New England Carpenters Demand Workers Comp for Undocumented Worker Detained by ICE

Diego Low, Metrowest Workers Center

This is an update to the case of José Flores (Injured Worker Detained by ICE in Retaliation).  At 11:30am on May 22, José Flores was released to his family for deferred action due to pressure from Metrowest Worker Center, MassCOSH, and other members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative and legal allies. While this is a victory, the need for financial support has increased, in order to be able to assist the entire family with legal counsel. We are so grateful for the more than $7,500 already raised. Our current goal is to raise another $12,500 for a total of $20,000.  Please consider making a donation here.

Last week, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters released a statement against this kind of retaliation, saying “The New England Regional Council of Carpenters represents all carpenters regardless of their status.  If someone works they deserve to be paid. If they are injured on the job they are entitled to workers compensation coverage. End of story. A worker’s immigration status should not play any role in whether these right apply. Immigration officials going after any worker involved in a workplace dispute has a chilling effect on others exerting their rights under the law.”

We are organizing with a broad-based coalition of allies to speak up against this situation. We know that, beyond the workplace, the threat of ICE tends to drastically reduce the community’s willingness to report any kind of serious situation to authorities, from domestic violence to medical emergencies. This makes our communities far less safe, and provides protection for those who prey on the vulnerabilities of others. We urge you to join us in standing up for the safety of our communities.

Sherwin Alumina Lockout in Second Year

by Mike Elk

SherwinLaborDayPhoto

Ed. note: On October 11,2014, Sherwin Alumina locked out 450 USW Local 235A members at their plant in Gregory, Texas. The lockout came after 235A members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s demands for major cuts in pension and health care benefits for members and retirees, as well as reductions in overtime pay.  The lockout is now continuing into its 15th month

Sherwin Alumina is owned by Glencore, a highly profitable Swiss commodities giant that is the 10th largest corporation in the world, with net income of $4.6 billion in 2013.

Glencore is a company set up by billionaire financier Marc Rich, who was eventually brought to terms by the USW after a lengthy lockout at the Ravenswood aluminum plant in West Virginia.  Rich, then a fugitive from American justice, was notoriously pardoned by Bill Clinton in the last days of his Presidency.

This article was originally written by labor reporter Mike Elk for Politico in July 2015, but did not appear then because of a labor dispute between Politico management and Mike Elk, who was active in the effort by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA Local 32035) to organize POLITICO.

As one with extensive experience in the global labor movement, I regard Mike Elk’s July article as an excellent case study of the difficult realities of campaigning for international labor solidarity.

December 15, 2015

This morning, I found myself wanting to cry as I spoke on the phone to a United Steelworkers staffer about an ugly lockout of 450 at Sherwin Alumna lockout that has gone on for 14 months.  As a labor reporter, I have dealt with PTSD as a result of the suicides, divorces, and bar room brawls that happen during lockouts.  It’s just so awful what happens to people during lockouts and the media even the so called “left media” rarely pay proper attention to them.

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Undocumented Immigrants and the New Gilded Age

by Martin Kich

worker-on-a-scaffold-symbolfoto-for-building-construction-boom-labor-protection-144052165

An article written by David Chen and published in the New York Times  on 26th November included the following statistics on construction-related deaths and injuries in New York City:

“Seven workers have died on the job since July, including three in a nine-day stretch before Labor Day, according to records of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

“The city’s Buildings Department keeps its own count of construction deaths, injuries and accidents, offering a broader look at safety year over year. There were 10 construction-related fatalities in the most recent fiscal year, from July 2014 to July 2015, according to city figures. In contrast, the annual average over the previous four years was 5.5.

“Meanwhile, 324 workers were injured in the last fiscal year, a jump of 53 percent, and the Buildings Department recorded 314 accidents over all, an increase of 52 percent from the year before. The total was more than two and a half times what the city tallied in 2011. In comparison, permits for new construction projects grew by only 11 percent in the last fiscal year and permits for renovation and other work by 6 percent.”

Because the city is experiencing another building boom, the number of workers employed in construction has increased; so, one might expect some increase in the number of fatalities and injuries on construction sites.

But, as Chen points out, when one examines the cases more closely, it is very clear that many, if not most, of the deaths and injuries are attributable to three easily addressed factors:

1. A very high percentage of those killed and injured have been undocumented immigrants.

2. A very high percentage of those undocumented immigrants have had no training in the building trades.

3. A very high percentage of the deaths and injuries have involved falls or falling objects in which the workers were not taking such basic precautions as wearing safety harnesses or hard hats.

Meanwhile, the fines and other penalties imposed on the construction companies that have employed these undocumented and untrained workers and that have ignored the most basic safety rules for building sites have been extremely minimal. Very clearly, reduced construction costs for the owners of the buildings and increased profits for those doing the building have had priority over enforcing workplace safety laws, requiring certification of even the most basic worker training, and enforcing laws meant to prevent the exploitation of workers who are undocumented immigrants.

And all of this is occurring in New York State, which still has the highest rate of unionization in the nation, with a quarter of the workforce being unionized.

For all of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Red states, imagine the level of exploitation of undocumented immigrants that is almost certainly occurring in states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona.

This is what deregulation means. This is what the evisceration of labor law means. This is what comes from the weakening and elimination of labor unions. This is what results from political hypocrisy and the broader failure of the media to perform its most basic function in exposing such hypocrisy.

David Chen’s article is more notable today than it might have been in the relatively recent past not only because labor unions were much stronger and helped to limit such abuses but also because the article represents a type of investigative journalism that is very rapidly disappearing. In July 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that, since 2003, there has been a 53% decline in the number of reporters assigned to cover our statehouses.

The increasing corporatization of American media has paralleled the increasing corporatization of American politics and, of course, the American workplace. The previously maintained, if often tenuous balance between not just the influence but also the values of the corporate world, organized labor, the major political parties, and the media has eroded to the point that corporate influence and values now predominate more than they have had at any time since the beginning of the Progressive Era. The “New Gilded Age” refers to much more than just the increase in income inequality. The phrase highlights a skewing of American values not seen for more than a century in favor of the unchecked creation of material wealth.

David Chen’s complete article is available at:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/nyregion/rise-in-new-york-construction-deaths-strikes-the-poor-and-undocumented.html?_r=0.

This post first appeared on the Academe Blog (AAUP).

Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza- Same Struggle

 by Brian Finnegan

What-the-Triangle-Shirtwaist-Factory-Has-to-Do-with-the-Protest-Outside-the-Ralph-Lauren-Shareholders-Meeting-Today_blog_post_fullWidth

 

Protesters gathered today in front of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to call on Ralph Lauren to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to improve workplace safety for garment workers. The protest preceded Ralph Lauren’s annual shareholders meeting where the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund (its investments) had a proposal on the ballot related to human rights reporting.

At today’s shareholder meeting, Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, representing 70,000 workers, spoke to the protesters and called on Ralph Lauren join with more than 180 brands that have agreed to participate in the Accord.  The Accord is a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management. Other programs to audit and monitor for workers’ safety follow the same model that has failed the hundreds of workers who have died in preventable garment factory fires and building collapses over the past 20 years.

Akter spoke in the name of “women like me, who produce goods for Ralph Lauren in Bangladesh.”  Young women are 80% of the garment workforce in Bangladesh. Most of the more than 3,600 workers killed and seriously injured in the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse were young women. Hundreds of children were orphaned when their parents were killed in the collapse.  But Rana is only the most notorious of recent deadly workplace disasters in factories along the global supply chains of major U.S. and European brands and retailers.

Rana Plaza reminded many of the Triangle factory fire in New York more than 100 years ago that killed more than 100 workers yet eventually led to improved workplace safety laws and enforcement and innovative collective bargaining agreements. The changes after the Triangle factory fire helped make what was once sweatshop labor into good jobs and a way into the middle class.

Following the protest, Akter participated in the Ralph Lauren shareholders meeting where she presented the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund’s shareholder proposal, urging the company to report to stockholders about how it assesses human rights risks. The AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted the proposal after the company failed to acknowledge or respond to written requests to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Ralph Lauren has bought thousands of tons of goods from at least 15 locations in Bangladesh since 2007.

At the shareholders meeting, Akter asked: “So why has a company that has always stood for the highest quality not joined the accord?” She also pointed out that workers in factories that have signed the accord are in a better position to exercise other workers’ rights. “There are over 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. So far, 1,600 are covered by the accord and workers in these are better protected. Workers have a union at only 160 of those thousands of factories. Workers at factories covered by the Accord and those who have a union could have refused to enter Rana Plaza when they saw cracks. Workers must have Freedom of Association to protect themselves and claim their full human rights.” Unfortunately, workers who organize unions in Bangladesh are often fired, harassed or violently attacked.

Rana Plaza should help major corporations realize that the current model of cheap goods at any price through vast and unaccountable global supply chains is often inhumane and unsustainable.  Brands that want to act responsibly must take concrete measures to improve respect for human rights in the workplace.

This has been reposted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog, an indispensable source of information for worker activists.

Plus Ça Change: Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza

by Joe White
triangle building

The horrible deaths of over 1,100 clothing workers in Bangladesh bear more than a passing resemblance to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of l9ll in which l46 garment workers perished. In certain key respects nothing has changed over the last l00 years. In both New York l9ll and Bangladesh 2013 the distinguishing characteristics of garment manufacturing were low capital entry levels, cut-throat competition, utterly atrocious wages and working conditions, and bosses who ranked with coal mine owners when it came to respect for human life. Both then and now, these catastrophes were completely avoidable as well as being completely predictable.

Yet another parallel is that there were unheeded warnings. Fires in the shirtwaist sector of the New York City garment trade were nothing new; smaller building collapses had already occurred in South Asia’s 21st century version of 7th Avenue. The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe raises an alarming question: Can it be that things are actually worse for working people throughout the world than they were l00 years ago? Twenty-five years ago such a conclusion would have been implausible if not downright unthinkable. For people on the left, (though of course polls don’t get taken on things like this), the consensus seems to have been that world history had entered a period of transition from capitalism to socialism—however long and messy that transition might turn out to be. But who’s going to bet the price of a six-pack on that in 2013?
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Fashion Victims: Garment Workers in Bangladesh

Watch this informative and moving report from the Australian Broadcasting Service.

“Fashion Victims”, reported by Sarah Ferguson and presented by Kerry O’Brien,was  aired on Monday 24th June at 8.30 pm on ABC1.  There is a webpage with background information.

Walmart and Gap Advance Toothless Unilateral Version of Bangladesh Safety Accord

                                                                                                                                                        IndustriALL Global Union
Bangladesh workers

July 10, 2013

Global Unions IndustriALL and UNI, reacting to the announcement by Walmart and Gap today of another toothless corporate auditing programme for Bangladesh factory safety, stated that these companies are only repeating the mistakes of the past.

The Walmart/Gap initiative falls short of the standard set by the binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord is an enforceable building safety programme backed by more than seventy global brands from 15 countries. Unlike the Accord, the Walmart/Gap initiative is unclear on enforceability and there is no commitment from the brands to stay in Bangladesh, nor is there full transparency.