Blue Collar Buzz, Law and Politics

Blue Collar Buzz Word of The Week: ‘Contracts’

June 9, 21016
By Joe Maniscalco

Local 1-2's James Slevin and Jean Washington join Neal and Bill.

Local 1-2’s James Slevin and Jean Washington join Neal and Bill.

New York, NY – On this week’s episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airing Sunday night at 9 p.m. on AM970 The Answer, we have the presidents of two of the most influential labor unions in New York talking about two very big city contracts: Stephen Cassidy of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and James Slevin of the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2. We’re also talking with the courageous California woman who is almost single-handedly challenging office-sharing giant WeWorks’ controversial mandatory arbitration policy. 

After a four-year-long battle, the Uniformed Firefighters Association has a new agreement with the City of New York that extends greater disability-pension coverage to members of the FDNY who get hurt on the job. 

Changes enacted back in 2009, basically placed newer hires into a lower level tier that resulted in significantly reduced benefits. In response, the UFA launched a public campaign that focused on the plight of heroic firefighters now left vulnerable.

UFA President Stephen Cassidy tells “Blue Collar Buzz” hosts Neal Tepel and Bill Hohlfeld that the union could not tolerate firefighters “running into buildings” and wondering “what if I get hurt?” 

Although there were many reasons for arguing against reduced disability-pension benefits, Cassidy says he continually asked the mayor not to force firefighters to worry about “What if?”

With a contract deadline fast approaching later this month, the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 is still looking for a new agreement with Con Edison that honors the work members do every day to help power New York. 

Local 1-2 President James Slevin tells “Blue Collar Buzz” that the current fight is about “dignity and respect.” Con Edison locked out union workers back in 2012. Just a few short months later, many of those same locked out workers were putting their own welfare on hold as they helped the city rally back in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Slevin remembers that some had lost their homes and were sleeping in their cars — but still poured all their energies into helping restore power to their fellow New Yorkers. 

Four years on, those workers now find themselves in a battle to protect their livelihoods. Local 1-2 is expected to rally outside of Con Edison’s Irving Place HQ on July 15. 

Tara Zoumer is challenging another assault on workers’ rights — this one unfolding at WeWorks outlets across the country.

“People are going broke working,” Zoumer tells LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz.”

Last year, while in the employ of WeWorks in California, Zoumer began speaking out against alleged violations to the state’s Labor Code. At one point, WeWorks staffers — Zoumer included — were introduced to a voluminous legally binding contract containing a seven-page arbitration agreement, and told to sign. Zoumer feared that the arbitration agreement would infringe upon the right of employees to address serious grievances like the lack of overtime pay. Deciding that something didn't smell right, Zoumer balked. 

“I got an awful gut feeling,” she tells "Blue Collar Buzz." 

Zoumer was ultimately told that “continued employment required consent" and  was fired. 

The WeWorks case carries tremendous implications for every worker presently employed in the so-called “share economy.”  It now sits with the National Labor Relations Board. 

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night on AM970 The Answer from 9 to 10 p.m. This week’s episode, as well as every other episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” is also available on demand at www.am970theanswer.com.

June 8, 2016

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