Sunday, 30 March 2014

Belgian solidarity for Dutch striking airport workers

Belgian transportation unions affiliated to ACV and ABVV have offered their solidarity and support to workers of Aviapartner Cargo at Schiphol Airport who are on strike. On Thursday, a delegation of Aviapartner Belgium workers joined an action in Brussels of their Dutch co-workers. They came to meet with ceo Laurent Levaux, but he hid behind local management.

On 18 March, the cargo handlers went on strike. They have had no wage increase for years and they even temporarily relinquished their reduced working hours to help the company survivie the crisis. With air cargo picking up – in February, Schiphol reported 8.7% growth relative to the previous year – they want to return to a normal contract.

Aviapartner is owned by ceo Levaux and the UK venture capitalist 3i, which recently reported a 175m GBP return. Levaux and 3i have built a reputation by restructuring companies and then selling them at a considerable profit.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Germany: 1m workers participated in strikes in 2013

Last year, about a million German workers went on strike, the WSI-Arbeitskampfbilanz 2013 reports. On average, there have been 16 strike days per year per thousand workers; that is more than in the Netherlands (9) but far less than in countries like France, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Belgium.
Over the past ten years, there has been a shift from manufacturing to the services sector. Researcher Heiner Dribbusch sees a correlation between strikes and fragmentation of contract negotiations. In addition, he points to growing discontent in low-wage sectors. In North Rhine-Westphalia, workers have succeeded in raising low wages in the security sector, thanks to the actions of airport security workers.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Victory for tomato pickers: Walmart signs contract

Walmart has signed the Fair Food Programme of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), In these times reports. The coalition has been campaigning for years to get large buyers of tomatoes, such as fast food chains and supermarkets, to take reponsibility for decent labour conditions in the tomato fields.
The CIW has asked Dutch supermarket giant Ahold to sign on to the programme as well, but says it got a ‘public relations doublespeak response’.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Politicians ‘kind of freaking out’: US Volkswagen employees may get works council

In a vote that ends this Friday, workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga (Tennessee) get to decide if they want to be represented by trade union UAW. If they vote in favour of union representation, they will get a German-style works council, a phenomenon almost unknown in the US. VW has vowed not to interfere in the election, as US employers routinely do. As a VW spokesperson explained to the NYT:
Our works councils are key to our success and productivity. It is a business model that helped to make Volkswagen the second-largest car company in the world. Our plant in Chattanooga has the opportunity to create a uniquely American works council, in which the company would be able to work cooperatively with our employees and ultimately their union representatives, if the employees decide they wish to be represented by a union.
Even as the employer says its workers may decide for themselves whether they want to be represented by a union, anti-union groups argue this isn’t a matter that can be left to the workers and the employer, and they are doing everything they can to oppose a pro-union vote. According to Yahoo Finance, Republican politicians are ‘kind of freaking out’ over the idea that workers may join UAW. They have made veiled threats that they will cut future subsidies to Volkswagen if its workers vote pro union.

A Volkswagen spokesperson commented:
It’s sad that when workers exercise their legal right to form a union, some Tennessee politicians are threatening the economic well-being of communities and businesses just because workers want to have a voice in the future of Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
The outcome of the vote will likely be announced this weekend.

Update – UAW is working with German trade union IG Metall to ensure that workers at the Mercedes plant in Alabama also get representation.
Update2 - A majority has voted against joining the UAW. The union is looking into legal options, presumably regarding improper interference in the election. Meanwhile, VW still wants a works council.

Friday, 31 January 2014

NY: higher wages for outsourced airport workers

Airlines using airports controlled by the Port Authority of NY and NJ can no longer hide between the fact that they have contracted out cleaning, security, handling and other services. The Port Authority announced in a letter that it expects them to make a plan with SEIU 32BJ that must lead to higher wages, better health benefits and a paid holiday on Martin Luther King Day. Patrick Foye of the Port Authority explains:
Our airports are major employers and economic engines for the entire region. I strongly believe that improved wages and benefits will reduce turnover and job training costs while significantly improving customer service, making this a win-win for the airlines, millions of their passengers, the Port Authority and the thousands of hard-working employees at our airports.
To prevent any misunderstandings as to the nature of his request, he adds: “The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal to achieve these goals”.

The intervention of the Port Authority is no isolated event. Recently, President Obama announced that companies contracted by the government will also have to pay higher wages. In the Netherlands, the government decided to stop contracting out cleaning and security services and give workers a contract with the government, so as to guarantee decent labour conditions.

Workers at New York’s airports have been campaigning along with their union SEIU 32BJ for better labour conditions for some time. Recently, 32 people, including local politicians, were arrested at an action at La Guardia. The intervention of the Port Authority constitutes an important victory.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The spread of the fast food strikes in the USA (updated)

On 29 November last year, 200 workers in fast food restaurants in New York went on strike to demand decent wages. What seemed exceptional at the time, has only grown since, culminating in a national day of fast food strikes in over 100 cities last week. Their demands are justified, the NYT noted: “we’re talking about big, profitable companies, which are big and profitable in part because they rely on underpaid labour”. You can support these workers by telling fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King that low pay is not ok. (Technical details here; map may not display in older versions of Internet Explorer.)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Incheon Airport should respect subcontracted workers’ rights

Incheon Airport, one of the largest airports of Asia, was recently granted the ‘Airport of the Year Award’ by the CAPA Center for Aviation. This achievement stands in stark contrast with the treatment of workers, trade union KPTU warns:

The Incheon International Airport Corporation boasts about these awards in the media and on signs posted throughout the airport. This glittering image, however, only thinly masks a dark reality: Some 6,000 subcontracted workers work long, backbreaking hours to keep the airport sparkling clean and running smoothly. Their low wages translate into the the profits the Airport Corporation records.

It took a strike of airport workers in November to get the airport to acknowledge its responsibility for decent working conditions for subcontracted workers. However, it has failed to come up with any proposals since. The workers indicate this leaves them no choice but to go on strike again and assert that December 2013 will be remembered as ‘the moment at which we claimed our dignity’.

Full story here