The Multinational Monitor


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Paying Union Busters

VIOLATORS OF U.S. LABOR LAWS receive billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts, according to an October 1995 study issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO), a congressional research agency.

The study, "Worker Protection: Federal Contractor and Violations of Labor Laws," found federal contracts worth $23 billion in 1993 going to 80 labor-law-violating companies, such as nursing home giant Beverly Enterprises, in 1993.

GAO says the bulk of federal contracts -- 90 percent -- given to labor law violators went to six companies: McDonnell Douglas ($7.7 billion from the Navy and Air Force), Westinghouse ($4.9 billion from the Department of Energy), AT&T ($4 billion from the Navy and General Services Administration), Raytheon ($3.5 billion from the Army), United Technologies ($3 billion from the Air Force and Navy) and Fluor Corporation ($508 million from the Energy Department).

The GAO study was requested by Senator Paul Simon, D-Illinois, in October 1995. Simon is now sponsoring a bill prohibiting the federal government from awarding contracts to businesses that are found to exhibit a "clear pattern and practice" of labor abuses.

The most egregious of the violators mentioned in the GAO report is Fort Smith, Arkansas-based Beverly Enterprises. With more than 80,000 employees and 700 facilities nationwide, Beverly is the largest U.S. nursing home operator. Based on National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions, the GAO report cites more than a dozen instances where Beverly illegally refused to hire union members, created employer-dominated committees during union organizing drives and violated other provisions of U.S. labor law. Beverly currently faces charges of labor-law violations in nearly 30 cases pending before the NLRB.

Beverly Enterprises spokesperson Don Dotson responds that the GAO report is "baseless and misleading," saying "it is a fine piece of union propaganda. We have not done anything [which should] be called an unfair labor practice. The report has been prepared to please Senator Simon so that he could create a propaganda document."

Dominican Workers Triumph

FOR THE FIRST TIME, maquila workers in the Dominican Republic conducted a successful strike that led to the signing of a collective bargaining agreement in late November 1995.

The workers -- most of them women -- had worked for more than a year to organize a union at the Korean-owned Bonahan Apparel Company, which makes women's wear for Jones New York.

The Dominican labor ministry had earlier cited the Bonahan maquila operation for physical abuse of women workers, refusal to pay overtime, use of two-way mirrors in the bathrooms, refusal to pay severance benefits, forcing workers to stand for long periods, maintaining excessively high temperatures in working areas and other violations of the labor code.

When the workers tried to organize to change these conditions, their leaders were illegally fired in March 1995. After conciliation efforts by the Dominican Republic labor ministry proved futile, the workers walked off their jobs on October 31. Despite teargassing and arrest of 18 strike leaders, the walkout gained momentum, forcing the company back to the bargaining table. Two weeks later, the company agreed to sign the contract and to rehire and pay back wages to union leaders it had fired.

The new contract sets up an unemployment fund for laid off workers, provides overtime workers with extra wages, rest breaks, meals and transportation and sets up a union-management committee.

Milking Cancer?

MILK FROM COWS injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) increases risks of breast and colon cancers in humans, says a new study issued in late January 1996 by the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition (CFC).

The study found that rBGH increases levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in milk. IGF-1 is a powerful stimulator and regulator of cell-growth and division in humans and cows.

"RGBH poses an even greater risk to human health than ever considered," warns Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and author of the new report. Epstein says increased IGF-1 levels in rBGH milk exert their cancer-promoting effects directly on cells lining the colon and on breast cells, following absorption into the blood.

Chemical giant Monsanto began marketing rBGH in February 1994, after it received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Monsanto and the FDA insist the drug is safe.

"Only Monsanto is benefiting from this drug," says Michael Colby, the executive director of Food & Water, a Walden, Vermont-based health advocacy group. "It's time for dairy companies to side with consumers. It's time for them not to allow rBGH to be used by their farmers."

Asked about Epstein's study and the safety of rBGH, Monsanto spokesperson Stacey Soble says, "It's perfectly safe. The FDA has already approved its use. Since then, there has been no study. There's nothing new in Dr. Epstein's recent paper, it's based on old information."

"That's a nice way to ignore serious data," reponds Colby, who adds that he expects consumers to take the study results more seriously. -- Haider Rizvi

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