Friday, February 11, 2005

No Unions for Wal-Mart Canada, No No No...Just close the store

February 10, 2005
Wal-Mart to Close Store in Canada With a Union

OTTAWA, Feb. 9 - Wal-Mart Canada, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, said on Wednesday that it would close a store in Quebec where unionized workers are attempting to negotiate the first collective agreement in North America with the company .

A spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, Andrew Pelletier, said the store in Jonquière, Quebec, would close in May because it had failed to meet financial goals, which he declined to specify.

"It has struggled from the beginning," Mr. Pelletier said of the store. "The situation has continued to deteriorate since the union. The store environment became very fractured because there were some people who were part of the union and some who were not."

Michael J. Fraser, national director of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, said that Wal-Mart's decision to close the store, a first for the company in Canada, was provoked by an application to Quebec's labor minister made last week by the union, which represents the employees at the store. Under an unusual provision of Quebec's labor laws, either a company or a union can ask for an arbitrator who can impose a first contract on newly organized workplaces.

"Wal-Mart has decided to go very hard against the union," said Christian Lévesque, a professor of labor relations at HEC Montreal, a business school. "The union must now show the workers that it will support them whatever Wal-Mart does. If it takes just a legalistic approach, it's dead."

Mr. Fraser said the decision to shut a store showed contempt for workers' right to join a union.

He said the union would appeal the closing to Quebec's labor relations board. But a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed the right of employers to close for any reason.

The situation may repeat itself in other cities and towns in Canada. A union bargaining unit was recently certified at another Wal-Mart store, in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. While Mr. Pelletier said the company would ask the courts to overturn that decision, he said that it was not considering shutting that store.

An application for a bargaining unit has been submitted by a third Quebec Wal-Mart store and the U.F.C.W. has about a dozen organizing campaigns through Canada, particularly in provinces like Quebec with labor laws that improve the chances of union recognition.

The bargaining unit in the Jonquière store was recognized in August and the union and Wal-Mart Canada, based in Mississauga, Ontario, first met in October. There were nine bargaining sessions that brought little apparent satisfaction to either side. Before the union's request for an arbitrator, Wal-Mart asked for the assistance of conciliator, which is similar to a mediator.

In a statement last week, Marie-Josée Lemieux, president of U.F.C.W. Canada Local 503, which represents the Jonquière employees, said the talks had not "resulted in any progress on major issues."

From Wal-Mart's perspective, Mr. Pelletier said the union's demands "would have fundamentally changed the economic model." By Wal-Mart's calculations, the union's position on scheduling would have required adding 30 employees to the store's work force of 190.

Jacques Nantel, who teaches marketing at HEC Montreal, said the store's closing might provoke a reaction against Wal-Mart in Quebec, an area where unions enjoy unusual strength. However, he added that it was unlikely to be long-lasting.

A related story of January 20, 2005, follows:

January 20, 2005
By Ian Austen (NYT)

An employees' union has been authorized at a second Wal-Mart Stores outlet in Canada. The union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, said yesterday that it had received a notice from Quebec's labor relations board certifying a bargaining unit for the store in St. Hyacinthe, about 40 miles southeast of Montreal. Employees at a Wal-Mart store in Jonquière, Quebec, were permitted to join the union last year and are negotiating their first contract with the retailer. Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, said the labor board's latest decision was ''seriously flawed and undemocratic'' because it did not require a secret ballot. He added that the company was considering a court challenge of the certification. Ian Austen (NYT)

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Punish the Poor, Reward the Rich

February 11, 2005
Bush's Class-War Budget

It may sound shrill to describe President Bush as someone who takes food from the mouths of babes and gives the proceeds to his millionaire friends. Yet his latest budget proposal is top-down class warfare in action. And it offers the Democrats an opportunity, if they're willing to take it.

First, the facts: the budget proposal really does take food from the mouths of babes. One of the proposed spending cuts would make it harder for working families with children to receive food stamps, terminating aid for about 300,000 people. Another would deny child care assistance to about 300,000 children, again in low-income working families.

And the budget really does shower largesse on millionaires even as it punishes the needy. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities informs us that even as the administration demands spending cuts, it will proceed with the phaseout of two little-known tax provisions - originally put in place under the first President George Bush - that limit deductions and exemptions for high-income households.

More than half of the benefits from this backdoor tax cut would go to people with incomes of more than a million dollars; 97 percent would go to people with incomes exceeding $200,000.

It so happens that the number of taxpayers with more than $1 million in annual income is about the same as the number of people who would have their food stamps cut off under the Bush proposal. But it costs a lot more to give a millionaire a break than to put food on a low-income family's table: eliminating limits on deductions and exemptions would give taxpayers with incomes over $1 million an average tax cut of more than $19,000.

It's like that all the way through. On one side, the budget calls for program cuts that are small change compared with the budget deficit, yet will harm hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans. On the other side, it calls for making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, and for new tax breaks for the affluent in the form of tax-sheltered accounts and more liberal rules for deductions.

The question is whether the relentless mean-spiritedness of this budget finally awakens the public to the true cost of Mr. Bush's tax policy.

Until now, the administration has been able to get away with the pretense that it can offset the revenue loss from tax cuts with benign spending restraint. That's because until now, "restraint" was an abstract concept, not tied to specific actions, making it seem as if spending cuts would hurt only a few special interest groups.

But here we are with the first demonstration of restraint in action, and look what's on the chopping block, selected for big cuts: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health insurance for children and aid to law enforcement. (Yes, Mr. Bush proposes to cut farm subsidies, which are truly wasteful. Let's see how much political capital he spends on that proposal.)

Until now, the administration has also been able to pretend that the budget deficit isn't an important issue so the role of tax cuts in causing that deficit can be ignored. But Mr. Bush has at last conceded that the deficit is indeed a major problem.

Why shouldn't the affluent, who have done so well from Mr. Bush's policies, pay part of the price of dealing with that problem?

Here's a comparison: the Bush budget proposal would cut domestic discretionary spending, adjusted for inflation, by 16 percent over the next five years. That would mean savage cuts in education, health care, veterans' benefits and environmental protection. Yet these cuts would save only about $66 billion per year, about one-sixth of the budget deficit.

On the other side, a rollback of Mr. Bush's cuts in tax rates for high-income brackets, on capital gains and on dividend income would yield more than $120 billion per year in extra revenue - eliminating almost a third of the budget deficit - yet have hardly any effect on middle-income families. (Estimates from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution show that such a rollback would cost families with incomes between $25,000 and $80,000 an average of $156.)

Why, then, shouldn't a rollback of high-end tax cuts be on the table?

Democrats have surprised the Bush administration, and themselves, by effectively pushing back against Mr. Bush's attempt to dismantle Social Security. It's time for them to broaden their opposition, and push back against Mr. Bush's tax policy.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

False Accusations, Illegal Incarceration and Torture

February 11, 2005
Torture, American Style

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old native of Syria who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. On Sept. 26, 2002, as he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York, where he was in the process of changing planes.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was not charged with a crime. But, as Jane Mayer tells us in a compelling and deeply disturbing article in the current issue of The New Yorker, he "was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet."

In an instant, Mr. Arar was swept into an increasingly common nightmare, courtesy of the United States of America. The plane that took off with him from Kennedy "flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan."

Any rights Mr. Arar might have thought he had, either as a Canadian citizen or a human being, had been left behind. At times during the trip, Mr. Arar heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." He was being taken, on the orders of the U.S. government, to Syria, where he would be tortured.

The title of Ms. Mayer's article is "Outsourcing Torture." It's a detailed account of the frightening and extremely secretive U.S. program known as "extraordinary rendition."

This is one of the great euphemisms of our time. Extraordinary rendition is the name that's been given to the policy of seizing individuals without even the semblance of due process and sending them off to be interrogated by regimes known to practice torture. In terms of bad behavior, it stands side by side with contract killings.

Our henchmen in places like Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Jordan are torturing terror suspects at the behest of a nation - the United States - that just went through a national election in which the issue of moral values was supposed to have been decisive. How in the world did we become a country in which gays' getting married is considered an abomination, but torture is O.K.?

As Ms. Mayer pointed out: "Terrorism suspects in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East have often been abducted by hooded or masked American agents, then forced onto a Gulfstream V jet, like the one described by Arar. ... Upon arriving in foreign countries, rendered suspects often vanish. Detainees are not provided with lawyers, and many families are not informed of their whereabouts."

Mr. Arar was seized because his name had turned up on a watch list of terror suspects. He was reported to have been a co-worker of a man in Canada whose brother was a suspected terrorist.

"Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say," Ms. Mayer wrote.

The confession under torture was worthless. Syrian officials reported back to the United States that they could find no links between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was released in October 2003 without ever being charged and is now back in Canada.

Barbara Olshansky is the assistant legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing Mr. Arar in a lawsuit against the U.S. I asked her to describe Mr. Arar's physical and emotional state following his release from custody.

She sounded shaken by the memory. "He's not a big guy," she said. "He had lost more than 40 pounds. His pallor was terrible, and his eyes were sunken. He looked like someone who was kind of dead inside."

Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators.

There is a widespread but mistaken notion in the U.S. that everybody seized by the government in its so-called war on terror is in fact somehow connected to terrorist activity. That is just wildly wrong.

Tony Blair knows a little about that sort of thing. Just two days ago the British prime minister formally apologized to 11 people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for bombings in England by the Irish Republican Army three decades ago.

Jettisoning the rule of law to permit such acts of evil as kidnapping and torture is not a defensible policy for a civilized nation. It's wrong. And nothing good can come from it.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company