Wage Strife Clouds Car-Sales Boom – By ANNE STEELE and JEFF BENNETT Oct. 1, 2015 7:42 p.m. ET

Auto workers’ anger over earnings grows as auto demand hits a 10-year milestone

Surging sales at Fiat Chrysler and other U.S. auto makers have union workers fuming that the industry’s good fortunes aren’t reflected in industry wage talks.ENLARGE

Surging sales at Fiat Chrysler and other U.S. auto makers have union workers fuming that the industry’s good fortunes aren’t reflected in industry wage talks.Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

`Automobiles flew off dealer lots last month at the fastest pace in 10 years, but the good times are stirring tension between U.S. auto makers and their unionized workers that threatens to undercut the industry’s rebound.

United Auto Workers union members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV this week rejected for the first time in three decades a tentative agreement as inadequate, and Ford Motor Co. faces a walkout at a big truck factory as soon as Sunday.

As buyers flood dealer lots, snapping up pricey pickups and sport-utility vehicles that deliver fat profits to General Motors Co. , Ford and Fiat Chrysler, factory workers are demanding an end to the concessions that put the U.S. industry back on its feet after near collapse seven years ago.

“We got a catered meal of hot dogs and hamburgers as our thanks while others, I’m sure, got big bonuses,” said Phil Reiter, a 44-year-old union member referring to a recent production milestone at Fiat Chrysler’s Toledo, Ohio, Jeep factory. That plant on Tuesday rejected a UAW supported contract by a more than 4-to-1 ratio.

The workers are angry that neither union officials nor Fiat Chrysler want to eliminate a concession put in place just ahead of the 2008 recession that pays some assembly-line staff substantially less than co-workers doing the same work. The same two-tier system exists to a lesser extent at GM and Ford.

Surging sales aren’t helping the relationship. U.S. car and light-truck sales rose nearly 16% last month compared with the same period a year ago, an annualized pace of 18.17 million vehicles. It was only the ninth time in history the monthly pace eclipsed 18 million, and the first time since 2005.

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The taxi wars: Cabbies fight for business, and some switch to Uber – by E. Tammy Kim September 16, 2015 5:00AM ET

Houston cabbies say the UberX model, with drivers who dabble, is an insult to the profession

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a four-part series, reported and published with the Houston Chronicle, which examines the impact of Uber, the app-based ride-hailing service, on America’s fourth-largest city. Read parts oneand two.

HOUSTON — At Bush Intercontinental Airport, Salvador Oshiro used to wait an average of three hours between customers wanting a ride into town. The longtime taxi driver passed the time chatting, lifting weights, watching TV and queuing for two fetid toilets in the enormous concrete shells of the taxi staging area, once a repair hangar for airport vehicles. The intervals were longest in the summer, when many businesspeople took vacation and the pitiless sun made taffy of the day. But this year, with Uber at full steam, his wait at Bush International was worse than ever: four or five hours to pick up a fare.

Oshiro (not his real name) has been a cab driver at Bush since 2009, when he came to Houston after two decades doing this work in Los Angeles. He owns his taxi but leases the permit giving him the right to drive. Until early this year, he drove about 66 hours a week and earned $30,000 a year after taxes and expenses. It was enough to cover groceries, a mortgage in the northern suburb of Kingwood and Sundays with his wife and two kids.

In January, he started coming up short on his 11-hour shifts. The calculator in his head, constantly subtracting for gas and lease and insurance, spit out smaller and smaller numbers. His income dropped 30 percent. He stretched his driving day to 15 hours and worked the hell out of downtown and the airport. Everywhere, it seemed, late-model cars stamped with a large “U,” lit up by a dashboard iPhone, were snatching fares.

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Walker sinks despite anti-union message – By BRIAN MAHONEY 09/14/15, 07:58 PM EDT

Scott Walker became famous for breaking the unions in Wisconsin. But for GOP voters, the issue no longer resonates as it once did.


Scott Walker is doubling down on his anti-union message. But GOP voters don’t seem to be listening.

Walker traveled to union-friendly Las Vegas Monday to inveigh against “big-government union bosses.” He pledged elimination of the National Labor Relations Board. He promised a national “right to work” law freeing workers from mandatory payments to unions that bargain collectively on their behalf. And he said he’d block President Barack Obama’s proposal to expand overtime eligibility to 5 million new workers

“Collective bargaining is not a right,” Walker said. “It is an expensive entitlement.” He pledged “to wreak havoc on Washington.”

For Walker it may be a last stand as his support tumbles from double digits as recently as July to a dismal 2 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday. Walker’s presidential campaign is premised in a large part on the idea that GOP primary voters will flock to a candidate willing to confront and diminish the power of organized labor. Walker aides say his anti-union platform is designed to portray the Wisconsin governor as a politician who can easily translate his statewide successes to the federal government. “He has this record of results,” a senior Walker aide said. “We’re taking that record of results and building on them and showing the American people what it could look like at the national level.”

But one of 2016’s biggest surprises is that the anti-union message isn’t selling, either for Walker or for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP candidate who’s built much of his campaign around his willingness to face down union bosses. Unions don’t seem to loom especially large as a problem to rank-and-file Republican voters. Trump’s economic populism may also be undermining the anti-union message. And with the economy finally recovered from the Great Recession, public rancor against organized labor has diminished.


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I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned. – By MICHAEL WESSEL May 19, 2015

Lead image by Getty.

“You need to tell me what’s wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” a frustrated President Barack Obama recently complained about criticisms of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s right. The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design—anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.

I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what’s hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.

What I can tell you is that the administration is being unfair to those who are raising proper questions about the harms the TPP would do. To the administration, everyone who questions their approach is branded as a protectionist—or worse—dishonest. They broadly criticize organized labor, despite the fact that unions have been the primary force in America pushing for strong rules to promote opportunity and jobs. And they dismiss individuals like me who believe that, first and foremost, a trade agreement should promote the interests of domestic producers and their employees.

I’ve been deeply involved in trade policy for almost four decades. For 21 years, I worked for former Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and handled all trade policy issues including “fast track,” the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round, which is the largest trade agreement in history. I am also a consultant to various domestic producers and the United Steelworkers union, for whom I serve as a cleared advisor on two trade advisory committees. To top it off, I was a publicly acknowledged advisor to the Obama campaign in 2008.

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Unions make strides among Silicon Valley workforce – by Ned Resnikoff May 12, 2015 5:00AM ET

In “The other Silicon Valley,” Al Jazeera takes a look at how California’s tech boom affects the working class. This is part four of a seven-part series.



SAN FRANCISCO — The labor movement is carving a path straight through the heart of Silicon Valley. In early March, unions won two key victories in the area within days of one another. First, Apple bowed to pressure from the labor union SEIU-USWW and agreed to directly employ the security guards on its Cupertino, California campus, instead of hiring the work out through a subcontractor. Then, Facebook shuttle drivers gained final approval for their union contract with Loop Transportation, the shuttle company that carries employees to and from Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.

The Loop drivers are now members of Teamsters Local 853 — which just the previous month had also successfully organized drivers for Apple, Yahoo, eBay, and Evernote, among others. Sean Hinman, one of the recently unionized Facebook shuttle drivers, said he was glad to join the Teamsters, in part because the cost of living in the Silicon Valley area is so steep.

“If you’re asking me to work here, I’m asking for at least the bare minimum to give me something to survive on,” Hinman told Al Jazeera. “The bare minimum for a studio [apartment] here is $1,600″ per month.

As in nearby San Francisco, housing costs are soaring in Silicon Valley, driven largely by the ongoing deluge of tech sector capital. Average wages are on the rise as well according to a recent study from Joint Venture Silicon Valley, but the income gap remains vast: Joint Venture found that jobs it classified as “high-skill, high wage” earned a median annual income of $118,651, compared to $26,847 for “low-skill, low-wage” jobs and $54,892 for jobs classified as “middle-skill, middle-wage.”

That disparity is both a challenge and an opportunity for the labor unions of California’s Bay Area. Silicon Valley’s largest companies have the available wealth to better compensate their low- and middle-wage workers. If regional labor unions compel the companies to do so, the unions may be able to significantly expand their membership — and power — in the process. That’s why unions have spent recent years pouring resources into local organizing efforts. Those efforts, along with a crucial assist from San Francisco’s city council equivalent, the Board of Supervisors, are now beginning to pay dividends for the shuttle driver and security guard campaigns.

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The Worst Internship Ever: Japan’s Labor Pains – Vice News Published on Apr 30, 2015

Japan is facing a serious labor shortage, a problem that can be traced back to an aging population and a prevailing fear that immigrants will dilute the country’s pure gene pool. In order to keep the world’s third-largest economy afloat, the Japanese government offers an internship program that attracts foreign workers from China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The program, which allows workers to stay for three years, is advertised as providing laborers with transferrable new skills for when they return home.

VICE News recently traveled to Japan to investigate the internship program. We found that many interns are underpaid, saddled with insurmountable debt, and forced into a form of indentured servitude. Many are illegally placed as oyster shuckers, construction workers, and other unskilled positions. And, despite international condemnation, Japan plans to use thousands of new foreign interns to build the infrastructure for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Notorious Astroturf Pioneer Rick Berman Is Behind Business Group’s Anti-Labor-Board Campaign – —By Molly Redden | Wed Mar. 25, 2015 6:30 AM EDT

Washington’s “Dr. Evil” has been working with a group of CEOs to help companies avoid legal liability for their franchisees.

“I’ve worked hard and played by the rules to make my franchise business a success,” Ganahl said in an ad that ran on all three networks, as video showed her fawning over a golden retriever. “Now, unelected bureaucrats at the National Labor Relations Board want to change the rules. As Americans, we deserve better. Tell Washington, ‘No.'”

Bankrolled by a free-market advocacy group called the Job Creators Network, the ad painted a sympathetic picture of a business owner struggling against onerous regulations imposed by the NLRB, the agency that enforces labor law and has long been a conservative target. But lurking behind the anti-NLRB campaign is a notorious PR operative and astroturf pioneer who encourages his corporate clients to “win ugly or lose pretty” and who says he wakes up each morning trying “to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.”

The consultant, Rick Berman, is well known in political circles for funneling anonymous corporate money into vicious ad campaigns attacking various advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society of the United States, which he has accused of spending a minuscule amount of their donations on their stated missions. Berman, who heads the DC-based communications firm Berman and Company, typically launches his offensives through a network of front groups. He has used these organizations to fight regulations governing food safety, animal cruelty, workplace safety, secondhand smoke, and even tanning beds, and in the process keeps his corporate funders anonymous.

“We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors,” Berman bragged in an October speech that was secretly taped and shared with the New York Times. “There is total anonymity.” His brash M.O. has earned him a nickname—Dr. Evil—that Berman appears to relish.

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Do unions have the oomph to stop Obama’s trade agenda? – By Doug Palmer and Brian Mahoney 3/14/15 8:55 AM EDT

The AFL-CIO’s bold announcement that it would withhold contributions to congressional Democrats in advance of votes on fast-track trade protection authority thrilled labor supporters and annoyed many Democrats.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is pictured. | Getty

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an email to labor leaders obtained by POLITICO that the freeze includes events that have already been scheduled. | Getty

But it remains to be seen whether the move will impede the Obama administration’s trade agenda — or merely become the latest illustration of unions’ declining clout.

The AFL-CIO has tried such moves in the past — including during the 1993 fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement — only to be defeated and then resume funding Democrats again. Now, with a wide margin of pro-trade Republicans in the House and fervent lobbying from the White House and groups that support President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, labor is more marginalized on trade policy than it’s been in years, despite its growing influence with the president on other workplace issues.

“They certainly have gotten the attention of people who have relied on union support,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who acknowledged that her fellow Democrats often take labor’s loyalty for granted. “Sometimes Democrats feel the default position is always going to be to support Democrats when it comes to organized labor.”?

Labor groups vigorously oppose fast track, saying it would speed approval of trade deals that lower labor standards and create additional wage stagnation for the middle class. The AFL-CIO also says that past promises in trade deals to enforce labor standards weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, citing a recent Labor Department report documenting labor rights violations in Honduras and a 2014 Government Accountability Office report faulting the monitoring efforts of the U.S. Trade Representative and Labor Department.

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Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/does-labor-have-the-oomph-to-halt-fast-track-116071.html#ixzz3UN0DCWjd

Obesity experts call for stricter rules on junk food ads targeted at children – Sarah Boseley 18 February 2015 18.30 EST

Papers published in Lancet medical journal insist politicians must press WHO to bring in code to prevent children being encouraged to make poor dietary choices

 Children’s poor nutrition worldwide – including in the UK – leads to stunted growth as well as obesity. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Children’s poor nutrition worldwide – including in the UK – leads to stunted growth as well as obesity. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Tough new controls must be introduced worldwide to stop commercial companies marketing unhealthy foods and drinks which make children overweight and stunt their growth, say some of the world’s leading obesity experts.

No country has yet reversed its obesity epidemic, they point out in a major new series of six papers in the Lancet medical journal. The best that has been achieved is a flattening of childhood obesity rates in countries like the US and UK, but not among poorer families. The levels are still very high, which means that many thousands of overweight children will have health problems as adults. In England, a third of 10- to 11-year-olds and more than a fifth of four- to five-year-olds are overweight or obese.

Tim Lobstein and colleagues, in one of the papers, call for governments to press the World Health Organisation to take radical action so that children do not develop a taste for sweet drinks and unhealthy food. They say it should bring in a code of marketing, similar to that which prevents babymilk companies promoting their products to women in a way that deters them from breastfeeding.

“The food industry has a special interest in targeting children,” they write. “Not only can the companies influence children’s immediate dietary preferences, but they can also benefit from building taste preferences and brand loyalty early in life, which last into adulthood.”

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Huge Explosion Rips Through California Oil Refinery, Adding Fuel To Oil Worker Strike by Emily Atkin & Sacha Feinman Posted on February 18, 2015 at 4:07 pm

A large flareoff at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrence, California after an explosion on Wednesday. CREDIT: KTLV/SCREENSHOT

A large flareoff at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrence, California after an explosion on Wednesday.

huge explosion occurred at the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Torrance, California on Wednesday morning, shaking the homes of residents miles away and injuring at least three people.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported, and authorities are still looking into the cause of the explosion. Aerial photos of the refinery following the incident showed considerable damage. Large metal structures were ripped apart and nearby vehicles were destroyed. A good portion of the refinery was covered in grey ash.

Though fire from the explosion was quickly extinguished, Torrance residents are still being told to remain inside in part due to a resulting gasoline leak. “The most important thing is to shelter in place, stay indoors, no outdoor activity, turn the air conditioners off, keep the windows closed,” Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey told NBC.

The workers at the Torrance refinery are represented by United Steelworkers (USW), the same union leading unprecedented oil worker strikes nationwide. Those strikes, the largest of oil workers since 1980, are in part because of what the union sees as dangerous conditions, including leaks and explosions. The union asserts that these dangerous conditions are often caused by improper treatment of workers — unsafe staffing levels, bad training, absentee managment, and “flagrant contracting” number among the union’s complaints.

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