Rants & Raves for the Week of June 20th, 2011
In this economy, any job is better than no job… but it still sucks to have a job at Wal-Mart. You're making less than almost anyone in the industry, and forget about getting any sort of health care benefits. When you try to form a union, they shut your whole department down. And now when you stand up for your rights in court, the US Supreme Court steps in to protect Wal-Mart's right to discriminate. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to decertify a historic class action lawsuit on gender discrimination 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees. The court dismissed statistics showing men are roughly 30 percent of rank and file workers but almost 70 percent of managers, and it also ignored evidence of rampant wage discrimination and a corporate culture that obviously favors men. This ruling underscores what we know has always been true — workers must be free to organize to protect their rights, and ensure fair pay, working conditions and opportunities for advancement. Otherwise, the doors to justice will remain closed.
California legislators have tried for years to compel internet mega-company Amazon.com to collect sales tax from consumers. Currently consumers owe use tax on purchases, but Amazon does not have to collect it and hand it over to the state. As a result, California loses out on billions in much-needed revenues. States around the country have attempted to get Amazon to hand over sales tax to varying degrees of success. Legislation in California for Amazon tax collection was part of the Democrat’s budget bills that Brown may yet sign. Even the red state of Texas has tried to force Amazon to collect sales tax. But Amazon is threatening to pull its business out of Texas unless they get a deal that would give the company a four and a half year tax holiday, in exchange for building a few warehouses. Governor Perry is considering the deal while the Retailers Association opposes it on the grounds that it puts brick and mortar in-state business at a competitive disadvantage and threatens Texas jobs. If California attempts to collect legally due taxes, Amazon may attempt the same coercive tactics, depriving states of badly needed funding for our schools, roads and services.
While strikes and work stoppages are extremely rare, the right to strike remains, in most cases, the most powerful weapon workers wield in the fight to maintain decent wages, benefits and working conditions. That’s why some employers will stop at nothing to threaten and intimidate workers into “no-strike clause” contracts even when that intimidation openly violates federal law. Case in point: the Boeing Corporation. A few years ago, Boeing tried and failed to rob their Pacific Northwest workforce of the right to strike, and even launched a media blitz claiming that this right forced the company to outsource production to South Carolina and lay off Northwest workers. Big mistake. While companies can legally move production wherever they want, they can’t do so to punish workers for exercising their legal right to withhold labor, and thus the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has since ensnared Boeing in an NLRB Acting General Counsel complaint accusing the company of breaking the law. Hopefully other companies are watching and learning that such illegal threats don’t come without a price.
Everyone likes “bipartisanship” — except when the parties get together for the sole purpose of silencing workers. That's exactly what's happening in New Jersey, where the Democratic legislature is actually helping New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie dismantle collective bargaining rights when it comes to negotiating health benefits. This effort is all part of the attack on public employees, blaming workers for the budget crises our states are facing. When are they going to admit that it was the banks and Wall Street that crashed our economy, not the working people of this country? In New Jersey, firefighters, police, and other service workers are protesting the takeaways and reminding lawmakers that this bill will take away the voice of 500,000 workers. And there's nothing “bipartisan” about that.
Anthem Blue Cross settled a lawsuit this week that accused the health insurance giant of closing policies to force policy holders to pay higher deductibles while receiving fewer benefits. Anthem was accused of deliberately closing policies affecting 122,000 policyholders—when the policies are closed, no new members can come in, and premiums rise. As premiums go up, younger, healthier people leave the policy and buy new coverage. But older and sicker policy holders are stuck because they can’t easily buy new coverage due to pre-existing conditions. So premiums skyrocket for them as the pool shrinks to sicker members. The settlement allows people in closed policies to switch to new ones, regardless of health status, and to have their rates capped. Of course, Anthem spokespeople were quick to say the settlement does not prove any wrong-doing Anthem, but it is a huge victory for consumers who have suffered from Anthem’s business practices.
Costa Mesa has suffered at the hands of local elected officials who have pushed a controversial plan to lay off all the city’s workers and contract out services. The announcement of the plan resulted in the suicide of a Costa Mesa worker and union member who couldn’t face losing his job and benefits. This week, as Costa Mesa City Council approved the layoffs of 209 city workers (despite an independent audit that found $23 million in the General Fund that could be used to stave off mass layoffs) Costa Mesa’s interim Police Chief Steve Staveley resigned in protest, calling the move “unethical and immoral” and accusing the City Council of lying about city finances. Here’s hoping more Costa Mesa leaders follow in Chief Staveley’s footsteps.
The next time an anti-labor conservative accuses you, a staunch pro-worker advocate, of supporting frivolous lawsuits or defending government inefficiency, be sure to point out the business community’s ferocious opposition to new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules protecting our right to organize from—you guessed it—frivolous lawsuits and government inefficiency. On Tuesday, NLRB members proposed amending current rules to streamline the union election process, guaranteeing faster, more fair, and more accurate union representation elections. The proposal would also defer litigation of most voter eligibility issues until after the election. Who would oppose such common-sense reforms? We could waste time listing all the business groups that are mobilizing against it, but we think your time would be better spent getting the word out to your friends and co-workers that soon your right to organize will likely be that much stronger.
How’s this for good news: the largest successful federal employee organizing effort in history happened this week! Following a month-long runoff election, on Thursday 44,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSO’s) officially voted to become proud members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). This momentous vote delivered a massive victory not only to these luggage and passenger screeners—responsible for the safety of our entire air transportation system—but also for workers and collective bargaining supporters everywhere. We heartily congratulate and welcome our new labor brothers and sisters!