Muslim Holiday at Tyson Plant Creates Furor
New York Times, 2008-08-06

[The full text; emphasis is added.]

The union that represents workers at a Tyson Foods poultry plant in Tennessee
has negotiated a contract that
substitutes a Muslim holiday for Labor Day
as one of the eight paid holidays at the plant.

The provision,
which was proposed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union,
has delighted the plant’s Somali workers,
who account for hundreds of its 1,200 employees.
But it has infuriated many outsiders,
leading some to denounce Tyson and the union alike.

“You are a union that is proud of achieving a Muslim holiday and prayer room?”
one person wrote the union.
“A union in the U.S.A., a country based on Christianity.
You call yourselves Americans? Have you forgotten 9/11?”

Another wrote: “You had no right to drop Labor Day.
Muslim employees must integrate Labor Day into THEIR lives
if they are going to live in America.”

Stung by the criticism, Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president,
said the decision was fully consistent with the spirit of Labor Day.

“We in the labor movement have always understood that
unions are only strong when we work to protect the dignity of all faiths,
and that includes Muslims,”
said Mr. Appelbaum,
who also serves as president of the Jewish Labor Committee.

[Protecting the dignity of faiths is one thing.
Making the holidays of faiths a paid holiday from work is quite another.]

“What we negotiated was the will of the workers,” said Mr. Appelbaum,
who added that his was
the first union to negotiate a paid day off for a Muslim holiday
and that he was sure Tyson would not be the last employer to agree.

The plant affected is in the town of Shelbyville, some 40 miles south of Nashville. Under a five-year contract there, Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, is now one of the plant’s eight paid holidays.

Union officials said the two Somali immigrants on the union’s eight-member bargaining committee had been eager to make Id al-Fitr (pronounced eed-al-FIT-tr) a paid holiday. The union agreed to do so at the expense of Labor Day in part because it did not want to trade Christmas, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or other existing paid holidays, and in part because Tyson has usually required the plant’s employees to work on Labor Day anyway. (Employees received a holiday premium for working that day.)

“We had worked 23 Labor Days in a row; it wasn’t like it was a day to spend with our family,” said Randy Hadley, a union representative who helped negotiate the contract.

Mr. Hadley said both management and union were surprised when nearly all the Somali workers — Tyson puts their number at 250, the union at nearly 400 — did not work on Id al-Fitr last year. They were not paid, but the plant almost had to close that day, said Mr. Hadley, adding that management was “elated” by the proposal to make Id al-Fitr a holiday.

The contract was negotiated last year and approved by workers in November. But the holiday provision largely escaped public notice until a local newspaper published an article about it last week. Many anti-immigrant bloggers and conservative commentators have since berated Tyson, urging a boycott.

Thrown on the defensive, the company issued a statement Monday saying: “Contrary to recent reports, Labor Day is still a holiday at Tyson Foods. The issue concerns only the plant at Shelbyville.”

“This is not a religious accommodation,” the statement added. “Rather, it is a union-initiated contract demand.”

Libby Lawson, a Tyson spokeswoman, noted that the plant had three Christian chaplains, and prayer rooms for Muslims and Christians alike.


Regarding the above article,
the author of this blog would like to make a comment and ask some questions.

The Party Line as to why so much immigrant labor is needed is that
“They do jobs that Americans won’t do.”
Is meatpacking such a job?
There are sectors of our society that have chronic employment problems.
Are they unsuited, or unwilling, for these jobs?
Is that why these jobs (the Kosher meat packing plant in Iowa is another one)
are being filled with Somalis?
Are Somalis willing to work for less than native-born Americans?
Is that a good, or sufficient, reason to hire them,
rather than letting the free market (remember that?)
set a wage where supply and demand are equal for these positions?
If so, doesn’t that qualify as wage-busting?
Is the union president not concerned about
getting as much money as he can for his workers?

Inquiry Finds Under-Age Workers at Meat Plant
New York Times, 2008-08-06

Rabbis Debate Kosher Ethics at Meat Plant
New York Times, 2008-08-23

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

Last month,
a New York public relations firm representing Agriprocessors,
5W Public Relations,
posted fake blog comments under Rabbi Allen’s name
[An example of sockpuppeting.]
on FailedMessiah.com, a Web site that is fiercely critical of the Rubashkins,
and on the Web site of JTA, the Jewish news agency.
Shmarya Rosenberg, who runs FailedMessiah.com,
traced the fraudulent comments on his site to a 5W address.
JTA reported that one false posting in Rabbi Allen’s name
came from an address belonging to a 5W executive, Juda Engelmayer.

The postings seemed intended to discredit Rabbi Allen
by making him appear to use crude, arrogant language.
In a statement, 5W confirmed that the postings came from its offices
but said that they had been made by an intern without approval.

[Being discredited by falsely attributed statements
is a worry for all of us who use the Internet.]

A Somali Influx Unsettles Latino Meatpackers
New York Times, 2008-10-16

Battle Intensifies Over Bill to Expedite Union Organizing
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post, 2008-10-19

Boeing Deal Includes a 15% Raise Over 4 Years
New York Times, 2008-10-29

Boeing Contract Offers Pay Raise, Job Protections
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post, 2008-10-29

[An excerpt.]

Boeing machinists waged a nearly eight-week walkout that resulted in
a contract that boosts pay and adds protections for factory jobs,
even as the economy slumps.

But some industry analysts said that the agreement announced Monday
may also embolden the aerospace giant to look beyond
the company’s heavily unionized Pacific Northwest manufacturing base
when considering operations in the future.

“I would say the union probably won the battle
and Boeing probably wins the war over the long term,”
said Peter Arment, the aviation analyst at American Technology Research.
“If you are going to establish a new assembly facility,
you may look at more competitive states.”

Under the tentative pact,
the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
won added provisions that
block cutbacks in health-care benefits,
boost pension payments and
expand job protections for workers threatened by subcontracting.
The union said the agreement would mean
a 15 percent pay raise over the four-year contract,
plus bonuses that total at least $8,000.

[It’s really none of my business
(I have no involvement whatsoever with either side in this negotiation),
but I can’t help but wonder if
the emphasis of unions (this one and others) on health care benefits
is in fact part of the reason why health care costs
have risen so much over the last decades.
After all, I think it is an indisputable fact,
even if some may not like to hear it,
that if a benefit such as health care is free,
it tends to be used more than if the beneficiary has to pay,
and that, as much as some may deny it,
this sometimes leads to excessive and unnecessary use of the benefit,
the cost of which is absorbed initially by the insurer
but ultimately is spread across all of society.

Further, if unions help management in keeping labor costs down,
that delays the all too likely future of
airplane manufacturing, like so much else of the economy,
migrating to, yes, China.
There is absolutely no reason why those
clever, industrious, and willing-to-work-for-peanuts Chinese
(and who ever heard of Chinese workers going on strike for health care benefits?)
cannot and will not succeed in manufacturing high-quality airplanes
at Wal-Mart prices.
In fact, China’s government has already started a company to compete with Boeing:
see “China to challenge Boeing and Airbus”.

There is such a thing as pricing yourself out of the (global) workforce
(ask the UAW, USW and textile workers about that).

{As of 2008-11-04, this scenario has begun:
see “China wins GE plane order, 1st overseas jet deal”,
a story pointed out by Eliot Spitzer here.
Those union workers, and Boeing,
have a very dubious future in the commercial aircraft market.}]

Boeing, however,
gets to keep subcontracting provisions won in past contract struggles.
The company also gets four years of labor peace
as it tries to maneuver through the deteriorating economic environment.


Gary N. Chaison,
professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said
the deal is one that would be envied by workers in other unionized industries.

“In the context of steel and auto workers,
it’s a big achievement,” Chaison said.
“In the context of a clothing or grocery worker,
it would be beyond their wildest hopes.”


Richard Aboulafia, an industry analyst, said
Boeing workers should savor the generosity of the contract because
future terms might not be so sweet once the agreement runs it course.

“After that -- they’d better save for the future,” he said.
“These are the last jobs of their kind.
Good salary, good pension and good benefits
and no university degree required.”

Health Reform Collides With Labor's Cadillac
By Charles Lane
Washington Post Opinion, 2009-09-27

[An excerpt.]

Organized labor’s tooth-and-nail fight to protect union health benefits
is a significant -- but underreported -- obstacle to sensible health-care reform.

Practically every serious analyst of U.S. health care says
the tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits
distorts the system.

Valued at $250 billion per year, this break

encourages more consumption of costly care
by those with employer-provided plans

while denying the government money to insure the uninsured.

Wall Street executives and other rich Americans benefit disproportionately --
but so do union workers,
who extract tax-free health benefits from their employers in lieu of wages.
This is especially true for politically influential public employee unions,
such as McEntee’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

In New Hampshire, state employees contribute just $720 a year
for coverage that costs $20,400 per family,
according to the Boston Globe.
They get free MRIs, free prenatal care and $450 a year for a gym membership.
All told, it’s more than twice as much coverage
as the average family receives through work.
And it cost New Hampshire’s taxpayers $234 million last year.

At General Motors -- now taxpayer-owned --
active United Auto Workers members make no monthly contribution
and pay no deductible for their health insurance coverage.
They face no co-insurance costs for in-network physician services
and an annual out-of-pocket maximum of just $500 per family
for out-of-network doctors,
according to the company.
No wonder they call them “Cadillac” plans.

And so labor defends the tax exclusion
with every ounce of its considerable clout....

Imperfect as it is,
Baucus’s proposal forces modest redistribution of health-care resources
from those who have more
to those who have less -- or none....


Another jobs-killer that needs repeal
by Charles Lane
Washington Post PostPartisan Blog, 2010-02-23


Liberal groups mobilize for ‘fiscal cliff’ fight over Social Security, Medicare
By Zachary A. Goldfarb

With President Obama seeking a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff,”
liberal groups that campaigned aggressively for his reelection
mobilizing to oppose concessions they fear he could make
on Medicare and Social Security.

Leaders of the nation’s labor unions and other liberal groups
are planning Tuesday to press Obama at the White House
to reject the kind of cuts in Medicare and Social Security
that he has previously offered to make.

On Thursday,
left-leaning lawmakers and seniors groups
plan to rally on Capitol Hill against any changes to entitlements.

Washington Post, 2012-11-12