California farm workers fired for leaving fields during wildfireMay 8, 2013
More than a dozen farm workers in Southern California were out of a job after walking out of the fields last week, forced indoors because of heavy smoke from a massive wildfire burning nearby.
“Oh, yeah, the smoke was very bad. That’s no doubt about that,” said Lauro Barrajas, of the United Farm Workers.
As the blaze, dubbed the Springs Fire, continued to grow in Camarillo May 2, farm workers 11 miles south in Oxnard said they started to feel the effects of the smoke in the strawberry fields.
The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”
Air quality in the region was at dangerously poor levels and 15 workers at Crisalida Farms decided they could not handle it any longer. They left, even though their foreman warned them they would not have a job when they returned.
When they went back to the fields May 3, the farm fired them.
Barrajas, who is a representative of the UFW, said the workers contacted him for help, even though they were not members of the union.
Union representatives met with the farm’s upper management and applied a union rule.
“No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger,” Barrajas said.
In a statement to Telemundo, the farm representative said the workers left without permission while orders still needed to be filled. The company offered to pay them for the hours they’d worked.
Later, the company settled with the union and offered to rehire all 15 workers. But only one worker returned.
The others took jobs on other farms.
One worker said while it hurts to lose work, one’s health is more important.
SourcePhoto

California farm workers fired for leaving fields during wildfire
May 8, 2013

More than a dozen farm workers in Southern California were out of a job after walking out of the fields last week, forced indoors because of heavy smoke from a massive wildfire burning nearby.

“Oh, yeah, the smoke was very bad. That’s no doubt about that,” said Lauro Barrajas, of the United Farm Workers.

As the blaze, dubbed the Springs Fire, continued to grow in Camarillo May 2, farm workers 11 miles south in Oxnard said they started to feel the effects of the smoke in the strawberry fields.

The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”

Air quality in the region was at dangerously poor levels and 15 workers at Crisalida Farms decided they could not handle it any longer. They left, even though their foreman warned them they would not have a job when they returned.

When they went back to the fields May 3, the farm fired them.

Barrajas, who is a representative of the UFW, said the workers contacted him for help, even though they were not members of the union.

Union representatives met with the farm’s upper management and applied a union rule.

“No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger,” Barrajas said.

In a statement to Telemundo, the farm representative said the workers left without permission while orders still needed to be filled. The company offered to pay them for the hours they’d worked.

Later, the company settled with the union and offered to rehire all 15 workers. But only one worker returned.

The others took jobs on other farms.

One worker said while it hurts to lose work, one’s health is more important.

Source
Photo

New York fast food workers turn up heat in bid for better payApril 4, 2013
Hundreds of fast-food restaurant workers in New York City are expected to walk off the job on Thursday in what organizers said would be their largest rally yet for better pay.
Employees from familiar chains such as McDonald’s Corp, Wendy’s and Yum Inc’s KFC are seeking to roughly double their hourly pay to $15. They also say they want the right to form a union without intimidation or retaliation.

Winning such concessions will be difficult. Low-wage, low-skill workers lack political clout and face significantly higher unemployment than college graduates.

As many as 400 workers from more than five dozen restaurants around New York City have committed to turn out for protests planned at various locations, said Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward, which organized Thursday’s actions and is backed by labor, community and religious groups.
That turnout would be twice as large as in November, when the city’s fast-food workers also walked off the job, Westin said.
And, he said, the majority of employees from some individual fast-food outlets have vowed to participate in Thursday’s actions.
"It’s going to be difficult for these businesses to operate this time," Westin said.
The nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry long has been known as a employer of teenagers and students.
But the 18-month “Great Recession” that began in December 2007 helped change that. It destroyed thousands of middle-income jobs and forced more adults to seek part-time, largely minimum wage work flipping burgers and manning fryers.
In his State of the Union address in February, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage as a way to help lift some workers out of poverty - a plan critics said would kill jobs by burdening small businesses with higher costs.
The state of New York is already on that path. Its recently passed budget included plans to raise the state minimum wage, now at $7.25, to $9 by the end of 2015.
But even with that 24 percent hike, New York’s minimum wage would remain below the roughly $11 hourly pay needed to lift a family of four above the poverty line.
Such pay-boosting efforts are welcome but not enough for workers struggling to make ends meet, said fast-food employee Joseph Barrera, who plans to join Thursday’s protests.
The 22-year-old says he has earned $7.25 per hour for the 10 months he has worked at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. Even with a side job as a freelance mechanic, he still stretches to cover rent on his basement apartment that has no windows or heat.
"Anywhere where the cost of living is very, very high, $9 is not enough. Everyone should be able to make a living wage," Barrera said.
McDonald’s Corp, the world’s biggest fast-food chain by sales, in November said that the majority of its namesake U.S. restaurants are owned and operated by independent business men and women who offer pay and benefits competitive within the quick service restaurant industry.
Source
In related news, a McDonald’s job ad in Massachusetts requires a bachelor’s degree & two years of experience for a cashier job. 

New York fast food workers turn up heat in bid for better pay
April 4, 2013

Hundreds of fast-food restaurant workers in New York City are expected to walk off the job on Thursday in what organizers said would be their largest rally yet for better pay.

Employees from familiar chains such as McDonald’s Corp, Wendy’s and Yum Inc’s KFC are seeking to roughly double their hourly pay to $15. They also say they want the right to form a union without intimidation or retaliation.

Winning such concessions will be difficult. Low-wage, low-skill workers lack political clout and face significantly higher unemployment than college graduates.

As many as 400 workers from more than five dozen restaurants around New York City have committed to turn out for protests planned at various locations, said Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward, which organized Thursday’s actions and is backed by labor, community and religious groups.

That turnout would be twice as large as in November, when the city’s fast-food workers also walked off the job, Westin said.

And, he said, the majority of employees from some individual fast-food outlets have vowed to participate in Thursday’s actions.

"It’s going to be difficult for these businesses to operate this time," Westin said.

The nearly $200 billion U.S. fast-food industry long has been known as a employer of teenagers and students.

But the 18-month “Great Recession” that began in December 2007 helped change that. It destroyed thousands of middle-income jobs and forced more adults to seek part-time, largely minimum wage work flipping burgers and manning fryers.

In his State of the Union address in February, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage as a way to help lift some workers out of poverty - a plan critics said would kill jobs by burdening small businesses with higher costs.

The state of New York is already on that path. Its recently passed budget included plans to raise the state minimum wage, now at $7.25, to $9 by the end of 2015.

But even with that 24 percent hike, New York’s minimum wage would remain below the roughly $11 hourly pay needed to lift a family of four above the poverty line.

Such pay-boosting efforts are welcome but not enough for workers struggling to make ends meet, said fast-food employee Joseph Barrera, who plans to join Thursday’s protests.

The 22-year-old says he has earned $7.25 per hour for the 10 months he has worked at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. Even with a side job as a freelance mechanic, he still stretches to cover rent on his basement apartment that has no windows or heat.

"Anywhere where the cost of living is very, very high, $9 is not enough. Everyone should be able to make a living wage," Barrera said.

McDonald’s Corp, the world’s biggest fast-food chain by sales, in November said that the majority of its namesake U.S. restaurants are owned and operated by independent business men and women who offer pay and benefits competitive within the quick service restaurant industry.

Source

In related news, a McDonald’s job ad in Massachusetts requires a bachelor’s degree & two years of experience for a cashier job. 

"We have suffered unnumbered ills and crimes in the name of the Law of the Land. Our men, women and children have suffered not only the basic brutality of stoop labor, and the most obvious injustices of the system; they have also suffered the desperation of knowing that the system caters to the greed of callous men and not to our needs. 
Now we will suffer for the purpose of ending the poverty, the misery, and the injustice, with the hope that our children will not be exploited as we have been. They have imposed hungers on us, and now we hunger for justice.” - César E. Chávez, civil rights activist, farm worker organizer & co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (March 31, 1927 - April 23, 1993)

"We have suffered unnumbered ills and crimes in the name of the Law of the Land. Our men, women and children have suffered not only the basic brutality of stoop labor, and the most obvious injustices of the system; they have also suffered the desperation of knowing that the system caters to the greed of callous men and not to our needs.

Now we will suffer for the purpose of ending the poverty, the misery, and the injustice, with the hope that our children will not be exploited as we have been. They have imposed hungers on us, and now we hunger for justice.” - César E. Chávezcivil rights activist, farm worker organizer & co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (March 31, 1927 - April 23, 1993)

Walmart sues grocery workers union, some Florida store protestersMarch 26, 2013
Wal-Mart Stores Inc<wmt.n style=”list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: none;”>has sued a major grocery workers union and others who have protested at its Florida stores, the latest salvo in its legal fight to stop “disruptive” rallies in and around its stores by groups seeking better pay and working conditions.
Wal-Mart does not have union-represented workers in its U.S. stores. Nevertheless, it has long faced opposition from various labor groups including the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and from a small but vocal group of current and former employees backed by the union and known as OUR Walmart.
The lawsuit filed on Friday in Orange County, Florida state court seeks "to help protect our customers and associates from further disruptive tactics associated with their continued, illegal trespassing," Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said.
Defendants, however, charged that the world’s biggest retailer is trying to muzzle its critics.
"This is another attempt on Wal-Mart’s behalf of … silencing their employees and also the communities that support them," Denise Diaz, executive director of Central Florida Jobs With Justice Corp and a defendant named in the suit, said before reviewing the documents.
"Rather than creating good jobs with steady hours and affordable healthcare, Walmart’s pattern is to focus its energies on infringing on our freedom of speech," the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), also a defendant, said in a statement.
Other defendants include the 1.3 million-member UFCW and the individuals Angela Williamson, Alex Rivera, and Alan Hanson.
The UFCW was not immediately able to comment on the lawsuit.
Wal-Mart alleged that the defendants violated Florida law through coordinated, statewide acts of trespass in several Walmart stores over the last eight months. It has asked the court for a legal ruling that would prevent future trespassing.
In the lawsuit Wal-Mart cited an example where a group of protesters projected a video promoting OUR Walmart on the side of a store in Orlando and passing out literature inside that store in July, 2012.
It alleged that a group of UFCW demonstrators returned to that same store on October 30, 2012 and “confronted the store manager and handed him a rotten pumpkin painted in support of OUR Walmart. The group left the store only after the manager warned that he had called the police.”
Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor practice charge against the UFCW in November, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer said were unlawful attempts to disrupt its business in several states including protests that were planned for Black Friday, the busy shopping day right after Thanksgiving. In January, labor groups said that they would stop much of their picketing against the chain, while still trying to push the company to improve working conditions.
The case is Wal-Mart Stores Inc v. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union et al, 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, Orange County, No. 2013-CA-004293.
Source

Walmart sues grocery workers union, some Florida store protesters
March 26, 2013

Wal-Mart Stores Inc<wmt.n style=”list-style: none; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: none;”>has sued a major grocery workers union and others who have protested at its Florida stores, the latest salvo in its legal fight to stop “disruptive” rallies in and around its stores by groups seeking better pay and working conditions.

Wal-Mart does not have union-represented workers in its U.S. stores. Nevertheless, it has long faced opposition from various labor groups including the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and from a small but vocal group of current and former employees backed by the union and known as OUR Walmart.

The lawsuit filed on Friday in Orange County, Florida state court seeks "to help protect our customers and associates from further disruptive tactics associated with their continued, illegal trespassing," Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said.

Defendants, however, charged that the world’s biggest retailer is trying to muzzle its critics.

"This is another attempt on Wal-Mart’s behalf of … silencing their employees and also the communities that support them," Denise Diaz, executive director of Central Florida Jobs With Justice Corp and a defendant named in the suit, said before reviewing the documents.

"Rather than creating good jobs with steady hours and affordable healthcare, Walmart’s pattern is to focus its energies on infringing on our freedom of speech," the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), also a defendant, said in a statement.

Other defendants include the 1.3 million-member UFCW and the individuals Angela Williamson, Alex Rivera, and Alan Hanson.

The UFCW was not immediately able to comment on the lawsuit.

Wal-Mart alleged that the defendants violated Florida law through coordinated, statewide acts of trespass in several Walmart stores over the last eight months. It has asked the court for a legal ruling that would prevent future trespassing.

In the lawsuit Wal-Mart cited an example where a group of protesters projected a video promoting OUR Walmart on the side of a store in Orlando and passing out literature inside that store in July, 2012.

It alleged that a group of UFCW demonstrators returned to that same store on October 30, 2012 and “confronted the store manager and handed him a rotten pumpkin painted in support of OUR Walmart. The group left the store only after the manager warned that he had called the police.”

Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor practice charge against the UFCW in November, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer said were unlawful attempts to disrupt its business in several states including protests that were planned for Black Friday, the busy shopping day right after Thanksgiving. In January, labor groups said that they would stop much of their picketing against the chain, while still trying to push the company to improve working conditions.

The case is Wal-Mart Stores Inc v. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union et al, 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, Orange County, No. 2013-CA-004293.

Source

How workers laid off from a Chicago factory took it over themselvesMarch 5, 2013
Four years ago, as the recession took hold and layoffs around the country were approaching 500,000 a month, a group of workers in Chicago saved a factory and inspired a nation. Fired by their boss, they occupied instead of leaving. Fired by a second boss, they occupied and formed a worker’s cooperative. Now they are worker-owners of a load of equipment and they’re setting up a factory in a new location.
All they want to do is to get back to making and selling windows. It shouldn’t be this hard to keep good jobs in Chicago, but “A cooperative can be a way of surviving, of moving forward,” says Armando Robles, one of the workers.
Robles was one of 250 workers fired in December 2008 without notice or severance by Republic Windows and Doors when the company announced it was closing its Chicago factory. The company said that it could no longer operate because it had lost its line of credit with Bank of America. The irony of the situation was clear. Bank of America had received billions in government bailouts to keep the economy working, and yet the Republic workers were being laid off without their entitled payments and benefits. Supported by their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Robles and his fellow workers voted to resist. They occupied the plant for six days, winning back pay, severance, and time for a new company to take ownership. Generating thousands of articles and news reports about their fight, they encouraged a downcast nation, even an incoming U.S. president.
At a press conference during the factory occupation, then President-elect Barack Obama declared: “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago, with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … I think they are absolutely right.”
The public relations potential, combined with the prospect of stimulus spending and a green economy boom, spurred Serious Energy of California to take over the former Republic plant in February 2009. Among the investors in the new business was Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based firm, with close ties to (among others), then White House Chief of Staff (soon to be Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel. With $15 million from Mesirow alone, Serious looked forward to landing substantial federal and city contracts.
Two years later, those contracts were yet to materialize. The ballyhooed green economy? Chicago’s grand green retrofitting scheme? They were nowhere in sight, and city and state spending was essentially on ice. By the end of 2009, only 20 of the Republic workers had been hired back. In February 2012, Serious announced it, too, was closing the Chicago factory and selling off the machines.
This time, Robles et al. only needed to occupy for a matter of hours before management agreed to a deal. Serious agreed to give the workers the first option to buy the plant’s equipment and 90 days to come up with a bid.
“Republic walked away from our jobs. Serious walked away from our jobs, but we are not walking away from our jobs,” said Melvin Macklin, who had worked at the plant for more than a decade. In the time between the first layoff and the second, the workers and their families became aware of other options. As it happens, after appearing together with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on GRITtv, Robles and United Electrical field organizer Leah Fried sat down with The Working World, a nonprofit that has helped start and maintain worker cooperatives in Argentina and other parts of Latin America.
Full article

How workers laid off from a Chicago factory took it over themselves
March 5, 2013

Four years ago, as the recession took hold and layoffs around the country were approaching 500,000 a month, a group of workers in Chicago saved a factory and inspired a nation. Fired by their boss, they occupied instead of leaving. Fired by a second boss, they occupied and formed a worker’s cooperative. Now they are worker-owners of a load of equipment and they’re setting up a factory in a new location.

All they want to do is to get back to making and selling windows. It shouldn’t be this hard to keep good jobs in Chicago, but “A cooperative can be a way of surviving, of moving forward,” says Armando Robles, one of the workers.

Robles was one of 250 workers fired in December 2008 without notice or severance by Republic Windows and Doors when the company announced it was closing its Chicago factory. The company said that it could no longer operate because it had lost its line of credit with Bank of America. The irony of the situation was clear. Bank of America had received billions in government bailouts to keep the economy working, and yet the Republic workers were being laid off without their entitled payments and benefits. Supported by their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Robles and his fellow workers voted to resist. They occupied the plant for six days, winning back pay, severance, and time for a new company to take ownership. Generating thousands of articles and news reports about their fight, they encouraged a downcast nation, even an incoming U.S. president.

At a press conference during the factory occupation, then President-elect Barack Obama declared: “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago, with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … I think they are absolutely right.”

The public relations potential, combined with the prospect of stimulus spending and a green economy boom, spurred Serious Energy of California to take over the former Republic plant in February 2009. Among the investors in the new business was Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based firm, with close ties to (among others), then White House Chief of Staff (soon to be Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel. With $15 million from Mesirow alone, Serious looked forward to landing substantial federal and city contracts.

Two years later, those contracts were yet to materialize. The ballyhooed green economy? Chicago’s grand green retrofitting scheme? They were nowhere in sight, and city and state spending was essentially on ice. By the end of 2009, only 20 of the Republic workers had been hired back. In February 2012, Serious announced it, too, was closing the Chicago factory and selling off the machines.

This time, Robles et al. only needed to occupy for a matter of hours before management agreed to a deal. Serious agreed to give the workers the first option to buy the plant’s equipment and 90 days to come up with a bid.

“Republic walked away from our jobs. Serious walked away from our jobs, but we are not walking away from our jobs,” said Melvin Macklin, who had worked at the plant for more than a decade. In the time between the first layoff and the second, the workers and their families became aware of other options. As it happens, after appearing together with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on GRITtv, Robles and United Electrical field organizer Leah Fried sat down with The Working World, a nonprofit that has helped start and maintain worker cooperatives in Argentina and other parts of Latin America.

Full article

Cambodian workers on hunger strike against Walmart &amp; H&amp;MFebruary 28, 2013
Self-organized garment workers at a Walmart and H&amp;M supplier factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, have been camping in front of their shuttered factory for almost two months to prevent their bosses from taking out the sewing machinery.
Now the workers have escalated to blocking roads, and will launch a hunger strike February 27—all to push Walmart and H&amp;M to pay them the back wages they are owed. Their cause is drawing support from workers at another Walmart subcontractor on the other side of the world.
“We decided to go on hunger strike to show that we not just any workers,” said one of the leaders, Sorn Sothy, 26, who works in the warehousing part of the Cambodian factory. “We are strong, committed, and united.”
The workers were informed in September that their factory, Kingsland Garment Co., Ltd., would temporarily close until January. Under Cambodian labor law, they would be paid 50 percent of their wages during this time, and brought back to work in January.
But in December, the paychecks stopped coming. The company union told the workers that the company was bankrupt and the owner had fled the country.
The garment workers are owed around $200,000 collectively—less than what Walmart makes in profits every six minutes.
Since their boss-run union wouldn&#8217;t fight back, 200 workers organized themselves and began protesting outside the factory gates January 1. In the middle of the night January 3, they noticed company staff attempting to remove the sewing machines from the factory.
“We decided to start sleeping outside of the factory to prevent management from taking the machinery out,” said Yorn Sok Leng, 30, who has worked at the factory for two years.
With the help of a worker center, the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), the workers occupied the outside of the factory—setting up tarps, a sleeping area, and a kitchen.
Flying Squads
Walmart and H&amp;M have agreed to come to Cambodia to meet with them March 1, but the garment workers are continuing to find new ways to hold the brands’ feet to the fire. In the days leading up to their meeting, in addition to the hunger strike, they plan “flying squad” roadblocks, a tactic they have borrowed from workers at another shuttered factory.
They staged their first roadblock February 24 in grassroots fashion—only calling to invite allies from the worker center the night before the demonstration.
Many of the people who were delayed by the two-hour roadblock knew about the garment workers’ fight, and actually cheered them on.
In an email to the CLEC, Walmart and H&amp;M have claimed they ended their relationships with Kingsland Garment in September, and had “paid in full,” so they had no responsibility for what happened to the workers afterwards.
Workers aren’t buying it. “The owner ran away. It is Walmart and H&amp;M that made the profits off of our work, so they are the ones that need to pay,” said Oun Buy, 33, who has worked at the factory for 10 years.
It’s a familiar problem: multinational corporations use layers of subcontractors to duck responsibility.
Walmart in particular is notorious for failing to enforce its own rules. Its supplier standards make it responsible for contractors’ behavior, but instead of forcing improvements, when a factory is caught in violations, it is easiest for Walmart to cut and run—firing the contractor and leaving workers with nothing.
Supply Chain Solidarity
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union dealt with this problem in the U.S. in the early 20th century by developing jobber’s agreements, which made the “jobber”—in today’s terms, the brand—responsible for wages and conditions in factories producing their garments. Such agreements, won with strikes and other militant actions, are widely credited with ending sweatshop conditions in the U.S. garment industry.
But brands eventually found a way to circumvent these agreements: moving production to the non-union South—and then, with globalization, overseas, to countries where labor laws and enforcement are weaker, and where union leaders are physically attacked, threatened, and even assassinated.
Although the race to the bottom in labor standards has hurt garment workers around the world, many in the U.S. accepted the line that Cambodian (or Chinese or Bengali) workers were taking “our” jobs. Cross-border solidarity in the Walmart supply chain offers a seed of hope that this perception can change.
“We’re thankful to the Walmart warehouse workers,” said Poung Phirum, 23. “The Americans who are supporting us work for Walmart, just like us.”
Workers at an Illinois warehouse, who load and unload garments and other Walmart products 14 hours a day, plan to show their support for the Cambodian workers with a demonstration at a Walmart store.
The Illinois group, organizing with the worker center Warehouse Workers for Justice, won health and safety improvements after a 21-day strike last fall. Others at Walmart-subcontracted warehouses are organizing with workers centers in California (Warehouse Workers United) and New Jersey (New Labor).
“We are all in the same fight, whether in Cambodia, Bangladesh, America, Mexico, or anywhere else,” said Mike Compton, one of the Illinois strikers. “It&#8217;s time for [Walmart] to take responsibility for conditions in the factories, warehouse, stores, and everything else in their supply chain.”
Source

Cambodian workers on hunger strike against Walmart & H&M
February 28, 2013

Self-organized garment workers at a Walmart and H&M supplier factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, have been camping in front of their shuttered factory for almost two months to prevent their bosses from taking out the sewing machinery.

Now the workers have escalated to blocking roads, and will launch a hunger strike February 27—all to push Walmart and H&M to pay them the back wages they are owed. Their cause is drawing support from workers at another Walmart subcontractor on the other side of the world.

“We decided to go on hunger strike to show that we not just any workers,” said one of the leaders, Sorn Sothy, 26, who works in the warehousing part of the Cambodian factory. “We are strong, committed, and united.”

The workers were informed in September that their factory, Kingsland Garment Co., Ltd., would temporarily close until January. Under Cambodian labor law, they would be paid 50 percent of their wages during this time, and brought back to work in January.

But in December, the paychecks stopped coming. The company union told the workers that the company was bankrupt and the owner had fled the country.

The garment workers are owed around $200,000 collectively—less than what Walmart makes in profits every six minutes.

Since their boss-run union wouldn’t fight back, 200 workers organized themselves and began protesting outside the factory gates January 1. In the middle of the night January 3, they noticed company staff attempting to remove the sewing machines from the factory.

“We decided to start sleeping outside of the factory to prevent management from taking the machinery out,” said Yorn Sok Leng, 30, who has worked at the factory for two years.

With the help of a worker center, the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), the workers occupied the outside of the factory—setting up tarps, a sleeping area, and a kitchen.

Flying Squads

Walmart and H&M have agreed to come to Cambodia to meet with them March 1, but the garment workers are continuing to find new ways to hold the brands’ feet to the fire. In the days leading up to their meeting, in addition to the hunger strike, they plan “flying squad” roadblocks, a tactic they have borrowed from workers at another shuttered factory.

They staged their first roadblock February 24 in grassroots fashion—only calling to invite allies from the worker center the night before the demonstration.

Many of the people who were delayed by the two-hour roadblock knew about the garment workers’ fight, and actually cheered them on.

In an email to the CLEC, Walmart and H&M have claimed they ended their relationships with Kingsland Garment in September, and had “paid in full,” so they had no responsibility for what happened to the workers afterwards.

Workers aren’t buying it. “The owner ran away. It is Walmart and H&M that made the profits off of our work, so they are the ones that need to pay,” said Oun Buy, 33, who has worked at the factory for 10 years.

It’s a familiar problem: multinational corporations use layers of subcontractors to duck responsibility.

Walmart in particular is notorious for failing to enforce its own rules. Its supplier standards make it responsible for contractors’ behavior, but instead of forcing improvements, when a factory is caught in violations, it is easiest for Walmart to cut and run—firing the contractor and leaving workers with nothing.

Supply Chain Solidarity

The International Ladies Garment Workers Union dealt with this problem in the U.S. in the early 20th century by developing jobber’s agreements, which made the “jobber”—in today’s terms, the brand—responsible for wages and conditions in factories producing their garments. Such agreements, won with strikes and other militant actions, are widely credited with ending sweatshop conditions in the U.S. garment industry.

But brands eventually found a way to circumvent these agreements: moving production to the non-union South—and then, with globalization, overseas, to countries where labor laws and enforcement are weaker, and where union leaders are physically attacked, threatened, and even assassinated.

Although the race to the bottom in labor standards has hurt garment workers around the world, many in the U.S. accepted the line that Cambodian (or Chinese or Bengali) workers were taking “our” jobs. Cross-border solidarity in the Walmart supply chain offers a seed of hope that this perception can change.

“We’re thankful to the Walmart warehouse workers,” said Poung Phirum, 23. “The Americans who are supporting us work for Walmart, just like us.”

Workers at an Illinois warehouse, who load and unload garments and other Walmart products 14 hours a day, plan to show their support for the Cambodian workers with a demonstration at a Walmart store.

The Illinois group, organizing with the worker center Warehouse Workers for Justice, won health and safety improvements after a 21-day strike last fall. Others at Walmart-subcontracted warehouses are organizing with workers centers in California (Warehouse Workers United) and New Jersey (New Labor).

“We are all in the same fight, whether in Cambodia, Bangladesh, America, Mexico, or anywhere else,” said Mike Compton, one of the Illinois strikers. “It’s time for [Walmart] to take responsibility for conditions in the factories, warehouse, stores, and everything else in their supply chain.”

Source

Internal report: Apple products made with child laborJanuary 26, 2013
Apple Inc. used child labor in the making of its products by employing 106 underage workers across 11 facilitates in 2012, an internal audit revealed. According to a report, the company also discovered wage problems and forced pregnancy tests.
Apple’s annual ‘Supplier Responsibility’ report, which includes nearly 400 audits, 72 per cent more than in 2011, reviewed sites where over 1.5 million workers make some of the world’s leading products, including iPhone and iPad.
In addition to 106 underage children that were employed, the report discovered 70 more that either left or passed the age of 16 by the time of the audit.
Seventy-four of 106 underage individuals were employed by a single Chinese manufacturer, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics, responsible for producing circuit-board components for Apple.
The California-based company terminated work with all of the underage individuals following the investigation into the matter.
Inquiry revealed that a labor agency, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources, “knowingly” provided children with fake records after conspiring with families to forge identification documents, the report stated.
Upon discovery, Apple reported the labor agency to local authorities.
The children’s age was not disclosed, but according to Apple’s code of conduct, the company cannot employ workers under the age of 15, or under the legal working age in any given jurisdiction, which is 16 years old in China.
“Our approach to underage labor is clear: We don’t tolerate it, and we’re working to eradicate it from our industry,”report said.
Apple demanded that all the underage workers be returned to their families and the employer was &#8221;required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return&#8221;,including education fees.The company instructed the suppliers to reimburse excessive recruitment fees amounting to higher than one month’s wages.
Other offences noted in the report included 34 suppliers demanding mandatory pregnancy tests, eight factories implementing wage confiscation from bonded workers to pay off debts imposed by recruitment agencies, 90 workplaces docking wages as punishment, and one supplier dumping waste oil down toilets.
In the past, Apple has faced criticism of profiteering off severely underpaid workers and bad working conditions overseas.
Apple’s report was commissioned under Chief Executive Tim Cook shortly after a series of at least 18 employee suicides in China linked to working conditions at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that puts together iPads and iPhones, and a number of explosions at other plants.
Instances triggered by working conditions in Apple’s supply facilities overseas:
July 2009: A Foxconn worker fell from apartment building after reportedly losing an iPhone prototype. 18 more workers were linked to attempted suicides in 2010 and over the next two years.2010: 137 workers were injured by poisonous chemical, n-hexane, used to clean iPhone screens at Suzhou facility, owned by Apple suppliers Wintek.May 2011: Four workers died and 18 injured in dust explosion at Foxconn factory that produces iPad parts in Chengdu, China.December 2011: 61 workers were injured in a gas explosion in Shanghai, China at Riteng Computer Accessory Co factory that makes iPad 2 back panels.September 2012: A fight involving up to 2,000 workers forced Foxconn to close a plant in Shanxi province in northern China.
Source

Internal report: Apple products made with child labor
January 26, 2013

Apple Inc. used child labor in the making of its products by employing 106 underage workers across 11 facilitates in 2012, an internal audit revealed. According to a report, the company also discovered wage problems and forced pregnancy tests.

Apple’s annual ‘Supplier Responsibility’ report, which includes nearly 400 audits, 72 per cent more than in 2011, reviewed sites where over 1.5 million workers make some of the world’s leading products, including iPhone and iPad.

In addition to 106 underage children that were employed, the report discovered 70 more that either left or passed the age of 16 by the time of the audit.

Seventy-four of 106 underage individuals were employed by a single Chinese manufacturer, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics, responsible for producing circuit-board components for Apple.

The California-based company terminated work with all of the underage individuals following the investigation into the matter.

Inquiry revealed that a labor agency, Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources, “knowingly” provided children with fake records after conspiring with families to forge identification documents, the report stated.

Upon discovery, Apple reported the labor agency to local authorities.

The children’s age was not disclosed, but according to Apple’s code of conduct, the company cannot employ workers under the age of 15, or under the legal working age in any given jurisdiction, which is 16 years old in China.

“Our approach to underage labor is clear: We don’t tolerate it, and we’re working to eradicate it from our industry,”report said.

Apple demanded that all the underage workers be returned to their families and the employer was ”required to pay expenses to facilitate their successful return”,including education fees.The company instructed the suppliers to reimburse excessive recruitment fees amounting to higher than one month’s wages.

Other offences noted in the report included 34 suppliers demanding mandatory pregnancy tests, eight factories implementing wage confiscation from bonded workers to pay off debts imposed by recruitment agencies, 90 workplaces docking wages as punishment, and one supplier dumping waste oil down toilets.

In the past, Apple has faced criticism of profiteering off severely underpaid workers and bad working conditions overseas.

Apple’s report was commissioned under Chief Executive Tim Cook shortly after a series of at least 18 employee suicides in China linked to working conditions at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that puts together iPads and iPhones, and a number of explosions at other plants.

Instances triggered by working conditions in Apple’s supply facilities overseas:

July 2009: A Foxconn worker fell from apartment building after reportedly losing an iPhone prototype. 18 more workers were linked to attempted suicides in 2010 and over the next two years.

2010: 137 workers were injured by poisonous chemical, n-hexane, used to clean iPhone screens at Suzhou facility, owned by Apple suppliers Wintek.

May 2011: Four workers died and 18 injured in dust explosion at Foxconn factory that produces iPad parts in Chengdu, China.

December 2011: 61 workers were injured in a gas explosion in Shanghai, China at Riteng Computer Accessory Co factory that makes iPad 2 back panels.

September 2012: A fight involving up to 2,000 workers forced Foxconn to close a plant in Shanxi province in northern China.

Source

False bargain: Twenty years on, lessons from NAFTAJanuary 24, 2013
The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law 20 years ago last month, has become a cautionary tale for “free” trade legislation — particularly as the next round of negotiations nears, this March, for the much larger and more threatening Trans-Pacific Partnership that will further deregulate the playground for corporations, allowing them to cut corners in labor and environmental restrictions to increase profits in ten other countries.
Signed on December 17, 1992, by Mexican President Carlos Salinas, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President George H.W. Bush, NAFTA made moving business overseas desirable because of the different sets of labor laws, lower wages and limited union organizing. Workers’ jobs went abroad and the money saved by paying menial wages went into owners&#8217; pockets, creating an abundance of wealth for those at the top while workers continued to struggle to pay for basic living necessities.
Sold to Americans as an antidote to a stagnant economy to promote trade and job growth, NAFTA became a neoliberal nightmare for workers in the U.S. and Mexico especially. Now, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership is on its way to replicating and expanding this misguided legislation to other countries around the world, it&#8217;s important to take a step back and look at some of the specifics of what went wrong.
NAFTA Provisions
The “trade agreement” is an investment agreement that provides businesses a smooth transition to overseas factories, where it is legal to work employees to the bone for a few dollars a day in unsafe, shanty factories to quickly churn out cheap products. Eliminating tariffs and trade barriers, NAFTA opened the floodgates to an unrestricted movement of goods across borders.
Cultural landscapes have been jeopardized by the Americanization of Mexico with businesses like Walmart and McDonald’s, two companies that have recently come under fire from striking American workers demanding fair wages and union bargaining rights. The corporate takeover of borders allows toxic, low-wage companies to pollute a country already struggling financially. Expanding these corporations to Mexico primarily benefited CEOs, such as the Walmart-owning Walton family, which has more wealth than 35 million American families combined.
NAFTA also gave companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico the power to sue governments if environmental regulations limit profits. The cases aren’t heard in standard court proceedings; to protect their “investor rights,” companies take their cases to secret arbitration tribunals away from public oversight. Last year, the American company Lone Pine Resources Inc. sued the Canadian government for more than $250 million because of Quebec’s moratorium on hydro-fracking, leaving Canadian citizens to pick up the bill.
In another investor rights case, the Canadian corporation Methanex once sued the U.S. for $970 million because a California executive order had phased out one of the company’s gasoline additives.
Workers in Mexico, U.S. Suffer
NAFTA created bargaining opportunities to limit union demands, forcing a maze of difficulties for workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions. Employees demanding better pay are silenced by the threat of their factory reopening across the border at a fraction of the cost. Work forces lose their right to strike and to organize, thus jeopardizing their most important right to a living wage.
One of the most common misconceptions about NAFTA is that it has been a job creator in the United States and Mexico. However, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA cost the American labor force about 682,900 jobs due to factories that reopened in Mexico. And as maquiladora factories sprang up in border towns to cheaply assemble export products — often using women who worked 12-hour days without health protections or labor standards, for about 70 pesos, or $7, per day — those lowered wages additionally forced Mexican workers to immigrate to the U.S., increasing the competition for work domestically.
Not only have factory workers suffered, but Mexican farmers have failed to compete with large subsidized corporations exporting cheap produce, putting an estimated 2 million farmers out of business. Farmers spread onto more marginal land, perpetuating Mexico’s deforestation and exhausting many of its aquifers. Those who did compete were forced to use hybrid genetically modified seeds from biotech corporations such as Monsanto. But because GMO seeds do not reproduce, farmers developed a dependency on the very companies that were getting rich off NAFTA through annual “renewal fees.” GMO seeds have now permanently endangered Mexico’s 10,000 year history of small-scale corn cultivation.
Mexican workers have mobilized against NAFTA since it was first signed 20 years ago. Thousands of farm and factory workers protested the legislation and demanded that a new democratic agreement be reached. “…Unemployment, immigration, the destruction of our agricultural activities, the concentration of resources into a few hands, the deterioration of purchasing power and wages, and extreme poverty have increased in an alarming manner,” read a collective statement representing various labor groups against NAFTA. The indigenous revolutionary Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, have called NAFTA a “death sentence” to indigenous communities.
The TPP Will Continue Its Corporate Reign
Although President Obama said he never supported NAFTA and wouldn’t support similar trade agreements, his administration has pushed to draft the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, the largest trade agreement since NAFTA, impacting many Pacific countries. NAFTA’s 20-year legacy has become an advisory glimpse of what the TPP could become, but on a much larger scale. Businesses taking advantage of low-pay workforces in foreign countries will be able to further push the boundaries on labor and environmental restrictions. As past deregulated legislation has proven, the TPP will only exempt more corporations from adhering to labor protections and environmental standards in more countries.
Most troubling, the secrecy behind the TPP negotiations promises more corporate power as it threatens the sovereignty of participating nations through the use of corporate-backed tribunals. Prioritizing investor rights over worker rights, the agreement looks to give Pacific rim nations what NAFTA gave to Mexico and the U.S.: a false bargain.
- Gracielafor Occupy.comPhoto

False bargain: Twenty years on, lessons from NAFTA
January 24, 2013

The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law 20 years ago last month, has become a cautionary tale for “free” trade legislation — particularly as the next round of negotiations nears, this March, for the much larger and more threatening Trans-Pacific Partnership that will further deregulate the playground for corporations, allowing them to cut corners in labor and environmental restrictions to increase profits in ten other countries.

Signed on December 17, 1992, by Mexican President Carlos Salinas, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President George H.W. Bush, NAFTA made moving business overseas desirable because of the different sets of labor laws, lower wages and limited union organizing. Workers’ jobs went abroad and the money saved by paying menial wages went into owners’ pockets, creating an abundance of wealth for those at the top while workers continued to struggle to pay for basic living necessities.

Sold to Americans as an antidote to a stagnant economy to promote trade and job growth, NAFTA became a neoliberal nightmare for workers in the U.S. and Mexico especially. Now, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership is on its way to replicating and expanding this misguided legislation to other countries around the world, it’s important to take a step back and look at some of the specifics of what went wrong.

NAFTA Provisions

The “trade agreement” is an investment agreement that provides businesses a smooth transition to overseas factories, where it is legal to work employees to the bone for a few dollars a day in unsafe, shanty factories to quickly churn out cheap products. Eliminating tariffs and trade barriers, NAFTA opened the floodgates to an unrestricted movement of goods across borders.

Cultural landscapes have been jeopardized by the Americanization of Mexico with businesses like Walmart and McDonald’s, two companies that have recently come under fire from striking American workers demanding fair wages and union bargaining rights. The corporate takeover of borders allows toxic, low-wage companies to pollute a country already struggling financially. Expanding these corporations to Mexico primarily benefited CEOs, such as the Walmart-owning Walton family, which has more wealth than 35 million American families combined.

NAFTA also gave companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico the power to sue governments if environmental regulations limit profits. The cases aren’t heard in standard court proceedings; to protect their “investor rights,” companies take their cases to secret arbitration tribunals away from public oversight. Last year, the American company Lone Pine Resources Inc. sued the Canadian government for more than $250 million because of Quebec’s moratorium on hydro-fracking, leaving Canadian citizens to pick up the bill.

In another investor rights case, the Canadian corporation Methanex once sued the U.S. for $970 million because a California executive order had phased out one of the company’s gasoline additives.

Workers in Mexico, U.S. Suffer

NAFTA created bargaining opportunities to limit union demands, forcing a maze of difficulties for workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions. Employees demanding better pay are silenced by the threat of their factory reopening across the border at a fraction of the cost. Work forces lose their right to strike and to organize, thus jeopardizing their most important right to a living wage.

One of the most common misconceptions about NAFTA is that it has been a job creator in the United States and Mexico. However, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA cost the American labor force about 682,900 jobs due to factories that reopened in Mexico. And as maquiladora factories sprang up in border towns to cheaply assemble export products — often using women who worked 12-hour days without health protections or labor standards, for about 70 pesos, or $7, per day — those lowered wages additionally forced Mexican workers to immigrate to the U.S., increasing the competition for work domestically.

Not only have factory workers suffered, but Mexican farmers have failed to compete with large subsidized corporations exporting cheap produce, putting an estimated 2 million farmers out of business. Farmers spread onto more marginal land, perpetuating Mexico’s deforestation and exhausting many of its aquifers. Those who did compete were forced to use hybrid genetically modified seeds from biotech corporations such as Monsanto. But because GMO seeds do not reproduce, farmers developed a dependency on the very companies that were getting rich off NAFTA through annual “renewal fees.” GMO seeds have now permanently endangered Mexico’s 10,000 year history of small-scale corn cultivation.

Mexican workers have mobilized against NAFTA since it was first signed 20 years ago. Thousands of farm and factory workers protested the legislation and demanded that a new democratic agreement be reached. “…Unemployment, immigration, the destruction of our agricultural activities, the concentration of resources into a few hands, the deterioration of purchasing power and wages, and extreme poverty have increased in an alarming manner,” read a collective statement representing various labor groups against NAFTA. The indigenous revolutionary Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, have called NAFTA a “death sentence” to indigenous communities.

The TPP Will Continue Its Corporate Reign

Although President Obama said he never supported NAFTA and wouldn’t support similar trade agreements, his administration has pushed to draft the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, the largest trade agreement since NAFTA, impacting many Pacific countries. NAFTA’s 20-year legacy has become an advisory glimpse of what the TPP could become, but on a much larger scale. Businesses taking advantage of low-pay workforces in foreign countries will be able to further push the boundaries on labor and environmental restrictions. As past deregulated legislation has proven, the TPP will only exempt more corporations from adhering to labor protections and environmental standards in more countries.

Most troubling, the secrecy behind the TPP negotiations promises more corporate power as it threatens the sovereignty of participating nations through the use of corporate-backed tribunals. Prioritizing investor rights over worker rights, the agreement looks to give Pacific rim nations what NAFTA gave to Mexico and the U.S.: a false bargain.

- Graciela
for Occupy.com
Photo

Year of the Worker: How labor struggles punctuated 2012January 14, 2013
On the morning of December 17, half a dozen United States postal workers set up an “emergency encampment” and began a week-long hunger strike to fight for the future of the U.S. Postal Service and its employees. The protest demanded an end to Congress’ proposed office closures and budget cuts, including the removal of six-day mail delivery that would gut nearly 25,000 jobs.
That strike capped a year in which new fires were set ablaze to the United States labor movement. From Walmart employees battling back against America&#8217;s second richest corporation on Black Friday, to fast food workers “Fighting for $15,” wage workers brought the discussion of income inequality back to the workplace. And we can expect more to come in 2013.
Although not all strikes and walkouts last year were successful in directly improving workers&#8217; rights, organized labor managed to move itself to the center of political, economic and social discourse. The failed recall of union-busting Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and the passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan dealt obvious blows to labor.
But by highlighting unfair wages, long work hours, limits on the rights to union organizing, and the increasing wealth gap, American workers brought core issues of economic justice back into the discussion. Here are some of the key struggles of 2012 that showed the resurgent force of U.S. labor:
Chicago teachers&#8217; monumental strike:
The Chicago Teachers Union garnered the support of parents, students and education advocates nationwide when the CTU went on strike on Sept. 10. The union marched throughout the streets of Chicago denouncing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s privatization efforts &#8212; both slashing the number of teachers in schools and increasing the sizes of classrooms. The strike pinpointed the source of the city’s deep-rooted problems of poverty and violence: a poor education system, or as CTU president Karen Lewis put it, an “educational apartheid.” The strike ended with a diminished focus on standardized testing, more funding for public schools and an average raise of 17.6 percent over the next four years for educators.
Walmart workers&#8217; fight against the corporate giant:
The struggle that captivated America’s labor movement this year was the long-awaited uprising of workers at Walmart, most notably during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Citing chronically dangerous working conditions, Walmart warehouse workers in California and Illinois went on strike in September, which lent a wave of momentum to company employees across the country who expanded rallies and actions through the fall. Strikes and walkouts spread to more than 100 cities and eventually grew into a worldwide movement after a fire at a Walmart factory in Bangladesh killed 112 workers.
Right-to-work legislation pierces labor movement:
Despite daily rallies at the Indiana statehouse, anti-union “right-to-work” legislation was passed there in February, and passed in Michigan in December. Riot police warded off angry protesters as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the measure without any public discussion or committee hearings. The misnomer bill limits bargaining rights, and other proposed legislation dealt a blow to fair contract and fair wage laws. Although the bill passed, workers mobilized national support and framed economic inequality discussion around labor rights.
Workers take a stand for fair pay:
More than 1,300 American Crystal Sugar factory employees stood up to millionaire founder and CEO David Berg when they rejected the new contract proposal and were locked out of the job in August. Since Dec. 1, workers have rejected unfair contract negotiations four times.
Fast food workers&#8217; strike:
From Wendy’s, whose revenue jumped to $615 million in 2011, to chain behemoth McDonald’s, more than 200 New York City fast food workers walked off the job in November to demand a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to unionize with the Fast Food Workers Committee.
Janitors&#8217; strike:
In June, 3,000 members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 voted unanimously in favor of the Houston janitors strike. Janitors who clean offices at corporate powerhouses such as Wells Fargo, ExxonMobil and JPMorgan Chase were earning an average hourly wage of $8.35, for an annual income of $8,684. After gaining national support, the striking workers won a pay increase of $9.35 an hour over the next four years.
Transportation workers organize:
Nearly 500 American Airlines pilots, flight attendants and ground workers picketed outside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport on numerous occasions in 2012, protesting the wage gap between workers and executives who have slashed budgets to try and stay afloat after bankruptcy restructuring. After thousands of layoffs and cuts to pensions and healthcare benefits, pilots secured a new contract that included a pay raise and a 13.5 percent stake in the company in exchange for allowing American Airlines to outsource more of its flights to regional airline partners.
Los Angeles International Airport workers represented by the SEIU walked off the job the afternoon before Thanksgiving when contract negotiations were left unsigned, leaving workers without health insurance and fair pay. Thirteen employees were arrested as riot police descended on the airport, and protesters blocked roads to bring further attention to LAX&#8217;s unfair practices.
US Airways workers represented by the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA voted to authorize a strike in November to pressure the company over labor contract agreements. After failed negotiations, the union rallied to increase pay and lessen restrictive workplace rules.
Many defeats in 2012 could have been challenged through larger organizing efforts, and by further connecting labor&#8217;s demands to issues of basic inequality. While attacks on unions also grew, the year&#8217;s victories provided a clear push forward for workers&#8217; rights and economic justice.
As 2012 marked the year of the worker, 2013 must become the year to organize workplaces more effectively: to strengthen the labor movement so that it truly combats poverty and inequality in the U.S.
- Gracielafor Occupy.com

Year of the Worker: How labor struggles punctuated 2012
January 14, 2013

On the morning of December 17, half a dozen United States postal workers set up an “emergency encampment” and began a week-long hunger strike to fight for the future of the U.S. Postal Service and its employees. The protest demanded an end to Congress’ proposed office closures and budget cuts, including the removal of six-day mail delivery that would gut nearly 25,000 jobs.

That strike capped a year in which new fires were set ablaze to the United States labor movement. From Walmart employees battling back against America’s second richest corporation on Black Friday, to fast food workers “Fighting for $15,” wage workers brought the discussion of income inequality back to the workplace. And we can expect more to come in 2013.

Although not all strikes and walkouts last year were successful in directly improving workers’ rights, organized labor managed to move itself to the center of political, economic and social discourse. The failed recall of union-busting Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and the passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan dealt obvious blows to labor.

But by highlighting unfair wages, long work hours, limits on the rights to union organizing, and the increasing wealth gap, American workers brought core issues of economic justice back into the discussion. Here are some of the key struggles of 2012 that showed the resurgent force of U.S. labor:

Chicago teachers’ monumental strike:

The Chicago Teachers Union garnered the support of parents, students and education advocates nationwide when the CTU went on strike on Sept. 10. The union marched throughout the streets of Chicago denouncing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s privatization efforts — both slashing the number of teachers in schools and increasing the sizes of classrooms. The strike pinpointed the source of the city’s deep-rooted problems of poverty and violence: a poor education system, or as CTU president Karen Lewis put it, an “educational apartheid.” The strike ended with a diminished focus on standardized testing, more funding for public schools and an average raise of 17.6 percent over the next four years for educators.

Walmart workers’ fight against the corporate giant:

The struggle that captivated America’s labor movement this year was the long-awaited uprising of workers at Walmart, most notably during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Citing chronically dangerous working conditions, Walmart warehouse workers in California and Illinois went on strike in September, which lent a wave of momentum to company employees across the country who expanded rallies and actions through the fall. Strikes and walkouts spread to more than 100 cities and eventually grew into a worldwide movement after a fire at a Walmart factory in Bangladesh killed 112 workers.

Right-to-work legislation pierces labor movement:

Despite daily rallies at the Indiana statehouse, anti-union “right-to-work” legislation was passed there in February, and passed in Michigan in December. Riot police warded off angry protesters as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the measure without any public discussion or committee hearings. The misnomer bill limits bargaining rights, and other proposed legislation dealt a blow to fair contract and fair wage laws. Although the bill passed, workers mobilized national support and framed economic inequality discussion around labor rights.

Workers take a stand for fair pay:

More than 1,300 American Crystal Sugar factory employees stood up to millionaire founder and CEO David Berg when they rejected the new contract proposal and were locked out of the job in August. Since Dec. 1, workers have rejected unfair contract negotiations four times.

Fast food workers’ strike:

From Wendy’s, whose revenue jumped to $615 million in 2011, to chain behemoth McDonald’s, more than 200 New York City fast food workers walked off the job in November to demand a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to unionize with the Fast Food Workers Committee.

Janitors’ strike:

In June, 3,000 members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 voted unanimously in favor of the Houston janitors strike. Janitors who clean offices at corporate powerhouses such as Wells Fargo, ExxonMobil and JPMorgan Chase were earning an average hourly wage of $8.35, for an annual income of $8,684. After gaining national support, the striking workers won a pay increase of $9.35 an hour over the next four years.

Transportation workers organize:

Nearly 500 American Airlines pilots, flight attendants and ground workers picketed outside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport on numerous occasions in 2012, protesting the wage gap between workers and executives who have slashed budgets to try and stay afloat after bankruptcy restructuring. After thousands of layoffs and cuts to pensions and healthcare benefits, pilots secured a new contract that included a pay raise and a 13.5 percent stake in the company in exchange for allowing American Airlines to outsource more of its flights to regional airline partners.

Los Angeles International Airport workers represented by the SEIU walked off the job the afternoon before Thanksgiving when contract negotiations were left unsigned, leaving workers without health insurance and fair pay. Thirteen employees were arrested as riot police descended on the airport, and protesters blocked roads to bring further attention to LAX’s unfair practices.

US Airways workers represented by the Association of Flight Attendants–CWA voted to authorize a strike in November to pressure the company over labor contract agreements. After failed negotiations, the union rallied to increase pay and lessen restrictive workplace rules.

Many defeats in 2012 could have been challenged through larger organizing efforts, and by further connecting labor’s demands to issues of basic inequality. While attacks on unions also grew, the year’s victories provided a clear push forward for workers’ rights and economic justice.

As 2012 marked the year of the worker, 2013 must become the year to organize workplaces more effectively: to strengthen the labor movement so that it truly combats poverty and inequality in the U.S.

- Graciela
for Occupy.com

Bangladeshi workers stage mass hunger strike in capitalJanuary 4, 2013
Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers have staged a hunger strike in the capital Dhaka in a show of protest against low pay and poor working conditions.
The protest comes after 112 workers lost their lives in a devastating fire that burned down the Tazreen garment factory in Savar, about 24&#160;km northwest of the capital, last November. 
The protesters are calling on the government to immediately arrest the factory manager, whom they blame for the deadly incident. The Tazreen factory made clothing for western retailers including Walmart, C&amp;A and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
“We also demand for the dead workers and injured workers better compensation&#8230; . Also we are demanding the proper treatment of the injured workers,” urged Amirul Haq Amin, the president of the National Garment Workers Federation. Two days after the November fire, Walmart said in a statement that it had stopped authorizing production at Tazreen and that despite that move, a single supplier, later identified as Success Apparel, had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.” But documents found by worker activists in the remains of the burned-down facility showed that a subcontractor for an additional Walmart supplier, International Intimates, was having women’s robes and nightgowns made at the factory for Walmart’s winter season. The documents also indicated that the factory was also making women’s nightwear for Sears, an American multinational department store. Bangladesh is the world&#8217;s second largest exporter of ready-made clothes. 
Source

Bangladeshi workers stage mass hunger strike in capital
January 4, 2013

Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers have staged a hunger strike in the capital Dhaka in a show of protest against low pay and poor working conditions.

The protest comes after 112 workers lost their lives in a devastating fire that burned down the Tazreen garment factory in Savar, about 24 km northwest of the capital, last November. 

The protesters are calling on the government to immediately arrest the factory manager, whom they blame for the deadly incident. The Tazreen factory made clothing for western retailers including Walmart, C&A and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

“We also demand for the dead workers and injured workers better compensation… . Also we are demanding the proper treatment of the injured workers,” urged Amirul Haq Amin, the president of the National Garment Workers Federation. 

Two days after the November fire, Walmart said in a statement that it had stopped authorizing production at Tazreen and that despite that move, a single supplier, later identified as Success Apparel, had “subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.” 

But documents found by worker activists in the remains of the burned-down facility showed that a subcontractor for an additional Walmart supplier, International Intimates, was having women’s robes and nightgowns made at the factory for Walmart’s winter season. 

The documents also indicated that the factory was also making women’s nightwear for Sears, an American multinational department store. 

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest exporter of ready-made clothes. 

Source

Activists stage &#8216;Block the Boat&#8217; protest against ship with Walmart goods from BangladeshDecember 18, 2012
About sixty activists gathered early this morning outside the Port of Newark to protest the arrival of a ship they said carried Walmart goods from Bangladesh. Hoisting cardboard tombstones spelling out Walmart’s name, and garments emblazoned with the names of workers who died in the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the crowd declared the retail giant culpable for the deaths of 112 workers in a similar fire last month in Bangladesh. Chants included, “1, 2, 3, 4, Don’t let that boat come ashore! 5, 6, 7, 8, Don’t touch that shit, don’t move that freight!”
“The supply chain needs to change…” Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) organizer Martiza Silva-Farrell told the crowd. “This is a start.”
Activists said they originally gathered closer to the dock in hopes of more directly confronting the incoming ship and convincing some dock workers to refuse to unload its goods, but agreed–after police threatened arrests–to move to a space along a nearby highway. While some had expected that the action, promoted as “Block the Boat,” would include civil disobedience, it ended around 9 AM without arrests.
Photos published by The Nation last month revealed the presence of Walmart-branded apparel at the Tazreen Factory where the deadly fire took place. Walmart has maintained that it had terminated its relationship with Tazreen prior to the fire, that its goods were being produced there due to a rogue supplier which disregarded the retailer’s instructions, and that it promotes fire safety. Reports by Bloomberg and theNew York Times this month revealed that multiple Walmart suppliers were active in the factory as recently as this year, and that Walmart rejected a 2011 proposal under which retailers would have contributed to covering the costs of safety improvements in Bangladesh factories. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment Monday night.
Some of this morning’s activists were locals, including Cynthia Mellon, who’s involved in efforts to keep a Walmart store out of Newark. “That kind of store has no place inside of an old city that’s trying to revitalize itself,” said Mellon, an organizer with the local Ironbound Community Corporation. Many came from New York City on buses sponsored by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. A handful drove up from Maryland, including Leon Swain, who said he made the trip because “you don’t want a boat to come here to bring such tragedy.”
“There are sweatshop issues in [Walmart’s] retail stores and its warehourses here in the US,” said Northeastern University junior Claire Lewis, “as well as quite clearly in its factories overseas.” Lewis is a member of the national coordinating committee of United Students Against Sweatshops.
Many workers at the Port of Newark are members of Local 1233 of the International Longshoremen Association, whose union contract expires in under a month. “We’re out here also to support them and get some solidarity,” said Strike Debt activist Sean McAlpin. “If they could block that ship, it might show the shipping owners also how much power they have.” While the activists said their efforts to convince ILA members to refuse to unload the cargo were aborted when the police forced them to relocate, one of the activists passed along a supportive message she said she’d received from an ILA member.
Reached by phone, ILA Local 1233 Secretary-Treasurer Buddy Smith told The Nation he was not aware of the demonstration. “This is the first I’m hearing about it,” said Smith. A representative of the ILA international union said that officials were in contract negotiations and would not be able to comment until later in the day.
At the close of the rally, activists gathered to read a series of statements of support from labor groups, including the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the Retail Action Project. In an address to the crowd, Carol Gay, the president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, called Walmart “corrupt,” “rotten for workers,” and “not good neighbors.” A staffer from the labor federation Change to Win read a statement from Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter, two leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. “By acting in solidarity with our workers across the world,” the statement said, “you are not only demonstrating that we share a common struggle, but also helping to ensure that the nearly 120 Bangladeshi workers who were needlessly killed are not forgotten.”
Sundrop Carter, a member of the Occupy Wall Street working group 99 Pickets, said that the more workers’ strikes and Walmart’s scandals “are kept in the public light, the more change is going to happen. There’s just so much momentum.”
This morning’s action came the same day as the publication of a New York Times investigation sharing new details of Walmart’s international bribery scandal, and a new report from the International Labor Rights Federation calling for Walmart and other major apparel companies to act to avert future fires in South Asia by paying for safety improvements, sharing information about safety hazards, and respecting workers’ organizing rights. The ILRF report opens with an interview with Lovely, a former garment worker who suffered serious injuries in a 2006 factory fire in Bangladesh. “My family still work in the factory…” Lovely, who was 11 years old at the time of the fire, told ILRF. “For all those who are working in the factory, on behalf of them, I want to say, please keep the factory a safe place to work. I don’t want to see anyone else like me.”
Source

Activists stage ‘Block the Boat’ protest against ship with Walmart goods from Bangladesh
December 18, 2012

About sixty activists gathered early this morning outside the Port of Newark to protest the arrival of a ship they said carried Walmart goods from Bangladesh. Hoisting cardboard tombstones spelling out Walmart’s name, and garments emblazoned with the names of workers who died in the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the crowd declared the retail giant culpable for the deaths of 112 workers in a similar fire last month in Bangladesh. Chants included, “1, 2, 3, 4, Don’t let that boat come ashore! 5, 6, 7, 8, Don’t touch that shit, don’t move that freight!”

“The supply chain needs to change…” Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) organizer Martiza Silva-Farrell told the crowd. “This is a start.”

Activists said they originally gathered closer to the dock in hopes of more directly confronting the incoming ship and convincing some dock workers to refuse to unload its goods, but agreed–after police threatened arrests–to move to a space along a nearby highway. While some had expected that the action, promoted as “Block the Boat,” would include civil disobedience, it ended around 9 AM without arrests.

Photos published by The Nation last month revealed the presence of Walmart-branded apparel at the Tazreen Factory where the deadly fire took place. Walmart has maintained that it had terminated its relationship with Tazreen prior to the fire, that its goods were being produced there due to a rogue supplier which disregarded the retailer’s instructions, and that it promotes fire safety. Reports by Bloomberg and theNew York Times this month revealed that multiple Walmart suppliers were active in the factory as recently as this year, and that Walmart rejected a 2011 proposal under which retailers would have contributed to covering the costs of safety improvements in Bangladesh factories. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment Monday night.

Some of this morning’s activists were locals, including Cynthia Mellon, who’s involved in efforts to keep a Walmart store out of Newark. “That kind of store has no place inside of an old city that’s trying to revitalize itself,” said Mellon, an organizer with the local Ironbound Community Corporation. Many came from New York City on buses sponsored by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. A handful drove up from Maryland, including Leon Swain, who said he made the trip because “you don’t want a boat to come here to bring such tragedy.”

“There are sweatshop issues in [Walmart’s] retail stores and its warehourses here in the US,” said Northeastern University junior Claire Lewis, “as well as quite clearly in its factories overseas.” Lewis is a member of the national coordinating committee of United Students Against Sweatshops.

Many workers at the Port of Newark are members of Local 1233 of the International Longshoremen Association, whose union contract expires in under a month. “We’re out here also to support them and get some solidarity,” said Strike Debt activist Sean McAlpin. “If they could block that ship, it might show the shipping owners also how much power they have.” While the activists said their efforts to convince ILA members to refuse to unload the cargo were aborted when the police forced them to relocate, one of the activists passed along a supportive message she said she’d received from an ILA member.

Reached by phone, ILA Local 1233 Secretary-Treasurer Buddy Smith told The Nation he was not aware of the demonstration. “This is the first I’m hearing about it,” said Smith. A representative of the ILA international union said that officials were in contract negotiations and would not be able to comment until later in the day.

At the close of the rally, activists gathered to read a series of statements of support from labor groups, including the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the Retail Action Project. In an address to the crowd, Carol Gay, the president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, called Walmart “corrupt,” “rotten for workers,” and “not good neighbors.” A staffer from the labor federation Change to Win read a statement from Kalpona Akter and Babul Akhter, two leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. “By acting in solidarity with our workers across the world,” the statement said, “you are not only demonstrating that we share a common struggle, but also helping to ensure that the nearly 120 Bangladeshi workers who were needlessly killed are not forgotten.”

Sundrop Carter, a member of the Occupy Wall Street working group 99 Pickets, said that the more workers’ strikes and Walmart’s scandals “are kept in the public light, the more change is going to happen. There’s just so much momentum.”

This morning’s action came the same day as the publication of a New York Times investigation sharing new details of Walmart’s international bribery scandal, and a new report from the International Labor Rights Federation calling for Walmart and other major apparel companies to act to avert future fires in South Asia by paying for safety improvements, sharing information about safety hazards, and respecting workers’ organizing rights. The ILRF report opens with an interview with Lovely, a former garment worker who suffered serious injuries in a 2006 factory fire in Bangladesh. “My family still work in the factory…” Lovely, who was 11 years old at the time of the fire, told ILRF. “For all those who are working in the factory, on behalf of them, I want to say, please keep the factory a safe place to work. I don’t want to see anyone else like me.”

Source

Walmart workers will rally in 10 countries tomorrowDecember 13, 2012
The labor campaign confronting Walmart in the United States is planning an international escalation for tomorrow. In partnership with the global union federation UNI, the union-affiliated group Making Change at Walmart is supporting a “Global Day of Action,” with participation expected from Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Nicaragua, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Zambia. The day’s main US protest will be a Miami demonstration featuring a street theater performance in the tradition of the United Farm Workers’ teatro campesino.
“When other countries and other states come together and help Miami, it’s louder,” said Hileah, Florida, Walmart worker Marie-Ann Roberty, a member of the union-backed group OUR Walmart. While “in the beginning, Walmart thought it was not a threat…,” said Roberty. “Now that it’s growing, and people are coming together, Walmart has to listen, Walmart has to come and sit with us as a group and say, …What do you need us to do?”
Friday’s planned actions make good on a promise made two months ago. As I reported for Salon, as Southern California workers launched the first-ever coordinated US Walmart retail strikes on October 4, UNI staff and Walmart workers from abroad were in town to kick off a new Walmart Global Union Alliance. Workers from the UNI delegation rallied with strikers and escorted them back into work after the strike, carrying their countries’ flags into Walmart stores. They also pledged coordinated global actions in the months ahead.
Interviewed in Spanish during that visit, Argentinean union delegate Marta Miranda said, “It was an incredible experience, and a learning experience.” Miranda, who worked as a Walmart greeter for three years, said the visiting Walmart workers “shared stories” with their US counterparts. “We agree that it’s important for workers to have the basic right to stand up and speak out for themselves,” she added. “Everyone should have that. If they’re upset about their conditions, they should be able to voice that.”
Tomorrow’s global protests will call for an end to alleged retaliation against US Walmart worker activists. They will also include a moment of silence for the 112 workers who died in a November 24 fire at a factory that produced Walmart apparel in Bangladesh.
The website of the Corporate Action Network, a group that helped coordinate Black Friday protests in support of striking Walmart workers, also offers instructions from Making Change at Walmart for hosting actions on Friday at US stores. It suggests tactics including leaflets, delegations to management, flash mobs and prayer vigils.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment this morning. In statements to The Nation, the company has dismissed recent strikes and protests as publicity stunts, denied retaliating against activists, and said that it promotes fire safety in Bangladesh.
While entirely union-free in North America, Walmart has acceded to union recognition in several countries. One of the most dramatic struggles took place in the United Kingdom in 2006; as historian Nelson Lichtenstein recounts in his book The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Made a Brave New World of Business, the union representing warehouse workers at the Walmart subsidiary ASDA won expanded rights to organize retail store workers by threatening a work stoppage that would have kept beer from reaching the homes of fans in time for the World Cup. Lichtenstein notes that some Walmart unions were inherited by Walmart when it bought existing retail chains, and that some are largely controlled by political parties and don’t challenge management authority in the workplace.
In general, Lichtenstein told The Nation last week, “the lesson” from abroad “is that you need to bring the state in.” While Walmart has resisted unionization wherever possible, he said, the retail giant has been “willing to abide by the laws of a country if the laws are there and they’re going to be enforced.” According to Lichtenstein, US labor laws have done little to restrain Walmart from union-busting.
Interviewed during the October UNI delegation, Head of UNI Commerce Alke Boessinger said that while the countries with unionized Walmarts generally have more pro-union legal systems than the United States, “that doesn’t mean that it’s actually easy for them to get organized at Walmart.” In Argentina, for example, said Boessinger, “they still had to go through years of struggle and fighting with the company to make sure that they comply with the local law.” “Walmart,” she said, “will always only do the minimum, according to what they absolutely have to and are forced to do.”
Source

Walmart workers will rally in 10 countries tomorrow
December 13, 2012

The labor campaign confronting Walmart in the United States is planning an international escalation for tomorrow. In partnership with the global union federation UNI, the union-affiliated group Making Change at Walmart is supporting a “Global Day of Action,” with participation expected from Walmart workers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Nicaragua, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Zambia. The day’s main US protest will be a Miami demonstration featuring a street theater performance in the tradition of the United Farm Workers’ teatro campesino.

“When other countries and other states come together and help Miami, it’s louder,” said Hileah, Florida, Walmart worker Marie-Ann Roberty, a member of the union-backed group OUR Walmart. While “in the beginning, Walmart thought it was not a threat…,” said Roberty. “Now that it’s growing, and people are coming together, Walmart has to listen, Walmart has to come and sit with us as a group and say, …What do you need us to do?”

Friday’s planned actions make good on a promise made two months ago. As I reported for Salon, as Southern California workers launched the first-ever coordinated US Walmart retail strikes on October 4, UNI staff and Walmart workers from abroad were in town to kick off a new Walmart Global Union Alliance. Workers from the UNI delegation rallied with strikers and escorted them back into work after the strike, carrying their countries’ flags into Walmart stores. They also pledged coordinated global actions in the months ahead.

Interviewed in Spanish during that visit, Argentinean union delegate Marta Miranda said, “It was an incredible experience, and a learning experience.” Miranda, who worked as a Walmart greeter for three years, said the visiting Walmart workers “shared stories” with their US counterparts. “We agree that it’s important for workers to have the basic right to stand up and speak out for themselves,” she added. “Everyone should have that. If they’re upset about their conditions, they should be able to voice that.”

Tomorrow’s global protests will call for an end to alleged retaliation against US Walmart worker activists. They will also include a moment of silence for the 112 workers who died in a November 24 fire at a factory that produced Walmart apparel in Bangladesh.

The website of the Corporate Action Network, a group that helped coordinate Black Friday protests in support of striking Walmart workers, also offers instructions from Making Change at Walmart for hosting actions on Friday at US stores. It suggests tactics including leaflets, delegations to management, flash mobs and prayer vigils.

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment this morning. In statements to The Nation, the company has dismissed recent strikes and protests as publicity stunts, denied retaliating against activists, and said that it promotes fire safety in Bangladesh.

While entirely union-free in North America, Walmart has acceded to union recognition in several countries. One of the most dramatic struggles took place in the United Kingdom in 2006; as historian Nelson Lichtenstein recounts in his book The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Made a Brave New World of Business, the union representing warehouse workers at the Walmart subsidiary ASDA won expanded rights to organize retail store workers by threatening a work stoppage that would have kept beer from reaching the homes of fans in time for the World Cup. Lichtenstein notes that some Walmart unions were inherited by Walmart when it bought existing retail chains, and that some are largely controlled by political parties and don’t challenge management authority in the workplace.

In general, Lichtenstein told The Nation last week, “the lesson” from abroad “is that you need to bring the state in.” While Walmart has resisted unionization wherever possible, he said, the retail giant has been “willing to abide by the laws of a country if the laws are there and they’re going to be enforced.” According to Lichtenstein, US labor laws have done little to restrain Walmart from union-busting.

Interviewed during the October UNI delegation, Head of UNI Commerce Alke Boessinger said that while the countries with unionized Walmarts generally have more pro-union legal systems than the United States, “that doesn’t mean that it’s actually easy for them to get organized at Walmart.” In Argentina, for example, said Boessinger, “they still had to go through years of struggle and fighting with the company to make sure that they comply with the local law.” “Walmart,” she said, “will always only do the minimum, according to what they absolutely have to and are forced to do.”

Source

Thousands of union workers & supporters have swarmed Michigan’s capitol this morning fighting against the union-busting right-to-work bill that could be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder later today.

“What’s really unfolding here in Michigan is a long, protracted battle. I don’t think labor will walk away and lick their wounds and say they lost this one,” said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor industry group at the Center for Automotive Research.

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