"more pro-labor news than a year of the L.A. Times"


L.A. Labor News * Editor: Jim Smith * June 22, 1995 * #5




* Battle of the County Budget.

* OSHA failing workers in high-risk jobs.

* UAW convention.

* Civil disobedience under attack.

* Blue Cross to hire union janitors.

* Why some unions don't organize.

* Strike at child care centers.

* Calendar.


Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:

FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685

E-mail: LALabor@aol.com

Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294

June 22, 1995 * #5



It's a County with little health care for the poor, few parks and libraries and more than 10,000 public workers in the unemployment lines. Welcome to Sally Reed's Los Angeles.

The County administrative officer's Blade Runner vision of ruthless cuts in services and jobs is not yet a reality. However, one giant step toward that vision was taken on Tuesday when County Supervisors voted unanimously &endash; after apparently making the decision behind closed doors in violation of the state Brown Act &endash; to initiate cuts, including 2,000 layoffs in the Dept. of Public Social Services (DPSS). Layoff notices are scheduled to go out July 1. A vote on health care cuts and hospital closings was put off for two weeks.

On Wednesday, 2,000 members of SEIU Local 660, rallied at the Ronald Reagan state building to demand aid from Gov. Pete Wilson and the state legislature. They then marched through downtown to the Supervisor's meeting at the Hall of Administration.

Ironically, the march passed by the Bradbury building where the climactic scene is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was filmed. The movie depicts a futuristic Los Angeles where the generation of the children or grandchildren of the marchers live in abject poverty while a small elite rules Los Angeles and the world.

To prevent such a world developing out of the curtailment of governmental services, a coalition of labor and community groups, calling itself the "Emergency Committee to Save L.A. County," is forming. The June 20 edition of the L.A. Times "exposed" Local 660's role in initiating the group. Citing internal union documents, The Times article said, in apparent disapproval, that the union "could resort to some tough tactics in its effort to save jobs."

According to one SEIU source, the documents may have been leaked to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who in turn, gave them to The Times.

The Times article, which identified Yaroslavsky as a liberal, said the union was "tying him to conservative efforts to slash services to the poor." Yaroslavsky was the author of the cuts and layoffs approved by the Board of Supervisors, June 20.

Board chairperson Gloria Molina, who had been outspoken in opposition to the cuts, voted to approve them Tuesday after learning the DPSS manager would not speak out against them. Molina and other County officials also took part in a conference call, Tuesday, with Wall Street and European bankers who are concerned with their investments in County bonds.

Before a packed hall of his union members, Gil Cedillo, Local 660's General Manager, told the Supervisors, "neither Sally Reed or Wall Street was elected to run the County." Demanding that Reed's budget be rejected, Cedillo proclaimed that "health care is a fundamental human right. It is the role of government to insure that the health and welfare of its residents is secure."

Newly elected L.A. Community College Trustee Gloria Romero provided personal experience in her testimony, saying she gave birth to her daughter in USC County General Hospital which is targeted by Reed for closure. "At the time, I didn't have medical insurance or anywhere else to go. The care was professional, competent and union," said Romero.

Jim Wood, executive officer of the County Federation of Labor accused Reed of having a secret agenda. "The closing of County General is put on the table to obscure the real agenda. Later, you'll say 'Ok, we'll keep County General open but we're going to make these other wholesale cuts'," said Wood. He demanded the Supervisors hold Sally Reed accountable.

A "Mobilization to Stop the Cuts!" will be held at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, July 6 at the Board of Supervisors' meeting, 500 W. Temple Street. Local 660 is seeking to bring thousands of protestors to the meeting that will consider closing hospitals, clinics and laying off as many as 12,000 workers.




Even under the safest conditions, it's a gamble to work on top of a mountain of salt or dig a tunnel 110 feet below Hollywood Blvd. Every year around 8,000 workers across the country lose that gamble and pay with their lives.That number may rise if health and safety laws and enforcement continue to be weakened.

Not many construction workers want to work in L.A. new Metro subway &endash; even for the three bucks an hour more than above-ground jobs pay &endash; says Jaime Hernandez of the Laborers Union. "Its dangerous down there even if you're working for a normal company. S-K-K (Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, the main contractor on the Hollywood segment of the subway) is not a normal company. They're pushing everyone too hard," complains Hernandez.

So far, the trouble-plagued Metro subway construction has seen injuries caused by a runaway train, an explosion and a cement mixer that came to life and cut off a worker's leg. Accidents waiting to happen include too-thin concrete walls around the subway and the use of wooden braces and filler material instead of metal struts and high-strength concrete. Inspectors accused S-K-K of attempting to hide the braces which were uncovered only when Hollywood Blvd. began sinking.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) has assessed S-K-K $901,685 in fines for scores of safety violations. Many of the violations are in the "willful-serious" category which means the company knew about the safety problems but ignored them. Like many employers, S-K-K has appealed the fines. Meanwhile, it's not required to pay a dime.

A study authored by Drew Mendelson of the California State Employees Association found that only a fraction of OSHA fines are ever collected. Mendelson says that fines for "willful-serious" violations are reduced on appeal by an average of 84 percent.

Nick Rico worked in a dangerous plant but lived to talk about it. He managed to crawl out from under a mountain of Morton salt when it gave way in a plant at the Port of Long Beach. His co-worker wasn't so lucky.

Twenty-five-year-old Jorge Torres was buried under 50 tons of the salt. The Morton company has appealed its fines. According to Mendelson's study the Cal/OSHA fines against Morton Salt for eight safety violations that led to Jorge Torres death will likely be reduced from $52,500 to $8,400.

Southwest Recycling of Los Angeles succeeded in getting two 1992 asbestos-related fines reduced from a total of $253,350 to only $27,825 by appealing. A Wilshire Blvd. construction company, K.W. Ha, appealed its nine willful-serious violations, which led to a worker's death by electrocution, and succeeded in reducing them from $310,165 to $29,995.

The near certainty of getting fines drastically reduced is an incentive for 25 percent of all employers to contest them with the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board. The Board's case load has increased from less than 1,700 in 1991 to an expected 4,000 this year, says its Executive Director Janet Egan.

There is a growing use of workplace inspectors, not attorneys, to handle cases in appeals hearings. Mike Mason, chief counsel for Cal/OSHA says inspectors must handle the majority of cases since there are only nine OSHA attorneys in the entire state.

One Cal/OSHA inspector, who insisted on speaking off the record, says he and other inspectors must choose between vigorously prosecuting employers or making on-site visits at workplaces. "When an inspector has to handle an appeal it doubles the time involved in the case. If you don't compromise on the fine, you're just creating work for yourself. Mason and the top people in the Division want you to fight aggressively but there's just isn't enough staffing," he said.

In 1992, the federal OSHA program required Cal/OSHA to drastically increase the fines. When fines for willful offenses went from $7,000 to $70,000, employers flocked to the Appeals Board. At the same time, the number of OSHA staff who conduct day-to-day inspections continued to slip. Today there are 225 inspectors statewide compared to more than 300 during the Jerry Brown administration.

Still, Cal/OSHA is superior to the federal program in many ways. Only in California can a worker make an anonymous health or safety complaint over the phone and be assured of a visit by a Cal/OSHA inspector. In California, every serious workplace injury is investigated, but in other states only deaths require an investigation.

As low as Cal/OSHA staffing is, it's four times higher than federal levels in states that don't have their own program. However, 44 percent of Cal/OSHA funding comes from the federal government and must be approved by Congress. If Congressional funding is curtailed, it could cause a major reduction in the already overstretched Cal/OSHA program.

Occupational health and safety funding has been a special target for "get-government's-nose-out-of-business" Republicans. One of their bills would repeal all of OSHA's enforcement authority including the right to conduct inspections and issue citations. Workers would no longer be able to file complaints with OSHA and employers would no longer be required to maintain injury and illness records. Another bill would cap OSHA non-serious violations at $25. Yet another bill would stop OSHA from establishing new health and safety regulations.

Hazard-prone companies that have mastered the OSHA appeals process, may now have to worry about enforcement from an unlikely source. The Environmental Crimes/OSHA Division of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office is actively prosecuting company officials who knowingly allow dangerous working conditions, says Marianne Brown, Director, UCLA's Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH) program.

The DA's OSHA program &endash; the only one in the country &endash; gets high praise from health and safety experts. One OSHA inspector says the Division, established by Ira Reiner and continued by Gil Garcetti, "is terrific. They even beat us out to the worksite when there's a serious injury."

The District Attorney's prosecution of the plant manager and foreman for involuntary manslaughter and violating the 1989 Corporate Criminal Liability Act in the Morton Salt death may cause other health and safety violators to sit up and take notice.

Deputy District Attorney Maureen O'Brien appeared in Municipal Court, June 12, determined to arraign the two company officials on felony and misdemeanor charges. However, Judge Abraham Kahn granted Keith Morgan and Roy Yount a continuance until July 20 since both defendants had just obtained new attorneys.

(A version of this article appears in the June 22 edition of the L.A. Weekly.)




Stephen Yokich, vowing to breathe new life into the UAW's organizing program, was elected without opposition, June15, to succeed Owen Bieber as international president.

Bieber retires after 12 years behind the wheel of the auto workers union. Under his leadership, the union suffered membership losses as its major employers, GM, Ford and Chrysler layed off thousands of workers. Auto workers in Canada, led by Bob White, left the U.S.-dominated union in a "friendly" breakup. The birth of the Canadian Auto Workers union sparked a nation-wide movement in that country to form distinctively Canadian unions.

Meanwhile, the UAW sought to diversify by organizing public employers, printers, hospital workers and affiliating the independent National Writers Union. The Michigan State Workers local is now the largest in the UAW.

Yokich seems intent on returning to the UAW's roots by pledging to organize foreign-owned auto plants and parts manufacturers. "Outsourcing," the auto companies' term for buying non-union parts instead of making their own has cost thousands of jobs. It has also created a rich organizing opportunity for the union, which Yokich wants to develop.

Both Bieber and Yokich are part of a long-lived leadership "dynasty" which traces its lineage to the UAW's fourth president, Walter Reuther.

Even before being elected, Yokich affirmed Bieber's alliance with insurgents attempting to unseat AFL-CIO leaders Lane Kirkland and Tom Donahue. Before he rescinded his retirement, Donahue had been invited to address the convention. It was unclear if he had been uninvited by the UAW or just decided not to show up.

California Region 6 was merged with Region 5 at the convention and will now be headquartered in St. Louis.




When 49 janitors and supporters, who were fighting for a contract, sat down and were arrested in a busy intersection in Beverly Hills, they didn't expect the city and the District Attorney to make a federal case out of it.

But in what may signal a crack-down against the popular new labor tactic, the protestors are now facing probation, community service, possible jail time and $30,000 in fines.

The civil disobedience tactic has been used by unions throughout the country this year to call attention to a variety of struggles and to make an end-run around stringent labor laws which prohibit sit-ins on company property.

About 300 janitors turned out at Beverly Hills City Hall, June 15, to demand dismissal of the charges and to present the City with an "Enemy of Justice" award.

A five-member delegation and some reporters were allowed to enter the building's tower where the city manager and mayor have their offices. However, neither would come into the police-lined reception area to accept the award or speak with the delegation. After some debate, Receptionist Gisele Grable accepted the award and signed a receipt for it.

In a related matter, SEIU international organizer, Jono Shaffer, was recently arrested and charged with conspiracy for his part in a sit-in at Rep. Carlos Moorehead's office in Glendale. Shaffer and eight other SEIU members, including Local 660 General Manager Gil Cedillo, were protesting the Republican Congressman's support of the "Contract with America." They were all arrested at the sit-in and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. However, Shaffer said police were in possession of conspiracy arrest warrants for eight "John Doe's."



Blue Cross, the only company to bolt after last April's historic city-wide janitor's contract has agreed to re-sign with a unionized contractor.

SEIU Local 399 picketed and mobilized community and labor pressure on the giant health care provider after 14 janitors lost their jobs cleaning the Warner Center offices.



An insurgent slate in SEIU Local 399 - the Justice for Janitors union - has swept all 18 executive board and three trustee positions for which it contended. Cesar A. Oliva Sanchez, a janitor, will become the new Executive Vice President, if the election which was conducted by the American Arbitration Association is upheld.

Some 274 votes have been challenged out of more than 2700 that were cast, June 15. The challenged ballots could affect the outcome of several contests, said a staff member who did not wish to be identified. The winning slate, "Change 95 - the Multi-Racial Alliance," did not contest the top two offices. President Jim Zellers and Secretary-Treasurer Doris Boyd Snyder were reelected without opposition.



Forty teachers and support staff hit the bricks, June 20, at L.A. Child Care locations on the eastside. AFSCME Local 1108 President Gilbert Sanchez says the mainly Latina workforce struck when management arbitrarily declared impasse after more than a year of fruitless negotiations. He is calling for community and labor support on the picketline. For more information, call 213/487-0505.




Protest union busting by Japanese-owned Bridgestone/Firestone Rubber Co. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, June 22 at the Japanese Consulate, 350 S. Grand, L.A. Sponsored by Steelworkers and Rubber Workers unions.



Planning meeting for Sept. 4 March/Rally. 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 27 at MEBA hall, 421 N. Marine, Wilmington. 310/830-8221.



Ch. 28, PBS, show on the great textile Strike.

10 p.m.Tuesday, June 27.



Honoring SEIU Local 660, Richard Karn and Machinists Guiding Eyes program. $75.

6 - 9 p.m., Thursday, June 29 at the Biltmore, 506 S. Grand, L.A. Sponsored by "We Do The Work." 213/381-5611.



A Conference in San Francisco sponsored by LaborNet-Institute For Global Communications & San Francisco State University Labor Studies Department, Saturday July 1 - $45.00; $25.00 Students & Seniors. 415/442-0220 x128.




American Presidents Line takes federal funds but eliminates U.S. jobs on ships. Demonstrate at Pier 121 (L.A.) and Pier 6 (Long Beach). July 2 310/830-8221.



Rally against county closures and layoffs. 9:30 a.m., Thursday, July 6 at 500 W. Temple, L.A. 213/744-8236.



A documentary about the merchant seamen in World War II. Talking heads include longtime union activists Bill Bailey, who died recently in Northern California, and Pete Goodman. 6 p.m., Sunday, July 9, Channel 28, PBS.



Testimony on need for a labor party. Keynoters: Gil Cedillo (SEIU); Humberto Camacho (UE); Larry Solomon (UAW Caterpillar strikers). Bring lunch. 10 - 3 p.m., Saturday, July 15. Teamsters hall, 1616 W. 9th St., L.A. 213/660-2891.



July 29. ILWU. 310/325-2556.


Copyright 1995 L.A. Labor News. To reach L.A. Labor News:

FAX: 310/399-7352 * Voice: 310/399-8685

E-mail: LALabor@aol.com

Postal: P.O. Box 644, Venice, CA 90294

May 10, 1995 * #3