Powerful unions join Wall Street protests: Lending institutional support, a diverse group of community organisations joins "Occupy Wall Street" march in New York
A diverse group of powerful unions has joined demonstrations in New York's financial district, lending institutional support, public credibility and potentially thousands of participants to a movement that began with a few university students.
The "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement, which began three weeks ago in New York's financial hub, was joined on Wednesday by a dozen US labour unions.
Among those who joined the clamour were members of the Chinatown Tenants Union and the Transit Workers Union, the liberal group MoveOn.org, and community organisations such as the Working Families Party and United NY.
In depth coverage of US financial crisis protests
The groups will embark on a march starting at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, an area encircled by courthouses.
Organisers say the marchers will then head to Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters where protesters have been camped out in sleeping bags. It is unclear how many people will be joining the march, but some organisers said thousands could show up.
"We're really excited that labour is part of the protest,'' said Sara Niccoli, a spokeswoman for the Labour-Religion Coalition, an Albany, New York-based organisation that aims to "do justice" for workers.
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from the scene of the rally, said protest organisers are "ecstatic that more groups are starting to take hold" of the movement.
The organisers feel their reach and appeal is expanding, she said.
Getting more organised
Police said that United NY had sought a permit for the rally on Wednesday and were expecting about 2,000 people to attend.
"I think they're capturing a feel of disempowerment, feeling like nobody is listening to them," said Camille Rivera, executive director of United NY.
"What do you do when no one is listening to you? You speak up, you take action."
Occupy Wall Street movement turns online for help
Participants will not need permits to protest in a city in which picket lines and marches go on nearly every day. But a permit allows demonstrators to do things that would normally be illegal - like filling an entire street.
About 700 members of the Wall Street group were arrested and given disorderly conduct summonses for spilling into the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday despite warnings from police.
Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York police department, said police were prepared for a large group march on Wednesday, and that officers were anticipating spillover onto the streets.
"Officers will be in the lane next to the sidewalk, and we will try to keep people on the sidewalk, but we realise they may need to walk on the street if it's crowded," he said.
The type of activity that could result in arrest would be if members of the group purposefully try to stop traffic on Broadway, Browne said.
The Occupy Wall Street protests started on September 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Since then, hundreds have set up camp in a park nearby and have become increasingly organised, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
Other groups have periodically gathered and protested in spots throughout the country.
Aljazeera, Wed Oct 5 2011
New York area union members will join an expected several thousand labor activists and supporters today in a Wall Street march and rally in support of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
The grassroots-grown protest is now in its third week, with a diverse array of people from across the country camping out in the heart of the financial district to demand Wall Street is held accountable for the schemes and reckless games that led to the nation's economic collapse.
The mostly young Occupy Wall Street protesters are "speaking for the vast majority of Americans who are frustrated by the bankers and brokers who have profited on the backs of hard working people," says Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) President Larry Hanley.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), says Occupy Wall Street "has brought into sharp focus a reality that cannot be denied."
Corporate greed is responsible for harming the lives of millions of working people and unemployed people....A small group of firms, banks, and corporations now hold trillions worth of our collective wealth and assets. That money should be invested in job creation on a massive scale and used to rebuild countless lives damaged by the recklessness that caused the recession.
Over the weekend, the 800 young activists at the AFL-CIO's Next Up Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis threw their strong support to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Wall Street symbolizes this simple truth: a small group of people have the lives and livelihoods of working Americans in their hands.... We stand together in calling for a country that doesn't just work for the top 1 percent. We stand together to call for a sustainable future that doesn't begin with massive tax breaks for the wealthy and end with austerity measures and a jobs crisis.
Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transport Workers (TWU), told the Daily Beast:
We view the protests as young people who are articulating the same kind of things that we've been trying to articulate... they've really thrown a spotlight on issues that are bothering people, especially bothering workers like our members.
AFL-CIONowBlog, Tues Oct 4 2011
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to President Obama on Monday expressing his labor federation's opposition to the pending free-trade deal with Colombia.
Included with the letter was a list of names of the 22 union leaders who have been killed in Colombia, 15 of those after the United States agreed to a labor action plan with the South American country in April to improve its labor rights record, according to the AFL-CIO. Labor has long vehemently opposed a trade deal with Colombia because of its record of violence against union activists.
"Simply put, Colombia should not be rewarded with a trade agreement until it develops a proven track record of ensuring that workers can exercise the fundamental rights of free association and collective bargaining; preventing violence against union leaders and other social justice advocates; and bringing to justice those who perpetrated such crimes," Trumka wrote in his letter to Obama.
The labor leader also cited an estimate from the Economic Policy Institute that approval of the Colombia trade deal will lead to 55,000 jobs being lost.
"Given this predicted job loss, at a time when working Americans are already struggling to find jobs, pay their mortgages, and make ends meet, advancing the Colombia Trade Agreement will send the wrong message to the working people of both Colombia and the U.S.," Trumka wrote.
Thehill.com, Mon Sept 26 2011
Georgian workers continue to experience severe trade union repression at the hands of both the employer and the government. The latest attack comes at Hercules Steel, a Georgian-Indian joint venture in Kutaisi, Georgia. Workers formed a trade union on 4 August 2011. However, the employer refused to recognize the union and fired six leaders. As the employer refused to seek a negotiated solution, workers had no option but to strike, some going on a hunger strike. On 15 September, the governor and 50 police vehicles stormed the plant and arrested 40 workers. Immediately after the strikers were dispersed, the police and management representatives called and visited workers demanding that they return to work under penalty of arrest. The police also forced detained workers to sign statements promising not to protest and to return to work immediately. In addition to the industrial conflict, information has emerged that over 100 Indian migrant workers have had their passports withheld and have been forced to live in squalid living conditions. Wages and working conditions are very poor. Workers wanting to leave in advance of the expiration of their contract have not been allowed to leave. We are urging the Georgian government to intervene in this matter to ensure the domestic and international labour rights of Georgian and Indian workers are fully respected.
labourstart.org, Thurs Sept 22 2011
Air Canada customer service workers can keep pension plan: arbitrator: Arbitrator sides with union over issue that led to three-day strike
The union representing Air Canada's customer service workers can keep its defined benefit pension plan, an arbitrator has ruled. The controversial issue played a key role in the union's three-day strike earlier this year.
"This is an extremely important ruling and demonstrates that no employer, regardless of how large or small, should believe they have the unmitigated right to destroy a worker's retirement security," said Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union president Ken Lewenza in a release. "We ultimately won on the merit of our argument for fairness."
Federal arbitrator Kevin Burkett rejected Air Canada's demand to put new hires into a defined-contribution pension plan. Instead, he sided with the CAW's proposal to maintain the defined-benefit pension plan for new hires, along with a defined-contribution portion to their pension. The result will be a "hybrid" pension for future new hires at the airline, consisting of both defined-benefit and defined-contribution components. Current CAW members at Air Canada remain in the existing defined-benefit plan.
The airline's 3,800 customer service workers took to the picket lines in June 2011. The union and the airline reached an agreement before back-to-work legislation, prepared by the federal government, could be debated in Parliament. The two parties agreed to send the issue of pensions for new hires to a mediation and arbitration process after they could come to an agreement on the matter.
Air Canada is currently negotiating with its 6,500 flight attendants for a new contract. The earliest the Canadian Union of Public Employees members could walk off the job is Sept. 21, 2011. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt plans to meet with both parties in order to avert a strike.
Canadian Labour Reporter, Mon Sept 19 2011
For over two years Mexico's Electrical Workers Union (SME) has been fighting their government's persecution and attempt to annihilate the union. Finally after two years of incredible struggle, and with international support from CUPE and other unions, they have recognition and an agreement with the Mexican government.
They reached a negotiated settlement after getting official recognition of their union by obtaining their "toma de nota". Members of SME voted on the agreement and ended their six-month occupation of Zócalo, the main plaza in the heart of the historic centre of Mexico City.
The agreement includes weekly high-level negotiations to reach a solution for the employment of all 16,559 members who did not take severance when 44,000 workers were fired. It also includes unfreezing the union's bank accounts and release of embargoed dues.
This means that the government officially recognizes the union.
"We congratulate our brothers and sisters in Mexico on this historic victory," said CUPE National President Paul Moist. "This significant breakthrough highlights the importance of international solidarity and support in the face of increasing violence and repression against unions."
Since 2009, the Felipe Calderon government has run a vicious campaign to eliminate the independent labour movement. They systematically tried to destroy the SME through privatization of the Central Light and Power Company (Luz y Fuerza del Centro) that eliminated 44,000 jobs, freezing the union's bank accounts, and imprisoning union leaders and members. Court hearings for the 13 political prisoners are being held this week, with their full release expected.
CUPE has actively supported the SME over the past two years through direct financial contributions, letters to the Mexican government, publicity campaigns, and sponsoring an observer at the last union elections.
cupe.ca, Mon Sept 19 2011
Over the summer months, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and 25 additional plaintiffs (SFL et al.) filed their legal argument in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench related to the Charter Challenge by the SFL et al. against the Sask. Party government's unconstitutional anti-worker and anti-union legislation. Legislation which the Wall government introduced and passed in late 2007 and early 2008.
In what is arguably the largest lawsuit ever filed by working men and women against a sitting government in Saskatchewan (and quite possibly Canadian) history, the SFL filed its 230-page legal argument and tendered thousands of pages of evidence.
In support of the SFL et al.'s case, three additional intervenor unions filed thousands more pages of argument and evidence. The arguments of the intervenor unions re-inforced that the ill-conceived Bill 5 and Bill 6 violate workers constitutional rights as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The intervenor unions are: Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); Service Employees International Union -- West (SEIU-West); and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN).
In addition to the Charter Challenge, the SFL and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU) won a case in March 2009 wherein the Sask. Party government was found guilty of violating Saskatchewan workers international human rights by the United Nations International Labour Organization .
The ILO requested that the Sask. Party government take action to repair the offending legislation in consultation with representatives of the labour movement. The government has steadfastly refused to comply with the ILO ruling and refuses to meet with the labour movement to discuss the matter.
This historic Charter Challenge case will be heard in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench from November 14 - 25, 2011.
rabble.ca, Fri Sept 16 2011
On August 31, 2009, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels in the Boston area, replacing women who had worked at Hyatt for decades with workers from a temporary agency. Many of the fired workers report that Hyatt required that they train their replacements. Their replacements now earn minimum wage and clean as many as 30 rooms a day. Few if any of the subcontracted workers receive health insurance.
The story of the "Hyatt 100" represents just one dramatic example of how Hyatt's aggressive use of subcontractors is destroying good jobs. Using subcontractors allows Hyatt to pay housekeepers poverty wages while evading legal liability for unsafe working conditions or hiring undocumented workers. In Indianapolis, San Antonio and many other cities, Hyatt has continued to expand the use of subcontractors.
In response, unionized Hyatt workers have been in a protracted contract fight with Hyatt, taking action and even striking to curb the company's ability to outsource jobs.
See a profile of Hyatt's use of subcontractors in the Huffington Post: "Poor and Poorer: As Hotels Outsource Jobs, Workers Lose Hold On Living Wage."
Read more about the campaign to Bring Back the Hyatt 100.
Jewish clergy nationwide have done an investigation and issued a full report on the problem of outsourcing and other Hyatt abuses: Open the Gates of Justice: A Clergy Report on Working Conditions at Hyatt Hotels.
Hyatt Outsourcing and Health and Safety Violations
To date, OSHA or its state counterparts have issued 3 citations against two of the Hyatt's housekeeping subcontractors at two hotels, alleging violations of safety regulations that protect housekeepers and other employees. The agencies have proposed fines of more than $50,000 for Hyatt's subcontractors.
hotelworkersrising.org, Wed Sept 14 2011
CLEVELAND -- Gov. John Kasich said today that a Republican loss on Senate Bill 5 this fall could make it easier for private-sector workers to unionize.
Speaking to about 250 people at an event hosted by the Harvard Business School Club of Northeast Ohio and the Association for Corporate Growth, Kasich said, "if this bill doesn't pass, don't be surprised if you see card check."
Senate Bill 5, which is subject to a voter referendum Nov. 8 through State Issue 2, weakens collective bargaining for 360,000 public employees in Ohio. It does not affect collective bargaining for unionized employees at private businesses.
When asked following his speech how a Senate Bill 5 defeat could lead to card check legislation in Ohio, Kasich said, "That might be the next thing; you just don't know."
Card check is an alternative, simplified method for employees to unionize by signing cards saying they want to be represented by a labor union. It is a major item on labor's national agenda, and is backed by many Democrats.
"You get people emboldened, you don't know what it will lead to," Kasich said. "It's a legitimate concern. There's a lot of things that could come. I'm not saying they will, but people who get emboldened, they do more aggressive things.
"These people who are in business, they live in fear of these kinds of things."
Senate Bill 5 was introduced and passed by Republicans in the legislature and signed by Kasich, also a Republican. Endorsements from business groups such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Ohio Manufacturers Association have been rolling in.
While Kasich warned of union expansion should the measure be repealed, he also said he didn't think Ohio "needed to go in that direction" when asked if it should become a right-to-work-state.
Kasich delivered his speech at Cleveland's Union Club, near Playhouse Square.
Columbus Dispatch, Wed Sept 8 2011
Byline: Joe Vardon
Since October 2009 the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) has been one of the primary targets of the Mexican government's attack on Freedom of Association. Most recently, the government has failed to take action to recognize the union's national officers who were elected in July. Instead, it issued arrest warrants against General Secretary Martin Esparza and another national leader, along with their legal counsel, based on charges regarding actions occurring two years earlier (the charges relate to an attempt by the SME to withdraw money from its own bank account as authorized by a judge after it had been frozen by government authorities).
Known for being a progressive, democratic union fairly representing its members, the SME is fighting for better conditions and salaries through collective bargaining and for a fairer society in general for all Mexicans. The SME has been a target for the Calderon government since 2009 when the President sent federal troops in to the electrical generating facilities (for Mexico City), shutting it down permanently, and illegally laying off 44,000 active and retired workers.
The SME has continued to function under difficult circumstances as a union in spite of the attempt to destroy it, and published a letter addressing the government in Mexico's daily newspaper 'La Jornada' to protest the constant attacks on the union. The letter outlined the fact that the government has dismissed 44,000 electrical workers, taken over their workplaces with military and police forces, seized the Union's bank accounts and jailed 13 workers. They call for an end to the criminalization of the SME and the release of the electrical workers being held as political prisoners, the withdrawal of the arrest warrants against the union's leaders, the return of the bank accounts, and the official recognition of the SME's elected leadership ("toma de nota") without further delay. The letter was signed by hundreds of individuals, organizations and activists from around the world who support the SME's struggle for labour rights in Mexico.
canadianlabour.ca, Wed Aug 31 2011