Weekly labour news update, 5 October 2012

Labour Force Survey, September 2012

The number of employed Canadians edged up in September from the month before, with 52,000 jobs added to the economy. Still, the unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to 7.4% as more people participated in the labour market. In the past year, employment has increased 1.0%, with most of the increase attributed to a rise in full-time work, or 157,000 new full-time jobs.

Employment grew in retail and wholesale trade, construction, information, culture and recreation sectors. Employment losses were experienced in business, building, and other support services.

The number of self-employed increased by 34,000, while there was little change in the number of private and public sector employees. Year-over-year gains in total employment were primarily among private sector employees (+159,000).

Following a decline in August, employment in Ontario grew by 31,000 in September. Year-over-year growth was 0.7%, mostly in part-time work, and below the national growth rate of 1.0%. The unemployment rate for the province was 7.9% in September.

In September, employment in Saskatchewan declined by 3,600, the first notable loss since November 2011. This decline brought the unemployment rate up 0.3 percentage points to 4.7%. Despite this loss, Saskatchewan continued to have one of the lowest unemployment rates among the provinces.



Strikes at Walmart Warehouses Expose Threats in Supply Chain

On September 15, thirty warehouse workers employed by NFI, part of the growing “third-party logistics” industry, walked off their jobs ito protest unpaid wages and unfair treatment by managers at the facility. The workers, who currently are without union representation, have been organizing with the Warehouse Workers Union (WWU). What makes this labour action significant is that the workers are employed in a Elwood, Illinois, warehouse that is under contract to supply the WalMart chain with goods. Only days early, dozens of warehouse workers in Southern California went on strike to demonstrate against poor pay and working conditions.

Public and labour support for the workers has since swelled since the walkout began. Over 600 supporters of the workers demonstrated against NFI and successfully shut down the warehouse. Seventeen religious, community, and labour activists were subsequently arrested for their participation in the social strike.

Since 2009, the United Electrical Workers union (UE) has been fighting to support workers in their efforts in getting their full pay and to fight sexual and racial harassment in the workplace. Although the UE does not officially represent these warehouse workers in Illinois, it has established a worker centre in the region as a base of operations for organizing and political activities. According to a statement in Labor Notes, UE organizer Leah Fried stated, “The idea … was to link the disturbing labor practices in Walmart warehouses with the Walmart Family Fund, which has invested $1 billion in efforts to privatize public schools.” The Fund gave $3 million to a group, Stand for Children, that successfully lobbied for an anti-teacher law in Illinois last year.

In California, the workers engaged in a “Walmarch”, which took current and former employees on a demonstration that stretched 50 miles from the “Inland Empire”, home to hundreds of warehouses and 85,000 warehouse workers, to city hall in downtown Los Angeles. After the two week strike, the workers returned to their jobs after managers at the warehouse gave into to some of the demands and ended their practice of forcing employees to work on unsafe loading ramps.

Because WalMart does not own or operate any of its own logistics centres, unions and workers have sought to disrupt the supply chains that are violators of basic labour standards and laws.




Platinum mining companies fire 12,000 workers

Since the massacre of 34 miners in the Marakana region of South Africa in August, tens of thousands of mine workers throughout the country have engaged in strike action against their respective employers. Most of the mines are owned by a handful of multinational companies. Recently, Anglo American Platinum, or Amplat, the world’s largest producer of platinum, has fired 12,000 of its striking workers. The company has said that after three weeks of strike action by 28,000 has cost over US$82 million in lost revenue.

The workers have been demanding living wages that are commensurate with the massive wealth and profits being made by the mining companies operating in South Africa.



Canadian Auto Workers Ratify 10-Year Two-Tier
By Herman Rosenfeld, Labor Notes, 1 October 2012

As negotiations with the Detroit 3 automakers began, Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza said, “Workers deserve to share in the benefits of the auto sector recovery they helped achieve.” Labor costs, CAW leaders argued, constituted only 5 percent of the cost of vehicle production, so there was no need for workers to concede more. All three companies are making a profit.
On the other hand, leaders also spoke just as clearly about their desire to “avoid adding fixed costs” to the companies and their concern about the fragility of the employers’ competitive situation. As time went on, it was clear which story they really meant.

At the GM ratification vote last week in Oshawa, Ontario, for CAW Local 222, the spokesperson for the national bargaining committee ended his presentation with a claim that “we resisted concessions.”

But looking at the four-year contracts, it is easy to see, through all the self-congratulation, that the CAW has negotiated its own “made-in-Canada” concessionary two-tier agreements.

New hires will now have a 10-year “grow-in” to regular pay, starting at 60 percent of the current rate of $33.85 an hour. This is a step backwards from an earlier “non-concession” (given up before the bankruptcy era) which had new hires starting at 70 percent and moving to full rate in six years. As well, new hires will have to contribute to their pensions (also conceded in the earlier contract), and those pensions will be “hybrid” mixtures of defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans.

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