9/16/07

Unions fight militant meatpackers' decert

Workers at Dakota Premium Foods, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) Local 789, have called a rally outside the plant for September 19. The local called the action after the company denied union representatives entry to the plant, their latest attack in a three-month-long decertification campaign.

Local 789 representative Rafael Espinosa said the reason for the rally is “to get together and show the company that the workers are not alone and that this is going to be a fight.”

Dakota workers are reaching out for solidarity from the labor movement and the community. They’ve invited other unions in the Twin Cities to join the September 19 rally. Like the unionists at Dakota, some of these locals are trying to win contracts, including truck drivers organized by the Teamsters and striking members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the University of Minnesota.

On September 7 union representatives were not allowed to enter the Dakota plant. This violated a basic right in the contract that enables union representatives to check on conditions. The day before, union supporters in the plant had passed out a new issue of the Workers’ Voice newsletter announcing that Local 789 representatives would be coming to discuss safety and other problems workers are facing. The week before two workers were accidentally stabbed on the job due to unsafe conditions, including line speed, the newsletter said.

“We filed a grievance and also a charge with the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] because we were denied access to the plant to talk to members about their grievances,” said Espinosa. “We won this in the contract.”

Workers at Dakota Premium fought for two years and won union representation in 2002. In June of this year their first contract expired. Shortly before the contract expiration, pro-company workers began circulating a petition against the union, part of a company campaign to decertify the local. The petition has been handed over to the NLRB, which will decide whether or not a decertification election will be held. The UFCW has contested the petition, pointing to company involvement in its circulation.

“It’s one more way the company is attacking the union at the plant,” said Julian Santana, a worker in the kill department. “When I talked to a coworker who had asked why they weren’t in the plant and I told him that the company didn’t allow them to enter, he was not surprised.”

Rebecca Williamson is a trimmer at Dakota Premium Foods and a member of UFCW Local 789.

(themilitant.com)

France seeks end to Labor socialism

Messages of doubt about the success of his program have begun to mark the "end of grace" for President Nicolas Sarkozy as France settles down to an uneasy period of "la rentree" or return to work after a somnolent summer.

Teachers are threatening strikes following the announcement that about 10,000 retired teachers will not be replaced. Labor union leaders are holding strategy meetings on how to react to expected cuts in welfare state benefits. And some intellectuals warn the man dubbed "Sarkozy, the American" not to tamper with foreign policy.

Across the 27-member European Union, analysts predict growing difficulties for the conservative president determined to change France. The initial enthusiasm of his followers is gradually giving way to concern. Once again, the gnawing question, "Can France be changed?" is emerging — mainly because there is too much to change and Mr. Sarkozy's flexibility, despite the enormous power of his office, is nevertheless constrained.

"Sarkozy will have to deal with high unemployment, high taxes and stubborn budget deficits," said Felix G. Rohatyn, former U.S. ambassador to France. In foreign affairs, he added, the new French president faces "the economic power of China and India, the capabilities of Russia to control European energy supplies and the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states."

Mr. Sarkozy's first 100 days in power — a traditional barometer in French politics — were marked by a plethora of announcements, a vacation in the United States where he met President Bush, a triumph by his wife Cecilia Ciganer Albeniz Sarkozy in obtaining the release of Bulgarian medics held in a Libyan jail, and a policy speech to French ambassadors thought by some to be signaling closer cooperation with the United States.

To back up his words, Mr. Sarkozy dispatched Bernard Kouchner, his socialist foreign minister, to Iraq to demonstrate willingness to get involved in an area so far considered to be taboo by French politicians. And there, Mr. Kouchner admitted that the possibilities were limited and there was basically little France could do of any significance.

"France has to be modest," he said. "No one imagines that we have a magic formula, but we can offer a fresh look and help the people there restore their self-respect."

In an effort to seek a balanced approach, Mr. Sarkozy appointed Hubert Vedrine, another socialist and former foreign minister, to assess the "state of France" and its possibilities. His 60-page report, published during the first post-vacation week of "la rentree," basically challenged the hope of expected major changes in the concept of foreign affairs.

Mr. Vedrine urged a strongly independent foreign policy, opposition to any plans to rejoin the military structure of NATO, a distance from Washington's views and objectives and the continuation of France's traditional diplomatic priorities, such as close ties with the former African colonies and with the Arab World.

On economic issues, the controversial report urged more protection for people, "strict regulation" against the effects of globalization, and strong safeguards for France's strategic industries.

Such views received initial approval across the political spectrum, which so far has given the new president high popularity ratings, reaching a rarely seen 70 percent. But public opinion is yet to digest the deeper meaning of the Sarkozy program, and foreign policy nuances rarely galvanize French voters.

French analysts cite the difference between the suggestions of the Vedrine report and Mr. Sarkozy's own guidelines to about 180 French ambassadors gathered in Paris toward the end of August. The guidelines called for "an active role" on the world scene, included a stiff warning about Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, promised cooperation with Washington but "not subservience" and a commitment to Europe's independent defense force.

Mr. Sarkozy's choice of the French diplomatic corps for his first major foreign policy address was surprising because of his past criticism of diplomats, and particularly of the foreign affairs ministry, known as the Quai d'Orsay for its location on the banks of the River Seine.

Yasmina Reza, a well-known playwright and Sarkozy biographer, said he has spoken of "getting rid of the Quai d'Orsay" and has referred to several ambassadors as "idiots." But the tempestuous 52-year-old president is known for his outbursts, when he has referred to his political enemies as well as to his aides "with unprintable vulgarities," Miss Reza wrote in "Dawn Evening or Night" (L'aube le soir ou la nuit), a story of Mr. Sarkozy's quest for power, which she observed while following him for a year.

Mr. Sarkozy's election last May brought an unusual couple to the elegant presidential Elysee Palace in the heart of Paris. Both he and his 49-year-old wife openly dislike protocol and "sweep aside rules," wrote the conservative Paris daily Le Figaro. Thus, the French first lady boycotted an official dinner at the June summit of the eight industrial nations in Heiligendamm, Germany, and while vacationing in the United States, declined — on short notice — an invitation to have lunch with the Bush family at their summer residence.

The triumph of the stunning, dark-haired, 5-foot-10 former fashion model was her trip to Libya, where she met strongman Moammar Gadhafi — and brought back in the presidential plane six Bulgarian medics sentenced to death by a Libyan court on accusations of infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus.

And then, with the haughty "I am not politically correct," Mrs. Sarkozy declined to appear before a parliamentary committee to provide details of her mission to Libya. Some socialist opponents accused the president of the "personal abuse of power" so that "Madame Sarkozy can strut around the republican stage."

For the time being, the colorful presidential couple has managed to avoid stronger criticism, although there are signs that the opposition is becoming increasingly watchful.

Mr. Sarkozy and his wife have brought to the French political scene a background that has little to do with France. He is the scion of a Hungarian aristocratic family and of a mother descended from Greek Jews converted to Catholicism. His wife claims Spanish Jewish and Belgian aristocratic ancestry. In a way, they symbolize the concept of France as a "land of asylum seekers."

It is this president, literally bursting with energy, who will try to cut through the daunting "Gordian knot" of frequently mind-boggling, time-sanctioned French laws, privileges and excesses.

Thus, his aides said, on Mr. Sarkozy's desk are questions of what to do about the 200,000 often luxurious apartments allotted rent-free to civil servants and 150,000 officials cars, most of them authorized for private use; the $3 billion spent a year on the salaries of 190,000 officials administering France's remaining overseas territories with a population of about two million; the flight of talented and enterprising executives who are leaving high French taxation and restrictions to seek opportunities elsewhere. According to the Economic Analysis Council, about 10,000 business directors emigrated during the past 15 years, taking with them $100 billion to invest abroad.

And finally, the question of impressive emoluments for diplomats: although the Quai d'Orsay does not release such figures, French ambassadors are thought to receive the equivalent of $300,000 a year, compared with the $34,000 for the average civil servant.

(washingtontimes.com)

Teamsters may force liquidation of Twinkies maker

Interstate Bakeries Corp., the bankrupt maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies, said it may liquidate its assets if it can't get job concessions from two unions that walked out of bargaining talks this week.

Kansas City-based Interstate said it will consider selling itself off in chunks if unions representing about 20,000 of its 25,000 workers don't agree to a compromise by Sept. 30.

(stltoday.com)

Bay Area security guards authorize strike

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 24/7, which represents some 6,000 private security officers in the Bay Area, overwhelmingly voted today to authorize union leadership to call an unfair labor practice strike at any time. About 90 percent of the votes were in favor of giving union leaders the authority to call an unfair labor practice strike at any time, SEIU Local 24/7 spokeswoman Gina Bowers reported.

Approximately 200 members who attended a regularly scheduled meeting today in San Francisco took part in the vote, which came in the wake of union claims that companies that employ the security officers are restricting their freedom of speech.

At a press conference Monday in San Francisco, security officers were joined by police officers, firefighters and paramedics who together "exposed a weak link in public safety," Bowers said, adding that security officers are "underpaid and underprepared." "When security officers spoke out, the companies that employ them are now illegally attempting to restrict their free speech," Bowers said. "They're saying that security officers can't talk to tenants and building owners about matters of public safety (and) can't take part in raising awareness about public safety in San Francisco."

Bowers said the restrictions set by security companies such as ABM Security Services, Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., and Universal Protection Service are "illegal" and that "everyone in San Francisco deserves to know about matters pertaining to public safety."

As far as how the companies are allegedly restricting the security officers' free speech, Bowers did not give examples, but said the union is collecting information and preparing to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board in the next few days.

Universal Protective Service officials today declined to release a statement on the situation. A dispatcher with ABM Security Services said representatives would not be available for comment until Monday. A message left for a Securitas Security Services representative was not returned.

(foxreno.com)

Teamster scab murderer could get death penalty

An Oakland man could face the death penalty after being charged with special-circumstances murder in the shooting of a Chicago man who had been hired by a security company to guard Teamster replacement haulers during the East Bay garbage lockout, authorities said.

Jarome Collins, 19, of Oakland was charged with murder and two special circumstances for allegedly killing Byron Mitchell, 29, on Aug. 4 during the commission of a burglary and robbery. Collins also faces enhancements of using a gun and causing great bodily injury to Mitchell. Mitchell was in the Bay Area to provide security for replacement workers during the 27-day lockout of Waste Management garbage haulers in July.

A second defendant, Danielle McCray, 19, of Daly City, was also charged with murder and a gun enhancement but does not face any special circumstances.

A 17-year-old girl has also been implicated in the slaying, but an Alameda County prosecutor who handles juvenile cases was out of the office Friday and unavailable to confirm whether she had been charged.

Mitchell met the girl and McCray at a gas station in East Oakland near the La Quinta Inn at 8465 Enterprise Way, where Mitchell stayed during the lockout, authorities said.

The girl and McCray later agreed to hook up with Mitchell in his hotel room, but in the interim contacted Collins, authorities said. The three allegedly hatched a plan to rob Mitchell.

Mitchell, however, fought back against Collins, who shot him, authorities said.

(sfgate.com)

Non-unionized workers stage walkout

Scores of Prudential Overall Supply employees walked off the job this week at facilities in Milpitas and Vista, California. The workers left in protest of alleged unfair labor practices at their employer, and were joined by community and labor supporters on the picket line.

Across the western United States, Prudential Overall Supply workers are seeking to improve their working conditions and earn a living wage. Prudential's response has included threats, coercion and intimidation. Twenty unfair labor practices charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board for violations at eleven Prudential facilities in California and Arizona, with charges including alleged illegal suspension, surveillance, discrimination, intimidation and harassment. Far from working to resolve these issues and come into compliance with the law, workers have seen Prudential escalate its alleged illegal activity in recent weeks. More than half of the charges were filed in the last month.

"After we started working to change things, the company suspended one of my coworkers and they started threatening people who spoke up," said Leticia Santos, an overall sorter at Prudential's Milpitas facility.

Prudential holds millions of dollars in contracts with federal, state and local government agencies. Elected leaders from cities and counties across California and Arizona, as well as the state legislature have written or called Prudential to urge them to follow the law and avoid a strike.

In Northern California, Prudential's customers include a number of cities and counties, and the campaign has generated support from elected officials throughout the state.

Municipalities have taken issue with Prudential, particularly around the issue of the living wage. San Diego, responding to complaints filed by workers, announced that it would terminate Prudential's contract. Los Angeles and Oakland are investigating similar complaints.

Prudential is the largest regional uniform and cleanroom laundry company based in California. The company employs approximately 1700 people in 10 states.

(indybay.org)

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