The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News for Week Ending Aug. 22

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of workers' rights, union and wage stories... @ NW Air offends dumped workers @ New Mine-safety penalties @ 9/11 Workers' Comp @ Wal-Mart Does Politics @ 'CHAOS' at Northwest Air?

Northwest ‘sorry’ for giving workers thriftiness tips

Adding insult to injury, bankrupt Northwest Airlines recently advised soon-to-be-unemployed workers that they should garbage pick, take shorter showers, cut their own kids’ hair, and surf the Internet for free stuff to help make ends meet.

The company apologized last week for the insensitive advice, which came as part of a 165-page booklet provided to workers the bankrupt company laid off as part of its restructuring strategy. It also briefly appeared on the company’s website.

The list also said workers should make their own baby food, move to a less-expensive place, rent out rooms and garages, and ask doctors for free medicine samples.

According to news reports, the list, titled "101 Ways to Save Money," was prepared by NEAS, a Wisconsin-based employment-assistance company. The company referred reporters seeking comment to Northwest.

MSHA ignored own official’s criticism of revamped fine system

The Mine Safety and Health Administration’s new penalty structure may raise maximum fines over 200 percent, but, according to the agency’s head of coal mine health and safety, that isn’t enough of a deterrent.

In an internal memo earlier this summer, MSHA official Ray McKinney warned the agency was missing out on a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference in mine safety and health" by proposing a fine structure that is less costly than implementing new safety systems, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The penalty system, which is reportedly under review by the Office of Budget and Management, would raise fines for coal mines by 226 percent and 108 percent for all other mines.

MSHA initiated the change following a string of fatal accidents earlier this year, but insiders and experts in workplace safety have raised questions in interviews with The NewStandard about the administration’s commitment to making mining safer at the expense of company profits. According to MSHA, 55 miners have been killed at work this year, 37 in coal mines and 18 others in metal and non-metal mines.

New York gov signs comp laws for 9/11 workers, families

First responders and clean-up workers exposed to dangerous contaminants following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks may now be eligible for expanded benefits under three bills signed into law last week by New York Governor George Pataki. Families of workers killed in the recovery efforts may also benefit.

Together the laws eliminate a two-year deadline for filing exposure claims, remove the statute of limitations for retired-worker claims and grant families of uniformed workers rights to accidental-death benefits. Pataki signed the measures despite claims by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that they could cost the city up to $10 million a year, the New York Times reported.

Under the new compensation deadline extension, workers have until August 14, 2007 to apply. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, together with New York Disaster Interfaith Services, United Church of Christ National Disaster Ministries and other groups that deal with workplace-safety issues are engaged in efforts to inform workers and their families of the new laws and the deadlines.

According to the Disaster News Network, over 10,000 claims related to 9/11 have already been filed with the state.

Two more states place min. wage on fall ballot; another in the wings

Colorado and Arizona last week joined an expanding group of states willing to place minimum wage increases before voters.

Elections officials in both states approved ballot initiatives giving the lowest-paid workers a wage bump. If approved by voters, low-wage workers in both states would see significant raises from the current federal minimum of $5.15 an hour – $1.70 an hour in Colorado and $1.60 in Arizona.

Two weeks ago, Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage filed petition signatures to hoist that state’s wage floor up to $6.85 an hour. The signatures have not yet been certified.

All the efforts are backed by the AFL-CIO’s America Needs a Raise campaign, which operates in several other states and has been working with local grassroots organizations as well.

Voters in Nevada, Montana and Missouri will also have a chance to raise the lot of low-wage workers come November. In addition, legislators in eight other states – California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah and Iowa – are considering increase in their state minimum wages, and the Massachusetts legislature last month overrode a gubernatorial veto to bump the wage floor there from $6.75 to $8.00 an hour by 2008.

Wal-Mart looks to influence Iowa workers’ votes

With midterm elections approaching, the world’s largest retailer is looking to influence the way its workers vote.

In a letter sent to its approximately 18,000 Iowa employees last week, Wal-Mart encouraged them to question "attacks" by "paid critics and politicians." Additionally, the letter, which named specific politicians that have criticized Wal-Mart, said employees should: "talk with [your] family, your friends and your neighbors about the good Wal-Mart does."

The letter was sent in response to an ongoing, union-backed 2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America Bus Tour, according to a company statement. The tour, which has been active since the beginning of August, is scheduled to visit 35 cities across the country in an effort to expose Wal-Mart practices.

Organized by United Food and Commercial Workers, the pressure is aimed at forcing the company to offer better compensation and health benefits, treat women and minorities better, halt the use of contractors that employ child labor, use and purchase more goods made in the United States, and work with communities to contain sprawl, prop up small businesses and protect the environment.

In raising questions about tour supporters, Wal-Mart also wrote, "We would never suggest to you how to vote, but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true." However, aside from it has enrolled over 150,000 people in a health-insurance program, the letter fails to refute critics’ claims.

‘CHAOS’ could hit Northwest Airlines this Friday

Last week, US Bankruptcy Court Judge Allan Gropper denied Northwest Airline’s request to prevent its flight attendants from going on strike, stating that under federal law the court does not have the authority to enjoin worker walkouts.

The attendants, who are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), a branch of the Communications Workers of America, have already publicly notified the airline of their intent to engage in job actions should a previously rejected contract be imposed. Originally, AFA gave Northwest an August 15 deadline, but citing security concerns it extended the deadline by 10 days.

AFA members last went on strike in 1993, the same year in which they created and literally trademarked a tactic called CHAOS (Create Havoc Around Our System), which the union cites as the tool that brought Alaskan Airlines back to the bargaining table during contentious contract talks. Though AFA has repeatedly threatened to use the tactic, it has not engaged in a full-scale CHAOS campaign since.

In a statement responding to the court ruling, AFA applauded the judge’s decision and re-stated their willingness to negotiate with the bankrupt airline. No talks have been scheduled and Northwest filed an appeal last Friday.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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