Labor Web Site Keeps Tabs on Business

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By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 18, 2005

An AFL-CIO affiliate yesterday launched an online database of more than 60,000 companies, listing information about their executive compensation, overseas job outsourcing, and violations of labor, safety and health standards.

The Web site is operated by Working America, a group that advocates on behalf of nonunion workers. The site started last year in a much smaller form focused on companies that had outsourced jobs overseas. The expanded version is designed to provide workers and the public with a more complete picture about companies, the group says.

"It gives information to workers they don't have otherwise and gives information so people can take action," said Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, which was founded two years ago and has more than 1 million members.

The group's site is one of several recent efforts by labor organizations to challenge companies publicly on how they treat their employees. The efforts are designed to encourage workers to fight what the organizations view as bad labor practices, or to embarrass companies into changing their ways.

The best-known actions in recent months come from Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart. Both groups monitor the retailer's moves and conduct campaigns to raise awareness of -- and ultimately change -- the company's labor, environmental and other practices.

The information listed on the site comes from government records obtained by Working America through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as from media reports and research conducted by nonprofit advocacy groups.

The new site is "an excellent example of giving ordinary people information about what corporations are doing," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "With this, they are putting a new dimension of the economy into the hands of the public."

The public database, http://www.workingamerica.org/jobtracker , is searchable by Zip code, company name and industry. Visitors can also enter a Zip code or state to find out which companies in that area are exporting jobs or violating labor laws.

Pat Cleary, senior vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, called the Web site a "desperate tactic."

"They should track companies that are importing jobs as well and should tell the story of the tens of millions of companies who spend billions of dollars to ensure their employees' safety," he said.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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