News and Updates
February 9, 2009
|Sign the Petition
(Washington, DC) — The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), America’s neighborhood union, calls for the immediate confirmation of Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis. Secretary Designate Solis has been a loyal champion for working Americans, fighting for workers’ rights and safety. UFCW members know that she will be an excellent Secretary of Labor, and are frustrated that Republican Senators are obstructing her confirmation during this economic crisis. While thousands of people are forced onto unemployment, our nation needs to have a Labor Secretary to immediately help solve our jobs crisis.
Why are Republican Senators delaying this important confirmation? Solis has a stellar track record on labor issues. Her own background as the daughter of a union shop steward from Mexico and an assembly line worker from Nicaragua has led her to stand up and speak out for working families. And the confirmation of the first Latina Secretary of Labor, showcasing the growing diversity in our country, should be a matter of pride for the U.S.
It is clear that those Republican Senators who seek to thwart her confirmation would like to prevent the Department of Labor from fulfilling its function: in the words of the DOL’s mission statement, by fostering and promoting “the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States.”
Secretary Designate Solis’ expertise with labor issues, her experience as a federally-elected official and her longtime role as a champion of workers are reason enough for confirmation. She is eminently qualified, and Republican Senators should stop obstructing her confirmation.
November 13, 2008
WASHINGTON, DC – “”American businesses are bilking millions of working Americans out of billions in wages every year,”” said Michael J. Wilson, International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who appeared at the Department of Labor early this afternoon to discuss wage theft. Conservative estimates place the sum of illegally withheld wages at $20 billion. Millions of Americans are denied overtime, forced to work off the clock, and unjustly docked pay. American workers reasonably expect that the laws governing wages passed by the United States Congress and state legislatures will be respected by their employers. They expect that they shouldn’t have to go to court to collect the paychecks they’ve earned.
Recent history is filled with examples of systematic circumvention of wage and hour law by some of America’s biggest companies:
• The world’s single largest employer, Wal-Mart, faced nearly sixty lawsuits for violating wage and hour regulations in 2006 alone. Among numerous other breaches of state and federal law, Wal-Mart has docked workers’ pay for eating lunch, forced employees to stay at work off the clock, and denied overtime pay to individuals working full shifts seven days a week.
• Agriprocessors, Inc., one of the largest kosher meatpacking plants in the country, illegally charged more than 2,000 workers for required uniforms and safety gear, and withheld final paychecks from dozens of employees.
• Michael Bianco, Inc., a company with significant military contracts, docked workers 15 minutes worth of pay for being just one minute late, docked workers $20 of pay for being in the restroom for longer than two minutes, and required workers to work two consecutive shifts without overtime pay.
“”We’re not talking about mom-and-pop shops forgetting a nickel here and a dime there; some of the nation’s biggest companies have been systematically denying employees their hard-earned wages,”” said Wilson. “”Workers should reasonably be able expect that they won’t need to go to court to collect the paychecks they’ve earned.””
February 21, 2007
Federal Judge Orders Labor Department to Answer for Eight-Year Delay in Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment
A United States Court of Appeals ordered the Department of Labor (DOL) to respond in 30 days to a suit requesting the court to order OSHA to implement a long-delayed standard 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.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the AFL-CIO sued the DOL January 3 over an eight-year delay in implementing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE).
The lawsuit asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to act is putting workers in danger. By OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule. The labor groups noted that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.
The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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 new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codifies OSHA’s longstanding 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 failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. The lawsuit seeking to end this eight-year delay, called it “egregious.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asked the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.
January 3, 2007
AFL-CIO and UFCW Sue Bush Administration to End Eight-Year Delay on Rule Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment
July 26, 2006
(Washington, DC) —On July 26, 2006, two affiliate unions of the Change to Win federation — the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — began petitioning the Department of Labor (DOL) to immediately issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to stop the continued risk of diacetyl exposure to workers. In 2002 and 2003, OSHA’s own scientists studying diacetyl unsuccessfully urged their leaders to take broader action to protect workers. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.
Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease that has been experienced by food industry workers across the nation. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “popcorn workers lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans—a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl.
“Three workers have died and hundreds of others seriously injured,” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. “It’s time for action. We will not let food processing workers continue to be the canaries in the coal mine while waiting for the industry to regulate itself.”
More than 8,000 workers are employed in the flavorings production industry and may be exposed to the dangers of diacetyl and other similar chemicals. Tens of thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals. It is not clear whether consumers are at risk from exposure to diacetyl but certainly the workers who deal with high concentrations of the flavoring chemical are at risk of developing serious and irreversible lung damage.
The unions’ petition is accompanied by a letter from forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director, five former top officials from OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate.
“”Study after study have shown that breathing artificial butter flavor destroys workers lungs. We know how to prevent this terrible disease but OSHA refuses to act”” said Dr. David Michaels of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health.
The UFCW and Teamsters filed the petition for an Emergency Temporary Standard with the DOL to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be additionally monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.
The petition also demands that OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical. OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rule-making proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.
“The science is clear. Now it is time for the Department of Labor to employ their regulatory mandate and protect the public,” said Lamont Byrd, Teamster Safety & Health Director. “Such illnesses and fatalities are avoidable and therefore, inexcusable. An Emergency Standard is necessary to prevent the suffering and death of the additional workers who will get sick during the time it would take for OSHA to set a Permanent Standard.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s 1.4 million members work in America’s supermarkets, meatpacking and food processing plants. Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada. Both unions are founding members of the Change to Win federation. www.changetowin.org
For more information and studies about Popcorn Workers Lung Disease, go to www.DefendingScience.org
February 17, 2005
Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer
Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.
The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.
Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.
Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.
Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.
The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:
Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.
Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations
The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.
February 14, 2005
STATEMENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION
The nation’s largest employer, and one the nation’s largest corporate political donors, was cited for using children in dangerous jobs in its U.S. stores; and, then got a sweetheart deal that gives the company fifteen days advance notice before the government will initiate any investigation of future violations of federal workplace laws.
According to allegations contained in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wal-Mart was engaged in the unconscionable practice of using children to operate hazardous machinery in stores in New Hampshire, Arkansas and Connecticut. The machinery referenced in the case— balers, shredders and compactors— are standard equipment in retail stores, and are commonly associated with injuries involving the crushing or severing of arms and hands. Safety regulations on the books for decades have prohibited employers from using children to operate the machines. A company the size of Wal-Mart with a long history of operating retail stores should have been well aware of the law as well as the dangers to children in operating the restricted machinery.
While the corporate giant with billions of dollars in revenue agreed to pay a $135,000 fine, its representatives got a sweetheart deal that could insulate the company from getting caught in future violations. Wal-Mart gets fifteen days written notice of any government investigation or audit. Wal-Mart can work a child on a compacting machine or baler without fear of any unannounced enforcement action, and simply reassign the child worker during the time of the prearranged inspection. Further, the agreement allows the company ten days to correct the violation. A literal reading of the agreement would allow Wal-Mart to continue to put children at risk for over a week even if the government uncovered the violation.
Wal-Mart was the biggest political giver in the 2004 election, with the overwhelming majority of its money going to the party controlling the White House, Congress— and, the Department of Labor.
The UFCW is preparing a letter to the Secretary of Labor, and will seek Congressional review of the agreement.
February 11, 2005
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced the appointment of Mr. Michael J. Wilson as Legislative & Political Affairs Director for the 1.4 million members of the UFCW.
Wilson has served as Chief Lobbyist for the UFCW since 1999 where he developed and implemented a legislative program to advance and protect the interests of UFCW members, their jobs, families and their communities.
Wilson came to the union after a long career of shaping legislative efforts to serve working people. Wilson served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employment Standards Administration (ESA) of the U.S. Department of Labor. He also served as a Senior Legislative Officer in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Mr. Wilson spent five years as the Legislative Representative for the Legislative and Political Department of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU). Mr. Wilson also served as legislative and press assistant for the Honorable Charles Hayes of Illinois, a former UFCW International Vice President, during his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Joe Hansen, UFCW International President, said, “Michael brings a wealth of experience and a solid commitment to working families to his new position. We look forward to his leadership on behalf of UFCW members, and all working people, in the legislative and political arenas.”
April 23, 2004
George W. Bush’s new overtime rules pick up his pace for lowering living standards for American workers and putting more dollars into the bank accounts of his corporate campaign donors. The most anti-worker White House in the modern political era just gave workers their biggest pay cut in history. Millions of workers could potentially lose thousands of dollars each year as a result of the Bush Administrations actions.
Bush shoved the pay cut through over the objections of both Houses of Congress and millions of workers. The rewritten overtime rules open the door for employers to reclassify jobs so that workers who’ve always earned overtime would now become exempt. Lead workers in grocery store deli, dairy, produce, and meat departments could now be classified as managers and have their pay slashed under the new Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Health care industry technicians and nurses, among millions of other workers, could also be reclassified out of overtime pay.
“American workers have received nothing but double dealing and disappointment from the Bush White House,” said United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) President Joe Hansen. “That’s precisely the case with the DOL’s 500 pages of “clarifying” regulations on overtime—the only thing they clarify is how completely special corporate interests dominate the Bush Administration.”
Under George W. Bush’s leadership, the US economy has lost more jobs than at any period since the Great Depression. Forty-four million people—the overwhelming majority of them from working families—have no health insurance. Health care costs are skyrocketing. Millions of jobs are being shipped overseas while the number of working poor in this country, struggling in low-wage, no-benefit jobs, is increasing.
“Obviously, George W. Bush surveyed the state of working America and concluded it was time for a pay cut,” Hansen added.
The UFCW is mobilizing a worker-to-worker movement to inform UFCW members about the President’s pay cut. Working people will hold the Bush Administration accountable this November for four years of hostile policies aimed at lowering working family living standards.
December 11, 2003
STATEMENT OF CORPORAL JOHN MILLER, ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT, LOCAL 400, UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION (UFCW)
BEFORE THE DEMOCRATIC POLICY COMMITTEE HEARING ON PROPOSED REGULATORY CHANGES TO OVERTIME EXEMPTIONS IN THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I am currently an officer in the Annapolis Police Department, and have been a police officer for over 17 years. I am also a veteran, having served four years active duty in our nation’s Air Force. Presently, I am a Staff Sergeant in the District of Columbia National Guard, where I perform Homeland Security and other public safety duties. I am accompanied today by my fellow officer, John Lee, who has 10 years of service at the Annapolis Police Department. Both of us are members of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
As a Corporal and supervisor for the Annapolis police, my principal duty is public safety. I have helped provide escort protection for the President and Vice President and other dignitaries when they visit Annapolis or the Naval Academy. I have also protected the public during demonstrations at the state capitol and performed various other public safety functions, such as DWI patrols and traffic enforcement. Like most other police officers, much of the time I spend performing these duties is on overtime. Like every other police department, we could not function without the flexibility of overtime. And eliminating overtime pay for our first responders would have a devastating impact on our department’s ability to perform vital public safety functions.
Most police and other first responders cannot afford to perform overtime work without overtime pay, and would be extremely resistant to working unpaid overtime. Forced unpaid overtime would seriously compromise public safety as well as undermine officer morale and department structure. Public safety departments faced with the possibility of unpaid overtime would likely demand even more hours from first responders, further straining morale and undermining job performance. In addition, officers will have less time to volunteer for National Guard duty, further compromising the effective strength of our armed forces.
Like many police officers, overtime pay constitutes approximately 20% of my total income. For some officers in our department, overtime pay is 25-30% of their income. If I were to lose that pay, it would radically change my family life. We would have to move into a different home, as we could no longer afford the mortgage on our present home. Already, I have to live about an hour’s drive from Annapolis in order to find affordable housing. I’m sure our new home would be even farther, and our 19 year old son and 16 year old daughter would be forced to change schools. If I were to lose that pay, my son’s college plans would be endangered, and so would my daughter’s. Family vacations and many other things that are part of a middle-class lifestyle would be out of the question.
Like any other police officer, I am proud of the work I do. Working in our state capitol, I feel a sense of comradery with your own Capitol Hill Police. Like them, we work hard and willingly take risks to assure that the public and public officials — such as yourselves — are safe and secure in their homes, offices, schools and on the road. Paid overtime work takes us away from our families, but allows us to do our job and to afford many of the things that make our families’ lives better. I know I speak for many first responders everywhere when I say I am extremely disappointed that our government would reward our hard work and public service with a massive pay cut. I implore you to do everything in your power to assure that the Department of Labor does not issue regulations that would take away our overtime pay.
Thank you again for this opportunity.