Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day reminder

Passersby in San Francisco's trendy Noe Valley stopped to read the signs on this papered over storefront. One read:

Message for Noe Valley Newcomers
This blighted property, once a thriving grocery store, is brought to you by Nutraceutical International Corp., a NASDQ-traded vitamin and mineral supplement conglomerate which owns such brands as Solaray, Kal, and Nature's Life. ...

Prior to Labor Day, 2003, Nutraceutical closed its 24th St. Fresh Organics dba The Real Food Company outlet overnight to thwart and/or retaliate against store employees who were organizing a union -- thus violating the National Labor Relations Act and breaking federal law.

Nutraceutical claimed it planned to remodel the store, but fired employees insisted they had disturbed the company by winning near 100 percent solidarity behind unionization.

Workers went to court to enforce their rights. In November 2005, Judge James Kennedy ruled that:

there were "a number of facts which appear, on their face at least, to suggest that (the store's) closure was motivated by antiunion factors rather than due to a neutral business decision."

... Kennedy ordered that 31 employees, including two union leaders, be reinstated with jobs somewhere in the company, and given back pay.

But nearly a year later, there is no sign the store will ever open and, accordingly to postings on the windows, Nutraceutical has appealed to the full, Republican-dominated, National Labor Relations Board. Former workers still have gotten nothing.


Fr. John said...

Both of my grandfathers, my uncles, and my father were skilled union tradesmen (carpenters, electricians, pipe fitters), who managed a good living with no more (and in some cases less) than a high school education. They were able to work reasonable hours in relatively safe conditions because of the labor movement. Their families had health care and they were able to send their kids to college because of the labor movement.

I fear their day is over. Now, most of the steel mills, the main employer in the region where I grew up, are closed. Men (and women) who used to make $25 an hour or more are now scrambling to find jobs above the minimum wage. None of those jobs have benefits or union representation. An entire generation of American workers has been abandoned, often losing their pensions in the process.

Now, I serve a parish in a neighborhood where entery level industrial jobs that pay well have vanished, with factories making way for condominiums. Employment opportunities in the area are either in high-tech & related industries, for which many people are unqualified, or in the service sector, which doesn't pay enough to take care of a family.

Thus, the gap between rich and poor grows as the middle class shrinks. It took my immigrant forbears 50 years or better to works its way into the middle class. How long will it take today's newest citizens? Will the children of the middle class find themseles on a downwardly mobile trajectory (that has been true for some of my cousins)?

Our concerns with "national security" are to a great extent a diversion from the "economic insecurity" that really determines peoples lives. Its time we addressed the real security issue. Most members of my family are much more likely to be victimized by a corporation than by a terrorist.

janinsanfran said...

John -- that is an extremely moving testimony. I particularly loved your last sentence.

JobSearchNinja said...

"Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased."

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