Hong Kong Labor Supports Ongoing Struggle for Democracy

Ed. note: Although students and young people formed the tenacious shock troops of the Umbrella Movement for democracy in Hong Kong, they received strong support from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). This press statement from the HKCTU commits the labor confederation to the ongoing struggle.

The new era of Democratic Movement begins

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HKCTU leaders and members who were arrested at the 75-day Admiralty occupation on Dec 11th 2014 while they stayed with other protesters to resist the police to clean up the occupation zone, were all released on Dec 12th 2014. Ending of the occupation was just a beginning of a new era of the movement for true democracy.

It was reported that 247 protesters were arrested on Dec 11 and 7 of them from HKCTU: General Secretary Lee Cheuk Yan, Chief Executive Mung Siu Tat, Bar Bender Workers Union Chairperson Wong Wai Man, Community Care and Nursing Workers Union Ar Dick, Van Delivery Workers Unions Simpson, Organizing Secretary Fredrik Fan and a volunteer Wu Sui Ming. They all were released in 12 hours without any charges. After the release, the two leaders of HKCTU made the following comments.

Brother Mung Siu Tat reflected that, “I have been fighting for labour rights over 20 years in my life time seeing how the workers were exploited by bosses and unfair systems. If we would accept the ‘fake universal suffrage’ proposal from the National People’s Congress, the policy making will still be business leaning, as the big corporates are the few but powerful nominators. It implies universal labour rights, such as standard working hours, right to collective bargaining, universal pension fund, would continue to be “blocked” by the functional constituencies. When the roads are occupied, bailiff and the police would conduct the clearance, yet, what happen if our democratic rights and labour rights are “blocked”? If we don’t join force, who can clear up the road to democracy and labour rights? We have to open our roads by our peoples’ power.”

Brother Lee Cheuk Yan said that, “the authorities can use police to clean up the protest site but they cannot kill the spirit and courage of people for democracy. It is going to be tough in future, we have to prepare that the government will use rules and orders as tools for suppressing the social activists and civil society after this battle. At the same time, we see hopes from the active political participation and strong leaderships of youngsters in this movement. HKCTU will try to reach out to the young activists among working class so as to build up an emerging and powerful trade union movement in Hong Kong”.

umbrella supporters

There were a lot of solidarity actions locally and internationally to call for immediate release of the protesters. HKCTU is very thankful to IUF for launching the online petition to show international solidarity to HK democratic struggles. HKCTU will continue the struggle with all working class, students and citizens in Hong Kong to fight for universal suffrage of Chief Executive and Legislative Council in 2017 and 2018.

Is U.S. Labor Morphing into something new ?

HaroldMeyersonAIDBy Harold Meyerson

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven’t done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members.

Read the entire piece from the Los Angeles Times. December 8, 2014.

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-meyerson-labor-organizing-20141208-story.html

Meyerson is an editor of the American Prospect and a Vice Chair of DSA.

California Truckers Strike for Worker Rights

by Peter Dreier

Truckers Go To Court Over LA Port's Clean Trucks Program

More than 40 percent of the goods that come into the United States from overseas come through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That fact alone gives thousands of truck drivers who haul those goods from the ports to warehouses considerable leverage with big companies (like Walmart, Cosco, and Home Depot) whose goods are mostly made in Asia as well as with the shipping companies, the municipal Harbor Commission which oversees the port, and the trucking companies who employ the drivers.

If the truckers shut down the port, they can disrupt a huge part of the U.S. economy that depends on global trade. That’s particularly true during this time of year, when more cargo arrives at the ports in anticipation of the gift-buying holidays.

The trucking companies routinely put profits over people. For example, the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA), which represent the companies, is asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to relax the safety rules that dictate the amount of sleep truckers must have. The HTA wants to lift the requirements so that employers can extend drivers’ hours to accommodate the increased shipping loads prior to the holidays.

No worker wants to go on strike, but several major trucking companies at these L.A. and Long Beach ports have made working conditions so miserable that many drivers believe they have no choice. So the drivers will be out of their trucks and onto the picket lines this week.

In July, drivers went on strike to protest the companies’ chronic unfair labor practices. After five days of picketing that dramatically impacted port operations and garnered international media attention, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti brokered a “cooling off” period that included an agreement by three trucking firms — Total Transportation Services (TTSI), Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9), and Green Fleet Systems — to accept all drivers back to work without retaliation. But the trucking companies went back on their pledge to Garcetti. They continued retaliating against drivers who have complained about unfair conditions and who want a stronger voice in their workplaces. They even fired several of the most outspoken truckers.

So now the drivers are ready to go back on the picket lines and to shift their protests from the offices of the trucking companies to the dockside terminals where longshore workers move containers from ships to trucks. Their actions could be compounded if, the dock workers also withhold their labor. About 20,000 longshoreman at 29 West Coast ports, who have been working without a union contract since July 1, are poised to go on strike in a dispute with the shipping companies.

The drivers claim that the trucking companies have been misclassifying them as “independent contractors” in order to make it impossible, under federal labor laws, to unionize. The companies routinely deduct huge amounts from drivers’ paychecks for fuel, parking, insurance and other expenses, a practice that the drivers say is wage theft. After drivers pay for the cost of renting and maintaining their trucks, their pay is often below the minimum wage.

“The companies treat us like regular employees but compensate us like independent contractors,” drivers said in a joint statement.

Several times in the past year the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) sided with the drivers, finding that they are actually employees rather than independent contractors because the trucking companies establish all the conditions of their work. Since February 2013, DLSE has ruled against one of the firms, TTSI, in 17 cases awarding the drivers over $1.2 million in the form of unpaid wages and reimbursements for expenses paid by workers. DLSE admonished the trucking firms to stop retaliating against drivers who raise these issues, but the retaliations have continued.

Last summer, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a consolidated complaint alleging that GFS has committed more than 50 egregious labor law violations. And last month, a Federal Judge issued an injunction against Green Fleet Systems (GFS), ordered the company to immediately re-hire two drivers who were fired illegally, and stop other illegal labor activities or face contempt of court. The court found that in January 2014 that GFS misclassified drivers Mateo Mares and Amilcar Cardona as independent contractors and then fired them for openly supporting GFS’ drivers’ efforts to unionize with the Teamsters and for refusing to withdraw their wage and hour claims for illegal deductions.

“This is a great victory not just for me and Mateo,” said Amilcar Cardona. “It is a great victory for all drivers serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and across the country. The majority of U.S. port drivers are misclassified as “independent contractors” and with this decision, we are beginning to see that the law is on our side and that we all have rights as employees to form our union.”

But despite these rulings by the DLSE, the NLRB, and a federal court, the trucking companies have continued to break the law and try to intimidate the drivers, leading to the latest showdown on the docks.

The drivers have appealed to the Harbor Commission, a municipal agency that oversees port operations, to take steps to reign in the rogue companies. If the dockers walk off their jobs in solidarity with the truckers, port activity would come to a halt, but the truckers alone have sufficient clout to have a significant economic impact if they strike.

According to Harbor Commissioner Patricia Castellanos, “these trucking companies’ behavior is outrageous. After all these deductions, some drivers are barely getting paid anything.”

Castellanos expressed sympathy for the drivers’ plight and their decision to resume their strike.

“It is very clear that the actions that their employers are taking is what’s causing them to take even further action,” she said.

Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame(Nation Books, 2012)

This article is reposted from the blog of the Huffington Post.

Meet the Hedge Fund Privateer Who Is Shrinking Workers Pensions.

Meet the Hedge Fund Privateer Who Is Shrinking Workers Pensions.

Alan Pyke  October 28, 2014  ThinkProgress Arnold’s spokespeople bristle at the suggestion that the billionaire is out to cut pensions, insisting that he only wants a realistic accounting of the under-funding problem. But the similarities between what Raimondo did in Rhode Island and what the Arnold Foundation advocates nationwide are striking.

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When longtime private equity analyst Gina Raimondo won her bid to become treasurer of her home state in 2010, Rhode Island’s public pension system was in such disarray that federal regulators were sniffing around to make sure the state was reporting the funding levels accurately.

Within two years, Raimondo (D) would push through the most significant cuts to public worker retirement benefits in the country and begin a campaign for the Governor’s mansion. The changes she masterminded in 2011 shrank the state’s pension funding gap by billions of dollars almost overnight, an achievement that would have taken years under the more moderate reforms other states have tried. But the rapid, aggressive approach came at a steep cost for the 66,000 men and women who teach, fight fires, and administer public programs in the state.

After years of paying into a retirement system that promised fixed annual payments in their golden years, Rhode Island’s public workforce got herded into a new, far riskier system. Raimondo’s policy is what’s known as a “hybrid pension,” where the system of guaranteed payments to retirees was replaced by a combination of individual investment accounts and a much smaller version of the traditional pension payments. The change amounted to a large benefit cut for thousands of workers.

Read the entire piece.

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/10/28/3585128/arnold-pensions-retirement-manufactured-crisis/

Reposted from Portside.

This  John D. Arnold is the same guy funding the anti teacher union effort in California in this election. http://wp.me/pachF-6ex

 

NEA and Union Political Spending in Campaign 2014

Interesting interview. http://www.c-span.org/video/?322369-4/washington-journal-karen-white-teacher-union-spending-campaign-2014

http://static.c-span.org/assets/swf/CSPANPlayer.1412970412.swf?pid=322369-4

Richard Trumka, Ferguson Missouri

Support the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong

by Paul Garver

Umbrella Movement

The Umbrella Movement in support of democracy and against growing inequality in Hong Kong persists despite savage attacks on peaceful protesters by thugs that are condoned or even in some cases organized by the police.

Responding with force to this extreme provocation, which includes right-wing thugs groping the female demonstrators, might provide a pretext for the Hong Kong government to violently crack down on the demonstrations. The protesters, mainly university and high school students supported by independent labor unions, civic groups and ordinary citizens of Hong Kong, have been able to maintain a steadfast nonviolent discipline, as illustrated in this photo from Causeway Bay.
Causeway Bay

After consultation between Hong Kong activists and some of their supporters, a consensus was reached on some measures that could be taken to support the Umbrella Movement. These are summarized in an excellent article in Labor Notes by Alexandra Bradbury at http://labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/students-and-workers-strike-democratic-reforms-hong-kong.

Ways to Support the Hong Kong Democracy Movement

Join or organize a local rally or vigil. A number of international actions have targeted Chinese consulate offices, though key organizers inside Hong Kong have clearly decided to focus their pressure on the Hong Kong government rather than on Beijing. Another possible target: the local Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.

Hold a teach-in or speak-out on your campus or at your organization. Some are also distributing yellow ribbons to show solidarity.

Get your union or organization to send a statement of solidarity. Unions around the world, including Canada’s national union federation, have issued statements of support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also made a statement.

Sign support petitions, either the one sponsored by HKCTU at http://www.hkctu.org.hk/web/en/online_petition.html?id=6
or the other by the IUF at http://www.iuf.org/w/?q=node/3675.

Follow the latest developments and appeals via the Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Calling-for-international-support-for-democracy-in-Hong-Kong/275123362684837?ref=hl

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