Presidents back US trade unionists


Three presidents – Lula da Silva of Brazil, Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina – cancelled an appearance scheduled for today at New York University, the Union of Auto Workers (UAW) said last Friday.

The US union added: ‘The three presidents, in New York for a United Nations summit on poverty, were asked by the AFL-CIO to cancel their long-scheduled appearance to discuss “Latin America and Europe: Challenges and Realities.”

‘The US labor federation asked the presidents not to appear at any NYU events until the university agrees to negotiate with GSOC/UAW Local 2110, the union representing graduate teaching and research assistants.’

‘NYU claims this event was canceled due to a “scheduling conflict”,’ said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

‘The real conflict here is between the democratic rights of NYU’s academic student employees, who have repeatedly expressed their majority support for union representation, and the autocratic behavior of NYU administrators who refuse to come to the bargaining table.’

‘NYU can try to spin this any way they want,’ said Phil Wheeler, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New York City.

‘But the reality is quite plain: world leaders who respect democracy, human rights and worker rights don’t want to be associated with an institution which betrays those very principles when dealing with its own workforce.’

The UAW and the AFL-CIO are calling upon scholars, community leaders and public officials to refrain from NYU-sponsored events until the university agrees to bargain in good faith with Local 2110.

The UAW added: ‘Following an election in April, 2000 when a majority of teaching and research assistants voted in favor of union representation, NYU and GSOC/UAW Local 2110 negotiated a contract and had a successful four-year collective-bargaining relationship.

‘The NYU-UAW contract raised wages and improved benefits for TAs and RAs, and enhanced the quality of undergraduate teaching on campus.

‘In August, NYU administrators announced they would no longer bargain with Local 2110, citing a narrowly decided ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

‘Nothing in the NLRB case in question, however, prevents NYU from respecting the democratic wishes of its employees and continuing a successful bargaining relationship.

‘The decision by NYU administrators has been widely condemned both inside and outside the university community.

‘On August 31 – the day the NYU-GSOC/UAW Local 2110 contract expired – 76 people were arrested for civil disobedience outside NYU’s administrative offices at Bobst Hall, including AFL-CIO President Sweeney, UAW Secretary Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, Region 9A Director Wheeler and NY State Senator Tom Duane.’

‘If NYU thinks we are just quietly going to give up our rights, they are wrong,’ said Elena Gorfinkel, a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at NYU who is a member of the UAW Local 2110 Executive Board.

‘There will be no business as usual here until we get a contract.’

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO has attacked the Bush administration for rewarding its rich friends while ‘shafting’ workers over the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

In a statement last Friday, the AFL-CIO said: ‘Some of the first large-scale Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery contracts awarded by the Bush administration were awarded on a no-bid basis to corporations with strong ties to the administration and the Republican Party, according to news stories in The Wall Street Journal and other media.

‘At the same time, the administration is using the catastrophe to push a reactionary anti-worker agenda, gutting federal regulations that protect worker safety and ensure quality work and living wages.

‘The no-bid deals include $100 million contracts to the Fluor Corporation, a major donor to the GOP, and the Shaw Group, which is client of Joe M Allbaugh, President George W Bush’s campaign manager in 2000 and the former director the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

‘Meanwhile Halliburton Co subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root Services received a $29.8 million clean-up contract, while Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, is doing repair work at three Navy facilities in Mississippi under an existing contract.

‘The company also has been awarded billions of dollars of federal contracts for work in Iraq and that work and the Bush administration’s Iraq procurement policies have been heavily criticized in recent years.

‘The Bush administration also is using the disaster to attack federal standards ensuring quality work and worker safety.

‘Last week, the administration announced it was eliminating the high-quality work standards set by the federal Davis-Bacon law for hurricane reconstruction contracts work, allowing contractors to pay substandard wages to construction workers in the affected areas, and the administration also is lifting many affirmative action rules for reconstruction contracts.

‘Bush now wants to suspend wage supports for service workers in the hurricane zone as it did for construction workers on federal contracts last week, according to The Washington Post.

‘The administration also has suspended regulations limiting the number of hours truckers can drive when transporting fuel.

‘In addition, Bush has weakened restrictions giving contracting preferences to small and minority-owned businesses and has suspended the Jones Act, which requires transport of petroleum, gasoline and other petroleum products on US-flagged ships while operating in US coastal waters.’

The no-bid contracts ‘guarantee profits regardless of how much those companies spend or waste,’ says Amercan Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Edward J McElroy.

‘This is happening at the same time that the local hires of these firms will, in many cases, not earn a living wage.

‘It is unconscionable that our national government would act to hurt those most in need while delivering a windfall to wealthy contractors. These decisions must be reversed.’

The AFL-CIO added: ‘House Democratic leaders have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the hurricane reconstruction deals.

‘In a letter to the GAO, Democrats wrote: “The history of this administration’s handling of federal contracts is one of persistent and costly mismanagement.

‘“Oversight of federal contracts has been turned over to private companies with blatant conflicts of interest.

‘“In Iraq, billions have been appropriated for the reconstruction effort, yet oil and electricity production remain below prewar levels. . . .

‘“The contracting strategy adopted by the administration suppressed competition on thousands of reconstruction projects, while favored companies like Halliburton received special treatment and lucrative monopoly contracts.”

‘During a tour of hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, the Reverend Jesse Jackson slammed the no-bid deals.

‘“We still got families that don’t know if people are dead or missing. While the disconnected and the needy are running from shelter to shelter, the connected and greedy are getting FEMA contracts. . . It’s almost like white-collar looting,” he said.’