Farm Workers Go On Strike, 21 Casino Workers Suspended, 98 Year Old To Run Against Trumka

Mike Elk

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Every Saturday, Working In These Times rounds up the labor news that we missed the week before. Email stories to mike@​inthesetimes.​com

In an unusual move, 200 agriculture workers in Northern California went on a one-day strike. From the Salinas Californian:

More than 200 non-union farmworkers marched and chanted near lettuce fields in Gonzales during a one-day strike Monday over what they claim is a lack of medical insurance, job equipment and overtime pay.

The workers, employed by Amaral Ranches, Inc., were scheduled to try and determine today in a pre-election” who among them is eligible to vote in any future election held to determine their eligibility for union representation, UFW officials said. The pre-election vote is scheduled at 9 a.m. today at the Salinas office of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, said Efren Barajas, vice president of the local UFW office. Some workers said the strike began at 5:30 a.m. Monday. They said they seek pay increases, paid holidays and vacation days; overtime pay, equipment such as rain gear and medical plans. Employees answering the phones at Amaral Ranches on Monday would not comment on the strike or other developments.

A whistleblower who exposed safety problems at the mine where he worked has his job reinstated by a Federal judge. This is the third time the whistleblower has his job reinstated after exposing safety problems at various mines. From the Huffington Post:

A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard’s company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials.

It is obvious that [Cumberland River] worked diligently to end Howard’s employment,” wrote Margaret A. Miller, an administrative law judge for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The discrimination against Howard ran through [Cumberland River] and its parent, Arch, at the highest management levels.”

A spokeswoman for Arch, which bills itself as the second-largest U.S. coal company, said it does not comment on litigation. The company may appeal the decision.

Well known in Kentucky coal country, the 52-year-old Howard has been blowing the whistle on unsafe conditions at his mines for years – a rarity for a working miner – and he has a way of getting fired or otherwise disciplined after such outspokenness. (His actions have inspired a folk song.) Friday’s ruling marks at least the third time Howard has been reinstated by a judge.

21 union workers at Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, have been suspended for participating in a protest against wage cuts. From the Associated Press:

The Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City is suspending workers who took part in a protest that blocked traffic Friday night near the casino’s entrance.

Tropicana president Tony Rodio says 21 workers were suspended indefinitely for engaging in illegal activity that interfered with the casino’s customers.

Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union conducted what it called a civil disobedience campaign Friday resulting in the arrest of 49 of its members after they sat down in the roadway and stopped traffic. The union was protesting the lack of a new contract and the casino’s termination of its employee pension plan in favor of cash payments to workers.

Rodio says the casino is trying to determine whether the workers should be fired or not.

Last week, Josh Eidelson covered how 125 pizza workers at Palermo’s in Milwaukee went on strike. Now the gourmet pizza chain Upper Crust is in trouble for lying in federal court about repaying workers back pay ordered by the Department of Labor. From the Boston Globe:

After being ordered by the government to pay employees nearly $350,000 in overtime, executives at Upper Crust devised a scheme to wrest the money back, including cashing forged checks and slashing workers’ wages, according to the pizza chain’s former chief financial officer.Upper Crust founder Jordan Tobins yelled and screamed about the investigation” after the US Department of Labor informed the Boston chain it owed money to more than 100 employees, David Marcus said in an affidavit filed on Friday in Suffolk Superior Court in a lawsuit brought by former workers over back pay.

Among other things, Mr. Tobins said words to the effect of This is my company’ and The employees are not going to take my money,’ ” Marcus, who worked at Upper Crust until last summer, said in court

Marcus’s testimony is at odds with what Upper Crust has maintained about its employment practices. The company has repeatedly denied accusations for the past several years that it rescinded overtime compensation ordered by the labor agency.

And it is a reversal from what Marcus said under oath last year, when he still worked as chief financial officer and claimed there was never” any discussion about having employees pay back the money.

Union members at liberal Kenyon College are protesting the college’s to outsource some of the management of food services to Sodexo. They are afraid the move could affect their working conditions and could lead to more subcontracting and outsourcing on campus. From the Kenyon Thrill:

Besides holding signs, outraged protesters with something to say stood one after the other atop one of the many painted red benches on Middle Path and spoke to the crowd of about 100 people. UE 712 president Robert Smith began the speeches, sharing how the decision has affected him and other maintenance workers. Smith said the news of outsourcing was like waking up from a nightmare.” He called the decision unbelievable,” noting that Kenyon’s workers had a combined years of service of 435 years to the College,” with two members of over 40 years of service.”

Similarly, Professor of English Kim McMullen commented she was appalled,” and called the decision a betrayal of our community.”

UE 712 representative Dennis Painter also mounted the bench, declaring the decision sends the wrong message to the students.” He continued by emphasizing the union had no idea this was coming,” and that in his past experience Sodexo is difficult to deal with because it is for profit before people, before Kenyon.” Painter also called into question the efficacy of the administration in communicating clearly with the union in the past about its concerns, stating, we have never been approached by this administration [to say] we have money problems, can you help us?’ They have never come to us and said things are not working properly within the maintenance department, we need changes.’ Now we have told them that and they’ve done nothing.”

Painter finished his speech with the assertion that corporate greed has come to Kenyon and it’s going to take all of us to stop it, [because] if they can farm this work out, no place is safe on campus.” After Painter concluded, one man stood atop the bench and to cheers said, All we want is a fair price for a fair life.”

98-year-old labor journalist Harry Kelber has launched his bid to run against Richard Trumka for the Presidency of the AFL-CIO next year. From Counterpunch:

Harry Kelber will challenge Richard Trumka for the presidency of the AFL-CIO at the labor union’s convention September 8 – 12, 2013 in Los Angeles. Remember Harry Kelber? He’s a labor activist and writer who runs The Labor Educator. Every week, Kelber evicerates the leaders of the AFL-CIO for not actively challenging the corrupt corporate establishment in Washington, for paying 131 of its executives more than $100,000 a year, and for censoring any criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter last year, Kelber said that Trumka was all talk, no action. Trumka makes speeches to please the membership,” Kelber told Corporate Crime Reporter last year. But there is no action to do anything. He comes out as an advocate of change, and he ends up without change. He had all kinds of possible opportunity for non violent action to express the discontent of American workers.”

Here’s the thing about Kelber – he has a sense of timing. He announced his candidacy to challenge Trumka June 20, 2012 – on his 98th birthday. He’ll be 99 at the time of the AFL-CIO’s election next September.

This is not a frivolous decision,” Kelber said today. My candidacy guarantees that there will be an actual election, with a printed ballot and serious debates on the issues confronting American workers and their unions at the AFL-CIO Convention.”

Trumka and his bureaucratic group have no plans to rebuild the Federation,” Kelber said. They have a record of legislative failures. Trumka makes crowd-pleasing speeches, but he has avoided any direct action that will command the attention of either Congress or the White House.”

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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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