On the picket line

Philly airport workers walk out

As many as 125 service workers at the Philadelphia airport walked off the job on Nov. 20 to protest poverty wages, unsafe working conditions and retaliation from management for union organizing. They were supported by Service Employees Local 32BJ, community members and Philadelphia City Council members. Last May, voters passed a city referendum to raise the minimum wage of contracted airport workers to $10.88 an hour. Despite that, baggage handlers employed by the private contract firm PrimeFlight are still paid as little as the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

At a rally, workers and supporters demanded that PrimeFlight end poverty wages and obey the new minimum wage law. Former PrimeFlight baggage handler Misha Williams, who was fired soon after leading a delegation to present workers’ grievances to City Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson, spoke about the need for good jobs with livable wages for all workers. Undeterred by PrimeFlight’s illegal retaliation against Williams, workers are continuing efforts to join SEIU 32BJ. PrimeFlight worker Serena Santos told supporters, “It’s been a long road, but don’t be scared. We’re in this as a family.”

NYC area airport workers fight for wage increase

Although a recent New York and New Jersey Port Authority policy raised the minimum wage for thousands of airport workers to $10.10 an hour, many jobs remain exempt from that policy. More than half the 7,000 airline catering and concessions workers at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports still make less than $10 an hour. About 100 UNITE HERE Local 100 workers and supporters rallied outside JFK on Nov. 18 to demand that the Port Authority extend the increased minimum wage to cover all airport workers. (unitehere.org, Nov. 19)

Former CEO indicted for coal mine disaster

More than four years after the April 5, 2010, mine explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, the retired CEO of Massey Energy Co., Donald L. Blankenship, was indicted on four criminal counts on Nov. 13. The charges hold him “personally responsible” for violations of safety rules that allowed coal dust and methane to ignite in the worst mining disaster in the U.S. in 40 years. According to a 2011 report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, there were 369 violations in the 28 months leading up to the explosion. Laws about ventilation and watering equipment to avoid sparks were ignored, staffing to improve safety was slashed, and when safety inspectors arrived to conduct surprise visits, supervisors were instructed through code words “to quickly cover up violations.” Blankenship is accused of ignoring safety laws “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws and make more money.” (New York Times, Nov. 14)

Although bringing a lawbreaking capitalist to justice is a rare event, Blankenship’s criminal behavior is so egregious that he’s been indicted. Even so, he hasn’t been charged with 29 counts of first degree murder for the 29 miners who died. Should he be sentenced to 31 years on the present four counts, that doesn’t begin to account for the willful killings he “personally” is responsible for by putting profits before human lives.

Union joins call to end ‘Muzzle Mumia’ law

The National Writers Union, United Auto Workers Local 1981, has signed the “Call for Action,” sponsored by bringmumiahome.com, prisonradio.com and freemumia.com, demanding that the “Muzzle Mumia” law (the so-called Revictimization Relief Act signed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Oct. 21) be overturned. The resolution authorizing the NWU to sign the call was passed unanimously at a meeting of the union’s National Executive Board on Nov. 16. It noted that “the National Writers Union believes in the right of all people and members of all communities, especially those that are oppressed, including prisoners, to practice journalism and to write and express themselves in their own words, in addition to having their stories told by outsiders.” Mumia Abu-Jamal became an honorary member of the NWU in 1995, and the union has consistently supported all efforts to free the imprisoned African-American journalist and author.

Nurses ask OSHA to adopt strict Ebola standards

National Nurses United on Nov. 18 called on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and all states to join California in adopting strict mandatory safeguards established there on Nov. 14 to protect nurses, other health workers and the public from the threat of the deadly Ebola virus. At a press conference in front of the Department of Labor, NNU said it will press for federal legislation that enacts guidelines that all hospitals must follow for Ebola and other epidemics modeled on the California standards. (dclabor.org, Nov. 19)