Labor Notes #387, June 2011

Four years of pressure forced cigarette manufacturer Reynolds American to agree to meet with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to discuss working conditions in its supply chain. Union activists pointed to subminimum wages as well as illnesses and heat-stroke deaths among tobacco pickers.

Faced with a surge in guestworkers laboring in the fields, farmworker unions in the U.S. and Canada are crossing borders to organize them and to hold governments to account for programs that exploit workers.

California’s United Farm Workers finally got a bill past the state legislature providing for majority sign-up union recognition. But in Canada, the country's highest court rubberstamped a law denying collective bargaining to 80,000 farmworkers in the province.

Bo McCurry’s union tried everything. Cutting wages to $12 an hour. Higher health costs. Letting in an automated assembly line. None of it kept the light-fixture plant open in Sparta, Tennessee. It's off to Mexico.

With slick promotion reminiscent of Silicon Valley product rollouts, SEIU persuaded convention delegates three years ago that call centers were essential to “high quality member representation.” The results haven't lived up to the hype.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle can’t stop talking about government deficits and the national debt. Do these twin issues actually threaten our national well-being? There’s a two-part answer: No, not much. Yes, a little, but there's a fix.

The race to lead the Teamsters is on. The first woman candidate to run for president, longtime Teamsters for a Democratic Union leader Sandy Pope, announced in May that she had enough votes to get on November’s ballot.

Vermont activists celebrated Thursday as the governor signed the nation’s first bill authorizing health care for all residents as a human right—but said they'd need to redouble their efforts, to maintain forward momentum.

As the Arab Spring movements for democracy sweep the Middle East, union members in Bahrain are among those calling for reforms. They’ve held two general strikes, and the government has responded with a violent crackdown.

When the Labor Board told Boeing it couldn’t retaliate against workers who exercise their right to strike, Republican lawmakers and the Chamber of Commerce reacted as if Stalin himself had taken over the federal government.

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