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Pre-1999 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

News - September, 2000

"As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man (or woman) objected
and no man (or woman) rebelled, those wrongs would last forever. " - Clarence Darrow

Pension bill nears Senate vote
USA Today - By Christine Dugas - September 26, 2000

Employee groups and retiree advocates are battling a Senate bill they say would legitimize controversial cash balance pension plans and harm low- and moderate-income workers.

Cash balance plans have attracted widespread criticism from workers and experts, who say they shortchange older workers. The plans, which accrue at a steady rate and are portable, have become the focus of lawsuits, shareholder resolutions and about 800 age discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Concerns are gaining urgency as a vote on the bill heads to the Senate, possibly this week. A similar bill passed the House in July, 401-25, without a cash balance provision.

Employees from such companies as IBM and Verizon, which have converted from traditional pensions to cash balance plans, delivered a petition Monday signed by 2,566 workers to Sen. William Roth, R-Del., the bill's sponsor.

But the cash balance provision isn't the only problem, critics complain. The Senate bill primarily would help high-income workers and would do little to encourage companies to set up new pension plans, they say.

At least two senators, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plan to introduce amendments aimed at addressing perceived imbalances in the bill.

''The administration would like to see a better balance in terms of who is helped by this bill,'' says Leslie Kramerich, acting assistant secretary of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration.

New cancer link to power lines
The Guardian - by Paul Brown - September 21, 2000

New evidence that high voltage power lines cause cancer by making particles of pollution stick to people's lungs has been uncovered by a team from Bristol University.

The team's research shows that car exhaust particles get an electrical charge from overhead power lines that makes them "sticky" - giving people living close to the lines two or three times the average daily dose of potentially damaging pollutants in their lungs.

David Henshaw of Bristol University said the discovery is the missing link that shows how power lines can cause cancer clusters - something the global electricity industry has spent millions of pounds researching without finding a conclusive answer.

His work is supported by Dr Alan Preece at the Bristol Medical School, whose independent research in the west country showed that people living up to 500 metres downwind of power lines have a 29% greater chance of contracting lung cancer. This finding matches the area where "sticky" particles from car exhausts drift downwind of power cables.

Both men believe that building new houses near power cables, or allowing new power lines near houses should be stopped until their research is investigated. A ban already exists in US and Sweden.

The scientists have been backed by William Hague, the Tory leader. Northallerton, in his constituency, has an unexplained cancer cluster next to a power line.

Work to find a link between power lines and cancer has been going on for 20 years, but scientists have been studying a different possible cause - the effect of the magnetic field created by the lines.

What Prof Henshaw's team found was not a direct effect on the body, but an indirect mechanical effect, which allowed the build up of pollutants in the lungs.

Measurements taken all over the UK and Europe showed that all power lines were surrounded by a corona of electrically charged ions. The older and rougher the lines, the greater the corona. Ions from the corona were carried downwind of the lines, attaching themselves to up to 15,000 particles per cubic metre of pollution floating past in the air.

The ions gave the particles an electrical charge and made them stick to surfaces. When they got into the capillaries in the lungs they were attracted to the surface and stuck.

Prof Henshaw said: "This would not happen if the lines were buried. We have the technology to do it , it is just more expensive."

Dr Preece, an epidemiologist in the oncology department at Bristol will tell Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme today that he looked at the incidence of cancer in the whole of the south-west of England to judge the relative risk for those living within 400 metres of power lines.

"We found an excess, particularly lung cancer, in that group of people, who had been living within 400 metres of a line at the time of diagnosis." He said the most surprising element was the cancers only occurred downwind.

Dr Preece would not discuss his findings in detail until they had been reviewed by other scientists but a report to the Bioelectromagnetics Society in Munich earlier this year said the excess was 29% - and that had taken into account the effects of smoking.

Mr Hague said that in his constituency he had eight cases of childhood leukaemia, liver cancer and other illnesses near a power line. After meeting Prof Henshaw, he said: "In respect to construction of new lines, National Grid should look carefully at new evidence before going ahead with more..."

N.C. Should Sue Bush

Pension bill scrutinized
Post-Bulletin - by Angela Greiling - September 21, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Rochester pension activist Janet Krueger met at length Wednesday with a key Senate staff member in an attempt to change a bill she says would adversely affect current IBM employees. Krueger, formerly an IBM employee and now an independent computer consultant, met with aides to Sen. William Roth, R-Del., the sponsor of a comprehensive bill that includes a provision that might preclude a pending court case against IBM.

In 1999, IBM changed its employee pension plan to a cash-balance plan, which angered Baby Boomer employees because their eventual retirement benefit balances shrunk.

Led by Krueger and several other disgruntled employees from large companies, a loose coalition called the Cash Pensions Group has formed. They met for a second time in Washington on Wednesday to lobby the Senate as it prepares to vote on the measure known as the Retirement Security and Savings Act of 2000. The workers and their political allies had hoped the bill would make cash-balance pension plans illegal, but instead it effectively makes some cash-balance plan characteristics explicitly legal. In particular, coalition members are upset that the bill would not prohibit "wear away" provisions, which stop longtime employees from earning further pension benefits for a period of time when a company converts its pension plan from a traditional plan to a cash-balance plan.

Essentially, if the pension value under the old plan is higher than what it would be under the new plan, the employee does not receive more retirement money until the level matches the lower amount. The pension world calls this practice "wearing away." The group is also concerned their lawsuits against IBM, Verizon (formerly Bell Atlantic), AT&T and other companies would be halted if cash-balance plans are formally accepted under the bill. Krueger said she would rather have the issue decided in the courts than by Congress.

"We think we deserve our day in court," she said.

Discontent over the use of cash-balance plans rose during the past 18 months. Last year, a Senate committee conducted a hearing on the subject, and the Krueger-led group has been in Washington several times to hammer home its positions.

After meeting with reporters Wednesday, Krueger and her peers briefed congressional staff members on the intricacies of their concerns.

At the moment, Krueger's hope rests on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would change the underlying bill and ban "wear away" provisions.

Commonwealth Edison In Tentative Pact With Union
Dow Jones - September 18, 2000

CHICAGO -(Dow Jones)- Unicom Corp.'s (UCM) Commonwealth Edison unit reached a tentative pension agreement with leaders of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 15.

In a press release Monday, the company said the union will take the pension package to its membership for a ratification vote, expected to take four to six weeks.

The provisions include an amendment allowing workers to retire with full pension at 57 years old, with benefits reduced 3% a year for earlier retirement to a minimum of 50 years old.

More protests erupt over 401(k) changes
The Dallas Morning News - By Pamela Yip - September 18, 2000

Things seem to be going from bad to worse, as far as critics of major retirement legislation in Congress are concerned.

More protests have erupted over the Retirement Security and Savings Act of 2000, which recently cleared the Senate Finance Committee and is headed for a vote by the full Senate.

The bill would raise annual contribution limits to 401(k) retirement savings plans from $10,500 to $15,000 and to Individual Retirement Accounts from $2,000 to $5,000.

Supporters of the bill said it would increase retirement savings among workers and make long-overdue inflationary adjustments to contribution limits.

But critics of the legislation say recent changes to the bill would sanction abuses that sometimes occur when corporations convert conventional pension plans to cash-balance plans.

Cash balance plans have drawn the ire of many employee groups, who say they ultimately cut the retirement benefits of older workers, compared with traditional pension plans.

The bill would permit employers to omit early-retirement benefits and early-retirement subsidies from a cash-balance plan benefit formula, employee groups said.

"It's bad, it's really bad," said Lynda French of Austin, a retired IBM employee and spokeswoman for the IBM Employee Benefits Action Coalition, which formed last year after the company converted to a cash-balance plan.

Retirement security on voters' minds

Retirement security is foremost on the minds of voters, according to a survey by the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington, D.C.

Voters want the government to provide them with incentives to accumulate their own assets and create their own safety nets for their retirement years, the group said.

"People don't just view retirement security as a personal issue," said Carroll A. Campbell Jr., president and chief executive of the life insurers council. "An overwhelming majority of voters - 86 percent - say retirement security is also an important national issue."

The concern crosses political party lines. Almost two-thirds of voters, regardless of their political affiliation, say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who addresses ways to help people achieve a more financially secure retirement, the council said.

Voters want political leaders to develop policies and incentives to help them take greater personal responsibility for their retirement, the survey said.

Overtime Rises, Making Fatigue a Labor Issue
The New York Times - By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH- September 17, 2000

In his last two and a half days of life, Brent Churchill slept a total of five hours. The rest of the time he was working.

Mr. Churchill, a lineman on call one stormy weekend for Central Maine Power, worked two back-to- back shifts on Friday, went to bed at 10:30 p.m., was called back at 1 a.m. Saturday, caught a quick nap around dawn and went back to his job clambering up and down poles for almost 24 hours straight. Taking a break for breakfast on Sunday morning, he got yet another call.

At about noon, he climbed a 30-foot pole, hooked on his safety straps and reached for a 7,200-volt cable without first putting on his insulating gloves. There was a flash, and Mr. Churchill was hanging motionless by his straps. His father, arriving before the ladder-truck did and thinking his son might still be alive, stood at the foot of the pole for more than an hour begging for somebody to bring his boy down.

The death of a 30-year-old lineman from remote Industry, Me., might have gone unnoticed beyond family, friends and the woman he had planned to marry in June, but for a coincidence: Mr. Churchill happened to die at a time of heightened public concern about the expanding workweek - a time, in fact, when the Maine legislature had been debating whether to cap the amount of mandatory overtime allowed in the state.

The bill was not exactly a clarion call for worker ease, placing the overtime limit at 96 hours within any three-week period. The governor had already vetoed two versions, and there had not been enough votes in the Senate to override him. But the outcry over Mr. Churchill's death lent new momentum to efforts to cap overtime. The lawmakers compromised on a cap of 80 hours in any two-week period, and in May, Maine became the first state in the nation to limit the number of hours an employee can be required to work.

But it is not the first to recognize the problem of physical exhaustion on the job in the tightest labor market in almost half a century. Although Maine faced an especially stark catalyst in Mr. Churchill's case, elsewhere around the nation, in courthouses and state legislatures, on picket lines and at negotiating tables, a backlash is building against the new economy's voracious appetite for Americans' time.

Other features of the new economy compound the sense of pressure. Samuel Bacharach, a professor at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, found that workers who are most worried about downsizing are the ones most likely to load up on overtime. Central Maine Power had, in fact, laid off 37 linemen several years before Brent Churchill was killed, his mother said, and was timing the performances of those remaining.

A Dwindling Faith In Deregulation
The New York Times - By NEELA BANERJEE - September 15, 2000

Over a few sultry days in the summer of 1997, the state of Wisconsin got an early taste of the electricity shortages that now threaten several other regions of the country. An unusually large number of nuclear plants that supply the northern Midwest were closed for maintenance just as an unexpected heat wave drifted into the area. Wisconsin Electric, which serves Milwaukee, shut off electricity to 80 businesses; every few hours, it beseeched consumers to limit their energy use.

Wisconsin Electric averted blackouts, but the scare profoundly changed the state's approach to deregulating the power industry, a process it had begun to explore only a year earlier. Like many other utilities, Wisconsin Electric initially pushed for what it and others called the Big Bang: state regulators giving up control over the production and pricing of electricity almost immediately.

But after the 1997 power shortage, Wisconsin Electric, along with most local businesses and consumer advocacy groups, began to support a go-slow approach to deregulation, first building in an extra margin of reliable power before encouraging the state to remove its decades-old grip on the electricity industry.

Lately, the rest of the country has been drawing the same conclusion. Just like Wisconsin, several other states have lost their early faith in the instantaneous, smooth creation of a free and fair electricity market. Deregulation has faltered as surging consumer demand outstrips the supply of electricity, and regulators and utilities scramble to cope with successive summers of price volatility and power failures.

More than a year ago, the wholesale price of electricity charged by power plants in the Midwest surged to $6,000 a megawatt-hour, compared with average costs of $21 to $22 for the same amount of power. Con Ed customers in New York paid 43 percent more for electricity this June than last year. Prices have spiked elsewhere as well.

And when rolling blackouts rippled through Silicon Valley and electricity bills doubled in San Diego over several weeks this summer, California's pioneering approach to deregulation came to embody what many see as the failings of the process.

"Deregulation was definitely oversold to consumers by many people," said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California at Berkeley. "To economists and a few others, deregulation was a calculated experiment, and we knew it would have its costs."

"I think that the expectation that deregulation will always give you lower prices is unrealistic," said John B. Ramil, president of the Tampa Electric Company, a unit of TECO Energy Inc. "Consumers think that competition will lead to lower prices automatically, when actually they will be paying market prices for power."

One part of any long-term solution, experts say, is to increase the supply of electricity, through building new power plants and transmission lines. But few communities want power plants or transmission towers on their turf, adding to delays.

So far, states have relied on caps on the wholesale price of power to keep costs down. In California, the price cap, until recently, was $750 a megawatt, and in Pennsylvania, it is $1,000. But California officials concede that power plants sometimes get $1,500 a megawatt-hour -$750 for being on standby and $750 for the power itself.

Given the complexities, deregulation, with its connotation of a laissez- faire management of an industry, seems a misnomer. The focus is now on reorganizing the electricity industry, rather than cutting it loose, and of using sophisticated forms of regulation to foster competition and efficiency.

"The problem with the big bang in an industry like ours is that you take a large risk," said Larry Salustro, senior vice president of Wisconsin Electric. "Maybe in three years, the market will be better. But in those three years, people will go through difficult personal and financial times."

Wal-Mart Fires Employee For Helping Blind Customers
The Charlotte Observer - By Kaitlin Gurney - September 9, 2000

A woman says she was fired from her job at Charlotte Wal-Mart last week - just for being a good Samaritan and helping two blind women home safely late at night.

Charnese Spain, 28, said she was stocking the infant department of the Wal-Mart in the University City area about 11 p.m. Sept. 2. She noticed two blind women walk into the store after being dropped off by a cab.

About two hours later, Spain said she was shocked to see the women were still at the store, sitting outside.

"I was worried, so I went outside and asked them if they were OK," she said. "They told me they couldn't get a cab and so they couldn't get back to the University, where they were students. I asked them if they trusted me enough to me to drive them home, and they said yes."

But when Spain asked her supervisor if she could leave the store to perform the good deed, he said no, she said. Spain said he told her to leave them outside and call the police if she was really worried, she said. An hour later, after a fruitless call to the police, Spain said, she was determined to get the women back to their dormitory, because it was now 2 a.m.

It was her lunch hour, and she said her supervisor told her she could take them home if she clocked out. The two blind women, Melody Heath and a friend, piled into Spains's truck along with two other Wal-Mart employees also on their lunch break.

After Spain got back from her 20-minute drive, her supervisor was waiting for her, she said.

"He told me I was fired and at first I thought he was playing, I really did," Spain said. "But then he said, 'Charnese, I'm serious. You need to go.'"

The two men who accompanied Spain on the drive were told to go back to work, she said.

When Spain called a few days later, Bob Coln, the manager at the Wal-Mart, which is on Harris Boulevard, said she could have her job back.

Coln said what got Spain in trouble was leaving the store while still on the clock. Spain said she did clock out.

But Spain said she doesn't want to work at Wal-Mart anymore, although she will need another part-time job. The Wal-Mart job was an extra one on top of her day job at BellSouth to help to pay for her mother's medical bills. Her mother suffers from lupus and needs back surgery, she said.

"I love the store, and I'll continue to shop there," Spain said. "But I was punished wrongly for doing something I knew was the right thing to do. It may have just been my supervisor, but I feel Wal-Mart as a whole made a bad decision here."

Her view is backed up by one of the visually impaired students. UNC-Charlotte sophomore Heath, who can see slightly but cannot drive, said she was horrified Spain's act of kindness got her into trouble.

We just needed to get a few things and our cab driver promised us he'd come get us in half an hour when we called," Heath said. "We called and called, but he didn't answer. Then we called five or six other cab companies, and they all told us no - or that it would be three hours. So when she came out and asked us if we needed help, of course we said we did.

We never wanted to get her fired, and we'll do anything we can to help her."

State worker leaders buck lawmakers
The Charlotte Observer - By ANNA GRIFFIN - September 9, 2000

GREENSBORO -- In a move that could be either brilliant or suicidal, the brash young leader of the state employees association is taking on the state's most influential legislators and urging state workers to vote against several this fall.

Deriding the legislative process as a "good-old-boy, backslapping, back-room network," Dana Cope and other heads of the group that represents about half the state's 120,000 workers have refused to endorse Senate leader Marc Basnight and some of his most powerful associates, including Gaston County Sen. David Hoyle, Union County Sen. Aaron Plyler and Mecklenburg Sen. Fountain Odom. All are Democrats.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina also endorsed the Republican opponents of Sens. John Kerr and Howard Lee, two longtime Democratic incumbents and Basnight aides. And at their convention here this weekend, SEANC leaders plan to push their members to raise money and generate votes for other candidates. They'll hear from gubernatorial candidates and make statewide endorsements today.

"North Carolina, in our view, should be a model employer, not a third-rate one," said Cope, 31, who became executive director of the group in March after dropping out of the race for labor commissioner. "I want to scream. I want to get up and run a big campaign ad that says, `It's the paycheck, stupid, and the leaders of your state Senate aren't delivering.' The message behind what we're doing is that there is an alternative."

A former lobbyist for the N.C. Department of Labor, he has brought immediate change to SEANC's strategy in the legislature.

Last summer, as senators pushed a budget that included just the 3percent raise, 5,000 state employees rallied in front of the General Assembly.

State workers and their supporters buried senators under a pile of e-mails and letters; several lawmakers were averaging over 250 constituent e-mails a day.

"Politics, in a lot of respects, is a mind game," Cope said. "If nothing else, win, lose or draw, we're signaling to the politicians that you can't take us for granted anymore."

Battered Labor Flexes Muscle
The New York Times - by Steven Greenhouse - September 9, 2000

It has been a big month for big labor, judging from the bargaining results at some of the nation's best-known companies.

Bridgestone/Firestone, the embattled tire maker, averted a strike earlier this week by granting its 8,000 workers raises that will run from 15 percent to 30 percent over three years - raises that are far above the inflation rate.

At United Airlines, the 10,500 pilots have won an immediate raise of 21.5 percent or more to make up for lagging wages, and that does not include annual wage raises, totaling 16 percent over four years.

And when 86,000 telephone workers ended their recent two-week strike at Verizon, the new name of Bell Atlantic, they boasted that their contract calls for a 4 percent raise each year for three years, along with stock options and profit sharing expected to be worth at least 1.5 percent more a year.

Those workers also made major strides on noneconomic issues - their contract addresses some of the job stress gnawing at workers in the new economy by, for example, restricting mandatory overtime.

"These are definitely lucrative contracts," said Richard Hurd, a Cornell University professor of labor and industrial relations. "They are the result of the good economy and of unions becoming more sophisticated in their negotiations over the past 20 years."

While it remains unclear whether these settlements will set a pattern for other contracts, what is clear is that labor unions are doing much better at the bargaining table than just a few years ago, when much of corporate America was demanding - and winning - major concessions on wages and benefits. And these newly bargained contracts, along with others negotiated over the last year at auto, steel and aircraft companies, show that in many unionized industries wages are beginning to soar after years of relative stability.

To be sure, in many contracts in which unions obtain major wage increases, they compensate by agreeing to concessions on fringe benefits. But in the latest contracts, there were large increases, not decreases, in benefits as well. In the Firestone contract negotiated by the United Steelworkers of America, pensions are to increase 22 percent to 50 percent.

Union leaders assert that these contracts will serve as a pattern for other unionized workers - a notion that worries many economists and corporate executives, who fear that soaring wages will spur inflation and cut profits.

"We're going to be seeing other impressive union contracts," said Richard Bank, director of the A.F.L.- C.I.O.'s center for collective bargaining. "Union settlements are running higher than they were several years ago."

But some academics and business leaders said the impressive gains at Firestone, United and Verizon would not be widely imitated because they resulted from one-of-a-kind situations that forced management to be more generous than it otherwise would have been.

United was in a poor position to withstand a strike because many customers were already seething over its many flight cancellations and delays in recent months. For Firestone, it was hard to imagine a worse time to weather a strike because the company faces a serious crisis over defective tires and needs to replace millions of recalled tires as soon as possible.

Several labor experts said that because unions now represent less than 10 percent of all workers in the private sector, it will be hard for workers throughout the economy to clinch the large gains made at Firestone, Verizon and United.

"In the broader work force, the level of insecurity and uncertainty that was happening in the economy remains substantially high, so you will not see an explosion of wage increases as a result of these contracts," said Paul Osterman, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But these contracts are already having undeniable effects. Pilots at American Airlines are suddenly looking less kindly at their own tentative agreement and several of them say they are more likely to vote it down now that they have seen how much better United's pilots did than they. And Delta Air Lines pilots, emboldened by the United contract, plan to begin demonstrating this week because they are unhappy about long-stalled efforts to negotiate a new contract.

Union leaders representing 18,000 workers at Goodyear and 4,000 at Uniroyal said they hoped the Bridgestone/Firestone agreement would serve as a pattern - and inspiration - for them.

The impressive Verizon, Firestone and United contracts have one thing in common: they were negotiated in heavily unionized industries. In other words, these contracts show that even though the percentage of unionized workers in the labor force has declined steadily for four decades, labor still has a lot of influence in industries where most workers are unionized.

It is not at all clear, labor experts say, that the strong wage gains in steel, autos, rubber and airlines will be imitated by unionized employees in the public sector or by unionized employees in industries like health care, where only a small percentage of the workers are organized.

Nowadays, unions feel emboldened because the unemployment rate is near its lowest point in four decades and the economic expansion keeps breaking records for longevity.

"Traditionally, when unemployment is low, unions do well because employers realize that the threat of a strike is more serious," Professor Hurd said. "In that situation it's much harder for companies to keep operating by hiring temporary or permanent replacement workers. And in boom times, demand is greater so companies have more business to lose."

All this is a far cry from the 1980's when workers in heavily unionized industries like steel, rubber and automobiles took it on the chin - and made concessions - because of recession and a deluge of imports. And in the 1980's many unions were cowed into submission after Phelps- Dodge miners and federal air traffic controllers lost their jobs when their employers replaced them with permanent replacement workers. But unions have developed more sophisticated tactics. Even though Bridgestone/Firestone used 2,300 replacement workers during a 10- month strike that began in 1994, the steelworkers' union was able to pressure the company into signing a contract because union members picketed tire dealers and speedways across the country to urge drivers to boycott Firestone tires.

Bernard Kleiman, one of the steelworkers' chief negotiators, said another reason that wages had risen strongly in the recent contracts is a social compact between unions and major industries. He said unions had agreed to cooperate with companies to help them cut costs and restructure to make them more competitive.

"In industries like steel and rubber," Mr. Kleiman said, "we're globally more efficient than the rest of the world, and in return we demand job security and good wages, and that's the responsible way to go." Largely because of the low unemployment rate and booming economy, unionized workers and nonunion workers alike have received greater pay increases over the last year or two. Employers have felt pressure to pay more to keep their employees from jumping to competing employers.

In the first 36 weeks of this year, according to the Bureau of National Affairs, a research group, union contracts called for 3.7 percent wage increases in the first year, up from 3.4 percent in the 1999 period. But some economists say there may be little need to worry that the higher wages will translate into inflation.

"We're having greater productivity growth, so I wouldn't worry so long as these wage increases come in areas where there is nice productivity growth," said Richard Freeman, a Harvard University labor economist.

Modern-Day Slavery
The New York Times - September 9, 2000

By a conservative estimate, there are 27 million people working under various forms of slavery in the world today, and the number is growing. In contrast to the slavery America knew, today's slaveholders mainly exploit people of their own race. But as in the American past, they use violence and threats to force people to labor for no pay. Slavery is illegal everywhere, but it thrives because of the corruption of police and government authorities. Many people are unaware that modern slavery exists.

People held in some form of bondage pick sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, make the charcoal used in Brazil's steel industry and work as prostitutes in Thailand. In Mauritania and Sudan blacks are forced into domestic and agricultural slavery in Muslim households. Similar forms of oppression are not unknown in developed nations. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates that 45,000 women and children are smuggled into the United States each year with false promises of decent jobs. Instead, most find that their passports are stolen and they are forced to work as prostitutes or maids, on farms or in sweatshops.

But the majority of people who are treated like slaves, perhaps 20 million, according to the United Nations, are South Asians in debt bondage. The system is chillingly described in "Disposable People," a survey of contemporary forms of slavery by Kevin Bales, who teaches at the University of Surrey in England. Whole families, including children, are trapped into peonage to pay debts incurred by medical expenses, a funeral or crop failure. Their debts are inflated by outrageous prices for food and usurious interest rates. Families can essentially be enslaved for generations.

Slavery and related kinds of servitude are a growing business because the number of desperately poor people is increasing and globalization has disrupted rural communities. In many nations, children, mainly girls, must drop out of school to work. A girl in a northern Thai village can be sold into prostitution for $2,000 - a huge sum there. A Thai survey found that many families knowingly sold daughters into prostitution because they felt pressure to buy consumer goods such as televisions. Girls stay until they contract AIDS, and are then sent back to their villages to die in disgrace.

While slavery is illegal, it is hard to eradicate. Even the United States lacks adequate criminal penalties for those who traffic in human beings. Moreover, the victims - the potential witnesses - are usually deported. This may change, however, as both houses of Congress recently passed a bill that would criminalize trafficking, end the rapid deportation of victims and provide help for them here and modest programs to prevent slavery abroad.

Slavery and forced labor are even more difficult to fight in nations where they draw support from traditional structures of power and corruption, the devaluation of women and, in India, the caste system. Educating the poor about how to avoid falling victim helps, as do small loans and skill training. India has an excellent program to pay off laborers' debts and give them training and land. But Dr. Bales argues that local officials and judges often sabotage it.

The first step in combating modern variations of slavery, however, is education. The developed world needs to realize that slavery exists, and that its victims may have helped produce the clothes, rugs and other goods we buy. It is especially important for people in nations where it is widespread not to accept it as a traditional practice but to see it as one of the most serious abuses of human rights.

An Apology and a Milestone at Indian Bureau
The New York Times - by David Stout - September 9, 2000

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - The Bureau of Indian Affairs marked its 175th anniversary today in a ceremony that blended sorrow, hope and a remarkable apology from the bureau's director.

"In truth, this is no occasion for celebration," said Kevin Gover, the assistant interior secretary who heads the bureau. Instead, he said, it was a time "for sorrowful truths to be spoken, a time for contrition."

Mr. Gover said he was apologizing to American Indians on behalf of the bureau, not the government as a whole, though White House officials saw an advance copy of the statement and did not object.

Mr. Gover recounted the bureau's evolution from a War Department office that dealt with what white Americans regarded as the "Indian problem" to an Interior Department agency entrusted with promoting tribal autonomy and improving the lives of Indians.

In forcing Indians from their land and trying to stamp out their cultures and languages, "this agency participated in the ethnic cleansing that befell the Western tribes," Mr. Gover said. Even after its mission changed, he said, the bureau made little headway against the alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence that afflict Indian life.

"Let us begin by expressing our profound sorrow for what the agency has done in the past," he said, then offered a formal apology to Indians.

What made his gesture remarkable is that Mr. Gover is himself a member of the Pawnee tribe. "I realized it was partly for me," he said later of his statement.

His voice faltered as he spoke of "the decimation of the mighty bison herds, the use of the poison alcohol to destroy mind and body, and the cowardly killing of women and children." Such suffering, he said, "made for tragedy on a scale so ghastly that it cannot be dismissed as merely the inevitable consequence of the clash of competing ways of life."

In a way, Mr. Gover, who is 45, stood as a bridge between two societies. He came from a poor family in Lawton, Okla., and went to Princeton with the help of federal scholarship aid. He earned a degree in public and international affairs, then graduated from the University of New Mexico law school.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt also spoke, calling the bureau "a work in progress," but one that now belongs to Indians, who make up most of its 10,000 employees. "May you prosper, grow, advocate, get under people's skins," he said.

The bureau was founded in 1824, so its 175th anniversary was actually last year. But the observance was postponed to avoid being overshadowed by the Interior Department's 150th anniversary, also in 1999. The ceremony today reflected how Indian culture has endured and how it has been assimilated. Numerous tribal leaders were present. Some wore traditional jewelry and headbands, but many others wore dark business suits.

"By accepting the legacy," Mr. Gover said, "we accept the moral responsibility of putting things right."

Greed of the Fatcats
Workers Online - September 7, 2000

American Chief Executive pay has skyrocketed by 535 per cent during the 1990s according to a new report. Fatcat salaries far outpaced the 116 per cent rise in corporate profits and dwarfed the 32 per cent increase in average worker pay for the same period.

The survey looked at salaries from 1990 through to 1999. It was conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

The study, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, said that if US workers' pay had kept pace with that of their bosses, they would have averaged $US114,035 ($200,000) last year, instead of $US23,753.

"Worker pay is starting to pick up but executive compensation is in outer space," said Mr Chuck Collins, co-director of United for a Fair Economy. The CEO/worker pay ratio has grown to 475-to-1 from 42-to-1 in 1980, Mr Collins said.

Although he attributes part of the fat-cat pay explosion to stock options, "a big part of why we have runaway pay is our own version of what we accuse the Asians of: crony capitalism."

Mr Collins said that came from too many CEOs sitting on their brethren's boards.

"There's been a breakdown in the accountability chain" from shareholders, to the board, to management, he said. "You get rewarded whether you mess up or not."

Mr. Collins worries, too, about the broader social consequences. "Our society undervalues some people's contributions (teachers, public servants) to building a healthy and wealthy society and overvalues others," he said.

(Barron's, Sydney Morning Herald; 4-9-00)

A detailed paper on the changes in wealth distribution in the USA is available at:

Judge hears worker's suit against IBM
Poughkeepsie Journal - September 6, 2000

A federal judge heard arguments from an employee of IBM Corp. Tuesday in a case alleging the company's pension plan violates federal retirement law, but made no rulings.

The case is Kathi Cooper vs. IBM in federal District Court in the Southern District of Illinois. The judge decided to rule first on IBM's motion to dismiss, said Janet Krueger, a spokeswoman for the IBM Employees Benefit Action Coalition, which backs the suit.

The judge will hold the request for class-action status in abeyance. Krueger said the case could affect 100,000 IBM workers, past and present. Some IBMers have estimated the disputed pension benefits could run to six figures.

Krueger said in a similar case involving employees of Georgia Pacific, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held benefits under a cash-balance plan must project the account balance to age 65 and then discount back to the employee's actual age to figure the amount of the lump sum payout. She said it was ''a major victory for employees.''

Congress receives generous package
Poughkeepsie Journal. - By Craig Wolf - September 4, 2000

Just what do members of Congress pay themselves for a pension?

The National Taxpayers Union maintains it's a pretty penny, and better than most Americans get. "They get a pension that is not only two to three times more generous that those offered in the private sector, they also get a pension that's about 50 percent more generous than those offered to other federal employees," said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the Washington-based advocacy group.

Congressional pensions are tied to the national systems, but they get the most generous formulas available under them, Sepp said.

In the private sector, a worker could "expect a payout of $20,000 to $30,000 if they had 20 years of service and went out at $141,000," which is what the legislators earn. "For Congress, it's $60,000 to $70,000." Rates were downsized for members elected in 1984 and thereafter, but a supplementary contribution plan can help make up the difference.

The plan also has a cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with inflation. Such COLAs are rare, especially ones that are guaranteed.

In the corporate world, other than CEOs, "Even top-level managers might not do this well," Sepp said. "I can't imagine someone at IBM making $141,000 getting this kind of payout."

Workers' economic gains cause for celebration
The Washington Times - By Patrice Hill - September 4, 2000

American workers are enjoying one of their best years ever. The booming economy has given working people a lift and an edge over employers that they haven't seen in a generation.

With unemployment hovering near 4 percent for the past year, record numbers of blacks, Hispanics and other minorities are finding jobs, and more women are working than ever before. Wages are growing close to 4 percent a year on average. Although soaring energy costs have eaten into purchasing power, families still are on course to post another year of strong gains in income.

With employers in many areas desperate to find and keep workers, employees are dictating the terms of their employment more than ever before. Working mothers are finding employers willing to be more flexible about hours and helping to arrange child care. Unionized workers are getting breaks from mandatory overtime.

In nearly every profession, bonuses and pay increases based on merit have become common, and increasing numbers of workers are being paid with shares of company stock. That not only increases the wealth and buying power of today's workers, but it also gives them an important stake in the continuing strong performance of the company and the economy.

But the nationwide shortage of workers means that many Americans also are working harder, putting in more overtime hours than they ever planned to help their companies meet the constant demands of consumers.

"It is an amazingly prosperous time," said Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman, noting that the remarkable performance of the economy owes largely to the hard work and discipline of the nation's 141 million-strong labor force.

The economy's robust 5.3 percent growth rate in the last quarter is owed almost entirely to the increased output of workers - the biggest such productivity increase in decades and an unprecedented boon this late in the business cycle, economists say.

Such strong productivity gains mean that the economy can keep growing strongly, and that wages and salaries can rise even further without causing fears of inflation, economists say.

"This is really the people's prosperity. It is their sweat and toil and intelligence and determination and sacrifice that have carried our prosperity to new heights," Mrs. Herman said.

Politically powerful labor unions have fought any changes in the laws and have been resisting business' growing reliance on temporary and contingent workers. They say business' principal goal is to get out of paying pension and health-care benefits.

Businesses and economists say temporary firms play an increasingly important role for businesses that need only short-term help and employees who don't want full-time jobs or need work experience to get them. The Clinton administration last week gave labor unions a boost with a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Mrs. Herman said will make it easier to organize temporary workers.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney last week contended that strains placed on workers in today's economy are driving more people into unions, which last year enjoyed their fastest membership growth in decades. Union activity has continued this year, and the labor groups "have won some historic battles," he said at the National Press Club, citing favorable settlements by the Boeing engineers in Seattle, janitors and actors in Los Angeles, and Verizon Communications Corp. telephone workers.

Union leaders trumpeted the "path-blazing" agreement last month between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America as a sign that their clout is growing. The deal substantially cuts forced overtime hours for customer-service employees and technicians and limits transfers of employees as a result of the former Bell Atlantic's purchase of GTE.

Pension War of 1999
Poughkeepsie Journal - By Craig Wolf - September 4, 2000

For Bill Costine of Beacon, Labor Day may feel more like Memorial Day. That's because he's in a war, and right now, his side is taking heavy casualties.

You could call it the Pension War of 1999, a quiet little conflict that only occasionally captures headlines in the nation's capital, the principal battlefield.

"I'm really scared for the future of this country," Costine said. What's got him worries is passage of a bill by the House of Representatives in July that will change retirement laws.

"It's what is known as a Trojan-horse-kind of legislation where they do one or two good things, but I consider it a bill that is going to destroy the U.S. pension system," he said.

Strong words, for a bill that passed 401-25 with backing from a wide range of interests, and with all but one Hudson Valley representative voting in favor.

The "Portman-Cardin Comprehensive Pension Reform and Simplification Act," H.R. 1102, was passed on to the Senate, where a similar bill is slated to come under committee review right after the holiday. Costine has joined a small but growing band of Americans who believe "the pension industry" of big corporations, along with their consulting, legal and accounting firms, plan to downsize pensions the same way they have downsized employees. The bill improves some plans, such as raising limits on how much a person can contribute to a 401(k) plan. But it also takes away protections that prevent such plans from becoming "top-heavy" with benefits for company owners and officers and ensure rank-and-file workers will get at least some benefits.

A 19-year IBM Corp. employee active in union organizing, Costine was drawn into the pension fight in mid-1999 when Big Blue modified its retirement plans, claiming it would save $200 million a year, keep IBM competitive and make it easier to recruit younger workers with essential skills. Mid-career employees, closer to retirement, quickly asserted they were shortchanged by the new plan.

H.R. 1102 has been touted as a bill to help workers.

"The overwhelming support for this bill is driven by the need to enact legislation now that will enable the 76 million baby boomers to more adequately prepare for their retirement," said Mark J. Ugoretz, president of the ERISA Industry Committee, called ERIC.

While that sounds like pro-worker talk, that quote comes from the ERIC Web site, which also discloses membership is limited to corporations that employ at least 5,000 and pay dues of $15,000 a year.

Other groups live closer to the grass roots, like the Coalition for Retirement Security. An amalgamation of various worker organizations like the IBM Employee Benefits Action Coalition and the Association of BellTel Retirees, this outfit lobbied against H.R. 1102.

Californian John J. Guarrera, vice chairman of the coalition, said the bill isn't fair.

"It's pushed by industry. It really allows industry to create pension plans strictly for the high-paid employees," he said.

Support was gained because "the bill has many good parts to it," Guarrera said, "but it is not right to disenfranchise essentially all of the lower-paid workers."

An opponent was Maurice Hinchey, D-Saugerties, who said the bill fails to correct abuses in conversions from traditional to cash-balance pensions, the very item that set off an uproar among many IBMers.

"Unfortunately, this pension bill does not deal with this issue," Hinchey said.

Backpedaling on protections for ordinary workers also spoils the bill, he said. "It would create a situation where you would inevitably see the erosion of pension benefits for low- and middle-income people in companies and enhancement of benefits for the higher-paid executives. Give to those who have and the hell with the hindmost."

At the Pension Rights Center in Washington, an advocacy group for employees, Director Karen Ferguson called H.R. 1102 "the industry's wish list," and said, "They have been lobbyingfor several years for a series of cutbacks in basic pension protections."

She said the backers got it through by adding provisions that appealed to construction trades unions, schools and local governments by removing unintended technical glitches.

A key criticism of the bill is it doesn't really improve 401(k) plans for the common worker. Now, the law caps personal contributions to these popular savings plans at $10,500 a year. ERIC pushed for higher limits. Only 5 percent of 401(k) contributors now put that much in, said Ferguson, citing IRS figures. The increase could only benefit top earners, she said.

Worse, she said, is the House bill throws out rules for so-called "safe harbor" 401(k) plans that are not subject to nondiscrimination rules. "This means employers sponsoring safe harbor 401(k) have little incentive to encourage lower-paid employees to contribute," she said.

And by letting company owners and officers contribute as much as $45,000 a year, the bill invites even more companies to cut back on or cut out the traditional company-paid pension, Ferguson said.

"Our concern about increases in 401(k) limits, and also the Treasury's concern, is the more attractive you make these 401(k)s, the more companies are going to drop their pension plans that provide benefits to workers of all income levels."

The problem with 401(k) is already real, and this law would make it worse, said Guarrera of the Coalition for Retirement Security.

"Let's say you have a 401(k) plan that activates only if the employee makes a contribution. If he doesn't contribute, then he doesn't have a pension plan. How is a low-paid person going to have a pension?"

Workers Stay on Jobs at Firestone After Strike Deadline
The New York Times - by Steven Greenhouse - September 3, 2000

Saying there had been progress in negotiations, the union representing nearly 8,000 Bridgestone/Firestone workers told its members to remain on the job yesterday even though the union and company had not reached a settlement before the strike deadline.

Officials with the union, the United Steelworkers of America, warned nonetheless that the talks, in St. Louis, could still break down and that they could still call a strike after the 12:01 a.m. deadline had passed. But Bridgestone/Firestone officials sounded upbeat about reaching a tentative contract and averting a walkout threatened at 9 of the company's 11 factories in the United States.

Cynthia McCafferty, a company spokeswoman, said in an interview yesterday: "The negotiators worked past the deadline last night, and we are encouraged by the progress that's been made. There are still some remaining issues and we are continuing to work to resolve these. We are definitely encouraged."

John Duray, a union spokesman, said yesterday evening that the two sides continued to talk, with breaks for naps.

"If they weren't making progress, we'd probably be on strike," he said. Asked if he was optimistic a strike could be avoided, he said, "I'll be optimistic when a tentative settlement is in our hands."

Both sides refused to say which issues had been settled and which remained on the table. Over the past week the two sides have been focusing on pensions, wages, seniority rights, grievance and arbitration procedures and the company's policy on absences.

George Becker, president of United Steelworkers of America, said, "We have made enough progress over the past two days that the union is willing to continue working while bargaining goes on."

A strike would involve workers at factories in Akron, Ohio; Bloomington, Ill.; Decatur, Ill.; Des Moines; Noblesville, Ind.; Oklahoma City; Russellville, Ark.; LaVergne, Tenn.; and Warren County, Tenn. "We're just waiting," Harland Smith, a union official in Decatur who has worked for Firestone for about 30 years, said yesterday afternoon. "We're kind of on standby. We're going to try to do business as usual. But we know at any time we can get a phone call saying, 'Pull them out.' "

Ms. McCafferty, the company spokeswoman, said: "We definitely appreciate the decision by the union to stay on the job. The plants are open and production continued uninterrupted."

A strike would be another serious blow to a company already in crisis. Bridgestone/Firestone is facing Congressional investigations and dozens of lawsuits after federal regulators linked its tires to accidents causing at least 88 deaths and more than 250 injuries.

On Aug. 9, the company recalled 6.5 million 15-inch tires used on sport utility vehicles after federal officials disclosed widespread complaints that the tread can separate from the rest of the tire and cause failures that can result in rollovers.

Bridgestone's situation was complicated on Friday when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took the unusual step of warning consumers that 1.4 million additional Firestone tires that the company refused to recall could pose a safety risk and should be replaced.

Industry analysts say a strike would make it harder for Bridge stone/Firestone, which is Japanese-owned, to meet the huge demand of replacing all the recalled tires. The company has said that even without a strike it would not be able to replace the more than 6 million tires until next spring.

Officials with Bridgestone/Fire stone, which is based in Nashville, said a strike would hardly delay its efforts to work down the backlog. It is airlifting replacement tires from its factories in Japan, and its nonunion factory in Wilson, N.C., is making replacement tires for sport utility vehicles. That factory is not threatened by a strike because it is not covered by a union contract.

Several labor analysts said the union was acting shrewdly by threatening a strike when Bridgestone/Firestone was vulnerable and badly needed to keep its factories open to work down the backlog. But steelworker officials insisted that they were not trying to hit the company when it was down. Instead, they said, the tire workers were growing angry and impatient about the lack of progress in talks after months of negotiations. Most of the 8,000 workers are covered by a contract that expired on April 23. In the industry, Bridgestone is known for having worse labor relations than its competitors. Many union members still voice bitterness toward Bridgestone over its widespread use of replacement workers during a 10-month strike that started in July 1994. The union ended the strike in May 1995, but because of the company's extensive use of replacement workers, all the unionized workers were still not taken back to work by 1996, when a new contract was reached.

Officials from Ford Motor Company said that most of the defective tires were manufactured in the Decatur plant when the tire company was relying on replacement workers.

Dice Loaded Against American Workers
Workers Online - September 1, 2000

Workers' basic rights are routinely violated in the United States because U.S. labor law is feebly enforced and filled with loopholes, according to a Human Rights Watch report released today.

Human Rights Watch examined United States workers' rights to organize, to bargain collectively, and to strike under international norms. It found widespread labor rights violations across regions, industries and employment status.

The U.S. government has called for "core labor standards," including workers' freedom of association, to be included in the rules of the World Trade Organization and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. But Human Rights Watch charged that the United States itself violates freedom of association standards by failing to protect workers' right to organize.

"The cards are stacked against workers in the United States," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. government cannot effectively press another country to improve labor standards while violating them itself. It should lead by example."

Each year thousands of workers in the United States are fired from their jobs or suffer other reprisals for trying to organize unions. Millions of workers are excluded from labor laws meant to protect workers' organizing and bargaining rights, and their number is growing, according to the report.

Employers can resist union organizing by dragging out legal proceedings for years, the report said. Labor law is so weak that companies often treat the minor penalties as a routine cost of doing business, not a deterrent against violations. Some workers have succeeded in organizing new unions in recent years, the report said, but only after surmounting major obstacles.

According to statistics from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency created to enforce workers' organizing and bargaining rights, the problem is getting worse.

Among other conditions cited in the report that impede workers' freedom of association:

  • workers fired for organizing and bargaining often wait years for their cases to be decided by labor boards and courts, while employers pay no price for deliberate delays and frivolous appeals;

  • one-sided rules for union organizing unfairly favor bosses over workers, allowing such tactics as "captive-audience meetings" where managers predict workplace closures if workers vote for union representation

  • millions of workers - including farm workers, domestic household workers, low-level supervisors, and 'independent' contractors who are really dependent on a single employer - are deliberately excluded from labor law coverage for organizing and bargaining rights. They can be fired with impunity for trying to form a union

  • many workers find themselves caught up in a web of labor contracting and subcontracting, which effectively denies them the right to organize and bargain with employers who hold real power over their jobs and working conditions

  • employers have the legal power to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike

  • harsh rules against "secondary boycotts" frustrate worker solidarity efforts.

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Congress to ensure rapid reinstatement and full back pay for workers fired for organizing, as well as faster elections and expedited appeals to resolve unfair labor practices more quickly. The U.S. Congress should also ensure that protection of the right to organize be extended to farm workers, household domestic workers, and others not currently covered by federal labor laws.

Human Rights Watch also called on Congress to ratify International Labor Organization conventions on worker organizing and collective bargaining, and to strengthen U.S. laws protecting these rights.

News - August 2000