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Horizon Miners get 30 day health care extension

Horizon Miners Receive Thirty Day Extension For Health Care
More than 5,000 union coal miners and retirees have received a reprieve - albeit only 30 days - in an ongoing struggle to preserve health care benefits that were lost when Horizon Natural Resources filed bankruptcy last August. (MORE >>>)


UMWA backs new coal industry bankruptcy legislation

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Hails Introduction in the U.S. House of Coal Industry Bankruptcy Legislation

Says Legislation Will Help Ensure Fairness to Coal Miners

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts is hailing today's introduction in the U.S. House of coal industry bankruptcy legislation.

The legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), clarifies that coal miners must be treated fairly when their employer utilizes the bankruptcy process. The need for the legislation was created in August, 2004, when a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling allowed Horizon Natural Resources to displace some 850 working coal miners, sell their mines out from under them and terminate health care for nearly 5,000 retired coal miners and their dependents and survivors, including some 2,000 whose benefits were protected by the 1992 Coal Act.

The legislation has already received strong support from several other coalfield representatives, including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio).

"This is an excellent piece of legislation that targets bankruptcy reform only for the coal industry," explained Roberts. "It would prohibit coal operators from being able to use the 'sale of assets' process to shed their collective bargaining and labor law obligations. Coal operators would only be able to modify collective bargaining obligations through the statutory rejection process. The bill would also allow miners who are displaced through bankruptcy to keep their jobs and retain their right to bargain with the mine's new owner for at least a year after the sale. In addition, it would allow them to retain all rights granted them by American labor law. This is the kind of language the UMWA was looking for when we asked Congress for help, and we thank Rep. Boucher and those who have already co-sponsored the bill for listening and taking action."

Roberts added that the legislation is explicit in defining the terms of the process coal operators would have to use to reject a collective bargaining agreement.

"Once a rejection application is filed, corporate management would be displaced by a Trustee, who would be selected by the U.S. Trustee from a list of five provided by the Secretary of Labor," he explained. "It's a process very similar to that being used today in the railroad industry. If the rejection is approved by the Trustee, the affected miners would still retain their non-economic contractual rights, as well as their rights under American labor law. And all pre-rejection obligations would be secured by a lien against the debtor's assets. Furthermore, if an operator seeks to escape its contractual obligation to provide health care to its retired miners, its affiliates would become jointly liable for those obligations. This is good, sound policy, and the UMWA fully supports it."

Roberts added, "The UMWA will continue to work closely with our friends in Congress to ensure that coal operators can no longer use the nation's bankruptcy courts to break their promises. We will never give up our fight to rectify the great injustice imposed on the UMWA's Horizon coal miners last year, or our Bethlehem Steel miners the year before"

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14-year Diamond labor dispute ends

A bitter labor dispute, nearly 14 years old, ended Tuesday as employees of Diamond of California, the giant walnut cooperative, voted to accept a new five-year Teamsters contract.

After years in which the company refused to recognize the union, Teamsters led rallies, marches and a boycott against Diamond, and both sides traded charges and countercharges in ongoing legal and regulatory battles, it took about four months of negotiations to draft the tentative contract, officials said. (MORE >>>)

Unions Back Block on Big-Box Stores

Hundreds of labor union members lined West State Street yesterday to support legislation that would slow the construction of big-box superstores.

The bill would lengthen the construction approval process by mandating that a regional economic impact report accompany any application in excess of 130,000 square feet.

Supporters said the legislation, in committee since November, could protect "good-paying" jobs that provide health-care and retirement benefits.

"The legislation would protect every single person in New Jersey," said Harvey Whille, president of the state's largest local labor union, the 32,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Local 1262.

"This doesn't stop Wal-Mart from building stores but it creates a level playing surface." (MORE >>>)

New Bankruptcy Reform Legislation launched

Legislation aimed at keeping coal companies that file bankruptcy from shirking their collective bargaining obligations was introduced Friday in the U.S. House.

The legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., clarifies that coal miners must be treated fairly when their employer utilizes the bankruptcy process.

The legislation was prompted last August when lawyers for Horizon Natural Resources argued successfully during two bankruptcy hearings that - as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan - Horizon should not be held responsible for health care benefits for the union miners and retirees who had previously worked for Zeigler Coal and Old Ben Coal.

UMWA International President Cecil Roberts hailed the legislation that targets bankruptcy reform only for the coal industry.



Teamsters Announce Official Launch of Wal-Mart Worker Outreach Effort

The Teamsters Union Warehouse Division has launched a web site directed at the employees of the Wal-Mart distribution centers across the United States. Wal-Mart distribution center employees are the engine that has made Wal-Mart one of the most successful businesses in the world.

This online resource (www.walmartworkersunite.org) is designed to provide distribution center employees a place to go with questions regarding all aspects of their employment. The Teamsters Union, which represents distribution center employees across the country, is the leader in negotiating family wages and benefits for its members.

“The Teamsters Union respects that the Wal-Mart distribution center employees do a great job in getting the product to the stores,” said Teamsters Warehouse Division Director John A. Williams.

“Our Union negotiates industry-leading contracts providing our members with family wages and benefits. Wal-Mart employees, working for the largest company in the U.S., should not earn less in wages and benefits then what Teamster members enjoy working under their union contracts. The Wal-Mart model for its distribution center employees should not be built on what can’t be done but what must be done to make these Wal-Mart employees some of the best compensated workers in the industry.”

The Bell has been rung on Taco chain

In a major victory for immigrant farm workers and boycotting consumers, fast-food giant Taco Bell Corp. has agreed to work with a Florida-based labour organisation to increase the wages and improve the working conditions of thousands of workers in the state's huge tomato industry.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, provides that Taco Bell will pay an additional penny per pound (one kilo = 2.2 pounds) of tomatoes to its Florida suppliers on the condition that they pass the money along to the farm workers.

It also pledged to purchase tomatoes only from those growers who agree to the scheme and to press other major tomato buyers to do the same.

For its part, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) agreed to declare an end to its four-year boycott against Taco Bell. The boycott was supported by the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), Oxfam America, and the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, among other organisations, as well as actor Martin Sheen and the former head of the UN Commission for Human Rights and president of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

"This is an important victory for farm workers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of workers," said Lucas Benitez, a leader of the CIW.

"It sends a clear challenge to other industry leaders," he added.


Wal-Mart Proposes ‘Sweatshop on Wheels’

A hailstorm of pressure from transportation unions, lawmakers and highway safety advocates combined to knock down a proposal that would have extended a trucker’s workday to 16 hours, legislation described by one opponent as a “sweatshop on wheels amendment.”

The proposed amendment, offered by Rep. John Boozman (R-AK) and backed by giant retailer Wal-Mart, would allow employers to push truckers to remain on the road for as long as 16 hours provided the driver took an unpaid two-hour break. Current rules limit driver’s workdays to 11 consecutive hours.

“The last thing we need is for tired truckers to become even more fatigued and threaten the safety of those around them on the roads,” said Joan Claybrook, president of the Public Citizen, who explained the bill could create a workday for drivers that began at 8 a.m. and did not end until midnight.

Arkansas Republican Rep. Boozman, whose district includes Wal-Mart headquarters, withdrew his amendment to the highway and transit bill (H.R. 3) in the face of widespread criticism.


Bankruptcy Reform: UMWA Thanks Specter for efforts

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Thanks Sen. Arlen Specter And Other Key U.S. Senators For Trying To Get Coal Act Amendment Attached To Federal Bankruptcy Legislation

Amendment Would Have Clarified Why Coal Act Supersedes Bankruptcy Judge's Decision, While Also Preventing More Coal Operators From Abusing The Bankruptcy Process

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts today praised U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) effort last night to attach an amendment important to America's coal miners to a broader piece of legislation being debated to overhaul America's bankruptcy laws.

The amendment was modeled after legislation introduced earlier this year by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). It clarified how the 1992 Coal Act contained a promise to UMWA coal miners of lifetime health care benefits, and how the legislation was intended to prevent coal operators from being able to walk away from their obligation to pay for their retired miners' health care benefitsBincluding through the bankruptcy process. The need for such an amendment was created in August, 2004, when a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling allowed Horizon Natural Resources to terminate its Coal Act obligations to some 5,000 UMWA active and retired miners and their dependents. The amendment had already received strong support from several other coalfield senators, including Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.).

Unfortunately, however, a few senators refused to allow the amendment on procedural grounds, prompting anger from Roberts and the UMWA.

"The UMWA is extremely frustrated and angered that this very important amendment was prevented from being attached to the federal bankruptcy overhaul," said Roberts. "The language was a natural fit for the bankruptcy legislation and should never have been tossed out for procedural reasons." He continued, "The Coal Act is a federal law, and every U.S. Senator should certainly understand that one judge's decision cannot be allowed to supersede the laws Congress creates. This amendment directly addressed that issue, and it should have been included in the larger bill. I guess some members of Congress just aren't that concerned about workers' issues as they apply to our nation's bankruptcy laws. That concerns UMWA members, and I'm quite sure it will also concern many more American workers."

Roberts thanked Sens. Specter, Rockefeller and all other supporters for their help, promising to continue working with them to get the amendment passed in some way, shape or form.

"This fight is far from over," promised Roberts. "The UMWA will continue to work closely with our friends in Congress to ensure that coal operators can no longer use the nation's bankruptcy courts to break their promises. We also believe this amendment could serve to pave the way to ensuring other working Americans are able to get a fair shake in bankruptcy court."

Click Here To Show Your Support For Reforming Bankruptcy Laws


Supreme Court lets stand coal industry law

The U-S Supreme Court refused today to consider whether federal law requires a former coal company based in Richmond to pay money into a health care fund for retired coal miners.

Justices let stand a lower court ruling against The Pittston Company, which is now The Brink's Company. (MORE >>>)

Senate Votes Against Pay Raise for Minimum Wage Workers

The U.S. Senate failed to boost the federal minimum wage March 7, meaning the 2.5 million workers who make the $5.15 hourly federal minimum wage will not have seen a wage increase since 1997. An amendment offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to bankruptcy legislation (S. 256) would have raised the minimum wage by $2.10 over the next 26 months. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), about 7.3 million workers would have benefited from the wage hike to $7.25.

The measure, which needed 60 votes to win approval, lost 46–49, with four Republican senators backing it. Senate Republicans, seeking to deflect criticisms pointing to Republican lawmakers’ repeated efforts to block minimum wage increases, offered a poison pill amendment with a $1.10 hourly wage hike that also included devastating rollbacks in overtime and equal pay protections. That bill was defeated in a 38–61 vote.

“I believe that anyone who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year should not live in poverty in the richest country in the world,” said Kennedy, who vowed to offer the minimum wage amendment to other Senate bills later this year.

A full-time, year-round minimum wage worker in 2004 earned only $10,712, $4,493 less than the $15,205 needed to lift a family of three out of poverty.


Bush Refuses to Include Workers’ Rights in CAFTA

A recent report by Human Rights Watch highlighted how workers in El Salvador are often denied such basic rights as the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Yet, the Bush administration refused to include protection for core workers’ rights in CAFTA.

As an example of the routine and systematic abuse workers face, Garcia cited the recent firings of workers at the Acajulta Port in El Salvador. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, El Salvador’s government claimed it needed to privatize the port to make it more secure. That was just a ruse to get rid of the union that represented more than 3,000 workers at Acajulta, Garcia says, by spreading the work among seven companies.

Tired of working long hours and under poor conditions, the workers tried to form a union again last December. One day after the workers requested to register the union with the federal Labor Ministry, the companies fired 150 workers, including 45 founding members of the union. Rather than protect the workers’ right to form a union, the labor minister announced he could not register the union because the founding members were not employed at the port. The workers have filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations.

“El Salvador’s government knows CAFTA is on the agenda,” Garcia says. “If the huge incentive of CAFTA is not enough to stop the violations, imagine what they would do if CAFTA passes.”

Rockefeller says the fight to reform bankruptcy laws will continue

After his amendment to protect the workers and retirees of bankrupt companies fell just short of passing the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) tonight pledged to continue fighting to make sure that these companies deliver on the promises they have made to their workers and retirees.

“People work their entire lives under the promise that they will receive a pension and health care from their companies,” said Rockefeller, Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care. “Sadly we have seen some companies in the last few years use the bankruptcy courts to walk away from these promises.

“Our employees and retirees need better protections, and we will continue to fight to make sure that they receive these protections. Our workers and retirees should have the right to claim their fair share of the remaining assets of a company they helped build.”

“I am disappointed by tonight’s actions, but we have lost just this battle. We will win the war.”

Rockefeller’s amendment would have:

· Ensured Compensation for Retirees Who Lose Health Coverage. If an employer reduces retiree health care benefits as part of a bankruptcy plan, retirees and former workers would be entitled to cash compensation, in addition to the general unsecured claim they receive under current law. The compensation is designed to enable retirees and former workers to purchase comparable health insurance for another 18 months.

· Increased Workers’ Priority Claim Against Company Assets. The amendment would have allowed employees to recover more of the back-pay, vacation time, severance, or benefit payments that the company owes them at the time it declares bankruptcy. Current law grants an employee a priority claim of $4,925 against the company’s assets, but Rockefeller’s amendment would have increased the claim to $15,000.

Reform Bankruptcy
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Reform Bankruptcy Laws: Corporate Abuse

Stung by two days of defeat for their bids to revise a bill overhauling the bankruptcy laws, Senate Democrats are portraying the measure as making it harder for low-income, elderly and sick people to dissolve their debts while allowing the wealthy to shelter assets (More >>>)

Visit our Citizens United To Reform Bankruptcy Laws to help send a clear message to Congress that Corporations are abusing the loopholes in this system.

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