The U.S. House of Representatives today voted 285 – 132 to approve the controversial Peru Free Trade Agreement, despite strong objections from labor and human rights activists who are concerned the pact does not include adequate enforcement provisions.
“We have repeatedly stressed that labor chapters in any trade agreement must unequivocally and unambiguously include all core and other appropriate labor standards explicitly encompassed by the International Labor Organization (ILO),” said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger in a letter to representatives. “Without explicit incorporation of ILO Conventions and accompanying jurisprudence, the Administration can interpret the agreement so narrowly that the positive improvements could prove to be meaningless.”
Critics also point to this week’s government crackdown on striking miners in Peru as evidence that the South American nation cannot be relied on enforce the most basic labor and environmental standards. The Peru FTA is the first trade deal to come before the 110th Congress and now moves to the Senate.
Kentucky Governor-elect Steve Beshear with Benny Adair, President of the Kentucky State Machinists Council during a campaign rally in Calvert City, KY.
A fierce determination by union members in Kentucky to end the reign of a Republican governor who has been called the “worst in the state’s history” led to a resounding victory for Democrat Steve Beshear over incumbent Governor Ernie Fletcher.
The 59-41 percent thumping drove home the message that union members remain a potent force in statewide elections and do not take kindly to seeing bargaining rights cancelled for thousands of state employees, one of many anti-labor moves by Fletcher.
“This victory belongs to the thousands of union members who turned out for Steve Beshear and knocked on doors from Covington to Paducah and everywhere in between,” said GST Warren Mart. “The Machinists in Kentucky can be very proud of the part they played in this important election win.”
Labor activists also play a key role in Virginia, where Democrats took control of the state senate for the first time in more than a decade. “Working people are driving a major change in the political landscape,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “We’re on the cusp of a shift that could redefine American politics for decades to come. Voters sent a powerful message that if you attack working people, you do so at your peril.”
The current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) long ago earned its place in history as one of the most anti-labor federal agencies in U.S. history. Packed with Bush-appointees, the board thus far has issued more than 60 decisions that dramatically reduce workers’ rights under existing federal labor law.
On Nov. 15, union members will march on NLRB headquarters in Washington, D.C., to demand the board live up to its original mandate or be shut down until it ceases its assault on U.S. workers.
Click here for more information about the Washington, D.C. rally and similar actions in Austin, TX; Albany, NY; Nashville, TN; San Diego, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Albuquerque, NM; Portland, OR; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Little Rock, AR; Denver, CO and Phoenix, AZ. Additional events are being planned for Miami, Boston, Chicago Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Leading the list of recent decisions that run counter to the NLRB’s stated mission of encouraging collective bargaining, the current board gutted a long-standing provision that protected bargaining units formed using majority sign up.
The IAM and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) are back at the bargaining table this week after an initial round of talks and an overwhelming strike authorization vote by members of three IAM locals in Middletown, East Hartford and Cheshire, CT.
The strike sanction follows a vote in August by IAM members to reject a so-called “last, best and final” offer from P&W, the Hartford-based jet engine maker and subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC).
Key issues for the 4,100 IAM members at P&W include job security, pension benefits and health care costs. “We put Pratt and Whitney on notice in August,” said Eastern Territory GVP Lynn D. Tucker, Jr. “A one-way relationship is no longer acceptable to our members or the IAM.”
The current three-year agreement with Pratt & Whitney expires on December 2. Additional information and negotiation updates can be found here.
The House last week passed the Trade and Globalization Assistance Act of 2007 by a vote of 264-157, reauthorizing and overhauling the current U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.
TAA provides retraining and financial assistance to American workers who have seen their jobs shipped overseas as a result of foreign trade. The bill passed by the House doubles the current TAA funding level from $220 million to $440 million and expands TAA eligibility to public and service sector workers who lose their jobs due to trade.
The bill would also improve the program’s training opportunities and associated health care benefits, create new benefits and tax incentives for industries and communities impacted by trade and promote reforms to the unemployment insurance system.
“We must be certain that, as our nation moves forward with expanded trade, we send a clear bipartisan signal that it won’t be at the expense of American workers,” said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Despite broad bi-partisan support, the Bush administration is threatening to veto the legislation.
Many Chinese workers producing toys imported to the U.S. are subjected to ‘sweatshop’ conditions, according to testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism last week.
Prison labor is also being exploited in China, according to Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, who said prison laborers make garments, electronic components, coffee mugs and toys that end up in U.S. stores. “The Chinese government continues to use forced labor to make goods, condones sweatshop conditions in its factories and refuses to allow workers to create independent unions– is it really any wonder that low-quality, harmful toys are being exported to the US and into the hands of our children?” said Wu, who spent 19 years in a Chinese prison.
Wal-Mart was singled out for their role in allowing the exploitation of cheap Chinese labor. “Wal-Mart bears a lion’s share of responsibility for pushing the toy industry into a region where product safety and worker safety inspection is virtually nonexistent,” said Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.
Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has introduced the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, which would prohibit U.S. companies from importing and selling products made overseas under “sweatshop” conditions. The bill, which has 13 co-sponsors would also allow U.S. companies to sue competitors for selling products made overseas under conditions that don’t adhere to core labor standards. A similar bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and has 116 co-sponsors.
IAM members from across Canada gathered recently for the annual District 140 Convention in Calgary, Alberta, where delegates discussed challenges facing members and debated bylaw submission from District 140 members.
Delegates also heard from International President Tom Buffenbarger, General Vice President Dave Ritchie and others on issues such as organizing, politics and finances. District 140 received special honors at the 2007 IAM National Staff Conference for organizing more than 250 members this past year.
District 140 consists of 18 local lodges with 16,000 members at over forty companies including Aeroguard, Air Canada, Air Transat, Algoma Central Railway, British Airways, Cara Operations, Consolidated Aviation Fuelling, Penauille/Servisair, MTU Maintenance Canada, United Airlines and Worldwide Flight Services.