The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work Digest

Work News for May 15, 2006

by Brendan Coyne

@ Smithfield labor fight @ Delphi talks @ Wal-Mart front group @ Ohio grocery workers win @ AFL-CIO & CTW conspire @ IWW picks up Berkeley Cinema @ LA Hilton workers fired

Smithfield workers win court battle

Twelve years after first losing unionization elections at a pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, workers employed by Smithfield Packing Company will get another vote, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling. The decision also grants ten workers a yet-to-be-determined amount of back-pay and expressly prohibits the meat packing company form interfering with organizing efforts.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been fighting a long-running battle against Smithfield since first losing an election in 1994. A second election in 1997 produced similar results, but the National Labor Relations Board and several courts found that the company assaulted and illegally intimidated, disciplined and fired workers involved in the organizing efforts.

The May 5 court ruling requires the company to post notices promising never to engage in such behavior again and refers back compensation issues to the NLRB. An election date has not been set. The Associated Press reported that Smithfield said it may appeal the ruling.

Autoworkers, Delphi resume talks amid strike threat

With Delphi auto workers set to strike and the company requesting that union contracts be voided, company and union representatives are struggling to reach an accord, the Buffalo News reported Saturday. The two sides have been negotiating on and off over proposed wage and benefit cuts since Delphi filed for bankruptcy protection last October.

Tuesday, bankruptcy court judge Robert D. Drain convened hearings into the company’s request that it be freed from contracts with the United Auto Workers and other unions representing its 33,000 hourly workers. Upon learning that negotiations were progressing, Drain cut the session short, initiating a twelve-day recess that observers believe may be just enough time for the unions and Delphi to broker a settlement and avert both a strike and contract abrogation.

Early reports from UAW locals in Western New York, Michigan and Ohio show that members overwhelmingly support striking against the company if necessary. Votes from all 22 domestic Delphi plants were to be finished yesterday.

 

‘Working Families for Wal-Mart’ exposed as company front

An organization formed at the end of last year to rebut critics of the world’s largest retailer is entirely funded and largely controlled by the company itself, according to information gathered by WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-backed group.

Operating under the name Working Families for Wal-Mart, the company-funded group claims a membership of over 100,000. Working Families recently began a push to enlist the support of Wal-Mart suppliers in ongoing efforts to burnish the retailer’s image, as revealed by an internal company memo obtained by WakeUpWalMart.com. The memo is addressed to suppliers on behalf of Working Families but sent by Wal-Mart

Despite claims that it is independent, Working Families for Walmart steering-committee member Martha Montoya told the New York Times that Wal-Mart is the group’s only funding source that she knows of.

 

Ohio grocery workers agree to new contracts

Ending an eight-month battle, employees of five of Ohio’s largest grocery store chains ratified three separate contracts, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 880 announced Friday. According to the union, the deal brings gains on three major issues: pensions, health care and wages.

UFCW and five grocery chains had been negotiating under a news blackout throughout the eight months of talks at the recommendation of the federal mediator overseeing the process. According to the Canton Repository, workers will receive raises in the second and third years of the contracts and the grocery chains -- Fishers Foods, Giant Eagle, R.W. Albrecht (Acme), Tops, and Heinen’s -- agreed to increase contributions toward health care and pension funds.

Late last year, union members overwhelming authorized a strike even as union officials pledged to work through the impasse peacefully.

 

Divided labor groups to coordinate electoral efforts

With mid-term elections approaching, the nation’s two largest organized labor groups –the AFL-CIO and Change to Win – announced last week they would work together on election-year efforts. The move marks a significant step forward in cooperation between the two groups, one of which is largely made up of unions that splintered from the other last year.

But the joint effort also raises questions about the genuineness of claims made by leaders of the unions that formed the Change to Win coalition after leaving the AFL-CIO last year amid criticism that the AFL-CIO was devoting too many resources to political activities at the expense of union building.

The National Labor Coordinating Committee is aimed at making sure the AFL-CIO and Change to Win effectively educate and mobilize members for the fall elections, according to materials released by the organizations. Under the agreement, the AFL-CIO and CTW will share costs equally and jointly develop electoral strategies.

In addition, the deal paves the way for member unions of the two umbrella groups to participate freely in "solidarity charters," cross-organizational bodies that had been in the works since last summer and the AFL-CIO recently unveiled.

 

Shattuck Cinema workers join IWW

Looking to avoid a potentially difficult election campaign, 23 out of 28 workers at the Landmark Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, California, filed union-authorization cards with the National Labor Relations Board last week, the Industrial Workers of the World announced. The NLRB had scheduled an election for June 16 but could certify the cards in lieu of a secret-ballot election.

The theater employees are seeking representation from the IWW, the country’s largest radical labor organization. They hope to gain higher pay and an end to work conditions they view as hostile, according to an IWW statement released Monday.

 

LA Hilton worker fired, dozens suspended

Tensions escalated in the battle to unionize workers employed by hotels near the Los Angeles Airport last week as the airport Hilton suspended at least 67 workers and fired one, according to the LA Times.

The suspensions prompted Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union that has been trying to organize employees of thirteen airport-area hotels, to file a complaint with the National Labor relations Board.

The fired worker, Sergio Reyes, had been actively involved in organizing efforts prior to being suspended from work on Wednesday, Unite Here Local 11 told the Times. Hilton spokespeople said Reyes was suspended for poor job performance but declined to provide specifics.

After learning of the suspension, dozens of Reyes’s coworkers sought answers from the hotel’s general manager Thursday morning and refused to return to their posts for over two hours, the Times reported. Friday, the workers picketed the hotel with support from unions and sympathetic politicians. Reyes was reportedly fired Friday.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Digest originally appeared in the May 15, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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