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Chinese factories hit by strikes amid manufacturing slowdown

Chinese factories have been hit by a series of strikes as the manufacturing sector readies for growing slowdown
Already facing a sharp slowdown, factories in China's manufacturing heartland are now experiencing a rash of labor strikes reminiscent of the worker unrest that swept the country last year.

Thousands of workers at a massive shoe factory in the southern city of Dongguan last week clashed with police as they marched to a local government office to protest the loss of overtime.

The strike at the plant owned by the Taiwanese Pou Chen Group came shortly after 18 managers were laid off because of declining orders, according to the Economic Observer, a Chinese newspaper.

Earlier in the week, 1,000 workers walked out of a plant in nearby Shenzhen that manufactured computer keyboards for leading brands such as Apple and IBM. Employees said they were being forced to work excessive hours on weekdays so that owners didn't have to pay overtime on Saturdays, as required by law. The company acquiesced after three days.

"People had to work so late, they couldn't concentrate any longer," said Zhao Xiaobing, 38, a former employee. "They will have more strikes."

A day before in Shenzhen, 400 workers went on strike in a pay dispute at an underwear factory.  Employees reportedly were denied fair wages and forced to meet unachievable production quotas, according to China Labor Watch, a New York-based workers advocacy group.

Two other strikes took place in October, one at a Shenzhen factory owned by Japanese watchmaker Citizen Holdings Co., and one at a furniture plant in Dongguan where employees were left unpaid after their boss disappeared.

"There are more protests because of the economy," said Li Qiang, director of China Labor Watch. "The management systems in factories are not suitable."

Official data to be released Thursday could show manufacturing contracting in November. The so-called purchasing managers index barely broke even in October.

Annual export growth rose 15.9% in October, down from 17.1% in September, largely because of diminishing orders from financially-troubled Europe.

Labor unrest spread across China during the summer of 2010 as workers were galvanized by strikes at plants operated by Toyota, Honda and Foxconn, the world's largest electronic components manufacturer.

Workers then were protesting low pay as inflation was driving up the cost of living. Many provinces responded by boosting minimum wages. Independent unions, however, are still illegal.

It remains to be seen if the recent demonstrations will inspire others. Unlike in 2010, local governments and factory bosses may not be as willing to increase pay now that growth prospects appear grim in many foreign markets. China's economy is also expected to taper off, because of declining exports and continued restrictions on the property market and limited options for fiscal stimulus.

"One difference between the recent strikes and last summer's is that, as far as I can see, this time workers are not winning big victories" such as 50% wage increases, said Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers rights group. "This means the domino effect of one successful strike inspiring another is not happening this time. There is a lot going on now, and I think we might have to wait a while to see what kind of picture emerges."

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-- David Pierson in Beijing
Twitter.com/dhpierson

Photo: Workers at a Shenzhen, China, underwear factory take part in a strike to demand higher wages earlier this month. Credit: STR / AFP/Getty Images

Despite gains, California has second-highest jobless rate in U.S.

Despite gains, California had second-highest unemployment rate in the nation in October
Employers in California added the second-largest number of jobs among the 50 states in October, but that strong performance didn't prevent the state from posting the country's second-highest unemployment rate for last month.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Tuesday that California's unemployment rate of 11.7% -- down from 11.9% in September and 12.5% in October 2010 -- was higher than all states and the District of Columbia, with the exception of neighboring Nevada.

Nevada, which has been hard hit by the downturn in construction that started during the recession of 2007-2009, posted an unemployment rate of 13.4%. Michigan and Mississippi had unemployment rates of 10.6%, and South Carolina was at 10.5%.

The national unemployment rate was 9%, 0.7 of a percentage point lower than what it was a year ago.

North Dakota,with its booming energy industry, reported the nation's lowest unemployment rate: 3.5%.

Overall, 36 states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rate decreases in October; five states had rate increases and nine showed no change in joblessness, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

The biggest jump between September and October was in Illinois: 30,000 net new jobs. California came in second with 25,700 new jobs. In the last year, California has gained a total of 239,100 jobs, about a fifth of those lost in the recession.

Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state last month, 9,700, followed by New York with 8,300 and Minnesota with 6,100.

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California employers add 25,700 workers in October

Jobless benefits applications drop to a seven-month low

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-- Marc Lifsher

Photo: Job seekers line up at San Francisco jobs fair. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Railroads reach tentative accord with 4 more labor unions

Getprev
A bargaining committee representing more than 30 U.S. railroads, including the two that serve Southern California, have reached tentative contract agreements with four more labor unions after 22 months of talks. The accords lessen the chance of a national strike that the American Assn. of Railroads said could cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion a day.

The tentative pacts announced today by the National Railway Labor Conference were reached with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Iron Ship Builders, Forgers and Helpers; the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Assn.; the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers; and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

Details were not released pending ratification by union members.

The railroads, which include the western lines BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, have now reached tentative agreements with 10 unions representing more than 60% of the 132,000 employees affected by this round of bargaining.

Only three more unions are still negotiating. A 30-day cooling-off period, during which no strike can be called, remains in effect until Dec. 6. This latest round of bargaining began in January 2010.

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-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A BNSF Railway cargo container train rolls into Winslow, Ariz., on its way toward California. BNSF is one of more than 30 U.S. railroads that have reached tentative accords with 10 labor unions after 22 months of bargaining. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

California's unemployment rate dips in September

California's unemployment rate dipped below 12% in September
California's unemployment rate dipped below 12% in September, and nearly 12,000 new jobs were created.

The jobless rate fell to 11.9%, from 12.1% in August, and was the best performance since June.

"I'd say it's a good gain in jobs, better than what we've been getting," said Howard Roth, the chief economist with the state Department of Finance.

California in September had the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, behind only Nevada with 13.4%. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 3.5%, while the national rate was 9.1%.

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-- Marc Lifsher

Photo: Employment seekers check the Internet at a Westminster job center. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

24 Hour Fitness faces sexual harassment lawsuit

24

A male employee has sued 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc., saying his female boss got a little too friendly with him at one of the fitness company’s clubs in Sherman Oaks.

Jonathan Prince says the club's manager invited him out for drinks, asked him to accompany her to Las Vegas and sent him unwanted, suggestive text messages for one month this summer.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Prince said he told his boss to “cease her behavior and refused her advances.” Prince said his boss retaliated by falsely criticizing his work performance, diminishing his chances for bonuses and promotion. 
 
Prince said he “suffered and continues to suffer embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, mental anguish and severe shock to his nervous system.”

Officials with 24 Fitness declined to discuss the allegations.

“As a matter of practice, we do not comment on pending litigation. Our focus remains on making fitness accessible and affordable to people of all ages,” the company said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks financial compensation “in excess of $50,000.”

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-- Stuart Pfeifer

twitter.com/spfeifer22

Credit: People at 24 Hour Fitness in Irvine work out during presidential debates in 2008. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

Wages rise in San Francisco and San Diego, stagnant in L.A.

Wallet
Wages in the country’s largest metropolitan areas seem to be bouncing back, with third-quarter paychecks in 16 of 20 major cities rising or remaining stagnant when compared with the same period in 2010.

Seattle led the list with a 1.9% jump, according to PayScale.com, which tracks cash compensation for full-time private industry employees.

Next up was San Francisco, which saw a 1.6% increase. The city by the Bay had struggled since 2009, and earnings are still well below their peak three years ago.

Houston, Boston and Washington rounded out the top five. San Diego was seventh, with wages up 0.8%.

Los Angeles, which has suffered one of the worst annual performances of any cosmopolitan area, recovered enough to keep wages steady year over year. But paychecks in the city are still about 3% thinner than they were before the recession.

Wages in Riverside are down 1%.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A wallet. Credit: Julio Cortez / Associated Press

Union calls for removal of member from Obama's jobs council

Obama jobs council
President Obama met with leaders from his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Pittsburgh today, where they presented him with proposals including upgrading the nation's transportation infrastructure and attracting foreign investment.

But some labor advocates are growing increasingly upset with the makeup of the council, which includes CEOs of companies such as Boeing and GE that have received bad marks from unions on labor issues, according to a story in Monday's Los Angeles Times.

Discontent grew Tuesday, when members of the Newspaper Guild of New York called on the President to remove Monica Lozano, CEO of ImpreMedia, from the panel. ImpreMedia wants to lay off a third of unionized workers at El Diario, the guild says, and is outsourcing jobs. The guild created a website, outsourcemonica.com, to host its grievances.

"The hypocrisy of Monica Lozano serving on President Obama’s Jobs Council is shocking," said Bill O’Meara, president of the New York guild. "ImpreMedia is outsourcing American jobs to other countries and undermining hard-won protections for middle-class workers."

University of California students have protested against Lozano in the past. She is a UC regent and has served during a time of tuition hikes, and also serves on the board of Disney, which students say unfairly receives tax breaks.

Many of the CEOs on the jobs council have also overseen significant layoffs this year. Companies such as Xerox and American Express have cut jobs. Other companies whose CEOs serve on the panel have received hundreds of millions of dollars of stimulus funding, without creating many jobs.

"They call it the jobs and competitiveness committee, but what they mean by competitiveness is massive concessions being imposed on working people," said Chris Townsend, political action director of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, in Monday's story.

The White House says that members of the Jobs Council serve as independent advisors, and that the President makes economic decisions on his own.

-- Alana Semuels

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Photo: President Obama in Pittsburgh after meeting with his jobs creation panel. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

Wall Street: Jobs report helps stocks rise

Wall Street: Jobs report helps stocks rise
Gold: Trading now at $1,651 an ounce, down 0.1% from Thursday. Dow Jones industrial average: Trading now at 11,213.39, up 0.8% from Thursday.

Jobs and stocks. The jobs report this morning did not paint a pretty picture, but it had some good headline numbers that appeared to be enough to help send stocks up again.

Big leak. A leaked version of the so-called Volcker rule -- designed to stop proprietary trading on Wall Street -- has sent law firms and regulators and bankers into a tizzy.

Romney rising. With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ruling out a presidential run, Mitt Romney is picking up new Wall Street names to add to his already big lead on the street.

OccuPie Wall Street. A pizza shop near that Wall Street protests has been raking it in with a $15 pepperoni-heavy OccuPie pizza -- though the owner of the shop is warning that he is not taking sides. 

-- Nathaniel Popper in New York
Twitter.com/nathanielpopper

Photo credit: Stan Honda / Getty Images

Economy adds 103,000 jobs but jobless rate remains at 9.1%

Unemployment-blog-sept

Hiring picked up a bit in September as employers added 103,000 jobs over the month, the government said Friday in a report that’s likely to ease fears that the economy is hurtling toward another recession.

But the job growth wasn’t strong enough to lower the unemployment rate, which remained stuck at 9.1% for the third straight month. What’s more, manufacturing payrolls shrank, and government continued its sharp cutbacks.

Still, the latest statistics provided some encouraging signs. The Labor Department said the average workweek for all private-sector workers edged up in September. And statisticians said employers in August added 57,000 jobs, not zero as previously reported, and July’s job count was also revised up to 127,000 from 85,000 initially reported.

Share your story: How has the downturn affected you?

In all, that puts the third quarter’s average monthly job growth at 96,000 jobs -– still not enough to keep up with the population growth and bring down the unemployment rate. Job growth averaged 166,000 a month in the first quarter of this year.

The September jobs were partially inflated by the return to work of striking Verizon workers, just as their temporary absence from their jobs lowered the August job numbers. Apart from that, professional and business services led the industries in job growth by adding 48,000 to their payrolls last month. Healthcare employment rose by 44,000, and the long-declining construction sector added an unexpectedly large 26,000 jobs over the month.

The ranks of the unemployed, however, remained at about 14 million. And about 45% of these workers last month said they had been without jobs for six months or more.

Also, the number of part-time workers who want full-time hours rose sharply over the month, to 9.3 million, from 8.8 million in August. Including these workers and those who have quit looking because they don’t see hope of getting hired, the percent of unemployed and underemployed in the U.S. rose to 16.5% in September, up from 16.2% in the prior month.

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-- Don Lee

Photo: A sign greets job seekers during a job fair at a Goodwiill store in Atlanta. Credit: Associated Press

Private sector adds 91,000 jobs, but planned layoffs at 2-year high

Jobs U.S. employers announced plans in September to shed more than 115,000 workers -- the highest total in more than two years, according to a new jobs report.

That’s more than double the 51,000 cuts announced in August and more than three times the 37,000 cuts planned a year earlier. The previous record was in April 2009, when employers planned to slash nearly 133,000 jobs, according to employment consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

According to another report, from payrolls processor ADP, private-sector employment rose by 91,000 jobs in September. The “modest” increase was led by 60,000 additional positions in small businesses, which have been averaging 73,000 new jobs a month for the last year.

Medium-sized companies also did well, tacking on 36,000 more employees, while large businesses shed 5,000 workers, according to ADP.

Continue reading »

California seeks $17 million in back wages from ZipRealty

California's labor commissioner has filed a $17-million lawsuit for back wages against a San Francisco Bay Area real estate brokerage, ZipRealty Inc., that markets homes statewide and nationally using an Internet-based sales strategy.

The case is the largest minimum wage enforcement action in California history, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court accuses ZipRealty of Emeryville of not paying minimum wage and overtime pay to hundreds of agents throughout California.

The lawsuit seeks about $7.5 million in unpaid minimum wages, $1.3 million in unpaid overtime and more than $9 million in damages and penalties.

"In times like these, enforcement of the minimum wage is critical to maintaining a floor that allows workers to survive," California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said. "This enforcement is important not just for employees but for hardworking employers who shouldn't have to compete against law breakers."

The suit is related to a September decision by a Kern County Superior Court judge that ruled that local ZipRealty agents frequently received no pay at all, even though as employees they were entitled to get at least minimum wage for all hours worked.

During the trial, ZipRealty argued that it did not need to pay minimum wage or overtime because the people involved were "outside sales persons." The court disagreed, noting that the agents should have been paid by law because they spent less than half their time working away from their offices.

ZipRealty lawyers did not respond to requests for comments on the lawsuit filing.

The ZipRealty case is a symptom of growing problems in the recession-wracked labor market, said Christine Baker, acting director of the Department of Industrial Relations.

"Violations of minimum labor standards are now occurring in a wide variety of occupations, even affecting employees outside traditional low-wage occupations," she said.

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-- Marc Lifsher

 

 

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