THISWEEKINLABOR

Bridgestone/Firestone blocks Steelworker solidarity

Local management of a Bridgestone Firestone plant in LaVergne, Tenn., blocked the local union from making a plant gate collection to help struggling rubber farm workers in Liberia. United Steelworkers Local 1055, which represents the plant’s nearly 1,500 workers, angrily denounced the move.

“Gate collections are fairly common at the plant,” said Lewis Beck, Local 1055 president. “We’ve stood for years at the same locations collecting for members who are ill or other locals on strike.” Most recently, the local’s members donated to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. But when the local’s chief steward greeted the departing night shift at the plant door with an appeal for a solidarity collection, Beck got an immediate call from a member of management demanding that the collection cease.

Thousands of Liberians work at the company’s million-acre rubber plantation. The USW reports that BFS workers there work from dawn to dusk and receive about $3 as a daily wage. Recently the workers went on strike to protest the company’s withholding of more than one-third of their pay for unexplained deductions.

Last year, a union delegation traveled to Liberia and met with the workers. Local 1055 is the first of eight USW-represented locals scheduled to participate in the gate collections for the Liberia workers.

Beck said that the local had filed unfair labor practice charges. “Situations like today remind me why our contract negotiations are so difficult,” said Beck. “I think the company sometimes forgets that its workers are people trying to take good care of their families.”



Wireless workers send strong signal to Cingular

More than 16,000 former AT&T Wireless workers at Cingular Wireless locations from Hawaii to Virginia have signed up to form a union with the Communications Workers of America, the CWA announced. The new union members, who worked for AT&T before its merger with Cingular, have been able to exercise their free choice to join a union under a card check agreement in which Cingular agreed to recognize the union when a majority of workers signed authorization cards.



Bay Area coalition says: ‘Wake Up, Wal-Mart!’

As shoppers approached the plaza housing Oakland, Calif.’s new Wal-Mart store last week, many honked in support as they saw candidates, elected officials, labor and community leaders and activists from Alameda and Contra Costa counties gathered on the grassy median strip, hoisting signs saying, “Fair Share Health Care for California, Not Corporate Welfare!” and “Wal-Mart Workers Need Help — Join the Wal-Mart Workers of America!”

“If they [Walmart] intend to operate in our community, they have to observe the law, they have to be labor friendly, they have to be friendly to the community, or we are not going to let them operate in these areas,” area Teamsters’ union leader Chuck Mack told the crowd from IBT Local 70’s truck-mounted stage.

The Feb. 22 press conference was part of the national campaign to stop the health care crisis faced by Wal-Mart workers. Organizers said that in California alone, the giant retailer costs taxpayers $86 million a year in public assistance because of its poor pay, unaffordable health care and poor treatment of workers.



UE chemical workers fight back against Stepan

Over a year ago, workers at Stepan Corp. in Fieldsboro, N.J., voted overwhelmingly to join the United Electrical Workers Local 155. The workers elected a committee to handle their workplace issues and to bargain their first contract. But the company, which made over a million dollars profit last year at its Fieldsboro plant, insisted on a wage freeze, cutting sick pay and raising workers’ health care contribution, according to a UE fact sheet. When they refused to provide the workers’ committee with the basic information needed to process grievances, the workers conducted a 24-hour stoppage on Jan. 24. The company then locked out the 36 workers.

Stepan, a global chemical company with plants in four states and 10 countries, is raising safety concerns by running its chemical operations with inexperienced strikebreakers. For more information and how you can help, go to ranknfile-ue.org/155stepan_lockout.html.



Broadcast employees support single-payer bill

Even while immersed in a tough contract struggle, Local 21 of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America representing employees at two Albany, N.Y. TV stations, took time to endorse HR 676, the universal coverage single-payer health care bill.

Local 21 members at Channel 6, a CBS affiliate, have been working without a contract since September 2005, when management proposed a 15 percent pay cut and the conversion of many full-time jobs into part-time.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org). Marilyn Bechtel contributed.