The Americas

12 January 1999

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Latin America

United States

Canada

Latin America

One-day strike by Venezuelan oil workers

Venezuelan oil workers called a 24-hour strike January 7 to protest the dismissal of 6,000 contract workers in Zulia state and another 1,500 in the eastern Orinoco Belt oil region. Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) ordered the reductions in the work force as a result of cutbacks in investment and production.

The oil workers union federation, Fedepetrol, is scheduled to decide in the coming week whether the strike will be spread nationwide. Officials of PDVSA state that the decline in world oil prices have severely reduced profits.

Workers block road to Guatemala City plant

Over 4,000 clothing workers demanding jobs blocked the road leading to Philips-Van Heusen's giant Camisas Modernas (Modern Shirt) plant in Guatamala City for the fourth day in a row January 7. On January 5 the workers also demonstrated outside the Labor Ministry where company representatives meeting with government officials were barred from leaving until they agreed to talks with union officials of the CUSG labor federation.

Philips-Van Heusen admitted to the union that they had violated a contract clause requiring a 30-day notice before any layoffs, denied union officials pay and broke a labor law prohibiting the firing of pregnant or nursing women and failed to make extra payments up until the end of their nursing period.

Philips-Van Heusen closed Camisas Modernas December 11. Despite being profitable, Camisas Modernas was the only unionized Maquiladora plant in Guatamala. In a letter the union charged: "The company was not satisfied with the profits it was making from our labor. It wants more. If [the plant] is closed, PVH will send more work to its contractors where our sisters and brothers are denied the right to organize and are forced to work in sweatshops with half the pay and practically none of the benefits we have won under our contract."

The union went on to expose Philips-Van Heusen President Bruce Klatsky: "After we won recognition of our union [in 1997] Mr. Bruce Klatsky came to Guatemala and told us that we were all one big happy family and that the company would always respect our rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. We understand that Mr. Klatsky is a member of Human Rights Watch and the Apparel Industry Partnership to end sweatshops. How can this be? What PVH is doing in Guatemala is smashing the human rights of workers and throwing us back into sweatshops that pay starvation wages and treat us like animals."

United States

Labor Department cites Texaco for underpayment of women

The Labor Department found that Texaco Inc. underpaid 186 women at offices around the country between 1993 and 1996. Texaco management, without conceding violation of the law, has indicated it will pay $3.1 million to the victims. The individual back pay awards will amount to between $1,500 and $51,000 and include salary increases.

The agreement produced the largest financial compensation resulting from an audit by the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. The agency monitors affirmative action at companies that contract with the government.

This is the second case where Texaco has been charged with discriminatory practices. In a 1997 settlement of a racial discrimination case with black employees the company paid out $176 million.

NBA players ratify tentative pact to end lockout

National Basketball Association players voted 179 to 5 to accept an agreement which ends the lockout and paves the way for a truncated basketball season.

The agreement, which came one day before a deadline that threatened to terminate any possibility of a basketball season this year, will establish a limit on players' salaries based upon years of service. While the owners agreed to pay players a slightly higher percentage of revenues than they had initially sought, the most valuable players will no longer be able to push salaries to their uppermost limit. The agreement also contains a code of conduct governing players.

Players such as Stephon Marbury of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are going into their final year of the rookie scale, will be eligible for six-year extensions worth about $73 million. This is considerably below teammate Kevin Garnett's previous six-year extension of $126 million.

The agreement will raise the pay of veteran players on the lower end of the pay spectrum. George McCloud, who made $272,500 for the Phoenix Suns last season, will see his pay raised to a minimum of $725,000.

The ratified proposal still requires the vote of the NBA's Board of Commissioners, after which it will be put into final form for signing. Only then is the lockout officially lifted. Teams will then be able to trade players, sign free agents and open training camps. The NBA season is expected to begin during the first week of February. Some 50 games will be played through the end of April. Post-season play could continue as late as the beginning of July.

Canada

Lockout of men's clothing workers lifted

Three thousand five hundred Quebec garment workers returned to work last week after the Men's Clothing Manufacturing Association lifted a lockout imposed December 14. The 25-member employer association imposed the lockout after workers rejected a three-year contract settlement endorsed by leaders of the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

The employer common front soon began to unravel, however, with suit manufacturer Jack Victor Ltd. reaching a separate deal with UNITE under which its 550 employees returned to work December 21. The settlement at Jack Victor, which subsequently served as a pattern for new contracts at all 25 companies, provides an additional 10 cent per hour increase over the earlier tentative settlement.

Unlike the earlier agreement, the new contract also provides for similar increases in piece rates and incorporates into the collective agreement the minimum work standards laid out in the provincial government decree that regulates the industry. The employers and the Quebec government have said the decree should be abolished and the industry deregulated.

Saskatchewan healthcare workers walk out

Twelve thousand support staff workers at Saskatchewan healthcare institutions staged a 24-hour walkout January 7 to press their demand for an end to disparities in job classifications. The workers complain that a program of job reclassification resulting from the New Democratic Party government's restructuring of the province's healthcare system has resulted in wage inequities and large disparities in the number of hours worked.

In some cases, the wage differential among workers doing the same job is $4 an hour. In the name of eliminating the provincial deficit, the NDP government of Roy Romanow has closed scores of rural hospitals and slashed healthcare budgets.

Labor Board to hear complaint of "bad faith bargaining"

Federal Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw has ordered the Canada Labour Relations Board to hear a complaint of bad faith bargaining against Canadian National Railways. The Canadian Auto Workers argues that CN manipulated the collective bargaining process by assuring union negotiators during recently concluded contract talks that it planned no further job cuts. Shortly after the CAW's 6,000 members at CN ratified a new three-year deal, CN announced the elimination of 3,000 more jobs, including those of 1,075 CAW members.

CAW President Buzz Hargrove claims to have been personally hoodwinked by CN CEO Paul Tellier. Complains Hargrove, "I ... even had a private dinner with [Tellier] and he said the downsizing was over." Tellier denies the allegation. He says that whenever asked, CN management said more downsizing would be needed. Moreover, affirms Tellier, given the current economic environment, no CEO, in transport or any other industry, could give a guarantee of no further job cuts. CN, which was privatized earlier this decade, will have cut its work force in half during the 1990s when the current restructuring plan is implemented.

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