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On the picket line

Published May 12, 2011 7:50 PM

Protests in 10 cities support FLOC

The British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and consulates in nine U.S. cities were picketed by union activists, members of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and community supporters on April 27. They called on British American Tobacco, which owns 42 percent of U.S. tobacco giant Reynolds American, to use its influence to stop “widespread and egregious” human rights abuses suffered by nearly 100,000 tobacco field workers in the United States.

Meanwhile in London, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, met with BAT officials at their headquarters on April 27. “This is the first time any corporation with close ties to Reynolds American has agreed to meet with workers.” Reynolds has refused such FLOC requests for at least the last four years. On April 28 Velasquez presented to BAT’s annual shareholders meeting findings of a human rights study detailing such abuses as payment of less than the minimum wage to 25 percent of the workers, unhealthy working conditions which cause “green tobacco sickness” (excessive absorption of nicotine through the skin) and inhumane housing conditions. The report, prepared by Oxfam America and FLOC, was also presented to Reynolds’ annual shareholders meeting in Winston-Salem, N.C., on May 6. “Although Reynolds does not directly employ the farmworkers on its contract farms, it sets the terms with its contract growers and profits from the farmworkers’ labor.” (AFL-CIO blog, April 27 and May 5)

On May 5 Metro Labor Council President Jos Williams received a letter from British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald in response to one he delivered on April 27, which read, “BAT has stressed to us that it is committed to a dialogue ... with FLOC and relevant U.S. organized labor groups so that they can understand the issues first hand” and “they hope the dialogue will lead to an industry-wide forum to address these issues constructively.” Velasquez praised the Metro Labor Council for defending labor rights: “FLOC is indebted to them. Hasta la victoria. (Until victory)” (Union City, Metro D.C. AFL-CIO online newsletter, May 6)

Rite Aid warehouse workers join ILWU

May Day 2011 took on special significance for the 500 warehouse workers at Rite Aid’s distribution center in Lancaster, Calif. They celebrated the day by reaching a new three-year contract recognizing them as members of Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 26. The workers had spent five years battling the company’s vicious anti-union campaign, complete with high-priced, union-busting consultants and the firing of union supporters, and then succeeded in negotiating a contract that guarantees fair health insurance rates, job security, wage increases and a worker voice in production standards. (AFL-CIO blog, May 4)

D.C. nurses negotiate contract

Registered nurses at Washington Hospital Center reached a tentative agreement with the hospital on May 3. The nurses had held a one-day strike on March 7, which the hospital vindictively turned into a one-week lockout. Now the 1,700 members of National Nurses United get to vote on the contract recommended by the NNU negotiating team. The contract “strengthens our ability to effectively advocate for our patients and protects RN professional and economic standards,” said Lori Marlowe, a cardiac nurse who is a member of the bargaining team. This will be the RNs first contract as part of the NNU, which they joined last October. (Union City, May 5)

March for California hotel workers

On April 21, during a week of religious holidays, hundreds of religious leaders, hotel workers and community allies in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles and San Diego led processions carrying heavy mattresses through the streets in front of Hyatt hotels, to demand that Hyatt management treat their workers fairly. Studies show that Hyatt workers have the highest number of workplace injuries in the top five hotel chains in the U.S. Hotel workers in San Francisco, represented by UNITE HERE Local 2, have staged rolling strikes at various hotels, but most often at Hyatt, since August 2009 in their struggle for a decent contract. (union release, April 21)

UFCW donates to Alabama food banks

Responding to the devastating tornadoes that swept through Alabama in late April, the Food and Commercial Workers union delivered 228,000 servings of protein to the West Alabama Food Bank and the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama on May 6. The donation is part of “Feeding the Hungry,” a joint three-year program of UFCW and Smithfield to donate and deliver 20 million servings of protein to food banks around the country. “The partnership is designed to bring much needed assistance to the growing number of people facing hunger and food insecurity in our communities,” states a May 6 UFCW release.