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Working In These Times

Saturday, Jun 9, 2012, 11:00 am

Labor News Round-Up: Guest Workers Strike, NYC Construction Unions Fund Public Union Attacks

BY Mike Elk

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A group of Mexican guest workers working under H-2B guest visas involved in processing shrimp went on strike in Louisiana. From Labor Notes:

…a group of Mexican guest workers at a seafood processor in Louisiana walked off the job, driven to the wall by just the kinds of conditions detailed in the report.

Workers who peel crawfish for C.J.’s Seafood in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, confronted their boss on Monday after weeks of abuse and mistreatment, said Jacob Horowitz of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA). They were forced to work shifts of up to 24 hours and threatened with shovels, the Alliance said.

About 40 workers came to the U.S. to work for C.J.’s under H-2B guest worker visas, which typically last nine months. But supervisors didn’t let workers take breaks, and they were cheated out of overtime pay, said Ana Diaz, one of the workers.

“When we wanted to take breaks the supervisor threatened to hit us,” Diaz said through a translator. “When one of our co-workers called the police because she couldn’t take the treatment, then our boss threatened to hurt our families.”

A new report shows that New York’s construction unions were major contributors to an organization tasked with attacking public employees in New York. From the New York Times:

Backed with millions of dollars in contributions from business, the Committee to Save New York has been Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most important ally in his battles with public-sector unions over government spending, pensions and teacher accountability.

But the committee turns out to have another source of money: a group of building trade unions who contributed $500,000 last year. Their decision to back Mr. Cuomo — and help finance an offensive against their public-sector brethren — illuminates a deepening fissure in the labor movement.

Labor officials said the union contributions to the business group in 2011, which were revealed in records filed with the federal Labor Department and interviews with people familiar with the donations, reflected workers’ deep unease about a slowdown in the construction industry in New York and their hope that Mr. Cuomo and the business committee could persuade voters and lawmakers to support publicly financed building projects and encourage growth.

This week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that he would not agree to a union-friendly project labor agreement for the second leg of a new metro line to Dulles Airport.  However, McDonnell supported a union-friendly project labor agreement for the first leg of the trip and emails show he was okay with a union-friendly project labor agreement for the second leg. From the Washington Post:

Just months ago, the McDonnell administration was negotiating with the MWAA over the terms of a mandatory project labor agreement for the second phase of construction, according to interviews with legislators and a review of correspondence to and from the governor’s transportation chief.

But facing pressure from conservative Republicans, McDonnell and his staff pulled back the administration’s support for a project labor agreement, or PLA, legislators from both parties say.

Now, the governor says that unless the MWAA abandons a PLA for the second phase of the rail line, the state will withhold a promised $150 million contribution.

Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun), chairman of the House Transportation Committee who shepherded McDonnell’s MWAA-related legislation this session, called the initial language the McDonnell administration negotiated a “good compromise.”

May said he has been baffled by the administration’s shift on project labor agreements, likening the situation to the famous comedy routine by Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?”

“There has been enormously changing ground rules,’’ he said. “This has been one of the more confusing issues.’’

The NFL is beginning to train scab replacement referees in the event that it cannot resolve its conflict with the league’s referees. From ESPN:

The NFL will start hiring and training possible replacement officials with a deal not yet completed with the NFL Referees Association.

Talks between the league and the officials broke down after two mediation sessions that followed nine bargaining negotiations since October. Both sides have said they expect a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the upcoming season.

But that optimism has disappeared.

A session was held Sunday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and the NFLRA said the league "terminated negotiations" on Monday.

A session was held Sunday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and the NFLRA said the league "terminated negotiations" on Monday.

Last month, In These Times reported on a strike of 780 Machinist Union Members (IAM) working at a Caterpillar factory in Joliet, Illinois. After being out on strike for over a month now, members of IAM Local 851 overwhelming voted down the most recent contract offer made by Caterpillar. From the IAM:

In an act of solidarity that secures their place in union history books, members of Local 851 in Joliet, IL, voted overwhelmingly this week to reject a concession-packed contract from heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar, Inc.

 Nearly 800 members walked off the job on May 1 after rejecting an initial offer that froze wages, doubled health care premiums and eliminated key pension and seniority rights. The latest offer contained few changes and was rejected by members 504-116.

 “Both offers from Caterpillar included deep cuts to members’ pay and benefits in addition to unprecedented language that would allow the company to ‘modify’ wages according to their own assessment of market conditions,” said District 8 Business Representative Steve Jones. “There is no good reason for a company that made $4.9 billion in profits last year and $1.5 billion in the first quarter of this year to try and shake down their own employees like this.”


Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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