March, 2007

Responding to AFL-CIO, UFCW Lawsuit, Bush Administration Agrees to Issue Safety Equipment Rule for Employees

In response to a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the Bush Administration has agreed to issue a final rule on employer payment for personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees.  In 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) first proposed a PPE rule that would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by an estimated 20 million workers to protect them from job hazards.

“We applaud the decision to finally issue a final rule on employer payment for their employees’ protective equipment” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.  “This rulemaking has taken far too long.  We will be monitoring the Department of Labor’s actions to make sure they honor this commitment and issue a strong, protective rule.”

On January 3, 2007, the AFL-CIO and UFCW filed a lawsuit against the Bush Administration over its failure to finalize the payment for PPE rule.  The court ordered the Bush Administration to respond to the lawsuit by March 19.  On March 14, the Secretary of Labor filed papers with the court committing to issue a final rule in November 2007.

“This is a victory for workers who have suffered needlessly while awaiting action by the Bush Administration,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.  “According to OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died while the rule has been in limbo.  We expect a strong final rule this November.”

Workers in the meatpacking, poultry and construction industries, and low-wage and immigrant workers are most vulnerable to injury.

The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by OSHA after a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that OSHA’s existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment.   The rule proposed in 1999 did not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codified OSHA’s policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it.

In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000.  But it missed that deadline and has missed every self-imposed deadline since.  The agency has failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and numerous requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.

WAL-MART GIVES UP ON FIGHT FOR BANK

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is pleased that Wal-Mart has withdrawn its application for an ILC and hopes that federal and state lawmakers will now pass legislation that will prevent retailers like Wal-Mart from entering the banking business and jeopardizing the nation’s economy.

Last month, the FDIC extended the moratorium on ILCs, giving Congress another year to consider whether to prohibit companies from acquiring their own banks. There is broad-based opposition to Wal-Mart’s plans, and an unprecedented number of people have registered comments with the FDIC. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported on new evidence that suggested Wal-Mart’s ambitions in banking may extend beyond what the company publicly admits.

“”This is a big victory for consumers, communities, and working people,”" said UFCW International Vice President and Director of the UFCW Legislative and Political Action Department, Michael J. Wilson. “”It’s not everyday that Wal-Mart says ‘Uncle.’ I think that they saw the controversy growing and felt tide turning against them and made the right decision to withdraw their application. But we can’t let up the pressure. We still need Congress to close the loophole by enacting H.R. 698, the Gillmor-Frank legislation. When it comes to Wal-Mart, only the law can really protect us.”"

“”Local community banks and other financial institutions are critical to economic vitality and diversity. In recent years, Wal-Mart has destroyed local businesses and dismantled local economies. If Wal-Mart’s bid for a bank had been successful, the company’s economic control in these communities would have been almost complete.”"

The UFCW is part of the Sound Banking Coalition which has fought Wal-Mart’s industrial loan company (ILC) application because of its interference with the historical and necessary separation between banking and commerce. A Wal-Mart-owned bank would have put a dangerous concentration of capital in the hands of one single company.

The Sound Banking Coalition is made up of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), the National Grocers Association (N.G.A), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), and the UFCW.

STOP & SHOP WORKERS STAND STRONG TO SECURE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL

NEW ENGLAND—Yesterday, Stop & Shop workers represented by five United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Unions achieved a solid victory when they ratified a three-year contract agreement securing affordable, quality health care with access for all Stop & Shop workers.

With the support of community members and other employees of Dutch-owned Stop & Shop parent company Ahold, workers held firm in their resolve to improve health care accessibility, quality, and cost for part-timers as well as full-timers.  They achieved their aims, with a contract that cuts new hires’ waiting period for health care in half and requires no monthly contribution towards health care from part-timers, who make up 80 percent of the Stop & Shop workforce in New England. Full-timers will make a modest, affordable monthly contribution towards health care premiums. Workers were also able to secure good wage increases and retirement security for all Stop & Shop employees.

Coordinated action with supporters and customers was key to the workers’ success. Community members and grocery workers sent emails of support, called store managers and Stop & Shop CEO Jose Alvarez, wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, and signed petitions promising not to shop at Stop & Shop if workers were forced to strike.

UFCW members working for Ahold companies in other areas on the East Coast posted flyers in their stores, held rallies and leafleted customers. Presidents of UFCW Local Unions representing Ahold workers attended a bargaining session with Stop & Shop to show solidarity with New England workers.

The coordinated effort in New England is part of a nationwide bargaining unity program among UFCW grocery workers. Over 400,000 UFCW grocery workers across the country and in Canada are negotiating new contracts throughout 2007.  By supporting each other regionally and nationally, as well as engaging customers and community members in their struggle, grocery workers can improve grocery industry jobs for themselves and their communities.