Jan./Feb. 2001 - VOLUME 22 - NUMBER 1 & 2
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
Stay Put, Judge Tells Co.
A U.S. District Court in December blocked an attempt by a Los Angeles-based jewelry manufacturer to relocate to Mexico in response to a successful organizing drive, setting what union activists hope will be a precedent that could help slow down the "race to the bottom" in wages and working conditions.
Workers at Quadrtech Corp. voted overwhelmingly for union representation in June, after the company had disciplined the entire workforce for supporting two workers' attempts to make the manufacturer's work environment more comfortable. The 118 workers, who assemble and ship jewelry, earn the state minimum wage of $5.75.
Quadrtech owner Vladimir Reil announced he would lay off the majority of workers and move operations to Tijuana the day after a majority of workers voted to join the International Union of Electronic Workers, a division of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
With CWA's help, the workers pressed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to seek an injunction against the move.
U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Moreno's injunction blocked the move and forced the return of two truckloads of equipment that had already been shipped across the border.
Observers believe the injunction, which will remain in effect until NLRB rules on dozens of charges filed by the union, may be the first of its kind in the United States.
"For once we have a judge who says that the right of workers to organize in unions of their own choosing should be given as much, if not more, weight as the freedom of corporations to use the threat of capital mobility to hold down wages and thwart organizing drives," says Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University.
E-commerce giant Amazon.com faces one of the first major organizing efforts of the new century's dot.com economy. At issue are not the glamorous high-tech jobs that offer heaps of potentially lucrative stock options, but backroom customer service positions subject to the volatile whims of the e-tail market.
The world's largest Internet merchant, Amazon.com is best known for selling books, music, videos and even electronics. Industry observers say that pressure from investors impatient with the company's failure to yet post a profit has forced it to seek ways to cut costs.
In September, customer service workers discovered that Amazon had chosen to do just that by outsourcing some of its customer service operations to the New Delhi, India-based Daksh.com corporation.
With the help of the Communication Workers of America's WashTech project, service workers decided to open up a unionization drive.
Meanwhile, in July Amazon's director of employee relations set up an internal web site to help company supervisors recognize and defeat an organizing drive, and to turn workers against unions, because they "limit incentives" and "foster distrust toward supervisors."
Four customer service workers were kicked out of the company cafeteria in early December for setting up a table with literature supporting the union drive. Lawyers for the workers responded by threatening to take legal action. WashTech organizers say the workers plan further actions to press the campaign.
"This campaign will shatter the myth that high-tech workers don't want union representation and that unions are irrelevant in the twenty-first century," says Marcus Courtney of WashTech.
Textron's Turkey Deal
"The new administration has made it known that it will look favorably upon arms sales, especially to U.S. allies in NATO," says Tamar Gabelnick, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Project.
This is good news for Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron, Inc., which is seeking to sell 145 Cobra attack helicopters to the Turkish government, a deal worth $5 billion.
Hawkish members of Congress, which must approve such deals, claim Turkey's human rights record has improved since 1998, when the Clinton administration reached an informal agreement with the Turkish government tying the deal to promised improvements in the country's human rights record.
Human rights advocates dismiss such claims, pointing out that even the State Department gives Turkey a dismal human rights rating.
For Republicans, deals like the Textron sale are "a business question rather than a security issue," says Gabelnick. "Since the companies are bigger funders of the Republican Party, the Republicans have even more interest in trying to help them out."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Textron's political action committee gave Republican members of Congress the vast majority of the $227,000 it dished out during the 1999 to 2000 election cycle.
The fact that Turkey can go to a Russian-Israeli consortium for helicopters if the Textron deal is denied puts additional pressure on Congress to approve the sale. If the deal does go through, "the best we might get is some improvement in human rights or at the very minimum some sort of end-use monitoring to ensure that civilians are not being targeted," says Gabelnick, who explains that in the past U.S.-made weapons have been used against the Kurdish population in the country's southeast.