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September 24, 2009

US Chemical Safety Board Again Fails to Stand for Better Safety Rules for America’s Workers

Savannah, GA—Several international unions representing hundreds of thousands of chemical and food industry workers today again criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for not recommending strong standards to prevent deadly explosions in factories handling combustible dusts, despite the board’s prior endorsement of such a step.

The unions reacted to the CSB’s new report on the deadly sugar dust explosion on Feb. 7, 2008, at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The explosion killed fourteen people, injured scores of others and severely damaged the plant.

“The Imperial Sugar tragedy is compelling evidence of the need for stricter OSHA regulation on combustible dust,” said Steve Sallman, Health and Safety Specialist from the United Steelworkers (USW). “Without a regulation, upper management will typically not commit the resources needed to achieve compliance, or, more importantly, to protect their employees.”

“As recently as 2006, the CSB recommended to the Congress that OSHA adopt a comprehensive new standard on combustible dust, but today they let that ball drop,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Coordinator, Change to Win.

“”The CSB’s leadership is a remnant of the Bush administration’s dangerous legacy for America’s workers,”” said Jackie Nowell, Occupational Safety and Health Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “If the Board continues to ignore its obligation to oversee the scope of our safety regulations, it will require new leadership to assure that its mission is accomplished.”

In a November 2006 report, the CSB pointed out serious deficiencies in OSHA’s various standards on combustible dust hazards. That report identified hundreds of combustible dust incidents over the last 25 years, causing nearly 120 deaths and hundreds more injuries.

On Feb. 19, 2008, immediately following the Imperial Sugar explosion, the UFCW and  International Brotherhood of Teamsters petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for combustible dust in general industry noting that “workers who are employed in facilities where uncontrolled combustible dust emissions are present face ‘grave danger’ of experiencing fatalities or serious injuries as a result of dust explosions and resultant fires.”  To this date, no standard has been set to protect America’s workers.

September 17, 2009

STATEMENT FROM THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION ON SENATOR BAUCUS

Washington, D.C. – “Rather than advancing the goals of making health care more affordable for working Americans and controlling the spiraling costs of insurance, the bill by Senator Max Baucus aggravates an already dire situation.

This bill encourages large employers to duck responsibility for providing health care to their workers, potentially passes on thousands of dollars in premiums onto hardworking middle class families, and raises taxes on the few who may still have benefits. With no public option to keep insurance companies honest, these premiums will suck up an ever-increasing share of a worker’s salary, while reducing benefits in their plan.”

UFCW International President Joe Hansen said, “There is another more productive, more prudent path. Thanks to the hard work of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the U.S. House of Representatives – we know that we can do better. We can have a solution to this health care crisis based on shared responsibility, lower costs for working Americans, and better, more efficient, health care for all.”

September 17, 2009

STATEMENT BY JOE HANSEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERICAL WORKERS UNION, ON ON UNITE HERE AFL-CIO AFFILIATION

“”The UFCW respects the decision by UNITE HERE to return to the AFL-CIO.  The disputes involving UNITE HERE and SEIU have been difficult for all concerned. It is my hope that this decision could establish the kind of distance and calm to bring an end to a dispute that has served as a distraction for too long. I believe a resolution is within grasp of the parties, and I’m hopeful that an expeditious and fair settlement can be reached.

“We will continue to work closely with UNITE HERE and all unions in our efforts to advance the cause of working people.”

September 10, 2009

Statement of UFCW on President Obama

For Immediate Release

(WASHINGTON, DC) – “Last night, President Obama called our national attention to a very simple reality: far too many working Americans don’t have access to quality health care, and many of those who do can’t afford it.

“President Obama and the working families of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union know that we cannot wait any longer. Political intrigue and partisan bickering can no longer excuse inaction in the face of a nation crying out for reform. The urgent challenge of rebuilding America’s middle class is daunting under any circumstances and insurmountable without restoring choice and shared responsibility to our health care system.

“The need for decisive action has never been more urgent. President Obama’s commitment to a public option will ensure that all Americans have the basic coverage they need to care for their families. Affecting real change is never easy, but the stakes are too high for us to settle for anything less.”

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UFCW News Service
www.ufcw.org

September 10, 2009

UFCW Members Join Push on Capital Hill for Labor Law Reform

(Washington, DC) – Building on growing momentum, thousands of progressive activists from around the country came to Washington, D.C., this morning to tell their elected leaders that workers need and deserve meaningful labor law reform. Joining them will be several hundred UFCW members who support the Employee Free Choice Act. The diverse group will unite in one voice to remind lawmakers why the legislation is vital to rebuilding our economy.

The massive delegation headed to Washington represents organizations and individuals who view the Employee Free Choice Act as fundamental to the future of America’s middle class. Whether they are small business owners, veterans, farmers, students, faith leaders, civil rights activists, women’s advocates, or environmentalists, people from around the state are joining others from across the country to send a powerful message that updating our obsolete labor laws is a fundamental cause for everyone.

Once in Washington, activists will meet with congressional members and other leaders on Sept. 10 to discuss the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act this year, as it is a critical vehicle on the path to long-term and sustainable economic recovery. The legislation will give workers a fair path to form a union, toughen penalties against employers who violate the law, and prevent companies from delaying and stalling negotiations to deny workers a contract.

September 8, 2009

Picnic a tribute to hard workers

Austin News
By Jim Troyer

It was a typical union picnic in the park with sack races, an egg toss and a pinata. There were hamburgers and tacos for lunch.

The first United Food and Commercial Workers Labor Day picnic since the Hormel Foods Corp. strike of 1985-86 included a sign outside Veterans Pavilion at Community Bandshell Park signaling a change from picnics past: “Fiesta de Dia del Trabajo, Local 9,” it read — “Labor Day Picnic.”

“Our purpose today is to celebrate labor and to remember some of those people who gave their lives so that people could work an eight-hour day,” said Richard Morgan, president of Local 9.

The UFCW has 2,800 members in Austin, representing Hormel, Quality Pork Processors, Minnesota Freezer Warehouse, Accentra Credit Union, International Paper, some of Austin Utilities and some of the Mower County Courthouse.

“They are hard-working folks,” Morgan said, surveying the crowd. “They deserve a chance to kick back and enjoy life.”

It appeared that people were doing just that, enjoying Monday’s perfect weather and the spread catered by Hy-Vee.

Working conditions

Chris Heyer, who works in the ham-boning section at Hormel, and Dan Barnes, a quality grader at QPP, agreed that the people at work are just as comfortable with each other as they are at the picnic.

“It really does work well there,” said Barnes, “though the language barrier can be a problem.” But both companies encourage employees to attend free English as a Second Language classes. “And just a few phrases in English can help them to get by,” Barnes said.

Dianne Yauger and her son, Brandon Weis, a Hormel worker, stood watching the games in the park.

“It’s a good turnout,” she said of the event. “It’s wonderful that they did this.”

Morgan said the union family has reason to get along. “Over the last four years, we have seen the best contracts we’ve had in the past 20 years, wages, benefits — the overall package.”

“QPP has seen its best contract since they started business.”

The Local 9 president attributed that to “hard work and people standing together.”

Learning more

Inside the pavilion, volunteers offered participants information about the 2010 census, which encourages everyone, citizens and non-citizens, to be counted. The Rev. Dave DeFor, of the Austin Church of Christ, noted that Austin has an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Hispanics who need to be counted. The data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for such things as neighborhood improvements, public health, education and transportation.

DeFor was at the event to promote the World War II Honors Flight Program, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial. He said that another trip is set for Oct. 10 and three more are scheduled for next year, which will complete the roster of WWII vets in Mower County.

“I was excited that the union jumped into this,” he said.

Local 9 has sponsored a veteran and is providing other support for the program.

September 8, 2009

AmeriCold Workers Win Solid Wage and Benefit Increases in First Union Contract

(CRETE, Neb.) – Workers at the Americold plant in Crete, Nebraska, obtained their first-ever union contract. This five-year contract negotiated by union members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 271 provides solid wage and benefit increases.

“This contract gives us wages that protect full-time, families supporting jobs in our community,” said Gene Muff, an Americold worker and a member of UFCW Local 271. “When all workers in the heartland stand together for a voice on the job, we can raise everyone’s wages, benefits and working conditions.”

With this contract, 150 workers at Americold will join the more than 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries nationwide who have a union contract with the UFCW.

The new Americold contract includes:

– Average wage increases of $1.44/hr for the first year and an additional 30 cents per hour for the next four years;
– A formal system to resolve workplace issues;
– Time and a half pay for holiday work;
– Night shift premium wages;
– Affordable family health coverage;
– Job advancement opportunities based on seniority;
– Funeral leave and paid vacation benefits.

The Americold contract is the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW packing and food processing members across the country.

For more information, contact Gonzalo Salvador at (202) 466-1591 or press@ufcw.org

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September 1, 2009

UFCW, Partners Announce New Agenda Challenging Walmart to Change Practices for the Sake of the American Economy

Washington, DC – UFCW International Vice President and Director Pat O’Neill today announced a new national comprehensive American values-driven agenda to hold Walmart accountable to its workers, our communities and the planet.  He was joined by Nelson Lichtenstein, author of The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Created a Brave New World of Business, and Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice on a call to launch a broad coalition of labor, environmental and community groups who are calling on Walmart to join them in supporting the core American values of worker rights, quality jobs, equal opportunity, corporate responsibility and a healthy environment.

“Labor Day is an important time to reflect on the state of the American workplace and worker.  As the world’s largest retailer, and America’s number one private employer, Walmart has the largest, most profound impact on jobs and on our economy,” O’Neill said.  “Nobody wants an economy where workers earn wages that can’t support a family. Nobody wants an economy where people who go to work everyday and work hard have to turn to public assistance for basic needs.

“The Department of Labor last week released a report showing that the retail sector will see tremendous growth in the coming years, and it is up to all of us to determine what kinds of jobs those will be.  We are trying to engage Walmart, not isolate it.  With 1.4 million Americans working in its stores, Walmart bears a unique responsibility to its workers and our communities, and we’re asking them to embrace this challenge.”

On the conference call, O’Neill issued direct challenges to Walmart in five key areas:  worker rights, quality jobs, equal opportunity, corporate responsibility and a healthy environment.  He then laid out next steps for how the coalition, led by the UFCW, will hold Walmart accountable for those challenges, and to the ideals it puts forth in its advertising.

The full American Values Agenda for Change at Walmart can be viewed at http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/feature/commonsense/.

Additionally, Lichtenstein asserted Walmart’s vast impact on the American economy.

“When a company gets to be as big as Wal-Mart and employs so many workers – more than any other private enterprise in the world – it is no longer a ‘private’ entity,” Lichtenstein said. “It sets the wage and benefit standard for every other mass retailer and influences the business practices of just about every firm in America’s huge service sector. So Wal-Mart is part of this country’s debate: on health care, wages, equal employment, and the role of trade unionism in our democracy.”

Coalition members include:  AFL-CIO, Change to Win, Sierra Club, Campaign for America’s Future, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Consumers League, AFSCME, American Rights at Work, Communications Workers of America, Interfaith Worker Justice, LIUNA, National Labor Coordinating Committee, Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Auto Workers, United Farmer Workers and United Steel Workers.

As a part of the launch of this important new campaign, WakeUpWalmart.com will be releasing two new television advertisements called “Common Sense Economics Rules”  calling on Walmart to offer quality, affordable health care coverage to all its employees. Both ads highlight Walmart’s failure to cover 700,000 of its employees, nearly half of its workforce. They end with the message “Walmart can afford to be a better employer; Now would be a good time to start.”

The ads can be viewed at:  http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/video/commonsense/.