On the picket line

Palermo’s Pizza reinstates eight of 100 fired strikers

The 13-month battle at Palermo’s Pizza for union representation — to end oppressive working conditions and low pay, and to protest the firing of 89 immigrant workers who didn’t have documentation — ended July 30. While this struggle began at the company’s Milwaukee headquarters, it soon grew into a national boycott after more than 100 workers were fired in June 2012 in retaliation for union organizing. Finally, eight months after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Palermo broke the law by firing the workers, Palermo agreed to reinstate eight workers and give them tens of thousands of dollars in back pay.

“This agreement confirms that Palermo used threats, intimidation, surveillance, discrimination and retaliation to deny the freedom to choose a union voice,” said Raul de la Torre, an organizing committee member of the Palermo Workers Union, which worked closely with the Steelworkers Union.

Meanwhile, USW District 2 Director Mike Bolton pointed out: “It took much too long to get even this small bit of justice. … [The eight rehires] will be going back to jobs where union busters have created such an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that a democratic election is not possible. [Palermo’s knows] that 75 percent of employees already expressed support for a union when they signed a petition for union representation over a year ago, [but most of them] will never get to vote because they were fired for speaking out.” (Voces de la Frontera, July 30)

Farmworkers: Raise safety standards for pesticide use

On July 15-16, representatives of 1 to 2 million U.S. farmworkers lobbied Congress to call for stronger protections against hazardous pesticides. Earth Justice reports that an estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually, with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 farmworkers suffering acute pesticide poisoning each year. The workers, mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants, are calling for strengthened regulations in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s weak and outdated Worker Protection Standard, established more than 20 years ago.

Research shows that children of farmworkers are especially vulnerable to exposure, even at very low levels, from aerial drift that poisons schools and playgrounds and from the clothes and shoes their parents wear home. Long-term exposure increases the risk of such chronic health problems as cancer, neurological impairment, Parkinson’s disease and birth defects.

To sign a United Farm Workers petition supporting a stronger WPS, go to action.ufw.org/fieldtofork.

D.C. Labor Roundup

Nurses win rollback of health care cost hikes

After fighting for more than a year against MedStar Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center’s reductions and changes in nurses’ health care benefits, which drastically increased new deductibles and co-pays, the 1,850 registered nurses won a federal ruling the week of July 8 that rolled back the unlawful cuts and hikes. The members of National Nurses United sued to stop the tripling of out-of-pocket amounts they were forced to pay.

The July 17 AFL-CIO report on the nurses’ win noted that “more and more health care employers are seeking to exploit the recession and rollbacks of employee standards in other industries to push huge cuts for health care workers despite the hospitals once again making record profits.” (blog.aflcio.org, July 17)

District Coalition for Better Transit

Facing threatened privatization of D.C. metro buses, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and transit advocates and riders teamed up to create the District Coalition for Better Transit. On July 17, it hosted a kick-off community-labor forum on privatization. Transit workers and community activists discussed the risks of private companies running bus lines currently operated by Metrobus.

With a goal of keeping public transit affordable, reliable, safe and publicly accountable, the coalition plans to build a strong fightback in the interests of riders and transit workers. (Union City, online weekly newsletter of Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, July 15)

D.C. Council passes strong protections against wage theft

D.C. workers won a major victory the week of June 24 when the D.C. Council passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act as part of this year’s budget. The act includes unprecedented protections against wage theft, including damages up to triple the unpaid wages when businesses steal from employees.

Employment Justice Center Deputy Director Ari Weisbard told Union City, “Without sufficient damages for wage theft violations, there is nothing to deter unscrupulous employers from stealing their workers’ wages.” This win was hard-fought by the DC Wage Theft Coalition, which includes workers, unions and nonprofit organizations like the EJC, DC Jobs with Justice and the Restaurant Opportunities Center-DC. (July 1)