UT rallies against Shared Services; 18 arrested

At an April 23 rally, employees, faculty, and students at the University of Texas at Austin slammed a business consultant’s proposal to centralize, privatize, and eliminate staff jobs at UT and called the job-cutting proposal an attack on the whole UT community.

After the rally, students went to the office of UT President William Powers to meet with him and express their concerns about the consultant’s proposal. Instead of meeting with the students, Powers had 18 of them arrested.

In 2012, UT administrators hired Accenture, a global consulting firm based in Ireland, to develop plans for making UT operate more like a business.

Accenture in 2013 produced a long-term plan that would restructure the way that UT provides administrative and other services.

The initial phase of Accenture’s plan, called Shared Services, centralizes administrative services at call centers and eliminates at least 500 jobs.

Austin City Council member Mike Martinez was one of the speakers opposing Accenture’s Shared Services plan.

“I’m proud to voice my opposition to what I see as a dangerous, slippery slope that we’re heading toward with Shared Services,” said Martinez, who said that he would ask other City Council members to join him in opposing the plan.

Because of the fight waged against Shared Services by the UT Save Our Community Coalition, which organized the rally, UT’s executive leadership has backtracked on its implementation plan.

Now, the administration is saying that Shared Services will be implemented on a pilot basis and that full implementation will come only after the results of these pilot programs have been analyzed.

The McCombs School of Business is one department that for two years has implemented the centralization principles of Shared Services.

Roanna Flowers, a staff member at the School of Business, described how Shared Services works in practice.

“I can tell you what it’s resulted in,” said Flowers, a member of the Texas State Employees Union CWA 6186, the UT workers’ union. “Poor working conditions, a loss of community, bottlenecks, higher costs, and extremely low morale.”

UT’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty has said that the Shared Services job cuts will come about through attrition and that no one will lose their job.

But the College of Liberal Arts after consulting with Accenture’s Shared Services Steering Committee, centralized its business services office.

As a result, Victoria Vlatch, a course scheduler, lost her job.

Speaking at the rally, Vlatch, a TSEU member, said that when UT starts acting like a business, it devalues the work that she and others do.

“Faculty and staff members are no longer seen as assets essential to the mission of the university,” said Vlatch. “We become instead expenses.”

President Powers argues that eliminating jobs is necessary because state funding for UT has not kept up with growth causing budget shortfalls.

But Adam Tallman, a member of the Graduate Student Workers Union TSEU, told the audience that UT executives’ salaries are partially responsible for the shortfall.

“Why are we broke?” asked Tallman. “There’s another interesting dynamic going on here. In 2008, the overall salary of administrators making $200,000 or more a year was $18 million. Guess what it is now–$44 million.

“As a percentage of state appropriations, the top administrators’ salaries went from 4 percent (in 2008) to what it is now, which is 14 percent.”

In a recent letter to authors of a faculty letter urging Powers to reconsider the Shared Services plan, Powers said that the challenges facing UT require it to become more efficient.

But at the rally, Dr. Mia Carter, a professor in the English Department and one of the authors of the faculty letter, asked, “Why does the zeal for efficiency and restructuring start at the expense of the staff?”

Carter said that the faculty letter to Powers offers a better solution for dealing with the challenges facing UT.

“What makes a public university great? What sustains its values? . . . Who and what are worth paying for and investing in?” asked Carter. “The faculty letter expressed the hope we will collectively ask these questions for they concern us all and are inseparable from discussions about the quality and value of public education.”

If the administration was really concerned about efficiencies, said Bert Herigstad, office manager in the Radio Television Film Department and winner of UT’s 2011 Outstanding Staff Award,  “one of the first things (they) can do is ask the staff, what are your ideas to improve efficiency,” but the administration has failed to do so.

The Save Our Community Coalition has emphasized that the staff job cuts proposed by Shared Services are an attack not only against staff but to the whole community.

Tarel Patel, a UT Student Government representative, explained why standing up for the UT community is important to him.

“When we’re asked to stand to fight for our community, we stand together; when we’re asked to stand together to save jobs, we stand together; and when we’re fighting for our education and our community, we continue to stand together. That’s inspiring to me and future generations of students who will be coming to UT.”

After the rally, a group of students went to the UT Tower, the administration building overlooking the campus, and asked to meet with Powers to explain their opposition to Shared Services.

“We are here to have our voices heard, and they are not being heard by this university so we took our voices to the Tower,” said Sophia Portier, a UT student to KVUE television.

Instead of meeting with the students, Powers stayed in his office.

The students responed with a peaceful sit-in.

The campus police were subsequently called in and arrested those participating in the protest.

After the arrests, UT professor Snehal Shingavi posted on his blog an open letter of support for those arrested and urged faculty members to sign it.

The letter concludes:

We think that it is time for this pattern of responding to protest with police to stop in favor of a policy of active engagement with student concerns. We encourage the University of Texas and the Travis County Attorney to drop the charges against the students arrested yesterday. We encourage the University to revise its policies in dealing with student protesters. But most importantly, we encourage the University of Texas to rethink its commitment to the staff who work tirelessly to make UT Austin the flagship university of Texas and to reconsider its implementation of Shared Services.

Union fights mail privatization deal with Staples

“The US Mail Is Not For Sale,” read signs of demonstrators at 56 Staples stores in 27 states across the US.

The demonstrators were postal workers, who belong to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), and their supporters taking part in APWU’s April 24 National Day of Action against a postal privatization deal between the US Postal Service (USPS) and Staples.

The deal allows Staples to handle mail and provide other postal services at some of its stores. Depending on the results, more private retail stores could be allowed to act like Post Offices.

“As a nation, we need to decide what kind of Postal Service we want,” said mark Dimondstein, APWU president. “Are we going to have a vibrant, modern, public mail system that serves all of the people, or are we going to let privatizers kill this great institution?”

Dimondstein and APWU members are also concerned the privatization deal with Staples, which USPS refers to as co-location, will compromise the security of the mail, undermine service, and replace good-paying Postal Service jobs with low-wage private sector retail jobs.

The union said that it supports the expansion of services into retail stores as long as mail services are provided Postal Service employees.

“The American people have a right to know that their mail is handled by highly trained uniformed postal employees who have taken an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail and who are accountable to the people of the country — whether it’s at the Post Office or an office-supply store,” said Dimondstein.

USPS Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said that USPS’ co-location agreement with Staples is not indicative of future plans to expand privatization of postal services.

But the union obtained a 2012 internal memo suggesting otherwise.

The memo discusses the Approved Shipper Plus pilot program, whose purpose is, according to the memo, “to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices.”

The Staples co-location deal implements the Approved Shipper Plus pilot program.

“The Staples deal is designed to avoid USPS labor costs by transferring window duties to private businesses,” said Dimondstein. “That’s privatization.”

While the privatization of mail services will cost the US many good-paying postal jobs, the union is also concerned that privatization will worsen service and make mail less secure.

According to the co-location agreement, the terms of which USPS have tried to keep secret, Staples employees who handle mail will receive only four hours of training and mail received at Staples stores will be placed in unsecured containers and won’t be considered mail until it is picked up by USPS.

Postal workers aren’t the only ones concerned about under-trained employees of a private company handling their mail.

A recent report on the results of a survey of postal customers, states that customers expressed concern that their mail wouldn’t be handled by postal employees at co-location sites.

“I want a real postal employee to handle my mail,” said one woman in response to the survey. “It’s like when you go in to a drug store to get a flu shot. You don’t want to get it from a regular Walgreen’s employee.”

The survey also found that customers expect a high level of service from the Post Office, which Dimondstein says is incompatible with privatization.

“The USPS can’t walk away from unprofitable neighborhoods,” said Dimondstein. “Before the USPS can make significant changes to service, it must notify the citizenry and allow the people to offer input. Staples has no such responsibility. Staples has one obligation: to make a buck for shareholders. In March, Staples announced plans to close 225 stores. No notice. No input.”

One of the biggest April 24 demonstrations was held in Washington DC, where APWU received support from other unions including the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Handlers Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The California Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with AFT, will soon vote on a resolution asking their members to buy school supplies from a retailer other than Staples. It’s estimated that 30 percent of Staples’ revenue comes from back-to-school sales.

At the Washington DC rally, Dimondstein made it clear that APWU is determined to stop mail privatization.

“This is a fight against the Wall Street privatizers,” he said. “This is a fight we intend to win.”

Nurses amplify call for Robin Hood Tax

In an ad appearing in the April 23 New York Times and other media, National Nurses United (NNU)  called out Wall Street’s reckless traders for endangering the economy and urged the public to support a financial transaction tax that would raise much needed revenue and curb rampant speculation.

“Reckless trading can bring down the economy again. A tiny tax on stock trades will make us safer,” reads the ad’s introductory statement.

NNU with a membership of nearly 185,000 registered nurses has made the financial transaction tax, also known as the Robin Hood Tax, one of its legislative priorities.

In the ad, NNU asks people to show their support for HR 1579, the Inclusive Prosperity Act by Rep. Keith Ellison, which would allow the government to collect a small tax on speculative financial trades.

A Robin Hood tax like the one in HR 1597 “would curb some of the worst abuses in the market today while generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue we need for jobs, health care, and so many other critical needs for our nation,” said Jean Ross, co-president of NNU.

In a 2011 Issue Brief for the Center for Economic Polity Research, Dean Baker estimates that a Robin Hood Tax similar to the one proposed in HR 1579 would generate $160 billion a year in tax revenue, money that could be put to use making public improvements such as building schools, expanding health care access, and upgrading public infrastructure. Public investments like these could generate tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.

A Robin Hood tax would have the added benefit of curbing reckless speculation, which has become more prevalent.

As financial trading has become more automated, the cost of trading “has plummeted,” which in turn, has fueled more speculation, reads reads a 2009 letter from economist supporting a financial transaction tax.

A modest financial tax would curb speculation by making it more costly.

Opponents of a financial transaction tax argue that it would stifle productive investments, but as former Goldman Sachs investment banker Wallace Turbeville said at a press conference last year, speculative trades have little productive value. They don’t raise money for capital investments or research; instead they are an end in themselves whose purpose is to enrich a few well-connected investors.

While making the cost of speculation higher, a modest financial transactions tax would have a “very limited impact on trades that have real economic value,” reads the economists’ letter.

It was rampant speculative trading that caused the crash of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed. High frequency trading multiplied the damaging effects of financial speculation.

“Regulators tell us that high frequency trading acted like an accelerant an arsonist would use that causes a fire to burn very bright,” Turberville said.

This fire had a devastating impact on millions of working people, costing them their jobs and/or their homes.

But the financial sector has done little to prevent another fire.

A Robin Hood Tax would make the speculators pay for some of the damage they’ve done.

Turberville said that it also “will bring some discipline to the markets” and that “rampant extraction of value by high frequency traders with no value added in return will be curbed.”

Tunisian union nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee recently approved the nomination of UGTT, Tunisia’s largest trade union federation, for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

The winner of the prize will be announced on October 10.

UGTT was nominated by four Tunisian university professors for the union’s leading role during the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Most recently, UGTT mediated tense negotiations between Islamist and secular leaders that resulted in a settlement that produced a moderately progressive new constitution and avoided sectarian strife.

“Without the muscular involvement of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT is the French acronym)–perhaps the only organization whose power and legitimacy rival the Islamists’–it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about,” writes Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

UGTT  has played an integral role in Tunisia’s history since the union was founded in 1946 during the country’s struggle against French colonialism.

In 2011, rank and file UGTT members were among those who organized popular demonstrations that eventually led to the downfall of  Tunisia’s dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

The UGTT leadership was at first reluctant to throw its full support behind the demonstrations, but as Ben Ali’s attempts to suppress the demonstrations became more brutal, the union’s leadership called for his removal and organized a general strike that played an important part in driving the dictator from power.

After Ben Ali’s overthrow, UGTT supported a national reconciliations government that was free of influences from the old regime. Among other things, UGTT proposed an economic development program that called for public investments in underdeveloped regions that had been ignored by Ben Ali’s neoliberal economic policies.

The country’s first elections after Ben Ali’s overthrow resulted in a victory for Ennahda, an Islamist political party, and its Islamist allies.

When Ennahda rose to power, the national unity that resulted from the successful revolution began to fray.

Instead of filling important government positions with experts, Ennahda stacked those positions with its partisan supporters, which raised concern among secular Tunisians.

In 2012, Islamist extremist began physically attacking supporters of a secular government, which further heightened tensions.

One of the main targets of these attacks was UGTT, which had some of its local offices stoned or firebombed.

Ennahda did little to curb these attacks leading some Tunisians to believe that the extremists were acting in collusion with Ennahda.

Tensions between Islamist and secular Tunisians became even more tense when Ennahda proposed a new constitution that limited the role of women in society.

Ennahda’s proposal led to massive street demonstrations. UGTT played an important role in organizing and leading these demonstrations.

The rift between Ennahda and its secular opponents became more pronounced with the assassination of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, two leaders of the secular movement.

The assassinations were blamed on extremists, and Ennahda did little to bring the murders to justice.

At this point, it looked like the enmity between the two sides might cause the country to slip into civil war.

But during the summer of 2013, UGTT in concert with UTICA, the employers’ national organization, the Tunisian Bar Association, and the Tunisian Human Rights League persuaded Ennahda and representatives of secular Tunisians to participate in negotiations that could avoid civil war.

The negotiations were mediated by Houcine Abbassi, UGTT’s secretary-general.

Out of these negotiations came a road map for resolving the conflict, which included a draft of a new constitution.

In October, the two sides made a formal commitment to the road map, and in December, Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the new constitution.

The constitution itself is a compromise. For example, it establishes Islam as the state religion but it also guarantees freedom of religion. It  limits freedom of speech by banning attacks on religion, but it also bans accusations of being a non-believer.

The new constitution contains a number of progressive features. It guarantees equal rights for women, protects the country’s natural resources, and seeks to end the abuses of power that characterized the Ben Ali regime by decentralizing government, making government more transparent, and including provisions for fighting government corruption.

As a result of the UGTT-mediated negotiations, the leaders of the Ennahda government agreed to resign and turn over power to a caretaker government until new elections can be held in 2014.

While UGTT’s role helped avoid the kind of civil strife that has plagued other countries in the region, the chance of UGTT winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a long shot. More than 270 candidates have been nominated for the prize, and as Michael Parenti has pointed out, the winner of the prize is often less than a true peacemaker.

But that doesn’t diminish the importance of UGTT’s nomination and the prestige that the nomination carries with it.

Movement challeges states’ deadly decision to opt out of Medicaid expansion

A January posting on the Health Affairs Blog estimates that thousands of people will die because political leaders in 25 states have decided not to expand Medicaid coverage to more people. In Florida, that decision has already taken the life of one hard working woman.

Think Progress reports that Charlene Dill, who lived and worked in Florida, died on the job as a result of a known and untreated heart condition.

Dill couldn’t afford health insurance even though she worked three part-time jobs.

She also could not afford to pay for the treatment herself.

Had Florida officials decided to expand Medicaid eligibility, Dill would have been eligible for coverage and could have received medical treatment before her heart condition killed her.

But political leaders in Florida and 24 other states have decided to opt out of expanding Medicaid eligibility even though the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for three years and then 90 percent of the cost.

As a result, health care coverage will not be expanded to nearly 8 million hard-working, low-wage workers like Dill.

Because state leaders in these opt out states, chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility, reports Health Affairs, an estimated 422,000 people with diabetes will not receive medicine to treat their illness, 195,500 women ages 50-64 will not receive mammograms, and 443,600 will not have pap smears taken.

The lack of access to treatment for diabetes and other chronic illnesses and the lack of access to preventive measures to stave off deadly illnesses, according to Health Affairs, will kill between 7,100 and 17,100 low-income workers in these opt out states.

The decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility will affect many more than the workers who can’t get health care coverage.

According to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, states that opt out of Medicaid expansion will lose tens of billions of dollars in federal funds between 2014 and 2022.

This is money that would have been spent locally and created thousands of jobs.

The biggest loser will be Texas, which stands to lose $9.2 billion. Other states that will take big hits are Florida, $5 billion; Georgia, $2.9 billion; and Virginia, $2.8 billion.

“The Medicaid expansion presents an opportunity for states to bring in new federal dollars, in addition to providing critical health coverage for their low-income residents,” said Sherry Glied, one of the Commonwealth study’s authors. “No state that declines to expand the program is going to be fiscally better off because of it. Their tax dollars will be used to support a program from which nobody in their state will benefit.”

Because the benefits of expanding Medicaid are so obvious, grassroots movements to expand Medicaid coverage have sprouted up in several states including North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia.

In Texas, a coalition of more than 40 groups has launched the Texas Left Me Out campaign to build support for expanding Medicaid eligibility in the state.

The coalition, Cover Texas Now, includes health care providers and advocates, disability advocates, community groups such as the Texas Organizing Project, public policy advocacy groups such as the Center for Public Policy Priorities, religious groups such as Impact Texas, and the Texas AFL-CIO.

In a February letter to lawmakers, organizers of the campaign said that Texas has more than 6 million residents who lack health insurance, the highest in the US.

Most uninsured Texans are low-income workers who can’t afford health insurance premiums.

The letter goes to explain that the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides a vehicle for insuring many Texans who otherwise couldn’t afford health care.

Under ACA, some low-income workers are eligible for federal subsidies that will make health insurance affordable for them.

But other low-income workers like Irma Aguilar of San Antonio won’t qualify for the subsidies.

Aguilar, a 28-year old mother of four, works as an assistant manager for a local Pizza Hut. Her pay is too low to qualify for federal subsidies.

She would have been eligible for Medicaid had Texas taken the federal money to expand Medicaid, but for now she remains uninsured and cannot afford treatment for a bulging disk in her neck or her high blood pressure.

The February letter asks lawmakers who hear from constituents like Aguilar who have been left out of health care coverage because of the state’s decision to forgo Medicaid expansion to refer them to the Texas Left Me Out website where they can tell their individual stories about how the state’s decision has affected them.

UPS rescinds mass firings

Teamsters Local 804 on April 9 announced that UPS in New York City had rescinded the mass firings of 250 of its delivery drivers.

After the firings, Local 804 leaders and members organized a public outreach campaign that galvanized widespread community support for the fired workers.

“We are grateful for the enormous outpouring of support from UPS customers, progressive elected officials, and the public,” read a statement by Local 804. “It was that support that saved the jobs of the 250 drivers.”

After meeting with Local 804 leaders on April 8, UPS agreed to rehire Jairo Reyes, a long-time driver whose unjust firing led to a work stoppage by 250 drivers at UPS’ Maspeth depot in the New York City borough of Queens.

UPS also agreed to rescind the terminations of 36 drivers who had been fired for participating in the work stoppage and the termination proceedings against the rest of the drivers who had participated.

In February, UPS fired Reyes, a Local 804 member and activists who had resisted management attempts to harass and bully workers, without following procedures established in the collective bargaining agreement.

Reyes’ firing was a tipping point for many workers who believed that UPS’ overly aggressive management style had become intolerable.

Speaking at a rally in support of the fired UPS drivers, Domenick Dedomenico described the immense pressure that UPS drivers work under.

Dedomenico, a UPS driver for ten years, had suffered a serious head injury in 2012 while on the job. The injury left him in a coma for ten days.

After he regained consciousness, he struggled through a year of rehabilitation before who could return to work in 2014.

After he was on the job for a short time, he was suspended for two days because his delivery rate was two deliveries short of what it had been before his life-threatening injury.

Dedomenico was one of the 250 drivers who walked off the job to support Reyes and one of those who the company fired for participating in the work stoppage.

According to the union, the firings of Dedomenico and others who supported the work stoppage was an act of intimidation aimed at scaring workers from standing up for their rights under the collective bargaining agreement.

UPS justified its intimidation tactics in the name of good customer service. A spokesperson for the company said that UPS owed it to its customers to fire workers who disrupted service.

The union responded with an outreach campaign to UPS customers. More than 100,000 people signed a petition supporting the fired drivers.

UPS CEO Scott Davis received more than 3,000 calls urging the company to reinstate the drivers.

Customers served by the fired drivers posted messages of support for the fired drivers on UPS’ Facebook page and Twitter account.

In Atlanta, the home of UPS’ headquarters, company executives received a terse email from customer Lisa White, a real estate agent.

“There is no need for long emails and nasty words,” wrote White in her email. “We will let our actions speak for themselves. As of today, April 3, 2014, 125 Real Estate agents throughout the Atlanta, GA area have canceled their services with your company. Until Jairo Reyes and the 250 employees fired for speaking up for what is “Right” are returned back to the company, we will continue to spread the word and have as many accounts canceled as possible.”

“The support has been amazing,” said Steve Curcio, one of the first 20 drivers that UPS fired in response to the outpouring of customer support for the fired drivers.

Local 804 also reached out to public officials.

At a rally in support of the fired drives, New York Public Advocate Leticia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer suggested that UPS’ public subsidies could be in jeopardy if the mass firings were allowed to stand.

US Representatives Grace Meng and Joseph Crowley, whose constituents were directly affected by the firings, sent UPS a joint letter supporting the fired drivers and urging UPS to halt the firings.

After UPS announced that it was rescinding the firings, Local 804 issued a statement thanking everyone for their support and congratulated the drivers and their families for “standing together through this ordeal and winning their return to work with respect and dignity.”

“We all look forward to turning the page and getting back to serving our customers,” concluded the statement.

Faculty letter urges UT president to value staff and halt centralization and job cuts

Representatives of a more than 100 professors and lecturers at the University of Texas at Austin hand delivered a letter to UT President William Powers expressing their opposition to a proposed Business Productivity Initiative drafted for UT by Accenture, a global consulting corporation.

The first stage of Accenture’s Business Productivity Initiative called shared services would centralize administrative services and eliminate 500 jobs.

Accenture, which is based in Ireland for tax purposes, has drafted plans similar to its UT shared services plan for other universities.

The administration at the University of Michigan recently shelved an Accenture generated centralization plan similar to its UT shared services plan after faculty member vociferously opposed the plan.

A source who has seen the letter to President Powers, said that it was signed by 117 UT faculty members.

In it, the faculty members express support for administrative staffers and concern that Accenture’s plan is another step toward the privatization and corporatization of public higher education.

Chief among the concerns raised by the faculty in their letter is the fact that UT has already squandered $4 million in payments to Accenture to market a faulty centralization plan whose concept and design are based on inaccurate information.

That $4 million, write the faculty, could have been better spent on the core mission of the university.

According to the faculty who signed the letter, administrative staff are essential to the university’s core mission–to educate the public and expand the boundaries of public knowledge. It takes a community to carry out this core mission, and staff members are a vital part of this community.

By centralizing administrative services at call centers says the letter, Accenture’s shared services plan will interrupt the bonds among students, faculty, and staff that create this community.

“A direct relationship between faculty and students and staff helps make teaching and research more productive,” said the source who wished to remain unidentified for fear of retaliation. “Anything that interferes with this bond will cause problems. There’s nothing more frustrating and time-wasting than being put on hold by a call center when you’re trying to solve a problem or request a service.”

The source also said that instead of eliminating 500 position as has been proposed by Accenture, UT needs to hire more administrative staff to keep up with a rapidly increasing workload.

Those who signed the letter also expressed concern that Accenture’s Business Productivity Initiative, which calls for more privatization of services at UT, is yet another attempt by the private sector to turn a public institution into a vehicle for generating profits for well-connected corporations–corporations like Accenture.

Turning public institutions into private revenue streams undermines the democratic nature of public institutions like UT and erodes the common good that they produce.

The letter was authored by Mia Carter, associate professor of English, Julius G. Getman, UT Law professor, and Anne Lewis, lecturer in the Radio-Television-Film Department.

All are members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186. Lewis is a TSEU executive board member.

Among those who signed the letter, there are 15 directors of special academic programs, 11 teaching excellence award winners, and one department chair.

In a related development, the UT Save Our Community Coalition has been gathering signatures on a petition opposing Accenture’s plans to restructure services at UT and the corporation’s involvement with UT.

The coalition will hold a rally on Wednesday April 23 at noon on the South Mall and then present the petitions to the administration.

USLAW demands Iranian labor leader’s release

US Labor Against The War (USLAW) has sent a strongly worded letter to Iranian officials demanding the release of jailed labor activist Shahrokh Zamani, who has been on a hunger strike since March 8.

Zamani, a leader of the Painters Union of Tehran, was arrested in 2011 for helping to organize an independent trade union movement. The Iranian authorities charged him endangering national security and participating in an illegal organization.

According to the Free Shahrokh Zamani blog, Zamani while in prison has endured psychological and physical abuse, been denied medication, and kept from meeting with visitors.

In the letter from USLAW, Michael Eisenscher, USLAW’s national coordinator, objected to the mistreatment suffered by Zamani and Mohamad Jahari, a fellow prisoner who has also been on a hunger strike, and objected to the Iranian government denial of basic human rights to Zamani and Jahari.

“I write on behalf of the 150 U.S. labor organizations that are affiliated with US Labor Against the War to register our strongest objection to these violations of Shahrokh Zamani and Mohamad Jahari’s basic human rights and their mistreatment while incarcerated,” writes Eisenscher. “In the interests of justice and in recognition of the threat posed by the deteriorating condition of Mr. Zamani’s health, we call upon you to immediately release them, to expunge their criminal records, and to cease your government’s interference with their rights and internationally recognized standards for the right to organize, bargain and strike.”

Prior to his arrest, Zamani had been active in building the Follow-Up Committee to Set Up Free Labor Organizations in Iran,  a coordinating committee of independent trade unions like his Painters Union.

The government found his work objectionable and arrested him for allegedly distributing propaganda against the regime.

Zamani was tortured while in custody but refused to confess to the charge.

He was found guilty is a trial that USLAW said did not meet international standards of fairness.

While in jail, Zamani continued to resist the authority of those in power.

In 2013, he and fellow prisoner Khaled Hordani went on a hunger strike to support striking workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company.

In 2014, he was put in solitary confinement for protesting the closure of the prison’s library.

While in solitary confinement, he began his most recent hunger strike, which has now lasted for more than 30 days.

USLAW ‘s letter was one of a number of acts in solidarity with Zamani.

Before his untimely death in March, Bob Crow president of the UK;s National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT), issued a statement in solidarity with Zamani, and other leaders of the RMT have joined the movement for Zamani’s release.

Every trade unionist in the world needs to take a stand for every trade unionist in the world who faces repression and persecution,” said Janine Booth, a former executive officer in the RMT. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

CA bill would hold companies accountable for abuse of temp workers

California lawmakers may soon be voting on a bill that would hold companies accountable for worker abuses committed by their labor contractors.

AB 1897 authored by Roger Hernandez has been amended and re-sent to the California General Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee that is chaired by Hernandez.

California like most other states has seen a resurgence in the use of temporary workers hired through labor contractors, a common practice during the late 19th Century.

A report from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center entitled “Problems with Temporary and Subcontracted Work in California” finds that nearly 300,000 Californians work for labor contractors that provide and supervise workers for other companies.

This precarious workforce provides essential labor in manufacturing, landscaping, agriculture, housekeeping, material handling, and other industries.

These so-called temporary workers lack the stability of a full-time job even though they may work full time for long stretches at a particular job.

These jobs are generally low-wage jobs that lack benefits as well as job security.

Temporary workers also can be the victim of employer abuses such as wage theft.

According to “Problems,” the US Labor Department recovered nearly $2 million in wages owed to temporary workers in 2008, the latest year for which data is available. The report goes on to say that the recovered amount understates the problem because of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hours Division’s poor track record during this time and the fact that wage theft often goes unreported.

In addition to these abuses, temp workers are more likely to be working in unsafe working conditions.

A report by Pro Publica finds that temporary workers in California are 50 percent more likely to be injured on the job than permanent workers.

When temp workers are cheated out of their pay or suffer injuries on the job, the company that hires them through a labor contractor may shirk their responsibility by claiming that the injured or abused worker doesn’t work directly for the company,

That’s what Soex West Textile Recycling claimed in 2009 when two of its temporary workers lost fingers in two separate machine accidents.

Had AB 1897 been effective at that time Soex would have been held responsible, and the workers would have been able to collect workers compensation through Soex.

The use of temp workers also makes it harder for workers to organize and take collective action to address grievances, which is why the California Labor Federation and other labor organizations such as the UFCW, SEIU, the Teamsters, and California Rural Legal Assistance, which helps farmworkers, are supporting AB 1897.

“Contract laborers work for the labor contractor, so at one site, there can be multiple employers. That results in split bargaining units, multiple elections, and a constantly divided workforce,” writes Caitlin Vega explaining why the California Labor Federation is supporting AB 1897.

Another reason that labor is supporting AB 1897 is that current law inadequately protects an ever-increasing and substantial community of workers.

“Current law is simply insufficient to protect workers’ rights in the shadows of the subcontracted economy,” writes Vega.  “Under existing law, a company can only be held responsible if a worker can prove joint employer status. This process is costly, slow, and difficult to navigate for most workers. It requires litigation, rather than providing a simple and straightforward rule. It is also easily manipulated by companies that have the labor contractor provide supervision on site to shield them from liability.”

Rally protests UPS firing of 250 workers

Supporters of 250 recently fired UPS workers rallied on the steps of New York City’s City Hall to demand the workers’ reinstatement.

“At a time when good jobs are becoming more and more difficult to come by, it is unconscionable that UPS workers are being fired for standing up for basic workplace rights,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of New York City’s Central Labor Council at the rally. “We stand behind our union brothers and sisters as they continue the fight to keep their jobs.”

UPS fired drivers at its Queens Maspeth depot who protested the firing of Jairo Reyes, a 24-year UPS driver and Teamster Local 804 member.

Reyes had been a long-time irritant to UPS management because he stood up to the company’s harassment and speed up tactics.

In February, UPS fired Reyes without following procedures in the collective bargaining agreement.

Shortly after the firing, 250 Maspeth drivers walked off the job to protest Reyes’ firing and the company’s wilful disregard for due process.

An underlying cause of the walkout was the company’s poor treatment of its workers.

“We’re sick of the company’s harassment,” said a striking worker who wished to protect his identity to Fight Back News during the February walkout. “They fire people with families and kids for no reason. It’s just wrong.”

After the workers’ action, UPS informed them that they could be facing termination.

On Monday, March 31, UPS fired 20 of the drivers and told the other 230 that they would be fired as soon as their replacements were trained.

UPS’ action seemed to be aimed at heightening fear among its workers.

Vincent Perrone, a local 804 steward speaking at the rally said that the company picked the 20 who were fired at random.

How do you do this to someone? How do you do this to our families?” said Perrone. “We walk (into work) every day waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

At the rally, Domenick Dedomenico told the crowd how UPS treats its workers.

Dedomenico was struck by a car while working during Christmas 2012. He was in a coma for ten days. After more than a year of rehabilitation, he was finally able to return to work earlier this year.

After being on the job a short time after returning from a life threatening injury, he received a one-day suspension because his delivery rate had fallen two deliveries shy of what it was before he was injured.

Dedomenico said that he is one of the 250 drivers who walked off the job and that he did so to support other drivers who were being treated as badly as he was.

A number of public officials attended the City Hall rally and expressed their support for the fired workers.

Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate, said that UPS’ unfair treatment of its workers could jeopardize public subsidies that UPS receives, including a $43 million contract with the state and “a sweetheart deal” with the City of New York, which has reduced UPS parking fines totaling $20 million a year to $4 million a year.

Scott Stringer, NYC’s Comptroller, questioned the wisdom of executives at UPS who put a risk “a generation of goodwill between the city and UPS.”

Stringer also alluded to the millions of dollars in parking fine discounts that UPS receives and told the crowd that UPS’ decision to fire 250 hard working UPS drivers puts these and other public benefits that the company enjoys at risk.

In addition to support from public officials, the fired workers have received strong support from the community. More than 100,000 people have signed petitions urging UPS to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a settlement that will return the workers to their jobs.

At the rally, Tim Sylvester, president of Local 804 emphasized the stark reality facing the fired drivers and the union’s determination to protect them.

“We’re here today because UPS has threatened to bankrupt 250 families in New York City,” said Sylvester. . . “This will not stand.”

State workers: Keep health and human services accessible

State employees in Missouri and Texas are building movements to protect health and human services and keep them accessible.

In Missouri, the Missouri State Workers Union CWA 6355 (MSWU) is building a Turn the Tide movement that includes Family Support Division union members and the people they serve to protect access to health and human services in the state.

In Texas, members of the Texas State Employees Union CWA 6186 have started a petition drive calling for more staffing at health and human service eligibility offices to keep pace with increased caseload. The petition also calls for a pay raise that would help retain qualified staff, the key to ensuring that applications for services are processed quickly and accurately.

Missouri has developed a plan for reorganizing the application process for health and human services such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The plan, whose implementation began in July, will take years to implement fully, but the impact on people who depend on these services is already being felt.

The St Louis Post Dispatch reports that since implementation began in July, the state’s food stamp enrollment has dropped by 3.3 percent, one of the largest drops in food stamp enrollment in the US.

The Post Dispatch also reports that one of the main reasons for the drop in enrollment is the increase in the number of denials, many of which are caused by a problem with the reorganization plan.

The reorganization plan will eventually do away with local Family Support Division (FSD) offices where people meet face to face with a knowledgeable caseworker who can assist the applicant with the complicated application. At the face to face meeting, the worker can explain the application process and tell the applicant what documents are needed to complete the process.

Where the reorganization plan has been implemented, applicants are left on their own to complete the application. After completing the application, the applicant submits it to a centralized processing center and is told to wait for a follow up call.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Kyonna Belton, a food stamp applicant to the Post Dispatch . “They say to fill out your piece of paper and leave and they’ll call you. Then you get this (notice), saying you missed something you don’t know about.”

At a community meeting in Overland, Missouri, Holly Roe, an FSD caseworker described the impact that the reorganization is having on her clients.

“What we’re seeing is an atrocity, she said as reported by the Post Dispatch. “It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

Roe said that the reorganization has been especially hard on disabled people and the elderly.

The community meeting, which was organized by Jobs with Justice and the Missouri State Workers Union, was attended by FSD employees, health and human service recipients, and social welfare activists.

MSWU Turn the Tide movement had some successes. By mobilizing workers and the people they serve, the union has gotten FSD to start holding public hearings on the reorganization plan and to open discussions with union representatives on the plan.

Before, FSD had said that the reorganization plan was  a done deal and that there would be no discussions with workers and no chance for the public to give input.

FSD has also been forced to move back some of its more aggressive implementation deadlines.

In Texas, employees at the Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) who process applications for health and human services have seen a surge in case work.

Last year, the state canceled a Children’s Health Insurance Program contract with Maximus and turned the work over to state employees.

By canceling the contract, the state saved $315 million but didn’t use any of that money to increase staffing to handle the increase in work.

Not only do HHSC workers have to process more case, but they have to correct errors on thousands of cases received from Maximus.

To make matters worse, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of cases that must be reviewed for Medicaid eligibility.

The result is a backlog of  114,000 cases–that’s 114,000 people whose access to vital health services has been delayed.

The petition drive is aimed at forcing HHSC leadership and the Legislature to fund more positions and to provide raises that keep highly qualified workers on the job.

TSEU organizers will have copies of the petition when they visit HHSC eligibility offices. The union is asking members to take copies of the petition and get fellow workers to sign it.

The petition drive will also be an opportunity for union members to talk to non-members about why they should join the union.