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Weekly Digest - September 17, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFSCME Calls Scott Walker Top Target
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a top target for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in this November’s election, union president Lee Saunders told the Washington Post. “We have a score to settle with Scott Walker,” Saunders said in an interview published Sept. 10. “He stole our voices, in a state where we were born.” AFSCME, which was founded in Madison in 1932, is planning a massive canvassing and phone-banking operation to help elect Democrat Mary Burke. A Walker campaign spokeswoman called it an effort by “union bosses.” Read more

Jersey AFL-CIO Accuses Christie of Pension ‘Pay-to-Play’
Financial firms that contribute to Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican Party are getting a disturbing share of contracts to manage New Jersey’s pension funds, the state AFL-CIO alleged in a complaint filed Sept. 12 with the State Ethics Commission. The union says management fees paid to such companies, including the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group, have more than tripled under Christie, to $398 million last year. State ethics rules require a two-year wait before campaign donors can get pension-management contracts. “We urge the State Ethics Commission to investigate this pay-to-play scheme on behalf of taxpayers who are footing the bill for this abuse and pensioneers being shortchanged of their retirement funds,” said New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.
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VW Global Labor Groups Back UAW in Tennessee
Unions representing Volkswagen workers around the world are backing the United Auto Workers’ renewed efforts to represent workers at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The endorsement came in a statement released Sept. 10 by members of VW’s global “works council,” including Germany's IG Metall union and the global union umbrella group IndustriALL. VW wants to set up a works council at the Chattanooga factory, and would have to do it with a union under U.S. law. Some workers who opposed joining a union when the UAW lost a vote there in February have tried to form a rival group. Read more

Letter Carriers Honor 9 Heroes
The National Association of Letter Carriers named nine members “Heroes of the Year” Sept. 10. The honorees included Illinois letter carriers Cristy Perfetti and Steve Plunkett, who foiled a knife-wielding pedophile’s attempt to kidnap a 10-year-old boy outside the post office in Peoria, and Jermaine George of Greenwich, Connecticut, who was on his way to work when his apartment building caught fire, and climbed up onto a roof to catch and save two 11-month-old babies that his neighbor dropped from the third-floor fire escape. Read more

Nevada Union Wants Local Workers at Tesla Plant
A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature Sept. 10 would give the Tesla electric-car company $1.3 billion in tax breaks while requiring that half the estimated 9,000 workers who will build and run its planned battery factory are state residents. State AFL-CIO director Danny Thompson criticized the bill for not requiring that construction workers be paid the prevailing wage, saying that any development getting that much in tax breaks should be considered a public-works project. He also worried that Tesla could bring in out-of-state workers who could easily evade the residency requirement. The plant is slated for an isolated area southeast of Reno. Read more

Boston UNITE HERE Recruits Black Workers
Boston’s UNITE HERE Local 26 has launched a training program intended to attract Afro-American workers to hotel jobs that start at $18 an hour plus benefits. The four-week program is part of an initiative to reduce unemployment among black Bostonians and meet the growing demand in the hotel industry for workers who are fluent in English. Immigrants have largely supplanted Afro-Americans as workers in the area’s hotels; more than five-sixths of the union’s current trainees speak English as a second language. Some hotel managers, said Local 26 president Brian Lang, seem to believe immigrants have a stronger work ethic and are “less likely to know and assert their rights in this country.” Read more

Study Estimates Wage Theft at $50 Billion a Year
Wage theft might cost American workers as much as $50 billion a year, says a report released Sept. 11 by the Economic Policy Institute. The group found that in an average week, two-thirds of the low-wage workers it surveyed in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were cheated out of some pay. Few victims report wage theft and fewer win back pay, it noted, but the amount of stolen wages workers recovered in 2012 was more than $933 million—almost triple the amount reported taken in robberies that year. The maximum federal fine for failure to pay the minimum wage or for overtime is $1,100. Read more

Grain Agreement Ends Lockouts in Northwest Ports
Five International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals have approved a contract with grain companies in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington,  ending the lockouts of two locals that lasted more than a year. The 46-month deal includes raises, but the most important thing is that it maintains unionized grain terminals in the U.S., said Roger Boespflug, a former ILWU Local 23 president who represented his local in the negotiations. The union agreed to let management personnel do bargaining-unit jobs during a work stoppage, but beat back worse concessions. Columbia River and Puget Sound ports move over a quarter of all U.S. grain exports, including almost half of all wheat. Read more

Railroad Union Rejects One-Person Crews
The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union announced Sept. 10 that its members had rejected a contract that would have allowed BNSF Railway to run trains with one-person crews. BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., operates tracks in most of the western U.S. and two Canadian provinces, and has “Positive Train Control” systems that can stop trains remotely installed on about 60 percent of its 32,500 miles of track. It wanted to be able to use one-person crews on those tracks, except for trains carrying hazardous materials. Railroad unions insist that two-person crews are safer. Read more

Unions Gain in the South
The labor movement is being reborn in the unlikeliest of places—the once union-averse South, says MaryBe McMillan of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. In late August and early September, North Carolina saw scores of farmworkers sign union cards, dozens of congregations across the state talking about the value of unions as part of the first annual Labor Sabbath, and workers and civil-rights leaders rallying for higher wages in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte on Labor Day. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the five states last year with the most growth in union membership were all in the South. This Southern revival has a distinctly evangelical zeal, McMillan says: Labor leaders together with clergy are claiming the moral high ground for economic justice. Read more

Weekly Digest - August 27, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Minnesota Home-Care Workers Vote Union Yes!
Minnesota home health-care workers, first allowed to form unions by a state law last year, have voted to join the Service Employees International Union. Results announced Aug. 26 showed that about 60% of the 5,800 workers who voted endorsed the union. The SEIU can now negotiate with the state over wages and benefits for the estimated 27,000 eligible workers, those who care for people on Medicare. “We are now not invisible. We are 27,000 strong,” said Debra Howze, a home care worker in north Minneapolis. Read more

Anti-Union Group Goes After Exclusive Representation
Irked that Minnesota home-care workers want to join unions, the National Right to Work Committee and Legal Defense Foundation, the group behind the Harris v. Quinn lawsuit, is now trying to eliminate exclusive representation. The group has filed a suit, Bierman v. Dayton, which argues that a union should not be allowed to represent anyone who has not joined, even if it was elected by the majority of workers. It is contending that if a union negotiates on behalf of public workers who aren’t members, it is violating their constitutional right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” A federal judge in Minnesota on Aug. 20 denied its request for an injunction against home-care workers joining unions. Read more

Some St. Louis Unions Join Ferguson Protests
Carrying a sign reading, “Mike Brown Is Our Son,” the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists marched Aug. 16 in Ferguson, Missouri, calling for justice for the 18-year-old who was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer there. Unions have not been the “lead organizations” in organizing peaceful protests in the St. Louis suburb, said Mark Esters, an organizer for the Communications Workers of America, but some have encouraged members to attend, including CWA Local 6355, which represents state employees, and the SEIU, which represents janitors and has been organizing fast-food workers through the Show Me $15 campaign. Others, primarily the area’s building trades unions, have been reluctant, Esters said. Read more

Casino Closings Imperil Atlantic City Workers
With three Atlantic City casinos scheduled to close in the next three weeks, more than 6,500 people are about to lose their jobs. The shuttering of the Showboat Hotel and Casino, the Revel Casino Hotel, and Trump Plaza will eliminate about one-fourth of the casino jobs in New Jersey, and will be another blow to the county that already has the highest unemployment rate in the state. “It’s horrible,” said Sarah Rivera, a Showboat employee who is in her mid-40s and has worked the card, dice, and roulette games for more than 25 years. Read more

Airport Contractor Fined in Baggage Worker’ Death
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health on Aug. 20 fined a contractor at Los Angeles International Airport $77,250 for five safety violations related to the death of a baggage worker. Cesar Valenzuela, 51, was killed Feb. 21after he was thrown from the baggage tug he was driving, which did not have functional seat belts. The agency found that Menzies Aviation, Valenzuela’s employer, had policies that illegally discouraged the use of seat belts in some areas of the airport. It also cited Menzies for reporting the fatal accident as a heart attack. Read more

Montreal Threatens to Fire Pension Protesters
A high-ranking Montreal official said Aug. 26 that some workers who disrupted a city-council meeting to protest pension cuts “have lost their jobs, and don't yet know it.” Several hundred workers invaded the council chambers Aug. 18 to protest a provincial bill that would force them to contribute dramatically more of their pay to cover pensions. A spokesperson for Mayor Denis Coderre said the comments by security director Anie Samson were reiterating the mayor’s position. Chris Ross, head of the city firefighters association, said Samson's comments "have done little other than to poison an already unstable relationship."  Read more

Trades Recruit Teens in S.F. Construction Boom
With San Francisco experiencing one of its biggest construction booms since the rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake, building-trades are recruiting teenagers for the industry. “We have a real need in the building trades to replenish our workforce,” said Mike Theriault, secretary-treasurer at the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, as many workers are aging while the amount of work is surging. Developer Lennar Urban and Young Community Developers, a neighborhood job-training group, organized a workshop for about 45 high-school students at a first-of-its-kind construction and trades exposition at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. “When you walk out of that building at the end of the day, you’re able to look over your shoulder and say with pride, ‘I did that,’” Glaziers painting instructor Chris Fallon told them. Read more

California Operating Engineers Reach Contract Deal
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 reached a tentative contract agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown Aug. 21. The two-year deal adds a $250 bonus to the offer the 850 members rejected when they authorized a strike in June, a 2% raise retroactive to July 1 and a 2.5% increase next July 1. The operating engineers, who run heating, cooling, and water systems for state facilities, were the last of the 12 state workers’ unions in California to reach a deal. Read more

Teachers Lose Case at Philly Religious School
The National Labor Relations Board’s Philadelphia office said Aug. 22 that it had no jurisdiction over a religious school that told teachers it would no longer recognize their union. Teachers at the Perelman Jewish Day School, who had been represented by the American Federation of Teachers since 1976, filed unfair-labor-practice charges earlier this summer. “We will appeal the decision,” said Pennsylvania AFT President Ted Kirsch. “It’s still immoral and unethical for a Jewish school to do this — it’s just wrong.” Read more

Machinists Mull Uniting Plane Factories’ Locals
Textron Aviation and the International Association of the Machinists are considering merging the Beechcraft and Cessna Aircraft factories in Wichita, Kansas into one bargaining unit. “We're exploring that with the company," said Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger. Textron, which already owned small-plane manufacturer Cessna, acquired its competitor Beechcraft in March. IAM Lodge 774 represents about 2,500 workers at Cessna, while Lodge 773 represents more than 1,600 at Beechcraft. Read more

Weekly Digest - September 10, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Pension Foe Wins RI Gov Primary
Rhode Island State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, who pushed through a 2011 law that raised the retirement age for state workers, cut their pension benefits, and suspended annual cost-of-living increases until the state’s retirement system is 80 percent funded, won the Democratic primary for governor Sept. 9. The former venture capitalist defeated Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and senator’s grandson Clay Pell. Labor divided on the race. Public-employee unions, who are challenging the pension cuts in court and accuse Raimondo of using them to enrich her Wall Street friends and possibly herself, mostly backed Taveras, but the two main teachers’ unions endorsed Pell, and several Laborers locals supported Raimondo. She will face Republican Allan W. Fung in November. Read more

AFL-CIO Warns Against TISA Trade Deal
An international agreement covering trade in services could undermine American workers’ wages and laws and programs from immigration reform to public transit, the AFL-CIO warns. The United States, the European Union, and several other nations are currently negotiating a proposal called the Trade in Services Agreement, or TISA. Not much is known about the details, because the negotiations have been largely secret, but a main purpose of the agreement will be removing “regulatory barriers to trade” in construction, education, telecommunications, and other services. “Instead of benefiting the public interest, this agreement seems positioned to serve the interests of private, for-profit corporations,” the federation says. Read more

Freezer Contractors Too Cold to Pay Prevailing Wage
Three Ironworkers locals have filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board against two contractors building a giant freezer-storage facility in Richland, Washington. Ironworkers Local 14 and the others are charging that the contractors pay as little as $12 to $14 an hour, pay Latinos less than whites, won’t give workers breaks or safety training, and are refusing to hire union workers. “I'm not a union company, so I don't go down to the hall and hire local union guys,” the owner of one contractor said. Construction began in May on the Preferred Freezer Services storage facility, touted as “the largest public refrigerated warehouse in North America.” It will be finished next July. Read more

New Mexico City Raises Minimum Wage to $10.10
The Las Cruces, New Mexico City Council voted Sept. 8 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by January 2017. The Council previously voted to raise the minimum to $8 next January and $8.50 in 2016. The new law also covers tipped workers, who will get 60% of what nontipped workers make in the city of 100,000 people. "What we don't want is to become the low-wage capital of New Mexico. Right now, we're the largest city with the lowest minimum wage," said Sarah Nolan, head of Comunidades en Accion y de Fe. Read more

AFL-CIO Runs 'Koch Sister' Ads
To counter the anti-labor and anti-union laws and candidates backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the AFL-CIO has launched an ad campaign starring pairs of women also named Koch. The first “Koch Sisters” spot, slated to run on CNN and MSNBC, will feature Karen Koch, a member of the Michigan Education Association, and Joyce Koch, a retired teacher from New Jersey. The ads are intended “to expose the destructiveness of unchecked money in politics, generally, and the Koch brothers, especially,” said AFL-CIO strategic advisor Eric Hauser. They will run heavily in Michigan, where the Koch brothers have spent millions of dollars attacking the Democratic senatorial candidate. Read more

UNITE HERE Says Airline Food Carts Vulnerable
Nearly one in four airline-catering workers say that unauthorized people could get into their kitchens and trucks or place contraband on food carts, according to a UNITE HERE report given to the Transportation Security Administration Sept. 8. The union, which represents 12,000 airline-catering workers nationwide, based those claims on a survey of 400 members working at 10 airports. "It's a big deal," said Jim Dupont, Unite Here's executive vice president of the food service division. "Our members are very concerned." To avoid security risks, the report recommends that subcontractors be certified and the use of temporary labor ended immediately. Read more

Discrimination Against Bikers Provokes Machinists’ Strike
Workers at Precision Custom Components in York, Pa., went out on strike Sept. 2, angry that the company has proposed increasing their health-insurance deductibles tenfold—and capping coverage at $50,000 for injuries sustained while riding motorcycles. About 50 of the 130 union workers ride, said one longtime employee. Earl Shue, president of International Association of Machinists Local 1403, said the idea could lead to further restrictions on what people do off the job. “Where's it going to stop?" he asked. "Jet skis, muscle cars, horseback riding?” Read more

Canadian Transit Workers Reject Contract
Transit workers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract, saying that a 10% wage increase over four years was not enough to make up for the elimination of their defined-benefit pensions. Results released Sept. 5 showed that more than 90% of Amalgamated Transit Union 615’s members had voted against what the city called its final offer. The western Canadian city has said it has had a hard time attracting transit mechanics because their wages are too low, and one-sixth of its buses were out of service. Read more

N.Y., Illinois Praised for ‘Independent Contractor’ Enforcement
Illinois and New York are national leaders when it comes to curbing the misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” at least on publicly financed projects, according to a study conducted by reporters for the McClatchy and ProPublica news services. The study found no cases of misclassification in the two states. In contrast, public-works projects in North Carolina and other Southern states have misclassification rates on approaching nearly 40 percent. New York and Illinois, the report said, have strengthened their laws against misclassification, established task forces that inspect worksites, and a strong union presence in the building trades. Read more

Fast-Food Strikes Boost Minimum-Wage Campaign
The multiple fast-food strikes around the nation over the last two years haven’t led to any unionized McDonald’s or Taco Bell franchises yet. But viewed as the spearhead of a broader living-wage movement, the walkouts organized by Fast Food Forward and bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union have managed to rewire how the public and politicians think about wages. In the two years since the movement began, 13 states and 10 local governments have increased their minimum wage, and San Francisco residents will vote on whether to raise theirs to $15 an hour in November. Read more

Weekly Digest - August 20, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Labor Mourns Robin Williams
“Last night we all lost a union brother,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement after the suicide of actor Robin Williams Aug. 11, accompanying it with a photo of Williams walking in solidarity on a Writers Guild of America picket line. He was a performer of limitless versatility, equally adept at comedy and drama,” union President Ken Howard said. “He was not only a talented man, but a true humanitarian.” “Robin Williams was one of us progressives with a heart of love and compassion, a commitment to justice and to the human race, and a commitment to creating a more perfect union,” former AFL-CIO organizing director Stewart Acuff wrote on his blog. Read more

Texas Workers More Likely to Die on the Job
A Texas worker is 12 percent more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same work in another state, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data. The state had the nation’s worst fatality rate in several construction trades, with almost 300 workers falling to their deaths between 2003 and 2012. Causes include that a large number of workers are classified as independent contractors, responsible for their own safety equipment and training; Texas’s ban on union shops, which makes it difficult to form unions; and weak safety regulations. “All that regulation adds to your overhead, and you can’t operate at a profit,” Gov. Rick Perry told a construction trade fair in 2009. Read more

S.F. Cabbies Form Union
About 150 San Francisco cab drivers voted Aug. 13 to form a local chapter of the Taxi Workers Alliance, the AFL-CIO’s first independent-contractor affiliate. “If we don't form a union, we’re toast,” said Beth Powder, 35, a union organizer and driver and dispatcher for DeSoto Cab Co. The city’s cabbies first had a union in 1904, but they were wiped out when cab companies switched drivers to independent-contractor status in the late 1970s. Drivers hope that having a union will gain them leverage against unregulated app-ride services like Uber and Lyft. The San Francisco local will become official once it has 500 dues-paying members, said National Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai. Read more

Virgin America Flight Attendants Join TWU
Flight attendants at Virgin America have voted to join the Transport Workers Union, making themselves the airline’s first unionized workers. Virgin America, based largely in San Francisco and Los Angeles, began flying in 2007 and had been the largest U.S. airline with a completely nonunion workforce. The flight attendants had rejected the TWU in 2011, but this time voted 430-307 to join. “Many of us voted ‘no’ in the last election because we wanted to give Virgin America management a chance to change,” said flight attendant Jeremy Schoggins. “But unfortunately in the past two years I have not seen that.” Read more

Nebraska to Vote on $9 Minimum Wage
Voters in Nebraska will decide Nov. 4 whether to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2016. On Aug. 15, seven weeks after Nebraskans for Better Wages began circulating petitions, Secretary of State John Gale announced that they had received the more than 80,000 signatures needed to qualify the state’s first ballot initiative since 2008. “We’ve seen multiple polls that show that about 60 percent of Nebraskans support it,” said State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha. “I think that support is going to hold.” Read more

Teachers Union Could Spend $1M to Back Chicago Leader for Mayor
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the union could spend $1 million to help Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis if she decides to try to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “If Karen was to run, we would be all in,” Weingarten told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview Aug. 19, adding that Emanuel, who closed a record number of schools last year, “has shown a deep disrespect for what public education is all about.” Lewis has said there’s a “50-50” chance she will challenge Emanuel in the February mayoral election. Emanuel has raised more than $8 million for his re-election bid, but respondents in a recent Sun-Times poll favored Lewis over him by nine percentage points. Read more

‘Low Wages and Grande Profits’ at Starbucks
Starbucks has dramatically improved profitability despite the Great Recession, but many of its more than 175,000 workers are making less than $9 an hour, according to a report released Aug. 12 by the Industrial Workers of the World’s Starbucks Workers Union. The report said company revenue per worker had increased by almost 50% since the recession began, while workers had to deal with “erratic scheduling and inadequate hours,” getting only 20-30 hours per week. “The company clearly has the resources to improve its employment policies, but instead chooses to shift more wealth to shareholders,” it added. Read more

Machinists Unionize Seattle Manufacturing Powerhouse
International Association of Machinists District Lodge 751, the union’s Seattle-area local, scored another organizing success when workers at the Jorgensen Forge plant voted to join. The company, founded more than 70 years ago, specializes in casting and precision-forging very large structures from metal, including propeller shafts for aircraft carriers, section rings for rocket boosters, and components for oil and gas rigs. Issues in the first contract talks will likely include pay structure, health care, and grievance procedures, said Lodge 751 spokesperson Bryan Corliss. Read more

UAW Says It’s Near Majority at VW Tennessee Plant
United Auto Workers Local 42, established five weeks ago at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has signed up almost half the plant’s workers, UAW secretary-treasurer Gary Casteel said Aug. 15. Casteel said at least 670 of the approximately 1,500 hourly employees have joined Local 42, enough to have won the election the union lost in February. If the union can prove that it has a clear majority of the workers, VW can name it their exclusive bargaining agent, but Casteel said he couldn’t speak for the company on that issue, only that the two parties “have a consensus" that VW would recognize the local. Read more

Unions Organizing in Hostile South Carolina
Despite South Carolina’s anti-labor climate, unions have begun organizing in the Charleston area. Less than 5% of the state’s workers are union members, the third-lowest rate in the nation, and Gov. Nikki Haley says she does not want unionized companies to move there. Still, the International Association of Machinists is trying to win back workers at the Boeing plant who decertified the union in 2009, and workers at the Medical University of South Carolina, the area’s largest hospital, have been demanding the reinstatement of Christine Nelson, a longtime nurse who helped found the employee-advocacy group Healthcare Workers United. Civil-rights activist Thomas Dixon says management fired the outspoken Nelson because “you can silence a lot of people by taking a vocal person out of the game.” Read more

Weekly Digest - September 3, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Court Says FedEx Drivers Aren’t ‘Contractors’
FedEx can’t legally claim that its drivers are “independent contractors,” the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 27.  A three-judge panel in San Francisco held that because the company dictates details of the drivers’ jobs from the shelving in their vans to the kind of shoes and socks they can wear on the job, they are effectively employees and were illegally denied wages, benefits, and reimbursement for driving expenses. While the company’s operating agreement defines drivers as contractors, not employees, “calling a dog's tail a leg does not make it a leg,” Judge Stephen Trott wrote, quoting Abraham Lincoln. FedEx plans to appeal to the full Ninth Circuit. Read more

Indiana ‘Right to Work’ Law Upheld
Indiana’s 2012 law banning union shops does not violate either federal labor law or workers’ constitutional right to free speech, the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago held Sept. 2. The 2-1 ruling upheld a lower-court decision that dismissed an International Union of Operating Engineers local’s challenge. The IUOE and the Steelworkers, who have each won state court rulings against the law, may have better luck when the state Supreme Court rules in those cases. Because the law requires union members to “subsidize the people who choose not to pay,” IUOE lawyer Dale Pierson argues, it violates a provision in the state constitution that “no person's particular services shall be demanded without just compensation.” Read more

Temporary Jobs Reach Record High
Both the number of U.S. workers employed through temporary agencies and their proportion of the workforce have reached record highs: 2.87 million representing 2% of workers, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the growing industry has shifted from providing office workers to manufacturing and warehousing, says a report released Sept. 2 by the National Employment Law Project. About 75% of Fortune 500 companies now use temps to staff their warehouses, it said. The growth of temp work, said report coauthor Rebecca Smith, is creating an economy where “some of our nation’s largest and most profitable corporations” can get around providing “livable wages, benefits or job security for their workers” and “can lower standards for all workers” in that industry. Read more

Missouri to Vote on Teacher Tenure
An initiative on the Missouri state ballot this November would eliminate tenure for teachers hired in the future and limit their job security to three-year contracts. Constitutional Amendment 3, bankrolled by far-right billionaire Rex Sinquefield, would also require local schools to base decisions on which teachers get raises or rehired on “quantifiable student performance data”—test scores. Teachers’ unions—the National Education Association and its state chapter, the Missouri State Teachers Association, and the American Federation of Teachers—are leading the opposition. Sinquefield, little known outside Missouri, has also backed efforts to ban the union shop and replace the state income tax with a high sales tax. Read more

California Appeals to Protect Teacher Tenure
California Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala D. Harris will appeal the June state court ruling that would end tenure and seniority protections for elementary-school teachers. The notice filed Aug. 30 said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu had “declined to provide a detailed statement of the factual and legal bases for the ruling.” “We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full,” state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a release. “We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.” Read more

New Mexico's Chileros Win State Minimum Wage
Chile pickers in New Mexico have won the right to be paid the state’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, a quarter more than the federal minimum. The state raised its minimum in 2009, but exempted small farms, and the contractors who hire farmworkers have paid at the lower rate regardless of farm size. The change came almost a year after an Albuquerque lawyer and farmworker-rights activist informed the state labor department about the discrepancy. Workers who arrive in the fields before dawn are still not paid for the time they spend waiting for it to be light enough to work.
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New England Phone Workers Threaten Strike
More than 1,700 workers at FairPoint Communications in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have authorized a strike after management imposed its final offer Aug. 28. That would enable the company to hire temporary contract workers, freeze pensions, and charge workers for their health benefits and cut them off when they retire. FairPoint bought Verizon’s landlines in the area from Verizon in 2007, and contracts with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America expired Aug. 2. “We get that FairPoint doesn't have the deep pockets that Verizon had. But we just want to come up with something that's fair and equitable,” said Pete McLaughlin, chairman of the unions' bargaining committee. Read more

Michigan Teachers Try to Retain Members
With about three-fourths of Michigan teachers’ contracts falling under the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law on Sept. 1, the Michigan Education Association spent much of August campaigning to hold onto its 112,000 members. “If I don't stand up and stay in my union, then we don't have a voice," said Chandra Madafferi, a high-school health teacher and local president in Novi, a Detroit suburb. Meanwhile, the Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity bought a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press urging teachers to quit the union, and the anti-union Mackinac Center sent them postcards reminding them they had until Aug. 31 to opt out. Read more

Daimler to Pay $480 Million to UAW Retirees
The German vehicle manufacturer Daimler has agreed to pay $480 million to a trust fund to cover health care for its retired truck workers in the U.S., according to documents filed on Aug. 25 in federal court in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of retirees and the United Auto Workers union had accused the company of illegally cutting their benefits. The fund will finance a post-retirement health-care plan for current and recently retired workers represented by the UAW.
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Teamsters Oppose Food-Distributor Merger
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has spoken out against the proposed merger of two of the nation’s largest commercial food distributors. The $8.2 billion deal between Sysco Corp. and US Foods would “result in significant job loss for our members” and create “a virtual market monopoly in every market in the continental U.S.,” Teamsters vice president Steve P. Vairma, director of the union’s warehouse division, said Aug. 29. The Teamsters, who represent about 11,500 drivers and warehouse workers at the two firms, say the merged company would control 70% of the market for distributing food to restaurants and institutional clients. Both companies say their share is much less.
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Weekly Digest - August 13, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Kansas Teachers Challenge Tenure Ban
The Kansas National Education Association filed a lawsuit Aug. 11 to overturn the state’s new law ending tenure for public-school teachers. The union is arguing that the Republican-dominated legislature violated the state constitution’s provision that bills should generally have only one subject by tacking the tenure ban onto a school-funding measure. The law, which went into effect July 1, repealed teachers’ right to an independent review of any dismissal if they have more than three years on the job. Gov. Sam Brownback dismissed the lawsuit as “an exercise in labor union politics.”
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California Millionaire Backs Ending Tenure in New York
David Welch, the Silicon Valley millionaire who bankrolled the lawsuit against teacher tenure in California, wants to do the same in New York. Welch will fund an anti-tenure suit filed in Staten Island last month by the Parents Union. Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, will represent them. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown has filed a similar suit. "Once again, we see the right-wing and the wealthy elite trying to take away basic rights—like due process—from teachers,” responded New York State United Teachers spokesperson Carl Korn. “If Mr. Welch and other 1 percenters wanted to truly help students in New York City and other high-poverty communities, they would join parents, teachers, and teachers unions in fighting for adequate resources and the support programs students need.” Read more

Ontario Bus Lockout Ends
A two-week lockout of transit workers in Guelph, Ontario ended Aug. 5 after the City Council reached a contract agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189. The deal, which replaces a contract that expired in 2013, will raise wages by 6.8% over four years, to C$28.85 per hour (about $26.38) in 2017, but will also reduce long-term disability payments from 75% of salary to 70%. It also promises to give workers a lunchroom and more bathroom access. Read more

Machinists Sue Manufacturer on Outsourcing
The International Association of Machinists union sued aircraft parts maker Spirit AeroSystems Aug. 8, seeking to stop it from selling off its fabrication operations in Wichita, Kansas. The union says the company told it in May that it was planning to sell the unit, which would eliminate about 1,200 jobs, and that Spirit also intends to outsource support work done by about 200 other employees. In 2010, the Machinists signed a 10-year contract that sacrificed pay increases and the right to strike in exchange for Spirit keeping its major manufacturing operations in Wichita. Read more

32BJ Hits Boston on Janitor Layoffs
The Boston transit system’s proposal to reduce the 92 layoffs scheduled for next month would still cost too many janitors their jobs, Service Employees International Union 32BJ says. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Beverly A. Scott announced Aug. 8 that it would renegotiate contracts with cleaning-service companies so they couldn’t lay off workers who clean subway stations, but could still dismiss janitors in facilities not open to the public, such as garages. “We put out ways in which they would have cost savings, but cuts wouldn’t be so draconian,” said 32BJ New England director Roxana Rivera, who added that the union would continue appealing to Gov. Deval Patrick. Read more

UNITE HERE Alleges Racial Inequality in Airport Jobs
Black service workers at Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall International (BWI) Airport are far more likely to be working in fast-food and “back of the house” restaurant jobs, according to a survey released by UNITE HERE July 28. The survey found that while 59% of the airport workers who responded were black, African-Americans were 83% of fast-food workers there and only 30% of “front of the house” restaurant workers such as waiters and bartenders. UNITE HERE has been trying to organize BWI workers, who lost their union after Maryland outsourced managing the airport’s food and retail services to AirMall USA in 2004. Read more

NLRB Says Water Company Illegally Cut Benefits
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the nation’s largest for-profit water company illegally cut health care and other benefits for about 3,200 workers in 2011. The board said American Water imposed the cuts during a contract dispute without notifying state mediation agencies, and ordered it to restore the benefits and give the affected workers back pay with interest.  “This decision is another huge step in our efforts to win justice for American Water employees,” said Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, which filed the charge against the company and estimates that it owes several million dollars in back pay. Read more

California Drought Parches Farmworkers
California’s record-setting drought has hit the state’s farmworkers hard, costing them an estimated 17,000 jobs and reducing their already low pay. “We hear about workers asking for wage increases and getting laid off because there’s someone else willing to work for $9 per hour,” says Ephraim Camacho of California Legal Assistance in Fresno. Some employers who once paid by the hour now only pay piecework, by the bucket, and drought-stunted fruit and vegetables make it harder for workers to fill the buckets. “With less water, the oranges are smaller, and you have to work longer,” says United Farm Workers organizer Antonio Cortes. As more than 90 percent of the farmworkers he organizes are undocumented immigrants, they are generally not eligible for government aid such as unemployment insurance.
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CWA Mocks Christie on Pensions
With the Discovery Channel holding its annual “shark week,” the Communications Workers of America’s New Jersey chapter posted a parody video called “Shirk Week” on YouTube Aug. 11. The video mixes clips from speeches by Gov. Chris Christie with newspaper headlines like “Christie Cheats NJ Pension Reform” to a soundtrack of ominous music similar to the theme from Jaws. “The governor already broke New Jersey’s economy,” the CWA says. “Now, he’s not only broken his word by failing to make promised pension payments, he’s breaking the law.” In June, the governor cut $1.57 billion from a required payment for the state’s pension funds. Read more

Rhode Island Pension Foe Hides Wall Street Payments
Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who has advocated cutting public workers’ pensions while moving a quarter of the state’s retirement funds into higher-risk investments such as hedge funds and private equity, has refused to release information on how much the state is paying Wall Street for those deals. In a letter obtained by International Business Times, Raimondo said that hedge-fund managers “keep this information confidential to help preserve the productivity of their staff and to minimize attention around their own compensation.” An AFSCME-financed report in 2013 found that the fees paid to investment managers had increased almost sixfold since Raimondo took office in 2011, with the state getting a lower rate of return. The treasurer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has gotten well over half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the financial industry. Read more

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