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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Carolina Remains Least Unionized State In The Nation

North Carolina Is The Nation's Least-Unionized State

Two N.C. Labor leaders said Tuesday they support Charlotte's bid for the 2012 Democratic National Convention - despite one union's call for the party to bypass the city.

UNITE HERE, a union representing hotel workers, this month asked the Democratic National Committee to rule out Charlotte and Cleveland because they lack unionized hotels.

Among the four convention finalists, it said, only St. Louis and Minneapolis fit the bill.

But some union leaders from North Carolina say they'd welcome the convention.

"We believe it will be a tremendous economic boost not only for the Charlotte metro area but for the entire state," said James Andrews, president of the state's AFL-CIO. "We believe there will be jobs for our workers and others."

The DNC is expected to announce a convention site around the end of the year. While factors such as the quality of venues and even politics are expected to be paramount considerations, the labor issue has hovered over the choice just as it did with earlier conventions.

A St. Louis TV station reported this month that its city enjoys an advantage over Charlotte because it has hotels with unionized workers. Organized labor is a major part of the Democratic base and financial support.

North Carolina is the nation's least-unionized state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 3.5 percent of the state's work force is unionized.

The last two cities that hosted Democratic conventions had labor issues of their own.

In Boston, site of the 2004 gathering, a police union there threatened to picket the convention until a deal was worked out. And in 2008 Denver won its bid despite labor concerns, including protests over the lack of unions at downtown hotels.

At least one Denver hotel was unionized before the convention and labor won other concessions.

Charlotte convention backers says they're not worried about concerns over organized labor or by the rap that the city lacks sufficient hotel rooms.

Organizers say the city has the 15,000 hotel rooms the party required within 30 minutes of uptown and access to at least another 15,000.

"We feel like our bid is strong the way it is," said Will Miller, acting executive director of "Charlotte in 2012."

"And we've made it clear from the beginning that should this become an issue, we are happy to meet with folks to work through those issues, just like they did in Denver."

Claude Gray, president of Teamsters Local 391 in Greensboro, wrote DNC Chairman Tim Kaine earlier this year in support of Charlotte's bid. He said the Teamsters represent about 4,000 drivers in the Charlotte area who would benefit from the influx of convention-goers.

Dana Cope, executive director of the 55,000-member State Employees Association, said his union hasn't taken a stand on the convention. He's talked to Charlotte leaders about creating a more labor-friendly environment.

"We can always address it like we did in Denver," he said, "so that gives me a lot of hope that we can still land it in Charlotte."

Unions To 2012 DNC: Shun These Cities: Charlotte & Cleveland

A Union representing Hotel Workers has asked the Democratic National Committee to rule out two of its four convention-site finalists, Cleveland and Charlotte, N.C., because they lack sufficient unionized hotel facilities.

"Among the DNC's four finalist cities, only St. Louis and Minneapolis" have the capacity to "house a large portion of the delegates and other guests ... in unionized hotels," John Wilhelm, president of the international UNITE HERE union of hotel and textile workers, wrote in a letter to DNC Chairman Tim Kaine.

"Therefore, one of those two cities should be the DNC's choice for 2012. Unfortunately, Charlotte and Cleveland do not fit the bill, and they should be removed from the list."

Though the letter was dated Oct. 6, it wasn't publicized until this week, when the union's Minneapolis local, eager to enhance its city's chances, issued a press release on the subject.

"We're just very interested in having the convention here on a number of levels, and for the international it's a priority that it be in a union city," said Wade Luneberg, secretary-treasurer and political director of UNITE HERE Local 17 in Minneapolis. "We think it's important to differentiate between the four [finalist] cities and see that Minneapolis and St. Louis rise to the top."

Charlotte, N.C., has no unionized hotels, and its convention center's employees are not union members, according to Wilhelm's letter. Cleveland has some union hotels, but only a handful in the downtown area and about 10 in the larger region; they belong to a competing union, Workers United.

UNITE HERE under Wilhelm split with former President Bruce Raynor in a bitter and protracted battle that ended last year with Raynor leaving and founding Workers United.

Workers United, which has affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, says it has 150,000 members, while UNITE HERE, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, claims 265,000.

A subcommittee of the DNC visited potential convention sites over the summer to evaluate their logistical suitability and advise the committee on their findings. A decision is expected in late 2010 or early 2011.

Democratic sources familiar with the decision-making process say Charlotte and St. Louis are the current front-runners, with Charlotte at a slight disadvantage because of its small overall hotel room stock.

Political considerations — including last week's election results — are expected to play a major role in the decision-making process. The defeat of a Democratic governor in Ohio may have hurt Cleveland's chances, while Minneapolis could be helped if Minnesota's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Mark Dayton, hangs on to win. He currently leads in the count in a race that is likely to go to a recount.

The Minneapolis area has at least 20 union hotels totaling 5,300 rooms, with more than 2,000 workers, Wilhelm's letter notes. St. Louis, the letter says, has 10 union hotels with more than 3,000 rooms. Both cities' sports arenas and convention centers are unionized as well.

"Employees at union hotels are far more likely than employees in non-union hotels to get the sort of basic fair treatment for which the Democratic Party stands — good wages, affordable health benefits, stable long-term positions, and respect and a voice on the job," Wilhelm wrote. "For these reasons, those employees are more likely to provide delegates and guests with better service as well."

UNITE HERE official Pilar Weiss said the DNC was receptive to the union's concerns. "It's early on," she said. "We're having a dialogue with them."

A spokesman for the DNC, Hari Sevugan, said, "As always, we are looking at a number of factors and will have an announcement in the coming months."

Unions Charge North Carolina Violating NAFTA Labor Rules

More than 50 Labor Organizations in Mexico, the United States and Canada, together representing several million workers, charged North Carolina and the United States with Violating Labor rules established under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The complaint charges that 650,000 public employees in North Carolina are illegally denied the right to Collective Bargaining, a violation of Labor protections guaranteed by the North American Agreement for Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the labor side agreement to NAFTA. It was formally filed on October 17 in Mexico by the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT – the Authentic Labor Front.)

Frustration with the lack of collective bargaining and effective voice on the job has led to increasing protests by North Carolina public employees. The most dramatic recent instance was a strike by Raleigh sanitation workers on September 13 and 14.

The complaint was filed at the request of UE Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union. UE 150 represents public sector workers across the state, including municipal employees in Raleigh, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Durham and Rocky Mount, and state employees at numerous facilities of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the University of North Carolina (UNC) system and the Department of Administration.

UE Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse expressed the local’s gratitude for the showing of international support. “We are very pleased at this showing of solidarity with North Carolina public employees by unions from across the three NAFTA countries. This shows that North Carolina’s continued denial of basic worker rights is an international disgrace, and it must be corrected.”

The NAALC requires the United States, Mexico and Canada to provide for “high labor standards” in their laws, and lists freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining among its core principles. These rights are also required by the conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the labor arm of the United Nations (UN.) But North Carolina’s General Statute 95-98 prohibits collective bargaining by state and local government employees, a clear and direct violation of international law. The NAALC and other international agreements also require standards of due process for workers, protection of health and safety on the job, and protection against employment discrimination. The labor groups charge that North Carolina, in denying its workers the right to negotiate contracts, denies them these protections as well.

Mexico and Canada are North Carolina’s largest international trading partners. North Carolina’s combined annual exports to Canada and Mexico total $6.5 billion.

The FAT filed the charge in Mexico City with the National Administrative Office (NAO) within Mexico’s federal ministry of labor. Under NAFTA’s terms, the U.S., Canada and Mexico each established an NAO to act on complaints of violations of the NAALC. The petitioners are asking the Mexican NAO to investigate North Carolina’s labor rights violations, and issue a report and recommendations for action. The actions requested by the labor organizations include North Carolina immediately ceasing to enforce, and moving to repeal General Statute 95-98, replacing it with legislation that will guarantee public sector workers the rights to organize, bargain collectively, and full freedom of association.

Benedicto Martinez Orozco, national coordinator of the FAT, described his organization’s reasons for acting. “I traveled to NC and was shocked at the level of discrimination and that a country that places such importance on democracy does not permit public sector workers in North Carolina to bargain collectively. We are filing this complaint to support workers in the US.

UE entered into a “Strategic Organizing Alliance” with the FAT in 1992. The two organizations exchange information and assist each other in organizing campaigns and in struggles to protect and expand workers’ rights in both countries. They organize visits by rank-and-file workers to each others’ countries to increase understanding and solidarity between Mexican and U.S. workers.

United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard said, “The Steelworkers are proud to join with the UE and democratic and independent unions in Mexico to challenge violations of what few international standards exist for preventing unions in the United States from exercising the most basic rights to organize and bargain collectively.”

UE filed the first complaint under NAALC in 1994, after the Mexican government allowed General Electric to commit massive labor law violations in crushing a FAT organizing campaign at a GE plant in Juarez.

The filing of the current complaint was simultaneously announced to the media on Tuesday, October 17 in Mexico, Canada and the United States. The following organizations participated in the complaint:

* Alianza de Tranviarios de México
* Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores del Instituto de Vivienda
* Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers
* Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW)
* Canadian Labour Congress
* Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ)
* Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
* Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada
* Confédération des syndicats nacionaux (CSN)
* Coordinadora Sindical Independiente
* Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO
* Federación de Liberación Social
* Federación Estatal de Sindicatos Auténticos de Guanajuato (FESAG)
* Fédération des infirmieres et infirmiers du Québec (FIIQ)
* Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)
* Federación Metropolitana de Trabajadores
* Frente Mecánico de Trabajadores y Empleados del Comercio en General, Oficinas Particulares, Bodegas y Tiendas Comerciales del D.F.
* International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM)
* International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
* Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
* Public Service International (PSI)
* Sindicato de Trabajadores de Casas Comerciales, Oficinas y Expendios, Similares y Conexos del Distrito Federal
* Sindicato Democrático de Trabajadores de Pesca y Acuacultura de la SAGARPA
* Sindicato del Heroico Cuerpo de Bomberos del Distrito Federal
* Sindicato “Flores Magón” de Trabajadores de la Fábrica Hulera Industrial Leonesa, S.A. de C.V.
* Sindicato Industrial de Trabajadores Textiles y Similares “Belisario Domínguez”.
* Sindicato de Trabajadores Académicos de la Universidad Autónoma Chapingo
* Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional de Capacitación del Sector Agropecuario
* Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Metálica, Acero, Hierro, Conexos y Similares
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación para Adultos (SNTEA)
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Elevadores Otis
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Costura, Confección, Vestido, Similares y Conexos “Diecinueve de Septiembre”
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria del Hierro y el Acero, Productos Derivados, Similares y Conexos de la República Mexicana
* Sindicato de Trabajadores del Transporte en General, Similares y Conexos de la República Mexicana
* Sindicato de Trabajadores de Metlife
* Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec (SFPQ)
* Sindicato Nacional de Empleados y Trabajadores de Nacional Monte de Piedad
* Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT)
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Azucarales y Derivados “Chema Martínez”
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de General Tire de México, S.A. de C.V.
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Impulsora Mexicana de Telecomunicaciones
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática
* Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Telecomm Telégrafos
* Sindicato Nacional Único y Democrático de los Trabajadores del Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior
* Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Iberoamericana
* Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de Calzado Sandak (Calpulalpan)
* Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Gobierno del Distrito Federal
* Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México
* Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de Nacional Financiera
* United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
* United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)
* United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO/CLC (USW)

Smithfield Workers Say "Yes" To Hog-Plant Union

Workers at the world's largest hog processing plant, Smithfield Packing Co. in Bladen County, have voted for a union to represent them at one of the state's largest industrial sites, totals released Thursday night showed.

The tally was 2,041 to 1,879 in favor of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

About 4,600 of Smithfield's 5,000 employees in the tiny town of Tar Heel were eligible to vote over two days of balloting overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

“From the beginning, our goal was to give employees the opportunity to vote on this issue in a fair, secret-ballot election. This has now been accomplished, and we will abide by the results of the election. We respect the decision and look forward to working with the union to negotiate a fair labor contract for our employees,” said Tim Schellpeper, president of Smithfield Packing.

The UFCW has been trying since the plant opened 16 years ago to win the right to represent the Tar Heel workers. This time, the selling points of improved working conditions and better wages convinced enough workers to vote in favor of the union.

“We have a union now. Amen. Hallelujah,” said Letia Spivey, a Smithfield worker. “I feel like tonight’s vote went wonderful. Everything is swell. We are very happy people at Smithfield."

Ronnie Ann Simmons, a veteran of 13 years at the plant said, "We are thrilled. This moment has been a long time coming. We stuck together, and now we have a say on the job."

The election comes as part of a settlement to a racketeering lawsuit the company filed against the union last year.

“We will be entering negotiations with another union as we have done at many of our other facilities. And we will continue to operate, moving forward as a company, hoping to continue to provide good jobs and high-quality products,” said Dennis Pittman, Smithfield Packing spokesman.

Workers with whom WRAL News spoke who did not support the union said they were concerned about bringing in a union during tough economic times. They said they were worried the union's demands could put the company out of business.

Employees at eight of Smithfield’s 13 plants are unionized.

The Tar Heel plant processes up to 32,000 live hogs a day into plate-ready pork.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, Politico, UE News, WRAL, Youtube, Google Maps

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