Labor Roundup | April 2021

Amazon union drive helped by White House, NFL, Hollywood. The election to unionize a Bessemer, Ala., Amazon warehouse employing almost 6,000 workers is getting support from a variety of figures, from President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to National Football League players and actors Danny Glover and Tina Fey. “Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union,” Biden said about the voting, which ended March 30.

Biden inaction on Saudis’ Khashoggi assassination upsets News Guild. President Joe Biden’s decision to take no action against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi angers The News Guild. A Salman-sent hit squad in 2018 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, when the writer entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to get a visa for his fiancée. U.S. intelligence said Salman was responsible. Khashoggi had criticized Saudi Arabia’s monarchy and advocated more democracy there.

“The Washington-Baltimore News Guild is profoundly disappointed in President Joe Biden’s decision not to penalize the Saudi Arabian government for its role” said the local in a statement endorsed by News Guild international president Jon Schleuss.

Elsewhere, the Guild is winning organizing drives – but lost a Chicago takeover. The threat of hedge funds and other “vulture capitalists” ruining or closing local newspapers is prompting more newsrooms to organize with The News Guild, defending their communities and themselves. Recently, the staff at the Austin American-Statesman voted to join The Guild, following colleagues at the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and at the New York Daily News. The same day, The Guild announced 75% of staffers at 11 dailies and more weeklies in Southern California filed union recognition election cards, and staffers at four papers in Washington state said they seek card-check recognition, but would hold an election in March if they didn’t get it.

However, the notorious Alden Global Capital in February gobbled up Tribune Media, including the Chicago Tribune, where TNG won an historic election a year ago. Alden’s slash-burn-and-sell ownership has hurt newspapers and journalism.

“Tribune wants to furlough half of the Chicago Tribune’s features and sports departments, plus an unspecified number of photographers, for three months,” the Guild said. “It’s in addition to furloughs and pay cuts they want to implement for everyone else.”

Midwest-to-Mexico rerun: Mondelēz closing two unionized plants. Mimicking what it did a few years ago to 600 members of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union, the snack-food giant Mondelēz is closing two unionized plants, in Atlanta and Fairlawn, N.J., and moving the jobs to Salinas, Mexico, and the low-paid workers there.

“Closing bakeries and shifting production to low-wage countries like Mexico has been the Mondelēz strategy for decades,” said union President Anthony Shelton. “The decision by Mondelēz to close bakeries in North America and move production to a recently built $500 million facility in Salinas, Mexico, is an effort to avoid unionization and take advantage of low-wage workers and lax food safety and environmental regulations.”

That same Salinas plant took the former Oreo cookies line in Chicago.

House panel probing meatpackers’ refusal to protect workers. After the United Food and Commercial Workers union alerted the public to unsafe working conditions at Waterloo and Sioux Falls meatpacking plants where the pandemic was raging, the union campaigned to close the plants until they were cleaned and workers were protected. Corporations instead appealed to the White House, which supported ongoing operations. Likewise, bosses at a Tyson plant near Rock Island, Ill., rejected a county health department offer “to set up facility-wide testing through a local clinic.”

Now, a special House committee investigating the federal government’s response, or lack of it, to the pandemic is investigating big meatpackers’ refusal to protect workers against COVID-19.

“Given the hundreds of meatpacking worker deaths associated with meatpacking plants, there is ample evidence of the grave risk they have faced at their jobs during the pandemic,” said the panel in a letter to James Frederick, the top career official at OSHA, who’s now running it. “Yet rather than use its authority to create an enforceable standard…OSHA only suggested non-binding guidance that companies are free to ignore.

“Under the Trump administration, OSHA failed to bring meaningful enforcement actions against meatpacking companies that violated existing worker safety standards during the pandemic,” it continued. “OSHA issued penalties related to the coronavirus totaling over $3.9 million, but the agency issued only eight citations and less than $80,000 in penalties for coronavirus-related violations at meatpacking companies.”

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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