VA workers rally to stop privatization and closure of VA hospitals

Veteran Administration workers held 38 rallies at VA hospitals across the US to protest a proposal that if enacted would privatize health care services for veterans and shut down all VA hospitals and medical centers.

The proposal was drafted by seven members of the Commission for Care, a commission appointed by Congress in 2014 to recommend ways to improve care and accessibility at the VA.

Members of this rump group, which met in private, include executives from four for-profit hospital companies and an employee of the Koch brothers, the right-wing duo, who have spent millions funding political candidates who support privatizing government services.

The commission will soon release its recommendations, and VA workers and veterans are concerned that the commission’s recommendations will reflect the thinking expressed in the report from the rump group.

“Even though the vast majority of veterans oppose privatizing the VA, there are many people who would benefit financially from dismantling the VA and forcing veterans into a network of for-profit hospitals and insurance companies,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents 230,000 VA employees. “VA employees across the country are speaking out against these corrupt business interests with a clear message: it’s time to put people ahead of profits.”

Veteran’s groups have also expressed opposition to the proposals in the report, which has been dubbed “the strawman document.”

Recently, eight leaders of veterans organization signed a letter to the Commission for Care chairperson expressing their opposition to ideas in the document.

“On behalf of our combined 5 million members, the vast majority of whom use the VA health care system, we write to express our grave concerns with the ‘proposed strawman document’ that was discussed and disseminated during your March meetings in Washington, DC,” reads the opening sentence of a letter.

Among other things, the veteran groups’ leaders were concerned about the proposal on pages 19-20 of the document that calls for closing VA hospitals and medical centers, halting all construction of new VA facilities, halting all renovations of existing facilities,  and transitioning veterans in need of care to private hospitals and care providers.

The document envisions that in twenty years all VA hospitals and medical centers will be closed, and the VA will exist only to write voucher checks to private health care providers.

The Commission for Care was created in 2014 when the media reported that veterans were experiencing long waits for care at VA hospitals.

As it turns out, the long waits were not typical of the system, and the media reports were a bit exaggerated; nevertheless, Congress acted to address the problem by appropriating funds to hire more staff and improve VA facilities. It also allowed veterans facing delays in service to seek help from private providers.

As a result, the VA has added 14,000 health care workers, opened up 3.9 million more square feet of clinical space, and added 20 million provider hours of care.

It also cut its compensation and claims backlog by 87 percent and overhauled its scheduling system.

Those who have actually studied the VA’s performance such as RAND have concluded that “the quality of care provided by the VA health system generally was as good as or better than other health systems on most quality measures.”

But the authors of “the strawman document,” chose to ignore the progress made and good work done by the VA and, instead, to pursue their own agenda.

According to the veterans’ leaders, veterans want to see improvements at the VA but not at the cost of eliminating VA facilities and the “veteran-centric” services they provide.

The veteran leaders also criticized “the strawman document” for ignoring wishes of veterans “who would choose to receive care at VA medical facilities rather than seek care from disparate community providers.”

The VA rallies by AFGE members, many of whom like Cox are veterans themselves, was meant to call public attention to the possibility that VA services could be privatized for the benefit of private interests rather than for veterans themselves.

“Veterans should not be reduced to a line item on a budget sheet,” said Cox. “They have served our country with honor and distinction, and their medical care shouldn’t be left to the whims of profiteers and claims adjusters.”

 AFGE locals have organized 38 rallies to date in 19 states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.


Media workers demand hedge fund transparency

Members of the The NewsGuild-CWA (TNG-CWA), the union that represents media workers, are asking those who support quality journalism to sign an online petition demanding that Alden Global Capital publicly disclose its investments, investors, and political contributions.

Alden Capital, owned by Randall Smith, is a hedge fund that profits by buying distressed companies cheaply, selling off their assets, and then reselling what’s left of the company, a practice that has come to be known as “vulture investing.”

Alden, which manages a number of private equity funds, some of which are based in foreign tax havens, has been active in buying newspapers facing financial difficulties and selling their buildings and other property such as printing presses.

These sales are cloaked in secrecy.

The newspapers purchased by Alden sometimes continue to publish but do so with diminished resources and fewer staff making it difficult to gather news, conduct investigative reporting, and serve as community watchdogs.

“Alden is one of the largest newspaper owners in the United States, yet it operates as a dark web of complex business structures to hide itself from public view,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of  TNG-CWA.  “Alden is laying off the very journalists who’d be reporting this kind of vital information to the public. We believe the public has a right to demand complete transparency about Alden.”

Alden’s biggest acquisition so far was its 2011 takeover of MediaNews, the second largest newspaper company in the US, after MediaNews declared bankruptcy in 2010.

At the time, MediaNews owned dozens of daily newspapers, including the Denver Post, Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury, and St. Paul Press, and some weekly newspapers, radio stations, and television stations.

After the purchase, MediaNews was merged with another company and rebranded as Digital First Media (DFM).

Once Alden acquired DFM, it began downsizing newsroom staff, outsourcing work, and selling the physical assets of the newspapers that it bought.

To help it sell its newly acquired buildings, many of which were and are valuable real estate located in city centers, Alden enlisted the help of Twenty Lake Holdings, a property management company that specializes in the management and sale of newspaper property.

According to newsmatters, a blog for DFM workers, Twenty Lake “has sold more than 125 properties in 23 states, worth a total of $230.2 million.”

How much of these sales were Alden-owned properties is not clear, but newsmatters reports that the two companies have close ties. Two former DFM employees, both of whom managed the company’s real estate holdings, are now the principals at Twenty Lake.

Like most of its business dealings, Alden is secretive about its relationships with companies such as Twenty Lake, and this secrecy makes it difficult to know how much Alden and its investors have gained from the sale of harvested newspaper assets.

Alden and Twenty Lake say that the purpose of these sales is to return value to investors and to produce more working capital for the newspapers themselves, so that they can do a better job of reporting the news, but it’s difficult to see how these sales have improved newspapers.

Take for instance the Oakland Tribune. The Tribune, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, was one of the papers acquired by Alden when it purchased what was to become DFM.

On April 4, the Tribune ceased publication as a daily newspaper and became a weekly insert in a regional newspaper, the East Bay Times, the product of DFM’s decision to consolidate the newspapers that it owns in the East San Francisco Bay area.

As a result of the consolidation, 200 employees lost their jobs, and Oakland no longer has a newspaper with the resources to provide the kind of news coverage that a large metropolitan center needs.

“The Tribune just doesn’t cover the stories that need covering or tell people what’s going on,” said a former Tribune reader to newsmatters.

Those who remain working at the Tribune and other DFM owned papers are facing tough times.

Workers at 12 of those papers are members of TNG-CWA. At 11 of these papers, newsroom staff, many of whom haven’t had a raise in ten years, are working under expired contracts.

On June 17, union workers at the Denver Post said, enough is enough, and staged a demonstration in front the papers downtown offices.

The demonstration took place the day after a buyout offer expired. The buyout offer was made to reduce the Post’s newsroom staff by one-third.

If enough people don’t take the buyout offer, the Post could reduce staff by layoffs.

The Denver demonstration came on the same day that DFM media workers launched their campaign demanding investor and investment transparency from Alden.

“Alden can’t and shouldn’t operate in the shadows while it’s strip mining its newspapers,” said Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of CWA and a former DFM employee who was laid off from her reporting position at the Contra Costa Times. “Alden should invest in these highly profitable papers so that they can properly serve their communities.”

Hoffa urges anti-trust action against possible beer merger

Teamster President Jim Hoffa in a recent letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch urged the Justice Department to reject a proposed merger of the world’s two largest brewing companies unless one of the merger partners reverses its decision to close its brewery in Eden, North Carolina.

The closure would leave 450 Teamster members without jobs.

SABMiller’s, the world’s second largest brewer, announced in September 2015 that it would close its Eden brewery in September 2016. The announcement of the closure came two days before the merger talks between SABMiller’s and Anheuser-Busch-InBev (AB InBev), the world’s largest brewer, became public.

In his letter to the attorney general, Hoffa writes,

If this closure is permitted to move forward, it will not only affect good American jobs. . . but also negatively impact competition in the industry. The impact on consumers, we believe, will become apparent within months after the transactions take place and is likely to persist for years. Reductions in industry capacity of this magnitude translate directly into higher prices for consumers, particularly in an industry that the Antitrust Division itself characterized in 2013 as not behaving competitively.

SABMiller’s, a London-based brewer with its roots in South Africa, operates in the US in a partnership with Molson Coors. In the US, it’s known as MillerCoors, which, in addition to the two main brands, produces an assortment of other beers.

Beers brewed in Eden include Coors, Coors Light, Miller High Life, and Miller Lite among others.

According to the Teamsters, the Eden brewery produces 12.5 percent of the MillerCoors production capacity and 4 percent of all the beer made in the US.

Eden’s production will be transferred to other MillerCoors breweries, but Hoffa argues in his letter to Lynch that the other breweries don’t have the capacity to absorb Eden’s production.

“Closing Eden will not just eliminate production capacity in North Carolina; we believe it will drive down barrelage output at other MillerCoors breweries,” writes Hoffa.

Hoffa proposes that as condition for approving the merger between AB-InBev and SABMiller’s, MillerCoors at least be required to offer the Eden brewery for sale, an option that MillerCoors has been unwilling pursue.

Hoffa suggests that MillerCoors doesn’t want to sell the brewery because in the past when “breweries have been sold to competitors, the result has been good for competition and consumers but bad for the former owner.”

Closing the Eden brewery also will be bad for the local community, which stands to lose more than the 520 good-paying union and non-union jobs at the brewery.

The impact of the closure will ripple throughout the community.

Three local trucking companies have major transportation contracts with MillerCoors, and a Ball Corp. factory in nearby Reidsville makes cans for the brewery.

The brewery is also the source of $1.3 million in tax revenue for a city with a $22 million operating budget.

“This shutdown will be devastating for the brewery workers, their families and our whole community, said Vernon Gammon, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 391, which represents the Eden brewery employees, at a March rally to keep the brewery open.

“This community and our entire state will suffer because of the loss of these good paying jobs,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said at the same rally.

Both the US and North Carolina attorneys general are reviewing the proposed merger for possible violations of state and federal anti-trust laws.

The proposed merger of AB-InBev and SABMiller will create a mega-corporation that will control 30 percent of the world’s beer market and is the latest in a series of mergers that have winnowed competition in the global beer market.

In 2004 AmBev, a Belgium brewer, whose most notable brand in the US is Stella Artois, and Inbrew, a Brazilian brewer, merged to form the largest brewing company in the world–InBev.

In 2008, InBev grew bigger by acquiring Anheuser Busch.

That merger drew the interest of the US Justice Department but was allowed proceed.

SAB, or the South African Breweries, acquired Miller’s in 2002.

Hoffa in his letter noted that the two companies involved in the merger would like to get approval quickly, but he warned that a rush to approval would have consequences.

“The companies involved, no doubt, would like to see the investigation wrapped up in short order so they can complete their mega-merger,” Hoffa said. “Their desire to expedite cannot take precedence over the need to ‘get it right’ for consumers and working families.”

Verizon workers ratify new contract after victorious strike

Three weeks after the end of a 45-day strike, members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states ratified a four-year collective bargaining agreement with Verizon.

CWA Vice President District 1 Dennis Trainor called the strike “an incredible victory for the nearly 40,000 courageous workers who put everything on the line to protect the good jobs for their families.”

“It was a tough strike, but this contract, which secures good jobs in our communities and preserve workers’ standard of living shows what can happen when we stand together,” said Ed Mooney, vice president CWA District 2-13. “I am so proud of our members for standing up for themselves, our communities, the customers and their families.”

Because union power has been greatly weakened during the last 30 years, a union official claiming victory in a strike can mean anything from, “we returned to work without making any significant concessions” to “we survived.”

But in this case, the outcome looks like a solid win for labor.

Verizon wanted to outsource more work, close 16 call centers, eliminate jobs, and make the jobs remaining less secure.

The new contract maintains all the call centers except for two small ones in New York (where workers will be placed in other jobs at the company), creates 1300 new call center jobs, returns outsourced pole maintenance work in New York to union workers, and maintains job security provisions including no involuntary layoffs, forced transfers, or job classification downgrades.

Verizon wanted to freeze pensions and force workers in the defined benefits pension plan to choose between the defined benefits plan or 401(k) savings plan.

The new contract maintains the current pension plan for those enrolled in it and increases pension payments by 1 percent each year over the next three years.

Verizon wanted to eliminate corporate profit sharing for workers.

The new contract preserves profit sharing and sets a $700 yearly minimum.

Verizon proposed a 7 percent pay increase over the four-year term of the contract.

The new contract calls for a 10.9 percent increase over four years.

The one area where Verizon made some headway was health care.

The new contract requires higher health care premiums for workers, but the wage increases will offset the higher costs with enough left over for a decent take-home pay raise.

Conventional wisdom held that winning a strike at Verizon would be difficult if not impossible.

Almost all of the company’s union workers work in the wireline division while most of the company’s revenue is generated by its wireless division.

Verizon’s technology investments also appeared to give it an edge in the strike.

The Washington Post reported that “a decision Verizon made at least two years ago to cut the human out of many customer interactions is blunting some of the strike’s effects. . . . The technology-driven shift. . . could give Verizon a greater ability to withstand one of the biggest walk-offs in company history.”

But as it turns out, the wireline division is still an important generator of revenue and Verizon’s technology turned out to be a poor substitute for the skilled hands and minds of the company’s union workers.

One important job done by union workers is the installation and maintenance of FiOS, Verizon’s voice over internet service that customers use to access telephone, internet, and cable service.

Replacement workers couldn’t keep up with the demand for new FiOS installation. As a result, one analyst estimated that the company would lose up to 150,000 customers during the strike.

Also, replacement workers weren’t able to keep landline telephone service intact.

In one instance, the Homestead, Pennsylvania police department reported that its telephone system was unavailable because replacement workers were unable to repair it.

““We can’t talk to anybody,” said Homestead Police Department Chief Jeffrey Desimone to KDKA, a CBS affiliate in Pittsburg, during the  strike. “Our phone lines have been down for over two weeks actually. Can’t seem to get any help.”

A month into the strike, Verizon warned investors to expect a steep drop in revenue because of the strike.

One Wall Street analysts said that the strike would trim Verizon’s yearly earnings by $200 million.

The strike was also having an impact on the national economy. A poor May jobs report was blamed partially on the strike.

US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez took interest and called the two sides together for mediated negotiations.

Perez told the two sides that he didn’t care what the final agreement looked like only that the two sides reach an agreement in a hurry.

The mediated talks not only resulted in a contract for wireline workers, they produced new contracts for the small number of Verizon wireless workers who belong to CWA, which could be significant going forward.

About 100 union wireless technicians in New York won gains that include the same raises and signing bonuses as the wireline workers, a new parental leave benefit, and improved standby pay.

Verizon retail workers in Brooklyn and Everett, Massachusetts, who recently joined CWA, ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with the company.

The new agreement establishes a guaranteed base of $2000 for performance pay, a grievance procedure that includes arbitration, restrictions on subcontracting, and the right to swap schedules.

These gains for wireless workers could be the most important result of the strike.

The wireless workforce is overwhelmingly non-union, and Verizon would like to keep it that way.

The new contract gains could encourage more wireless workers to unionize.

How effectively the union organizes these workers will have a big impact on the next round of bargaining four years from now.

Report: Bank’s hard sell hurts customers and employees

Members of Committee for Better Banks met with US lawmakers on June 10 to brief them on a new report that criticizes big banks for using an overly aggressive quota system that forces bank employees to pressure customers into accepting unneeded banking products that include high fees, one of the biggest sources of bank revenue.

The report entitled “Banking on the Hard Sell” was published by the National Employment Law Project (NELP)and commissioned by the Committee for Better Banks, an organization of frontline bank employees and consumer advocates that was started by the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

“Eight years after the financial crash, Wall Street CEOs and shareholders are filling their personal bank accounts with earnings from immoral and exploitive bank sales quota systems,” said Anastasia Christman, deputy program director at NELP and author of the report. “Big banks are using frontline workers to pull the wool over ordinary consumers’ eyes. Americans trust bank tellers, but these individuals face the impossible choice of pushing high interest credit cards and other predatory ‘products’ just to keep their jobs.”

Christman analyzed industry data, reviewed class action lawsuits, and interviewed dozens of frontline bank employees including tellers, customer service representatives, personal bankers, and others.

Those she interviewed told her that bank employees work under heavy pressure to meet their sales quotas, which determine how much commission they’re paid.

Commissions are an important piece of employee compensation because base pay is so low.

According to the report, the median average wage of bank tellers is $12.44 an hour.

Employees interviewed for the report said that sales quotas are often unobtainable, set arbitrarily, and increased without notice or explanation.

Employees also said that they were constantly hounded to by management to pressure customers to sign up for bank products like credit cards, consumer loans, and overdraft protection that come with fees and high interests rates.

Wells Fargo, one of the banks identified in the report for its predatory practices, encourages its frontline workers to sell its fee-bearing banking products as “solutions” to customers facing financial problems.

According to the report, fees have become a major source of bank revenue. For Wells Fargo, fees and service charges generate one-quarter of the bank’s revenue.

At Wells Fargo, the average household with an account at the bank has been enrolled in more that six banking products. Corporate leadership wants to push this number up to eight, and they want these extra banking products to be those that generate fees.

In establishing sales quotas, bank management exclude the basic products that most customers want from a bank, low-fee accounts, ATM cards, etc. and instead make their fee-bearing products the quotas major component.

Pressure to load up customers with fee-bearing services has put employees in a bind. Failure to sell “solutions” to customers means lower commissions and more pressure from upper management.

This kind of pressure has caused some bank employees to take shortcuts that harm customers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Wells Fargo employees “facing strict quotas and fearing for their jobs, sometimes opened unneeded accounts for customers, forged clients’ signatures, and pleaded with family members to open accounts.”

The Los Angeles City Attorney in 2015 sued Wells Fargo after the Los Angeles Times exposed the bank’s questionable practices. The suit says that the bank’s sales goals had encouraged “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct.”

While some bank employees may have cut corners to meet goals, the overwhelming majority do not.

Those who belong to Committee for Better Banks are taking it one step further by fighting to end the banks predatory practices–both those that affect employees and those that affect customers.

“When I came to the United States as a refugee, I was excited to find what I thought was a good job at a major bank, but the pressures we face keep me up at night,” said Khalid Taha, a Wells Fargo personal banker and a member of the Committee for Better Banks who briefed lawmakers on June 10. “If Wells Fargo is serious about serving customers, then it should listen to us — the professional customer service representatives on the frontlines. I want to help customers without worrying that I’ll lose my job if I don’t sell an insane amount of credit cards and loans.”

ILWU leads fight to save Seattle waterfront jobs

The Seattle City Council in May rejected a proposal for building a new sports arena designed to attract a National Basketball Association team to the city.

The new arena was to be built in a section of the city known as South of Downtown, or SoDo.

Its construction would have required the closure and privatization of a one of the main public streets providing access to the Port of Seattle, where about 1000 longshore workers are employed.

The street closure would have clogged traffic leading to and from the port, which would have diverted cargo to other ports costing hundreds of longshore workers their jobs.

That prospect led International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 19 to oppose the project from its beginning.

“This fight was always about finding the best location for a new stadium – which never should have been in SoDo,” said John Persak, president of the ILWU’s Puget Sound District Council, who helped coordinate the fight.

Persak said that the union played a leading role in building a “diverse community” of opposition to the proposed new sports arena.

The fight began four years ago when Chris Hansen, a hedge fund owner, and a crop of local developers proposed building the Seattle Arena in SoDo.

Seattle had lost its NBA franchise, the Sonics, in 2008, and Hansen and his partners were hoping that a new state-of-the-art arena would attract another NBA team looking for a new home.

In 2011 they proposed to build a new arena in SoDo at a cost of $490 million, $200 million of which would be paid by the city.

The proposal also included a reconfiguration of the SoDo section where the new arena would be located.

In addition to the new arena, which would include a slew of luxury seating to accommodate Seattle’s swells, Hansen planned to build nearby upscale shops and restaurants, encouraging gentrification and changing the complexion of SoDo, an industrial area near the port.

In order to realize Hansen’s vision, Occidental Avenue, a main thoroughfare leading to the port, would have to be privatized so that it could be closed.

Closing Occidental would snarl traffic leading to Terminal 46 of the port delaying the movement of goods coming to and from the terminal.

The resulting delays would have diverted cargo to other ports, hurting Port of Seattle business and eliminating jobs.

Concerns about the impact on good-paying jobs led the leaders and members of ILWU Local 19 to take a stand against the proposal.

The union used its political influence and ties to the community to build community opposition to the proposal.

More than 100 ILWU members attended meetings and spoke at hearings on the project.

A key City Council vote on the arena project took place on May 2.

The vote was on whether to sell Occidental to Hansen and his partners.

In a 5-4 vote, the City Council voted not to sell.

City Council member Kshama Sawant voted against selling the street to Hansen.

“I do want to help bring back the Sonics, but I cannot do that on the basis of undermining our working waterfront and good-paying unionized industrial jobs,’’ said Sawant to the Seattle Times.

Sawant added that she wanted to stand in solidarity with ILWU members who had been leading the fight to maintain good-paying, unionized jobs.

The five council members who voted against selling the street to Hansen were all women.

Their stance drew a spate of misogynistic hate mail from basketball fans like this one from  Jason Feldman.

“As women, I understand that you spend a lot of your time trying to please others (mostly on your knees) but I can only hope that you each find ways to quickly and painfully end yourselves. Each of you should rot in hell for what you took from me yesterday.”

Feldman’s missive was a mild rebuke compared to other mail that the women received. Feldman later apologized for his letter.

Hansen was taken aback by the vote and said that he a his partners would regroup and look at their options for going forward.

ILWU’s Persak said that he was happy with vote, but warned that the fight to preserve good-paying union jobs wasn’t over.

“We’ll have to remain vigilant to make sure our support from the Council remains solid because the pressure from the political establishment to build in SoDo is enormous,” he said.

Appeals court upholds NLRB decision that makes it easier to organize a union

A US appeals court on June 2 upheld a National Labor Relations decision that makes it easier for workers to join a union.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the NLRB acted appropriately in 2014 when it approved a petition by fragrance and cosmetic staff at a Massachusetts Macy’s department store for a union representation election.

Macy’s challenged the NLRB decision arguing that the appropriate bargaining unit for the union election was all sales employees in the store, not just employees in the fragrance and cosmetics unit.

In addition to arguing that the NLRB erred in this particular case, Macy’s argued that the court should overturn the NLRB’s Specialty Healthcare ruling, a precedent-setting decision that clarified what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit within the workplace.

According to Specialty Healthcare as long as workers share an identifiable community of interest on the job, they constitute an appropriate bargaining unit and can vote on whether to join a union.

The NLRB made the ruling in 2011 after a group of nursing assistants at Specialty Healthcare, a nursing home in Mobile, Alabama, petitioned the NLRB to form a union among themselves.

Specialty Healthcare management argued that the nursing assistants were too small of a group to constitute a collective bargaining unit and that the appropriate bargaining unit should be all non-management staff because they all shared a community of interest.

The NLRB rejected management’s argument and said that unless all workers at the nursing home share an “overwhelming” community of interest, they do not have to be included in the bargaining unit.

The Fifth Circuit Court in its Macy’s decision allowed Specialty Healthcare to stand. The court’s decision was the fourth time that a US appeals court has upheld the NLRB’s Specialty Healthcare decision.

The case that led to the Fifth Circuit Court’s Macy’s decision began four years ago when United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 petitioned the NLRB for a union election among 41 fragrance and cosmetics employees at a Macy’s department store in Saugus, Massachusetts.

Macy’s appealed the decision, and in 2014, the NLRB denied Macy’s appeal and ordered a union election.

A majority of workers voted for the union, but Macy’s refused to bargain with its new union.

The union filed an unfair labor practices charge against Macy’s for not bargaining. When the NLRB agreed with the union, Macy’s appealed the decision to the courts.

Macy’s was joined in its appeal by a number of business associations including the US Chamber of Commerce.

They contended that allowing workers to form what they call micro-unions would result in the formation of a large number of small bargaining units creating chaos in the workplace and an employee relations nightmare for business.

More likely, what they are really concerned about is that as non-union workers see their fellow workers benefit from joining a union, more non-union workers will want to join the union.

Despite the Macy’s ruling and the other appeals courts’ rulings upholding Specialty Healthcare, business have not stopped trying to overturn it.

The most recent example is unfolding at the Volkswagen auto plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 2015, 152 skilled trades workers at the plant voted to join the United Autoworkers (UAW) in an NLRB union representation election.

The vote came a year after a narrow majority of the 1450 plant’s workers voted not to join UAW. Prior to the vote, state officials and business leaders threatened that a yes vote for the union would result in the loss of jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

In both elections, Volkswagen publicly stated that it would remain neutral.

But after the skilled trades workers voted to unionize, Volkswagen balked at recognizing the union and refused to negotiate a first contract.

In April, the NLRB ruled that Volkswagen had violated US labor law by refusing to bargain with the skilled trades workers’ union. Shortly after the decision, Volkswagen announced that it would challenge the ruling in court.

The UAW has mounted a campaign to put pressure on Volkswagen to bargain with the union.

The union is asking supporters to email Volkswagen and urge the company to “stop dragging its feet and get to work negotiating with Chattanooga skilled trades workers to create a better workplace.”

Back in Massachusetts, UFCW Local 1445 is moving ahead with its plan to negotiate a first contract for the fragrance and cosmetics employees at Macy’s Saugus store.

It is well positioned to do so. It already represents Macy’s workers in six stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The union has represented fragrance and cosmetic employees as separate bargaining groups in other stores for decades and so far, there has been no chaos or employee relations nightmares envisioned by Macy’s and its supporters.

Strikes opposing new labor code continue in France

France is facing its worst labor crisis since the 1968 uprising of workers and students that forced President Charles de Gaulle from office.

For the last three months strikes and street demonstrations opposing changes to the country’s labor code proposed by France’s Socialist government have rocked the country.

Most recently strikes by rail workers, dock workers, nuclear power plant workers, trash collectors, oil refinery and fuel transport workers, and others have disrupted transportation, electricity generation, and fuel delivery.

Street demonstrations against the code changes have become a daily occurrence.

All of this is taking place while France prepares to host the Euro 2016, a soccer (football) tournament of national teams that will determine the championship of the Union of European Football Associations.

“Everywhere in France tens of thousands of striking workers have been joined by unemployed workers, pensioners, and students at more than 150 rallies and demonstrations expressing their opposition to the proposed labor code and demanding new rights for all,” reads a statement by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the labor federation that has been leading the protests.

The proposed changes are meant to make the French labor market more flexible by ending many labor standards that have been  written into law. These legal protections have been won by the working class through decades of hard struggle.

Among other things, the proposed changes will make it easier for company’s to fire workers, ignore the standard 35-hour work week, bypass unions when setting terms of employment, reduce overtime pay for some worker, and pay workers less than union negotiated wages.

The proposed changes would also reduce France’s generous family leave benefit.

France’s President Francois Hollande says that the labor law changes are needed to reduce the nation’s unemployment rate that has hovered around 10 percent.

Hollande took office in 2012 by attacking the austerity measures implemented after the 2008 the financial crisis and the subsequent recession.

Since 2012, however, the austerity measures have remained in place and France’s high unemployment rate has persisted.

President Hollande’s response has been to implement more austerity measures in the form of his proposed labor code changes.

CGT and other unions opposing the changes have argued that more austerity is not the answer to France’s problems.

Their view is shared by many others. The proposed labor code changes have been opposed by a growing number of young people, who have joined union demonstrations and initiated protests of their own.

Many of these young people have joined together to form Nuit Debout (Standing Together Through the Night), an Occupy-like movement of young people.

Public opposition to Hollande’s law is even broader. CNN reports that a recent poll found that 46 percent of those polled opposed the the current labor code changes and 40 percent want them modified.

Left-wing members of Hollande’s Socialist party also oppose Hollande’s code changes. Their opposition made it impossible for the proposal to pass out of France’s National Assembly.

But Hollande circumvented the National Assembly by invoking a little-used section of the country’s constitution, which allows a bill to pass out of the National Assembly without a vote if the President’s cabinet votes in favor of the bill.

On March 10, Hollande’s cabinet voted to pass the bill along to the Senate for debate.

Senate debate on the bill will begin on June 13. If the Senate approves the bill, it will be sent back the National Assembly for further consideration.

After Hollande bypassed the National Assembly, CGT and other unions called strikes in key industries to protest the action.

At one point, workers at most of France’s refineries and fuel depots were on strike causing shortages at gas stations.

Most of those strikes have ended but two refineries remain on strike.

Seven days ago, union members at SNCF, the state-owned national railway system, went on strike disrupting train service around the country.

On June 2, they were joined by dock workers at Le Havre, one of the largest ports in European.

Workers at sixteen of France’s nuclear power plants, France’s main source for generating electrical power, also walked off the job.

Metro workers and trash collectors in Paris are also on strike.

Airline pilots have said that they plan to walk off the job on June 11.

All of this comes at a time as France prepares to host millions of soccer fans for the month-long Euro 2016, which begins on June 10.

President Hollande has been working to contain the labor unrest and limit its impact on Euro 2016 by offering deals to strikers and potential strikers in an effort to get them back to work, but he said that he will not withdraw his labor code changes.

CGT for its part has said that is willing to talk with Hollande and his administration to find a way out of the crisis but will continue to call strikes and organize demonstrations.

It plans for a one-day national strike and demonstrations against the proposed law on June 14.

“We call on wage earners to amplify their opposition to the new labor code,” said CGT in its most recent statement. “The new labor code is dangerous, and we’ll continue to strike until we can achieve a new labor code that protects workers rights.”

California Assembly passes a bill to protect women from rape in the job

The California General Assembly on June 2 passed a bill designed to protect female janitors from rape on the job.

AB 1978, the Property Services Worker Protection Act introduced by Rep. Lorena Gonzalez, was drafted after a Frontline documentary on PBS detailed the prevalence of rape on the job suffered by women who work at night cleaning offices, stores, banks, and other commercial property.

Two days before the bill passed the General Assembly, hundreds of members of SEIU’s United Service Workers West (USWW) demonstrated in front of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

In an act of civil disobedience, nine women who are USWW members sat down in the street to block traffic and were arrested in order to demonstrate the importance of AB 1978, which was pending before the legislature, and to demand that lawmakers take immediate action on the bill.

“Our action today says we won’t be silent about rape on the job,” said Maria Carrillo, a 16 year-old janitor from Sacramento who was arrested. “We are taking our fight to the halls of the State Capitol – and to the streets if necessary – because no woman should ever be in fear of rape when she goes to work.”

The Frontline documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” documented the perils that female janitors, many of whom in California are immigrant workers, face when they go to work.

USWW in a statement about the May 31 demonstration said that,

The structure of property services industry makes janitors and security officers uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment. What’s more, the nature of the industry presents unique barriers to workers coming forward to report their abuse. Key factors include: working alone at night, a largely female, Latina workforce, layers of contracting and subcontracting that obscure accountability, a workplace culture that emboldens harassers.

Rep. Gonzalez said that AB 1978, which now heads to the state senate for consideration, would require the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to create sexual harassment prevention training materials, establish a toll-free hotline for reporting complaints, and require employers to post and display a notice with information regarding the laws.

“DIR (also would be required) to create a contractor registry which will add transparency and increase accountability, similar to garment manufacturers/contractors, farm laborer contractors, and the car washing and polishing industry,” added Gonzalez.

USWW has worked with Rep. Gonzalez to introduce AB 1978 and to build public support for the bill.

“It’s no coincidence that the same property services industry notorious for cheating workers of wages also puts women at risk, but immigrant women are rising up to demand a stop to rape on the night shift and a stop to economic and other abuses,” said SEIU-USWW Secretary Alejandra Valles. “Immigrant women are uniting to transform the property services industry and restore dignity to the people who do the tough jobs of cleaning our buildings and keeping us safe.”

USWW was able to secure some protections against rape on the job in contracts that it recently negotiated with building service firms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County.

The union has also organized a group called Immigrant Women Rising, which has played a key role in the fight to protect female janitors from rape on the job.

Women workers in the janitorial services industry aren’t the only ones who are threatened by sexual harassment on the job.

A recent report by the University of California Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program finds that between one-third and one-half of women workers have been subjected to sexual harassment on the job during their careers.