New Zealand Fast Food Workers Win Minimum Hours Guarantee

by Mike Treen, National Director, Unite

indonesia fast food nz

[Ed. note: Fast food industry workers in New Zealand have been organized by the Unite union for over a decade. Their relative strength has enabled their union to play an active role in the international campaigns to organize the fast food industry, both giving support to the Fight for $15 in the USA and receiving support from fast food workers in other countries through the IUF for their own campaigns. The photo shows a support demonstration from workers in Indonesia.-pg]

Workers in the fast food industry in New Zealand scored a spectacular victory over what has been dubbed “zero hour contracts” during a collective agreement bargaining round over the course of March and April this year.

The campaign played out over the national media as well as on picket lines. The victory was seen by many observers as the product of a determined fight by a valiant group of workers and their union, Unite. It was a morale boost for all working people after what has seemed like a period of retreat for working class struggle in recent years.

Workers in the fast food industry have long identified “zero hour contracts” as the central problem they face. These are contracts that don’t guarantee any hours per week, meanwhile workers are expected to work any shifts rostered within the workers “availability”. Managers have power to use and abuse the rostering system to reward and punish, without any real means of holding them to account.

This year, all the collective agreements with the major fast food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Restaurant Brands) expired on March 31. We were already in dispute with Wendy’s, as their agreement remains unresolved from last year. Unite Union was determined to end the system of zero hours and get guaranteed hours included in the new collective agreements. We had no illusions that this was going to be easy. We knew this would be a tough battle and we needed to prepare for that reality if we were to have a chance of success. At organising meetings I would sometimes use a phrase that appealed: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. I was told later it is taken from a Latin adage: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. Whoever coined the phrase, it is a wise strategy.

Continue reading

Nike supports TPP. Here is why

Leo Gerard

America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.

Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.

The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”

This is trade abuse.

United Steelworkers of America.

At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.

CEO Mark Parker promised that the TPP would miraculously prompt Nike, the brand that is the icon for shipping production overseas, to create 10,000 U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs – over a decade, that is.  Not only that, Parker pronounced, the TPP will generate thousands of construction jobs and as many as 40,000 indirect positions with suppliers and service companies – again, over a decade.

Now those are some great-sounding promises! Nike employs 26,000 American workers now, a few of whom make soles in Oregon and Missouri. But presto, Parker says, the TPP will increase that number by nearly 40 percent!

The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.

The average cost to make a pair of Nike shoes is $30. The American sneaker consumer, who may pay $130 to swoosh, is certainly not getting the benefit of low prices from Nike’s cheap overseas production.

Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”

Well, not really. The company admitted in 2011 that two Indonesian factories making its shoes subjected workers to “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Nike told the San Francisco Chronicle then that there was “little it could do to stop” the cruelty.

And it accomplished exactly that – little. Just last month, a three-part series in the Modesto Bee described sickening conditions in Indonesian factories producing Nike shoes: Workers paid $212 a month for six-day, 55-hour work weeks. Workers denied the country’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers paid so little they couldn’t afford to care for their children. Workers fired for trying to improve conditions.

 

 

Nike Sweatshops

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Last week, the world’s largest athletic gear maker said, “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions (in the TPP) because we believe that will drive higher industry standards and create economic growth that benefits everyone.”

Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?

Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that.  The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.

In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”

That’s not quite right. It’s actually way worse than that. Past deals killed U.S. factories and jobs. Since NAFTA, they’ve cost Americans 57,000 factories and 5 million good, family-supporting jobs.

Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.

It’s the same story with the other trade deals that followed NAFTA, including the agreements that enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commerce Department announced just last week the largest monthly expansion in the trade deficit in 19 years. The deficit with China for March was the biggest ever.

What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.

American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.

To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”

Leo Gerard. President . United Steelworkers of America.

Follow Leo W. Gerard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uswblogger

 

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Undemocratic Job-Killing Trade Scheme

by Leo Gerard

No Fast Track
Free traders in Congress formally proposed last week that lawmakers relax, put their feet up and neglect the rigor of legislative review for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade scheme.

The TPP is a secret deal among 12 Pacific Rim nations that was covertly negotiated by unelected officials and corporate bosses. It’s so clandestine that lawmakers elected to represent the American people were refused access to the deliberations. It would expand secret trade tribunals that corporations use to sue governments over democratically established laws and win compensation from taxpayers.

The Congressional free traders want to Fast Track authorization of the TPP. Fast Track enables Congress to abdicate its constitutionally mandated duty to regulate international trade. Instead of scrutinizing, amending and improving proposed trade deals, lawmakers use Fast Track to gloss over the specifics and simply vote yea or nay on the entire package as presented. With elected officials excluded from the talks, details of the treaty deliberately shrouded in secrecy and free traders demanding lawmakers ignore the deal’s effects on constituents, this process condemns democracy.

As usual, the free traders say, don’t worry, the TPP is gonna be great, just great! Trust us, they say.

For opponents of the deal—unions, environmentalists, human rights groups and Congressional progressives—there’s no trusting free traders. That’s because they’ve proven to be nothing but flimflam men. Deals they’ve peddled previously, like NAFTA, CAFTA and KORUS, have not, in fact, been great. They’ve dramatically increased the nation’s trade deficit, prompted corporations to ship manufacturing offshore, cost millions of American workers their jobs and suppressed wages.

President Barack Obama, who is pushing the TPP, admits opponents are right to be wary. During a meeting recently with small business executives, he conceded, “Trade deals have not always been good for American manufacturing. … There have been times where because the trade deal was one way, American workers didn’t benefit and somebody else did.”

Even so, he too sought trust, adding: “Well, we intend to change that.”

There’s no trust when 32 percent of American steel mill production is idled and more than 6,000 steelworkers are laid off or warned of impending furloughs because of unchecked imports of illegally subsidized steel from China.

The AFL-CIO, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the United Steelworkers and others have pleaded with the administration for years to provide relief from China’s price-distorting currency manipulation. The administration responded with inaction.

There’s no trust when free traders promised workers that NAFTA would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, but as it turned out, those jobs were poverty-wage positions in Mexico created when American manufacturers took advantage of NAFTA provisions to close American factories and move them across the border.

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch examined the effect of NAFTA and wrote in a report issued in February of 2014, “Twenty years later, the grand projections and promises made by NAFTA’s proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised.”

The most devastating upside-down outcome is jobs. The Global Trade Watch report notes that more than 845,000 U.S. workers qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance after having lost their jobs as a result of imports from Canada or Mexico or relocation of U.S. factories there. It’s extremely difficult to qualify for Trade Adjustment Assistance, so this number probably understates the total job losses significantly.

In addition, when workers who lost jobs landed new ones, they got paid less, with the average reduction greater than 20 percent.

KORUS is the same sad story. Free traders pledged three years ago that the deal with South Korea would produce tons more exports that would, of course, create lots of new American jobs. Instead, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea grew 84 percent, excluding the value of foreign-made goods that pass unaltered through the United States on their way to Korea.

Calculating with the trade-to-jobs formula that free traders used when they were promoting KORUS, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea translates into the loss of nearly 85,000 U.S. jobs—in just three years.

This does not engender trust.

Still, free traders now are huckstering the TPP with promises of job gains. They’re not fooling everybody, though, with their claim that it will create 650,000 jobs. In January, the Washington Post fact checker gave this promise its highest liar-liar-pants-on-fire rating of four Pinocchios.

Using the free traders’ own method of calculating, the Post determined TPP would create no new jobs. That would be a fabulous result after the track record of these trade pacts causing massive job losses. Fantastical probably is a better descriptor, though, for a no-job-loss outcome.

But don’t worry, the free traders say, TPP will include Trade Adjustment Assistance to help workers thrown out of jobs by offshored factories and employers bankrupted as a result of dirt-cheap imports produced by exploited workers in countries without pollution controls. Trust us, the free traders say, displaced workers can use tax dollars to train for brand new jobs that pay 20 percent less!

Based on broken promises, Americans don’t like free trade schemes. So free traders in Congress, like Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, are trying to fast track Fast Track before the public notices. The New York Times explained this: “Both the Finance and Ways and Means committees will formally draft the legislation next week in hopes of getting it to final votes before a wave of opposition can sweep it away.” The Times quotes Hatch saying about the rush to legislate: “If we don’t act now, we will lose our opportunity.”

Earlier former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk explained why the administration refused to disclose the contents of the TPP, a task that Wikileaks took on instead. Kirk told Reuters that telling the publicwhat the deal contains would make passage impossible.

Concealing potentially job-killing trade schemes from the American public thwarts democracy. Rushing unpopular legislation through Congress before American citizens have an opportunity to review it and tell their elected representatives how they feel about it obstructs democracy.

No trade treaty, no matter how great free traders cross-their-hearts-and-hope-to-die it will be, is worth damning Americans’ cherished democracy.
Leo Gerard is the President of the United Steelworkers international union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18.  Numerous USW locals were among the 2009 organizations that signed a letter to Congress as part of the Citizen’s Trade Campaign demanding Fast Track and the TPP be rejected.

Gerard’s statement is reposted from the Working In These Times blog.

Boston Demonstration Launches Global Wage Action A Day Early

by Paul Garver

Boston wage demo 14th April

Boston launched the April 15 global day of action for higher wages a day early. Not out of competitive fervor, but because April 15 is reserved in Massachusetts to celebrate Patriot’s Day. As I write this today, drums are drumming, pipers piping and muskets firing in the towns around me as suburban Minutemen assemble and march towards the Old North Bridge in Concord to reenact a confrontation with the Redcoats.

In Boston yesterday, a diverse throng of several thousand people of all ages and colors assembled and marched past numerous institutions that underpay their workers, whether cleaners in office buildings and theaters, burger fryers at fast food joints, or adjunct faculty at universities. The unifying demand was the fight for $15 an hour. But the speeches, banners and chants expressed a hunger for a movement that goes far beyond reenactment. Even if some of these same marchers had previously participated in the equally spirited, though smaller and less diverse marches of Occupy Boston, they were not merely reenacting Occupy. Here is what democracy looks like.

Yesterday’s action in Boston was all about improving the real present conditions of the 99%, and building a future that includes all of us and our children and grandchildren. We are not Minutemen fighting Redcoats or a distant monarch, but struggling for the more difficult task of achieving greater economic and social justice in a sustainable world. This is not the work of Minutemen, but of long distance runners. Yesterday showed that the movement in Boston is advancing in that direction.

Panamanian Dock Workers Join the American Union ILWU

by David Bacon

[ed. note: In my experience as a labor organizer at the global level, international labor solidarity was often more rhetorical and moral than it was practically effective for workers on the ground.   In this exceptional case dock workers in Panama did not only receive effective support from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), but became members of that union’s local branch in Panama].  

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA (4/2/15) — You see a lot of parked taxis in the parking lot at the Panama Ports terminal here.  They’re not waiting to give rides to longshoremen.  Dockworkers themselves are the drivers.  Longshore wages in Panama are so low that after a shift driving a crane, a longshoreman has to put in another shift driving a taxi, just to survive.

At Panama Ports, however, this situation has begun to change.  A few weeks ago the union signed a new contract with raises totaling more than 27% over the next four years.  One factor that made this agreement possible was support from a U.S. union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.  That agreement will have a big impact on the lives of longshoremen and their families.

In Panama they call longshore pay “hunger wages.”  Workers’ families live below the government’s own poverty line, and some families literally go hungry. Continue reading

China’s “factory girls” have grown up—and are going on strike

Originally posted on Quartz:

GUANGZHOU, China—Yang Liyan, a 30-year-old migrant worker, says she has cried twice in the past year. Once was when she was having her first meal in jail, and again after she was released and talking to her co-workers about her ordeal over dinner.

Yang was waiting for a scheduled meeting with the management of the Xinsheng Shoe Factory in the industrial metropolis of Guangzhou on Nov. 3, 2014, when she was thrown into the back of a police van. A total of 14 workers, including Yang and several other women, had gathered on behalf of 114 co-workers to fight for the severance pay they said they were owed after a three-month strike. They were arrested for “sabotaging production and business operations” (破坏生产经营), and in Yang’s case, jailed for 25 days.

When the police asked her to sign her name on paperwork calling her a suspect, Yang said she refused: “I’m…

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The Legacy of the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement

By Rachel Johnson,

300Willie_Pelote

Q&A with Willie Pelote Sr., AFSCME

Willie L. Pelote, Sr. has served as California Political and Legislative Director for the 1.4 million members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) since 1995.

 

Can you describe how you got started in the labor movement and how you came to work for AFSCME?

I’m from a family of nine and I grew up on our family farm in Clyo, Georgia. When you grow up on a farm, you work from the day you can walk and learning about hard work in that environment has been a major influence in my life.  My first job outside of working on my grandparents’ farm was a union job. It was then that I learned about the power workers can achieve when they stand together.  Everyone supported each other and our negotiations helped people earn a living wage to support their families.

After coming home from Vietnam, I was stationed in Sacramento. While going to school and working as a Sergeant-of-Arms at the State Capitol, I met Willie Brown, then Speaker of the State Assembly. After working with his office for several years, I was asked to come to work with AFSCME. That was over 19 years ago. I can’t believe I’ve been given such an incredible opportunity to work in the largest public sector union in the country and to also represent 176,000 Californians. I stayed with AFSCME for nearly 20 years for many reasons. I enjoyed working with all levels of government, driving campaigns to help working people in our state, and getting to know our members; but I was always most passionate about the idea that I was helping working people like my family make it in California.

As a labor leader in CA, what work are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we have been able to give a united collective voice to our members at their worksite and the agency to take part in decision-making about the vital services they provide to people in our great state.  I’m also proud that we’ve been persistent with holding elected officials accountable to working people in California.

During the civil rights movement there was a very clear intersection with the labor movement.  What are the opportunities to continue that legacy today? Continue reading

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