Sunday, November 25, 2012

[olympiaworkers] Fire kills 112 workers at Bangladesh garment-maker

Nov. 25, 2012 Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Fire raced up the floors of a garment factory in
Bangladesh, killing at least 112 people, many of them trapped in the
eight-story building with no emergency exits where they make clothes for
major global retailers.

The factory outside the capital, Dhaka, is owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd.,
a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which makes products for Wal-Mart and
other companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory and 12 more
people died at hospitals after jumping from the building to escape, Maj.
Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, told The Associated
Press on Sunday.

Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed. The cause of the
blaze that began late Saturday was not immediately clear, and authorities
ordered an investigation.

Army soldiers and border guards were helping keep order as thousands of
onlookers and anxious relatives of the factory workers gathered, Mahbub

Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 16, 2011, audit
conducted by an "ethical sourcing" assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a
document posted on the Tuba Group's website. It did not specify what led
to the rating.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an
orange or "high risk" assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a
yellow or "medium risk" report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared
to pertain to the factory. The August 2011 letter said Wal-Mart would
conduct another inspection within one year.

Gardner said it was not clear if that inspection had been conducted or
whether the factory was still making products for Wal-Mart.

If a factory is rated "orange" three times in two years, Wal-Mart won't
place any orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange
rating for the factory.

Neither Tazreen's owner nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for

The Tuba Group is a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients also
include Carrefour and IKEA, according to its website. Its factories export
garments to the U.S., Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, among
other countries. The Tazreen factory, which opened in 2009 and employed
about 1,700 people, made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts.

Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety
measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of
garment products, mainly to the U.S. and Europe.

In its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said that "fire safety
continues to be a key focus for brands and retailers sourcing from
Bangladesh." Wal-Mart said it ceased working with 49 factories in
Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues, and was working with its
supplier factories to phase out production from buildings deemed high

At the factory, relatives of the workers frantically looked for their
loved ones. Sabina Yasmine said she saw the body of her daughter-in-law,
but had seen no trace of her son, who also worked there.

"Oh, Allah, where's my soul? Where's my son?" wailed Yasmine, who works at
another factory in the area. "I want the factory owner to be hanged. For
him, many have died, many have gone."

Mahbub said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a
warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors. Many workers who
retreated to the roof were rescued, he said. But he said that with no
emergency exits leading outside the building, many victims were trapped,
and firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor alone.

"The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the
ground floor," Mahbub said. "So the workers could not come out when the
fire engulfed the building."

"Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory,
the casualties would have been much lower," he said.

Many victims were burned beyond recognition. The bodies were laid out in
rows at a school nearby. Many of them were handed over to families;
unclaimed victims were taken to Dhaka Medical College for identification.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of so many lives.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it
would stand by the victims' families.

Friday, November 16, 2012

[olympiaworkers] Wal-Mart files U.S. labor charge against union

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc is taking its first legal step to stop
months of protests and rallies outside Walmart stores, targeting the union
that it says is behind such actions.

Wal-Mart filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and
Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, asking the National Labor
Relations Board to halt what the retailer says are unlawful attempts to
disrupt its business.

The move comes just a week before what is expected to be the largest
organized action against the world's largest retailer, as a small group of
Walmart workers prepare to strike on Black Friday, typically the busiest
shopping day of the year.

"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 said on Friday. "If they do, they will be held

The union is undeterred. "Walmart is grasping at straws," said UFCW
Communications Director Jill Cashen. "There's nothing in the law that
gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens."

Protests and rallies outside Walmart stores around the country and other
actions such as flash mobs have been orchestrated by groups including OUR
Walmart, a coalition of thousands of current and former Walmart workers
that wants to collectively push for better wages, benefits and working

"Wal-Mart is in effect firing a shot across the bow of the UFCW,
essentially saying 'Look, you can expect this and more unless you
desist,'" said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of
California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues.

Filing with the NLRB suggests that the protests have caught the attention
of Wal-Mart, which has no union-represented workers in the United States.

OUR Walmart and another group, Making Change at Walmart, are affiliated
with the UFCW, which represents more than 1 million workers including many
at retailers that compete with Walmart. According to a filing with the
Labor Department, OUR Walmart was a subsidiary of the UFCW as of 2011.

Walmart worker and OUR Walmart member Mary Pat Tifft told Reuters that OUR
Walmart is an independent organization that gets technical support from
the union but that the UFCW has no stake or controlling interest in the

"The fact that Wal-Mart is responding in such a public way is itself both
unusual and indicative that they truly don't want to see this spread,"
Shaiken said.

The NLRB typically receives a charge and investigates. At times, it
resolves issues without issuing a complaint, spokesman Tony Wagner said.
While most investigations take about six weeks, they can be expedited
under certain criteria, he said.

Activities over the past year or longer "have caused disruptions to
Walmart's business, resulted in misinformation being shared publicly about
our company, and created an uncomfortable environment and undue stress on
Walmart's customers, including families with children," Walmart outside
counsel Steven Wheeless said in a letter sent on Friday to Deborah Gaydos,
assistant general counsel of the UFCW.


The National Labor Relations Act prohibits such picketing for more than 30
days without the filing of a representation petition. The NLRA also
requires the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction against such
activity, the letter states.

The OUR Walmart group of current and former Walmart employees has been
organizing 1,000 protests including strikes and what it called online
actions that began this week and will culminate on Black Friday.

For example, workers walked off the job in Seattle on Thursday and in
Dallas on Friday, OUR Walmart said.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart said that anyone who is not an
employee is prohibited from coming onto its owned or controlled parking
lots or other facilities to solicit, hand out literature or otherwise
engage in any demonstration.

Wal-Mart said that it intends for the UFCW to be held accountable for any
injury or property damage that may occur as a result of the actions led by
the union, OUR Walmart or any of its other affiliates.

Past attempts to unionize Walmart U.S. workers have failed. In 2005, Tire
and Lube Express department workers at stores in New Castle, Pennsylvania,
and Loveland, Colorado, voted against representation by the UFCW.

OUR Walmart is not a union, though the thousands of Walmart employees it
says are members do pay $5 monthly dues.

Wal-Mart has 1.4 million U.S. workers. Of 5 million job applications
Walmart U.S. received in 2011, 20 percent of the workers it hired were
coming back to the company. The turnover rate among Walmart U.S.
employees, 37.26 percent in 2011, was below the industry average of 43.6
percent, it says.

"We just don't think what the unions have to offer is a better deal for
our associates," said Wal-Mart's Tovar.

Wal-Mart filed its charge against the UFCW late on Thursday with the NLRB
regional office in Little Rock, Arkansas. The case number is 26-CB-093342.

For copies of Wal-Mart's letter to the UFCW and the NLRB charge document
click and

For copies of Wal-Mart's letter to the UFCW and the NLRB charge document
click and

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago. Additional writing by Phil Wahba in
New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Leslie Gevirtz)

Monday, November 12, 2012

[olympiaworkers] Hostess closing Seattle bakery following strike

Mon, 11/12/2012

Hostess Brands Inc. is permanently closing three bakeries following a
nationwide strike by its bakers union.

The maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread said Monday that the
strike has prevented it from producing and delivering products, and it is
closing bakeries in Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The facilities
employ 627 workers.

Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, operates 36 bakeries nationwide and has
about 18,300 employees. It warned earlier this month that the strike, by
about 30 percent of its workforce, could lead to bakery closures.

"We deeply regret this decision, but we have repeatedly explained that we
will close facilities that are no longer able to produce and deliver
products because of a work stoppage - and that we will close the entire
company if widespread strikes cripple our business," Hostess Brands CEO
Gregory F. Rayburn said.

Hostess said customers will not be affected by the closures.

A representative for the union could not be reached immediately for
comment Monday.

Thousands of members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and
Grain Millers International Union went on strike Nov. 9 to protest cuts to
wages and benefits under a new contract offer, which the union rejected in
September. Union officials say the company stopped contributing to
workers' pensions last year.

Hostess has argued that workers must make concessions as it tries to
improve its financial position. The privately-held food maker filed for
Chapter 11 protection in January, its second trip through bankruptcy court
in less than a decade. Hostess cited increasing pension and medical costs
for employees as one of the drivers behind its latest filing.

The company, founded in 1930, is fighting battles beyond labor costs,
however. Competition is increasing in the snack space and Americans are
increasingly conscious about healthy eating.