Retailers agree to end on-call scheduling

Six national retailers recently agreed to stop using on-call scheduling, which requires employees to call typically one to two hours before their shift is to begin to learn whether they must report to work.

If employees who call in are not required to work for that day, they receive no compensation.

On-call scheduling creates a number of difficulties that interfere with workers’ away-from-work lives.

“On-call scheduling makes it impossible for retail workers to plan their lives,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW (RWDSU). “We must all work together to ensure that workers . . . throughout the country have stable and predictable schedules that allow them to arrange for childcare, further their education, and provide for their families.”

The six retailers that agreed an end to on-call scheduling are Aeropostale, Carter’s, David’s Tea, Disney, PacSun, and Zumiez.

The six retailers made their decision after receiving letters from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and the attorney general from Washington DC.

The letters sought information about the companies’ scheduling practices to determine whether they were in violation of state call-in pay regulations that require companies to pay workers for four hours of work or the hours for which they were scheduled to work, whichever is less, whenever the worker calls and is told not to report to work.

“On-call shifts are not a business necessity and should be a thing of the past,” said Schneiderman. “People should not have to keep the day open, arrange for child care, and give up other opportunities without being compensated for their time. I am pleased that these companies have stepped up to the plate and agreed to stop using this unfair method of scheduling.”

Schneiderman said that the letter was a collaborative effort among state attorneys general who were concerned about the adverse impact that on-call scheduling is having on the lives of workers and their families.

“Unpredictable work schedules take a toll on employees,” said the letter to the retailers. “Without the security of a definite work schedule, workers who must be ‘on call’ have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing an education, and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects, overall stress, and strain on family life than workers who enjoy the stability of knowing their schedules reasonably in advance.”

In all, 15 companies received the letter. Of those, nine responded saying that they had already ended on-call scheduling or had never used it.

“Today, we are seeing retailers across America take steps to curb unnecessary and unfair on-call scheduling,” said Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy. “We are especially glad that employers like Disney and Carter’s, whose brands promote putting families first, will stop using on-call shifts that are notorious for wreaking havoc on families’ balance and puts undue stress on children. It’s impossible to arrange for childcare with just a few hours’ notice, and so it’s good to see thousands more working parents no longer have to scramble to work enough hours to support their families.”

Workers at two Trump hotels settle labor disputes

Union members at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas won their first union contract, and workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC won the right to conduct an organizing campaign without management interference.

The two separate agreements with the management of the two hotels were announced on December 21.

In Las Vegas food and beverage and housekeepers, who one year ago voted to join UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Local 226, reached an agreement with hotel management on their first union contract that raises wages and provides a pension, health care benefits, and job protections.

“This agreement is the result of tremendous efforts of the parties’ leadership teams. Both the Culinary Union and the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas extend their congratulations to each other and each look forward to a mutually productive and peaceful labor-management partnership,” reads a statement issued by Local 226.

While the statement suggests that the two parties are on the road toward building a mutually respectful relationship, the history of the workers’ struggle for a union suggests that the road to enlightened labor relations at the Trump hotel may be a bit rocky.

Workers at Trump Las Vegas began talking about organizing a union in 2014. That talk quickly became a full-fledged organizing campaign, and for a year, pro-union workers with the help of union organizers talked one-on-one to other workers about the benefits of having a union.

They told their fellow workers about the 35,000 union workers at other Las Vegas hotels who were paid better wages and had pensions, excellent health care benefits, and job protections.

Some union supporters wore buttons to work to express their support for the union.

Management reacted with a campaign of its own. The Trump Las Vegas hotel, which is co-0wned by billionaire Phillip Ruffin, spent $560,000 to prevent workers from organizing a union.

In June 2014, five workers were suspended for wearing union buttons to work and talking to other workers about joining the union.

A year later, they were awarded back pay for lost wages after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that hotel management had violated their right to speak freely about joining a union.

The union filed other charges of unfair labor practices including allegations of physical assaults against union supporters, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats.

In August 2015, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas acted illegally to prevent workers from joining a union by suppressing their free speech, illegally interrogating employees, threatening them with reprisals for supporting the union, and in one instance, physically assaulting union supporters.

Things didn’t get any easier after workers voted in December 2015 to join Local 226. Hotel management refused to bargain with the union for a first contract.

Eleven months after the workers voted to unionize, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas Hotel management violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with the union

Hotel management reacted by appealing the decision rather than negotiating.

However, management’s attitude toward the union made an abrupt and unexpected about-face, and in December, the two sides announced an agreement on the workers’ first collective bargaining agreement.

The turn around came as President-elect Trump was facing intense scrutiny about his business holdings and the potential conflicts of interest that would exist between those holdings and his responsibilities as President of the United States.

Among the possible conflicts of interest were his shares of ownership in the Trump hotels in Las Vegas and Washington DC that were both subject to unfair labor practices investigations being carried out by the NLRB.

The New York Times reports that Trump and his transition team have been working vigorously to create an image that no conflicts of interest will exist after he becomes President.

To do so they have been trying to resolve some of the most blatant examples of potential conflicts of interest, including Trump’s labor relations problems in Las Vegas and Washington DC.

As a result, the Trump hotels in these two cities moved quickly to settle their labor problems.

In Washington DC that meant reaching an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 25, which has been helping workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC organize a union.

Local 25 announced that the agreement will allow a union organizing drive to proceed without management interference.

“(The agreement) satisfies the union’s goal to represent and ensure strong working conditions for hospitality workers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” said John Boardman, president of Local 25.  “We look forward to pursuing a mutually productive partnership with Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.”

Temp work is still dangerous work

Ajin USA and two temporary staffing agencies are facing $2.5 million in fines after an investigation by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that serious safety violations at the Ajin auto parts factory in Chambers County, Alabama led to the death of Regina Allen Elsea, a 20-year old temporary worker.

Elsea, a bride to be, was working on a production line on June 18 at Ajin’s  metal stamping factory that makes auto frame parts.

When the assembly line stopped because of a problem with one of its robotic machines, Elsea entered the robot cell to fix the problem, but while she was working, the robot started without warning. Elsea was caught inside and crushed and impaled to death.

Elsea was one of 250 temporary production workers at the Ajin plant, which employs 700 production workers. Elsea had been hired by Alliance Total Solutions.

Alliance, another temporary staffing agency, and Ajin, a global auto parts manufacturer based in Korea, are facing fines totaling  $2,565,621 for safety violations uncovered during the investigation of Elsea’s death.

“This senseless tragedy could have been prevented if Regina Elsea’s employers had followed proper safety precautions,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

Ajin’s Alabama factory makes auto frame parts for Kia and Hyundai, two Korean auto companies with plants in Alabama and Georgia.

Michaels said that Hyundai and Kia also played a role in Elsea’s death.

“It is unfortunate that Hyundai and Kia, who set strict specifications on the parts they purchase from their suppliers, appear to be less concerned with the safety of the workers who manufacture those parts,” said Michaels.

“Kia’s and Hyundai’s on-demand production targets are so high that workers at their suppliers are often required to work six and sometimes seven days a week to meet the targets,” continued Michaels. “It appears that – to reduce its own costs in meeting these targets – this supplier cut corners on safety, at the expense of workers’ lives and limbs.”

Elsea was working on a Saturday when she was killed.

Ajin had been fined in 2014 for other serious safety violations, and in 2015, Michaels traveled to Korea to warn Hyundai and Kia executives about safety problems at their suppliers’ factories.

Elsea’s death, according to OSHA’s report, was caused by a willful disregard for safety precautions.

OSHA reported that when Elsea was fixing the robotic machine, its power source had not been disabled, one of the basic tenets of factory safety.

OSHA cited other instances in which Ajin workers were required to fix problems with robotic machines without their power source being disabled.

The OSHA investigation also found that Alliance Total Solutions, the temporary staffing agency that hired Elsea, to be a fault for not providing their employees with information they needed to prevent injuries like the one that killed Elsea.

Safety for temporary workers is often an afterthought that doesn’t come to the fore until a tragedy occurs, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has warned that temporary workers are more at risk of on-the-job injuries than permanent workers.

“A growing body of research demonstrates that temporary workers have higher rates of workplace injury [OSHA, 2013; Fabiano, 2008],” reports NIOSH. “According to ProPublica research, temporary workers have double the risk of suffering severe injuries on the job, including crushing incidents, lacerations, punctures and fractures [Luo,T].”

Three years ago, ProPublica published an expose on the dangers of temp work in blue collar jobs.

The expose was based on the review of five years of workers compensation data in five states. Data from 3.5 million worker compensation claims were reviewed.

ProPublica researchers found that “caught in” and “struck by” claims were significantly higher among temporary workers than their permanent counterparts.

In its report, ProPublica detailed some of the on-the-job safety violations that either killed or maimed temporary workers like Elsea.

The tragedy of Elsea’s death is even more pronounced because it was easily preventable, said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional director in Atlanta.

“Ajin USA only had to ensure that proper safety measures were followed to de-energize the robot before the workers entered the station,” said Petermeyer. “Incidents like this one are not isolated and that is why OSHA has developed and implemented its (safety manual for the auto parts industry).”

Unfortunately for Elsea, Ajin and Alliance appear to have not read the manual.

More bad news for Carrier workers

Carrier workers in Indianapolis, Indiana received some more bad news.

Think Progress reports that Greg Hayes, CEO of United Technologies, the corporation that owns Carrier, said that his company will invest millions of dollars in state money to automate work at the plant and that the automation will lead to more job losses.

The money from the state of Indiana was part of deal negotiated to keep Carrier from moving jobs in Indiana to Mexico.

That news came a week after Carrier workers learned that 550 jobs at the plant would be eliminated.

The workers had previously thought that their jobs had been saved after President-elect Donald Trump announced that he had convinced United Technologies to keep its Indianapolis Carrier plant open.

The last year has been a roller coaster ride for Carrier workers.

In February, Carrier, which makes gas furnaces at its Indianapolis plant, announced that it in order to save money it would close its factories in Indianapolis and Huntington, Indiana and move the work to Mexico.

At the time, President-elect Donald Trump expressed outrage at the proposed closures and the company’s plan to move the work to Mexico and promised that if elected he would fight to save those jobs.

One of the first things he did after winning the election was to strike a deal with Carrier to keep the Indianapolis factory open.

Indiana Gov. and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, serving as Trump’s representative, agreed to give Carrier $7 million in state incentives to keep the Indianapolis plant open. Pence also agreed to give the company $16 million in state money that would be used to make capital investments at the plant.

Trump made a trip to the Carrier factory in Indianapolis to announce that he had saved 1100 jobs.

According to Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999 whose members work at the Indianapolis Carrier plant, workers were elated to hear the news.

They assumed that the 1100 jobs that would be saved were the manufacturing jobs at the plant, which would mean that almost all of production jobs at the plant would be saved.

But the workers mood became more somber when they learned the details of the deal.

After Jones met with the company, he learned that 350 of the 1100 jobs that were supposed to be saved were engineering jobs that company had planned to keep in Indiana all along and that 550 workers at the Indianapolis plant would still lose their jobs.

Carrier also planned to carry through with its plan to eliminate 700 jobs at its Huntington plant.

Jones reported that workers at the Indianapolis plant were devastated when they learned that 550 workers would be laid off.

A week later, Hayes told CNBC that the state’s $16 million investment in capital improvements would be used to automate work at the Indianapolis plant.

“We’re going to… automate to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive,” said Hayes to CNBC during an interview. “Is it as cheap as moving to Mexico with lower cost labor? No. But we will make that plant competitive just because we’ll make the capital investments there. But what that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs.”

In an Op-Ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post, Jones expressed his anger at the false hopes raised by the deal and race-to-the-bottom mentality of corporations like United Technologies.

“These plants are profitable, and the workers produced a good-quality product,” writes Jones. “Because of corporate greed, though, company leaders are racing to the bottom, to find places where they can pay the least. It’s a system that exploits everyone.”

“We won;” Graduate workers at Columbia vote to unionize

“We Won,”  proclaimed the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC) on its webpage after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that Columbia’s teaching and research assistants had voted 1602 to 623 to join the union.

The vote came after a nearly three-year organizing campaign in which members of GWC built an effective organization that fought to give Columbia graduate students who work as  research and teaching assistants a voice on the job.

Members of the union said that the union election victory will make Columbia a better place to learn and work.

Addison Godel, a teaching assistant and GCW member, called the election “a victory for the entire Columbia community.”

“We care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors,” said Godel.

Olga Brudastrova, a research assistant and a GWC member, said that having a union will give teaching and research assistants a voice in making “improvements that will make sure Columbia stays a competitive institution in the 21st century.”

“We bring in nearly $1 billion each year in grants and contracts and teach courses from chemical engineering and applied physics to biology and religion, but for too long, Ivory Tower administrators have been calling all the shots,” added Brudastrova.

The union organizing campaign began in January 2014 when Columbia graduate workers learned that the administration at nearby New York University had recognized a union formed by fellow graduate workers.

As union supporters at Columbia talked and listened to other research and teaching assistants, a common set of grievances began to emerge.

Graduate workers were concerned about inadequate pay, an unreliable health insurance plan, sexual harassment, job insecurity, and the lack of fairness on the job.

In May 2014, the fledgling union held a town hall meeting to give graduate workers a chance to express themselves. The auditorium where the meeting took place was packed with graduate workers from 30 different departments.

By the end of June, GWC had active members in nearly every department on campus.

While GWC was building its organization, it was also acting like a union, even though it hadn’t been recognized by the administration.

It worked with the Graduate Student Advisory Council and other student groups to win a pay raise for graduate workers.

It fought for a fair grievance system that would protect graduate workers from capricious and unfair disciplinary actions.

It provided information and resources to international students who had immigration and visa questions and tax problems.

It gathered 2000 signatures on a national petition to restore billions of dollars in research funding cuts from the federal budget.

And it pressed its case for union recognition to Columbia’s administration.

While it was organizing, there was a question about whether graduate workers were employees who had a right to join a union and bargain collectively.

That issued was settled in the union’s favor by a National Labor Relations Board decision issued last summer.

After gathering enough signatures on union representation cards, GWC filed a petition for a union election.

The university’s administration conducted a anti-union campaign, which the union met head on with facts that rebutted the administration’s claims that graduate workers didn’t need a union.

With its election victory, GWC became the first union to win such an election at a private university. There could be more to follow.

Harvard graduate workers are waiting for the NLRB to announce the results of its union representation election held in November. The board is in the processing of resolving challenges to some of the ballots.

Graduate workers at Duke University have filed for a union representation election and are waiting for an election date to be announced.

Yale graduate workers are also in the process of organizing as are graduate workers at Northwestern, Loyola University of Chicago, St Louis University, and American University.

The UAW has 38,500 graduate workers at 48 public universities throughout the US, and the American Federation of Teachers has 33,000 graduate worker members at 33 public institutions of higher education.

GWC members are urging Columbia to recognize the results of the democratic vote and to begin negotiations with the union as soon as possible.

So far, Columbia’s administration has not indicated whether it will begin or seek to delay negotiations.

Retried miners left in limbo by congressional leaders

Congress adjourned without acting on a bill that would save health insurance for 22,000 retired union coal miners and surviving spouses and pensions for 120,000 active and retired union miners.

For four years, the United Mine Workers of America has been urging Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act (MPA).

MPA would transfer money from surpluses in existing funds in the federal budget dedicated to the coal industry into the miners’ struggling health insurance and pension plans .

In September it looked like Congress would finally pass S. 3470, the Miners Protection Act of 2016, when the Senate Finance Committee voted 18-8 to recommend passage of the bill.

But hopes for passage dimmed when conservative lawmakers objected to the bill because it would help union workers.

Supporters of the bill tried to get the bill included in an end-of-year spending bill that Congress had to pass, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the Miners Protection Act from the spending bill.

In its place, McConnell inserted language that provided four months of funding for retired miners health insurance plans that were about to run out of money by January. The language in the spending bill did nothing to insure the survival of the miners’ pension plan.

Cecil Roberts, international president of the UMWA said that the union’s efforts to mobilize its members resulted in a four-month reprieve for the 16,000 retirees and surviving spouses who were about to lose their health care benefit, but he was dismayed that Congress failed to pass the Miners Protection Bill.

“We are extremely disappointed that we were unable to achieve a full and final fix for our retirees’ health care and pensions at the end of this year’s Congress,” said Roberts.

The Miners Protection Act is an attempt to hold the federal government to a promise it made to miners 70 years ago.

In 1946, 350,000 members of UMWA went on strike when they could not reach a fair collective bargaining agreement with coal companies.

The strike began on April 1, and by the middle of May it was having an impact on the national economy, which was struggling to adjust to peace after it had been on a war footing during World War II.

After more than 50 days of the strike, the US government seized the mines and ordered the miners back to work.

Miners went on strike again in November after coal companies refused to accept an agreement that the miners union and the government had reached.

The miners defied a return to work order issued by the judge.

The strike ended for good when the companies agreed to accept the Krug-Lewis agreement, negotiated by John L. Lewis, president of the UMWA, and Julius Krug, secretary of the Department of the Interior.

The agreement guaranteed that miners, whose grueling and dangerous work often led to serious health problems, would have cradle-to-grave health care and pension benefits.

The health and pension plans set up to deliver those promises would be paid for by royalty payments from the coal companies.

If those payments weren’t sufficient to fund pensions and health care, the government promised to help out.

Until recently, the government has honored its promise when necessary.

Prior to 2008, the miners health care and pension funds were in good shape, but the Great Recession caused losses from which the funds never recovered.

To make matters worse, the coal industry has been in deep decline for the past eight years. As a result of that decline, a number of coal companies that made payments to these funds have gone out of business or declared bankruptcy.

Recognizing the perils that retired and active miners faced, UMWA began pressing Congress to take action that would keep the promise made in 1946 and reaffirmed at different junctures since then.

As a result of the UMWA’s advocacy, the Miners Protection Act was introduced four years ago.

It would transfer surplus money from federal funds designated for cleaning closed mines and from mine leases to the miners’ pension and health care plans.

Action on the Miners Protection Act became urgent in 2016 when 16,000 retired miners and surviving spouses received notice that beginning in January they would no longer have health insurance because their plan would run out of money.

The threat to the miners pension and health care plans isn’t just a threat to the miners and retirees, it’s a threat to the communities where they live.

Editors of the  Lexington, Kentucky Herald Leader explained why,

“The (miners) pension and health funds pump more than $100 million a year into Kentucky — in communities that are suffering the most from the industry’s decline. Their failure and the resulting loss of income to local businesses and medical providers would inflict more suffering on the people and places that McConnell holds up as victims of President Barack Obama’s climate policies.”

“Congress needs to understand that these are real people whose lives are at risk, with real health care issues and real dependence on their small pensions to survive,” said Roberts. “To callously cast them aside as some have advocated in and out of Congress is inhumane and morally reprehensible.”

“We will fight for them and the benefits they have earned in toil and blood every single day, and we will never give up. This is not a defeat, only final victory delayed,” continued Roberts.

Korean union mobilizes members to impeach S. Korea’s president

A massive social movement in South Korea is calling for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has played an important role in this movement leading and helping to lead a number of actions designed to increase pressure for President Park’s impeachment.

The KCTU and allied civic and social movement groups on December 5 staged a sit-in at the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the national trade association of manufacturers.

KCTU accuses the federation of paying bribes to President Park and for lobbying the Park regime to take actions that violate worker rights and diminish union power.

On November 30, KCTU, the second largest labor federation in Korea, also conducted a general strike involving 220,000 of its members, university students, and small business owners. The strikers demanded that the National Assembly impeach Park.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 2 million people in South Korea took part in 60 demonstrations across the nation calling for Park’s impeachment. KCTU played a role in helping to organize these massive demonstrations.

The popular calls for Park’s impeachment have come as more details about Park’s alleged corruption have come to light.

Those corruption charges center around Park’s relationship to a close confidant of Park’s named Choi Soon-sil, who leads two foundations that have reportedly received $70 million in donations from businesses and individuals seeking favors from Park.

During the November 30 general strike, workers marched through the city center of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, stopping along the way at the headquarters of Samsung and Hyundai to call out the conglomerates for making bribes disguised as contributions to the foundations headed by Choi.

During its December 5 sit-in at the FKI office, KCTU charged the federation with encouraging its members to make contributions to the foundations.

“(FKI) . . . offered bribes and lobbied the government for union busting, deregulation, and regressive labor reform. Samsung, Hyundai, POSCO, Lotte and LG should be charged for bribery and the FKI should be dissolved!” said KCTU in a post about the sit-in on its Facebook page.

Last year, Park announced that her government would try to change labor laws to make them more employer friendly.

Her attempts to change the laws bogged down in the National Assembly, but in December 2015, her government issued guidelines making it easier for companies to fire workers.

At the time that the guidelines were issued, Lee Jeong-sik, president of South Korea’s largest labor federation, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, told the Financial Times that, “President Park Geun-hye is very friendly with (the country’s leading corporations). I see her government trying to give favors to Samsung and Hyundai.”

President Park has also cracked down on unions. Her government has imprisoned more than 20 labor leaders and activists including the Han Sang-gyun, president of the KCTU.

Han received a five-year prison sentence for leading demonstrations for workers rights, farmers rights, LGBT rights, and a demonstration to demand justice for victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, most of whom were secondary school students.

Han and other demonstrators claimed that the government was partially to blame for the disaster because of its lax enforcement of safety regulations.

The demonstrations for which Han was arrested have been dwarfed by the most recent demonstrations that have called for Park’s impeachment.

On December 3, 2.3 million people–1.7 million in Seoul alone–took part in nationwide demonstrations calling for Park’s ouster. According the conservative Korea Herald, the December 3 action was the largest mass demonstration in country’s history.

At one time it looked as if Park might ride out the growing scandal, but the mass demonstrations that KCTU has helped organize have made it impossible for her to do so.

Recently, she offered to resign but said that her resignation wouldn’t become final until April.

When that offer did little to appease the public, she said that she would leave her fate up to the National Assembly.

Her supporters in the Assembly have tried to stall for time before impeachment proceedings could begin, but the massive turnout for the December 3 demonstrations made these stalling tactics untenable, and the impeachment proceedings have been set to begin on Friday, December 9.

As the impeachment process approaches, KCTU and other opponents of Park have been holding around-the-clock vigils in front of the National Assembly.

Civic groups and social movements demanding the resignation of Park also have stepped up their activities. Among other things, activists are calling on people to surround the National Assembly on December 8 and stay there until the impeachment vote is taken.

“Lawmakers don’t impeach the president. All they do is vote on the impeachment. The president is impeached not by lawmakers but by the people,” said Han In-seop, a professor at Seoul National University, on his Facebook page.