Airlines, unions urge U.S. to prosecute ‘egregious onboard conduct’

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group representing major U.S. airlines and aviation unions on Monday wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to crack down on the growing number of disruptive and violent air passengers.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the letter, first reported by Reuters.

The letter from Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, along with major unions said the “incidents pose a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees, and we respectfully request the (Justice Department) commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence.”

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, in January imposed a zero-tolerance order on passenger disturbances aboard airplanes after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on some flights around the time of a Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

Monday’s letter added that the airlines and unions hope the Justice Department “will commit to taking action, along with coordination with the FAA, to ensure that egregious onboard conduct is fully and criminally prosecuted, sending a strong public message of deterrence, safety and security.”

The letter to Garland said that since the FAA’s zero- tolerance policy was announced, the agency has received more than 3,039 reports of unruly behavior and has opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of assault or interference with crew members.

More than 2,000 cases included passengers refusing to wear face masks as required on all airplanes.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on April 30 extended a federal face mask mandate on airplanes and in airports through Sept. 13.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)

Harris to lead Biden task force promoting unions, labor organizing

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Monday that will create a task force to promote labor organizing, the White House said, at a time when just over 6 percent of U.S. private-sector workers belong to unions.

The White House task force will be headed by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will serve as vice chair of the group.

The task force will also include over 20 heads of agencies and cabinet officials, such as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the White House economic advisers Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese, the White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.

“The President and Vice President believe that the decline of union membership is contributing to serious societal and economic problems in our country,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

“Widespread and deep economic inequality, stagnant real wages, and the shrinking of America’s middle class are all associated with the declining percentage of workers represented by unions.”

The White House referred to the National Labor Relations Act, which was passed in 1935, to encourage worker organizing. “In the 86 years since the Act was passed, the federal government has never fully implemented this policy.”

Biden’s executive order specifically directs the task force to come up with a set of recommendations within 180 days to address two key issues: How existing policies can promote labor organizing in the federal government, and looking at new policies that are needed and the associated regulatory challenges.

The task force’s goals include facilitating worker organizing around the country, increasing union membership and addressing challenges to labor organizing in underserved communities.

Over 65 percent of Americans approve of unions, the most since 2003, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, despite the much lower membership rate.

Organized labor faced one of its biggest setbacks in recent history after an organizing drive at an Amazon.com facility failed earlier this month.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. Supreme Court leans toward reining in unions in property rights case

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared ready to further curb the power of organized labor in the United States by rolling back a decades-old California regulation that lets union organizers enter agricultural properties without an employer’s consent.

The justices appeared sympathetic during more than an hour of oral arguments toward an appeal by two fruit companies in the most populous U.S. state seeking to halt enforcement of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board regulation, which has been in place since 1975. The justices wrestled over how far they should go in bolstering the property rights of owners.

A lower court rejected the companies’ argument that the regulation violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition on the government taking private property for public use without just compensation.

Conservative justices, who hold a 6-3 majority on the court, seemed to agree that the regulation went too far. Chief Justice John Roberts asked questions that indicated the rule placed few limits on unions. Justice Clarence Thomas wondered how it would be different if the state commandeered a farm to train its police, even if only intermittently.

Liberal justices raised doubts that any regulation like California’s should always be considered unconstitutional, as the companies have asserted. They also expressed concern over how the case might affect other government authority over health and safety.

California, defending the regulation, said that beyond affecting the ability of unions to organize, the case has the potential to reverberate more widely, casting doubt on food, factory and social work inspections, or even Border Patrol entries onto private property to enforce immigration laws.

The Supreme Court in 2018 dealt a big blow to organized labor by ruling that non-members cannot be forced, as they are in certain states, to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police that negotiate contracts covering non-unionized workers as well as union members.

The California regulation allows union organizers, with notice to regulators and the employer, to enter agricultural premises to talk with employees for three non-working hours per day during four 30-day periods each year. The organizers do not require an employer’s consent.

Dorris, California strawberry producer Cedar Point Nursery and Fresno-based Fowler Packing Company, which ships grapes and mandarin oranges, said that the regulation is a relic of the past and that farm workers are easier to reach than ever, including through smartphones and radio stations.

Unions have said the rule in practice affords them little time to reach workers during the narrow window of seasonal farm work either before or after work. They have said farm workers often are migrants who change job sites frequently and may not understand English or Spanish, making work site access one of the only ways to inform them of their labor rights.

The businesses said almost all of their 3,000 workers can communicate in English and Spanish.

The companies challenged the regulation after disputes with the United Farm Workers union in 2015. Organizers disrupted work on Cedar’s property with bullhorns, while Fowler was accused of denying organizers access, drawing a complaint with regulators, according to the lawsuit.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case in 2019.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration had backed the companies in the case, but Democratic President Joe Biden last month informed the justices that the government had switched sides, asserting that the regulation is lawful.

The companies are represented in the case by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Walt Disney World and unions agree on safeguards for returning to work

(Reuters) – Walt Disney Co and unions representing workers at Florida’s Walt Disney World have reached an agreement on safeguards to protect employees from coronavirus, a union statement said on Thursday, removing one of the company’s hurdles to reopening its popular theme parks.

The measures include social distancing practices, increased cleaning and mandatory masks for workers and guests, according to a statement from the Service Trades Council Union, which represents about 43,000 workers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Disney has announced that some shops and restaurants in the Disney Springs shopping area in Orlando will open on May 20, but the company has not set a reopening date for any of its four theme parks in the area.

The company closed its parks around the world starting in late January to help prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. It reopened Shanghai Disneyland to a limited number of visitors on Monday.

The agreement with the Walt Disney World unions also calls for plastic barriers and touchless transactions at cash registers, temperature checks for guests, and other measures, the STCU statement said.

Employees who contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will receive paid time off to quarantine, the statement said.

Disney shares were trading 1.9% higher at $104.90 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)

French police fire tear gas at strikers challenging Macron reform

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at protesters in the center of Paris on Thursday and public transport ground to a near halt in one of the biggest strikes in France for decades, aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned reform of pensions.

The strike pits Macron, a 41-year-old former investment banker who came to power in 2017 on a promise to open up France’s highly regulated economy, against powerful trade unions who say he is set on dismantling worker protections.

The outcome depends on who blinks first – the unions who risk losing public support if the disruption goes on for too long, or the government which fears voters could side with the unions and blame officials for the standoff.

“People can work around it today and tomorrow, but next week people may get annoyed,” said 56-year-old cafe owner Isabelle Guibal.

Rail workers voted to extend their strike through Friday, while labor unions at the Paris bus and metro operator RATP said their walkout would continue until Monday.

Trade unions achieved their initial objective on Thursday, as workers at transport enterprises, schools and hospitals across France joined the strike. In Paris, commuters had to dust off old bicycles, rely on car pooling apps, or just stay at home. The Eiffel Tower had to close to visitors.

On Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of union members marched through the center of the capital in a show of force.

Trouble erupted away from the main protest when people in masks and dressed in black ransacked a bus stop near the Place de la Republique, ripped up street furniture, smashed shop windows and threw fireworks at police.

Police in riot gear responded by firing tear gas, Reuters witnesses said. Nearby, police used truncheons to defend themselves from black-clad protesters who rushed at them. Prosecutors said, in all, 57 people were detained.

Macron wants to simplify France’s unwieldy pension system, which comprises more than 40 different plans, many with different retirement ages and benefits. Rail workers, mariners and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker.

Macron says the system is unfair and too costly. He wants a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner has equal rights.

PRESIDENT’S SWAGGER

Macron has already survived one major challenge to his rule, from the grassroots “Yellow Vest” protesters who earlier this year clashed with police and blocked roads around France for weeks on end.

Having emerged from that crisis, he carries himself with a swagger on the world stage, publicly upbraiding U.S. President Donald Trump this week over his approach to the NATO alliance and counter-terrorism.

But the pension reform – on which polls show French people evenly split between supporters and opponents – is fraught with risk for him as it chips away at social protections many in France believe are at the heart of their national identity.

“People are spoiling for a fight,” Christian Grolier, a senior official from the hard-left Force Ouvriere union which is helping organize the strike, told Reuters.

The SNCF state railway said only one in 10 high-speed TGV trains would run and police reported power cables on the line linking Paris and the Riviera had been vandalized. The civil aviation authority asked airlines to cancel 20% of flights because of knock-on effects from the strike.

Past attempts at pension reform have ended badly for the authorities. Former president Jacques Chirac’s conservative government in 1995 caved into union demands after weeks of crippling protests.

(Reporting by Caroline Pailliez, Geert de Clercq, Sybille de La Hamaide, Marine Pennetier, Laurence Frost in paris and Guillaume Frouin in Nantes; Writing by Richard Lough and Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Catalan protesters flood Barcelona on fifth day of rallies

Catalan protesters flood Barcelona on fifth day of rallies
By Jon Nazca, Jordi Rubio and Isla Binnie

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of demonstrators waving pro-independence flags and chanting “freedom for political prisoners” poured into Barcelona on Friday, the fifth day of protests over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders.

Roads leading into the city were packed as marchers from across the region joined a mass rally against this week’s verdict by Spain’s Supreme Court, which sentenced nine separatists to jail over a failed, 2017 secessionist bid.

The ruling set off the worst sustained street violence Spain has seen in decades, with anger running high in Catalonia. Unions in the wealthy region called for a general strike on Friday and students boycotted classes for a third day running.

The interior ministry has dispatched police reinforcements to the Mediterranean city, which is a major tourist magnet, and warned that troublemakers would be swiftly dealt with.

“Throughout this week, as you well know, there have been violent incidents in Catalonia. They have been organised … by groups who are a minority but are very organised,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told a news conference. “Their actions, as we have already said, will also not go unpunished.”

Some masked youths hurled stones at police late in the afternoon on one city street, but the vast majority of Friday’s rallies were peaceful, with Barcelona’s broad boulevards packed with people draped in the Catalan independence flag.

“We have always been peaceful people, but you get to a point where you get treated in such a way that people are getting angry,” said Carlota Llacuna, a 19-year old student from the Maresca region near Barcelona. “They put our leaders in prison.”

One of the main ringleaders, Catalonia’s former chief Carles Puigdemont, has so far escaped trial after he fled to Belgium in 2017 when the independence drive was thwarted.

Spain this week renewed its bid to get him extradited and he was briefly detained by Belgian police on Friday before a judge ordered his release pending a decision on the Spanish arrest warrant. A court is meant to hear the case on Oct. 29.

EL CLASICO POSTPONED

Several main streets in Barcelona were closed to traffic because of Friday’s marches, while regional trains and the city’s metro were running on a reduced timetable.

Barcelona’s main landmark, the multi-spired Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, was closed due to the protests, an official told Reuters.

The Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) said in a statement on that Barcelona’s Oct. 26 home match against Real Madrid, which is known as “el clasico” and is one of the biggest rivalries in world sport, had been postponed due to security concerns.

Barcelona’s El Prat airport cancelled 57 flights on Friday, airport operator Aena said.

Barcelona town hall said 700 garbage containers had been set ablaze since protests began on Monday and estimated that the city had suffered damage totalling more than 1.5 million euros ($1.67 million).

In an apparent effort to hamper the protesters, a Spanish judge ordered on Friday the closure of web pages linked to a pro-independence group, Democratic Tsunami, which has been deftly directing its followers to various demonstrations.

However, as soon as its site was shuttered, the group migrated its homepage to a new url, sidestepping the ruling.

Democratic Tsunami is a new, secretive group that emerged in September and has drawn thousands of followers on both its website and social media.

Although it says it is committed to non-violent protests, many young demonstrators have battled police over the past three nights in Barcelona in scenes reminiscent of the some of the urban unrest that has rocked France over the past year.

Regional police said 16 people were arrested across Catalonia on Thursday, while health officials said 42 people needed medical attention.

(Reporting by Jose Elías Rodríguez, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Ashifa Kassam, Emma Pinedo and Paola Luelmo in Madrid, Andrea Ariet Gallego; Marine Strauss in Brussels; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Toby Chopra)

China police detain students protesting crackdown on Marxist group

People cycle past a building in Peking University in Beijing, China, July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police detained a group of students on Friday who were protesting against a crackdown on a campus Marxist society, whose former head was held by police on the 125th birthday of the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong. China has an awkward relationship with the legacy of Mao, who died in 1976 and is still officially venerated by the ruling Communist Party.

But far leftists in recent years have latched onto Mao’s message of equality, posing awkward questions at a time of unprecedented economic boom that has seen a rapidly widening gap between the rich and the poor.

In particular, students and recent graduates have teamed up with labor activists to support factory workers fighting for the right to set up their own union. Dozens of activists have been detained in a government crackdown that followed.

Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, said he was approached on Wednesday morning at a subway station by plainclothes police who said they wanted him to answer questions about an event he was organizing to celebrate Mao’s birthday. Mao was born on Dec. 26, 1893.

When Qiu refused, the men took his phone, forced him into a car and drove him to a police station where he was questioned for 24 hours before being released with a warning, Qiu said, according to accounts provided by fellow students, who declined to be identified.

Late on Thursday, the university’s extracurricular activities guidance office released a notice saying police had penalized Qiu and he “did not have the qualifications” to continue as head of the society.

The teachers in charge of guiding the group had determined its members had deviated from promises made to teachers when the group was registered and so had “restructured” the group, the office said.

The “restructuring” was an attempt to “scatter” the group after weeks of continuous harassment by campus police and attempts to cast its members as being involved in a “conspiracy”, Qiu said, according to the accounts of his comments.

Qiu declined additional comment to Reuters.

‘PICKING QUARRELS’

None of the people on the new list of student leaders released by university authorities were previous members of the group, and many of them are members of the official Student Association that had been involved in harassing the group, Qiu said.

“We don’t recognize this,” he added, according to the accounts of his comments.

Later on Friday, a small group of students staged a protest against the action by the authorities, but were themselves detained by police, according to video footage sent to Reuters by one of the students.

The university referred Reuters to the statement issued by its extracurricular activities guidance office on why the Marxist group had been restructured.

The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.

Student unrest is highly sensitive, especially as next year marks 30 years since the bloody suppression of student-led pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square.

Qiu said his non-academic school adviser, a deputy secretary of the Social Sciences party committee, Shi Changyi, was with him while police questioned him and had advised him not to be “extreme” or “impulsive”, according to the accounts of his comments.

Reuters was unable to reach Shi for comment.

Police gave Qiu a subpoena saying he was suspected of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”, which is a crime, but they declined to elaborate, he said, according to the accounts of his comments.

“This was, plain and simple, a plan to restrict my personal freedom and to use these inhuman and illegal means to stop me from going to commemorate Chairman Mao.”

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Cate Cadell; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Brazil cities paralyzed by nationwide strike against austerity

A demonstrators holds a placard in front of a burning barricade during a protest against President Michel Temer's proposal to reform Brazil's social security system in the early hours of general strike in Brasilia, Brazil, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Brad Brooks and Pedro Fonseca

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Nationwide strikes led by Brazilian unions to protest President Michel Temer’s austerity measures crippled public transport in several major cities early on Friday across this continent-sized nation, while factories, businesses and schools closed.

In the economic hub of Sao Paulo, the main tourist draw Rio de Janeiro and several other metropolitan areas, protesters used barricades of burning tires and other materials to block highways and access to major airports.

Police clashed with demonstrators in several cities, blocking protesters from entering airports and firing tear gas in efforts to free roadways.

Many workers were expected to heed the call to strike for 24 hours starting just after midnight Friday, due in part to anger about progression this week of congressional bills to weaken labor regulations and efforts to change social security that would force many Brazilians to work years longer before drawing a pension. In addition, the strike will extend a holiday weekend ahead of Labor Day on Monday.

This will be Brazil’s first general strike in more than two decades if it gets widespread participation.

Authorities boarded up windows of government buildings in national capital Brasilia on Thursday, fearing violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Demonstrations are expected in other major cities across the Latin American nation of more than 200 million people.

“It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil,” said Paulo Pereira da Silva, the president of trade union group Forca Sindical.

Violent protests have occurred repeatedly during the past four years amid political turmoil, Brazil’s worst recession on record, and corruption investigations that revealed stunning levels of graft among politicians.

Nearly a third of Temer’s cabinet and key congressional allies came under investigation in the scandal this month, and approval ratings for the president, who replaced Dilma Rousseff last year after her impeachment, have fallen even further.

Rousseff’s Workers Party grew out of the labor movement, and her allies have called her removal for breaking budget rules an illegitimate coup.

“Temer does not even want to negotiate,” said Vagner Freitas, national president of the Central Workers Union (CUT), Brazil’s biggest labor confederation, said in a statement. “He just wants to meet the demands of the businessmen who financed the coup precisely to end social security and legalize the exploitation of workers.”

Marcio de Freitas, a spokesman for Temer, rejected the union’s criticism, saying the government was working to undo the economic damage wrought under the Workers Party government, which had the backing of the CUT.

“The inheritance of that was 13 million unemployed,” he said. “The government is carrying out reforms to change this situation, to create jobs and economic growth.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janiero; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Von Ahn)

Trump to talk manufacturing with executives, meet labor leaders

President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump planned to hold meetings on Monday with business and labor leaders at the start of his first full week in office, seeking to work quickly on his campaign promise to boost the American manufacturing sector and deliver more jobs.

The Republican, who took office on Friday after eight years of a Democratic White House, was scheduled to meet with business leaders at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) and then hold an afternoon meeting with labor leaders and U.S. workers, according to his schedule.

The White House, which announced the meetings in a schedule released late on Sunday, did not name company executives or union leaders who would take part. White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for more details.

Trump said on Twitter early on Monday that he planned to discuss U.S. manufacturing with executives but gave no other details.

“Busy week planned with a heavy focus on jobs and national security,” Trump said in a tweet. “Top executives coming in at 9:00 A.M. to talk manufacturing in America.”

The morning gathering will include Dow Chemical Co Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

Trump named Liveris in December to lead a private-sector group on manufacturing that will advise the U.S. secretary of commerce. Trump’s designated commerce secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, is known for backing tariffs and fighting to protect U.S. manufacturers but has also sent jobs abroad.

Before taking office, Trump hosted a number of U.S. CEOs in meetings in New York, including business leaders from defense, technology and other sectors. He also met with leaders of several unions, including the AFL-CIO.

Trump, a real estate developer, has particularly focused on manufacturing, lamenting during his inaugural address on Friday about “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” and vowing to boost U.S. industries over foreign ones.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton and David Shepardson; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Lisa Von Ahn and Frances Kerry)