Multinational Monitor

APR 1997
Vol. 18 No. 4


The Campaign to Eliminate the Separation Between Banking and Commerce
by Jake Lewis

The Case for Preserving the Separation Between Banking and Commerce
by Jonathan Brown

Conquering Peru: Newmont's Yanacocha Mine
by Pratap Chatterjee

Taiwan Dumps on North Korea: State-Owned Taipower Schemes to Ship Nuclear Waste
by Jonathan Dushoff


The Political Economy of the Occupation of East Timor
an interview with
Jose Ramos-Horta



Behind the Lines

Don't Let This Merger Take Off

The Front
Slow Motion Bhopal - Indecent Proposal

Their Masters' Voice

Names In the News

Trade Watch

Book Notes


Behind the Lines

Mobile Chernobyl

If you live in the United States, nuclear waste may soon be passing through a town near you.

In March, the U.S. Senate Energy Committee approved the Nuclear Waste bill, S.104, which would establish an interim nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The bill would clear the way for approximately 80 current on-site nuclear waste storage facilities to load their "low-level radioactive waste" on to trains and trucks and ship it to Nevada. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill in April.

No similar legislation has yet been introduced in the House of Representatives, and President Bill Clinton has promised to veto S.104 if it arrives on his desk.

"The current pattern of sidestepping important decisions can't work much longer," says Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho. "If the Clinton administration has a solution to our nation's nuclear waste problem, I'm eager to hear it. Otherwise, they have a responsibility to step forward and support my Nuclear Waste bill."

Opponents of S.104 label it the "Mobile Chernobyl Bill," to emphasize the potential hazards of permitting widespread transport of nuclear waste.

"While no high-level waste transport accident has yet resulted in a radiation release, the risks are real," says Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information and Resources Service (NIRS) Radioactive Waste Project. "Soothing assurances of safety sound hollow given this industry's record and the enormous stakes involved."

The bill "is an environmental nightmare in every way," says Michael Mariotte, NIRS executive director. "It would pre-empt every possible federal, state and local environmental law. ... It would unfairly limit the scope of the required environmental impact statement to exclude such basic topics as whether an 'interim' waste dump is even needed."

Working More, For Less

The sacrosanct U.S. 40-hour work week may be on the ropes.

In March, the House of Representatives passed "the Working Families Flexibility Act," which would enable employees to substitute "comp time" for overtime pay. Under the bill, employers would be permitted to offer employees who worked more than 40 hours a week the option of foregoing the time-and-a-half pay required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and to earn comp time instead. Later, they could take off one and a half hours for each hour of overtime they worked. A similar but more far-reaching bill is pending in the Senate.

Supporters of the bill, largely the Republican majority, say it will give employees enhanced flexibility in arranging their work and family time.

Opponents disagree. The bill "is about more flexibility for employers -- not for employees," says John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. "Employers will be able to discriminate against employees who want overtime pay and employers would control when employees could use the comp time."

"Family Friend or Foe," a March report by the Economic Policy Institute written by economist Lonnie Golden, buttresses Sweeney's claim. The comp time proposal would lower the cost of overtime to employers, because they would pay workers later, Golden argues. Costs to employers would also be lowered if earned comp time was not redeemed, though the House bill contains provisions requiring employers to pay wages for unredeemed time. With the cost of overtime diminished, Golden writes, employers may schedule longer work weeks while pressuring employees to accept comp time rather than overtime pay.

Employees' flexibility in choosing when to redeem comp time may be limited as well. "To keep workers from cashing out, employers could simply shut down operations near year's end or during slow times and deduct hours from employee comp time accounts," Golden writes. Employers might also "deduct from comp time accounts hours that were previously taken off informally."

Efforts to enhance employee worktime flexibility should not tamper with the overtime time-and-a-half pay penalty, Golden concludes, but should instead emphasize strengthening the Family and Medical Leave Act, flextime, shift arrangements and shortening the standard work week.

Nike Keeps Doing It

As punishment for failing to wear regulation shoes, 56 women making shoes for Nike in Vietnam were forced to run around a Nike contractor's factory premises in the hot sun on March 8, International Women's Day. Twelve of the women fainted during the run and were taken to the hospital, reports Thuyen Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American financial analyst.

Nguyen visited Nike's Vietnamese contractors at Nike's invitation, extended after Nguyen began successfully drumming up opposition to Nike contractors' labor practices. In addition to inspecting factories while escorted by a Nike representative, Nguyen conducted independent research while on his own.

"We found that verbal abuse and sexual harassment are frequent, as is corporal punishment," says Nguyen. He also reports that it is a common occurrence for several women to faint from exhaustion, heat fumes and poor nutrition during their shifts.

Nike did not return calls seeking comment.

Nguyen found that Nike workers in Vietnam make an average of 20 cents an hour, or $1.60 per day. He says that he found a pattern of contractors paying workers less than Vietnam's minimum wage.



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