Weekend News & Commentary – February 21 – 22.
The New York Times reports that ship owners and dockworkers reached a tentative deal, involving 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, this past Friday, ending the labor dispute that had brought ship traffic to a halt at ports along the West Coast. The resolution came after nine months of negotiations between dockworkers and their employers, whose business makes up roughly one quarter of all U.S. international trade, each blaming the other for problems getting imports to consumers and exports overseas. After initial signs of progress, in the fall, employers publicly charged dockworkers with slowing their work rate and causing a congestion crisis to gain bargaining leverage; the union responded by blaming the slowdown on managerial failures, including the lack of truckbeds to tow containers from dockside yards to distribution warehouses.
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, who intervened in negotiations last week, said that the parties would resume normal operations this weekend. According to Perez, the agreement will bring to an end the slowdown in the ports, including several days of closure to ship movements this month, and “empty shelves and angry customers.” Before it can become finalized, the deal must be approved by the 13,000 rank-and-file members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
This week, the Urban Justice Center, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, and the Legal Aid Society will be releasing a report calling for changes in New York’s laws to help workers recover stolen wages. The New York Times reports that their research has identified at least $125 million of unpaid wage theft judgments and orders. The report will touch on the strategies that some employers use to evade judgments to pay back wages by hiding money and shifting property.
This past week, United Steelworkers (USW) rejected a seventh national labor agreement offered by Shell on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. The proposed agreement was one of several attempts made by oil companies to address the ongoing USW oil workers general strike. Since February 1, more than 5,000 USW workers have walked out of plants, complexes and refineries accounting for 13 percent of the country’s fuel capacity. Suggesting that the dispute is only escalating, rather than being resolved, Bloomberg reported that the strike may be expanding to include the nation’s largest plant, the Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur Complex, as its workers’ labor contracts expire.
In international news, Reuters reports that a tire shop fire in Abu Dhabi late on Friday killed 10 foreign workers and injured 8 others who were living upstairs illegally in an apartment, resulting in an arrest of the owner of the building. The upstairs floor was designed to be used as a warehouse, but had been occupied by several workers at the time of the fire. The blaze gutted the two-story building, the bottom floor of which housed seven commercial businesses. In response to this incident and others, international human rights groups have called on Gulf countries to expand protections for foreign workers, who are often paid less than promised and endure adverse working and living conditions.