Mexican union leader wins union rights award

Napoleon Gomez, leader of one of Mexico’s independent trade union, Los Mineros, has won the 2014 Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.

The prize is awarded annually by Industri Energy (IE), Norway’s energy sector union, to recognize people whose work has strengthened and promoted trade union rights.

Gomez is the general secretary of Los Mineros, one of Mexico’s most militant and successful independent unions in a country where most unions have close ties to employers, the government, or both.

Los Mineros has worked hard to organize workers and give them a collective voice on the job. It also has a consistent record of winning solid contracts that raise wages and benefits for its members.

As a result of its work, Los Mineros’ leaders and members have faced government repression and employer reprisals. Gomez himself has been forced into exile by the government.

A recent Los Mineros victory shows how the union has been able to persevere and win victories in the face of intense opposition.

Los Mineros on May 4 was recognized as the union representing workers at Teksid Iron in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The workers stopped work on May 2 to protest the company’s refusal to bargain with Los Mineros.

The company previously had an agreement with CTM, a company union, but CTM failed to address workers’ grievances.

When the company agreed to recognize Los Mineros, it also agreed to make a profit sharing payment owed but not paid to the workers by the end of the week.

In addition, three Los Mineros members who were fired for union activity were reinstated.

In April, Los Mineros supporters at Teksid were attacked and beaten by thugs as the workers left a union meeting.

Gomez recently wrote a book, The Collapse of Dignity,  about the tragic deaths of 65 miners, buried alive in 2006 by a mine explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Coahuila.

After the explosion, Grupo Mexico, the mine’s owner, spent most of its time and resources on a public relations campaign that sought to absolve the company of responsibility for the explosion. In the meantime, the company dragged its feet on rescue efforts.

Gomez writes that the neglect that led up to the disaster and the cover up that followed are glaring examples of the corruption that defines labor relations in Mexico.

Gomez and Los Mineros have exposed this corruption in their struggle to build an independent and democratic trade union movement.

As a result, the Mexican government, which has worked with companies like Grupo Mexico to repress the independent union movement, has tried to jail Gomez on trumped-up charges.

In 2005, Gomez was charged with illegally transferring pension funds to the union’s bank account.

Five appellate courts ruled that the charges had no legal foundation, but the Mexican government continued to pursue charges forcing Gomez into exile.

The Mexican government has a history of colluding with employers to use the law enforcement system to harass and intimidate independent union advocates.

In the book Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy, Martin Barrios tells his story of  government harassment.

Barrios, a founder and leader of the Commission for Human and Labor Rights in Tehucan Valley, was helping garment workers in the Tehucan Valley organize.

One day he was arrested and charged with blackmailing the employer of a small garment factory. According to Barrios’ arrest warrant, Barrios had demanded that the employer pay Barrios $150,000 or the labor organizer would mobilize the employers’ workers to strike.

When the police asked the owner to identify Barrios as the culprit, the owner refused to do so.

Nevertheless, the police kept Barrios in jail for months as they tried to build a case against him. Despite attempts to force a confession from Barrios, the authorities failed to make their case and eventually had to free him.

Gomez instead of rotting in jail decided to leave Mexico. He found refuge in Canada where he continues to lead Los Mineros in absentia.

In June, Gomez will travel to Norway where he will receive the prize, which includes a monetary award of more than US$87,000.

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After five years, NYC and teachers union reach a tentative agreement.

The City of New York and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)  on May 1 announced that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

New York City teachers have worked for five years under the terms of an old contract that expired in 2009.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the tentative agreement, on which members will soon be voting, “a landmark contract” that “demonstrates the extraordinary progress possible in public schools when a city works in partnership with educators.”

Members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a caucus of UFT members opposed to Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus, called the tentative agreement, “the contract we do not deserve” and urged members to reject it.

For five years, New York City teachers resisted efforts by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to impose his vision of corporatized education on New York’s public schools.

Among other things, Mayor Bloomberg wanted to implement a discredited merit pay system, establish a rigid evaluation system that discriminated against teachers in at risk schools, and punish teachers at schools designated for closure.

The bargaining climate changed after the new mayor Bill de Blasio took office.

The agreement that the two sides reached provides for modest across the board pay increases for each year of the contract that runs through 2018.

In addition, the city agreed to pay $3.4 billion in back pay for the five-year period that teacher pay was frozen while Mayor Bloomberg dragged out negotiations.

The back pay, however, will be paid back in increments and will not be completely paid off until the new contract expires.

The city also agreed not to raise health care premiums, but the agreement is contingent on the health care plan achieving $1.3 billion in savings generated by cost savings proposed by the union. The specifics of the union’s cost savings proposal have not been made public.

In a letter to members, Mulgrew said that the tentative agreement is “a contract for education that will not only benefit us but also the students, schools and communities we serve.”

The new contract establishes what the union calls a simpler and fairer evaluation process.

Diane Ravitch, the noted education historian and public education advocate, writes that New York City teachers will no longer be evaluated on test scores of students that they don’t teach and that evaluations will focus on a narrower set of objectives that more accurately gauge how well a teacher is performing.

In addition, fellow teachers rather than outside consultants will assist in evaluating the work of a teacher who has been rated as ineffective.

The new contract also allows for more parent involvement and teacher development.

More time has been allotted for parent-teacher conferences and teachers will have more time to communicate directly with parents.

More time has also been allotted for training that will help teachers develop their professional skills.

The extra time for parent involvement and teacher development was made possible by an agreement between the two sides to reconfigure the 2 1/2 hours a week that was added to the teacher workday in 2005.

The contract also gives schools the flexibility to experiment with innovative teaching approaches.

One of the goals of UFT during contract negotiations was to improve conditions for teachers classified as Absent Teacher Reserves (ATR). These are former teachers at schools that were closed who have been working as substitute teachers.

The new contract requires the New York City Department of Education to refer ATRs to schools that have permanent openings; however, the school principal still maintains the right to hire or not hire the person referred.

Ravitch on her blog, hailed the tentative agreement as an example of what can be accomplished when public officials stop bashing teachers and their union for the shortcomings of public educations and start working with them to solve problems.

“(The agreement) shows that in an environment of trust and respect, unions and districts can come together and agree on innovations,” writes Ravitch. “These innovations are not driven by unimaginative test-based accountability metric’s and privatization schemes. . .  Rather, they are founded on principles of mutual learning, collaboration, and respect.”

Arthur Goldstein, a member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, on the other hand, disagreed with Ravitch.

Goldstein criticized the agreement because the raises weren’t big enough and because back pay is paid in increments.

Goldstein is also critical of the union leadership’s past stances.

“In this contract, the devil is in the details,” writes Goldstein. “Thus far we haven’t seen them, but history suggests a lack of foresight in insular UFT leadership, which has supported allowing teachers to become ATRs, charter schools, co-locations, the NYS APPR law, junk science teacher rating, Common Core, and mayoral control, none of which have helped public school teachers, parents or children.”

Child care workers stiffed by Deloitte’s computer system

Illinois child care workers on April 28 again called on Deloitte Consulting to fix the problems with a Deloitte designed computer system that has caused delays and mistakes in payments that they are supposed to receive.

“I was waiting on late payments until recently, but my fellow providers are still suffering,” said Sharon Norwood, a child care provider from Evergreen Park, Illinois. “We provide critical services to working families so I don’t understand why Deloitte isn’t taking this issue seriously.”

In 2010, the Illinois Department of Human Services awarded a $9 million contract to Deloitte to design and implement the Child Care Management System (CCMS) that was supposed to improve management of the state’s program for providing child care services to low-wage workers.

CCMS was activated in January. Since then, child care workers have experienced delays in getting certified, incorrect and delayed payments, and in some, cases, no payments at all.

Back in February, a delegation of child care workers organized by SEIU Healthcare Illinois called attention to the problem by demonstrating at Deloitte’s Chicago headquarters. Some of the child care workers tried to speak directly to Deloitte managers to urge them to fix the problem. Deloitte management refused to talk to them.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do, it has become a hardship,” said Dorothy Riddick, a child-care provider to WLS television at the demonstration.

According to SEIU, some child care workers are facing eviction, have had utilities cut off, and were charged late payment and overdraft fees because of late and missing payments.

The Illinois Department of Human Services responded with a statement assuring the child care workers that most of the problems had been fixed

But SEIU said that Deloitte was dragging its feet and didn’t want to fix the problems because its CCMS contract is about to expire and the company didn’t want to spend more resources on the project.

In April, child care workers continued to experience the delays and mistakes that caused the February protests.

Recently, hundreds of child care workers flooded Deloitte’s headquarters with phone calls describing the hardships that Deloitte’s computer system has caused and demanding that Deloitte fix it.

On April 28, a delegation of child care workers hand delivered a letter to Deloitte headquarters with the same message. Norwood, a member of the child care workers delegation, assured Deloitte’s management that the child care workers weren’t going away until Deloitte fixed the problems

“I will continue to fight back until every provider receives the payments they’re owed and Deloitte’s system is fixed,” said Norwood.