Labor Leaders urge members to support May Day actions

Leaders of four large US labor unions urged their members to support the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” actions taking place in cities and towns across the US.

On May Day immigrants will be participating in strikes, boycotts, and marches to protest the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America, Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Peter Knowlton, general president of United Electrical Workers, all signed a statement urging members and local leaders to support the May Day actions.

“We will march and stand with our sister and brother immigrant workers against the terror tactics of the Trump administration,” reads a statement issued by the four labor leaders. “. . . We urge our organizations’ leaders and members to participate in whatever way we can.”

The statement issued by the four union leaders says that immigrants, both those with and without residency documents,” lead hard working and productive lives” and that many are also union members.

These workers have been a target of President Trump since he began his campaign for President in 2015.

Trump, according to the four union leaders, has tried to cast immigrants as rapists and murderers to justify his vilification of them.

This kind of race baiting and immigrant bashing have a long history in the US and are part of “a consistent attempt by business elites to divide working class people in order to advance their pro-corporate agenda.”

“We refuse to go down that road of hatred, resentment, and divisiveness,” reads the statement. “We will march and stand with our sister and brother immigrant workers against the terror tactics of the Trump administration.”

DeMoro, Shelton, Hanley, and Knowlton lead unions that are part of a new Labor for Our Revolution network.

Our Revolution is the grassroots organization that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

More than 1000 local union leaders and members, who are part of the Labor for Our Revolution network, have signed a statement saying that they will support local “Day Without Immigrants” actions.

“It’s gratifying to see that so many members understand the importance of taking a stand with immigrant workers,” said Larry Cohen, Our Revolution board chair and former president of the Communication Workers of America. “It doesn’t matter whether you were born in the US or arrived as an immigrant, May 1 is a time for all workers to come together and fight for our jobs and our living standards.”

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Bloomingdale’s union workers bargain for online commissions

Bloomingdale’s, an upscale nationwide department store, and its New York City employees are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.

The negotiations are taking place at a time when customer shopping habits are shifting. More of Bloomingdale’s customers are making their purchases online.

But this trend hasn’t made the employees in the store superfluous. They still play an important role in the success of Bloomingdale’s.

“It’s unionized workers at the Bloomingdale’s flagship store who deliver the top-notch service and create the shopping experience so many customers have come to expect and love,” said said Cassandra Berrocal, president of Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 3, the New City Bloomingdale’s workers’ union. “These workers deserve a fair new contract that values their enormous contributions to the financial health and growth of Bloomingdale’s.”

The union wants Bloomingdale’s to recognize the important role that its workers are playing by paying them commissions on online sales.

Customers will often come into stores to gather information about purchases and then finalize their purchases at home online, in some cases, to take advantage on online discounts.

“(Union sales clerks) will help them for hours, and then they go home and buy (online),” said Chelsea Connor, director of communications and media for RWDSU to CBS MoneyWatch. “(Clerks) are spending a lot of time on the phone and on the floor, and not making what we used to make.”

Some sales clerks have seen their commission income drop by as much as 20 percent because of increased online purchases.

In many cases, those online purchases are the result of hard work that sales clerks put in answering customer questions and helping them gather information about their purchases.

“People will come in and take an hour or more of our time looking at furniture, and then they’ll say ‘Can I buy this online?'” said a Bloomingdale’s furniture department employee who preferred not to give her name to Racked, an online media site that covers style and fashion.

 

It’s not just the sales clerks who make Bloomingdale’s continue to be profitable while other retail stores are struggling.

Local 3 members include shelf stockers and clerical workers as well as retail clerks.

These workers also want their contributions to Bloomingdale’s success recognized.

But Bloomingdale’s came to the bargaining table demanding a slew of concessions.

The company wants to eliminate workers’ pensions, make them pay more for health care coverage, take away scheduling protections, eliminate seniority rights, and take away compensatory days for working on holidays.

The union is resisting these takeaways and fighting for a fair pay increase for all workers.

Negotiations at Bloomingdale’s are coming a time when the retail sales industry is facing uncertain times.

The rise of online sales and other changes to customers shopping habits are affecting sales.

Because of the changes facing the retail sales industry, Macy’s, the owner of Bloomingdale’s, last year announced that it would be closing 68 Macy’s stores and eliminating 10,000 jobs.

Macy’s has been joined by other retailers. Sears, K-Mart, JC Penney, Abercrombie & Fitch, Payless Shoes, Radio Shack, and Staples among others have all announced significant store closings and layoffs.

But Bloomingdale’s has defied this trend.

Instead of closing stores, Bloomingdale has been opening new stores. The number of Bloomingdale’s stores, including outlet stores, increased from 50 in 2014 to 55 in 2016, and the company plans to open more new stores.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, said that instead of seeking concessions, Bloomingdale’s should be rewarding its workers for the company’s success.

“Bloomingdale’s should recognize that these incredible workers make the flagship store a highly profitable global showroom for customers from many countries,” said Appelbaum. “These dedicated employees generate millions in sales for Bloomingdale’s, including from the company’s website. They deserve a fair contract that offers commissions for online sales and returned items, along with good wages, benefits, and scheduling protections.”

Local 3’s current collective bargaining agreement with Bloomingdale’s expires on May 1.

In a message to members, the union ne said that progress had been made during the negotiations but “many very difficult issues remain to be resolved.”

Earlier in the month, the union told members to be prepared to start picketing the store if an agreement could not be reached by May 1.

Researchers link meeting corporate earnings goals to worker injuries

A recently published research paper finds that corporate managers will sacrifice workers’ safety in order to meet investor earnings expectations.

The paper authored by Judson Caskey, an associate professor of accounting at UCLA, and N. Bugra Ozel, an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Texas at Dallas, was published in the February issue of the Journal of Accounting and Economics.

Caskey and Ozel, find strong evidence showing that when corporations are in danger of not meeting earnings expectation benchmarks set for them by Wall Street, corporate managers will try to lower costs by increasing employees’ workload and cutting back on safety-related expenditures.

Doing so increases the number of job related injuries or illnesses by between 10 percent and 15 percent.

Earnings benchmarks are set by Wall Street analysts to help investors determine whether to buy or sell stock in companies.

“We know that firms try to meet earnings benchmarks because the benchmarks have implications for the firms,” said Ozel. “If firms do not meet these benchmarks, then investors punish them, and stock prices go down significantly after a miss of earnings expectations. That gives managers incentive to use the tools they have to ensure they are going to perform at least to the expectations.”

Among the tools that management uses “to ensure that they are going perform at least to the expectation” is their ability to control expenditures.

One way to control expenditures is to reduce spending on equipment maintenance, safety training, and other safety measures, all of which can lead to more on-the-job injuries

Another way is to increase workers’ workload, which lowers labor costs by squeezing more production out of workers.

Making employees work harder can lead to more work injuries, write Caskey and Ozel because as workers are forced to work harder they can “compromise their safety by overextending themselves or by circumventing safety procedures that slow the flow of work.”

“Taken together, the evidence suggests that both pressure to increase worker productivity and cuts to safety-related expenditures contribute to the relation between benchmark beating and workplace safety, said Ozel”

According to the paper, work injuries are 10 percent to 15 percent higher for corporations in danger of not meeting their earnings benchmark compared to those that exceed benchmarks by a comfortable margin.

Caskey and Ozel arrived at their conclusions after studying years of corporate safety data reported to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and corporate financial reports.

“There’s clearly an economic trade off,” said Ozel in describing the results of their research. “Managers are there to think about the best interests of their investors, and they have to make a decision of what would be in the best interests of the investors, and sometimes, they might decide to risk injuries.”

The authors also find that there are some exceptions to their overall findings.

The biggest exception is in companies where workers belong to unions. These companies, according to Caskey and Ozel, are less likely to put their workers at risk of injury in order to meet earnings benchmarks.

“This is consistent with unions’ aim to ensure reasonable workloads, work speed, and safety” write Caskey and Ozel. “It is also consistent with the findings in the literature that, compared to non-union workers, union workers are less likely to perceive that taking risks is a part of their job, and unionization leads to fewer workplace injuries.”

“Our evidence suggests that unions mitigate the extent to which pressure to meet earnings expectations translates into reduced safety”, continue the authors.”

Other factors that make it less likely that corporations will reduce worker safety in order to meet earnings benchmark are the strength of a state’s workers’ compensation system and the extent to which a company relies on government contracts for its earnings.

Companies that rely heavily on government contracts are less likely to cut worker safety measures because “government contracts typically include terms that prohibit bids from firms deemed to have unsafe work environments.”

We tend to think of corporate managers as rational players for whom “performance is important” but not so important that they will “sacrifice people’s health for this purpose,” said Ozel. “And (yet in our research) we find quite a significant result — a 10 to 15 percent increase in employee injuries.”

Time running out for Congress to keep promise made to miners

Time is running out for Congress to act on legislation that will preserve health care benefits for 22,000 retired coal miners and protect pensions for tens of thousands of active and retired miners.

In March some retired coal miners received letters notifying them that their current health care insurance will be terminated at the end of April.

These miners retired from mines owned by companies that filed bankruptcy between 2012 and 2015.

Their health care insurance is presently paid for by the United Mine Workers of America’s Multiemployer Health Care Fund, but because of a spate of bankruptcies in the coal mining industry and the general decline of the industry, the money to pay for the health care benefit is about to run out.

Congress is currently considering passage of the Miners’ Protection Act, which would provide a mechanism for funding the retirees’ health benefit and shore up their under funded pension.

But action must be taken on the bill in the next week or thousands of retired miners will be left without health care insurance.

Retired members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) have been traveling from West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to Washington DC urging lawmakers to pass the Miners Protection Act (S 175 in the Senate and HR 179 in the House).

The Miners’ Protection Act would transfer interest accumulating in the Abandoned Mine Rehabilitation Fund to the UMWA Multiemployer Health Benefit Fund.

That money would be used to shore up the under funded health benefit plan and ensure continuing health care coverage for retirees who worked for Patriot Coal, Walter Energy, and Alpha Natural Resources, all of which declared bankruptcy between 2012 and 2015.

The Miners’ Protection Act also would provide funds to protect the pensions of active and retired coal miners.

When the retired coal miners went to Washington DC, they urged lawmakers to keep a promise that the US government made 70 years ago.

In 1946, 350,000 bituminous coal miners went on strike. At the time, coal was a key resource for the nation’s economy, which was in the midst of changing from a war economy to a peace economy.

When the miners and coal companies couldn’t reach an agreement to settle the strike, President Truman seized the mines putting the government in control of the mines and forcing miners back to work.

In order to return the mines back to the coal companies, the government needed the UMWA to accept a new collective bargaining agreement.

To win the union’s acceptance, the government promised to guarantee that miners would have health care and retirement benefits for life.

Knowing that coal mining was a dangerous occupation and that health problems were a constant companion of both active and retired miners, the union agreed to the deal.

Since then there have been several instances when the miners’ lifetime health care and pension benefits have been in jeopardy.

Until now, the government has always kept its promise, but things have changed, and the current leadership of Congress has been reluctant to keep the promise.

The Miners’ Protection Act appeared to have enough votes to pass in 2016, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, wouldn’t allow a vote on the bill.

Instead, Congress extended temporary funding that kept the retired miners’ health care plan solvent until April 30, 2017 and did nothing to protect the miners’ pension plan.

Donnie Smith, a female African-American retired miner, had a message for members of Congress as they consider whether to support the Miners’ Protection Act.

“They need to put themselves in our shoes,” said Smith. “Just walk around in our shoes for a while. Go underground and see what we went through and see if, you know, taking our benefits away from us is worth it.”

Facebook tells workers that they can join May Day actions; Is Google next?

On May 1, the International Workers’ Day, dozens of local May Day demonstrations will take place in the US to protest President Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-worker policies.

Facebook on April 18 notified its employees that it will not punish any employee who misses work to participate in a May Day demonstration.

The company also said that it will take steps to protect service workers employed by Facebook subcontractors should they choose to join the May Day demonstrations. These workers provide food, janitorial, security, and other services on Facebook campuses.

“We support our people in recognizing International Workers’ Day and other efforts to raise awareness for safe and equitable employment conditions,” reads the notice to Facebook employees.

The notification came after Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of 40 labor, faith leaders, and community based organizations, sent letters to the 20 largest tech companies in Silicon Valley asking them to “honor the wishes of any workers who want to participate in (May Day) actions” by “not disciplin(ing) those workers who participate” and “(holding) their food service, janitorial, security, and other subcontractors to the same standard.”

Subcontractor workers in the tech industry are largely immigrants, people of color, and women.

Four days before Facebook made its announcement, delegations from immigrant rights, tech equity, and labor groups visited Google campuses across the country to deliver a similar letter.

Many of Google’s service workers have been directly affected by the administration’s anti-immigrant policies, and some want to join the May Day demonstrations to protest these policies.

“Since Trump was elected, it has felt like there is a non-stop attack on immigrants,” said Braulia Delgado, a Google janitor for 13 years to BuzzFeed News. “As an immigrant worker I am staying home from work on May 1st and encouraging other workers to stay home and march with us because we contribute a lot to this industry and this country and we belong here. Google and other tech companies have already taken a stand against the Trump administration’s policies, now it’s time for them to stand with us.”

But there is fear that some employers may retaliate if these workers do join the demonstrations.

The delegation wanted assurances from Google that its service workers would receive the same protections that its tech workers have received.

In January, thousands of Google tech workers walked off the job to protest President Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

In March, Google employees took off work to join A Day Without Women demonstrations.

In both instances, Google supported its employees right to protest.

“Google and its employees have stood up to intolerance, as evidenced by their strong stance against the first travel ban,” said Derecka Mehrens, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising. “Now is the time for Google to continue to be an industry leader by ensuring that all workers in its offices — both direct and subcontracted employees — have the opportunity to participate in these historic (May Day) actions without fear of retaliation.”

Facebook’s decision to stand with its workers puts more pressure on Google to take a public stand supporting its service workers as well as its tech workers should they decided to join the May Day demonstrations against President Trump’s anti-immigration policies.

But as of this writing, Google has not done so.

Silicon Valley Rising is asking people to support tech workers and tech service workers right to join the resistance by signing a petition addressed to Google.

Nurses oppose governor’s business decision to reduce public health services

Members of the Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United (MSNA/NNU) urged state lawmakers to pass a bill that would restore an important public health service that Maine’s governor has allowed to atrophy.

The bill LD 1108 would require the state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDCP) to hire more public health nurses.

CDCP acting on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage, who came to office in 2011 boasting that he would run state government like a business, has refused to fill vacant public health nurse positions.

As a result, the number of public health nurses has dropped from 50 to 23 leaving the nurses still on the job overwhelmed and putting the health of the public at risk.

Public health nurses in Maine play an important role in preventing disease and other health problems that if left unchecked could cause major public health problems.

LD 1108 would set a minimum staffing level for public health nurses at 50 and establish a deadline for the agency to meet the minimum staffing levels.

“Gov. LePage’s destruction of public health needs has caused suffering among patients in this state. Public health services need to be restored,” said Cokie Giles, president of MSNA/NNU on the eve of an April 13 legislative hearing on the bill. “LD 1108 is emergency legislation that must urgently be passed.”

Maine’s corps of public health nurses was created in the 1920s primarily to improve the health of expectant mothers and to reduce infant mortality.

Since then, their duties have been expanded to include overseeing vaccination programs, in-person monitoring of people with deadly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, home visits to elderly people well enough to stay out of nursing homes but still medically fragile, and organizing responses to epidemics like the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.

Apparently the governor doesn’t think that it’s a good business decision to hire enough public health nurses to provide these vital public health services.

According to the Bangor Daily News, the LePage administration has “decimated” the state’s public health nurses’ program “by leaving more than half of its budgeted positions unfilled,”

Prior to LePage taking office, one of the most important services provided by public health nurses were their home visits to new mothers and their newborns.

According to the Daily News,

Decades of research have shown that sending a nurse into a new parent’s home, both prenatally and postpartum, is associated with a range of positive outcomes, from reduced likelihood of preterm births, infant deaths and child abuse, to improved language development and school readiness for the child and improved health for the mother.

But the LePage administration has greatly reduced public health nurse home visits to prenatal and postpartum women.

Much of this work has been farmed out to non-medical personnel who are not trained or licensed to deliver health services to new parents and their babies.

At the same time that public health nurses are paying fewer home visits to expecting and postpartum women, Maine is experiencing an alarming opioid abuse crisis, which affects the health of newborns.

According to the Daily News, “1000 babies born in Maine each year are exposed to drugs in utero and need medical follow-up.”

Disturbingly as the rise in opioid abuse has increased, so has Maine’s infant mortality rate.

In 1996, Maine had the lowest infant mortality rate in the US, but by 2014 it had dropped to 37th. While the infant mortality rate in other states has been improving, it is getting worse in Maine.

Despite Maine’s public health crisis of rising opioid abuse and increased infant mortality, Gov. LePage thinks that it makes good business sense to seek more cuts to public health nurse staffing.

His proposed budget for the next two years eliminates eight public health nurse positions and three management and support staff positions.

But some Maine lawmakers want to reverse Gov. LePage’s cuts and are supporting LD 1108.

State Senator Brownie Carson, a Democrat has sponsored LD 1108, and the bill has nine co-sponsors, seven of whom are Republicans.

“Six years ago, we had 59 public health nurses, including field nurses, managers and planners in 13 offices across the state who were looking after all of Maine’s people. Now, although the numbers are hard to get, we think we have between 20 and 23,” said Sen. Carson at a media conference.

In testimony during a senate committee hearing, Sen. Carson said that the state’s public health nurse program has been “hollowed out.”

“We must right this ship,” said Sen. Carson.

OSHA delays another worker safety standard

For the second time this year, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has postponed implementation of worker safety standards that would protect the lives of hundreds of workers.

OSHA on April 6 announced that it was delaying implementation of new safety standards limiting worker exposure to crystalline silica, a fine dust that can cause silicosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal lung disease, lung cancer, and kidney disease.

Silica dust, which is created during the use of power tools such as saws, grinders, drill, and jackhammers, is common at construction sites, foundries, and fracking wells.

The new exposure limits, which would only affect the construction industry, were set to go into effect in June, but implementation was postponed until September.

In March, lobbyist from several construction industry trade groups urged OSHA to postpone implementation for one year.

In February, OSHA postponed new safety standards for working with beryllium from March until May.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal used in the manufacture of electronic devices, aircrafts, and missiles.

When beryllium is machined, dust from the machining can be inhaled and cause a chronic lung disease.

OSHA’s decision to delay implementation of the silica safety standards was criticized by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH), a coalition of local and state occupational safety groups.

“The federal safety standard limiting worker exposure to silica dust has been decades in the making,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of NCOSH. “It is backed by solid scientific evidence and the experience of workers who have suffered cancer, silicosis and other life-threatening diseases. There is no reason for delaying this rule, which will save more 600 lives each year.”

The dangers of silica have been known since the 1930s. The government first enacted silica safety standards in 1971, but those standards proved to be inadequate.

After extensive research, OSHA proposed new silica safety standards in 2011. After years of further research and public input, OSHA the new safety standards were finalized in May 2016.

There are actually two safety standards: one for the construction industry, the other for general industry and maritime services.

The safety standards for the construction industry were to be implemented on June 23, 2017. The other standards were to be implemented a year later.

At the time that the safety standards were published, Tomas Perez, the then secretary of the US Labor Department said that the new standards would save the lives of 600 workers a year and prevent 900 new cases of silicosis.

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of NCOSH said that the delay in implementing the new safety standards imposes an unwarranted risk to the health and safety of construction workers.

“With construction season underway, three months of delay means that millions of workers will be exposed to hazardous silica dust that will make them sick and take their lives,” said Goldstein-Gelb.

According to OSHA, 2 million construction workers at more than 600,000 construction work sites are exposed to silica dusts.

Of those exposed, 840,000 are exposed to silica levels higher than those of the new safety standards.

Goldstein-Gelb said that steps that companies can take to comply with the new safety standards would be minimal.

“Tools to wet down silica dust and vacuum it up are practical, affordable, and readily available,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “The new standard was announced more than a year ago and employers are aware of their responsibilities to limit worker exposure. To protect workers, the time to act is now.”