“working full time and living in poverty”

        Some Wal-Mart workers walk out in lead-up to Black Friday

Wal-Mart is accusing a labor union of unfairly organizing months of protests outside its stores just as it faces orchestrated demonstrations by workers in the days leading up to Black Friday.

On Thursday, the world’s largest retailer asked the National Labor Relations Board to stop the United Food and Commercial Workers Union from engaging in what it alleged were unfair labor practices and illegal attempts to disrupt its business.

The complaint alleging unfair labor practices is being filed shortly before a group of Wal-Mart workers plans to protest on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

About 50 Wal-Mart employees have walked off the jobs this week from stores in San Leandro, Calif., Seattle and Dallas.

“We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates,” Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar told Reuters.

Wal-Mart has been the target of several protests, flash mobs and online petitions in the last few months. These events have been organized in part by advocacy group Making Change at Wal-Mart and by OUR Wal-Mart, a collection of workers who are pushing for better working coniditions. Both groups are affiliated with the UFCW union.

Colby Harris, a member of OUR Wal-Mart from Texas, said the retailer was trying to “silence” its workers’ voices.

“But nothing, not even this baseless unfair labor practice charge — will stop us from speaking out,” Harris said. “Unfair labor is working full time and living in poverty.”

On Friday, Wal-Mart lawyers sent a letter, obtained by Reuters, to the UFCW general counsel accusing the union of provoking “disruptions” in its business, spreading “misinformation” and creating an “uncomfortable environment and undue stress on Wal-Mart’s customers.”

The letter says the National Labor Relations Board is allowed to stop any such activities that go on for more than 30 days without a representation petition. Wal-Mart says it’s prepared to “protect our business.”

Things may come to a head next week. Organizers say they have about 1,000 events planned outside Wal-Mart stores, culminating in protests on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart is rolling out Black Friday deals starting at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, exciting some shoppers and angering others. A petition on Signon.org urging the retailer to delay the doorbuster deals until later has garnered almost 25,000 signatures online.


FedEx, UPS probed over online pharmacies’ packages


FedEx and UPS have disclosed they are targets of a federal criminal investigation related to their dealings with online pharmacies, which are at the center of an international crackdown on prescription drug abuse.

The shipping companies made the disclosures in regulatory filings over the last several weeks. FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald confirmed the probe in a prepared statement and a phone interview Thursday.

The investigation of the country’s two largest shippers stems from a blitz against online pharmacies that was launched in 2005. Since then, dozens of arrests have been made, thousands of websites shuttered and tens of millions of dollars and pills seized worldwide as investigators continue to broaden the probe beyond the operators.

Last year, Google Inc. agreed to pay $500 million to settle allegations by the Justice Department that it profited from ads for illegal online pharmacies.

A federal jury on Thursday convicted three men of operating illegal pharmacies that used FedEx Corp. and UPS Inc. to deliver drugs without proper prescriptions. Seven others have been convicted in San Francisco this year.

Fitzgerald said he didn’t know if the FedEx investigation was connected to the San Francisco cases, but U.S. Department of Justice investigators based in San Francisco are looking into issues “related to the transportation of packages for online pharmacies.” He called the probe “absurd” and said the Memphis, Tenn., company denied any wrongdoing

A spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to comment. A spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS couldn’t be reached after business hours Thursday.

UPS disclosed the investigation Nov. 1 in a regulatory filing reporting its quarterly earnings.

“We have received requests for information from the DOJ in the Northern District of California in connection with a criminal investigation relating to the transportation of packages for online pharmacies that may have shipped pharmaceuticals in violation of federal law,” the company stated. UPS said it was cooperating with the investigation and is “exploring the possibility of resolving this matter.”

FedEx was more defiant. Fitzgerald said the company has no plans to plea bargain with federal officials.

“Settlement is not an option when there is no illegal activity,” Fitzgerald said.

Both companies said they were served with grand jury subpoenas between 2007 and 2009. Fitzgerald declined to discuss why FedEx was now disclosing the investigation, but he confirmed that the company is under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting online pharmacies that illegally ship prescription drugs.

Fitzgerald said the Drug Enforcement Agency has refused FedEx’s request for a list of online pharmacies under investigation. Without such a list, Fitzgerald said it’s impossible to know which companies are operating illegally.

“We have no interest in violating the privacy of our customers by opening and inspecting their packages in an attempt to determine the legality of the contents,” Fitzgerald said.

UPS ceases funding for Boy Scouts of America due to anti-gay policy

According to Change.org, United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), a corporate donor of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), has announced a new policy that will “cease all future funding to the Boy Scouts until gay Scouts and leaders are welcome within the organization.”

UPS, much like Intel Corporation (which was one of the Boy Scouts largest corporate donors), gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Boy Scouts despite the organization’s anti-gay policy.

Both UPS and Intel have traditionally scored high marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

”UPS showed true bravery today in standing with the 80,000 Americans, including thousands of Scouts and Scout leaders, who oppose the Boy Scouts’ hurtful anti-gay policy. That bravery is what Scouting is all about,” said Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality. “Corporate America gets it better than most: policies that discriminate aren’t simply wrong, they’re bad for business and they’re hurting the Scouting community. You would think that after all the Boy Scouts have lost as a result of this policy, they would understand that,” he continued.

According to GLAAD, due to the UPS Foundation’s new non-discrimination policy organizations (like the boy Scouts) that adhere to an anti-gay policy will no longer be eligible for funding.

UPS released the following statement:

“The UPS Foundation seeks to support organizations that are in alignment with our focus areas, guidelines, and non-discrimination policy. UPS and The UPS Foundation do not discriminate against any person or organization with regard to categories protected by applicable law, as well as other categories protected by UPS and The UPS Foundation in our own policies. These include, but are not limited to race, gender, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran or military status, pregnancy, age and religion.”

The decision by UPS reverses an earlier statement in which the said they would continue to support and donate to the Boy Scouts.

”The time is now for the BSA to end this outdated and unpopular ban before other corporate funders pull dollars and scouting families drop their support’” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “All of the great work that the BSA does to help young people will continue to be overshadowed by their blatant discrimination until they join other inclusive organizations like the Girl Scouts of the USA and the 4-H Club.”

David Zimmerman

Contract Information

For UPS Contract, Union Focus Is on Harassment, Not Concessions

At the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) convention last week, local officers and rank and filers dissected bargaining now underway with UPS, by far the largest employer of Teamsters at 250,000 members.

To an observer who’s seen nasty concessions foisted on dozens of unions, it was remarkable to hear members focused instead on advances their union has vowed to win.

Even profitable companies like Verizon and GE have forced workers to pay more for their health care and to give up defined-benefit pensions for new hires.

There are two reasons UPS workers may not get hit with such demands this bargaining round.

One is that the truck drivers and package sorters and loaders who make profits for UPS ($1.66 billion in the third quarter this year) have leverage—their jobs can’t be shipped overseas. Technology is enabling tremendous speedup, but workers can’t be automated out of existence.

The other reason is TDU. Teamster officials are inclined to be quite bendable when it comes to the demands of their largest transmitter of dues money, but they know that TDU is publicizing their every move. At contract time tens of thousands of UPSers rely on the reform caucus for information and for analysis of why givebacks aren’t necessary.

At a September 21meeting of officers from all UPS locals, the Teamster leader in charge of UPS, Ken Hall, was rather vague on the union’s goals, but officials did attack TDU five times from the mike.

Rank-and-File Opinion Counts

Because Teamsters have direct elections for officers, top officials have to pay attention to rank-and-file opinion, at least at UPS, where members are most likely to vote. Hall plans to succeed Hoffa as president. “Hall doesn’t want to look like a turkey,” said TDU organizer Ken Paff. A bad contract would certainly be remembered next election.

That’s why the talk at the TDU convention was not of staving off health care cuts—as in just about every other union’s contract fights in the last five years—but of how to enforce the contract and beat back harassment.

The five-year contract doesn’t expire till July 31, 2013, but Teamsters President James Hoffa wants to get it out of the way by March. Hall has said he will not settle early unless harassment is dealt with to the union’s satisfaction.

That would mean enforceable protections against excessive overtime—UPS drivers routinely work 10- and 11-hour days. And bosses’ right to discipline workers based on monitoring would be restricted. Every second of a driver’s day is now surveilled, using 200 sensors in their trucks and information continually transmitted through their hand-held tracking devices.

The anti-harassment demands put on the table by Teamster leaders mirror those made by TDU.

Concessions by Other Means

Big Brown is not asleep at the wheel, when it comes to squeezing more out of the workforce. After all, its execs need to hold up their heads at the country club, when all their corporate brethren are bragging about their own workers’ concessions.

So UPS has chipped away at pensions in a subtler way than making new hires take 401(k)s. With the blessing of the Teamsters International, half the company’s full-timers have been shifted out of a multi-employer pension fund and put into a UPS-only fund that saves the company money (while weakening retirement for non-UPS Teamsters).

And the company has long enjoyed one of the ugliest two-tier wage set-ups anywhere, with part-timers who move boxes from trailer to truck starting at just $8.50 an hour, with no health care for a year. Turnover means UPS pays very little in benefits for half its workforce.

Still, the full-time driver in brown who humps boxes to your door makes about $31 an hour, has family health insurance fully paid by the company, and gets a decent pension. There was some talk at the TDU convention that supervisors on the floor are talking up a two-tier wage. But no one believes UPS will go for 401(k)s.

The concessions its strategists are planning look far down the road. They want to give the work of over-the-road drivers to the lower-paid UPS Freight division.

But that may not happen in 2013, because organized rank-and-file workers at UPS can make a difference in their contract terms.