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Working In These Times

Saturday, Jun 16, 2012, 11:00 am

Labor News Round-Up: Wal-Mart PR Firm Has Fake Reporter Spy on Workers, and More

BY Mike Elk

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This week, Warehouse Workers United discovered that Wal-Mart had sent a fake reporter to spy on workers attempting to organize in Los Angeles. From Republic Report:

Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a new organization for warehouse workers in the area, caught Wal-Mart actually sending a fake “reporter” to spy on a group of workers trying to organize warehouses.

At first, the spy identified herself as “Zoe Mitchell,” a USC student “interested in terrible and illegal conditions inside warehouses that move goods for Walmart.” She told warehouse workers that she was a reporter looking into their plight.

But then WWU discovered her true identity. Zoe is actually Stephanie — Stephanie Harnett of Mercury Public Affairs, a giant public relations  and lobbying firm that brags of specializing in “Latino Communications“.

Wal-Mart issued a statement that denounced the action, saying:

“These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business. We insist that all our vendors conduct themselves in a way that is transparent and honest and we will reinforce that expectation to help ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”

Mercury later announced that it has fired Stephanie Harnett.

Thousands of AT&T workers in Nevada and California have walked off the job in protest of AT&T’s demand for concessions. From the Los Angeles Times:

AT&T land-line workers in hundreds of locations protested AT&T's contract demands, which they said included "massive healthcare cost shifting to workers and their families" as well as reductions in AT&T worker retirement security, according to the Communications Workers of America, the union to which the employees belong.

That contract for 40,000 AT&T workers around the U.S. expired two months ago, and the company and the CWA have failed to reach a new accord. The CWA's ninth district, which includes California and Nevada, covers 18,000 AT&T technicians who install and repair telephone lines.

 Workers were further incensed by remarks made in a memo from an AT&T executive, Betsy Farrell. In the memo, obtained by The Times, Farrell said that when workers walk off their jobs, "the company doesn't suffer. In fact, these actions help us financially when we don't pay you."

"It's a slap in the face," said Libby Sayre, a CWA spokeswoman. "These guys work very hard to provide quality customer service; they don't need a lot of insults and provocation."

Sayre said the actions Friday did not amount to a full-blown worker strike and were likely to last only through the day. Although the contract negotiations have been "excruciatingly slow and time consuming," she said, "we'd much rather get a contract without a strike."

As the election of AFSCME’s new President approaches next week at its conventions in Los Angeles, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee is under fire for his use of private jets. From the Wall Street Journal:

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, traveled by chartered aircraft 18 times since the beginning of 2010, at a cost of about $325,000, according to internal union expense reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. McEntee, a powerful figure in the labor movement and Washington politics, announced last year that he would retire this month after 30 years as president of the union, which has been particularly hit by state and local government layoffs.

In an election scheduled for June 21, Mr. McEntee's hand-picked successor, Lee Saunders, the union's secretary-treasurer, faces challenger Danny Donohue, president of Afscme Local 1000 in New York. Mr. Donohue's campaign has seized on Mr. McEntee's air travel to indirectly criticize Mr. Saunders, who oversees the union's finances.

"Whatever the national officers' rationale may have been for relying so heavily on charter jets in the past, we believe this practice must end immediately," the Donohue campaign said Friday. The campaign said that, if elected, Mr. Donohue would redirect resources "to focus more directly on the defense of vital public services and the employees who provide them."

Chris Policano, a union spokesman, defended the private jet travel. "President McEntee has been a powerhouse during the battles we've been fighting all across the country, but in his late 70s, he's not as spry as he was a decade ago," Mr. Policano said. "The logistics of commercial travel at times are simply impractical to do the job he has done so well for the past 31 years," he said.

Mr. Saunders has said he would not take chartered flights, a representative said Friday.

A strike of 3,500 Lockheed Martin workers making F-35 jets in Fort Worth, Texas, may jeopardize the ability of Lockheed Martin to renew its contract for those jets. From CBS 11 News in Dallas/Fort Worth:

Lockheed Martin has now admitted it may have trouble meeting its quota if the 3,000 members of the Machinists Local 776 continue marching their 51-day protest outside the gates.

The company has committed to delivering about 30 F-35 aircrafts this year. But with no end in sight to the longest strike in this plant’s history, production is admittedly slower.

“We think it’s likely as we go into the year we may have to change out commitment on that. We may not be able to meet that,” said Joe Stout, spokesman for Lockheed Martin.

With more than 3,000 employees still on strike, the company has opted to hire temporary workers to fill in for union members.

“Here on the production line we’ve got about 190 contract workers working,” Stout said. “It’s very unusual for us to bring in contract workers.”

In addition to the temporary workers, salaried employees are also working 30-day assignments on the production line.

A company is being sued for $15 million for allegedly forcing an injuried worker to take a drug test before helping him: From the Huffington Post:

In a lawsuit filed in Dallas County Court last week, Perez's family alleges that his employer, Texas Industries, sought to drug test Perez before trying to help him after he'd fallen from a height of several feet. Perez worked as a loader for the company.

"While the Decedent lay unconscious on the ground, the Defendant ordered a drug test to be performed on the Decedent prior to making the 911 call," the complaint says, adding that paramedics didn't show up for two hours.

Texas Industries spokesman David Perkins said the lawsuit, which seeks $15 million for Perez's family, is "absolutely inaccurate."

"Drug testing was not performed before 911 was called. Mr. Perez was conscious the entire time we were waiting for EMTs to arrive," Perkins told HuffPost. "Testing would have been done at the hospital. That’s part of standard procedure."

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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