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Report of the Australia ‘Get Wise, Organise’ Queensland Conference At MUA Queensland-Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 18:36

Report of the Australia ‘Get Wise, Organise’ Queensland Conference At MUA Queensland-Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/muanational/pages/7749/attachments...

Branch Biennial Conference

Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

– by Janet Burstall – photos by Mike Barber
THE THREAT OF massive job losses from automation on the wharves is a worldwide concern addressed at the Queensland MUA international conference. Professor Raquel Varela from Portugal explained that the decision by owners to introduce robots is both political and economic, and can be contested and beaten. There is not one single fully automated port in the world, robots have not yet achieved the same rate of unloading as worker operated machinery, and they are a very expensive investment that often relies on public subsidies. Her solutions to the threat of loss of jobs to robots include shorter working time hours without reducing salaries, and putting technology under the control of workers, not the dictatorship of the port owner.

to live. If the bosses do not have the same profits all the time, this will not question their life, their dignity. The right to have a profit is not the same as the right to have a salary.” Jason Miners, Deputy Branch Secretary, declared Raquel Varela’s presentation to be “the best injection of class politics into a conference that I have ever heard.”

Queensland MUA delegates learned about the vast differences around the world in freedom to organise, working conditions and threats to livelihoods when they heard in person from International Dockworkers Council branch delegates from Belgium, Spain, Argentina, France, USA, and from the Hong Kong Dockers Union, the Confederation of Congress of Indonesian Alliance of Unions (KASBI) and the International Transport Federation.

Members were gob smacked when a Hong Kong dock worker described 24 hour shifts for Hutchison on cranes with a piss pot on board. In both Hong Kong and Argentina, trade unionists have “disappeared”. Terribly low pay in Indonesia and Hong Kong was shocking. The IDC delegate from Le Havre in France was applauded when he said that workers at his port will not allow full

Raquel Varela speaking at the conference

She challenged casualisation and company power to demand profits, saying “we don’t have kids and houses for 3 months of the year, so why should we only work 3 months of the year? If we have no salary we have no way to live. If the bosses do not have the same profits all the time, this will not question their life, their dignity. The right to have a profit is not the same as the right to have a salary.” Jason Miners, Deputy Branch Secretary, declared Raquel Varela’s presentation to be “the best injection of class politics into a conference that I have ever heard.”

Queensland MUA delegates learned about the vast differences around the world in freedom to organise, working conditions and threats to livelihoods when they heard in person from International Dockworkers Council branch delegates from Belgium, Spain, Argentina, France, USA, and from the Hong Kong Dockers Union, the Confederation of Congress of Indonesian Alliance of Unions (KASBI) and the International Transport Federation.

Members were gob smacked when a Hong Kong dock worker described 24 hour shifts for Hutchison on cranes with a piss pot on board. In both Hong Kong and Argentina, trade unionists have “disappeared”. Terribly low pay in Indonesia and Hong Kong was shocking. The IDC delegate from Le Havre in France was applauded when he said that workers at his port will not allow full automation. The potential for international solidarity was made clear, and commitment to that solidarity visibly grew over the two-day conference.

Danger of serious injury and death at work was another common theme across the world discussed, with reports of recent serious incidents and a national report on what can be achieved through safety committees.

Minister Bailey and Peter Ong MUA Qld Conference 2017

“It’ll be grim under Tim” Nicholls if Labor loses the Queensland election. Peter Ong of the ETU, Ros McLennan of the QCU, David Greene of the MUA and the Qld MUA-backed candidate for the seat of Everton, and Labor Minister Mark Bailey all made the case for a Labor vote. Peter Ong recounted how the ETU had fought both Bligh Labor and Newman LNP governments to stop electricity privatisation, and ended up in hot debate about the value of affiliation to the ALP. ETU members decided to remain affiliates in order to get commitments to ETU policies and pro-union election candidates, as well as continuing public campaigns regardless of Labor election prospects.

Ros McLennan and David Greene addressing the conference

Professor David Peetz from Griffith University provided some figures and research on declining union density that suggested the best antidote to declining membership that unions could use right now is to make sure that delegates are part of democratic union decision-making, and effective activists in every workplace. Christy Cain from Western Australia reported some success in forming a young workers’ group within the MUA, and the NSW Branch is also trying this out.

Ged Kearney brought solidarity greetings from Australian Unions, and spoke about the new ‘Change the Rules’ campaign, asking everyone to complete the online survey for it.

A major component of Change the Rules is to restore legal rights for unions to organise and strike. Dave Noonan from the CFMEU and barrister Peter Morrissey SC also highlighted the problems of criminalizing industrial action and why unions should resist the law and order agenda in electoral politics.

Solidarity collections to support workers locked out for over 132 days at North Oaky by Glencore raised over $2800, to top up donations that had already been made by MUA Branches around Australia. And the MUA Queensland Branch is co-ordinating members to drive up to the North Oaky picket line.

Lots more than this happened at the conference, which is a great step forward for education, agitation, organisation and working-class solidarity. In closing the conference Queensland Branch Secretary, Bob Carnegie quoted American socialist, Eugene Debs:

“The labor movement is the child of slavery—the offspring of oppression—in revolt against the misery and suffering that gave it birth. Its splendid growth is the marvel of our time, the forerunner of freedom, the hope of mankind.

Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked and clubbed into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press, frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but, notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thraldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun. The most vital thing about this world movement is its educational propaganda-its capacity and power to shed light in the brain of the working class, arouse them from their torpor, develop their faculties for thinking, teach them their economic class interests, effect their solidarity, and imbue them with the spirit of the impending social revolution.”

Authorised by Bob Carnegie, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Queensland Branch Secretary 73 Southgate Avenue, Cannon Hill QLD 4170

Tags: MUA QueenslandBob CarnegiGlobal SolidarityClass Politics
Categories: Labor News

Report of the Australia ‘Get Wise, Organise’ Queensland Conference At MUA Queensland-Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 18:36

Report of the Australia ‘Get Wise, Organise’ Queensland Conference At MUA Queensland-Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/muanational/pages/7749/attachments...

Branch Biennial Conference

Global Solidarity Conference: Injecting Class Politics

– by Janet Burstall – photos by Mike Barber
THE THREAT OF massive job losses from automation on the wharves is a worldwide concern addressed at the Queensland MUA international conference. Professor Raquel Varela from Portugal explained that the decision by owners to introduce robots is both political and economic, and can be contested and beaten. There is not one single fully automated port in the world, robots have not yet achieved the same rate of unloading as worker operated machinery, and they are a very expensive investment that often relies on public subsidies. Her solutions to the threat of loss of jobs to robots include shorter working time hours without reducing salaries, and putting technology under the control of workers, not the dictatorship of the port owner.

to live. If the bosses do not have the same profits all the time, this will not question their life, their dignity. The right to have a profit is not the same as the right to have a salary.” Jason Miners, Deputy Branch Secretary, declared Raquel Varela’s presentation to be “the best injection of class politics into a conference that I have ever heard.”

Queensland MUA delegates learned about the vast differences around the world in freedom to organise, working conditions and threats to livelihoods when they heard in person from International Dockworkers Council branch delegates from Belgium, Spain, Argentina, France, USA, and from the Hong Kong Dockers Union, the Confederation of Congress of Indonesian Alliance of Unions (KASBI) and the International Transport Federation.

Members were gob smacked when a Hong Kong dock worker described 24 hour shifts for Hutchison on cranes with a piss pot on board. In both Hong Kong and Argentina, trade unionists have “disappeared”. Terribly low pay in Indonesia and Hong Kong was shocking. The IDC delegate from Le Havre in France was applauded when he said that workers at his port will not allow full

Raquel Varela speaking at the conference

She challenged casualisation and company power to demand profits, saying “we don’t have kids and houses for 3 months of the year, so why should we only work 3 months of the year? If we have no salary we have no way to live. If the bosses do not have the same profits all the time, this will not question their life, their dignity. The right to have a profit is not the same as the right to have a salary.” Jason Miners, Deputy Branch Secretary, declared Raquel Varela’s presentation to be “the best injection of class politics into a conference that I have ever heard.”

Queensland MUA delegates learned about the vast differences around the world in freedom to organise, working conditions and threats to livelihoods when they heard in person from International Dockworkers Council branch delegates from Belgium, Spain, Argentina, France, USA, and from the Hong Kong Dockers Union, the Confederation of Congress of Indonesian Alliance of Unions (KASBI) and the International Transport Federation.

Members were gob smacked when a Hong Kong dock worker described 24 hour shifts for Hutchison on cranes with a piss pot on board. In both Hong Kong and Argentina, trade unionists have “disappeared”. Terribly low pay in Indonesia and Hong Kong was shocking. The IDC delegate from Le Havre in France was applauded when he said that workers at his port will not allow full automation. The potential for international solidarity was made clear, and commitment to that solidarity visibly grew over the two-day conference.

Danger of serious injury and death at work was another common theme across the world discussed, with reports of recent serious incidents and a national report on what can be achieved through safety committees.

Minister Bailey and Peter Ong MUA Qld Conference 2017

“It’ll be grim under Tim” Nicholls if Labor loses the Queensland election. Peter Ong of the ETU, Ros McLennan of the QCU, David Greene of the MUA and the Qld MUA-backed candidate for the seat of Everton, and Labor Minister Mark Bailey all made the case for a Labor vote. Peter Ong recounted how the ETU had fought both Bligh Labor and Newman LNP governments to stop electricity privatisation, and ended up in hot debate about the value of affiliation to the ALP. ETU members decided to remain affiliates in order to get commitments to ETU policies and pro-union election candidates, as well as continuing public campaigns regardless of Labor election prospects.

Ros McLennan and David Greene addressing the conference

Professor David Peetz from Griffith University provided some figures and research on declining union density that suggested the best antidote to declining membership that unions could use right now is to make sure that delegates are part of democratic union decision-making, and effective activists in every workplace. Christy Cain from Western Australia reported some success in forming a young workers’ group within the MUA, and the NSW Branch is also trying this out.

Ged Kearney brought solidarity greetings from Australian Unions, and spoke about the new ‘Change the Rules’ campaign, asking everyone to complete the online survey for it.

A major component of Change the Rules is to restore legal rights for unions to organise and strike. Dave Noonan from the CFMEU and barrister Peter Morrissey SC also highlighted the problems of criminalizing industrial action and why unions should resist the law and order agenda in electoral politics.

Solidarity collections to support workers locked out for over 132 days at North Oaky by Glencore raised over $2800, to top up donations that had already been made by MUA Branches around Australia. And the MUA Queensland Branch is co-ordinating members to drive up to the North Oaky picket line.

Lots more than this happened at the conference, which is a great step forward for education, agitation, organisation and working-class solidarity. In closing the conference Queensland Branch Secretary, Bob Carnegie quoted American socialist, Eugene Debs:

“The labor movement is the child of slavery—the offspring of oppression—in revolt against the misery and suffering that gave it birth. Its splendid growth is the marvel of our time, the forerunner of freedom, the hope of mankind.

Ten thousand times has the labor movement stumbled and fallen and bruised itself, and risen again; been seized by the throat and choked and clubbed into insensibility; enjoined by courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, shot down by regulars, traduced by the press, frowned upon by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by grafters, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by leaders, but, notwithstanding all this, and all these, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thraldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun. The most vital thing about this world movement is its educational propaganda-its capacity and power to shed light in the brain of the working class, arouse them from their torpor, develop their faculties for thinking, teach them their economic class interests, effect their solidarity, and imbue them with the spirit of the impending social revolution.”

Authorised by Bob Carnegie, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Queensland Branch Secretary 73 Southgate Avenue, Cannon Hill QLD 4170

Tags: MUA QueenslandBob CarnegiGlobal SolidarityClass Politics
Categories: Labor News

UPS Teamsters Local 2727 aircraft mechanic workers claim holiday disaster looms as they threaten to strike

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 16:35

UPS aircraft mechanic workers claim holiday disaster looms as they threaten to strike
http://www.businessinsider.com/ups-workers-threaten-to-strike-2017-11

Hayley Peterson

Nov. 21, 2017, 5:14 PM 43,533

UPS aircraft mechanics are threatening to strike amid the busy holiday shipping season.REUTERS/John Sommers II

UPS aircraft mechanics are threatening to strike during the busy holiday shipping season
The workers are launching a national advertising campaign to fight what they are calling "massive reductions" to their health care benefits
UPS says customers "remain in good hands" during the holiday season and notes that workers cannot strike unless they are released from negotiations by the National Mediation Board

UPS workers are threatening to go on strike amid the busy holiday shipping season because of a disagreement over changes to their health care benefits.

UPS aircraft mechanics and related employees who maintain the company's air cargo fleet are taking out ads in USA Today and the Seattle Times that state: "What every American should know before they ship with UPS during the holidays: UPS wants to make deep cuts to its aircraft mechanics’ health care benefits. That’s why the 1,300 aircraft mechanics who keep UPS planes running during the holiday season are ready to strike."

The workers, represented by the Teamsters Local 2727 union, say UPS wants to make massive cuts to their health care benefits.

"The holiday shipping season is UPS’ busiest and most critical time, and before our customers ship with UPS, we want them to know about the instability in our already distressed workforce," Tim Boyle, president of Teamsters Local 2727, said in a statement. "The aircraft maintenance workforce is united and won’t let UPS executives gamble with our families’ health care."

UPS and the union have been in mediated contract negotiations over the changes. The union, which has voted to authorize a strike, recently filed a request with the Federal National Mediation Board asking to be released from the negotiations. The request was denied.

The workers cannot go on strike unless the board releases them from negotiations.

UPS says its customers "remain in good hands during the holidays" and said the aircraft mechanics' union's ads "include more of the same exaggerated rhetoric designed to pressure our ongoing labor contract negotiations."

"The reality is, under US labor law, these negotiations are controlled by the National Mediation Board, not the company or the union; talks continue to progress; and our aircraft mechanics will continue to have outstanding benefits, including great healthcare coverage," UPS said in a statement. "UPS aircraft mechanics enjoy one of the most attractive compensation packages in commercial aviation. When factoring in wages, pension, 401(k) and benefits, the annual value of their total compensation package exceeds $140,000."

UPS said it believes the negotiations will result in a "win-win contract, just as in all of our previous mechanic negotiations."

"UPS remains ready to meet with the union under the authority of the NMB and will work toward a successful agreement," the company said.

Tags: IBT 2727UPS mechanicscontract negotiations
Categories: Labor News

Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:07

Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster
http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/820043.html
Posted on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KSTModified on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KST
Printfacebook16twitter

Family members of Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, and Park Yeon-in carry their portraits around the Danwon High School one final time during a funeral ceremony on Nov. 20. The three were among five missing victims of the Sewol tragedy whose bodies were never recovered. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)
Clothing and various possessions filled the coffins of the deceased
Three years ago, students and teachers at Danwon High School departing on a spring trip with broad smiles on their faces and a father and son moving to Jeju Island with big dreams were taken from their families and lost their lives in the icy wind. On Nov. 20, the five victims of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry whose bodies were never recovered were sent to their eternal rest. Their bereaved families never managed to find a single bone of their bodies as they had desired. 1,314 days have passed since the Sewol tragedy, and 223 days since the hull of the ferry was raised onto dry land.

At 6 am on Nov. 20, funerals were held for Park Yeon-in and Nam Hyeon-cheol, male students who were 17 years old at the time of the accident, and Yang Seung-jin, a teacher who was 57 at the time, at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. Since their bodies were never recovered, their coffins were filled with their possessions – backpacks and clothing – that were found during the search of the hull. Because none of Yang’s possessions were found in this search, his coffin was filled with clothing he had worn and items he had used at school during his lifetime and with letters written by his family members. Family members, pupils and peers of the deceased attended the funeral procession to see them off on their final journey.

The wife of Yang Seung-jin cries as she touches his portrait during a funeral ceremony for the missing victims of the Sewol tragedy at Danwon High School on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

Yu Baek-hyeong, Yang’s widow, wept before getting into the hearse. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find you in the sea,” she said. Park and Nam’s parents also shed tears as they loaded the coffins in the hearses. The three hearses departed the funeral home at 6:30 am and arrived twenty minutes later at the front gate of Danwon High School, where the deceased had studied and taught. Bearing the funeral portraits, the bereaved visited the teachers’ room on the second floor of Danwon High School, where Yang had worked, and then circled the third floor classroom used by the sixth class of the second year of high school, to which Park and Nam had belonged.

The bereaved family members cried inconsolably, each holding a bundle filled with dirt from Danwon High School. “It breaks your mother’s heart for you to go without meeting one last time. Goodbye, Seung-jin!” Yang’s mother said, as she caressed the funeral portrait of her son and wept, causing those around her to break into tears as well.

The family of Nam Hyeon-cheol bows as his casket is loaded onto a hearse at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

The funeral was attended by the April 16 Family Association, teaching staff from Danwon High School, employees from the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, and members of civic groups. A memorial was held in front of the Ansan City Hall, with over 100 city officials in attendance, before the group headed to the Suwon Crematorium. After the effects of the deceased were cremated, they were laid to rest at Seoho Memorial Park in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, at 11:30 am.

Kwon Jae-geun (52 years old at the time of the accident) and his son Kwon Hyeok-gyu (6 at the time), whose move to Jeju Island ended so tragically, were also laid to rest on Nov. 20. Kwon and his wife (Han Yun-ji), son, and daughter (Kwon Ji-yeon) all boarded the Sewol ferry at Incheon Port to move to Jeju Island, but only Ji-yeon survived the sinking. At the time of the accident, Hyeok-gyu reportedly helped his little sister escape by putting a life jacket on her. The truck carrying the Kwon’s possessions was discovered in the prow of the ship, in the second floor cargo compartment, on July 11.

The families of missing victims of the Sewol tragedy hold a press conference on Nov. 16 at the Mokpo New Port to announce that they will be leaving the area after three and a half years. (by Park Seung-hwa, Hankyoreh 21 staff reporter)

In contrast with the long wait, the funeral procession barely took 10 minutes. During the procession, which was conducted in great solemnity at the funeral home at Asan Medical Center, located in the Songpa District of Seoul at 6:30 am, a black limousine hearse and a bus departed from the funeral home, bearing the coffins containing the father’s and son’s effects. The funeral photo of Han, Kwon’s wife, went in front, followed by the coffins, as weeping family members called the names of the departed, reluctant to let them go.

Kwon’s coffin also contained the clothing of his wife, whose remains had been previously discovered and already laid to rest. “Since his remains were never recovered, we chose some clothing from their belongings and placed it in the coffin,” said Kwon’s older brother, Kwon O-bok, 63, through his sobs. The father’s and son’s coffins were cremated at Manwoldang, at Incheon Family Park, and laid to rest in the memorial to the Sewol victims who were not students or teachers at Danwon High School. Of the 476 people who boarded the Sewol ferry on Apr. 16, 2014, 304 died in the accident. The funerals of the five whose remains were never found are the final funerals of the Sewol victims. The families of those who were not recovered and other members of the April 16 Family Association are calling for the Special Sewol Investigative Commission to be reinstated to carry out a thorough inquiry of the accident.

“We must not allow a tragedy like the Sewol to be repeated, and we must learn from the tragedy by creating a comprehensives system that can be activated regardless of the accident. The Second Special Sewol Investigative Commission’s mandate should be renewed so that the tragedy can be investigated thoroughly, not leaving behind a shadow of a doubt,” the families of the victims said during a press conference held on Nov. 16 at Mokpo New Port, in South Jeolla Province, the current location of the Sewol.

“We have come this far with the desperate hope of sending at least one bone fragment to a warm place. Though we are sad and having a hard time right now, we have decided to bury our family members in our hearts. We humbly express our gratitude to the people of Jindo Island and to Koreans around the country for their dedicated help and to the workers who risked their lives to lead the search and rescue efforts,” the family members said during a joint memorial service at Mokpo New Port on Nov. 18.

With their waiting finally over after three long years, the family members said goodbye to Mokpo New Port. As the procession of hearses was departing, the tens of thousands of yellow ribbons tied to the fences at Mokpo New Port fluttered in a stiff breeze, as if to wave farewell. “Goodbye now! We’ll never forget you, Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, Park Yeong-in, Kwon Jae-geun, Kwon Hyeok-gyu. . .”

By Choi Min-young, staff reporter and Kim Gi-seong, south Gyeonggi correspondent

Tags: ferry workersderegulationSewol Disaster
Categories: Labor News

Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:07

Korean Funerals held for five missing victims of Sewol ferry disaster
http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/820043.html
Posted on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KSTModified on : Nov.21,2017 16:55 KST
Printfacebook16twitter

Family members of Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, and Park Yeon-in carry their portraits around the Danwon High School one final time during a funeral ceremony on Nov. 20. The three were among five missing victims of the Sewol tragedy whose bodies were never recovered. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)
Clothing and various possessions filled the coffins of the deceased
Three years ago, students and teachers at Danwon High School departing on a spring trip with broad smiles on their faces and a father and son moving to Jeju Island with big dreams were taken from their families and lost their lives in the icy wind. On Nov. 20, the five victims of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry whose bodies were never recovered were sent to their eternal rest. Their bereaved families never managed to find a single bone of their bodies as they had desired. 1,314 days have passed since the Sewol tragedy, and 223 days since the hull of the ferry was raised onto dry land.

At 6 am on Nov. 20, funerals were held for Park Yeon-in and Nam Hyeon-cheol, male students who were 17 years old at the time of the accident, and Yang Seung-jin, a teacher who was 57 at the time, at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. Since their bodies were never recovered, their coffins were filled with their possessions – backpacks and clothing – that were found during the search of the hull. Because none of Yang’s possessions were found in this search, his coffin was filled with clothing he had worn and items he had used at school during his lifetime and with letters written by his family members. Family members, pupils and peers of the deceased attended the funeral procession to see them off on their final journey.

The wife of Yang Seung-jin cries as she touches his portrait during a funeral ceremony for the missing victims of the Sewol tragedy at Danwon High School on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

Yu Baek-hyeong, Yang’s widow, wept before getting into the hearse. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find you in the sea,” she said. Park and Nam’s parents also shed tears as they loaded the coffins in the hearses. The three hearses departed the funeral home at 6:30 am and arrived twenty minutes later at the front gate of Danwon High School, where the deceased had studied and taught. Bearing the funeral portraits, the bereaved visited the teachers’ room on the second floor of Danwon High School, where Yang had worked, and then circled the third floor classroom used by the sixth class of the second year of high school, to which Park and Nam had belonged.

The bereaved family members cried inconsolably, each holding a bundle filled with dirt from Danwon High School. “It breaks your mother’s heart for you to go without meeting one last time. Goodbye, Seung-jin!” Yang’s mother said, as she caressed the funeral portrait of her son and wept, causing those around her to break into tears as well.

The family of Nam Hyeon-cheol bows as his casket is loaded onto a hearse at the Jeil Funeral Home in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Nov. 20. (by Kim Kyung-ho, staff photographer)

The funeral was attended by the April 16 Family Association, teaching staff from Danwon High School, employees from the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, and members of civic groups. A memorial was held in front of the Ansan City Hall, with over 100 city officials in attendance, before the group headed to the Suwon Crematorium. After the effects of the deceased were cremated, they were laid to rest at Seoho Memorial Park in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, at 11:30 am.

Kwon Jae-geun (52 years old at the time of the accident) and his son Kwon Hyeok-gyu (6 at the time), whose move to Jeju Island ended so tragically, were also laid to rest on Nov. 20. Kwon and his wife (Han Yun-ji), son, and daughter (Kwon Ji-yeon) all boarded the Sewol ferry at Incheon Port to move to Jeju Island, but only Ji-yeon survived the sinking. At the time of the accident, Hyeok-gyu reportedly helped his little sister escape by putting a life jacket on her. The truck carrying the Kwon’s possessions was discovered in the prow of the ship, in the second floor cargo compartment, on July 11.

The families of missing victims of the Sewol tragedy hold a press conference on Nov. 16 at the Mokpo New Port to announce that they will be leaving the area after three and a half years. (by Park Seung-hwa, Hankyoreh 21 staff reporter)

In contrast with the long wait, the funeral procession barely took 10 minutes. During the procession, which was conducted in great solemnity at the funeral home at Asan Medical Center, located in the Songpa District of Seoul at 6:30 am, a black limousine hearse and a bus departed from the funeral home, bearing the coffins containing the father’s and son’s effects. The funeral photo of Han, Kwon’s wife, went in front, followed by the coffins, as weeping family members called the names of the departed, reluctant to let them go.

Kwon’s coffin also contained the clothing of his wife, whose remains had been previously discovered and already laid to rest. “Since his remains were never recovered, we chose some clothing from their belongings and placed it in the coffin,” said Kwon’s older brother, Kwon O-bok, 63, through his sobs. The father’s and son’s coffins were cremated at Manwoldang, at Incheon Family Park, and laid to rest in the memorial to the Sewol victims who were not students or teachers at Danwon High School. Of the 476 people who boarded the Sewol ferry on Apr. 16, 2014, 304 died in the accident. The funerals of the five whose remains were never found are the final funerals of the Sewol victims. The families of those who were not recovered and other members of the April 16 Family Association are calling for the Special Sewol Investigative Commission to be reinstated to carry out a thorough inquiry of the accident.

“We must not allow a tragedy like the Sewol to be repeated, and we must learn from the tragedy by creating a comprehensives system that can be activated regardless of the accident. The Second Special Sewol Investigative Commission’s mandate should be renewed so that the tragedy can be investigated thoroughly, not leaving behind a shadow of a doubt,” the families of the victims said during a press conference held on Nov. 16 at Mokpo New Port, in South Jeolla Province, the current location of the Sewol.

“We have come this far with the desperate hope of sending at least one bone fragment to a warm place. Though we are sad and having a hard time right now, we have decided to bury our family members in our hearts. We humbly express our gratitude to the people of Jindo Island and to Koreans around the country for their dedicated help and to the workers who risked their lives to lead the search and rescue efforts,” the family members said during a joint memorial service at Mokpo New Port on Nov. 18.

With their waiting finally over after three long years, the family members said goodbye to Mokpo New Port. As the procession of hearses was departing, the tens of thousands of yellow ribbons tied to the fences at Mokpo New Port fluttered in a stiff breeze, as if to wave farewell. “Goodbye now! We’ll never forget you, Yang Seung-jin, Nam Hyeon-cheol, Park Yeong-in, Kwon Jae-geun, Kwon Hyeok-gyu. . .”

By Choi Min-young, staff reporter and Kim Gi-seong, south Gyeonggi correspondent

Tags: ferry workersderegulationSewol Disaster
Categories: Labor News

North Carolina UPS workers accuse delivery giant of harassment and discrimination

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:51

North Carolina UPS workers accuse delivery giant of harassment and discrimination
http://abc11.com/business/ups-workers-accuse-delivery-giant-of-harassmen...

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UPS workers accuse delivery giant of harassment and discrimination
By Jon Camp
Tuesday, November 21, 2017 12:08PM
CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Rodney Robinson drove for UPS for nearly three decades at the UPS distribution center in Chapel Hill. He was a union shop steward for eight years, and, as he says, held in good standing by the company. "I was a circle of honor driver, he said. "That's very hard to do." He said that meant he drove for 25 years without an accident. "You're put in a club. The Circle of Honor club."

That started changing, he said, in 2013 when he started complaining about the fact UPS wouldn't change his hours, something he says is clearly allowed in union rules. "When I started filing grievances, in February 2013, that's when all the disciplinary action started to come to me," said Rodney Robinson.

Three years and 40 grievances later, Robinson was fired, in part, for running a stop sign in an apartment complex.

"They look for nitpicky, harassing charges to come after you," he said. "They use observations to terminate people. You didn't blow your horn loud enough. You walked in front of a package care versus walking behind it. You didn't pull your mirrors in. The company calls them method or procedural infractions."

"200,000 UPS drivers go on the roads each day," Robinson continued. "If you were to watch all those drivers, you'll see countless errors and mistakes. We're human beings. They're firing people for filing an info notice improperly. You know the notice you leave on the door for a customer? You make a simple error on an info notice and that is a means to terminate you. They build up enough of these charges, they take you to arbitration and have you terminated."

At the center of the claims made by Robinson and other drivers, the charge that UPS treats black drivers differently and more harshly than white drivers.

In 2016, Robinson filed three separate complaints against UPS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination based on age and race, as well as allegations of retaliation from the company.

UPS responded to the allegations with a letter to the EEOC calling them "frivolous" and saying Robinson was fired for violating basic safety rules. UPS also claimed in its response that Robinson had a history of performance problems pre-dating his first federal complaint and noted that his termination was upheld in arbitration.

Robinson challenged the company's response. "As a Circle of Honor driver," he said, "I was a perfect driver, so to speak." Robinson filed a lawsuit against UPS last week.

He's not the first driver in the Triangle to make claims of discrimination against the company. Last year, another former Chapel Hill UPS driver named Glenwood Robinson (no relation) sued the company, claiming discrimination based on race. His court filing makes specific allegations of instances where he says white drivers were treated differently than black drivers.

Again, UPS pushed back, highlighting Robinson's work record. The company's legal response described it as "the worst" among Chapel Hill drivers and said he failed to follow safety protocols and engaged in unprofessional conduct. His termination was also upheld in arbitration.

But another former driver who came forward to the I-Team, Anthony Dunn, says he believes UPS' corporate behavior fits a pattern.

"When you start filing grievances, that's when the flag goes up," said UPS driver Anthony Dunn. "Many white drivers, they do worse things than we do. You're all going to make mistakes because you're all in a rush, rush, rush. You're a human being. Everybody's going to make mistakes. It's up to management if they're going to allow who gets away with it."

Dunn, a black driver, said he was treated differently than a white driver in a very similar situation. "They fired me because I hit a wall and didn't report it in a timely fashion," Dunn said. As it's reported in Dunn's EEOC filing, Dunn told the company about it 45 minutes later. UPS said in its response that it was a fireable offense.

The EEOC didn't rule on Dunn's case but it did say he could file a lawsuit in court if he wanted. His time for that ran out after 90 days.

"Most people don't have 30-40 thousand dollars to go up against a major company like UPS," said Anthony Dunn. "Even though you got proof."

No one at the company would talk to ABC11 on camera but spokesperson Dan McMackin emailed this statement: "UPS does not tolerate any form of discrimination in the workplace and takes all employee concerns seriously. Regarding the allegations of discrimination or harassment you contacted us about, UPS has thoroughly investigated all claims made by the employees in question and believes there to be no merit in any of them."

These aren't the first allegations of discrimination UPS has faced. Last year, workers in Florida protested outside a UPS distribution center alleging harassment and discrimination; earlier this year, it settled a disability discrimination lawsuit in Illinois; and last year in Kentucky, a jury awarded eight black workers more than $5 million after an effigy was hung in a UPS center there.

"Unless you come together collectively," Dunn said, "there's no way you're going to be able to fight to prove the truth that this is going on. We're all living. We continue to have to live our lives. When you get fired, you're on fire to do something to get revenge on this company. That lasts two to three months. But meanwhile, you're real life will kick in. I got a mortgage over here. I need to eat. So you kind of dribble off until you get one foul ball that gets you back up again."

"I'm hoping and praying that we can get this class action together," said Rodney Robinson. Like other drivers we talked to, Robinson sees the courts as one of their last remedies. "We have to," he said. "It's got to change. Not so much for us but for the next group of drivers to come along."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

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Tags: upshealth and safety
Categories: Labor News

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of rail workers

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 18:47

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of rail workers

http://www.themilitant.com/2017/8144/814452.html

Vol. 81/No. 44 November 27, 2017

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of
rail workers

BY JOHN STEELE
As the parade of witnesses for the prosecution continues in the frame-up trial of locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train controller Richard Labrie in the July 2013 derailment and fire that caused 47 deaths in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, more facts, many elicited in cross-examination, are pointing to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway bosses and the federal government’s Transport Canada as responsible.
Harding and Labrie, members of United Steelworkers Local 1976, face potential life sentences for “criminal negligence causing death,” as does Jean Demaitre, a former low-ranking company operations manager.

Harding is the main target of the frame-up. Boss and government officials claim the cause of the disaster was that the unionist didn’t set enough hand brakes on the 72-car oil train, allowing it to roll into town and explode.

But the hand brakes weren’t the way the train was supposed to be secured. Under company policy, Harding left the lead engine running with its air brakes engaged.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic bosses had gotten special dispensation from Transport Canada to run their trains with a one-person “crew.” So Harding, who had worked 12 hours, was required to get some sleep before completing his run in the morning.

What happened next was a fire broke out on the engine. The bosses knew the unit had problems. Francois Daigle, one of the three engineers, including Harding, who did the run through Lac-Mégantic, testified at the trial that he told company officials, including Demaitre, that the engine was belching black smoke and should be taken out of service. His concerns were ignored, he said.

Another prosecution witness, André Turcotte, the taxi driver who took Harding to his hotel, testified that the engine was spitting smoke and oil droplets. He said Harding told him the locomotive was being forced to work too hard, but the bosses said to keep going and to park the engine and leave it idling. Turcotte said Harding commented bitterly that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic never checked their locomotives.

The prosecution called a number of firemen who put out the flames to testify. They reported that they were unaware the train was hauling crude oil. They said the train was not moving after the fire was extinguished, and that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic official on site told them they could leave, assuring them everything was in hand. Harding, who had received a call about the fire, was told he wasn’t needed when he offered to go help out. The railway boss left, and, without power, the locomotive’s air brakes bled out and the train rolled into Lac-Mégantic and blew up.

Sébastien Pépin, a track maintenance foreman for Canadian Pacific Railway who witnessed the fire, testified he was astonished to see the engine left running with no crew around.

The train was equipped with an automatic brakes system that would turn on the air brakes on all the cars on the train, which would have prevented the train from moving no matter what happened to the engine. But Montreal, Maine and Atlantic bosses forbid workers from using this system. Whenever all the air brakes are set it takes time when restarting the train to wait for the brakes to bleed out. And, to make sure that all of them were released would require the one crew member to walk the entire train and check each brake. This would take time, and cost the bosses money.

As more of these facts come out, they raise questions of who is responsible for the disaster — the engineer who bitterly carried out the bosses’ order or the company that put profits before safety.

This has long been the general sentiment in Lac-Mégantic itself, where many people consider Harding a hero. After the fire broke out, he got out of bed and ran to the site, helping firefighters uncouple oil cars that hadn’t started burning. People there think the wrong party is in the dock.

As of Nov. 10 the prosecution had presented 20 of its 37 scheduled witnesses. Superior Court Judge Gaétan Dumas warned the jury that the trial, taking place in Sherbrooke, Quebec, which was projected to end Dec. 21, might continue into January 2018.

Messages in support of Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC Canada H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9. E-mail: thomaspwalsh@hotmail.com.

Michel Prairie contributed to this article.

Tags: locomotive engineers frame-uptrain wreckUSW Local 1976
Categories: Labor News

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of rail workers

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 18:47

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of rail workers

http://www.themilitant.com/2017/8144/814452.html

Vol. 81/No. 44 November 27, 2017

New evidence at trial exposes Canadian gov’t frame-up of
rail workers

BY JOHN STEELE
As the parade of witnesses for the prosecution continues in the frame-up trial of locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train controller Richard Labrie in the July 2013 derailment and fire that caused 47 deaths in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, more facts, many elicited in cross-examination, are pointing to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway bosses and the federal government’s Transport Canada as responsible.
Harding and Labrie, members of United Steelworkers Local 1976, face potential life sentences for “criminal negligence causing death,” as does Jean Demaitre, a former low-ranking company operations manager.

Harding is the main target of the frame-up. Boss and government officials claim the cause of the disaster was that the unionist didn’t set enough hand brakes on the 72-car oil train, allowing it to roll into town and explode.

But the hand brakes weren’t the way the train was supposed to be secured. Under company policy, Harding left the lead engine running with its air brakes engaged.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic bosses had gotten special dispensation from Transport Canada to run their trains with a one-person “crew.” So Harding, who had worked 12 hours, was required to get some sleep before completing his run in the morning.

What happened next was a fire broke out on the engine. The bosses knew the unit had problems. Francois Daigle, one of the three engineers, including Harding, who did the run through Lac-Mégantic, testified at the trial that he told company officials, including Demaitre, that the engine was belching black smoke and should be taken out of service. His concerns were ignored, he said.

Another prosecution witness, André Turcotte, the taxi driver who took Harding to his hotel, testified that the engine was spitting smoke and oil droplets. He said Harding told him the locomotive was being forced to work too hard, but the bosses said to keep going and to park the engine and leave it idling. Turcotte said Harding commented bitterly that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic never checked their locomotives.

The prosecution called a number of firemen who put out the flames to testify. They reported that they were unaware the train was hauling crude oil. They said the train was not moving after the fire was extinguished, and that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic official on site told them they could leave, assuring them everything was in hand. Harding, who had received a call about the fire, was told he wasn’t needed when he offered to go help out. The railway boss left, and, without power, the locomotive’s air brakes bled out and the train rolled into Lac-Mégantic and blew up.

Sébastien Pépin, a track maintenance foreman for Canadian Pacific Railway who witnessed the fire, testified he was astonished to see the engine left running with no crew around.

The train was equipped with an automatic brakes system that would turn on the air brakes on all the cars on the train, which would have prevented the train from moving no matter what happened to the engine. But Montreal, Maine and Atlantic bosses forbid workers from using this system. Whenever all the air brakes are set it takes time when restarting the train to wait for the brakes to bleed out. And, to make sure that all of them were released would require the one crew member to walk the entire train and check each brake. This would take time, and cost the bosses money.

As more of these facts come out, they raise questions of who is responsible for the disaster — the engineer who bitterly carried out the bosses’ order or the company that put profits before safety.

This has long been the general sentiment in Lac-Mégantic itself, where many people consider Harding a hero. After the fire broke out, he got out of bed and ran to the site, helping firefighters uncouple oil cars that hadn’t started burning. People there think the wrong party is in the dock.

As of Nov. 10 the prosecution had presented 20 of its 37 scheduled witnesses. Superior Court Judge Gaétan Dumas warned the jury that the trial, taking place in Sherbrooke, Quebec, which was projected to end Dec. 21, might continue into January 2018.

Messages in support of Harding and Labrie can be sent to USW Local 1976 / Section locale 1976, 2360 De Lasalle, Suite 202, Montreal, QC Canada H1V 2L1. Copies should be sent to Thomas Walsh, 165 Rue Wellington N., Suite 310, Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1H 5B9. E-mail: thomaspwalsh@hotmail.com.

Michel Prairie contributed to this article.

Tags: locomotive engineers frame-uptrain wreckUSW Local 1976
Categories: Labor News

Gig Workers Sickout-SF start up Instacart workers plan Sunday-Monday strike

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 18:11

Gig Workers Sickout-SF start up Instacart workers plan Sunday-Monday strike
http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Instacart-workers-plan-Sunda...

By Carolyn SaidNovember 17, 2017 Updated: November 17, 2017 3:34pm
<920x1240.jpg>Photo: Brant Ward, The ChronicleInstacart workers are considering a strike on Sunday.
Some Instacart shoppers and drivers, the people who buy and deliver groceries to the companies’ customers, have beefs about their compensation. Those grievances are bubbling over into a planned strike on Sunday and Monday.

The workers, who are independent contractors, are organizing on social media for what they’re calling a “no-delivery day.”

“We want to get Instacart’s attention,” said Jennell Lévêque, who’s worked for the grocery-delivery service in the Bay Area for 31/2 years. The workers want Instacart to highlight tipping for customers and to increase compensation for large and heavy orders.

While Lévêque and some other workers said the planned action would be national, Instacart said it only expected protests by a handful of workers in Austin, Texas, and St. Louis and did not expect any service interruptions.

Instacart said it already notifies customers prominently of the option to tip. It said workers already can decline orders without retaliation, or can call a help line to have the delivery fee increased or request a second person to assist them. Workers said they could be dinged if they decline too many orders and said it’s hard to reach the support line.

Instacart, a 5-year-old San Francisco startup, is valued at $3.4 billion. It operates in 154 U.S. cities and said it has hundreds of thousands of workers. The protesting workers said their main nexus is a Facebook group with 5,200 members.

“We realistically understand that we won’t shut down the company,” said Matthew Telles, who has worked as an Instacart shopper for two years in Chicago. “The nature of the job is that we are all separate, and not everyone is on Facebook. There will still be a decent number of people shopping” on behalf of Instacart customers.

That disparate work model has hindered other efforts by gig economy workers to organize. As independent contractors, they are barred by federal law from formal unionization. Uber drivers, the largest and most vocal group of gig workers, have held scattered protests.

Veena Dubal, an associate professor at UC Hastings College of the Law who studies Uber drivers and other gig workers, said several factors hinder organizing. “Casual workers have different and sometimes conflicting interests with full-time workers,” often because they need the freedom and flexibility to work part time, she said. Moreover, gig workers move on quickly to other jobs. “Full-time workers who feel exploited are much more likely to engage in collective action,” she said.

Lawsuits have been one major avenue for gig workers to join forces. Those from many companies, including Instacart, have banded together into class-action suits seeking to be reclassified as employees. A suit against Instacart ended with the company agreeing to pay out $4.6 million and clarify its tipping feature to customers. That settlement is pending.

Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, one of Instacart’s biggest grocery-store partners, threw that relationship into question, as Amazon has its own logistics network, including Amazon Flex, which uses independent contractors for Prime Now deliveries. However, Instacart reportedly has four years remaining in its contract with Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, Instacart has said the Amazon-Whole Foods deal triggered a stampede of other grocers seeking to partner with it to combat Amazon’s threat.

Karyn and John Ellis of Woodside have ordered from Instacart for two or three years and make a point to always tip their delivery person. On Friday, when they called about an order gone astray, customer service told them (erroneously) that there was a sick-out happening, Karyn Ellis said.

“The gig economy seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that you have people who are dependent on it for their income, it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t provide security,” she said.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @csaid

Tags: Instacartgig workersDrivers
Categories: Labor News

Gig Workers Sickout-SF start up Instacart workers plan Sunday-Monday strike

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 18:11

Gig Workers Sickout-SF start up Instacart workers plan Sunday-Monday strike
http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Instacart-workers-plan-Sunda...

By Carolyn SaidNovember 17, 2017 Updated: November 17, 2017 3:34pm
<920x1240.jpg>Photo: Brant Ward, The ChronicleInstacart workers are considering a strike on Sunday.
Some Instacart shoppers and drivers, the people who buy and deliver groceries to the companies’ customers, have beefs about their compensation. Those grievances are bubbling over into a planned strike on Sunday and Monday.

The workers, who are independent contractors, are organizing on social media for what they’re calling a “no-delivery day.”

“We want to get Instacart’s attention,” said Jennell Lévêque, who’s worked for the grocery-delivery service in the Bay Area for 31/2 years. The workers want Instacart to highlight tipping for customers and to increase compensation for large and heavy orders.

While Lévêque and some other workers said the planned action would be national, Instacart said it only expected protests by a handful of workers in Austin, Texas, and St. Louis and did not expect any service interruptions.

Instacart said it already notifies customers prominently of the option to tip. It said workers already can decline orders without retaliation, or can call a help line to have the delivery fee increased or request a second person to assist them. Workers said they could be dinged if they decline too many orders and said it’s hard to reach the support line.

Instacart, a 5-year-old San Francisco startup, is valued at $3.4 billion. It operates in 154 U.S. cities and said it has hundreds of thousands of workers. The protesting workers said their main nexus is a Facebook group with 5,200 members.

“We realistically understand that we won’t shut down the company,” said Matthew Telles, who has worked as an Instacart shopper for two years in Chicago. “The nature of the job is that we are all separate, and not everyone is on Facebook. There will still be a decent number of people shopping” on behalf of Instacart customers.

That disparate work model has hindered other efforts by gig economy workers to organize. As independent contractors, they are barred by federal law from formal unionization. Uber drivers, the largest and most vocal group of gig workers, have held scattered protests.

Veena Dubal, an associate professor at UC Hastings College of the Law who studies Uber drivers and other gig workers, said several factors hinder organizing. “Casual workers have different and sometimes conflicting interests with full-time workers,” often because they need the freedom and flexibility to work part time, she said. Moreover, gig workers move on quickly to other jobs. “Full-time workers who feel exploited are much more likely to engage in collective action,” she said.

Lawsuits have been one major avenue for gig workers to join forces. Those from many companies, including Instacart, have banded together into class-action suits seeking to be reclassified as employees. A suit against Instacart ended with the company agreeing to pay out $4.6 million and clarify its tipping feature to customers. That settlement is pending.

Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, one of Instacart’s biggest grocery-store partners, threw that relationship into question, as Amazon has its own logistics network, including Amazon Flex, which uses independent contractors for Prime Now deliveries. However, Instacart reportedly has four years remaining in its contract with Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, Instacart has said the Amazon-Whole Foods deal triggered a stampede of other grocers seeking to partner with it to combat Amazon’s threat.

Karyn and John Ellis of Woodside have ordered from Instacart for two or three years and make a point to always tip their delivery person. On Friday, when they called about an order gone astray, customer service told them (erroneously) that there was a sick-out happening, Karyn Ellis said.

“The gig economy seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that you have people who are dependent on it for their income, it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t provide security,” she said.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @csaid

Tags: Instacartgig workersDrivers
Categories: Labor News

Ryanair Virtual Pilots Fed Up-Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 16:00

Ryanair Virtual Pilots Fed Up-Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is
Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/business/ryanair-pilots.html?rref=col...
By LIZ ALDERMAN and AMIE TSANGNOV. 16, 2017

Photo

A Ryanair flight attendant gives directions before departure at Dublin Airport. Employees of the European carrier have tried to organize. CreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
At a recent shareholders’ meeting in Dublin, Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, slumped into a leather chair and issued a mea culpa. Under his watch, Europe’s biggest low-cost airline had bungled its fall vacation schedule for pilots. Over 2,000 flights would have to be canceled.

To contain the crisis, Ryanair might cut a week of vacation from the airline’s 4,200 pilots — many of whom aren’t full-time employees but independent contractors. If they “misbehaved” by declining to help, he added, they would get no “goodies” in the future.

It wasn’t the first provocative comment from Mr. O’Leary, a pugnacious leader who transformed Europe’s airline industry with an aggressive cost-cutting approach that extended to the work force.

But this time, he prompted an outcry within Ryanair’s ranks. Days later, Mr. O’Leary was forced to announce an additional 18,000 flight cancellations, after some pilots balked about returning to the air.

Employees have banded together to demand collective bargaining and more secure contracts, touching off a fresh clash with management. Last week, 59 pilots representing employees across Europe renewed those demands, adding that “pilots have had enough.”The tensions at Ryanair are flaring at a time when labor practices are being debated across Europe. As businesses look to squeeze costs, around a thirdof the European work force is now in an alternative employment arrangement, rather than in full-time, regular employment. Such employees don’t usually require the same level of benefits for health care, retirement and unemployment.

The European Commission is pushing for tougher social protections for this increasingly flexible work force. While the scrutiny has focused on gig economy companies like Uber, it is increasingly extending broadly to a contractor class that includes construction workers, accountants and even pilots.

Ryanair controls its expenses by using a mix of full-time employees and self-employed pilots recruited through outside agencies. It also issues Irish work contracts to cabin crew and senior pilots around Europe, arguing that they work in Irish-registered aircraft and not in the countries where they are based.

The approach helps Ryanair sidestep labor regulations and high social security taxes in many of the 33 countries where it operates, making its labor costs among the lowest in the European industry. Those costs run around 2 euros per employee per hour flown — less than half the costs of two rivals, easyJet and Norwegian Air.

Photo

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, transformed Europe’s airline industry with an aggressive cost-cutting approach that extended to the work force. CreditChristopher Goodney/Bloomberg
European regulators have been investigating the employment agencies Ryanair used to recruit new pilots. In Germany and Britain, authorities are examining alleged tax evasion at the agencies. Ryanair’s use of Irish labor contracts have faced legal challenges in several countries that have accused the carrier of failing to pay social security.

The company’s practices are also feeding employees’ frustrations. In interviews, more than a dozen current and former pilots and crew members described demanding work conditions and atypical employment arrangements that made it difficult to voice complaints. Most agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements in Ryanair contracts and concerns about jeopardizing their jobs.

“If travelers can fly for just 10 euros, they should know that part of that cost comes from the labor conditions of the airline personnel,” said Yves Jorens, a professor of social law at Ghent University and the co-author of an extensive 2015 report on work conditions in the European aviation industry.

The uproar over vacations has emboldened employees to assert themselves. Hundreds of Ryanair staffers have sought to join European airline unions, form informal collectives and create a Europe-wide representative body to push for change. Unions at Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are offering help.

Document: Swapa Letter to Ryanair
Ryanair has vowed not to meet with or recognize any union. Its concern is that rivals are capitalizing on the flight cancellation episode to organize Ryanair’s pilots and crew members — a move that analysts say would hurt the company’s advantage in low labor costs.

Mr. O’Leary declined requests for an interview. But in letters and public statements, he repeatedly blamed airline unions and competitors, saying they tried to “demean and disparage our collective success,” a charge he has renewed in recent weeks.

Yet as rumors swirled that pilots were defecting to other carriers after the flight cancellations, Mr. O’Leary issued an impassioned plea. “Ryanair’s pilots are the best in the business,” he said in a message to employees last month, in which he also promised improved pay and better contracts. “I urge you to stay with Ryanair for a better brighter future.”

Pilot or L.L.C.?

When Robertus Van Boekel applied for a pilot’s job at Ryanair in 2009, he interviewed at Brookfield Aviation, a British personnel agency.

Ryanair rarely hired new pilots directly. Instead, they were told to take the unusual step of applying to Brookfield or McGinley Aviation, another British recruiter, and declare themselves as self-employed.

Brookfield handed Mr. Van Boekel, who was based in Belgium, a list of Irish accounting firms and told him to choose one, according to a 2013 lawsuit that Brookfield brought against Mr. Van Boekel when he resigned to work at another carrier. The accountants made him a shareholder and director of a Dublin-based “service company” called Winged Foot Ltd. Brookfield then arranged for the company to supply Mr. Van Boekel’s piloting services to Ryanair, the suit said.

After German authorities began investigating Brookfield, Ryanair last summer turned to a new employment company to contract pilots, BlueSky Resources, set up by an agency called Crewlink that the carrier uses to hire flight crew. McGinley Aviation and Crewlink declined to comment. A spokeswoman at Brookfield, Elaine He, said it was no longer handling pilot recruitment for Ryanair.

Photo

Employees near Ryanair’s headquarters in Swords, a town outside Dublin. Ryanair officials have said that any employee claims of workplace pressures were “false and invented.”CreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
The labor setup is key to an elaborate cost-cutting strategy that Mr. O’Leary pioneered in the mid-1990s, when the European air travel market was liberalized. Until then, big national carriers like Alitalia, Air France and Lufthansa had commanded the Continent, with a corps of unionized pilots.

Mr. O’Leary followed the low-cost model of Southwest Airlines in Dallas, now the world’s biggest airline in terms of passengers. Southwest had minimized operating costs and lured fliers from legacy carriers by offering cheap, bare-bones flights.

He honed the approach for Ryanair, putting hubs in inexpensive European locales that generated new tourism and jobs. Fuel costs were rigorously managed, and turnaround times for flights squeezed to the fastest in the industry. The company uses only Boeing jets to reduce engineering costs, and leases part of its fleet to recoup tax write-offs. And it avoided unionization, a strategy that some low-cost European rivals have copied, along with Ryanair’s tactic of using contract pilots to cut costs.

Mr. O’Leary cultivated a brash image, poking competitors, pilots and Ryanair’s own customers. At the shareholders meeting, he angered pilots by saying they had an “easy job.” He once proposed charging passengers to use the toilet, and placing higher fares on “fat people.”

Document: Michael O’Leary’s Letter to Ryanair Pilots
None of that happened. But Ryanair’s ticket prices — as low as €10 from London to Rome — were a game changer. Ryanair is now Europe’s biggest carrier, and the fifth largest in the world, with 117 million passengers in 2016. Profits tripled over the past decade to €1 billion and remain robust even after Ryanair refunded €25 million to 700,000 passengers recently for the cancellations.

Ryanair is also a fast-track opportunity for young pilots and crew members to accumulate experience and jump to another airline. Those promoted to captain can earn a six-figure salary on a full-time contract.

But employees were often blindsided by the labor setup once they were inside, according to the current and former Ryanair pilots and crew members.

Thousands of new Ryanair pilots went through the same process as Mr. Van Boekel. Some were required to form limited liability companies in several countries with pilots they didn’t know.

As contractors, they didn’t receive standard benefits for pensions or health insurance. Pilots and flight attendants on Ryanair’s Irish contracts weren’t always protected by labor laws in the countries where they worked. Ryanair said its contracts complied with labor laws in Ireland and the European Union.

Pay has been another concern. Self-employed pilots and aircrew members are paid only for hours flown, but not for time spent preparing for a flight, or when they are delayed or canceled. Minimum monthly work hours were promised though not guaranteed.

Contractor pilots paid their own transportation and costly hotel bills when assigned to fly from different airports. Like flight crews, they said they shelled out for uniforms, food and even drinking water on flights. Ryanair said that staff members received allowances to defray the costs of uniforms and other expenses. The company’s go-to employment agencies required job seekers to pay for qualification training, starting at around €2,500 for flight attendants and about €30,000 for pilots.

When tax authorities raided Ryanair’s German sites as part of their investigation into alleged tax evasion by Brookfield Aviation, they also questioned pilots who had signed contracts with Brookfield. That set off a mild panic among Ryanair pilots elsewhere in Europe with the same contracts.

Pilots, in interviews, said they felt discouraged from raising workplace concerns, which could lead to being called into Dublin for tense meetings with managers. Others recounted being pressured to limit their fuel consumption and fearful of being reprimanded if they complained of fatigue. Flight attendants reported coming to work ill and scrambling to fulfill sales quotas on flights for lottery cards, perfumes and other items to avoid rebuke by managers. Ryanair said it did not limit fuel consumption and that its aircraft take off with fuel exceeding E.U. safety guidelines. The company disputed reprimanding staff for complaining of fatigue or illness.

One former pilot recalled protesting after being told to pay for a costly taxi ride to another airport to fill in for a colleague. Managers suggested he could be demoted if he didn’t comply. It created a culture of fear, he said.

Robin Kiely, Ryanair’s spokesman, said that claims of workplace pressures were “false and invented,” fomented by unions seeking to undermine Ryanair. “There is no pressure on people here,” he said. “We certainly work hard, but we work smart.”

Mr. Kiely said employees enjoyed favorable conditions and unmatched job security. “We have 13,000 employees,” he said. “If it was so bad, they wouldn’t be working here.”

Resisting Unionization

Ryanair employees have made various attempts to unionize. Each time, the effort has been rebuffed.

James Atkinson, a pilot who flew with Ryanair for eight years, said that when he started in Rome in 2006, the company pressured crew members who tried to organize.

People who participated in those organizing efforts were reassigned to other airports outside of Italy where Ryanair operates. Those who refused to relocate were fired; others eventually retracted their demands, he said.

Later, Mr. Atkinson created his own website to try to organize Ryanair employees. Soon after, he said, Brookfield declined to renew his contract. “I was pushing for organization and my contract was terminated,” Mr. Atkinson said. Ryanair said he was dismissed for “misconduct,” although it would not specify what that was. Today he is a pilot at a rapidly expanding airline in China.

In 2011, Belgium-based Ryanair flight attendants on Irish contracts sued for the right to claim Belgian pay and entitlements in the nation’s courts. Ryanair had claimed that disputes involving Irish contracts could be heard only in Ireland, where benefits like unemployment insurance and social security were less favorable than in Belgium.

One attendant, Virginie Mauguit, who had been with the carrier for over two years, approached a local union for advice. She distributed union leaflets to crew members describing their rights under Belgian labor law. Two weeks later, Ms. Mauguit received notice that she was fired for previously missing work days, she said.

Photo

A Ryanair flight attendant, Virginie Mauguit, distributed union leaflets to crew members. Two weeks later, Ms. Mauguit said, she was fired. CreditHugo Ribes for The New York Times
“People don’t have the right to complain,” she said. “It was dangerous for your job.”

The European Court of Justice ultimately ruled in September that aircrew could pursue their rights in the country where they work.

Mr. O’Leary declared victory because the court didn’t bar Ryanair from continuing to issue Irish contracts. But in his letter to employees, he said Ryanair might close gaps in benefits between Irish contracts and local labor laws.

The autumn scheduling breakdown brought the issue to the forefront again, hitting not only morale but also the corporate suite.

Amid the tumult, Ryanair dropped a bid to buy the ailing airline Alitalia. Mr. O’Leary hired a former top executive to address the turmoil, started a recruitment drive and warned pilots about “misinformation” from competitors’ unions. A message sent to former pilots to try to hire them back said Ryanair was working to “significantly transform and reward the way we interact with our pilots.”

Staff members at Ryanair have continued to fight back, calling on Mr. O’Leary to change the contractor model and improve working conditions. Growing numbers are pressing Ryanair to conduct collective bargaining and recognize a Europe-wide management committee that they organized, rather than negotiate through managers at each Ryanair site. Ryanair maintains that it will only recognize management committees at each of its bases.

Pilots in London and in Madrid recently revolted against an offer for pay increases on the condition that they agree to continue negotiating with Ryanair directly. Many are now trying to spread the message more widely via WhatsApp and Facebook.

“Pilots have said enough is enough: we like this company but we don’t accept the terms and conditions any more,” said Dirk Polloczek, president of the European Cockpit Association, representing more than 38,000 pilots across Europe.

“They think Ryanair can be a good employer,” he added. “All they have to do is have a dialogue with their pilots.”

Tags: virtual pilotsRyanair union bustinghealth and safety
Categories: Labor News

Ryanair Virtual Pilots Fed Up-Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 16:00

Ryanair Virtual Pilots Fed Up-Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is
Jet Pilot Might Not Seem Like a ‘Gig,’ but at Ryanair, It Is
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/business/ryanair-pilots.html?rref=col...
By LIZ ALDERMAN and AMIE TSANGNOV. 16, 2017

Photo

A Ryanair flight attendant gives directions before departure at Dublin Airport. Employees of the European carrier have tried to organize. CreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
At a recent shareholders’ meeting in Dublin, Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, slumped into a leather chair and issued a mea culpa. Under his watch, Europe’s biggest low-cost airline had bungled its fall vacation schedule for pilots. Over 2,000 flights would have to be canceled.

To contain the crisis, Ryanair might cut a week of vacation from the airline’s 4,200 pilots — many of whom aren’t full-time employees but independent contractors. If they “misbehaved” by declining to help, he added, they would get no “goodies” in the future.

It wasn’t the first provocative comment from Mr. O’Leary, a pugnacious leader who transformed Europe’s airline industry with an aggressive cost-cutting approach that extended to the work force.

But this time, he prompted an outcry within Ryanair’s ranks. Days later, Mr. O’Leary was forced to announce an additional 18,000 flight cancellations, after some pilots balked about returning to the air.

Employees have banded together to demand collective bargaining and more secure contracts, touching off a fresh clash with management. Last week, 59 pilots representing employees across Europe renewed those demands, adding that “pilots have had enough.”The tensions at Ryanair are flaring at a time when labor practices are being debated across Europe. As businesses look to squeeze costs, around a thirdof the European work force is now in an alternative employment arrangement, rather than in full-time, regular employment. Such employees don’t usually require the same level of benefits for health care, retirement and unemployment.

The European Commission is pushing for tougher social protections for this increasingly flexible work force. While the scrutiny has focused on gig economy companies like Uber, it is increasingly extending broadly to a contractor class that includes construction workers, accountants and even pilots.

Ryanair controls its expenses by using a mix of full-time employees and self-employed pilots recruited through outside agencies. It also issues Irish work contracts to cabin crew and senior pilots around Europe, arguing that they work in Irish-registered aircraft and not in the countries where they are based.

The approach helps Ryanair sidestep labor regulations and high social security taxes in many of the 33 countries where it operates, making its labor costs among the lowest in the European industry. Those costs run around 2 euros per employee per hour flown — less than half the costs of two rivals, easyJet and Norwegian Air.

Photo

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, transformed Europe’s airline industry with an aggressive cost-cutting approach that extended to the work force. CreditChristopher Goodney/Bloomberg
European regulators have been investigating the employment agencies Ryanair used to recruit new pilots. In Germany and Britain, authorities are examining alleged tax evasion at the agencies. Ryanair’s use of Irish labor contracts have faced legal challenges in several countries that have accused the carrier of failing to pay social security.

The company’s practices are also feeding employees’ frustrations. In interviews, more than a dozen current and former pilots and crew members described demanding work conditions and atypical employment arrangements that made it difficult to voice complaints. Most agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements in Ryanair contracts and concerns about jeopardizing their jobs.

“If travelers can fly for just 10 euros, they should know that part of that cost comes from the labor conditions of the airline personnel,” said Yves Jorens, a professor of social law at Ghent University and the co-author of an extensive 2015 report on work conditions in the European aviation industry.

The uproar over vacations has emboldened employees to assert themselves. Hundreds of Ryanair staffers have sought to join European airline unions, form informal collectives and create a Europe-wide representative body to push for change. Unions at Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are offering help.

Document: Swapa Letter to Ryanair
Ryanair has vowed not to meet with or recognize any union. Its concern is that rivals are capitalizing on the flight cancellation episode to organize Ryanair’s pilots and crew members — a move that analysts say would hurt the company’s advantage in low labor costs.

Mr. O’Leary declined requests for an interview. But in letters and public statements, he repeatedly blamed airline unions and competitors, saying they tried to “demean and disparage our collective success,” a charge he has renewed in recent weeks.

Yet as rumors swirled that pilots were defecting to other carriers after the flight cancellations, Mr. O’Leary issued an impassioned plea. “Ryanair’s pilots are the best in the business,” he said in a message to employees last month, in which he also promised improved pay and better contracts. “I urge you to stay with Ryanair for a better brighter future.”

Pilot or L.L.C.?

When Robertus Van Boekel applied for a pilot’s job at Ryanair in 2009, he interviewed at Brookfield Aviation, a British personnel agency.

Ryanair rarely hired new pilots directly. Instead, they were told to take the unusual step of applying to Brookfield or McGinley Aviation, another British recruiter, and declare themselves as self-employed.

Brookfield handed Mr. Van Boekel, who was based in Belgium, a list of Irish accounting firms and told him to choose one, according to a 2013 lawsuit that Brookfield brought against Mr. Van Boekel when he resigned to work at another carrier. The accountants made him a shareholder and director of a Dublin-based “service company” called Winged Foot Ltd. Brookfield then arranged for the company to supply Mr. Van Boekel’s piloting services to Ryanair, the suit said.

After German authorities began investigating Brookfield, Ryanair last summer turned to a new employment company to contract pilots, BlueSky Resources, set up by an agency called Crewlink that the carrier uses to hire flight crew. McGinley Aviation and Crewlink declined to comment. A spokeswoman at Brookfield, Elaine He, said it was no longer handling pilot recruitment for Ryanair.

Photo

Employees near Ryanair’s headquarters in Swords, a town outside Dublin. Ryanair officials have said that any employee claims of workplace pressures were “false and invented.”CreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
The labor setup is key to an elaborate cost-cutting strategy that Mr. O’Leary pioneered in the mid-1990s, when the European air travel market was liberalized. Until then, big national carriers like Alitalia, Air France and Lufthansa had commanded the Continent, with a corps of unionized pilots.

Mr. O’Leary followed the low-cost model of Southwest Airlines in Dallas, now the world’s biggest airline in terms of passengers. Southwest had minimized operating costs and lured fliers from legacy carriers by offering cheap, bare-bones flights.

He honed the approach for Ryanair, putting hubs in inexpensive European locales that generated new tourism and jobs. Fuel costs were rigorously managed, and turnaround times for flights squeezed to the fastest in the industry. The company uses only Boeing jets to reduce engineering costs, and leases part of its fleet to recoup tax write-offs. And it avoided unionization, a strategy that some low-cost European rivals have copied, along with Ryanair’s tactic of using contract pilots to cut costs.

Mr. O’Leary cultivated a brash image, poking competitors, pilots and Ryanair’s own customers. At the shareholders meeting, he angered pilots by saying they had an “easy job.” He once proposed charging passengers to use the toilet, and placing higher fares on “fat people.”

Document: Michael O’Leary’s Letter to Ryanair Pilots
None of that happened. But Ryanair’s ticket prices — as low as €10 from London to Rome — were a game changer. Ryanair is now Europe’s biggest carrier, and the fifth largest in the world, with 117 million passengers in 2016. Profits tripled over the past decade to €1 billion and remain robust even after Ryanair refunded €25 million to 700,000 passengers recently for the cancellations.

Ryanair is also a fast-track opportunity for young pilots and crew members to accumulate experience and jump to another airline. Those promoted to captain can earn a six-figure salary on a full-time contract.

But employees were often blindsided by the labor setup once they were inside, according to the current and former Ryanair pilots and crew members.

Thousands of new Ryanair pilots went through the same process as Mr. Van Boekel. Some were required to form limited liability companies in several countries with pilots they didn’t know.

As contractors, they didn’t receive standard benefits for pensions or health insurance. Pilots and flight attendants on Ryanair’s Irish contracts weren’t always protected by labor laws in the countries where they worked. Ryanair said its contracts complied with labor laws in Ireland and the European Union.

Pay has been another concern. Self-employed pilots and aircrew members are paid only for hours flown, but not for time spent preparing for a flight, or when they are delayed or canceled. Minimum monthly work hours were promised though not guaranteed.

Contractor pilots paid their own transportation and costly hotel bills when assigned to fly from different airports. Like flight crews, they said they shelled out for uniforms, food and even drinking water on flights. Ryanair said that staff members received allowances to defray the costs of uniforms and other expenses. The company’s go-to employment agencies required job seekers to pay for qualification training, starting at around €2,500 for flight attendants and about €30,000 for pilots.

When tax authorities raided Ryanair’s German sites as part of their investigation into alleged tax evasion by Brookfield Aviation, they also questioned pilots who had signed contracts with Brookfield. That set off a mild panic among Ryanair pilots elsewhere in Europe with the same contracts.

Pilots, in interviews, said they felt discouraged from raising workplace concerns, which could lead to being called into Dublin for tense meetings with managers. Others recounted being pressured to limit their fuel consumption and fearful of being reprimanded if they complained of fatigue. Flight attendants reported coming to work ill and scrambling to fulfill sales quotas on flights for lottery cards, perfumes and other items to avoid rebuke by managers. Ryanair said it did not limit fuel consumption and that its aircraft take off with fuel exceeding E.U. safety guidelines. The company disputed reprimanding staff for complaining of fatigue or illness.

One former pilot recalled protesting after being told to pay for a costly taxi ride to another airport to fill in for a colleague. Managers suggested he could be demoted if he didn’t comply. It created a culture of fear, he said.

Robin Kiely, Ryanair’s spokesman, said that claims of workplace pressures were “false and invented,” fomented by unions seeking to undermine Ryanair. “There is no pressure on people here,” he said. “We certainly work hard, but we work smart.”

Mr. Kiely said employees enjoyed favorable conditions and unmatched job security. “We have 13,000 employees,” he said. “If it was so bad, they wouldn’t be working here.”

Resisting Unionization

Ryanair employees have made various attempts to unionize. Each time, the effort has been rebuffed.

James Atkinson, a pilot who flew with Ryanair for eight years, said that when he started in Rome in 2006, the company pressured crew members who tried to organize.

People who participated in those organizing efforts were reassigned to other airports outside of Italy where Ryanair operates. Those who refused to relocate were fired; others eventually retracted their demands, he said.

Later, Mr. Atkinson created his own website to try to organize Ryanair employees. Soon after, he said, Brookfield declined to renew his contract. “I was pushing for organization and my contract was terminated,” Mr. Atkinson said. Ryanair said he was dismissed for “misconduct,” although it would not specify what that was. Today he is a pilot at a rapidly expanding airline in China.

In 2011, Belgium-based Ryanair flight attendants on Irish contracts sued for the right to claim Belgian pay and entitlements in the nation’s courts. Ryanair had claimed that disputes involving Irish contracts could be heard only in Ireland, where benefits like unemployment insurance and social security were less favorable than in Belgium.

One attendant, Virginie Mauguit, who had been with the carrier for over two years, approached a local union for advice. She distributed union leaflets to crew members describing their rights under Belgian labor law. Two weeks later, Ms. Mauguit received notice that she was fired for previously missing work days, she said.

Photo

A Ryanair flight attendant, Virginie Mauguit, distributed union leaflets to crew members. Two weeks later, Ms. Mauguit said, she was fired. CreditHugo Ribes for The New York Times
“People don’t have the right to complain,” she said. “It was dangerous for your job.”

The European Court of Justice ultimately ruled in September that aircrew could pursue their rights in the country where they work.

Mr. O’Leary declared victory because the court didn’t bar Ryanair from continuing to issue Irish contracts. But in his letter to employees, he said Ryanair might close gaps in benefits between Irish contracts and local labor laws.

The autumn scheduling breakdown brought the issue to the forefront again, hitting not only morale but also the corporate suite.

Amid the tumult, Ryanair dropped a bid to buy the ailing airline Alitalia. Mr. O’Leary hired a former top executive to address the turmoil, started a recruitment drive and warned pilots about “misinformation” from competitors’ unions. A message sent to former pilots to try to hire them back said Ryanair was working to “significantly transform and reward the way we interact with our pilots.”

Staff members at Ryanair have continued to fight back, calling on Mr. O’Leary to change the contractor model and improve working conditions. Growing numbers are pressing Ryanair to conduct collective bargaining and recognize a Europe-wide management committee that they organized, rather than negotiate through managers at each Ryanair site. Ryanair maintains that it will only recognize management committees at each of its bases.

Pilots in London and in Madrid recently revolted against an offer for pay increases on the condition that they agree to continue negotiating with Ryanair directly. Many are now trying to spread the message more widely via WhatsApp and Facebook.

“Pilots have said enough is enough: we like this company but we don’t accept the terms and conditions any more,” said Dirk Polloczek, president of the European Cockpit Association, representing more than 38,000 pilots across Europe.

“They think Ryanair can be a good employer,” he added. “All they have to do is have a dialogue with their pilots.”

Tags: virtual pilotsRyanair union bustinghealth and safety
Categories: Labor News

Socialist elected president of ATU 1005 Minneapolis transit workers union

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 14:42

Socialist elected president of ATU 1005 Minneapolis transit workers union
http://socialistworld.net/index.php/international/americas/57-us/9495-so...
US 20 October 2017
Interview with Ryan Timlin
Ryan Timlin, a member of Socialist Alternative and longtime labor activist, ran recently for president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005, representing Transit Workers in Minneapolis. Ryan won unopposed and therefore is now the president-elect.

The following is an interview with Ryan (conducted before his election) about his activism, the local’s upcoming contract battle, and his strategy for rebuilding a fightng union.

socialistworld.net

What made you decide to run for president of your local?

We need a fighting union that can win victories for our members and our communities. For the past three years, I’ve proven my dedication and willingness to defend our members as union rep for Nicollet Garage drivers and dispatchers. I’m now ready to bring that same level of commitment to the entire membership. But more than just defense, my presidency will also emphasize the need for going on the offensive around the contract and other issues. That’s why I launched and – along with the other candidates on this slate – have begun building the ATU 1005 Action Team as a way to educate and activate more rank-and-file members around our current contract fight, with the aim of laying a basis for future united actions.

How will you run your campaign differently from previous campaigns in your local?

This is a grassroots campaign working to rebuild a fighting union that is 100% accountable to and rooted in its rank and file. As president of the local, I’ll only accept the average wage of workers in the local, and donate the rest to social justice movements. This union has a fighting history and we need to bring it back. When we go into battle, whether over a contract or other issues, we will be building maximum rank-and-file participation and democracy and fighting to win.

What is it like to be a Minneapolis bus driver? What are the main complaints you hear from your coworkers?

Well, it’s a hard job – things are hard for most working class people. But it’s also an important job, and I think we all know that and we’re proud of our work and our union. But we’re also facing increased verbal and physical assaults, it’s physically taxing work, we can’t count on wage increases or our breaks, and we’re losing too much on our health benefits.

What is your vision for how to address those complaints and win real change?

We need to push Metro to invest in a safer working environment. And you know it’s going to take organizing, it’ll take a fightback. They needs to introduce left side doors for bus drivers and work with community organizations to train all staff in de-escalation methods. And we need to stop these relentless attacks on our health benefits. Metro Transit needs to pay more of the insurance premium, not less.

Beyond our struggle for a fair contract and workplace, we also find ourselves living in a society dominated by billionaires and corporations. Like Bernie Sanders, I consider myself a socialist and see the need to build a movement of the 99% – the regular working people – against this billionaire class. Trade unions have a key role to play in this struggle, but must unite with other unions and social movements to achieve real gains. I’ve been active in the victorious 15 Now struggle, protests against police brutality, Bernie Sanders’ political revolution, union solidarity campaigns, etc. ATU 1005 has the potential to be seen as a real fighting force for all working people in the Twin Cities area. Our leadership must seek ways to build more relationships with progressive social movements that challenge the status quo, rather than simply donate to countless run-of-the-mill political candidates.

You have a contract battle coming up. What are the main issues?

With the Super Bowl coming to Minneapolis, we have leverage to fight for a good contract. The company will try to delay to avoid the threat of a strike around the Super Bowl. We should build escalating actions to mobilize members to put pressure on the Met Council to negotiate . Candidates on this slate have built the Action Team to begin educating and mobilizing our members. We should do everything in our power to prevent concessions on health care, mechanics tools or other issues. We can build rider / driver partnerships by demanding expanded affordable public transit in opposition to the Met Council’s ongoing cuts to bus routes. We need to reach out to other unions, community groups, and riders in our contract campaign and be prepared to strike to defend our living standards, the labor movement and all working people.

Tags: ATU 1005Minneapolis TransitATU 1005 Action Team
Categories: Labor News

Amazon's Last Mile In terms of size, efficiency, and ruthlessness, Amazon has few equals.

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 14:39

Amazon's Last Mile
https://gizmodo.com/amazons-last-mile-1820451224

by Bryan Menegus

Thursday 11:23am

Who delivers Amazon orders? Increasingly, it’s plainclothes contractors with few labor protections, driving their own cars, competing for shifts on the company’s own Uber-like platform. Though it’s deployed in dozens of cities and associated with one of the world’s biggest companies, government agencies and customers alike are nearly oblivious to the program’s existence.

In terms of size, efficiency, and ruthlessness, Amazon has few equals. The least publicly accountable of the big tech companies—Google, Apple, and Facebookface considerably greater scrutiny—Amazon’s stock is one of the most valuable on the market, it’s among the fastest-growing companies in the United States. Atop its vast empire, CEO Jeff Bezos commands the single largest personal fortune on the planet. Estimates place Amazon as the recipient of approximately one third of all dollars spent online. Control over the manufacture, storage, sales, and shipping of an extraordinarily diverse set of products has led the company to expand into film and TV production, web hosting, publishing, groceries, fashion, space travel, wind farms, and soon, pharmaceuticals, to name just a few. It’s a new kind of company, the likes of which the American economy has never before seen and is legislatively ill-prepared for.

Ingenuity alone doesn’t account for Amazon’s dominant position. The company’s Economic Development Team works hard to secure state and local subsidies, which research from watchdog group Good Jobs First indicates surpasses $1 billion, a figure which the advocacy group’s executive director, Greg LeRoy, freely admitted to Gizmodo is far from comprehensive. Infrastructure in the company’s home base of Seattle has strained to keep pace with Amazon’s meteoric growth, and the city has experienced massive increaseshousing costs. While North America’s metro areas—including Seattle—scramble to offer attractive incentives to host Bezos’s second headquarters, researchindicates that when Amazon comes to town, it might be killing more jobs than it creates.

The majority of consumers, however, either don’t know or don’t care. Strip Amazon to its most familiar elements, and it’s a devilishly simple everything-store with limitless stuff-supply. You buy it. It shows up. Fast.

Demand for those blocks and the desire to finish them quickly led to what one driver described as “physical fights [...] when someone tries to jump the line.”
Near the very bottom of Amazon’s complicated machinery is a nearly invisible workforce over two years in the making tasked with getting those orders to your doorstep. It’s a network of supposedly self-employed, utterly expendable couriers enrolled in an app-based program which some believe may violate labor laws. That program is called Amazon Flex, and it accomplishes Amazon’s “last-mile” deliveries—the final journey from a local facility to the customer.

While investigating the nature of the program, we spoke to 15 current or former independent drivers across nine states and two countries whose enrollment spanned between a few weeks and two years, as well as three individuals attached to local courier companies delivering for Amazon. Their identities have all been obscured for fear of retribution.

A great opportunity to be your own boss

To understand the issues faced by the independent contractors handling last-mile delivery for Amazon requires some knowledge of how Flex works.

When Amazon selects one of its facilities—what drivers refer to as a Fulfillment Center* (FC)— for participation in Flex, it blankets Craigslist and other sites with local ads describing Flex as “a great opportunity to be your own boss,” sometimes as many as twelve ads a day. Each FC is distinguished by three letters and a number—DLA5, for instance, refers to Riverside, California—and many of the over 50 cities Flex operates in have more than one.

An interested driver goes through a preliminary screening online and finishes their application through the app, passes a background check allegedly administered by a company called Accurate Background. Accurate Background did not respond to multiple requests for comment and Amazon declined to comment on which companies or services it uses for this purpose, but claimed the check pulls from, among other signals, court records, the sex offender registry, and data analysis from US and global organizations. One driver told Gizmodo he was approved in under four hours. Others wait over a month. According to a Flex contract furnished to Gizmodo, the only requirements to entry are modest: be 21 or older, pass Accurate Background’s vetting, own a smartphone with Flex installed, and have access to a car, bike, or public transportation. No company cars. No uniforms. Just a non-photo ID badge.

The training is similarly minimal. One driver attended an optional hour-long training at an FC. A veteran driver alleged he was asked to participate in a conference call. The consistent element reported to Gizmodo was being made to watch approximately 20 videos which fresh Flexers view from the comfort of their phones. “Watch videos of their expectations of you and their rules, agree to the rules,” a Georgia-based driver said. “That’s about it.” No drivers reported being trained on matters of workplace safety, and as one UK-based driver succinctly put it, “honestly it seems they take on anyone.” Amazon declined to describe its Flex driver training except to say that videos were among the materials used in onboarding.

Work is secured by grabbing “blocks” through the app, measured in hours, with an associated route and payout. Flex’s blocks cover multiple local arms of Amazon—including Fresh and Restaurants—but the two most common, based on individual testimony and online posts, are Logistics, which covers standard packages, and Prime Now which handles same-day purchases. Regardless, the procedure is largely the same once a driver lands a block: get in line behind the other cars at the FC, check in, receive a pre-sorted rolling cart or shelf of goods for the route, scan and pack them into the car, then follow the Flex app’s “suggested” driving directions to each stop.

Block length and package count vary considerably between Prime Now and Logistics: Prime Now blocks can be as little as two hours, while five hour blocks have reportedly been offered to Logistics drivers with larger vehicles; 15 packages for a slim Prime Now block and as many as 90 on a Logistics run. Amazon’s own Craigslist ads show compensation varies by location, but among the drivers Gizmodo spoke to, pay averaged $20.50/hr—not bad by the standards of the gig economy. And similar to Uber’s “surge pricing” in the rare event that blocks go unclaimed, Amazon will sometimes increase to incentivize drivers to accept it. Still, all but three drivers we spoke to did not consider Flex their primary means of income, and of those who did one also contracts with UberEats and Grubhub, another was seeking additional work, and the third alleged to have been deactivated by Amazon despite delivering through floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

A driver’s view after Irma
Arguably Amazon Flex, like Uber, is best used as supplemental income, and for many drivers it works well for that purpose. For others it’s a necessity. In major cities like New York and San Francisco—coincidentally located in the states that employ the largest numbers of couriers—Uber can be a living. Flex can’t.

A difficult road

Despite being able to fulfill hundreds of millions of orders per year, drivers report Amazon’s data at the local level can be lacking, leading to misalignments between block times and package numbers. “The block that I signed up for was four hours, but when I got to the facility they were struggling to find something for me to do, so I only ended up having three packages to deliver,” a driver told Gizmodo of a recent block picked up from a newly-opened FC. But according to a more veteran driver, Amazon’s bad bets cut both ways. “They won’t pay you for working over your allotted block time,” he told Gizmodo. “They said it evens out because when you work a three hour block and finish in two they still pay you for three, but it doesn’t even out.” Another alleged that Amazon’s systems struggle to estimate door-to-door time or handling large apartment buildings, leading to a “99% probability that you will exceed your block end time.”Additionally, two drivers in completely different regions of the US both claimed Flexers’ hours are capped at 40 hours per week. “As [independent contractors], we should be able to work as much as we wish since we take the blocks we want to work. It used to not be this way when I first started working for them,” the San Antonio-based driver bemoaned. But lately, drivers at a number of FCs have found it harder and harder to secure enough hours for 40 hours to be a meaningful limitation. A Philadelphia-based driver told Gizmodo, “Last year when I started it was easy to secure two four hour blocks a day and I was complaining that they would put us on payroll locks so I wouldn’t exceed 40 hours a week. How times have changed!” Demand for those blocks and the desire to finish them quickly led to what one driver described as “physical fights [...] when someone tries to jump the line.”

Amazon would not comment on whether it caps drivers’ hours, but characterized the program as a part-time opportunity. It claimed, in a statement to Gizmodo, that it “received overwhelmingly positive response[s] from drivers participating in the program.” The company also suggested that workers seeking more traditional full-time arrangements are encouraged to apply elsewhere within Amazon.

The boilerplate did-not-receive email
A number of drivers have alleged they’re reprimanded by FC workers if their vehicles are unable to fit all the packages for a block, and fear being “ticketed” for returning packages they weren’t able to deliver. One reported getting written up by one FC employee for following the explicit instructions of another.

While in and of themselves these incidents tend not to have serious repercussions, as little as two incidents have led to drivers being deactivated. Amazon told Gizmodo that it has performance expectations for its contractors which it expects them to meet or exceed, and sometimes those metrics are used to justify a termination. Other times, being notified your time with Amazon Flex has ended comes as a vague boilerplate email about violating the program’s terms of service.

A Flex contract provided to Gizmodo states that drivers “may provide Amazon with data about your use of such Licensed Materials, your geo-location and related tracking data, including your location, movements, speed at which you are traveling, and other personally identifiable information,” and that “
if you choose to deny Amazon access to this information, this could affect the availability and functionality of the Amazon Flex App and your participation in the Program.” Presumably, this data is used to increase the company’s own routing efficiency. While Amazon does not pay drivers for work if it exceeds a given block’s time, it’s unclear if Flex continues to track drivers while off-hours.

Lack of oversight and scarcity of work through Flex have caused cheating to proliferate. Drivers turn to auto-tap applications like FRep and Repetitouch to scoop up blocks much faster than human fingers are capable of, and once these practices become widespread at an FC, more scrupulous drivers either stoop to these methods or accept that regular hours won’t be possible. Though nearly every Flexer we contacted was familiar with the use of these types of software only one admitted to using it personally. “Most drivers at my warehouse are using some form of bot or macro to secure blocks, including myself,” he wrote. “Though Amazon recently sent out a threatening email regarding their use (threatening to terminate us for using them). That email is the main reason why I’ve cut back on my own use of them.” Video uploaded to YouTube even appears to show one such app running on an iPhone left charging inside inside a Fulfillment Center, screen blinking away at a feverish pace. Amazon told Gizmodo such software violates its Terms of Service.

Neither FRep or Repetitouch were built specifically for Flex, according to their respective creators. “From what I heard, there are people who heavily rely on it for their income and apparently there’s a lot of competition for jobs in general. Thus, I’m not surprised that some Flex drivers try to get an edge,” Erwin Goslawski, the German student behind Reptitouch told Gizmodo. “I can imagine that this makes it rather difficult for other users to grab jobs, however, which makes it more likely that more and more users decide to use such tools.” Despite the enormous amount of access Amazon is afforded to its drivers’ phones, “botting” remains popular and poorly policed. At least one device was built specifically to increase the likeliness of landing blocks—the Flexbot. It’s creator, a former driver named Tim McDaniel who suffers from arthritis, claims to have made it “just to level the playing field to able-bodied folks,” though certainly some of the customers who have paid $130 for the contraption—a pair of Arduino-controlled mechanical fingers—do so to avoid detection by Amazon’s software. Unlike software alternatives, Amazon told Gizmodo that Flexbot does not violate its terms of service. McDaniel originally sold Flexbot 6 on Amazon, but had his account shut down after he “fell behind on customer relations.”

Add to this a general sense of disorder, from simple issues of whether or not Flexers are allowed to drive with passengers, to integral aspects of the gig like when new blocks become available. “When Flex first started all blocks were released at 10 PM. Then they changed to all blocks being released exactly 24 hours in advance. Now they have changed to completely random times,” one driver told Gizmodo. “This causes us to have to constantly use our phone to look for blocks and waste time that we are not being paid for just to find work.”

There’s no easy way for this disposable workforce to have their problems addressed. While drivers are given a support number, Flexers claim its only purpose is to assist during the course of a block—to get the door code to an apartment building, for instance. “There’s no liaison, just hot-headed warehouse managers that will terminate a driver for anything they want,” a driver reported. And from other testimony, terminations occur frequently and with little explanation. Boilerplate emails reprimanding drivers for supposedly missed packages contain little information: only the date of the infraction, but not the package or address. Whether the package was stolen or an unscrupulous customer merely took advantage of Amazon’s willingness to offer refunds, it’s the courier who takes the fall. “It’s frustrating because Amazon will always believe the customer,” a driver claimed, echoing the sentiments of many others. “Even with photo or bodycam evidence. We have no support. And one customer too many and we’ll get that termination email.”

A termination email
To combat confusing rules—due both to changes in the program over time and quirks of individual FCs—drivers tend to share information over closed Facebook groups, Reddit, and gig economy forum Uberpeople. The largest of these boasts a membership of over 20,000. According to a moderator of one such community, a change in the Flex program takes place approximately every six weeks, sometimes buried inside a Terms of Service update. Many of the posts in these digital break rooms can be summarized as: Here’s what happened to me. Is this normal? But no matter how experienced, the advice of other, equally powerless people can only go so far in certain situations.

So where can a driver go to resolve an issue or dispute their termination? That leaves one final option: Flex’s reviled support email line.

“It’s as if they scan it for keywords and then have a copy-and-paste type response to everything,” a Detroit-based driver told Gizmodo. “Literally I got the same email twice.” Unfortunately this appears to be a common occurrence.

Flex, as part of a pilot program Amazon is rumored to be using to take on UPS, Fedex and others, is a constantly shifting set of systems with a number of redundancies. Besides drivers, some cities also employ motor scooter couriers and—in Manhattan at least—“Johnny walkers” who gather around delivery trucks and roll their packages to buildings on foot. But by far the biggest threat to self-employed Flexers (and vice versa) are “white vans”—third-party local couriers Amazon also contracts to do last-mile work.

Joining the fleet

The arrangement is virtually the same as Flex, only scaled up to accommodate bigger vans and larger package counts—as many as 270 per run, according to one source—and with pay going to the company to distribute as it sees fit, rather than to individual drivers. The major draw for Amazon—though it declined to comment on most aspects of these local business arrangements—appears to be the ability to count on a reliable number of couriers all capable of hauling an equally reliable volume (300 cubic feet or large is the required van size) of parcels.

Amazon considers these companies, just like individual Flexers, to be contractors, though drivers still have to run Amazon’s software while working, and still have to pass a check from Accurate Background. “We have to background check the guys [that deliver Amazon packages]. We have to use their background check company. They won’t even tell us what the criteria is,” a California-based courier business owner said with clear frustration. A dispatcher for another last-mile courier claimed that applicants who don’t pass Accurate Background’s vetting simply aren’t hired by the company he works for. UPS spokesman Dan McMackin told Gizmodo that Amazon is not a threat to UPS—whose drivers are both full employees and the single largest contingent of long-lived Teamsters labor union—because “ecommerce is bigger than one customer.” In his opinion, good courier work requires a skilled, consistent workforce, and retaining that pool of labor means providing solidly middle-class wages and benefits. However much he claims to dislike doing business with large, often pushy customers, the California courier said he finally agreed work with a company like Amazon because, “the writing’s on the wall that Amazon’s gonna take over the whole delivery industry in the next ten years.”

“The writing’s on the wall that Amazon’s gonna take over the whole delivery industry in the next ten years.”
Worryingly, courier company owners allege their drivers can be individually deactivated from using the Flex app. “They tier people out, it’s called, because you get a tier one offense, you cannot log into the app anymore,” the California boss claimed. “Amazon does fire people.” But deactivation is only the most extreme action within a larger scheme of control. “Fulfillment center managers control [...] what drivers can come, what can’t,” a New Jersey courier company owner told Gizmodo. “If you make a mistake in there, if you have a mouth on you and use curse words, they don’t allow that whatsoever, and they’ll take you out in a heartbeat. They’ll even take out the whole company if they want to.”

That capriciousness, coupled with having significantly more at stake, also explains why, of the many dozens of courier companies advertising for Amazon route drivers, only three spoke to Gizmodo about working with Amazon. One company owner, who did not agree to answer questions about his relationship with Amazon, wrote back in an email that “anything Amazon related is really not up to me to accept on interview or not.” Asked if such companies are under non-disclosure agreement, Amazon declined to comment.

Worse still, Amazon has a history of contracting courier services that themselves subcontract their drivers, which led to it being named in lawsuits in 2015 (against Scoobeez) and 2016 (against Courier Logistics Services.) The complaints in these suits included failure to pay minimum wage, failure to compensate overtime, failure to provide meal periods, employee misclassification, and violations of the unfair competition law. Still, at least onerecent hiring ad on Craigslist from a courier company explicitly sought independent contractors to run Amazon routes.

Technically, all drivers in these arrangements are required by Amazon to be full employees of those local delivery outlets, not contractors like individual Flexers. Yet Amazon’s background check policy insinuates itself into the hiring decisions these companies are able to make—especially if Amazon is provides the lion’s share of work for these local outfits—and testimony around pushy FC workers and app deactivations suggests Amazon also wields the power to functionally fire drivers as well. Amazon declined to comment specifically on any facet of its arrangement with third-party couriers, except to confirm that they are subject to the same background checks.

Over the limit

“I do think that Amazon is breaking the law. I think it’s breaking the law in a pretty widespread way,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney well known within courier circles for representing drivers from Lyft, Grubhub, Uber, and more recently few Amazon Flex, told Gizmodo. Though Amazon would likely disagree, the legality of the relatively new mass-contractor model remains an open question.

“I do think that Amazon is breaking the law. I think it’s breaking the law in a pretty widespread way.”
The way Liss-Riordan sees it, the issue at hand is labor misclassification: Amazon and similar companies pay drivers to do the work of employees, but treat them as independent contractors, denying them basic amenities like health care, benefits, and workers’ compensation in the event of an on-the-job injury—something which two of the drivers we spoke to reported experiencing. As Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project, explained, the determination of whether a worker is doing the job of a contractor or employee comes down to a few key factors: among them, the right to control how the work is done, its permanence, the level of specialization required, and how integrated it is into the business paying for it.

Some of the drivers we spoke to had run deliveries for Flex for up to two years, which suggests continuing rather than gig-based work. And where integration is concerned, the Prime Now arm of Flex is particularly suspect, in Ruckelshaus’s opinion. “If Amazon’s promoting one-day delivery, that’s likely to be found to be integrated to Amazon’s overall products or services that it’s providing to customers,” she said.

Most damning though is Amazon’s apparent level of micromanagement. “If something’s relatively low-skill, you don’t have to show that the company, like an Amazon, told them exactly ‘take a left here, take a right there, drop this package off first,’ they mostly just want you to go from A to B, get this thing done, they don’t tell you how to get the thing done,” Ruckelshaus said. “So if Amazon is actually taking that amount of detailed oversight and control, that’s very powerful, strong evidence that it has the right to control because it’s actually exercising control over pretty minute details of the job.”

If Amazon has been engaging in misclassification on a massive scale, why haven’t there been lawsuits? Beyond the expense of retaining legal representation, Flex’s terms of service also include an arbitration agreement which waives drivers’ rights to a class-action lawsuit against Amazon. It’s a common practice for comparable gigs, affecting some 25 million contracts. And though the version of the Flex contract made available to Gizmodo gives drivers the ability to opt out within two weeks of signing, it seems few do. Individual drivers looking to escalate an issue can’t bring it to court, keeping whatever ruling might have resulted from becoming valuable case law.

“These companies have been very effective at wielding their arbitration clauses,” Liss-Riordan said. The result, in Ruckelshaus’s view, is that “the company doesn’t feel the heat because it doesn’t have to pay off all of its drivers, it only has to pay off the ones that bring their claims, and then nobody else knows—Did that guy win? What happened? It’s harder to change the practices across an entire company when it’s individual private arbitration.” While drivers are free to opt in to Liss-Riordan’s current Flex suit, the class-action gag keeps her from sending notice to driver who might benefit from joining.

Compounding the difficulty of driver going up against a powerful and well-insulated company, of the governmental and regulatory regulatory agencies Gizmodo reached out to for comment on Amazon’s business practices, few seem to have ever heard of the Flex program or have an official stance on it. Even the National Labor Relations Board, which by its own description “acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices,” declined to comment on Flex, and further declined to comment on whether or not Flex even fell under the purview of the agency. Mounting regulatory pressure against Uber may have led Instacart to start walking back it’s contractor model, but no such outrage is directed at Flex, one imagines, because so few people even know it exists.

Both lawyers seemed most troubled to see these practices employed by a company of the size and wealth of Amazon. “It’s too bad that Amazon is continuing to pursue these structures, because it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is pay the minimum wage, that’s all,” Ruckelshaus said, sounding defeated. “It seems like they’re jumping through a lot of hoops to avoid being an employer for not really a good economic reason.” Similarly, Liss-Riordan, pointing to structural legal issues, said that “difficulties in enforcement are leading a company like Amazon, which is a major player and obviously could afford to do it right, to lead it to shift to a system where more and more of its drivers don’t have the benefits of employment.”

“It’s too bad that Amazon is continuing to pursue these structures, because it doesn’t have to.”
Flex is indicative of two alarming trends: the unwillingness of legislators to curb harmful practices of tech behemoths run amok, and a shift towards less protected, more precarious opportunities in a stagnant job market. Under the current administration, it’s unlikely either will receive the attention it deserves. There is a glimmer of hope for Liss-Riordan and the scores of Flexers she hopes to help though. On October 2nd, the US Supreme Court’s new term began. Among its cases is one which will determine the legality of arbitration clauses like the one Amazon uses to shield itself against the drivers it refuses to acknowledge as employees.

The constantly shifting, secretive nature of Amazon makes it difficult to report its activities to the public. If you have information about company, we’d like to hear from you.

Tags: Amazonworkers rightstech slaverydriver exploitation
Categories: Labor News

Amazon's Last Mile In terms of size, efficiency, and ruthlessness, Amazon has few equals.

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 14:39

Amazon's Last Mile
https://gizmodo.com/amazons-last-mile-1820451224

by Bryan Menegus

Thursday 11:23am

Who delivers Amazon orders? Increasingly, it’s plainclothes contractors with few labor protections, driving their own cars, competing for shifts on the company’s own Uber-like platform. Though it’s deployed in dozens of cities and associated with one of the world’s biggest companies, government agencies and customers alike are nearly oblivious to the program’s existence.

In terms of size, efficiency, and ruthlessness, Amazon has few equals. The least publicly accountable of the big tech companies—Google, Apple, and Facebookface considerably greater scrutiny—Amazon’s stock is one of the most valuable on the market, it’s among the fastest-growing companies in the United States. Atop its vast empire, CEO Jeff Bezos commands the single largest personal fortune on the planet. Estimates place Amazon as the recipient of approximately one third of all dollars spent online. Control over the manufacture, storage, sales, and shipping of an extraordinarily diverse set of products has led the company to expand into film and TV production, web hosting, publishing, groceries, fashion, space travel, wind farms, and soon, pharmaceuticals, to name just a few. It’s a new kind of company, the likes of which the American economy has never before seen and is legislatively ill-prepared for.

Ingenuity alone doesn’t account for Amazon’s dominant position. The company’s Economic Development Team works hard to secure state and local subsidies, which research from watchdog group Good Jobs First indicates surpasses $1 billion, a figure which the advocacy group’s executive director, Greg LeRoy, freely admitted to Gizmodo is far from comprehensive. Infrastructure in the company’s home base of Seattle has strained to keep pace with Amazon’s meteoric growth, and the city has experienced massive increaseshousing costs. While North America’s metro areas—including Seattle—scramble to offer attractive incentives to host Bezos’s second headquarters, researchindicates that when Amazon comes to town, it might be killing more jobs than it creates.

The majority of consumers, however, either don’t know or don’t care. Strip Amazon to its most familiar elements, and it’s a devilishly simple everything-store with limitless stuff-supply. You buy it. It shows up. Fast.

Demand for those blocks and the desire to finish them quickly led to what one driver described as “physical fights [...] when someone tries to jump the line.”
Near the very bottom of Amazon’s complicated machinery is a nearly invisible workforce over two years in the making tasked with getting those orders to your doorstep. It’s a network of supposedly self-employed, utterly expendable couriers enrolled in an app-based program which some believe may violate labor laws. That program is called Amazon Flex, and it accomplishes Amazon’s “last-mile” deliveries—the final journey from a local facility to the customer.

While investigating the nature of the program, we spoke to 15 current or former independent drivers across nine states and two countries whose enrollment spanned between a few weeks and two years, as well as three individuals attached to local courier companies delivering for Amazon. Their identities have all been obscured for fear of retribution.

A great opportunity to be your own boss

To understand the issues faced by the independent contractors handling last-mile delivery for Amazon requires some knowledge of how Flex works.

When Amazon selects one of its facilities—what drivers refer to as a Fulfillment Center* (FC)— for participation in Flex, it blankets Craigslist and other sites with local ads describing Flex as “a great opportunity to be your own boss,” sometimes as many as twelve ads a day. Each FC is distinguished by three letters and a number—DLA5, for instance, refers to Riverside, California—and many of the over 50 cities Flex operates in have more than one.

An interested driver goes through a preliminary screening online and finishes their application through the app, passes a background check allegedly administered by a company called Accurate Background. Accurate Background did not respond to multiple requests for comment and Amazon declined to comment on which companies or services it uses for this purpose, but claimed the check pulls from, among other signals, court records, the sex offender registry, and data analysis from US and global organizations. One driver told Gizmodo he was approved in under four hours. Others wait over a month. According to a Flex contract furnished to Gizmodo, the only requirements to entry are modest: be 21 or older, pass Accurate Background’s vetting, own a smartphone with Flex installed, and have access to a car, bike, or public transportation. No company cars. No uniforms. Just a non-photo ID badge.

The training is similarly minimal. One driver attended an optional hour-long training at an FC. A veteran driver alleged he was asked to participate in a conference call. The consistent element reported to Gizmodo was being made to watch approximately 20 videos which fresh Flexers view from the comfort of their phones. “Watch videos of their expectations of you and their rules, agree to the rules,” a Georgia-based driver said. “That’s about it.” No drivers reported being trained on matters of workplace safety, and as one UK-based driver succinctly put it, “honestly it seems they take on anyone.” Amazon declined to describe its Flex driver training except to say that videos were among the materials used in onboarding.

Work is secured by grabbing “blocks” through the app, measured in hours, with an associated route and payout. Flex’s blocks cover multiple local arms of Amazon—including Fresh and Restaurants—but the two most common, based on individual testimony and online posts, are Logistics, which covers standard packages, and Prime Now which handles same-day purchases. Regardless, the procedure is largely the same once a driver lands a block: get in line behind the other cars at the FC, check in, receive a pre-sorted rolling cart or shelf of goods for the route, scan and pack them into the car, then follow the Flex app’s “suggested” driving directions to each stop.

Block length and package count vary considerably between Prime Now and Logistics: Prime Now blocks can be as little as two hours, while five hour blocks have reportedly been offered to Logistics drivers with larger vehicles; 15 packages for a slim Prime Now block and as many as 90 on a Logistics run. Amazon’s own Craigslist ads show compensation varies by location, but among the drivers Gizmodo spoke to, pay averaged $20.50/hr—not bad by the standards of the gig economy. And similar to Uber’s “surge pricing” in the rare event that blocks go unclaimed, Amazon will sometimes increase to incentivize drivers to accept it. Still, all but three drivers we spoke to did not consider Flex their primary means of income, and of those who did one also contracts with UberEats and Grubhub, another was seeking additional work, and the third alleged to have been deactivated by Amazon despite delivering through floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

A driver’s view after Irma
Arguably Amazon Flex, like Uber, is best used as supplemental income, and for many drivers it works well for that purpose. For others it’s a necessity. In major cities like New York and San Francisco—coincidentally located in the states that employ the largest numbers of couriers—Uber can be a living. Flex can’t.

A difficult road

Despite being able to fulfill hundreds of millions of orders per year, drivers report Amazon’s data at the local level can be lacking, leading to misalignments between block times and package numbers. “The block that I signed up for was four hours, but when I got to the facility they were struggling to find something for me to do, so I only ended up having three packages to deliver,” a driver told Gizmodo of a recent block picked up from a newly-opened FC. But according to a more veteran driver, Amazon’s bad bets cut both ways. “They won’t pay you for working over your allotted block time,” he told Gizmodo. “They said it evens out because when you work a three hour block and finish in two they still pay you for three, but it doesn’t even out.” Another alleged that Amazon’s systems struggle to estimate door-to-door time or handling large apartment buildings, leading to a “99% probability that you will exceed your block end time.”Additionally, two drivers in completely different regions of the US both claimed Flexers’ hours are capped at 40 hours per week. “As [independent contractors], we should be able to work as much as we wish since we take the blocks we want to work. It used to not be this way when I first started working for them,” the San Antonio-based driver bemoaned. But lately, drivers at a number of FCs have found it harder and harder to secure enough hours for 40 hours to be a meaningful limitation. A Philadelphia-based driver told Gizmodo, “Last year when I started it was easy to secure two four hour blocks a day and I was complaining that they would put us on payroll locks so I wouldn’t exceed 40 hours a week. How times have changed!” Demand for those blocks and the desire to finish them quickly led to what one driver described as “physical fights [...] when someone tries to jump the line.”

Amazon would not comment on whether it caps drivers’ hours, but characterized the program as a part-time opportunity. It claimed, in a statement to Gizmodo, that it “received overwhelmingly positive response[s] from drivers participating in the program.” The company also suggested that workers seeking more traditional full-time arrangements are encouraged to apply elsewhere within Amazon.

The boilerplate did-not-receive email
A number of drivers have alleged they’re reprimanded by FC workers if their vehicles are unable to fit all the packages for a block, and fear being “ticketed” for returning packages they weren’t able to deliver. One reported getting written up by one FC employee for following the explicit instructions of another.

While in and of themselves these incidents tend not to have serious repercussions, as little as two incidents have led to drivers being deactivated. Amazon told Gizmodo that it has performance expectations for its contractors which it expects them to meet or exceed, and sometimes those metrics are used to justify a termination. Other times, being notified your time with Amazon Flex has ended comes as a vague boilerplate email about violating the program’s terms of service.

A Flex contract provided to Gizmodo states that drivers “may provide Amazon with data about your use of such Licensed Materials, your geo-location and related tracking data, including your location, movements, speed at which you are traveling, and other personally identifiable information,” and that “
if you choose to deny Amazon access to this information, this could affect the availability and functionality of the Amazon Flex App and your participation in the Program.” Presumably, this data is used to increase the company’s own routing efficiency. While Amazon does not pay drivers for work if it exceeds a given block’s time, it’s unclear if Flex continues to track drivers while off-hours.

Lack of oversight and scarcity of work through Flex have caused cheating to proliferate. Drivers turn to auto-tap applications like FRep and Repetitouch to scoop up blocks much faster than human fingers are capable of, and once these practices become widespread at an FC, more scrupulous drivers either stoop to these methods or accept that regular hours won’t be possible. Though nearly every Flexer we contacted was familiar with the use of these types of software only one admitted to using it personally. “Most drivers at my warehouse are using some form of bot or macro to secure blocks, including myself,” he wrote. “Though Amazon recently sent out a threatening email regarding their use (threatening to terminate us for using them). That email is the main reason why I’ve cut back on my own use of them.” Video uploaded to YouTube even appears to show one such app running on an iPhone left charging inside inside a Fulfillment Center, screen blinking away at a feverish pace. Amazon told Gizmodo such software violates its Terms of Service.

Neither FRep or Repetitouch were built specifically for Flex, according to their respective creators. “From what I heard, there are people who heavily rely on it for their income and apparently there’s a lot of competition for jobs in general. Thus, I’m not surprised that some Flex drivers try to get an edge,” Erwin Goslawski, the German student behind Reptitouch told Gizmodo. “I can imagine that this makes it rather difficult for other users to grab jobs, however, which makes it more likely that more and more users decide to use such tools.” Despite the enormous amount of access Amazon is afforded to its drivers’ phones, “botting” remains popular and poorly policed. At least one device was built specifically to increase the likeliness of landing blocks—the Flexbot. It’s creator, a former driver named Tim McDaniel who suffers from arthritis, claims to have made it “just to level the playing field to able-bodied folks,” though certainly some of the customers who have paid $130 for the contraption—a pair of Arduino-controlled mechanical fingers—do so to avoid detection by Amazon’s software. Unlike software alternatives, Amazon told Gizmodo that Flexbot does not violate its terms of service. McDaniel originally sold Flexbot 6 on Amazon, but had his account shut down after he “fell behind on customer relations.”

Add to this a general sense of disorder, from simple issues of whether or not Flexers are allowed to drive with passengers, to integral aspects of the gig like when new blocks become available. “When Flex first started all blocks were released at 10 PM. Then they changed to all blocks being released exactly 24 hours in advance. Now they have changed to completely random times,” one driver told Gizmodo. “This causes us to have to constantly use our phone to look for blocks and waste time that we are not being paid for just to find work.”

There’s no easy way for this disposable workforce to have their problems addressed. While drivers are given a support number, Flexers claim its only purpose is to assist during the course of a block—to get the door code to an apartment building, for instance. “There’s no liaison, just hot-headed warehouse managers that will terminate a driver for anything they want,” a driver reported. And from other testimony, terminations occur frequently and with little explanation. Boilerplate emails reprimanding drivers for supposedly missed packages contain little information: only the date of the infraction, but not the package or address. Whether the package was stolen or an unscrupulous customer merely took advantage of Amazon’s willingness to offer refunds, it’s the courier who takes the fall. “It’s frustrating because Amazon will always believe the customer,” a driver claimed, echoing the sentiments of many others. “Even with photo or bodycam evidence. We have no support. And one customer too many and we’ll get that termination email.”

A termination email
To combat confusing rules—due both to changes in the program over time and quirks of individual FCs—drivers tend to share information over closed Facebook groups, Reddit, and gig economy forum Uberpeople. The largest of these boasts a membership of over 20,000. According to a moderator of one such community, a change in the Flex program takes place approximately every six weeks, sometimes buried inside a Terms of Service update. Many of the posts in these digital break rooms can be summarized as: Here’s what happened to me. Is this normal? But no matter how experienced, the advice of other, equally powerless people can only go so far in certain situations.

So where can a driver go to resolve an issue or dispute their termination? That leaves one final option: Flex’s reviled support email line.

“It’s as if they scan it for keywords and then have a copy-and-paste type response to everything,” a Detroit-based driver told Gizmodo. “Literally I got the same email twice.” Unfortunately this appears to be a common occurrence.

Flex, as part of a pilot program Amazon is rumored to be using to take on UPS, Fedex and others, is a constantly shifting set of systems with a number of redundancies. Besides drivers, some cities also employ motor scooter couriers and—in Manhattan at least—“Johnny walkers” who gather around delivery trucks and roll their packages to buildings on foot. But by far the biggest threat to self-employed Flexers (and vice versa) are “white vans”—third-party local couriers Amazon also contracts to do last-mile work.

Joining the fleet

The arrangement is virtually the same as Flex, only scaled up to accommodate bigger vans and larger package counts—as many as 270 per run, according to one source—and with pay going to the company to distribute as it sees fit, rather than to individual drivers. The major draw for Amazon—though it declined to comment on most aspects of these local business arrangements—appears to be the ability to count on a reliable number of couriers all capable of hauling an equally reliable volume (300 cubic feet or large is the required van size) of parcels.

Amazon considers these companies, just like individual Flexers, to be contractors, though drivers still have to run Amazon’s software while working, and still have to pass a check from Accurate Background. “We have to background check the guys [that deliver Amazon packages]. We have to use their background check company. They won’t even tell us what the criteria is,” a California-based courier business owner said with clear frustration. A dispatcher for another last-mile courier claimed that applicants who don’t pass Accurate Background’s vetting simply aren’t hired by the company he works for. UPS spokesman Dan McMackin told Gizmodo that Amazon is not a threat to UPS—whose drivers are both full employees and the single largest contingent of long-lived Teamsters labor union—because “ecommerce is bigger than one customer.” In his opinion, good courier work requires a skilled, consistent workforce, and retaining that pool of labor means providing solidly middle-class wages and benefits. However much he claims to dislike doing business with large, often pushy customers, the California courier said he finally agreed work with a company like Amazon because, “the writing’s on the wall that Amazon’s gonna take over the whole delivery industry in the next ten years.”

“The writing’s on the wall that Amazon’s gonna take over the whole delivery industry in the next ten years.”
Worryingly, courier company owners allege their drivers can be individually deactivated from using the Flex app. “They tier people out, it’s called, because you get a tier one offense, you cannot log into the app anymore,” the California boss claimed. “Amazon does fire people.” But deactivation is only the most extreme action within a larger scheme of control. “Fulfillment center managers control [...] what drivers can come, what can’t,” a New Jersey courier company owner told Gizmodo. “If you make a mistake in there, if you have a mouth on you and use curse words, they don’t allow that whatsoever, and they’ll take you out in a heartbeat. They’ll even take out the whole company if they want to.”

That capriciousness, coupled with having significantly more at stake, also explains why, of the many dozens of courier companies advertising for Amazon route drivers, only three spoke to Gizmodo about working with Amazon. One company owner, who did not agree to answer questions about his relationship with Amazon, wrote back in an email that “anything Amazon related is really not up to me to accept on interview or not.” Asked if such companies are under non-disclosure agreement, Amazon declined to comment.

Worse still, Amazon has a history of contracting courier services that themselves subcontract their drivers, which led to it being named in lawsuits in 2015 (against Scoobeez) and 2016 (against Courier Logistics Services.) The complaints in these suits included failure to pay minimum wage, failure to compensate overtime, failure to provide meal periods, employee misclassification, and violations of the unfair competition law. Still, at least onerecent hiring ad on Craigslist from a courier company explicitly sought independent contractors to run Amazon routes.

Technically, all drivers in these arrangements are required by Amazon to be full employees of those local delivery outlets, not contractors like individual Flexers. Yet Amazon’s background check policy insinuates itself into the hiring decisions these companies are able to make—especially if Amazon is provides the lion’s share of work for these local outfits—and testimony around pushy FC workers and app deactivations suggests Amazon also wields the power to functionally fire drivers as well. Amazon declined to comment specifically on any facet of its arrangement with third-party couriers, except to confirm that they are subject to the same background checks.

Over the limit

“I do think that Amazon is breaking the law. I think it’s breaking the law in a pretty widespread way,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney well known within courier circles for representing drivers from Lyft, Grubhub, Uber, and more recently few Amazon Flex, told Gizmodo. Though Amazon would likely disagree, the legality of the relatively new mass-contractor model remains an open question.

“I do think that Amazon is breaking the law. I think it’s breaking the law in a pretty widespread way.”
The way Liss-Riordan sees it, the issue at hand is labor misclassification: Amazon and similar companies pay drivers to do the work of employees, but treat them as independent contractors, denying them basic amenities like health care, benefits, and workers’ compensation in the event of an on-the-job injury—something which two of the drivers we spoke to reported experiencing. As Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director for the National Employment Law Project, explained, the determination of whether a worker is doing the job of a contractor or employee comes down to a few key factors: among them, the right to control how the work is done, its permanence, the level of specialization required, and how integrated it is into the business paying for it.

Some of the drivers we spoke to had run deliveries for Flex for up to two years, which suggests continuing rather than gig-based work. And where integration is concerned, the Prime Now arm of Flex is particularly suspect, in Ruckelshaus’s opinion. “If Amazon’s promoting one-day delivery, that’s likely to be found to be integrated to Amazon’s overall products or services that it’s providing to customers,” she said.

Most damning though is Amazon’s apparent level of micromanagement. “If something’s relatively low-skill, you don’t have to show that the company, like an Amazon, told them exactly ‘take a left here, take a right there, drop this package off first,’ they mostly just want you to go from A to B, get this thing done, they don’t tell you how to get the thing done,” Ruckelshaus said. “So if Amazon is actually taking that amount of detailed oversight and control, that’s very powerful, strong evidence that it has the right to control because it’s actually exercising control over pretty minute details of the job.”

If Amazon has been engaging in misclassification on a massive scale, why haven’t there been lawsuits? Beyond the expense of retaining legal representation, Flex’s terms of service also include an arbitration agreement which waives drivers’ rights to a class-action lawsuit against Amazon. It’s a common practice for comparable gigs, affecting some 25 million contracts. And though the version of the Flex contract made available to Gizmodo gives drivers the ability to opt out within two weeks of signing, it seems few do. Individual drivers looking to escalate an issue can’t bring it to court, keeping whatever ruling might have resulted from becoming valuable case law.

“These companies have been very effective at wielding their arbitration clauses,” Liss-Riordan said. The result, in Ruckelshaus’s view, is that “the company doesn’t feel the heat because it doesn’t have to pay off all of its drivers, it only has to pay off the ones that bring their claims, and then nobody else knows—Did that guy win? What happened? It’s harder to change the practices across an entire company when it’s individual private arbitration.” While drivers are free to opt in to Liss-Riordan’s current Flex suit, the class-action gag keeps her from sending notice to driver who might benefit from joining.

Compounding the difficulty of driver going up against a powerful and well-insulated company, of the governmental and regulatory regulatory agencies Gizmodo reached out to for comment on Amazon’s business practices, few seem to have ever heard of the Flex program or have an official stance on it. Even the National Labor Relations Board, which by its own description “acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices,” declined to comment on Flex, and further declined to comment on whether or not Flex even fell under the purview of the agency. Mounting regulatory pressure against Uber may have led Instacart to start walking back it’s contractor model, but no such outrage is directed at Flex, one imagines, because so few people even know it exists.

Both lawyers seemed most troubled to see these practices employed by a company of the size and wealth of Amazon. “It’s too bad that Amazon is continuing to pursue these structures, because it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is pay the minimum wage, that’s all,” Ruckelshaus said, sounding defeated. “It seems like they’re jumping through a lot of hoops to avoid being an employer for not really a good economic reason.” Similarly, Liss-Riordan, pointing to structural legal issues, said that “difficulties in enforcement are leading a company like Amazon, which is a major player and obviously could afford to do it right, to lead it to shift to a system where more and more of its drivers don’t have the benefits of employment.”

“It’s too bad that Amazon is continuing to pursue these structures, because it doesn’t have to.”
Flex is indicative of two alarming trends: the unwillingness of legislators to curb harmful practices of tech behemoths run amok, and a shift towards less protected, more precarious opportunities in a stagnant job market. Under the current administration, it’s unlikely either will receive the attention it deserves. There is a glimmer of hope for Liss-Riordan and the scores of Flexers she hopes to help though. On October 2nd, the US Supreme Court’s new term began. Among its cases is one which will determine the legality of arbitration clauses like the one Amazon uses to shield itself against the drivers it refuses to acknowledge as employees.

The constantly shifting, secretive nature of Amazon makes it difficult to report its activities to the public. If you have information about company, we’d like to hear from you.

Tags: Amazonworkers rightstech slaverydriver exploitation
Categories: Labor News

UK Southeastern rail and contractor fined £3.6m over cleaner's death

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 16:16

UK Southeastern rail and contractor fined £3.6m over cleaner's death
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/17/southeastern-railway-con...

Firms guilty of health and safety breaches after Roger Lower, 46, fell on to a live rail while cleaning a train at Sussex depot
A Southeastern train at Greenwich station in south-east London
Southeastern’s owner was fined £2.5m, and Wettons Cleaning Services fined £1.1m. Photograph: Alamy
Gwyn TophamTransport correspondent
@GwynTopham
Friday 17 November 2017 12.09 EST
Southeastern railway and its cleaning firm have been fined a total of £3.6m for the death of a cleaner who was electrocuted by a live rail.

Roger Lower, 46, fell on to the 750-volt rail during a night shift cleaning trains at one of Southeastern’s Sussex depots, where equipment designed to protect workers was found not to be in use.

The father of two from Hastings was found by colleagues lying on the rail. Emergency services were called but were unable to save him.

Southeastern’s owner, London and South Eastern Railways, and its contractor, Wettons Cleaning Services, were fined £2.5m and £1.1m respectively at Guildford crown court on Friday.

The firms were earlier found guilty of breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act, in a prosecution brought by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. The ORR inspectors found there was a culture of cutting corners, exposing workers to serious risks.

Lower had worked for Wettons for three months before his death at Southeastern’s West Marina Depot in St Leonards-on-Sea on 24 May 2014. Protection boards to keep workers from the live rail were not in use, inspectors found, with all four available leant up against buffers.

Colleagues of Lower said they were not trained to use the equipment, and had concerns about his safety while cleaning the outside of the train.

An ORR investigation found health and safety failures by both Southeastern and Wettons. It accused the firms of relying on paperwork, and of failing to check on working practices and adequately train and supervise workers.

Ian Prosser, the HM chief inspector of railways, said: “The failings by Wettons and Southeastern were unacceptable and show the consequences of not abiding by health and safety, including the provisions of the law. As always, ORR is committed to monitoring compliance and taking tough enforcement action when necessary, as this tragic case demonstrates.”

Southeastern said it commissioned an independent review after the incident and introduced additional safety checks and equipment. David Statham, its managing director, said: “We deeply regret that we did not prevent the death of Roger Lower. At Southeastern, we set ourselves high safety standards underpinned by robust procedures. We recognise that on this occasion there’s more we and our contractors could have done to meet those high standards.”

Southeastern and Wettons were ordered to pay costs of £162,000 each.

Tags: health and safetyrail workers death
Categories: Labor News

UK Southeastern rail and contractor fined £3.6m over cleaner's death

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 16:16

UK Southeastern rail and contractor fined £3.6m over cleaner's death
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/17/southeastern-railway-con...

Firms guilty of health and safety breaches after Roger Lower, 46, fell on to a live rail while cleaning a train at Sussex depot
A Southeastern train at Greenwich station in south-east London
Southeastern’s owner was fined £2.5m, and Wettons Cleaning Services fined £1.1m. Photograph: Alamy
Gwyn TophamTransport correspondent
@GwynTopham
Friday 17 November 2017 12.09 EST
Southeastern railway and its cleaning firm have been fined a total of £3.6m for the death of a cleaner who was electrocuted by a live rail.

Roger Lower, 46, fell on to the 750-volt rail during a night shift cleaning trains at one of Southeastern’s Sussex depots, where equipment designed to protect workers was found not to be in use.

The father of two from Hastings was found by colleagues lying on the rail. Emergency services were called but were unable to save him.

Southeastern’s owner, London and South Eastern Railways, and its contractor, Wettons Cleaning Services, were fined £2.5m and £1.1m respectively at Guildford crown court on Friday.

The firms were earlier found guilty of breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act, in a prosecution brought by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. The ORR inspectors found there was a culture of cutting corners, exposing workers to serious risks.

Lower had worked for Wettons for three months before his death at Southeastern’s West Marina Depot in St Leonards-on-Sea on 24 May 2014. Protection boards to keep workers from the live rail were not in use, inspectors found, with all four available leant up against buffers.

Colleagues of Lower said they were not trained to use the equipment, and had concerns about his safety while cleaning the outside of the train.

An ORR investigation found health and safety failures by both Southeastern and Wettons. It accused the firms of relying on paperwork, and of failing to check on working practices and adequately train and supervise workers.

Ian Prosser, the HM chief inspector of railways, said: “The failings by Wettons and Southeastern were unacceptable and show the consequences of not abiding by health and safety, including the provisions of the law. As always, ORR is committed to monitoring compliance and taking tough enforcement action when necessary, as this tragic case demonstrates.”

Southeastern said it commissioned an independent review after the incident and introduced additional safety checks and equipment. David Statham, its managing director, said: “We deeply regret that we did not prevent the death of Roger Lower. At Southeastern, we set ourselves high safety standards underpinned by robust procedures. We recognise that on this occasion there’s more we and our contractors could have done to meet those high standards.”

Southeastern and Wettons were ordered to pay costs of £162,000 each.

Tags: health and safetyrail workers death
Categories: Labor News

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Portland Local 8 has been found guilty of violating U.S. federal labor laws by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 11:35

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Portland Local 8 has been found guilty of violating U.S. federal labor laws by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

http://worldmaritimenews.com/archives/235426/us-court-ilwu-guilty-of-lab...
Namely, the court affirmed two National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions based on which the ILWU “engaged in deliberate work stoppages and slowdowns, made false safety claims, and engaged in other coercive conduct against terminal operator ICTSI Oregon and its customers.”

As informed by ICTSI in a statement, the court found that ILWU committed these acts to pressure the Port of Portland to reassign the work of plugging and unplugging refrigerated containers at Terminal 6 from the Port’s union-represented electricians to the ILWU.

“We are extremely pleased with the DC Circuit decisions because this means that the Court, as well as the NLRB, confirmed our position that the ILWU’s actions at Terminal 6 violated federal labor law. Our effort continues in federal court here in Portland to hold the ILWU accountable and obtain compensation for the harm it has done,” ICTSI Oregon’s CEO Elvis Ganda, said commenting on the ruling.

Due to the labor disputed, ICTSI Oregon decided early this year to terminate its 25-year lease contract to operate a port in Portland, Oregon.

The agreement with the Port of Portland allowed ICTSI Oregon to be relieved of its long-term lease obligations effective March 31.

Under the agreement, ICTSI agreed to pay USD 11.45 million in compensation to the Port of Portland ‘to rebuild business’, as well as additional container handling equipment, spare parts and tools at the terminal, worth an estimated USD 10 million.

ICTSI Oregon and Port of Portland inked the lease agreement in 2010, with the company taking over Terminal 6’s operations in 2011. However, disputes with ILWU had brought operations at the Terminal 6 to a standstill for more than a year.

Tags: ILWU Local 8Port Of PortlandUS Labor Laws
Categories: Labor News

NYC TWU 100 Subway workers not thrilled about new post as ‘customer service ambassadors’

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 11:26

NYC TWU 100 Subway workers not thrilled about new post as ‘customer service ambassadors’
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/subway-workers-not-thrilled-new-amba...
email
Subway workers have expressed their concerns about the risks they see in the “customer service ambassadors” job title.
Subway workers have expressed their concerns about the risks they see in the “customer service ambassadors” job title. (KEVIN C. DOWNS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
BY
DAN RIVOLI
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, November 16, 2017, 10:50 PM
These subway workers are not rolling out the red carpet for their new ambassador jobs.

From being attacked by angry members of the public to losing their jobs, “customer service ambassadors” are not thrilled with the risks they see the job title, and its responsibilities, presenting.

And they said so Thursday at morning and evening informational meetings in the Transport Workers Union Local 100 hall in Brooklyn. Workers attending asked about and criticized the deal the TWU struck with the MTA to bring station clerks out of their booths and onto platforms to help riders.

A one-year pilot program will put 355 ambassadors on the ground at the subway system’s busiest and tourist-heavy hubs. Ambassadors will earn an extra $1 an hour over conductor pay.

MTA, TWU Local 100 agree on deal to boost station agents

But they’re worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them. Frankly, the ambassadors prefer the sanctuary of their booths.

“Our quality of life is put in jeopardy,” a young station agent with four years on the job said at the evening meeting in the TWU hall.

“The extra work ain’t worth the money we’re being paid,” the agent told the Daily News.

John Ferretti, a conductor and TWU shop steward, described the ambassador pilot program as a chance for the MTA to close even more booths, saying the authority recently eliminated overnight cleaning positions to focus on rush hours.

“It’s a massive invitation to close those booths,” Ferretti said after the meeting.

Anthony Staley, a TWU shop steward, said the MTA should focus on fixing the subway, not creating the ambassador post, which copies a program in London’s transit system.

Some agents worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them.
Some agents worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them. (DAN RIVOLI/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“That’s a distraction,” Staley said. “This is New York. You can’t compare us to London.”

Union officials who brokered the deal have said station agents’ jobs are already at risk with rider-managed tap-and-go bank cards and smart phones that will replace the MetroCard by 2023, cutting down on the need for riders to go to a booth for help.

“Drive over the Henry Hudson Bridge or through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. How many toll collectors do you see?” TWU spokesman Pete Donohue said, referring to the new electronic, cashless tolling the MTA introduced. “This is about being proactive, getting ahead of technological changes and protecting union jobs into the future.”

Donohue stressed that workers contract with the MTA and the new deal for the ambassador position protects them from combining responsibilities between job titles, known as “broad-banding.”

Derick Echevarria, the TWU vice chair for station workers, said the union is avoiding layoffs that hit booth agents in the past. He said the ambassador role would be separate from conductors who work the station platforms to manage crowds moving in and out of trains.

“We have to be prepared for the future,” said Echevarria, who attended the union meeting. "Our job is strictly customer service."

The boosted pay would mean an extra $2,800 a year without overtime for station agents who become ambassadors, according to Donohue.

MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said transit employee concerns will be worked out.

“Working with our partners in labor, we’re looking forward to providing a higher, better level of customer service. Employee relations is an essential piece of the puzzle, and we’re going to work through any concerns that are raised.”

Tags: TWU 100health and safetyprivatization
Categories: Labor News

NYC TWU 100 Subway workers not thrilled about new post as ‘customer service ambassadors’

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 11:26

NYC TWU 100 Subway workers not thrilled about new post as ‘customer service ambassadors’
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/subway-workers-not-thrilled-new-amba...
email
Subway workers have expressed their concerns about the risks they see in the “customer service ambassadors” job title.
Subway workers have expressed their concerns about the risks they see in the “customer service ambassadors” job title. (KEVIN C. DOWNS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
BY
DAN RIVOLI
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, November 16, 2017, 10:50 PM
These subway workers are not rolling out the red carpet for their new ambassador jobs.

From being attacked by angry members of the public to losing their jobs, “customer service ambassadors” are not thrilled with the risks they see the job title, and its responsibilities, presenting.

And they said so Thursday at morning and evening informational meetings in the Transport Workers Union Local 100 hall in Brooklyn. Workers attending asked about and criticized the deal the TWU struck with the MTA to bring station clerks out of their booths and onto platforms to help riders.

A one-year pilot program will put 355 ambassadors on the ground at the subway system’s busiest and tourist-heavy hubs. Ambassadors will earn an extra $1 an hour over conductor pay.

MTA, TWU Local 100 agree on deal to boost station agents

But they’re worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them. Frankly, the ambassadors prefer the sanctuary of their booths.

“Our quality of life is put in jeopardy,” a young station agent with four years on the job said at the evening meeting in the TWU hall.

“The extra work ain’t worth the money we’re being paid,” the agent told the Daily News.

John Ferretti, a conductor and TWU shop steward, described the ambassador pilot program as a chance for the MTA to close even more booths, saying the authority recently eliminated overnight cleaning positions to focus on rush hours.

“It’s a massive invitation to close those booths,” Ferretti said after the meeting.

Anthony Staley, a TWU shop steward, said the MTA should focus on fixing the subway, not creating the ambassador post, which copies a program in London’s transit system.

Some agents worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them.
Some agents worried how safe they’ll be on open platforms when angry straphangers confront them. (DAN RIVOLI/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“That’s a distraction,” Staley said. “This is New York. You can’t compare us to London.”

Union officials who brokered the deal have said station agents’ jobs are already at risk with rider-managed tap-and-go bank cards and smart phones that will replace the MetroCard by 2023, cutting down on the need for riders to go to a booth for help.

“Drive over the Henry Hudson Bridge or through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. How many toll collectors do you see?” TWU spokesman Pete Donohue said, referring to the new electronic, cashless tolling the MTA introduced. “This is about being proactive, getting ahead of technological changes and protecting union jobs into the future.”

Donohue stressed that workers contract with the MTA and the new deal for the ambassador position protects them from combining responsibilities between job titles, known as “broad-banding.”

Derick Echevarria, the TWU vice chair for station workers, said the union is avoiding layoffs that hit booth agents in the past. He said the ambassador role would be separate from conductors who work the station platforms to manage crowds moving in and out of trains.

“We have to be prepared for the future,” said Echevarria, who attended the union meeting. "Our job is strictly customer service."

The boosted pay would mean an extra $2,800 a year without overtime for station agents who become ambassadors, according to Donohue.

MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said transit employee concerns will be worked out.

“Working with our partners in labor, we’re looking forward to providing a higher, better level of customer service. Employee relations is an essential piece of the puzzle, and we’re going to work through any concerns that are raised.”

Tags: TWU 100health and safetyprivatization
Categories: Labor News

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