USW Welcomes Napoleón Gómez to Pittsburgh

The International Board Of USW with Napoleon Gomez in Pittsburgh.

The International Board Of UWS with Napoleon Gomez in Pittsburgh.

Anyone who follows this blogsite will know of the situation with Napoleaon Gomez of Los Mineros union in Mexico.

Napoleon has been living in exile in Canada, in the safe keeping of the United Steelworkers after being hounded out of his own country with threats of jail and even assassination  for standing up for his members and speaking out against government corruption and greed. The Mexican government brought criminal charges against him after he denounced as “industrial homicide” the death of 65 miners at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos mine.

In August, a Mexican appeals court dismissed the last of the charges against him.

He was on the Interpol wanted list – but has been removed however, he has still found it hard to travel outside of Canada, with the threat of being turned back at a border or even re-arrest.

But now we can celebrate! Last week the United Steelworkers (USW) extended a warm welcome to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, President and General Secretary of the National Union of Mine, Metal and Steelworkers of Mexico (Los Mineros), as he visited Pittsburgh, USA and met the Board of the Steelworkers union.

Gómez Napoleon spoke to the USW’s International Executive Board meeting in Pittsburgh, and later addressed the entire staff of the union.

It was his first visit to the United States since 2006.

“Napoleón is one of my heroes,” said USW International President Leo Gerard “For eight years he stood strong against the attacks on his union and constant threats against himself and his family. I am proud that the USW and the entire international union movement have stood with him in the fight for justice for Mexican workers.”

Napoleon Gomez of Los Mineros

Napoleon Gomez of Los Mineros

We have won many victories, but the campaign against us is not over,” Gómez said in his address to the Executive Board.  Over the past several years, Los Mineros have negotiated wage and benefit increases averaging 14percent per year. At the same time, Gómez said that the union has built strong cooperation with many employers.

“Last month we brought together 40 Mexican and multinational companies at a meeting in Vancouver focusing on joint strategies to increase productivity and shared prosperity.”

Gómez described the cooperation between the USW and Los Mineros under their Solidarity Alliance, including coordination at common employers such as Grupo Mexico and ArcelorMittal, collaboration on organizing campaigns; joint work on health and safety; Mineros participation in the USW Leadership-Scholarship program; and, the establishment of a Mineros Women of Steel program.

“I am proud of our alliance with Los Mineros,” said Gerard.  “I welcome Napoleón back to the United States, and I hope to be with him when he returns to Mexico.”

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US Employers Say Plan To Speed Up Union Elections “Devastating”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

In the USA the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) the body that governs ballots on union recognition (ballots) is set to put in place plans to speed up  union elections. The plan is being hailed as a victory for trade unions and a defeat for businesses.

The rule is aimed at “reducing unnecessary delays” that union officials say often discourages workers from unionising.

“Too often, lengthy and unnecessary litigation over minor issues bogs down the election process and prevents workers from getting the vote they want,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “We commend the NLRB’s efforts to streamline the process and reduce unnecessary delay.”

Trumka said the union election rule will give workers an opportunity to vote “in a timely manner.”

But business groups say the rule is unfair because it does not give them enough time to prepare for union elections. They say it also prevents employees from taking time to consider all the facts.

“Shortening the time frame before an election robs employees of the ability to gather the facts they need to make an important and informed decisions like whether or not to join a union and denies employers adequate time to prepare,” Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.

The NLRB’s union election rule comes two years after a previous version was struck down in federal court. The agency reissued the rule in February with few changes, but believes it will stand up in court this time around.

Business groups have coined terms “ambush” and “quickie” elections to express their frustration with the rule.

The NLRB rule states that a pre-election hearing will be held eight days after a petition is filed, after which point the agency will “set the election for the earliest date practicable.”

Though the rule does not offer a more specific time frame for the whole process, business groups speculate a vote could take place in as little as 10 days.

This would be a dramatic shift from the current average of more than 30 days, business groups say. They have been painting the rule not only as a negative for companies, but also employees who they say will be rushed to make a decision.

Many US employers create time delays and legal challenges to run anti union campaigns, peddle mis-information and engage in outright bullying and harassment of union supporters.

“This is a devastating rule for employees through the retail industry,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Federation.

“The NLRB already conducts a vast majority of representation elections within a reasonable time frame and this rule is simply unnecessary and unfair,” he added.

More on this story click here.

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Workers At US VW Plant Say Yes To UAW Representation

USA-AUTOS/UNIONIts not quite there yet – but the decision by workers at Volkswagen’s car production plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee has opened the door for unionisation of other auto plants in the southern right to work states of the USA.

Workers in Chatanooga who had faced a right wing campaign to stop the United Autoworkers gaining union recognition at the plant in February this year have voted by 45% to be represented by the UAW providing the foothold the UAW needs to organise other automakers’ factories in the South.

In February workers voted 712 – 626 against UAW representation after a sustained mis-information campaign by right wing politicians to scare workers into voting against union recognition.

The right wing media campaign said the long term future of the plant would be questionable if the workers voted for the union and that a promised new model to be built at the plant would go elsewhere. They also blamed the union for the major job losses in the auto industry in Detroit.

The new audit of membership was conducted by an independent auditor who had verified the UAW had signed up at least 45% percent of workers

The vote grants the union a strong base to move towards full collective bargaining rights. The union will now have the right to represent workers and meet with VW management on a regular basis.

VW global management did not oppose the unionisation of the plant and had agreed a German style works council structure with the help of the German union IG Metall.

Following the February defeat the United Auto Workers set up a Local (union branch) at the plant in July and began the campaign again.

Although the UAW fell short of having the 50% of Volkswagen’s workers in membership which it needs to recognised for the exclusive collective bargaining agreement this is a major step forward as the UAW will be able to meet with Volkswagen’s management team and represent workers on a regular basis. Gary Casteel of the UAW said “One thing’s for certain, we’re now discussing that with the company and not outside looking in,”

Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and policy group for the Centre for Automotive Research, said the certification results provide proof that the UAW strategy in the South is working.

“I think this is a template they are going to follow all across the South,” said Dziczek. The union also has ongoing organising campaigns with Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa, Alabma and Nissan in Canton, Missississppi.

The certification of the UAW also shuts out a stooge union the American Council of Employees, that has also vowed to represent Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga.

United Auto Workers Local 42 President Mike Cantrell, left, speaks to fellow Volkswagen employees at the union's office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

United Auto Workers Local 42 President Mike Cantrell, left, speaks to fellow Volkswagen employees at the union’s office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

ACE said it planned to organize enough workers to represent workers who are opposed to the UAW but has failed to make headway. They have now filed complaints against the independent audit. However, Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga, said the claims are “bogus and without merit.”

“UAW Local 42 successfully completed a rigorous membership verification process established by Volkswagen and managed by an independent auditor. As anticipated, UAW Local 42 quickly surpassed the highest level under the company’s new Community Organisation Engagement policy, and the local union’s membership exceeds a majority of workers at the plant,” he said.

The States Republican Governor, Bill Haslem shaken by the vote of the workforce blustered that he wanted to see all major decisions at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga made through secret ballots and not by counting union membership cards.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said that at this stage the pathway and timeline for exclusive representation remain unclear. “But one thing’s for certain, we’re now discussing that with the company and not outside looking in,” he said. Casteel said the union has signed up well over half of the blue-collar workers at the plant, but he would not give a specific percentage.

Casteel said the union has signed up well over half of the blue-collar workers at the plant, but for obvious reasons would not give a specific percentage.

The UAW has been trying to organise Volkswagen workers for at least three years and believes that organising automotive assembly plants in the south is crucial to its survival.

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Jaguar Land Rover Pay Deal: Labour Peer’s Comments – “Bizarre”

By Professor David Bailey

imagesIt’s hugely welcome news that Jaguar Land Rover management and unions this week reached a new two-year pay deal, as I fully expected them to do.

JLR revised its offer, with a pay rise of 4.5 per cent in the first year of a two-year deal, plus a bonus payment of £825 per worker. In the second year, workers will receive the higher of either 3 per cent or the Retail Price Index measure of inflation plus 0.5 per cent.

Around 15,000 members of JLR’s British workforce of over 26,000 will benefit from the deal, according to Unite, and the deal will now need to be approved in a ballot.

It’s good new all round. It’s good for the firm which is investing heavily in new products and technology. It’s good for the workers who have pulled out all the stops to work flexibly and to help the firm get costs down. And it’s good news for the government, as more pay means more spending in the economy, and more tax receipts.

Given that this deal was in the offing – agreement was reached late last week – it makes recent comments on the situation by Lord Bhattacharyya all the more bizarre.

In comments in last week’s Post, Bhattacharyya claimed that the pay ‘dispute’ might force JLR to shift investment overseas. He went on to say that the unions’ approach to the pay negotiations smacked of the “bad old days” of industrial relations, arguing that “what we are seeing is a glimpse of what used to happen in the past. Do we really want to go back to the past?”

The peer argued that other countries, including the United States, Hungary, Poland and Middle East states, were making “substantial and very tempting offers” to JLR to invest there.

He argued that “JLR has made what appears to be a generous offer. Yet in return they find themselves embroiled in negotiations by newspaper and public opinion”.

And he went on to say that “the unions should not be airing their grievances in public…. And they should also understand that, though Tata does not believe in short-termism, if it finds that JLR’s cost base has become too high here then it will have no hesitation in putting future investment abroad.”

Where the peer was right was in recognising the fact that but for Tata there wouldn’t be much of an R&D driven UK car industry left. But beyond that his intervention was disappointing on a number of levels.

Firstly, to argue that this smacked of the “bad old days” ignores the fact that industrial relations in the UK auto industry in general and at JLR in particular are on the whole excellent.

Indeed, unions are part of the solution these days and not the problem. The fact that Castle Bromwich was kept open only a few years ago was in large part down to local management and unions pulling out all the stops. The unions and workers agreed to increase the flexibility of working hours, thereby allowing JLR to increase the intensity of work during busy periods and get costs down.

More generally, the UK’s auto sector is experiencing investment on an unprecedented scale. This wouldn’t be happening if industrial relations were as poor as Bhattacharyya makes out.

Remarkably, over £7bn has been invested by major auto assemblers over the last 3 years, with more to come in the supply chain.  A flexible, skilled and committed workforce is part of the attraction.

In fact, the peer’s inaccurate comments are unhelpful in that they could affect overseas’ investors’ perceptions of the state of the UK auto industry. That could be damaging for investment flows.

Secondly, for Bhattarcharyya to link JLR’s global expansion with the pay discussion is completely inaccurate. Yes, JLR are looking at investment in the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as that already underway in Brazil, India and China. We know that.

It’s to do with entering new markets and to access raw materials. To suggest that it’s to do with the possibility of rising wage costs in the UK is just wrong. JLR will invest abroad anyway as they have to do to become a global player. Unions understand that and have been very cooperative.

More broadly, the context of the recent discussions needed to be understood – something that Bhattacharyya failed to do.

JLR felt that they had made a good offer and of course stressed the need to remain internationally competitive at a time when they have face major pressures, for example on exchange rates and energy costs. And to those outside the industry the first offer of 3.6% in year one and a performance linked bonus sounded pretty good.

However, unions stressed that workers made big sacrifices during the downturn – including taking cuts in real pay – to help the firm stay afloat and since then have pulled out all the stops to work flexibility, get costs down and raise quality. They wanted a payback.

The expected deal has now been done. In fact industrial relations have so far been excellent and the unions and workers have played a really constructive role in helping the firm – and indeed the UK auto industry – to be successful of late.

That’s one the reason – along with the skills base and a positive industrial policy – as to why there has been so much investment in the UK auto industry over the last few years.

The days of the 1970s are long gone. Lord Bhattacharyya should know that.

Professor David Bailey is Professor of Industry at the Aston Business School

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Glencore: Sherwin Alumina Lockout

Sherwin-Lockout-Rally_Nov-14On October 11th, Sherwin Alumina locked out 450 hard-working United Steelworkers Local 235A members at their plant in Gregory, Texas. The lockout came after 235A members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s demands for major cuts in pension and health care benefits for members and retirees, as well as reductions in overtime pay.

Sherwin is owned by Glencore, a hugely profitable Swiss commodities giant that is the 10th largest corporation in the world, with net income of $4.6 billion in 2013. With alumina prices on the rise and production costs declining, there is simply no reason for this greedy company to demand cuts from the working families and retirees of south Texas.

Read more about the dispute by clicking here.

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Fighting The New Generation Of Trade Deals

TTIPPublished in December issue of Labour Briefing

Unions in the UK and the EU have been campaigning against TTIP, the free trade deal between the EU and the USA (and the deal with Canada known as CETA) since significant details of the deals came to light earlier this year.

The main focus by European unions, including the ETUC has been on the threat of the Investor State Dispute clauses which would allow companies to sue sovereign governments should they feel their interests (and profits) are being detrimentally affected. And of course the threat to the NHS has been paramount in the UK.

Unions in the United States are now gearing up to oppose TTIP (and other trade deals), starting with ‘fast track’, the US system used to push through trade agreements on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis – with no line by line scrutiny by elected politicians.

The US Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms as international trade has developed. Fast track first went into effect in modern times under Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Fast track authority was last granted during the George W. Bush administration, but that law expired on June 30th, 2007.

President Obama wants to ‘fast track’ TTIP and other trade deals currently under negotiation, but unions and some key Democrats oppose ‘fast track’ given the effect previous trade deals have had on US jobs – notably in manufacturing.

Under the NAFTA deal which opened up free trade in North America, which was signed off by Bill Clinton, around 700,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the USA and over 60,000 industrial businesses were closed as work and jobs flooded into cheap labour zones in Mexico and the southern states.

Unions such as Unite and its partner union in the global union Workers Uniting, the United Steelworkers, are campaigning to put the brakes on TTIP and CETA, citing the fact that despite rhetoric from US, Canadian and EU politicians on job creation there is no proof that the massive number of new jobs predicted will be created; that the NHS or parts of it would be under threat of sell offs to US and Canadian multi-nationals; that the ISDS clauses could mean that US and Canadian companies could sue a Government if they felt their actions were detrimental to their interests such as nationalising industries and utilities, raising minimum wages or improving employment rights and that strong European employment rights such in Germany, France or Scandinavia would be undermined and workers would face a ‘race to the bottom’.

TPPGlobalCorporationsUnions leading the fight include the United Steelworkers; the United Autoworkers; public service workers (AFSCME); the Machinists Union, (IAMAW); the communications workers union (CWA), as well as the AFL-CIO union umbrella body. They launched a major campaign against fast track centered on Washington DC.

Commencing with a major advertising campaign which ran on the entirety of the Capitol South Metro station in Washington DC they highlighted the dramatic impact trade deals such as TTIP hold for working people.

The AFL-CIO said that ‘Fast Tracking’ trade agreements sets the USA on a path to concluding any trade deal that would take policy making out of elected politicians and turn it over to trade arbitrators who favour corporate interests over the public interest.

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO said: “Fast Track is a misguided and undemocratic policy that advances the corporate trade agenda and bad deals like NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Korea FTA. Congress must end the secrecy and create a new process to develop and implement trade, investment and economic policies that will promote good jobs, rising wages, a clean environment and a fair economy for us all.  America’s workers simply can’t afford more Fast Track”.

Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees said: “Trade agreements should not be designed to limit the ability of governments to implement and enforce laws that regulate business and protect our food, our environment, worker safety and the public’s health”.

Saunders highlighted TTP: “TTP would allow global corporations to challenge U.S. laws through secret, unaccountable and undemocratic, international trade tribunals that do not have to adhere to U.S. law or even abide by the U.S. Constitution when making decisions that impact U.S. citizens or companies. Fast Track would set the U.S. on a path to concluding a trade deal that would take policy-making out of the hands of anyone who has to answer to the voters, and turn it over to trade arbitrators who favour corporate interests over the public interest.”

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Unsung Hero’s – Unite Members Contribution To The UK Automotive Industry



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Stop ‘Umbrella companies’ exploiting construction workers

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McDonald’s Korean union member sacked for fast food activism

922Gahyun Lee was dismissed from her job at a McDonald’s outlet in Yeokgok, Gyeonggi Province on September 15th following her visit to Los Angeles earlier that month to support the national action by US fast food workers.

 Management had previously warned her about union activity in May – citing a phone call from the head office – after she denounced wage and scheduling manipulation and unsafe workplace practices at a May 15th rally in Seoul in support of global fast food workers.

 Management refused to provide her with an explanation of why her contract was terminated, instead telling her to reapply for the job. Her application was rejected.

 The Arbeit Workers’ Union (which organizes precarious workers) is demanding her reinstatement and publicizing her case.

You can support them – CLICK HERE TO SEND A MESSAGE to McDonald’s Korea corporate management calling on the company to reinstate Gahyun Lee, recognize union rights and representation and enter into good faith talks with the union over unfair practices.

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Aussie Packaging Company Folds Under Pressure

f2de09c5-38e5-47ea-8c77-e03089fd1698Aussie Packaging printer Colorpak have backed down in the face of a determined industrial campaign and agreed to a peace deal with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union who were aided by comrades from the company’s New Zealand operations. 

Anxious management compromised last week when faced with a 24-hour strike which would be replicated across the Tasman and cost the firm millions of dollars.

Previously hardline bosses also faced embarrassment from a planned AMWU protest to shareholders outside the company’s Annual General Meeting this week.

The company agreed to a new 12-month union agreement covering its main site at Braeside in  Melbourne, which delivers improvements including permanency after six months for casual and labour hire employees.

It also includes a legal deed giving extra security to union members in administration, genuine union consultation over workplace change plus a $295 tax-free bonus for every worker when the agreement is signed.

The one-year deal was initially endorsed by shop floor meetings, with the 240 AMWU members set for a formal vote next week.

It was a dramatic change of attitude from Colorpak, which had aggressively targeted union members with letters to their homes after stoppages in October and wrongly claimed in the national media to have finalized industrial matters months ago.

AMWU delegate Iain Eld (a former Unite activist and FOC in the UK) said the bridging deal was a solid base for pursuing a national agreement including real-value wage rises in 2015, to bring Colorpak’s Sydney site under a single agreement with Melbourne.

“The management were extremely agitated at the prospect of our members stepping up protected action to the 24-hour stoppage, with our comrades in New Zealand pledging action in support,” he said.

“Power and collective strength have shown you can push what appears to be an unmovable employer into a reasonable position.”

The management agreed to three final union claims to have the planned actions cancelled.

AMWU National secretary (Print) Lorraine Cassin said the determination of members had forced the company to understand it could not intimidate them.

“Our members stood up to Colorpak, they took strength from one another to persist until they won the respect and proper consideration they deserve,” she sad.

Ms Cassin said the AMWU would be lending its support to NZ members of its sister union, which is yet to finalise its agreement with Colorpak.

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