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Boss Shoots Worker For Demanding Back Pay, Brazilian Metalworkers Win & Pilots Dump Union Prez

Mike Elk

Every weekend, Working In These Times round up the labor news of the week that we missed. Feel free to email stories to mike@​inthesetimes.​com.

A Texas construction worker was shot by his boss this week after demanding back pay. From The Austin American Statesman:

Miguel Angel Osorio-Torres, 33, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. He has an immigration hold and remains behind bars in lieu of $250,000 bail, according to Travis County Jail records.

A construction worker told police he went looking for Osorio-Torres because he had not been compensated for his work at a job site on Elmont Street in Southeast Austin, the affidavit said. The man found the foreman at the site, and Osorio-Torres invited him to a park for a drink and to talk, records said.

When the construction worker brought up the payment, Osorio-Torres threatened the man and then shot at him as he began to walk away, hitting him in the lower back and left arm, records said.

The board of the Allied Pilots Association has forced union president Kevin Bates out of office, after 60 percent of union members rejected a concessionary deal that Bates supported. From the Associated Press:

Many pilots harbor long-standing animosity toward management at American and favor a merger that would result in US Airways executives running a larger, combined airline.

Skeptics among the pilots believed that approving American’s contract offer would have strengthened American’s current management and made a merger less likely. Opponents also objected to what they considered a new two-tier pay scale with lower pay for flying smaller planes, and to the agreement’s long life — the prospect of working for six years under a contract hammered out during the bankruptcy process.

The pilots’ vote — and especially the lopsided margin against the agreement — caught many people by surprise. On the surface, the pilots got a better deal in some ways than did mechanics and other ground workers, who ratified contract offers from American, and flight attendants.

While the pilots would have owned 13.5 percent of the company after bankruptcy, flight attendants would get only 3 percent. The company said Thursday that it’s still working on details about stock for the Transport Workers Union, but the pilots’ union said it will be much less than 13.5 percent.

As workers at frozen-pizza manufacturer Palmero continue their strike in favor of union recognition, the AFL-CIO is calling on Costco to put pro-union pressure on Palermo, one of its suppliers. From the AFL-CIO Blog:

Workers at Palermo’s Pizza in Milwaukee, Wis., have been on strike for nearly two months in a struggle for justice with one of the largest frozen pizza manufacturers in the nation.

Palermo’s Pizza workers are demanding safe working conditions and recognition for their union. They are also seeking reinstatement of workers who they say were terminated for organizing. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the company’s conduct. The workers also say Palermo’s is continuing with its intimidation campaign.

You can help the workers — like Laura Torres, a single mother of six who has worked at the Palermo’s plant for 10 years — by asking Costco, Palermo’s biggest customer, to urge the pizza maker to respect workers and improve working conditions at the plant.

The workers are focused on Costco because the wholesale warehouse chain has built a reputation as the anti- Walmart with a commitment to a strong Suppliers Code of Conduct.” A major part of that is a continuing commitment to the protection and improvement of employees’ rights.” Costco can audit its suppliers, like Palermo’s, to make sure they are in compliance with the code.

2,000 members of Brazilian Metalworkers Union occupied a key highway in Brazil last week, and as a result GM agreed to cancel planned layoffs. From Labor Notes:

Early on August 2 near São Paulo, the union members blocked the Presidente Dutra Highway. Burning tires and banners helped stop traffic, which was backed up for 13 kilometers. The highway was blocked for an hour and ten minutes.

After the highway occupation, the workers whose jobs were immediately threatened, returned to their plant to stand outside in protest. There they were joined on strike by other GM workers who make the newly launched Chevrolet S10 pickup. The workers voted to stay on strike for 24 hours while continuing to meet in a general assembly.

Behind the threat of 1,840 job losses lurks the threat to close completely the 7,200-worker São José dos Campos plant, the largest GM complex in Brazil. Workers there occasionally walk off the job for shift rallies at the gate.

During the action, banners called on President Dilma Rousseff to Shut Mantega up and prohibit the layoffs,” a reference to Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega, who had said he would not interfere in GM’s decisions. Mantega had argued that GM hadn’t broken its agreement to maintain jobs.

The president had promised she would take away tax benefits from companies that fired workers. In a letter to the president, the union said, It is unbearable for two thousand breadwinners who run the risk of losing their jobs to be treated by the minister simply as statistics.”

The highway occupation projected political as well as economic pressure. This route connecting Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is more crucial to Brazil than any single interstate is in the U.S.

A new study from MIT says that retailers would be wise to treat their workers better, because customers would buy more stuff. From Demos:

New research by the MIT professor Zeynep Ton deserves attention. Ton has spent 10 years studying retail jobs and, in particular, exploring how some retailers are providing much better jobs than others and reaping benefits from treating their workers better.

Ton explains that while retail managers have many short-term incentives for keeping labor costs as low as possible, stores that invest more in employees can achieve long-term gains in sales that more than cover their higher labor costs.

Ton contrasts low-road retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart with chains that pay and train their workers better, like Trader Joe’s and Costco. What she finds is that low-road employers have much higher turnover, which in turn means their workers are less well-trained … Stores like Wal-Mart also create havoc in the lives of their employees with just-in-time scheduling, a practice that constantly changes workers’ schedules to reflect the ebbs and flows of customers with the aim of keeping labor costs as low as possible. (Demos criticized this practice in a 2011 report.)

All these practices, Ton says, are penny wise but pound foolish for retailers who are filling their stores with workers who hate their jobs, will quit at a moment’s notice, and aren’t motivated to execute the basic mission of retail: Get customers to buy more stuff.

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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