Weekly news update, 28 September 2012

Union advantage

A recent report released by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) shows that the average unionized worker makes over $5 an hour more than their non-unionized counterparts. This comes to a culmulative value of almost $800 million each week across the unionized workforce. The report, titled “The Union Advantage in Canadian Communities”, is based on findings from research on 29 communities across Canada.

The report also indicates that the supplemental benefits that unionized workers enjoy, like extended health and dental benefits, enrich local businesses by supporting and attracting dentists, chiropractors, health specialists, and family lawyers to a community. This is an advantage for union and non-unionized workers, as well as others who live in the community.

CLC President, Ken Georgetti, cites the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as confirming the importance of collective bargaining in securing middle class incomes. “When workers, through their unions, are able to bargain freely for decent wages, benefits and pensions”, said Georgetti, “there are benefits for middle class and for society as a whole.”

The CLC’s regional reports can be found on-line at http://www.canadianlabour.ca/action-center/union-advantage-download.




Job vacancies

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian businesses had 263,000 job vacancies in June of 2012, 20,000 more than in June 2011. There were 5.3 unemployed people for every job vacancy, down from 5.8 in June 2011.

In Saskatchewan, a province with one of the highest union density rates in the country, the ratio declined from 3.0 to 1.9 over the same period, entirely because of an increase in job vacancies from 9,300 to 15,000.

In Alberta, there were 1.6 unemployed for every job vacancy, down from 2.8 in June 2011. The decline was a result of both a drop in the number of unemployed people and an increase in job vacancies.

Construction had the highest job vacancy rate among the largest industrial sectors, at 2.9% in June, up from 1.3% a year earlier. The sector had 27,000 vacancies in June 2012.
The job vacancy rate in accommodation and food services was 2.3%, up from 1.7% a year earlier. The sector had 26,000 vacancies in June 2012.

The lowest vacancy rate among the largest sectors was in educational services, at 0.7%, little changed from a year earlier. In June 2012, there were 9,000 vacancies in this sector.
Mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction had the highest job vacancy rate among all sectors, at 3.9%, twice the average for all sectors combined. The sector had 8,900 vacancies in June 2012, up from 7,200 a year earlier.



Consumer Price Index increase

Consumer prices rose 1.2% in the 12 months to August, following a 1.3% gain in July. Higher prices for the purchase of passenger vehicles, gasoline, meat and food purchased from restaurants were major factors in the year-over-year increase of the August Consumer Price Index (CPI). By comparison, average weekly payroll earnings over a similar period have increased by just 2 percent.

Prices for transportation rose 1.8% in the 12 months to August, after rising 1.1% in July. The cost for the purchase of passenger vehicles rose 2.0% and gasoline prices increased 2.2%.

Food prices increased 2.2% year over year in August following a 2.1% advance in July. Leading the August increase were higher prices for meat (+5.7%), food purchased from restaurants (+2.2%), and cereal products (+4.5%). In contrast, prices for fresh vegetables declined.

Shelter costs rose 1.0% in the 12 months to August, matching the increase in July. Increases for homeowner’s replacement cost (+2.2%), electricity prices (+3.4%), and rent (+1.4%) were major factors leading to the August rise in shelter costs. Natural gas prices continued to fall on a year-over-year basis.



Wisconsin’s Act 10 ruled unconstitutional

On Friday, September 15th, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas struck down the Wisconsin law (Act 10) that eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President, Phil Neuenfeldt, said in a statement: “Scott Walker’s attempt to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin’s public sector was immoral, unjust and illegal power grab. Now, a court has ruled that the essential provisions of Act 10 … is unconstitutional.”

The ruling is only a partial victory for unionized employees, however. The law remains largely in force for state workers, but for city, county and school workers the decision returns to the law to its status before Walker signed the legislation in March 2011.

Colas ruled that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation under the law by capping union workers’ raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts. The decision could still be overturned on appeal. In fact, the Supreme Court has already restored the law once in June of 2011 after it was blocked by a different Dane County judge in a case earlier that year.

Governor Scott Walker accused Colas of being a “liberal activist judge” and expressed confidence that the state would win on an appeal.

Under Walker’s law, both state and local governments were prohibited from bargaining with their workers over anything besides a cost-of-living salary adjustment. Other issues, such as health benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other work rules, were strictly off limits. Because the state’s public services have been starved of government revenue, it is uncertain if unionized workers would be able to make any financial gains during bargaining.




Abuse of migrant workers

A new report by the Toronto-based Metcalf Foundation documents the systematic exploitation of migrant workers in Canada. The number of migrant workers in Canada has tripled over the last decade, to over 300,000 in 2011 and about one-third of them are employed in low-paying, low-skilled jobs.

According to the report, “Made in Canada: How the law constructs migrant workers’ insecurity”, Canada has several programs to bring low-skilled temporary migrant workers: live-in caregivers, seasonal farm workers, and a 10-year pilot project that lets in workers in diverse sectors such as agriculture, restaurants, food processing, cleaning, construction, road building, and tourism. Those coming in through the pilot project are the fastest growing group.

Fay Faraday, the report’s author, concludes that “The evolution of these temporary migration programs shows a progressive stepping down in government’s commitment to workers and government involvement and accountability in program administration”. The report follows, “While government creates the conditions which allow the migrant work relationships to be formed, the supervision of the relationship is increasingly privatized between employer and worker.”

The Metcalf Foundation, a Toronto-based private family foundation, invests $5 million a year in projects and research in performing arts, environment and improving the lives of low-income peoples.

A copy of the report can be found on the Metcalf Foundations’s website http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Made-in-Canada-Full-Report.pdf.




Violence at Foxxconn

5,000 police were called to a Foxconn factory in Taiyuan, China on Monday, September 24, to restore order after a mass brawl of some 2,000 company employees erupted. 79,000 people work at the Taiyan facility. Sources say that the conflict began after company guards severely beat a factory worker, leading to an escalation of tensions and violence in the company dormitories. Owners say the brawl was the result of a personal dispute.

The Taiwanese-owned company, which is a major supplier of parts for Apple and other multinational electronics firms, has been the site of labour disputes in China for several years. Foxconn employs over a million Chinese workers throughout the country. Poor working conditions and low pay have resulted in suicides and mass suicide attempts by the mostly migrant workforce. In June, about 100 workers went on a rampage at a Foxconn plant in Chengdu, in southwest China. Reports suggest that tensions between workers from Shandong Province and those from Henan may have fueled the most recent incident.

Without access to trade unions, collective bargaining, or grievance mechanisms, workers have no recourse to negotiate improved wages, benefits, or living conditions. Management’s authority, and the abuse suffered at the hands of security staff, go uncontested. In the global supply chains that produce the glossy finished products like Apple’s iPhone, workers have few legal mechanisms to achieve a larger stake in the multi-billion dollar electronics industry.



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