organizations throughout the DC area.

SEIU is using the leverage of powerful locals such as Local 500 to build union density among adjunct faculty in certain metropolitan areas in the Northeast.

In Boston, SEIU formed Adjunct Action to coordinate organizing at 20 area institutions of higher education.

As a result of the work done by Adjunct Action members, adjunct faculty at Tufts and Bentley University will be voting in a union recognition election in September.

Tufts adjuncts will begin voting by mail on September 9. Votes will be counted by the National Labor Relations Board on September 26.

Voting at Bentley will begin in late September.

After faculty at Bentley successfully petitioned for a union election, the school administration raised adjuncts’ salaries–9.5 percent for undergraduate instructors and 3.55 percent for graduate adjuncts.

While the raises were good news, low pay is only one of the problems faced by adjuncts and only one reason why they are joining unions.

“The problem for me and a lot of adjuncts is that you never know if you’re going to have work,” said Doug Kierdorf, who teaches history at Bentley. “I think if most students knew the terms of our employment, they would be appalled.”

SEIU isn’t the only union organizing adjuncts.

In Pittsburg, adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted in 2012 to join the United Steelworkers.

Duquesne during the organizing drive joined two other Catholic universities–Manhattan College in New York City and Xavier University in Chicago–in trying to block unionization efforts by arguing that their status as religious institutions exempted them from the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB subsequently ruled against them.

In Texas where most public employees including teachers are barred from bargaining collectively, adjunct faculty have nevertheless banded together to form unions and fight for fair treatment on the job.

Adjunct faculty at the state’s public universities have joined the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 and have succeeded in winning health care benefits for graduate assistants. Members at the University of Texas at Austin have joined coalition of student and community groups to stop privatization at the university.

At Austin Community College, adjunct faculty have joined full-time faculty and classified staff to form ACCAFT Local 6249, which has led successful legislative campaigns including one to win health care benefits for part-time faculty.

In addition to wanting better pay, benefits, and working conditions, adjuncts also want a voice on the job that gives them the opportunity to influence the terms of their employment.

“We want to have a voice in our employment decisions,” said Tufts adjunct Rebecca Kaiser Gibson to Boston.com. “We want to be able to talk as equals at the bargaining table.”

In wake of Canadian rail tragedy, BLET president calls for end to one-man crews

A little more than two weeks after a runaway train derailed, exploded, and killed 47 residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the federal agency that oversees Canadian rail safety issued an emergency safety directive that among other things banned one-man crews on trains loaded with dangerous material.

A few days prior to the issuance of the emergency directive in Canada, Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) urged the federal government of the United States to adopt regulations that require trains to have two-man crews.

“I am compelled to clearly state our organization’s position regarding one-person train operations, our ongoing struggle to prevent its spread, and why this issue
matters to everyone,” said Pierce in an extended statement about the need for the US government to take action.

The Canadian Transportation Board (CTB) is conducting an investigation into the tragic derailment and hasn’t issued an official finding on its cause or causes.

But on Friday, July 19 nearly two weeks after the investigation began, CTB issued a safety advisory. After receiving the advisory, Transport Canada, the agency that oversees the nation’s rail safety, issued the emergency safety directive.

Topping the list of new safety measures spelled out in the directive is a ban on one-man crews when trains are hauling dangerous goods.

The train that exploded leveling much of Lac-Megantic, a small town in Eastern Quebec, near the border with Maine, was operated by the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MMA) Railroad whose headquarters is located in Bangor, Maine. MMA provides short line rail service in Maine, Vermont, and Quebec.

MMA like many other short line operators in the US and Canada uses one-man crews on some of its trains. The train that exploded had a one-man crew.

The explosion occurred after the engineer set the brakes on the train at the end of his shift and went off duty. The brakes did not hold, and the train careened out of control. The train contained 72 tank cars filled with highly explosive fuel oil.

A class action suit filed by residents of Lac-Megantic charges MMA with negligence for operating the train with a one-man crew, and the Quebec provincial police recently raided the Canadian headquarters of MMA to  gathers evidence for possible criminal charges.

Pierce in his statement said the BLET has waged a 20-year fight to stop the spread of one-man crews on US rail lines.

Pierce said that one-man crews pose a danger to the public and to rail workers and pointed to the advantages of having at least two well-qualified crew members on trains.

“All of the safety advantages of the (two-man) crew. . . –observation of both sides of trains for defects, dual-sided vigilance at road crossings, separating trains to maintain open road crossings, someone to stop the train should the engineer become disabled — simply disappear in a single-person operation,” said Pierce.

“A fair analogy would be if the airline industry wanted to remove the first officer from the cockpit because the captain has computer systems onboard to assist him or her in flying the aircraft,” he added.

Rail companies on the other hand have opposed the ban or any limitations on one-man crews.

Before the 1960s, train crews usually consisted of five or six members, but in the 1960s carriers began to reduce crew sizes, and today, two-man crews are the norm, except on some short lines such as MMA where the use of one-man crews is common.

BLET has fought for contract language that would severely restrict the use of one-man crews, but short line companies such as Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway and Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad have dug their heels in and insisted that they retain the right to use one-man crews whenever they want.

The only way to limit the use of one-man crews, said Pierce, is for the federal government “to take action to protect the safety of railroad operating crews and the public
by putting an end, once and for all, to the inherently unsafe single-person operation of freight trains.”

But, said Pierce, the federal government has been timid when it comes to regulating business and has consistently allowed rail carriers to put profit before safety.

“The fact of the matter is that government is increasingly afraid of taking any action that some business, somewhere, will oppose, and this problem has become
worse in this era of multinational corporations,” said Pierce. “When it comes to safety, this nation’s railroads are bound by federal regulations, but rarely do they go
beyond those regulations when they would conflict with the bottom line.”

Canadian labor rallies to support locked out IKEA workers

Members of Teamsters Local 213 in British Columbia, Canada rallied on Saturday to support more than 300 IKEA workers in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond who have been locked out since May 13. They were joined by members of other Teamsters locals, Teamsters Canada, the BC Federation of Labor, other unions, and elected officials.

Meanwhile, the BC Federation of Labor has reiterated its call for union members throughout British Columbia to boycott the IKEA stores in Richmond and nearby Coquitlam. Both are owned by the same IKEA franchise holder.

Local 213 is resisting the company’s attempt to create a two-tiered wage system that would allow the company to pay new hires less money for the same work as current employees.

“Despite the Richmond (IKEA) location being highly profitable, management is seeking  to impose significant wage cuts on the majority of its workforce,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labor in a statement about the lockout. “Five years  ago, the Teamsters fought the tiered wage structure and won.”

“This was something that we had fought hard in 2007 to basically eliminate,” said Local 213 business representative Anita Dawson to the Globe and Mail. “So when they came to the table and tried to introduce it again – we’re not interested in fighting the same fight.”

In addition to seeking a two-tiered wage system IKEA wants to reduce benefits for part-time workers, who make up a significant share of the IKEA workforce, contract out work, and reduce part-timers working hours.

Union members have said that the lockout and IKEA’s insistence on concessions at a time when the company is highly profitable strongly suggests that the company’s real agenda is to bust the union.

The company told the Globe and Mail that union busting is not part of its agenda.

The two sides returned to the negotiating table last week. Talks to end the walkout are being assisted by a mediator.

Union members at IKEA have opposed the two-tiered wage system because it undermines solidarity, which in turn puts at risk all the other gains that union members have won through their collective efforts.

In a recent statement about the lockout and boycott, Jim Sinclair explained what is at stake for union members throughout British Columbia.

“Tiered wage structures such as the one proposed by IKEA poison work sites, creating resentment between co-workers,” said Sinclair. “Moreover, they contribute to the part-timing of work, as management seeks to take advantage of new, lower wage categories.”

Local 213 members have fought hard to prevent the company from taking advantage of part-time labor. Unlike most part-timers in the US, part-time workers at the IKEA store in Richmond receive benefits in addition to their wages.

Those who work between 15 and 19 hours receive 80 percent of the company’s benefits. Those working 20 hours or more receive full benefits.

IKEA is proposing to raise the number of hours required to receive the full benefit to 24.

Despite being locked out for more than 70 days, the more than 300 Teamsters at the IKEA store have maintained their solidarity.

However, 27 have returned to work, and union members recently voted to expel them from the union.

IKEA has used management staff and others to keep the store open, but hours of operation have been reduced, and some of the services that other IKEA stores provide have been shut down.

The Vancouver Sun reports that the lockout has closed Smaland, the children’s play area, and the 600-seat store restaurant.

Pensions on the line as Detroit files for bankruptcy

A Michigan judge ruled last week that the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state’s Constitution, which protects public pensions from cuts, but a federal bankruptcy judge subsequently ruled that the federal court has jurisdiction and that a hearing on the case would be held on Wednesday, Jul 24.

Union leaders on Monday said that they would continue to pursue legal action to block the city from declaring bankruptcy.

Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on behalf of the City of Detroit. As part of their plan for getting the city out of bankruptcy, Orr and Gov. Snyder are proposing cuts to retired workers pensions and the elimination of their health care benefit.

The average pension for a retired city frontline worker is less than $18,000 a year, and some are not eligible for Social Security because the city is exempt from making contributions to the Social Security fund.

“We urge Snyder and Orr to immediately abandon their course of action and to follow the (state) judge’s order directing the emergency manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition and to not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing that threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders in a press statement. “There is too much at stake to play political games with the hard earned retirement security of Detroit’s public workers. These retirees worked hard and played by the rules. . .  Attacking these pensions is not only unfair, it is illegal.”

On Monday shortly after the federal bankruptcy judge’s ruling, AFSCME Council 25, which represent public workers in Michigan, held a press conference where Council 25 President Al Garrett announced that the union had filed an objection to the bankruptcy proceedings in federal court.

The union is questioning Detroit’s eligibility for filing bankruptcy.

According to Ed McNeil, a special assistant Garrett, the city is required to negotiate in good faith over issues such as pensions and health care with its unions before declaring bankruptcy but has failed to do so.

Prior to Orr filing for bankruptcy, members of Orr’s staff met with union representatives to provide them information, but when asked by McNeil whether these meetings were negotiations, Orr’s staff responded that they were only information meetings and not negotiations.

At union’s press conference, union leaders said that the decision to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy had already been made before Orr was officially appointed as the city’s emergency manager.

“I think it’s really important for the media to report the hypocrisy and the dishonesty that Kevyn Orr says yesterday they reached out and they bent over backwards, and they’ve never had one negotiating session with any of the unions,” said UAW President Bob King, who was supporting Council 25 at the press conference. “That’s outrageous. People in Michigan should be outraged they’re being lied to every day.”

McNeil told reporters that before Orr was appointed emergency manager, the city’s 33 unions proposed contract changes that would have saved the city $180.2 million, but that the city was pressured by Gov. Snyder into rejecting the changes.

Garrett referred to e-mails showing that Gov. Snyder and Orr were discussing the possibility of filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy even before Orr was officially appointed.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, “Weeks before a state financial review team found Detroit’s fiscal condition so dire that Gov. Rick Snyder would soon appoint an emergency manager, discussions behind the scenes indicated that an orderly Chapter 9 bankruptcy for the Motor City might be the best option.”

The report goes on to say that the emails show that Orr had some reservations about filing bankruptcy, but one of Orr’s colleagues at the Jones Day law firm advised him in a January 31 e-mail that,

“It seems that the ideal scenario would be that Snyder and (Mayor Dave) Bing both agree that the best option is simply to go through an orderly Chapter 9,” Jones Day lawyer Dan Moss, who worked with Orr on Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy, told Orr in a Jan. 31 e-mail. “This avoids an unnecessary political fight over the scope/authority of any appointed emergency manager and, moreover, moves the ball forward on setting Detroit on the right track.”

At the Monday press conference, Garrett objected to the behind the scenes decision to file bankruptcy.

“Bankruptcy’s not the solution,” said Garrett. “It has been the plan of this administration because there’s been a decision made that the people running Detroit, the people who live in Detroit ought not have a say in the destiny of what the city of Detroit is.”

UAW southern organizing gathers momentum; AL autoworkers petition for union recognition

Workers at an auto parts plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama recently petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election.

The petition is the latest development in the UAW’s ongoing campaign to organize autoworkers in the South.

The workers work at a Tuscaloosa plant owned by Faurecia, a global auto parts supplier based in France. They make automotive interior components.

If the workers vote to join the UAW, they will become the sixth group of auto parts workers along a 60 mile corridor between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to become UAW members.

Most of the unionized auto parts plants along this corridor supply parts to Mercendes, which operates a manufacturing  plant in nearby Vance where the UAW has an active organizing campaign.

At another Faurecia plant in nearby Cottondale, workers in June 2012 voted 79-33 to join the UAW.

In February they negotiated and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement that among other things raises their pay by between $3 per hour and $5.30 per hour over the next three years; provides a signing bonus of $500; improves health care coverage and lowers health care premium costs; and establishes time and a half overtime pay when a worker works more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

In November, workers at a Johnson Controls plant in Cottondale also voted to join UAW.

“Workers here and everywhere are learning more about what it means to join a union, and they’re standing up and voting to be represented,” said UAW Local 2083 President Richard McGraw to UAW’s magazine Solidarity after the November election. “They want to be respected and compensated for the work they do to help make companies like Johnson Controls successful.”

Local 2083 is located in Tuscaloosa.

In addition to the Faurecia and Jonson Control plants in Cottondale, UAW has members at and collective bargaining agreements with three other auto parts plants along the Birmingham to Tuscaloosa corridor: ZF Industries in Tuscaloosa, Inteva in Cottondale, and another Johnson Controls plant in McCalla.

All of these plants supply parts to Mercendes.

Workers at the Mercedes plant in Vance, located about halfway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, have recently initiated an organizing campaign, but unlike the Faurecia workers in Tuscaloosa haven’t petitioned for an election yet.

David Gilbert, one of the workers supporting the union at the Vance plant, recently traveled to Stuttgart, Germany to attend an international conference of Mercendes workers who belong to unions all over the world.

In a letter to his fellow workers about the trip, Gilbert described himself as a pro-company worker who is also pro union.

After describing his experience in Stuttgart, Gilbert laid out some of the changes that he thought would be possible if the workers had a union.

“I’d like to see,” writes Gilbert. “A pension plan; profit-sharing instead of a team share based on ever-changing formulas; call-back rights in case (of) future (layoffs); using our vacation days on only the days that WE choose; Team Leader elections or a system where Team Members could give real input over who is selected to support the team; REAL STANDARDS instead of convenient exceptions or Group Leader discretion, and what about the policy of ‘equal pay for equal work of equal value’ as stated in Daimler’s (Mercedes)Principles of Social Responsibility.

“Right now the company holds all the power, makes all the decisions, and chooses when and whether or not to enforce policies,” continues Gilbert. “If we had a union we would have the power to negotiate over these decisions.”

While the Vance organizing drive is just getting underway, the one at the Faurecia plant in Tuscaloosa is much further along. After the NLRB certifies that the signatures on the petition are valid, it will set a date for a union representation election.

In addition to the organizing campaigns in Alabama, the UAW has active organizing campaigns at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

IG Metall, the world’s largest industrial union that represents German autoworkers, has been helping the UAW with its organizing work at the Volkswagen and Mercedes plants.

More port drivers join the Teamsters

The Teamsters recently announced that drivers who work for Toll Global Forwarding near the Port of New Jersey voted to join Teamsters Local 469.

This makes the second group of Toll drivers to vote for union membership. Toll drivers at the Port of Los Angeles joined the Teamsters in April 2012.

Teamsters accused Toll, an Australia-based logistics firm, of using illegal tactics to prevent workers from joining the union.

“New Jersey Toll drivers refused to buy into the lies and threats that the company told them and voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters,” said Fred Potter, president of Local 469 in Hazlet, New Jersey and director of the Teamsters Port Division. “Toll drivers in New Jersey now have the same rights as Toll Group drivers in Los Angeles, who are represented by Teamsters Local 848, and as Australian Toll drivers, represented by the (Australian) Transport Workers Union.”

The 112 drivers, who drive short-haul and long-haul trucks, and hostlers, who move trailers within the Toll yard, voted in a union representation election on June 24; the final vote count showed that 70 percent of those voting voted in favor of joining Local 469.

“As a port truck driver, I feel that our fight for dignity and respect on the job has finally been won,” said Fred Schmidt, a Toll driver. “As a Teamster, we will now be able to fight for what we have earned without fear of retribution: a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, affordable medical benefits and real retirement security.”

Prior to the vote, the Teamsters filed a charge against Toll with the National Labor Relations board. The charge accuses Toll of spying on union supporters and trying to intimidate workers into voting against the union.

A Toll executive told the Star Ledger that the charges were baseless.

The Teamsters second victory at Toll is part of an ongoing organizing campaign to bring justice to port trucking business, which underwent a radical transformation after the trucking industry was deregulated in the 1970s.

As a result of deregulation, many port drivers, who haul goods between the nation’s ports and warehouses of the nation’s retailers, now work for low wages.

The Seattle Times in 2011 reported that the average wage for a Port of Seattle truck driver is about $28,500 a year.

One reason for the low pay is that 90 percent of the nation’s 110,000 short-haul port drivers are classified as independent contractors.

Because they are classified by their employer as independent contractors, drivers pay for most of the expenses associated with operating their big rigs.

Some drivers in New Jersey have filed suit claiming that their employer has mislclassified them as independent contractors. As a result, say the plaintiffs, their employer, Ironbound, one of the biggest trucking firms at the Port of New Jersey, has illegally withheld wages to pay for their trucks’ expenses.

In addition to making workers responsible for work-related expenses, being classified as an independent contract prevents workers from bargaining collectively and, in most cases, makes them ineligible for company benefits.

The Teamsters and other unions have charged that companies not only in the port trucking business but across the nation have purposely misclassified workers as independent contractors to lower labor costs and deny workers essential rights.

The US Department of Labor has recognized the problem.

According to the Labor Department,

The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers, and to the entire economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections – such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance – to which they are entitled. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to the Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds.

As a result, the department has launched a misclassification initiative to reduce the incidence of misclassification.

In May, the department reported that it recovered more than $1 million in back wages and damages for 196 workers misclassified as independent contractors by a firm in Kentucky.

Unlike most port trucking company’s, Toll employees work directly for the company, which makes it possible for them to join unions.

Unions demand justice for Trayvon Martin

While news of the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin was fresh in the minds of young AFSCME activists meeting on July 14 in Detroit, AFSCME President Joe Saunders rose to address the more than 500 union members.

“Sisters and brothers, as a trade unionist, I stand here appalled. As an African-American man, I stand here angry. As a father of two young men, I stand here heartbroken,” Saunders said. “(This trial is )about a broken system” that denied justice to an innocent African-American young man and to many more like him.

Later in his speech, Saunders announced that AFSCME would join the NAACP and the National Action Network  in seeking justice for Trayvon Martin by petitioning the US Justice Department to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman for causing Martin’s death.

The audience responded with enthusiastic applause.

Other unions including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and SEIU are urging their members to sign the NAACP’s petition for Justice for Trayvon Martin.

AFT posted the petition on its website, and AFT President Randi Weingarten issued a statement about the verdict.

“While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound,” said Weingarten. “It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh. . .  As the AFT pledged in a resolution passed at our 2012 convention, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for laws, policies and practices that will prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA, in an open letter to members urged them to continue to seek justice for Trayvon Martin.

“The National Education Association stands with the NAACP in calling for a full investigation by the Department of Justice,” wrote Van Roekel. “A full federal civil rights investigation is essential. As educators, it is our responsibility to our students to set the example by acting to seek justice, to teach fairness, and to provide comfort to students and families who grieve.”

SEIU also posted a copy of the petition on its website and posted comments from members about their reactions to the verdict.

“I’m the mother of two grown sons and I worry,” wrote Vivian Oliver, a cleaner who lives in the Bronx. “They are Hispanic, and this easily could have happened to them. There is an imbalance of justice. I think that the verdict is atrociously unfair. You took the life of a person and you walk away. You took away his chance to be an adult and you took that away from his parents too.”

“”No parent should live in fear that their child could be shot because of the color of his or her skin,” wrote Monica Russo of 1199 United Healthcare Workers East-Florida, which represents members in the Sanford, Florida area where Martin was killed. “May God bless Trayvon Martin’s soul and give our communities the strength to carry the mantle by tirelessly confronting racism and injustice in Florida and across the country.”

Good Jobs Nation leads low-wage workers protest against federal contractors

Led by workers carrying a banner reading, “Smithsonian Workers on Strike,” 50 workers on July 11 marched through the streets of Washington DC to demand a living wage and to protest wage theft.

The workers, members of Good Jobs Nation, work for private contractors at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and American History Museum.

Their action last Thursday was the latest in a series of one-day strikes by low-wage workers at federal buildings in Washington DC.

The workers work for private companies that contract with the government to provide a wide array of services at federal facilities including food service, maintenance, and gift shop work.

“I have worked at the McDonald’s in the Air and Space Museum for nine years,” said Ana Hernandez, a Good Jobs Nation member. “And while my employer and the government make lots of money off of my work, I still only make $8.25 an hour.

“As a single mom, I struggle to afford the basics my family needs. Imagine trying to raise your family on $11,000 a year. You have to make hard choices, like putting food on the table or paying the bills. Having electricity or buying clothes for your children. We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do – and that’s why we went on strike last week.”

Earlier in the week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor alleging wage theft by eight food vendors at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center.

The complaint alleges that the contractors pay wages below the federal minimum wage and don’t follow federal overtime laws.

Good Jobs Nation is also asking President Obama to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage.

As it turns out, the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage workers. According to a report by Demos, 2 million private sector workers working for federal contractors make $12 an hour or less, more than the number of low-wage workers who work for McDonald’s or Walmart.

“These workers represent a large spectrum of occupations, from workers sewing military uniforms to hospital aides funded by Medicare, security guards with contracts to protect public buildings, and food cart vendors at the National Zoo,” write Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith in their introduction to the report.

Earlier this month, food service workers at the Reagan federal building in Washington DC staged a one-day strike.

Another Good Jobs Nation march and rally is planned for July 18.

After Smithsonian workers walked off the job on July 11, the Smithsonian management tried to assure the public that there were no real grievances among workers at the museums and that a strike did not take place.

Good Jobs Nation responded with a public statement by Hernandez. “The most shocking exhibit at the Smithsonian is the poverty wages workers are earning while serving food at the largest museum in the world,” she said. “And they won’t succeed in silencing our voices.”

Unions call Walmart and Gap Bangladesh safety plan “toothless”

Unions that negotiated the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety called an alternate plan, “toothless.” The alternative plan was  announced on July 10 by a group of North American companies led by Walmart and the Gap.

The unions two days earlier had announced that 80 retailers, fashion brands, and non-government organizations had agreed to the terms of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

The accord mandates  inspections by independent fire and safety experts, requires Western companies whose garments are made in Bangladesh to pay or provide alternative financing for fire protection and safety upgrades, and requires those companies to continue doing business in Bangladesh for at least two years.

Unlike previous worker safety attempts, the accord gives workers and their unions an important role in improving factory safety.

The accord is also unique in another way. “The Accord on Fire and Building Safety . . .  provides assurance through a legally binding process that the commitments to inspect and improve garment factories will be carried out,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, one the worker organizations that negotiated the accord.

The Walmart and Gap initiative like previous safety initiatives relies on voluntary compliance, does not commit companies to pay for safety upgrades or to remain in Bangladesh, and does not allow for any significant role for workers or their unions.

Negotiations that resulted in the accord were given more urgency after more than 1,100 workers died in the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh.

Six months earlier, 112 workers died in a fire at a Tazreen Fashion Designs factory making clothes for Walmart and other Western companies.

The International Labor Rights Forum reports that between 2005 and the Tazreen fire in 2012, more than 700 Bangladeshi workers had been killed in garment factory fires.

In addition to IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and the Bangladesh Council of Trade Unions negotiated the agreement. Three Bangladesh garment workers unions, the National Garment Workers Federation, the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, and the Bangladesh Revolutionary Garment Workers Federation, are affiliates of IndustriALL.

A list of the companies signing the accord can be found here.

Four US companies were among the accord’s original signatories : Sean Jones Apparel; H&M, the largest buyer of Bangladesh garments; PVH, whose brands include Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein; and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Another US company, American Eagle, announced on July 12 that it was signing the accord. The announcement came after members of UNITE HERE, a US affiliate of IndustriALL and UNI, handbilled more than 40 American Eagle stores and collected more than 12,000 signatures on a petition urging the company to sign the accord.

Instead of signing the accord, Walmart, Gap, and other major US retailers agreed among themselves to implement their own fire and safety program.

They named their group the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Among other things, the group proposes making loans available for safety upgrades and creating a hotline for workers to make anonymous safety complaints.

The companies have also pledged to do business only with manufacturers that comply with safety inspections.

Like previous efforts, these measures rely on voluntary compliance.

But voluntary compliance has not been effective.

Ten years ago, Western companies agreed to the Business Social Compliance Initiative, which among other things called for regular safety audits of garment factories. But according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, “Audits of two factories in the Rana Plaza building. . .  carried out against the BSCI code of conduct completely failed to identify the illegal construction of the building that led to the loss of at least 1,131 lives.”

“Voluntary initiatives have proved insufficient as 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires and building collapses during the past seven years,” said Raina.

The safety inspections mandated by the accord, on the other hand, must be completed within the next 90 days. When an immediate threat to worker life or limb is spotted, accord signatories will be notified and factory owners will be required to cease operations until the defect is corrected.

“The signatory companies to the accord are making serious and sincere commitments to working with trade unions to clean up their production chain in Bangladesh,” reads a statement by UNI. “They can all be held up as standard-setters in the industry.”

Raina added that real worker safety in Bangladesh will happen only when workers have the unencumbered right to join unions and those unions, international brands, the government, and employers work together to make Bangladesh free of unsafe sweatshops.

UNITE HERE and Hyatt sign national accord

UNITE HERE and the Hyatt Hotels Corporation reached a national agreement that could end four years of conflict between the hotel workers union and hospitality industry giant.

The national agreement creates what the union calls a framework for the two sides to resolve their long-standing dispute. One of its most important features is the creation of  a process that allows some Hyatt workers to choose whether they want to join UNITE HERE without fear of facing harassment by company management.

The agreement also includes new five-year contracts for UNITE HERE members who work for Hyatt in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Members in these four cities must ratify their new contracts before the national agreement can take effect.

The new contracts include pay raises retroactive to 2009 and maintain employer sponsored health care and pension benefits.

UNITE HERE has not released details of the new contracts, but UNITE HERE President D. Taylor told the Chicago Tribune, “People are getting a substantial wage increase, a guaranteed pension and great health insurance, and that does not happen too often in America. I think they will feel good about it.”

Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources for the Americas, told the Tribune that the new wage and benefit packages are competitive with wages and benefits for the same work in local markets.

The Tribune reports that UNITE HERE and Chicago’s Hilton Hotels reached an agreement last spring that increases housekeeper hourly wages by $4.81 an hour over the next five years. Housekeepers at the Chicago Hilton hotels are currently making $16.40 an hour, and the new agreement becomes effective September 1.

The union also did not release details about the part of the agreement that allows non-union Hyatt workers to decide whether they want to join UNITE HERE, nor did the union release details about which hotels would be affected. But Taylor told the American Prospect that it’s “a fair process that both we and the employer are comfortable with (and that) a number of hotels are subject to this process.”

Prior to the agreement, UNITE HERE had organized a worldwide campaign against Hyatt that included a boycott, a media campaign called Hyatt Hurts describing the unsafe working conditions at Hyatt hotels, a series of short strikes at hotels where contract issues had not been resolved for years, and organizing campaigns at targeted Hyatt hotels that were not unionized, including one in San Antonio.

Most recently UNITE HERE members demonstrated at the Hyatt Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting held in a Chicago suburb. The demonstrators protested the hotel’s poor treatment of its workers and demanded representation on the corporation’s board.

The union also led a campaign to protest President Obama’s nomination of Penny Pritzker, a Hyatt heiress and until recently a member of the Hyatt board, to be the US Secretary of Commerce.

Even though the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Pritzker, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone dissenter, must have struck a chord when he told his Senate colleagues that,  “We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEO’s and large corporations.  Workers at Hyatt have been unjustly fired for trying to form a union to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Unfortunately, Ms. Pritzker chose not to defend those employees.”

About 5,000 workers are covered by the new contracts, and many more will be affected by the new union representation process.

UPS and Teamsters resume bargaining after supplements rejected

Teamsters and UPS agreed to extend their current contract indefinitely while the two sides continue negotiating on supplements and riders that were rejected when members voted to accept a new National Master Agreement.

In May, the two sides reached a tentative agreement, which in June was approved by 53 percent of the voting members, but the members also rejected 18 regional supplements and riders to the master agreement. The agreement can’t be implemented until the issues in the rejected supplements and riders are resolved.

One of the reasons that members rejected the supplements is that some of them may result in workers paying higher out-of-pockect health care costs and deductibles.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a rank-and-file caucus, has mounted a national campaign to reject any agreement that does not address concerns raised by members when they rejected the supplements.

Workers at UPS Freight, a separate division that provides less than truckload long-haul services, rejected a tentative agreement by a vote of 1,897 for to 4,244 against. Teamster officials and UPS Freight management said that the two sides would reconvene negotiations.

When the Teamsters union announced the outcome of the UPS vote, the union issued a press release stating that the new agreement would increase pay by $3.90 per hour over the five-year contract period.

The release also said that starting pay for part-timers, 180,000 at the end of 2010, would increase, 2,350 more full-time jobs would be created, and there would be more protection from harassment by supervisors.

“The agreement also maintains the current practice of no employee contributions for monthly premiums for health insurance,” reads the release.

But 47 percent of the voting UPS workers rejected the agreement, the largest percentage since 1979, because they felt that UPS, which reported profits of $4.5 billion in 2012, owed more to its workers.

The biggest complaints seemed to be that the new agreement calls for health care concessions.

Under terms of the new agreement, part-time workers are moved from the current UPS administered health plan to Teamcare, a plan that will be jointly administered by the Teamsters and UPS.

Those moved to Teamcare will receive reduced coverage and pay higher out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles.

“Many of us are only making $150 to $300 per week,” said Jared Hamil a part-time worker in Tampa to Union Book. “Union officials were telling us what a ‘good deal’ this was yet when we saw the health care concessions, we started to organize. Without us there is no UPS, yet they want us to continue to bust our butts while living in poverty.”

There was concern among members that some of the rejected supplements would have moved full-time workers into Teamcare.

At UPS’ Worldport Central Air Hub in Louisville, Local 89, the largest UPS local, rejected the national agreement by a vote of 483 for to 3,388 against. The local also rejected the regional supplement that affected its members.

“Our vote has rejected the Central Region Supplement and has protected every member in the Central Region from a terrible contract,” said Fred Zuckerman, president of Local 89 in a message to members.

The Local 89 executive board recommended a no vote for the agreement because the raises are less than the raises in the previous contract even though UPS profits have increased, pension increases are too small and take too long to kick in, the progression language for moving from part-time to full-time work is inadequate, the penalty pay language “is concessionary,” the protections against harassment aren’t strong enough, and the starting wage for new workers is substandard.

Teamsters for a Democratic Union is urging UPS workers to keep voting no on any supplement agreements that aren’t substantial improvements over those that have already been rejected. Doing so, says TDU, gives workers some leverage that could result in changes to the National Master Agreement as well.

The campaign includes a petition and on-the-ground organizing “in virtually all the areas where supplements and riders were rejected.”

At UPS Freight, workers overwhelmingly rejected the tentative agreement because the agreement did not reduce subcontracting, pension improvements did not keep pace with inflation, and the raises did not match the raises in the UPS agreement.

Furthermore, unlike their brothers and sisters at UPS, UPS Freight members continue to pay health care premiums

Negotiations between UPS Freight and the Teamsters have not resumed.

BART workers end strike, negotiations continue

Unions representing workers at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which serves the Oakland-San Francisco area, and BART management agreed to end a four-day strike that began July 1.

The two sides accepted a mediator’s request that BART operations resume while the two sides continue to negotiate a new agreement. Workers will continue to work under the terms of a contract that expired June 30. A deadline of August 4 has been set for the new round of negotiations.

“We are happy to be back to work moving the Bay Area, but we do so knowing that BART management has raised hypocrisy to a whole new level,” said Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, which represents 1,430 BART mechanics and maintenance workers. “Management has spent taxpayer money on themselves like they were Wall Street bankers! While BART General Manager Grace Crunican pays herself $320,000 a year, she refuses to adjust employee compensation to simply keep up with the cost of living here in the Bay Area.”

Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, which represents 945 train operators, station agents, and other operations workers, said that her union out of concern for the riding public was willing to return to work and to negotiations in order to make “a last ditch effort” at reaching an agreement. But she also said that the two sides remain far apart.

Both unions question whether BART is serious about reaching a fair agreement and point to its hiring of an anti-union labor consultant to lead BART’s negotiating as proof.

“We regret that BART’s high-paid, out-of-state negotiators did not share (our) commitment to our communities,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU 1021. “They chose to stall and bargain through the media, consequently leaving hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents stranded and costing our local economy hundreds of millions of dollars.”

BART workers have gone four years without a pay raise, but management insists that the new contract include only modest pay raises and higher worker contributions to their health care plan and pension.

Management justifies its concessionary demands by saying that the country’s fifth largest transportation authority needs to make capital improvements that could cost as much as $15 billion over the next 20 years, and to raise the necessary capital, it needs to keep labor costs down.

The unions argue that BART workers already have made plenty of sacrifices. BART workers have not received a pay raise in four years. During that period, the cost of living has increased by 11 percent in a region that is one of the most expensive places to live in the US.

While BART workers’ wages were frozen, BART’s operating revenue increased by 15 percent, and its sales tax revenue by 24 percent.

Instead of asking workers to make more sacrifices, SEIU 1021 in a statement about the strike said that “Wall Street banksters, those who crashed our economy, stole our pensions, and invented new ways to manipulate the market to continue to rob our communities, must pay to fix what they have wrecked.”

In addition to resisting concessions, union members want to make BART safer for the riding public and workers.

During the last three years, 2,400 serious crimes have been committed in five train stations and more than 1,000 passengers and 100 BART workers have suffered physical attacks.

Before going on strike, the unions said that management was not taking its passenger and worker safety concerns seriously and filed an unfair labor practices suit charging BART with refusing to bargain over safety issues.

Safety isn’t the only issue that BART negotiators seem unwilling to address. In fact, union leaders have accused BART of “surface bargaining”–going through the motions without bargaining seriously.

As an example, they point to BART’s actions just prior to the July 1 strike. Mediators on the Friday before the strike happened requested that union negotiators wait in the bargaining room for a new proposal from BART that could avoid a strike. Union negotiators waited for 36 hours, but the BART negotiating team never showed up.

BART’s take-or-leave-it stance isn’t unexpected. Before negotiations began, BART paid Thomas Hock, a labor consultant, $399,000 to lead its negotiating team.  Hock, who works for Veolia Transportation, has a reputation for union busting and a history of strained relationships with workers whom he has managed.

“BART management has spent a million dollars of taxpayer money paying consultants to pursue a union busting strategy based on the tactics of what anti-labor forces have done in the Midwest over the last several years.” said Castelli. “But we have news for them: the Bay Area will stand up for working people.”

TWIC fails to protect ports; workers pay for failure

An automated system intended to protect US ports from terrorist threats has been found to be unreliable. At the same time, its implementation has made it more difficult for thousands of maritime workers to earn a living and subjected even more to civil liberties abuses.

In 2002, the US Congress passed the Maritime Transportation and Safety Act, which, among other things, required the Department of Homeland Safety (DHS) to issue Transportation Worker Identity Cards (TWIC) to all maritime workers. The TWICs were to contain cardholder biometric information. A card reader at the point of entry was supposed to recognize this information and allow port access only to those with valid TWICs.

But during a pilot program that began in 2008 at 17 US port terminals, the TWICs and card readers proved to be faulty.

When the pilot program, workers at the pilot program ports were required to obtain a TWIC at their own expense. A TWIC costs $132.50 for the original and $60 for a replacement.

To obtain a TWIC, workers were required to undergo an extensive and intrusive background check. Faulty background checks caused many workers to be denied a card, which in turn prevented them from working.

Since 2006,  the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on four separate occasions found problems with the TWIC pilot program. In its most recent report, the GAO in May found that “eleven years after initiation, DHS has not demonstrated how, if at all, TWIC will improve maritime security.”

“TWIC has been a joke from the time it started 11 years ago,” said Leal Sundet, coast committeeman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). “It totally ignores the fact that marine terminals are not a high-value target for terrorists and that longshore workers on container terminals have no real access to the cargo. Second it abuses our civil liberties by subjecting us to intrusive and inaccurate background checks in order to keep our jobs.”

According to the ILWU, which represents longshore and warehouse workers on the West Coast, “While nearly 75% of those who were initially rejected decided to appeal– amounting to 50,000 applicants –and 99% of them won their appeals, the process takes around six months and they can’t work while their case is being appealed.”

That’s what happened to William Erickson, a Seattle longshore worker whose TWIC application was rejected in 2009 because the background check incorrectly reported that Erickson was involved in a forgery case.

Erickson successfully appealed the findings of the background check, but while he was waiting for a final decision, he couldn’t work, exhausted his savings, and nearly lost his home.

While the TWIC background checks were creating havoc for Erickson and other longshore workers, TWIC wasn’t doing very much to protect the ports from terrorists.

In 2006, the GAO reported that a report by a private contractor on the reliability of TWIC in its testing phase was unreliable.

Despite problems with TWIC testing, the Transportation Safety Administration implemented the TWIC pilot in 2008.

In 2009, GAO reported that DHS, which was supposed to oversee implementation, did not have a sound method “to ensure that information collected through TWIC would be complete, accurate, and representative of deployment conditions.”

In 2011, GAO found that weaknesses with internal controls “governing the enrollment, background checking, and use of TWIC potentially limited the program’s ability to provide reasonable assurances that access to secure areas . . . is restricted to qualified individuals.”

Most recently, the GAO reports that “11 years after initiation, the TWIC program continues to be beset with significant internal control weaknesses and technology issues, and, as highlighted in our prior and ongoing work . . ., the security benefits of the program have yet to be demonstrated. The weaknesses we have identified suggest that the program as designed may not be able to fulfill the principal rationale for the program—enhancing maritime security.”

As a result of the failure of TWIC and the hardship that it has imposed on workers, the ILWU has made the abolishment of TWIC one of its legislative priorities. The union is currently building support among lawmakers for withholding further TWIC funding until TSA considers alternatives for securing the nation’s ports.

“(TWIC) has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath. “We were right to oppose TWIC eleven years ago, and everything that’s happened since has confirmed our concerns.”

Students and workers to the Gap: “No more fires, no more deathtraps”

About 30 members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition and their supporters paid a visit Saturday to a Gap store in North Austin, but they didn’t go there to shop. At a pre-arranged signal, the psuedo-shoppers dropped to the floor to stage a die-in to protest the Gap’s corporate decision not to sign an international accord designed to eliminate deathtrap sweatshops in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

Three members of the coalition tried to give the store manager a letter urging the Gap, the second largest buyer of garments made in Bangladesh’s sweatshops, to sign the accord. They also asked for a five-minute meeting with the manager to explain why the accord is needed. He refused, the die-in participants chanted, “No more fires, no more deathtraps,” and then proceeded outside where they rallied in front of the store and were joined by more supporters.

Outside of the store, Sofia Poitier, a worker at the University of Texas and member of the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition, explained the purpose of the die-in and rally. “We want to show the GAP that we’re serious about them signing the accord,” she said. To emphasize her point, she read testimony from workers who were escaped a deadly fire in November  at a Tazreen Designs garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The fire killed more than hundred workers and injured many more.

More recently, a multi-storied garment factory building near Dhaka collapsed killing more than 1,100 workers.

Working in a garment factory in Bangladesh is no doubt one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The International Labor Rights Forum reports that since 2006, factory fires in Bangladesh have caused the deaths of more than 600 garment workers.

The Austin die-in was one of 35 solidarity demonstrations that took place Saturday in cities around the world. “For too long, our brothers and sisters in Bangladesh have worked long hours at a poverty wage rate of $37 per month, producing clothing in the factories that function as literal deathtraps,” read a statement by the organizers Saturday’s demonstrations.

(A documentary entitled, “The Machinist,” presents an excellent picture of what everyday life is like for Bangladeshi garment workers).

The appalling loss of life in Bangladesh’s sweatshops has led 43 clothing brands and retailers to sign an Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Some of those companies include H&M, PVH, the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The accord requires independent fire inspections by fire safety experts and mandatory repairs and renovations paid for by the clothing and retail companies whose clothes are made in Bangladesh. It also calls for workers and their unions play a central role in making sure that the garment factories are safer places to work.

However, the Gap and Walmart have refused to sign the accord. Instead, they have criticized the accord and issued their own plan for improving safety that includes non-binding measures and no worker involvement to ensure that the voluntary safety measures are carried out.

Saturday’s day of solidarity was part of an ongoing campaign to get the Gap and Walmart to sign the international safety accord. In May, USAS and Jobs with Justice members blocked the entrance to a Gap shareholders meeting in San Francisco demanding that the Gap sign the accord.

Bangladeshi workers have played the leading role in the effort to improve worker safety in the garment sweatshops. In May, 20,000 workers barricaded a highway leading to the Ashulia industrial district where many of the country’s garment factories are located to demand better safety, fair pay, and a better life for garment workers.

Instead of listening to their demands, the government sent the police, who charged the workers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. More than 50 were injured by the police.

Walmart and the Gap aren’t the only US companies that have refused to sign the accord. JC Penney, Banana Republic, North Face, and Sears are some of the other US companies that have failed to sign.

Members of local labor groups including the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186, IBEW, the AFL-CIO, Workers Defense Project, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition, Austin Tan Cerca la Frontera, and National Nurses United joined Saturday’s die-in and rally at the Austin Gap store.