SEPTEMBER 1995 · VOLUME 16 · NUMBER 10
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
EFFORTS ARE UNDER WAY in the U.S. Congress to repeal parts of the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) that protect teenage workers. The attack is being underwritten by Political Action Committees (PACs) affiliated with the grocery and restaurant industries.
These industries gave almost $500,000 to members of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities and Senate Labor and Human Resource committees from 1991 to 1994, according to a study by the Durham, North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies (ISS), a research group studying work-related issues.
Most of these contributions went to committee Republicans, who received $464,417 compared to $19,525 for Democratic legislators. Ohio Senator Michael DeWine led the pack, taking $93,752 from grocery and restaurant PACs. The largest sponsor of a weaker FLSA was the National Restaurant Association, which gave $122,125 and the Food Marketing Institute, which gave $76,565 on behalf of the grocery industry.
"These industries employ 35 percent of all working youth and have a stake in changing the laws," says Ron Nixon, an ISS researcher. "Unfortunately, the proposal being put forward would put a number of children in the workplace at risk."
An estimated 64,000 youth ages 14 to 17 were treated for work-related injuries in the U.S. hospital emergency rooms during 1992, according to a Massachusetts Department of Public Health report.
One bill before Congress would allow minors to load paper and cardboard balers. The FLSA now prohibits youth under the age of 18 to operate these machines.
Last year, 56 grocery stores paid more than $2 million dollars in fines for allowing underage employees to use balers. "Ridding an industry of annoying penalties is not a good reason to allow minors anywhere near the balers," says Darlene Adkins of the Washington, D.C.-based Child Labor Coalition. "Paper balers are dangerous."
Bill sponsors disagree. "Today's balers bear very little resemblance to the huge machines of 41 years ago" when the law took effect, says Sherrie Rosenblatt of the Food Marketing Institute. The government "must recognize the significant safety advances in balers that are now industry practice."
Unsafe Workers' State
AS THE U.N. CONFERENCE on Women's Development was under way in Beijing in September 1995, 26 women workers died in a cigarette lighter factory fire in Shunde City in China's Guangdong province, a tragedy that the Chinese government tried to cover up.
Lois Stewart, who led the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) delegation to the U.N. Women's Conference, says Chinese authorities refused ICFTU's request to go to the site to survey working conditions and to visit some of the 66 injured women. The daily Hong Kong Standard reported that police forcibly prevented reporters from approaching the scene of the fire. Chinese embassy officials did not return calls.
"In China, fires and factory collapses happen all the time. Over 6,500 people died in 6,900 industrial accidents, this year," Stewart says.
Stop the Presses
SIX UNIONS At the Daily News and the Free Press in Detroit were continuing a mid-July 1995 strike into October, confronting violent repression from the police and from security forces hired by the newspapers.
Unions called the strike after management decided to cut wages, eliminate jobs for its unionized non-editorial workers and replace hundreds of journalists.
The Detroit Newspapers Agency (DNA) that runs both papers is jointly owned by news giants Gannett and Knight-Ridder. The chains signed a joint operating agreement in 1989, merging business operations of the two papers, which maintain separate editorial staffs.
Unions say part of the reason that they struck was that DNA management tried to bargain with the unions on an individual basis. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued an unfair labor practice complaint against the newspapers. In August 1995, NLRB Regional Director William Schaub Jr. said the newspapers illegally broke an agreement to bargain jointly with the unions.
DNA President Frank Vega says the company has bargained fairly with the unions. NLRB hearings are scheduled to begin November 13, 1995.
Profit Up, Wages Down
AS BUSINESS PROFIT RATES have soared to historic highs in the past five years, many U.S. families have had to make due with declining real wages, says a September 1995 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study.
The study, entitled "Workers' Losses Yield Big Gains for Business," concludes that the rising profit rates are the result of declining wages, rather than greater investment or productivity growth.
"Business profits are up, but the vast majority of Americans continue to work harder for less," says co-author Lawrence Mishel. "This high profitability is simply the reflection of the dominance of employers in the shaping of wages and working conditions in today's labor market."
Persistent growth in wage inequality and the recent surge in profitability have created a wedge between economic growth and living standards, leaving most U.S. families "no better off in 1995 than in 1989," he says.
-- Haider Rizvi