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Weekly Digest - December 18, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Cuomo Seeks to Make 1,000 PEF Members Nonunion
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Dec. 15 informed about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation that the state has applied to reclassify their jobs as nonunion managerial positions. The jobs, at more than three dozen state agencies, include attorneys, auditors, parole hearing officers and tax-law judges. “Be assured we will be fighting this,” union President Susan Kent told members in an e-mail later in the day. The state Public Employment Relations Board previously ruled that the jobs did not qualify as nonunion, and the state lost a court challenge to that decision. Some speculate that the Cuomo administration is retaliating for that or the PEF’s endorsement of the governor’s challenger in last September’s Democratic primary. Read more

Chicago Raises Minimum Wage to $13—By 2019
The Chicago City Council on Dec. 4 approved a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $13—which would be the second-highest minimum in the nation, but it won’t reach that level until 2019. The bill, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would eventually mean raises for almost a third of the city’s workers, but to less than the $15 striking fast-food workers have been demanding. “The workers I've been with chant, 'Show me $15,' not '$13 by 2019,'” Alderman Bob Fioretti said in a statement. "That means fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage today, which will both lift up Chicago working families and stop the state from limiting our ability to do the right thing." Read more

S.F. Airport Restaurant Workers Strike for Two Days
After working without a contract for more than a year, nearly 1,000 workers at San Francisco Airport went on strike Dec. 11, shutting down 55 restaurants there for 48 hours. “When restaurants slash our healthcare, or deny us job security, we just can’t get by,” said Jesse Johnson, a bartender at the Buena Vista Café and a member of UNITE HERE Local 2’s executive board. “The restaurants at SFO bank huge money from airline passengers.” The workers, who make an average of about $24,000 a year, are resisting restaurant owners’ efforts to freeze their health-care payments—a proposal that would likely result in them having to pay up to $4,200 per year for coverage. They also want to get first crack at any other jobs open when airport concession outlets close. Read more

Vermont Gov Urges FairPoint Strike Settlement
After FairPoint Communications customers in Vermont lost broadband Internet service, and a previous outage disrupted much of the state’s 911 system, Gov. Peter Shumlin wrote to company CEO Paul Sunu Dec. 12 and urged him to “Come back to the table; listen; and compromise. I will urge the unions to do likewise.” A FairPoint spokesperson responded that the company had made its final offer in August, and “it is the unions who chose to go on strike.” Mike Spillane, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2326, called her “a liar,” saying that the two unions on strike had offered $212 million in concessions, but the company has refused to take anything less than $700 for months. The strike began Oct. 17. Read more

Wisconsin Legislators Plan to Pursue ‘Right-to-Work’ Bill
Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dec. 4 that he plans to act quickly to enact a bill outlawing the union shop when the legislature resumes in January. Republican state Rep. Chris Kapenga has said he will introduce a similar bill, and Lorri Pickens, a former official of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, announced the formation of a group called Wisconsin Right to Work Dec. 1. “We'll fight this every step of the way,” said state AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt. Democrats are too small a minority in both houses to stop such a bill, but Gov. Scott Walker may be reluctant—he’s supported similar legislation since 1993, but says that a fight on the issue now would be a distraction. Read more

Miami Con-way Freight Drivers Vote to Join Teamsters
Workers at Con-way Freight’s facility in Miami Lakes, Florida, voted Dec. 11 to join Teamsters Local 769. The vote is a victory for the Teamsters’ campaign to organize drivers at “less-than-truckload” shipping companies like Con-way and FedEx Freight. “The drivers and dockworkers at Con-way, like the workers at FedEx Freight, are fed up,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. The company, however, may accuse the union of improper tactics and challenge the vote, as it did when the Teamsters won elections at locations in Los Angeles and Laredo, Texas. Read more

VW Recognizes UAW at Tennessee Plant
United Auto Workers Local 42 has been certified as a minority union to represent workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, the first time the UAW has been recognized at foreign-owned auto factory in the South. An audit announced Dec. 8 found that more than 45% of the about 1,500 workers had joined Local 42, winning it the right to meet biweekly with company management and executives. The UAW, which lost an election at the plant in February, still hopes to win the 50% needed to get exclusive bargaining rights. Read more

NLRB Moves to Speed Up Union Elections…
The National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 12 published regulations intended to enable workers to vote more quickly on whether they want to join a union. The new rules do not set a specific timetable, but require that the election be held at “the earliest date practicable.” The board says it now takes an average of 38 days to hold a union election. Business groups say the changes will allow “ambush” elections in as little as 10 days, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said they will “reduce unnecessary delay,” while SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said “corporate bosses will have fewer opportunities to cheat you out of your right to join together.” Read more

And to Let Workers Use Work E-Mail to Organize
Employers have to let workers use company e-mail addresses to discuss grievances and talk about union organizing, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Dec. 11. In a complaint brought by the Communications Workers of America against a California company, the board said that e-mail has “effectively become a natural gathering place pervasively used for employee-to-employee conversations” and thus employers could not prohibit communications protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB reversed its 2007 holding, saying that given the rise in telecommuting and Internet use since then, “e-mail’s effectiveness as a mechanism for quickly sharing information and views increases its importance to employee communication.” Read more

Illinois Asks State High Court for Quick Pension-Law Hearing
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the state Supreme Court to accelerate hearings on a legal challenge to its pension-cut law. The law, enacted in December 2013, reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions and raises retirement ages. Sangamon County Court Judge John Belz, responding to five lawsuits brought by public-employee unions and retiree groups, ruled Nov. 21 that the law violated a constitutionally protected promise to state workers about their pension benefits. The state is appealing, and in a motion filed Dec. 4, Madigan asked the court to schedule oral arguments as soon as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10. Read more

Weekly Digest - November 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Striking FairPoint Workers Rally in Maine
Workers at the FairPoint telecommunications company rallied in Portland, Maine Nov. 9 as their strike entered its fourth week. The company hasagreed to return to bargaining Nov. 18, but is still demanding about $700 million in concessions from the two unions that represent about 2,000 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the ability to hire contract workers. “I’m not overwhelmed with optimism,” said Jenn Nappi of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. She said FairPoint management wants to hire “low-wage, temporary, unskilled labor” and to pay all new employees minimum wage. Read more

Kentucky Election Stalls Republicans’ Right-to-Work Push
While Kentucky voters were sending Republican leader Mitch McConnell back to the Senate over a labor-endorsed Democrat, they were also returning a 54–46 Democratic majority to the state House—and thwarting GOP plans to enact a “right to work for less” law, one of the party’s top priorities. The outcome “was huge for us,” said Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. “All that stands between us and a right-to-work law is that Democratic House.” Kentucky and West Virginia are the only states south of the Ohio River that permit union shops. Read more

Phoenix Rejects Anti-Pension Initiative
Voters in Phoenix solidly rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated pensions for future city employees and replaced them with a 401(k)-style plan. Proposition 487, largely financed by Texas hedge-fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold, received less than 44% of the vote. City workers, led by the United Phoenix Firefighters, staged a massive grass-roots campaign against the measure, knocking on about 250,000 doors. “My average employee, their pension will be $28,000 a year. They're never going to be millionaires,” said Frank Piccioli, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2960, noting that city workers are already paying more for pensions under a 2013 initiative. Read more

Teamsters Organizing Boston Parking Attendants
After two years of trying to organize the about 1,600 parking attendants in the Boston area, Teamsters Local 25 has won contracts with five parking companies that run more than 100 lots. The union says it has won raises to an average of $12 an hour and gotten the companies to provide bathrooms, heat, and air conditioning. It expects to have the three main other companies unionized by next year, including one where a 36-year-old Somalian immigrant complains that he has to urinate in plastic bottles because there’s no bathroom on the lot and he’s not allowed to leave while on the job. Read more

Oregon County Workers Get $15 Minimum
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employeesmembers working for Oregon’s Multnomah County—Portland and its suburbs—will all earn at least $15 per hour by July 2016, under a tentative agreement announced in early November. A county spokesperson said almost all the 151 employees who will get the raises are pages at the Multnomah County Library, who now start at just under $12. The state minimum wage is $9.10. Read more

American Airlines Attendants Narrowly Nix Contract
Flight attendants at the recently merged American Airlines and US Airways voted down a proposed five-year contract Nov. 9 by a 16-vote margin out of more than 16,000 cast. The outstanding issues will go to binding arbitration next month. Leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants had urged their members to approve it, saying it was a much better deal than their current contracts or the industry-standard agreement they are likely to get from arbitration. Read more

Philadelphia Transit Workers Ratify New Contract
Philadelphia transit workers voted overwhelmingly Nov. 7 to ratify a new two-year contract with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Members of Transport Workers Union Local, which represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers, and mechanics, will get a 2% raise next month and another 3% a year later, with disputes on pension and health care issues left open until 2016. The contract “is a very good interim agreement that allows our members to make gains and does not inconvenience the public. We're not done yet," Local 234 President Willie Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. Read more

Trumka Calls Americans “Desperate for a New Economic Life”
After a disappointing election night, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Nov. 5 that the vote confirmed “beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans are desperate for a new economic life.” When they “had the chance to vote directly on the issues and not through the filter of candidates and billions of campaign dollars,” he said, they approved minimum-wage increases by large margins, and four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days also passed. The AFL-CIO is planning a long-term, year-round mobilization structure that won't stop with elections, he added, with a particular focus on raising wages, immigration-law reform, and making sure that international trade deals work for working families. Read more

Forced Arbitration: The New “Yellow-Dog Contract”
Forced-arbitration agreements—clauses that prohibit workers from using the courts against their employers for safety violations, discrimination, or unfair labor practices—are often buried in the fine print of non-union employment contracts, as they are in cell-phone contracts and credit-card agreements. In one case, a Texas court held that a woman who washed dishes at a fast-food restaurant could not sue her employer after she was injured on the job, because her employee handbook dictated that any claims against the company were to be decided by a private arbitrator. Before the Norris-LaGuardia Act outlawed them in 1932, companies frequently required their workers to sign “yellow-dog contracts” in which they agreed not to join a union. Read more

Is Salary Stagnation Legal Wage Theft?
Contractors refusing to pay undocumented immigrant day laborers for the work they’ve done, fast-food franchises cheating workers out of overtime pay, and Amazon forcing workers to wait around to be checked for stolen goods after they clock out are all common varieties of wage theft in America, economist Les Leopold notes—but he argues that a more massive form of paycheck pilfering has been built into the system legally for the last generation. Until the mid-1970s, he says, increases in real wages roughly matched those in workers’ productivity, but since then, while the average amount produced has risen from about $750 a week in current dollars to about $1,170, but average wages have fallen to about $612. Where did that extra $550 a week go? “It all comes back to Wall Street,” Leopold says. “Even if it's legal, in my book, it's the very definition of ‘wrongful taking.’” Read more

Weekly Digest - November 26, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Kmart Workers Resist Working on Thanksgiving
Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for Kmart to give its workers enough time off on Thanksgiving. “Kmart’s unnecessary hours are forcing its employees to miss out on important time with their families,” said the campaign’s organizer, 25-year-old Jillian Fisher of Wilmington, Delaware, whose mother had to work a split shift last Thanksgiving. Chains including Macy’s, J.C. Penney, and Target are extending their Thanksgiving hours this year, and Kmart stores will stay open for 42 hours, from 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving to midnight on Black Friday. “Even if a company says it is voluntary, let’s put that in quotes,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union. “The people who work that day should have the option of choosing whether or not to work.” Read more 

Facebook Shuttle Bus Drivers Join Teamsters
The bus drivers who shuttle Facebook employees around San Francisco and Silicon Valley voted 43-28 on Nov. 19 to join the Teamsters Union. "I hope this will set a trend with other drivers in Silicon Valley and the tech industry so we can set a pattern to make the companies pay these drivers decent wages and benefits," said Rome Aloise, international vice president and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 853. The drivers, who work for contractor Loop Transportation, say they earn between $18 and $20 per hour, but work split shifts, one in the morning and another in the evening, and are not paid for the hours in between. Read more

Silicon Valley Health Workers Arrested in Protest
Five people, including SEIU president Mary Kay Henry,were arrested Nov. 18 during a protest by home-care workers in California who haven’t gotten a raise since 2007. About 150 In-Home Supportive Services aides, disabled people they care for, and union representatives demonstrated at a meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in Redwood City, demanding that their wages be raised from $11.50 an hour to $15 over the next four years. The county had offered a gradual increase to $12.65. "By denying home care providers a just and fair living wage, you are treating them as second-tier citizens," SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer Luisa Blue, who was also arrested, told the board.
Read more

Maine Machinists Mad at Outsourcing
It’s been 14 years since a 55-day strike at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine, but yet another management proposal to outsource work might crack that relative peace. Company President Frederick Harris says it needs to contract out work from destroyer power panels to door hatches in order to win a contract to build Coast Guard offshore patrol cutters. “He’s been looking for anything we currently build that we could buy cheaper somewhere else,” said Jay Wadleigh, president of Machinists Local S6, which represents about 3,500 Bath shipyard employees. “We don’t believe ‘outsourcing’ work is the answer,” said a memo the union sent to workers Nov. 21. Read more 

L.A. Teachers Seek More Than Just a Raise
The United Teachers Los Angeles union held five rallies Nov. 20 to dramatize its contract demands for a 10% raise, a full-time nurse at every school, increased counseling staff, and a “dramatic reduction” in class sizes. “We want at least a district that won’t sabotage the dreams of its youths,” Roosevelt High teacher Mariana Ramirez told more than 500 teachers and supporters in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Talking about the district’s former plan to spend $1.3 billion to buy iPads for every student, teacher, and administrator, she added that they didn’t want “technology geared toward robotically testing students rather than stimulating them to learn.” Read more

Green Groups Join Walmart Labor Fight
With Walmart workers and their allies preparing for what they say will be the largest strike in the company’s history on Black Friday, environmental and climate-justice organizations plan more than 100 protests in support of them, Brooke Anderson of Movement Generation’s Justice and Ecology Project said Nov. 21. Environmental groups, said Joe Uehlein of the Labor Network for Sustainability, are "more and more aware of Walmart's carbon footprint and certainly have been reaching out and working with worker rights organizations in the Walmart campaign." An Institute for Local Self-Reliance study released Nov. 20 said Walmart consumes 0.5% of all coal electricity in the United States. Read more

Detroit Retirees Appeal Pension Cuts
A group of 133 retired Detroit workers filed an appeal Nov. 17 asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to delay the implementation of pension cuts imposed under the city bankruptcy plan he approved earlier this month. The city, former deputy police chief Jamie S. Fields wrote in the motion, should not be able “to avoid any meaningful appellate review of the unprecedented approach” used to reach agreements with labor unions, retiree groups, the city’s pension funds, and its creditors. Judge Rhodes said there was a 25 percent chance his ruling could be overturned on appeal; the petitioners said those were better odds than the 4-to-1 on the Denver Broncos winning the Super Bowl, so “therefore, there is a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on the merits.” Read more

Austin Bus Drivers Win $665G Settlement
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, which represents bus drivers and mechanics in Austin, Texas, has won a $665,000 National Labor Relations Board settlement from Travis Transit Management Inc., a subcontractor of the company that runs the city’s Capital Metro transit system. The union had filed an unfair labor practices complaint charging that TTMI unilaterally increased health-care costs, cut retirement benefits, imposed a no-strike rule, and refused to hire Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt because of his union activities. Read more

Manufacturers Fill More Jobs with Temps
Temporary workers are a growing part of the workforce, especially in manufacturing. In 2013, 16.2% of assembly-line workers were employed by staffing agencies, four times as many as in 1999 and more than five times their record-high share of the general workforce, said Susan Houseman, a senior economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute in Michigan. Manufacturers like it because they can pay less and add or lay off workers as needed to meet demand. But labor advocates like Tim Bell, senior organizer of the Chicago Workers' Collaborative, say the instability of temp work means staffing agencies can hire people who don't complain about working conditions, pay, or safety issues. Read more

Dog-Care Chain Makes Pet Sitters Sign Non-Compete Agreements
Workers at Camp Bow Wow, a doggy day-care franchise with more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada, have to sign strict non-compete contracts before they can take care of people’s pets. They have to agree not to work for a competing business within 25 miles of their Camp Bow Wow location's "franchise territory" for two years after they stop working there. Although workers are technically employed by the individual franchises and not by Camp Bow Wow, the company’s contract with franchisees requires them to force workers to sign. Non-compete agreements have traditionally been applied to executives or workers like software designers or pharmaceutical researchers, but they have recently spread to low-wage jobs like the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain. Read more

Weekly Digest - November 5, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

National Nurses United Grows
National Nurses United, formed by a merger of three nurses’ unions in 2009, has organized 20,000 new nurses in 50 new hospitals since then and grown to 190,000 members. President Rose Ann DeMoro says one advantage they have is that nurses aren’t just out for better wages or pensions, they’re out for their own safety and the safety of their patients. “You've got to fight for safety standards for the public, and you’ve got to fight in the public's interest. If unions don’t connect with the public interest, there’s not going to be unions,” she says. When nurses at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, who are not unionized, were frustrated with the lack of adequate preparations for Ebola patients, they contacted NNU. Read more

32BJ Wins Raises at Boston University
Maintenance workers at Boston University voted "overwhelmingly" Nov. 4 to ratify a contract that will give them 10% raises over four years and help employees maintain affordable healthcare benefits. The deal was reached Oct. 30, the day before the more than 700 custodians, mailroom operators, groundskeepers and skilled trades workers would have gone on strike. “In a city that is becoming increasingly unequal, this contract will keep 700 workers strongly in the middle class,” Roxana Rivera, director of 32BJ SEIU District 615, said in a statement. Read more

Fresno Workers Reject 5% Raise
County workers in Fresno, California rejected a deal to raise their salaries by 2% in three weeks and another 3% next August. The vote, announced Oct. 30, was an “overwhelming no,” said Riley Talford, a senior shop steward for SEIU’s supervisory employees. “The offer was just unacceptable.” The workers took pay cuts of 9% or more in 2011, and the rejected agreement would have required the six Service Employees International Union units that represent about 4,500 of the county’s 7,100 employees to drop their demand for back pay from the state employment board. Read more

Minnesota Hospital Faces Unfair Practice Charges
The National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, accusing it of “discouraging membership in a labor organization.” The Minnesota Nurses Association and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota had alleged the hospital fired one staffer, revoked work agreements, and forced employees to work weekends after they took part in an informational picket last June. The unions said Oct. 30 that workers were also “repeatedly interrogated” about union activities. A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for January. Read more

NLRB Dismisses Complaints About Boeing Contract
The National Labor Relations Board’s Seattle office announced Oct. 28 that it has dismissed all of the about 20 complaints against Boeing stemming from last January’s contract vote. Workers in Washington had accused the company of engaging in unlawful bargaining by threatening to move production of the forthcoming 777X airliner to another state unless the International Association of Machinists accepted a contract extension that froze their pensions. "We found that the evidence was insufficient that Boeing made any unlawful threats or that their bargaining proposals were unlawful," said Ron Hooks, director of the NLRB Region 19 office. Read more

California Recycling Workers Win Strike, Union Drive
Workers at one recycling center in San Leandro, California voted overwhelmingly in late October to unionize, while workers at another won a strike. At Alameda County Industries, 83% of workers voted to join Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The workers, hired through a temp agency, were paid $8.30 to $8.50 per hour, almost $6 less than the city’s legal living wage, and in February, after workers had filed a complaint for back pay, 18 were fired for allegedly being undocumented. Meanwhile, at the Waste Management, Inc. facility, a one-week strike by Local 6 was settled with an immediate raise of $1.48 and another 50 cents on Jan. 1. The deal will bring wages up to almost $21 in 2019. Both companies have contracts for garbage services with Oakland and other East Bay cities. Read more

Ohio UAW Lockout Ends
A five-month lockout at the Hayashi Telempu North America Corp. auto-parts plant in Lebanon, Ohio ended Nov. 3 after members of United Auto Workers Local 2387 ratified a four-year contract by 13 votes. The company will stop matching workers' 401(k) contributions and charge them more for health insurance, but it dropped its demand for a $2.25 per hour wage cut. "This was their last proposal to us,” said Local 2387 chair Darren Woods. "They were ready to make us sit for a long time." Read more

Durazo to Leave L.A. Labor Federation
Maria Elena Durazo, the first woman to head the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said Oct. 29 that she is leaving the post she has held since 2005 and moving to UNITE HERE. Under her leadership, the federation, which represents 600,000 workers, was able to push through a law requiring large hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour and the expansion of the city’s rail system. "She never left the table empty-handed," said City Council President Herb Wesson. "She's one of the most effective and powerful labor leaders in the country." Durazo, 61, who headed UNITE HERE Local 11 for 17 years, will become the national union’s vice president for immigration, civil rights, and diversity. Read more

UPS Will Stop Laying Off Pregnant Women
After a former worker sued it for discrimination for putting her on unpaid leave while she was pregnant, United Parcel Service announced that it will let women stay on the job through their pregnancies. In a brief filed in Peggy Young’s Supreme Court case, the company said it had “voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations,” such as giving them light-duty work similar to that done by workers injured on the job. Young, who had asked for light duty after her midwife told her she shouldn’t lift more than 20 pounds, is appealing a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that favored UPS.  The case could be a key ruling on how far the Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies, said Lenora Lapidus, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights. Read more

Ex-Enron Trader Funds Fight to Pummel Pensions
Texas hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold, who in 2002 walked away from the collapsing Enron corporate scam with an $8 million bonus, has contributed more than $50 million to efforts to reduce or eliminate public workers’ pensions. His Laura and John Arnold Foundation contributed most of the budget for EngageRI, an outside group that backed Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s drastic pension cuts. The foundation, which advocates replacing defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style plans, also funded “pension reform” studies by the Brookings Institution think tank and the libertarian Reason Foundation, backed attempts to get anti-pension initiatives on the ballot in California, and gave New York’s PBS-TV affiliate, WNET, $3.5 million for a series called “The Pension Peril.” Read more

Weekly Digest - November 19, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walmart Workers Stage Sit-Down Strike in L.A.
Walmart retail workers in Southern California held the first sit-down strike in the company’s history Nov. 13, as workers from all over California blocked aisles in two stores in the Crenshaw and Pico Rivera sections of Los Angeles. Twenty-eight people were arrested. The sit-ins kicked off protests that will culminate on “Black Friday,” Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving. Linda Haluska, 53, who stocks shelves on the third shift at a Walmart in Glenwood, Illinois, says not a single employee in that store gets to spend Thanksgiving Day with their family. OUR Walmart, the organization of Walmart “associates” started by the United Food and Commercial Workers in 2011, expects to have protests at 1,600 stores on Black Friday. Read more

Ex-CEO Indicted in Coal-Mine Disaster
The former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company was indicted Nov. 13 on four charges stemming from the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch coal mine near Montcoal, W.Va. Donald L. Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate safety laws and defrauding the federal government, “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money,” the indictment said. He faces up to 31 years in prison. “The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts. Read more

Volkswagen Opens Door for Minority Unions
Volkswagen announced Nov. 12 that it would allow labor organizations with less than a majority of the workforce at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant to represent employees there on a limited basis. Groups that represent 15% of workers would get monthly meetings with human-resources executives, with more at 30% and 45%, but winning exclusive representation would still require a majority. The United Auto Workers, who lost an election at the plant in February, say that more than half the workers have joined its recently formed Local 42, but a lawyer for the anti-UAW American Council of Employees claimed it too could get 15%. Read more

Postal Workers Protest Privatization
U.S. Postal Service workers held demonstrations at more than 150 locations Nov. 14, protesting efforts to privatize some Post Office operations and demanding that the USPS cancel its plans to close 82 mail-processing centers early next year. The largest one was in Washington, D.C., where about 250 union members and supporters led by American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein picketed outside the public meeting of the USPS Board of Governors after being denied entry. Read more

Nurses to Resume Talks with Kaiser
After a two-day strike Nov. 11-12, California nurses are preparing for a return to the bargaining table with the Kaiser health-care system. “We have a very strong contract that we’re trying to protect,” said Linda Pasek, an oncology infusion nurse at Kaiser’s Oakland hospital. “We’re not asking for anything more than what we had for the last three years. We’re just asking to keep what we have.” Nurse Ama Jackson, meanwhile, said they are afraid Kaiser will try to cut their pensions and health care benefits. Kaiser has not made a formal proposal yet, but executive Odette Bolano said that “every industry is evaluating their pension plans,” and many hospitals are considering shifting to 401(k)-style plans. Read more

L.A. Port Truckers Stage 4th Strike
Truckers at three companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began their fourth strike this year Nov. 13, accusing Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services, and Pacific 9 Transportation of cheating them out of wages and retaliating against workers who protested. By the afternoon, drivers for two of the companies had agreed to a cooling-off period, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was working with the drivers and the carriers to end the stoppage. The strikes have been organized by the Teamsters’ Justice for Port Drivers. Read more

Newark FedEx Drivers Nix Teamsters
The Teamsters’ efforts to organize FedEx Freight workers suffered a setback Nov. 12, as road and city drivers at a terminal in Newark, N.J. voted against joining the union. The Teamsters have now won two elections and lost two at FedEx, the nation’s largest less-than-truckload freight carrier, and have submitted petitions for votes at terminals in Northern New Jersey, Virginia, and Kentucky. Under federal labor law, they have to seek separate elections at each of the company’s 360 U.S. terminals. Most of the nation’s less-than-truckload industry has been nonunion since trucking was deregulated in 1980, but four of its ten largest carriers—YRC Freight, UPS Freight, ABF Freight System- and regional YRC Worldwide carrier Holland—are now unionized. Read more

N.J. Toll Collectors Escape Privatization
Toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway had their jobs spared Nov. 18, when state Turnpike Authority officials announced they wouldn’t privatize running tollbooths. “Now we can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of Local 194 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents 1,000 toll collectors, clerks, maintenance, and trade workers on the Turnpike. The two unions representing toll supervisors agreed to pay cuts in order to be safe from privatization until 2019.  Toll collectors took similar cuts in 2011 to save their jobs from a similar privatization threat. Read more

Resumed FairPoint Talks Break Down
Resumed talks between FairPoint Communications and the two unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers broke down in less than an hour Nov. 18, despite the presence of a federal mediator. “There wasn’t any progress,” said Peter McLaughlin, lead negotiator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “The company just had no interest in working with us.” The company wants $700 million in concessions, including the ability to bring in non-union contract workers and shifting health-care costs to workers. The strike, by workers in in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, has lasted more than a month. Read more

Canadian Telecommunication Workers to Join Steelworkers
Canada’s Telecommunications Workers Union will be joining the United Steelworkers on Jan. 1, after more than two-thirds of its members supported the merger on a second vote. The TWU, which represents 12,000 workers, will remain an autonomous national local with separate pension and benefit plans, but will have access to the USW’s organizing resources and $300 million strike fund. “This is a new sector for us,” said Steelworkers President Ken Neumann, “Now with this merged union we are going to be very much involved in organizing.” The USW, North America’s largest private-sector union, has more than 225,000 Canadian members. Read more

Weekly Digest - October 29, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

FairPoint Strikers Say They’re in it for Long Haul
Striking workers at the FairPoint telecommunications company in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont say they’re going to stand strong rather than accept $700 million in contract concessions. “Some of us are going to have to go and find some other work, but we are not going to cross this line,” said Todd Foster, an installation and maintenance worker in Waterville, Maine, as he and other strikers huddled around a fire of donated wood in pouring rain. “The money they’re trying to cut out of our contracts will go right back to the hedge funds,” said Peter Keefe, treasurer and shop steward for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. “They want to take good jobs and bring in out-of-state, sometimes out-of-country, contractors to do that work.” Read more

D.C. Bikeshare Workers Sign Cards for TWU
More than 80% of the workers at Capital Bikeshare, Washington, DC’s bicycle-sharing system, have signed cards asking to be represented by Transport Workers Union Local 100. “Most of our grievances are kind of like, we’d like to be able to do our job better,” said supervising mechanic Fhar Miess. “It’s not so much about wages. We’re doing pretty well there. It’s more having control over our workplace practices.” Workers at New York’s CitiBike joined the TWU in August, and Local 100 is looking to organize Bikeshare workers in a dozen other states. Read more

Arkansas Minimum Wage Stays on Ballot
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Oct. 27 unanimously rejected a Little Rock billionaire’s challenge to a ballot initiative that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Jack T. Stephens, whose family is the state’s second wealthiest after the Waltons of Walmart, had tried to get the measure knocked off the ballot. He argued that the measure’s sponsor, Give Arkansas a Raise Now, should not have gotten an extra 30 days to collect signatures after they handed in petitions, because some of them had a forged notary’s signature. Under state law, the court noted, petitioners who hand in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot get the extra 30 days to collect more as insurance in case some are found invalid. Read more

Labor Group Sues Scott Walker on Minimum Wage
Wisconsin Jobs Now filed a lawsuit Oct. 27 to demand a review of the state Department of Workforce Development’s decision against raising the minimum wage. The department said there was no evidence that Wisconsin’s $7.25 an hour minimum was less than the “living wage” required by state law. The department didn't even do a “cursory review,” said Peter Rickman of Wisconsin Jobs. The group wants the courts to order a more thorough review or to issue a finding that $7.25 doesn't meet the standard for a living wage. Gov. Scott Walker opposes raising the minimum, saying many workers receiving it are teenagers and increasing it would cost jobs. Read more

UAW Local Claims Ohio Lockout Unfair
The National Labor Relations Board is considering two unfair-labor-practices charges brought by auto-parts workers in Lebanon, Ohio, who have been locked out since June. United Auto Workers Local 2387 is alleging that Hayashi Telempu North America illegally locked out workers after their contract expired, and that it also unlawfully terminated their health and life insurance benefits after the lockout began. Local 2387 members rejected a proposed contract by 13 votes on Oct. 20. Read more

Union Metal Shop Wins 7th Safety Award
Cutting sheet metal is normally dangerous work—but no one at MechOne Inc., a Colorado Springs, Colorado company whose workers make and install sheet metal in commercial air conditioning and heating systems, has been injured badly enough to miss work in its 14-year history. They are members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 and must complete the union’s apprentice and journeyman programs. On Oct. 22, MechOne got its seventh consecutive Circle of Safety Award from Pinnacol Assurance, a quasi-public authority that provides workers’ compensation insurance. “The upfront cost to make sure we have what we need to maintain a safe workplace gets a return in no work time lost to injuries and lower workers’ compensation insurance rates,” said co-owner Mike Daugharty. Read more

NCAA Facing Minimum-Wage Lawsuit
A former college soccer player sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its more than 300 Division I schools in federal court in Indianapolis Oct. 20, alleging that they have cheated her and other student athletes by not paying them at least minimum wage. Samantha Sackos, who played for the University of Houston in 2010-11, contends that “students who work at food service counters or sell programs or usher at athletic events” qualify as temporary employees of the NCAA and get paid at least minimum wage, so not paying the athletes who put in more than 20 hours a week violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. She is seeking unpaid wages, damages, and a ruling that student athletes must be paid. Read more

Labor Secretary Calls Christie Clueless on Minimum Wage
Secretary of Labor Tom Perez responded to Chris Christie’s statement that he was “tired” of hearing people talk about raising the minimum wage by saying the New Jersey governor has “got his head in the sand.” Speaking in Washington Oct. 23, Perez noted that the U.S. minimum is below those in Canada, Australia, Japan, and most of Western Europe. In New Jersey, 24% of all workers earning minimum wage have children, and 45% have attended college, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank. Read more

Philadelphia Plane Cleaners Protest Over Ebola
Airplane cleaners employed by subcontractors at Philadelphia International Airport rallied outside a terminal there on Oct. 22, saying that they don’t have enough protection against infectious diseases, including Ebola. Cabin cleaner Tommy Rodney said his employer, Prospect Aviation Services Inc., gives workers latex gloves that rip easily, and no training on exposure to waste and bodily fluids on the job. The workers, who are not unionized, make an average of $7.85 an hour, despite a ballot initiative passed in May that set a $10.88 minimum for employees hired by subcontractors with city contracts and leases. Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and Philadelphia Local 1199C head Henry Nicholas also attended. Read more

 “Salt of the Earth” Union Decertified
The New Mexico miners union whose 15-month strike was celebrated in the classic 1954 film Salt of the Earth has been decertified. Workers at the Chino Mine voted 236-83 in late September to end their affiliation with United Steelworkers Local 9424-3, the successor to Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. “It’s just kind of hard to stomach,” said Local 9424-3 chair Ray Teran. The mine was closed in 2008 and reopened in 2010 with mostly new workers, who he said “have no sense for unionization. They weren’t around for the struggles that their grandparents and parents went through. They don’t realize the sacrifices that took place to get to where we are.” The “Salt of the Earth” strike in 1950-52 won better pay and working conditions for the mine’s Latino workers, and the movie, made by blacklisted filmmakers, featured Local 890 president Juan Chacon and women and men who’d participated in the strike. Read more

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