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Working In These Times

Friday, Jun 21, 2013, 3:00 pm

Striking Labatt Workers Call for Beer Boycott; Unpaid Internships Won’t Get You a Job

BY Mike Elk

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Workers at Labatt's are asking the company to earn the 'union-made' label. (Photo courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.)  

As many workers get ready to blow off the week’s steam with a few beers, striking Labatt Brewing Company workers are calling for a boycott of the Canadian brewer’s products. Labatt has hired the infamous AFIMAC security firm to provide scabs and other strike services. (Last year, In These Times profiled an AFIMAC-sponsored conference headlined by Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz). From rabble.ca:

A union representing workers at a Labatt brewery in St. John's has launched a boycott campaign, asking the public to refrain from buying a large number of brands manufactured at the site. About fifty employees (NAPE Local 7004) have been on a legal strike since April, following a brief wildcat strike that was prompted by the company's request for the unionized workers to train their replacements. The request was made days before the expiration date of the workers' collective agreement. 

Prior to the legal strike action, a court injunction was issued against workers by the province's supreme court, with Judge Donald Burrage ruling that workers may not block access to the brewery, citing traffic concerns, as well as incidents where nails and other objects were placed in front of its entrance. In late May, Labatt erected a fence around the brewery property to keep out striking workers.

Chris Henley, an employment relations officer with NAPE and the local's lead negotiator […] said that Labatt has also been using other security measures. Henley told rabble.ca that Labatt has hired a private company to monitor and film workers, identifying the company as AFIMAC Security. … 

"They're following our members around the city. Trying to provoke argument, continuously. Trying to goad our members into violating the court injunction," Henley said. "They spend all their time, two people in a van ... Consistently in their faces, filming them. The police come and talk to workers, they'll try to get the names of the workers and even the police officers. But it's all from the perspective of intimidation. They won't use that video for anything."

A new study put out by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) finds that unpaid internships give only the smallest advantage to students when they later seek paying jobs. From The Atlantic:

This year, NACE queried more than 9,200 seniors from February through the end of April. They found that 63.1 percent of students with a paid internship under their belt had received at least one job offer. But only 37 percent of former unpaid interns could say the same -- a negligible 1.8 percentage points more than students who had never interned.

In other news, 7-Eleven is cracking down on franchises engaged in human trafficking. From The Huffington Post:

Federal agents raided several 7-Eleven locations in New York and Virginia earlier this week, and 40 more are under investigation.

Prosecutors brought charges against at least nine store owners or managers, accusing them of running a “modern-day plantation system,” ABC News reports. Allegations against the franchise owners include hiring illegal immigrants, providing them with stolen identities of U.S. citizens, forcing them to work 100-hour weeks for low wages and housing them in substandard accommodations, according to The New York Times.

In an emailed statement to The Huffington Post, 7-Eleven spokeswoman Cara Stern said the company is “taking an aggressive approach to ending its relationships with franchisees who violate the law or its franchise agreement ... [and] assumed control of two additional stores in Virginia on Tuesday as a result of pending felony proceedings.” 

Public-sector unions are hoping that federal contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents leads to more work being “insourced” back to federal employees. From Politico:

Damon Silvers, policy director for AFL-CIO, pointed to previous scandals. “From Halliburton mishandling contracts in Afghanistan to scandals at for-profit prisons, the lesson is clear: Outsourcing leads to poorly paid workers, overpaid executives and for profit companies wielding power that should be in public hands,” he said.

“I think this is a good opportunity to re-raise the issue when the focus is on this incident,” Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO, said in an interview. “When you have people’s attention, that’s always good.”

Members of Congress pointed to Snowden’s salary and security clearance as evidence that the contracting system has grown inefficient and needs more oversight.

A new Department of Labor rule change will make it easier for miners to file black lung claims. From a press release put out by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.):

“This is an important step toward helping miners’ black lung claims get processed more quickly and easily so they can get the health benefits they deserve,” said Rockefeller. “But we can’t stop there.  More still needs to be done to protect the health and safety of our miners.”

The Labor Department rule will enable physicians to use more modern medical technology when performing black lung evaluations of miners.  Currently, the standards for administering and interpreting chest x-rays addresses only film technology.  But such technology is becoming outdated and is often replaced by digital medical technology that offers quicker and more accurate readings.  The new rule will allow both film and digital x-rays to be given equal importance in the claims process as miners apply for black lung health benefits.


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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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