On the picket line

Caterpillar plays hard ball with striking workers

The nearly 800 members of Machinists Local 851 in Joliet, Ill., have been on strike for more than three months at Caterpillar. With record $4.9 billion profits last year and $1.6 billion in the first quarter of this year, Caterpillar insists that it needs a six-year wage freeze, doubled costs for worker-paid health care, and cuts in key pension and seniority rights for “future competitiveness.” Noting that in the past Caterpillar “has been a leader in devising new ways to cut labor costs,” a front-page article in the July 23 New York Times called the strike “a test case in American labor relations,” with Caterpillar “trying to pioneer new territory, seeking steep concessions from its workers even when business is booming.” The article noted that Detroit automakers followed Caterpillar’s lead when they instituted a two-tier wage system and lengthy contracts in 2009.

The workers, who make the highly technical hydraulic parts and systems essential to the company’s earthmoving machinery, are well aware that they create the company’s profit at the rate of $39,000 from each worker. “We are the people who busted our butts to help them make record profits,” Rose Bain, a second-tier worker making $15 an hour, told the Times. “We shouldn’t be treated like this.” But the capitalist giant is as ruthless as 19th-century robber barons in its pursuit of profits. That’s why Local 851 strikers need the organized labor movement and all progressive people to link arms with them to stop this capitalist assault that could ultimately affect all working people in the U.S.

Low-wage women workers demand paid sick days

On July 18, about 300 women activists and men supporters took to the steps of New York’s City Hall to demand paid sick days for low-wage workers. Why women? Because they’re the ones who most often make the lowest wages and must care for sick children. Gloria Steinem wrote a letter to Speaker Christine Quinn, signed by 200 other women in politics, labor and public health, urging her to put the paid sick day bill to a vote. “I’ve seen women lose their jobs, lose their apartments, and spend two years getting their kids back from foster care — all starting with a sick child,” wrote Steinem. (New York Times, July 26) The proposed bill would require businesses with 20 or more workers to provide nine paid sick days a year, while businesses with five to 19 workers would provide five days. San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have similar laws, and Connecticut passed one last year. But Quinn, the only woman candidate for mayor in 2013, issued a statement putting business before the needs of women workers: “With the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time.” La lucha continúa.

FedEx pays $3M to settle hiring bias suit

Nearly 22,000 applicants for entry-level jobs at FedEx will split $3 million in the largest settlement since 2004, initiated by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program. FedEx was found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices based on gender, race and national origin at 23 of its 33 sites from 2004 through 2011. FedEx agreed to offer 1,703 of the workers jobs when positions open up and to correct discriminatory practices, implement equal employment opportunitytraining, and launch self-monitoring measures after a review by an outside consultant. Clearly FedEx must “revamp its hiring practices across the entire company,”OFCCP’s director told the Journal of Commerce.(March 23)

AFL-CIO calls for ‘Second Bill of Rights’

The AFL-CIO is kicking off its “Workers Stand for America Campaign” in Philadelphia on Aug. 10 when, at a gathering of thousands of workers, national labor leaders will sign the “Second Bill of Rights.” Inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposed 1944 economic bill of rights, it has five planks: the right to full employment and a living wage; the right to full participation in the electoral process; the right to a voice at work; the right to a quality education; and the right to a secure, healthy future. On Aug. 11, union activists and allies will rally in support of 45,000 Verizon workers who are fighting for a fair contract. (cwa-union, org, July 12)

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