The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work Digest

Work News for Week Ending May 23

by Brendan Coyne

A weekly run-down of stories related to work, labor organizing, job safety, wages, etc. @ More mine deaths @ Wal-Mart tied to poverty @ Cintas workers win @ Alcoa steelworkers may strike @ Starbucks labor struggle

*A correction was appended to this news digest after initial publication.

Coal miner deaths renew concerns about mine safety

The deaths of five Kentucky mineworkers early last Saturday brought the total number of coal miners killed this year to 31 – the highest number since 2001 – and sparked renewed calls for fixes to the nation’s mine-safety programs. In released statements and comments to the media, mine safety officials, the United Mine Workers, and the National Mining Association all called on lawmakers to push through legislation aimed at making the notoriously dangerous job safer.

Initial reports show that three of the five men suffocated to death and the lone escapee was using the same model air pack that reportedly failed the Sago mineworkers killed at the start of the year, the Associated Press reported.

According to Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) records, the Harlan County, Kentucky mine is operated by Kentucky Darby LLC and has been cited at least 264 times for over $27,000 since 2001, a number and amount characterized by the MSHA as normal, Knight-Ridder reported.

Wal-Mart, poverty growth tied together, study finds

According to a county-by-county study published in Social Science Quarterly last week, the world’s largest retailer is "unequivocally" tied to rising family poverty rates during the 1990s. The study provides the first the first-ever peer-reviewed assessment of what critics have termed "The Wal-Mart Effect" may very well be real.

About 20,000 families fell into poverty as Wal-Mart expanded between 1987 and 1998, the study authors wrote, and counties with a higher concentration of Wal-Mart stores saw faster rates of poverty growth. The group also found nearly double the rate of increased food-stamp program enrollments in counties with more Wal-Mart stores.

In addition, Wal-Mart’s market pressure may do more than just force smaller stores to close; it could drive better-educated and more leadership-savvy people to flee suburban and rural areas for better opportunities in cities, the study said.

"By displacing the local class of entrepreneurs, the Wal-Mart chain also destroys local leadership capacity," the study authors wrote.

Living-wage win in court for Cintas workers

Laundry workers toiling for Cintas Corp. in California announced another win in their historic living-wage court battle last week. On May 11, California Superior Court Judge Steven Brick ordered the laundry behemoth to pay over $1.4 million to the workers and state for breaking Hayward, California’s living-wage ordinance, according to UniteHere, a laundry-, hotel- and restaurant-workers union that has, along with the Teamsters, been organizing Cintas workers for years.

This month’s ruling will give each of 219 current and former Cintas employees about $5,600 in back wages and interest, UniteHere said.

In a statement last Wednesday, Cintas said it disagreed with many of the court’s findings and indicated that it may appeal the ruling.

Alcoa steelworkers ready to strike

With little more than a week left under the current contract, unionized employees at sixteen US Alcoa plants are readying for a possible strike should negotiations turn sour, the United Steelworkers of America announced last week. The vote means workers may stage a walkout if a new deal cannot be reached by the time the present contract expires at the end of the month.

The union announced the vote a day before negotiations were set to begin in St. Louis, Missouri but did not provide specific numbers. Workers have already participated in job actions and last month picketed a meeting of company officials, the USWA said.

Four issues remain central to the negotiations: healthcare premiums, pension-plan payments, new-hire benefits and contract work, according to the USWA and news accounts. Alcoa reported $608 million in profits for the first quarter of the year, according to MarketWatch.

Alcoa is reportedly training replacement workers in the event of a strike. The USWA represents about 9,000 Alcoa workers in the US.

Starbucks union marks second anniversary with outreach effort

In a show of solidarity, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and their supporters last week wandered into Starbucks shops across the nation, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom, to talk with employees about unionizing. The volunteer outreach effort was conducted as part of the Starbucks Workers Union’s two-year anniversary.

Manhattan Starbucks workers have been battling the coffee-dispensing chain for over two years. In complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board, SWU members said management has attempted to coerce, bribe and otherwise intimidate workers trying to organize. The union alleges the company’s efforts included firing two workers for their pro-union activities and keeping files on union activists.

Earlier this month, the NLRB signed off on a settlement under which Starbucks promises not to interfere with organizing efforts. As part of the agreement, Starbucks is to offer to reinstate the two dismissed employees, Sarah Bender and Anthony Polanco. In addition, the company has to pay three employees back-pay and post a notice affirming its commitment to workers’ rights. Under the settlement terms, Starbucks admits no guilt.

CORRECTION

Minor Change:

The Industrial Workers of the World was incorrectly identified as the International Workers of the World in the original posting of this digest.

 | Change Posted May 23, 2006 at 16:08 PM EST

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Digest originally appeared in the May 23, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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