The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News Digest for Week Ending July 11

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of workers rights, union, and wage stories... @ Smithfield vote delayed @ Job growth lags @ MSHA nominee employed @ Locked out steelworkers @ DC transit strike averted

Union vote far off for Smithfield workers

Terms of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ recent victory over Smithfield Foods in North Carolina may keep workers there from voting on union representation for several months, or even longer.

In May, a federal appeals court ruled that Smithfield had illegally fired and otherwise retaliated against workers attempting to organize a union at the Tar Heel, North Carolina plant. As part of the settlement, Smithfield must provide back pay to ten fired employees and mail letters to thousands of others promising not to harass, fire, or intimidate workers involved in unionization efforts, requirements that could take a long time to fulfill, NLRB Assistant to the Regional Director Howard Neidig told the Fayetteville Observer.

In addition, the NLRB has yet to decide on an additional UFCW discrimination complaint against the meatpacking company.

The terms of the settlement and the additional investigations must be completed before workers can vote on union representation, unless one side requests an expedited vote. The union is unlikely to ask for a vote before harassment and intimidation are addressed at the plant, since it blames company union-busting for scuttling past organizing efforts.

Meanwhile, as previously reported by The NewStandard, union officials have stepped up efforts to organize the Tar Heel plant and last month held rallies in several cities highlighting the dangers of meatpacking and the company’s refusal to recognize facts proved in court.

Job growth continues to lag expectations

Job growth slowed in June while hourly wages rose faster than expected, according to data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 90,000 jobs were created in June, and overall non-farm employment rose by 121,000, according to payroll data collected by the BLS.

The lower-than-expected job growth marks the third month in a row where the numbers did not match projections, the labor-union-backed Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported Friday. On average, 108,000 jobs were created each month during the second quarter of 2006, which closed June 30, far lower than the previous quarter’s 176,000 per month average, EPI noted.

The official unemployment rate remained at 4.6 percent, but at least 1.6 million people seeking work were not included in the count because they did not actively apply for jobs, the BLS said. Of those, BLS estimated that about 481,000 did not look for work, "specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them."

Meanwhile, hourly wages grew throughout June, continuing a trend that began late last year. June’s 0.8 percent weekly average rise brought worker earnings above inflation but, EPI cautioned that the slowed job growth may soon lead to slowed wage growth, since the latter typically trails the former by about six months.

Embattled MSHA nominee lands consulting job

Less than a month after Republican leaders in the Senate failed to gather enough support to bring President Bush’s nomination of Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration to a vote, Stickler was brought in as an adviser. Stickler has reportedly been on the job for over a week.

Stating that he wanted to meet Stickler before the Senate vote came, Robert Byrd (D–West Virginia) earlier this year placed a hold on the former mine-company official’s nomination. By filibustering the appointment, Byrd is forcing Stickler’s Senate supporters to find at least 60 votes to move forward.

Mineworker representatives and workplace-safety advocates have opposed Stickler’s nomination since it was first announced last year. Days before the Senate pulled its planned vote, the United Mine Workers sent a letter to Senators urging them to vote no.

Steelworkers, Machinists vie to represent locked-out brethren

Two national unions are courting about 2,400 independently organized Ohio steelworkers whose employer locked them out in late February.

In an election scheduled for later this month, employees of AK Steel in Dayton will decide whether the United Steelworkers of America or the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Engineers should represent them.

Currently, the workers are represented by Armco Employees Independent Federation (AEIF), an independent union that represents only AK Steel employees at the Dayton plant. In a statement yesterday, AEIF’s executive committee reminded members that the committee is backing the Machinists union in the July 26 and 27 elections. The Machinists union is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO or the Change to Win coalition.

The vote will be held by walk-in balloting, a request both AK Steel and the Steelworkers union made to the National Labor relations Board, the Associated Press reported.

The Steelworkers union already represents AK workers at plants in Mansfield, Ohio and Ashland, Kentucky.

Following failed contract negotiations, the company hired replacement workers and barred about 2,500 AEIF workers from entering its plant at the end of February, according to media reports and the union’s own tallies. The union recently proposed new contract terms but AK Steel has not acted on the offer.

DC transit strike averted

Washington, DC, transportation officials and members of the union representing about 7,000 of its transit workers reached a two-year deal last week that raises wages 6 percent on average, averting a potentially city-crippling strike.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 approved the deal last month. The terms retain current health coverage but require higher health-insurance premiums and co-payments from employees. In addition, the contract loosens several certification and licensing requirements and tightens job-transferring rules, according to information provided by the local.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the July 11, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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