Mine-safety nominee vote dropped under criticism
Early last week, Senate Republicans scrapped plans to hold an approval vote for President Bushâ€™s choice to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The decision came as the agency faced tight scrutiny from labor and workplace-safety advocates.
In late September 2005, Bush nominated Richard Stickler, a former industry executive who headed Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Bureau of Deep Mine Safety until 2003. After 2006 opened with the deaths of twelve coal miners in West Virginia, mine safety has been a hot-button political issue in labor circles, and over two months ago Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) placed a hold on Sticklerâ€™s nomination, citing questions about Sticklerâ€™s commitment to workersâ€™ well-being.
Sen. Byrdâ€™s move meant that Sticklerâ€™s Senate backers would have had to come up with 60 votes to approve the nomination.
The day before the Senate decided not to hold a vote, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts noted that Sticklerâ€™s interest in the safety of mineworkers appeared less-than-genuine. "Miners need a true watchdog for their safety in charge at MSHA, not another industry lapdog," Roberts said in a statement.
Anti-sweatshop legislation gains little traction
Marking a congressional first, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) two weeks ago introduced a bill that would ban the sale of goods made in "sweatshops." Though his action has been hailed by labor- and human-rights groups, it has not yet been scheduled for a committee reading, and not a single Senator has stepped forward to co-sponsor the measure.
The bill, dubbed the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act (S. 3485), would make it illegal to sell any products made in "sweatshops," defined by the bill as factories that violate "core labor standards" and their own countryâ€™s labor laws. The bill would bar the import, export and sale of such products, while reserving a presidential prerogative to invoke national-security interests in permitting case-by-case exceptions.
Shattuck cinema workers approve IWW
After losing their battle to win union representation through the signing of union authorization cards, workers at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, California last week overwhelmingly voted to be represented by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the most radical nationwide labor organization in the United States. According to a union statement, 22 out of 24 employees of the movie theater approved of IWW affiliation.
The workers had sought union recognition previously through what is commonly known as a "card-check election," in which workers sign union authorization cards and submit them to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for approval. Theater management did not recognize the card signing, forcing its workers to hold an NLRB-endorsed election.
California workers reach tentative deal
Californiaâ€™s largest public employees union reached a tentative contract deal with the state Saturday, possibly putting to bed a potential statewide strike that could have seriously disrupted a wide variety of state services.
The three-year deal would give the approximately 85,000 California state workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1000 an immediate 3.5 percent raise, wage increases matched to the Consumer Price Index beginning next July, and a $1,000 signing bonus, the union announced Saturday. In addition, the state agreed to continue the existing health-insurance payment plan.
SEIU negotiators agreed to a phase-in health-benefits plan for new employees and a pension give-back that would lower pension payments to the average pay received during an employeeâ€™s last three years on the job, the union said
The announcement came days after Local 1000 said its members were prepared to hold a one-day job action later this month. The deal must be ratified by union members. SEIU has not said when it will hold a vote.
Ground Zero rally calls for better care
Hundreds of people rallied for better health care at Ground Zero this past weekend, seeking to highlight findings that first responders and others who dealt with cleaning up in the aftermath of the terror attacks were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and chemicals.
Shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, the Environmental Protection Agency said the air near the blast site was safe to breathe. Subsequent testing has shown that the declaration was premature at best, and some groups have accused the EPA of intentionally misleading the workers and public.
First responders and clean-up workers have reported a variety of respiratory ailments. One death has been attributed to exposure to the swirling clouds of dust and noxious fumes kicked up by the toppled buildings.