All week long Jackson Simon, who represents South African security workers, has been comparing notes in Chicago with union leaders doing...
CHICAGO — All week long Jackson Simon, who represents South African security workers, has been comparing notes in Chicago with union leaders doing the same work around the world.
“If we are not connected globally, we cannot deal with global companies,” explained Simon, of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union.
Union Network International, or UNI, a 5-year-old union alliance, yesterday concluded its second World Congress in Chicago this week. Some 1,500 delegates representing 900 unions in 120 countries swapped information and strategies and pledged to help each other.
“The business of this union is organizing the 100 top global companies,” said Philip Jennings, general secretary of the Switzerland-based organization.
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So far, global agreements have been signed with seven multinational firms, and talks are under way with another 10 companies, Jennings said. His organization will follow global business pacesetter Wal-Mart wherever it expands, hoping to gain a foothold, he said. While unions have failed to sign up U.S. workers at Wal-Mart, he said some of Wal-Mart’s workers in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan belong to unions.
UNI will follow several European unions in asking labor groups around the world to “rethink” investments in Wal-Mart, Jennings said.
With service and high-tech firms rapidly expanding across the globe, Jennings said his group would also help create unions in countries where such organizations do not exist.
In India, for example, UNI is assisting local unions as well as “helping them set up new ones.” The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also agreed with others to help a union organize janitors in the Netherlands.
UNI delegates also agreed to help security workers employed by global firms in India, Germany, South Africa and Poland. One of the unions’ targets, officials said, is Group 4 Securicor, the British corporate parent of the 38,000-worker Wackenhut, which the SEIU is trying to organize.
With the help of a Swedish union, the SEIU reached an agreement several years ago with Securitas, opening the way for the union to organize the Swedish firm’s workers in the United States, said Stephen Lerner, an SEIU official.
The Securitas deal also called for SEIU to organize competitors of Securitas so Securitas would not be put at a disadvantage, he said.
Wackenhut opposes signing an agreement opening the door to union organizing, said spokesman Mark Shapiro, “We don’t think we should give away our employees’ rights,” he said.
Shapiro said the company doubts that federal labor law allows a union like the SEIU, which represents different kinds of workers, to sign up security workers. About 10 percent of Wackenhut’s guards belong to unions that strictly represent security workers, Shapiro said.