THE WORLD OF LABOR — January 15, 2011

By Harry Kelber

U.S. Plans to Sue 4 States over Election Law Rights

The National Labor Relations Board announced on Jan. 14 that it planned to sue Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah in an effort to invalidate recently-approved state constitutional amendments that prohibit private sector workers from choosing a union through a process known as “card check.” The labor board asserts that the amendments conflict with federal laws and are pre-empted by those laws.

The state amendments were promoted by various conservative groups concerned that Congressional Democrats and President Obama would enact legislation allowing unions to insist on using card check, in which an employer recognizes a union as soon as a majority of workers sign pro-union cards. That method makes it possible for employees to unionize without elections. However, Republicans have blocked such legislation.

The four states would require using secret ballot elections when workers are deciding whether to unionize, even though federal law makes card check an option. The labor board said: The four amendments differ in lsnguage, but all conflict with federal law by closing off a well-established path to union representation recognized by the Supreme Court and protected by the National Labor Relations Act.”

U.A.W. to Renew Organizing Effort at Foreign-Owned Plants

The United Auto Workers will renew its efforts this year to organize workers at plants that foreign automaker operate in the United States and will portray companies that resist as “human rights violators,” Bob King, the union’s president, said on Jan. 12. King said the foreign companies would be better off morally and financially if they allowed their workers to organize.

The U.A.W., King said, has changed its philosophy and could help the companies become more competitive, not less. “We just have to convince them that we’re not the evil empire that they think we are,” King told reporters at an auto industry conference near the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Last week, the union released a list of 11 principles for “fair union elections” that it wants foreign-based manufacturers to adopt, and said it had set aside $60 million from its strike fund on organizing efforts within the plants of those companies. Toyota, Honda, Hyandai, Kia, Nissan and BMW, all have plants in the United States, all non-union and mostly in the South.

Tunisians Drive President from Power in Mass Revolt

Protesters, enraged over soaring unemployment and corruption, drove Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power Jan. 14 after a 23 years of iron-fisted rule, in an unprecedented popular uprising in a region dominated by strongmen who do not answer to their people.

The upheaval took place after weeks of escalating unrest, fueled partly by social media and cell phones, as thousands of demonstrators from all walks of life rejected Ben Ali’s promises of change and mobbed the capital of Tunis to demand his ouster in the country’s largest demonstration in generations.

At least 23 people have been killed by the uprising, according to the government, but opposition members put the death toll at more than three times that number. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on state television on Jan. 14 that he was assuming power over the country.

Lebanon Unions to Strike Despite Government Collapse

Lebanon’s labor unions will press on to stage nationwide strikes and sit-ins before the end of January in spite of the government’s collapse, chief of the General Labor Confederation (GLC), Ghassan Ghosn, told the Daily Star. ”Irrespective of how long it is going to take to form another government, we’re going to go ahead with the strike so that the next government can come in, with our demands having already been set out,” Ghosn said. He added, however, that the union had not yet set a date for the strike.

The GLC is demanding that the government raise minimum wage levels from LL 500,000 ($333) a month to twice the amount, and halt price increases, starting with canceling the gas tax, which, Ghosn claims, nears 60 percent.

He was confident that the strike would have the support of members of all political parties “because there is not one political bloc that has been sheltered from the economic problems that have afflicted this country.”

Egypt’s Workers Demand Government Attention

Egyptian workers are demanding that their claims not be forgotten amid heavy government attention to recent terrorist attacks. On Jan. 13, the Land Center for Human Rights (LCHR) called on the Egyptian government to stop neglecting “the workers’ accumulated files” and reiterated their rights to health and social insurance.

LCHR has also criticized the government’s refusal to allow workers to have independent unions, which they accuse of supporting the rights of business owners. One of the constant battles between the government and the workers is over minimum wages.

Last October, the workers won a short-lived victory as an Egyptian Administrative Court approved raising the minimum wage per month to LE 400 (US $69), which has been stalled by legal action.

Japan Denies Workers the Right to Strike

The Japanese government has decided not to grant public servants the right to strike in its plan for civil service system reform, considering the impact on people’s lives in the event of an actual strike.

At present, workers have few basic rights. Their salaries are based on recommendations made by the National Personnel Authority to bring them in line with those offered by the private sector.

Instead of allowing the right to strike, the government will give civil servants the right to negotiate work conditions, regardless of whether they are executive or non-executive employees.

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