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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 - August 6, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Who’s Funding Campbell Brown’s Campaign Against Teachers?
Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown won’t say who’s paying for the lawsuit she’s organized to challenge teachers’ tenure protections in New York, telling TV show host Stephen Colbert July 31 that critics “are also going to go after people who are funding this.” Brown is the founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice and the Parents Transparency Project, which says its mission is “to bring transparency to the rules, deals, and contracts negotiated between our state and local governments and the teachers´ unions.” Both are among several “education reform” organizations largely and secretively financed by a network of hedge-fund billionaires and Republican Party operatives.
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Judge Orders End to Kellogg’s Lockout
U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays on July 30 ordered Kellogg’s to end the nine-month lockout at its Memphis plant and bring back the 220 workers affected within five days. Granting an injunction requested by the National Labor Relations Board in April, the judge said the company was using “creative semantics” to get around its contract with the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. Kellogg’s had been trying to classify casual employees as regular employees while paying them $6 an hour less with no benefits, and to leave open the possibility of replacing regular workers with casuals or laying them off and rehiring them as casuals. Read more

Boeing to Build New Jet Nonunion
Boeing Co. will build a longer version of its 787 Dreamliner airliner exclusively at its factory in North Charleston, South Carolina. The 787-10, which will have a longer fuselage so it can carry more passengers, will be the company’s first passenger jet built exclusively nonunion. A company executive said the reason was that the plane’s mid-body section was too long to fly to the union plant in Everett, Washington—but Boeing also plans to build more regular 787s at the South Carolina plant, which opened in 2009. "We are not surprised, but we are certainly disappointed," said Jon Holden, president of International Association of Machinists Local 751 in Seattle, the company's largest union.
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Labor Dept. ‘Recommends’ LinkedIn for Wage Theft
LinkedIn, the California-based social network for job-seekers and professionals, announced Aug. 4 that it had agreed to pay almost $6 million in back wages to 359 current and former salespeople who weren’t properly compensated for overtime from 2012 to 2014. A company spokesperson said the problem was that it didn’t have “the right tools in place for some employees and their managers to track hours properly.” In a settlement with the federal Department of Labor, LinkedIn also agreed to notify managers that they should keep track of workers’ overtime hours, pay them for overtime, and not retaliate against employees who raise concerns. Read more

Oakland Minimum Wage Going to Ballot
Oakland, California’s City Council voted July 29 against raising the city’s minimum wage—in order to let city voters decide on a bigger increase in November. The “Lift Up Oakland” ballot initiative would hike the city’s minimum from $9 an hour to $12.25 as of March 1, while the defeated plan would have delayed the increase until October 2015, and workers at companies with less than 150 employees would have had to wait longer. “This will be used as a tactic to defeat the other plan,” Councilmember Dan Kalb said before voting no. “I am not comfortable with that.” Read more

Army-Base Janitors Strike
About 70 janitorial workers at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia went out on strike July 29. The workers, who won a first contract and almost $300,000 in back pay after a strike in February 2013, are charging that the contractor they work for, Brown & Pipkins/Acsential of Atlanta, is refusing to bargain in good faith with their union, SEIU Local 32BJ, for a new contract. “Nobody wants to strike, but these men and women are willing to do what’s necessary to support their families,” said Jaime Contreras, 32BJ’s Washington-Baltimore area director. Read more

New England Phone Contract Expires
Workers at FairPoint Communications in northern New England remained on the job despite talks breaking off just before their contract expired Aug. 2. “We’re still miles apart. But we feel like if they bring the right game to the table that we can make a deal,” said Mike Spillane of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2326, one of the two unions representing more than 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. FairPoint, which bought Verizon’s landline operations in the three states in 2007 and has not made a profit since then, wants to switch its future pension contributions to a 401(k) plan and to hire nonunion contract workers in the name of “flexibility.” Read more

D.C.-Area Cabbies Join Union
Taxi drivers in Maryland’s Montgomery County, just outside Washington, officially affiliated with the National Taxi Workers Alliance July 31. “The old way to do business needs to change,” said cabbie Becaye Traore, 48, as drivers are being squeezed by high leasing costs and credit-card transaction fees on one side and by competition from app-based ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft on the other. The move could add nearly 1,000 members to the alliance, an AFL-CIO affiliate, which represents taxi drivers in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Austin, Texas, and is negotiating with drivers in nearby Prince George’s County. Washington’s cabbies joined the Teamsters last year. Read more

Foreign Students Join Movers’ Strike
Trying to foil their workers’ efforts to win a first contract, management at Golan’s Moving & Storage in Skokie, Illinois, hired foreign students on “cultural exchange” guest-worker visas for the summer. But when the regular workers, who joined Teamsters Local 705 last December, went out on strike July 27 to protest practices like not being paid for their first hour on the job, most of the students—from Romania, Mongolia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Azerbaijan—joined them. The company hired a dozen-odd scabs, but the strikers have been doing roving pickets at their job sites with the Teamsters’ giant inflatable rat. Read more

Jersey Workers Push Sick-Pay Ballot Initiatives
With state legislation to require New Jerseybusinesses to give workers paid sick leave stalled, workers’ advocates are campaigning to get similar measures on the ballot in six cities this November. A coalition of advocacy groups led by the New Jersey Working Families Alliance has been collecting petitions for sick-pay initiatives in East Orange, Irvington, Montclair, Passaic, Paterson, and Trenton. Jersey City, the state’s second-largest city, enacted a sick-pay law last October, and Newark, the largest, followed suit in January. 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 - July 30, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Federal Contract Workers Strike Again
Federal contractors who work minimum-wage jobs at Union Station, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the National Zoo, and the Pentagon staged their ninth mini-strike July 29. About 100 people, mostly women and children, protested outside Union Station, saying that President Barack Obama’s executive order to increase the minimum pay to $10.10 in future government contracts is “not enough” and demanding the right to unionize. “Workers need more than a minimum wage executive order,” the Rev. Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice yelled into a bullhorn. “Workers need a ‘good jobs’ executive order.” Another issue is that the president’s orders apply only to companies that contract with the executive branch and don’t cover the more than 2,500 people who work under contracts for Congress.

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Could Union Activity Be a Civil Right?
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and 12 other House members introduced a bill July 30 that would let workers fired for union activity sue their employers for civil-rights violations and seek damages and legal fees. Under current law, they can only seek back pay and reinstatement through the National Labor Relations Board. Those protections, said AFL-CIO director of government affairs Bill Samuel “are really completely inadequate” and “haven't kept pace with the increasing viciousness of anti-union efforts.” The AFL-CIO has endorsed the measure, but it has no chance of passing in the current House. Read more

Macy’s Workers Win Right to ‘Micro-Union’
The National Labor Relations Board ruled July 22 that cosmetics and fragrances workers at the Macy's in Saugus, Massachusetts, can vote on whether to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, even though they make up only about one-third of the store’s sales force. The 3-1 vote—on party lines—held that the 41 beauty-product workers qualified as a distinct bargaining unit because they were readily identifiable as a department and shared a “community of interest.” The ruling applied the NLRB’s 2011 decision in a case called Specialty Healthcare, which held that a group of nursing assistants at a long-term care facility could form a so-called “micro-union.”
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Engineers Sue Boeing on Age Discrimination
The union representing Boeing engineers filed charges July 23 with federal and Washington state agencies accusing the aircraft manufacturer of age discrimination. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace alleges that Boeing’s new method of selecting employees for layoffs, ranking workers with higher levels of skills and experience against each other instead of against all employees doing the same job, is a scheme to get rid of older workers—and their pension and health-care costs. “It dramatically shifts who is positioned for future layoffs,” said SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth. The union also charged that plans to move jobs out of the Puget Sound area have a discriminatory effect. Boeing called the charges “baseless” and said it was merely “diversifying” its engineers.
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San Diego Moves to Raise Minimum Wage
The San Diego City Council voted July 28 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by January 2017. The 6-3 vote means the measure would have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto threatened by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. If it’s enacted, the city’s minimum-wage workers—most of whom are in restaurants and retail—will get a raise to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2015, to $10 six months later when the state minimum rises from $9, and to $10.50 in 2016. The measure would also give workers a chance at up to five days of paid sick leave. Read more

Judge Says Mercedes-Benz Can’t Ban Union Flyers
A federal administrative judge ruled July 24 that Mercedes-Benz could not prohibit workers from handing out union literature at its Vance, Alabama, plant when they weren’t on the job, but did not impose any penalties on the company. Judge Keltner W. Locke said Mercedes-Benz’s “overly broad” rules against solicitation violated the National Labor Relations Act, but that the company had taken “prompt remedial action.” The judge also dismissed harassment charges that had been filed by the United Auto Workers, which is trying to organize the plant. Read more

Pension Cuts Stalled in Pennsylvania
Despite having a Republican majority in the state legislature, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has so far been unable to get it to cut state workers’ pensions. The Assembly sent his “pension reform” bill back to committee in July, with 15 more moderate GOP members, many from the Philadelphia suburbs, joining Democrats. “Our idea of pension reform is getting pensions for everybody,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed 13 of those 15 Republicans for re-election. The legislature also hasn’t passed union-opposed bills to privatize state-owned liquor stores and to require unions to get written permission from members to spend dues money on political activity.
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Judge Upholds Memphis Pay Cuts
A federal judge on July 21 dismissed a lawsuit by 13 labor unions in Memphis, Tennessee against the city’s 2011 decision to cut employees' wages by 4.6% percent. District Judge Samuel H. Mays ruled that the city hadn’t violated its contracts with the unions because those contracts weren’t valid if the City Council didn’t vote to fund them. “What has been learned from this process is that this city administration has no problem breaking its commitments and promises,” the Memphis Police Association said in a statement July 23. “Unfortunately, not all wrongs have a legal remedy.” Read more

UFCW Urges Obama to ‘Go Big’ on Immigration…
President Barack Obama should “go big” on immigration by using executive orders when Congress blocks legislation, United Food and Commercial Workers Union leader Joe Hansen wrote July 25. Citing Obama’s July 21 executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation, Hansen said the President should also “stop the deportation of those who would be eligible for citizenship” under the immigration bill the Senate passed last year that the House “has refused to act” on. UFCW members, he added, “have seen the wreckage of our broken immigration system firsthand—from the raided meatpacking plants to the worker who live in fear of deportation to the husband kept apart from his wife and children.” Read more

…But Border Patrol Union Criticizes AFL-CIO on Immigration
The National Border Patrol Council is trying to win its 17,000 members a new contract with the federal government and get Congress to pass a bill giving them more regular overtime pay—and also pushing for tougher restrictions on immigration. That last stance has put it at odds with the AFL-CIO, as union vice president Shawn Moran told that many members consider the federation’s position “pro-amnesty.” The Border Patrol Council, which is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, recently deleted its AFL-CIO affiliation from its Web site.  Read more

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

Weekly Digest - July 16, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Detroit Retirees Plead for Pensions
The federal judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy plan opened his courtroom to public testimony July 15, and 46 people urged him to prevent cuts to pensions and health care benefits. “I want to live the last few years of my life,” said retired police Sgt. Gisele Caver, who worked despite suffering from an incurable disease. “Don’t take away my pension and my medical. My life is at stake.” Under the plan, city workers and retirees’ pensions would be cut by 4.5% and annual cost-of-living increases eliminated, retired police and firefighters would have their cost-of-living increases sliced in half, and annuities for people who contributed extra reduced by up to 15.5%. Detroiter Andrea Hackett said the purpose of the city’s bankruptcy “is to shed pension obligations and get this court and judge to set a precedent so other cities can do the same,” adding that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr “has no problem slitting our throats and letting us bleed out.” Read more

Will Staples Abandon Postal Service Trial?
Staples said July 14 that it was dropping a pilot program to offer postal services at 82 of its stores and would join the standard Post Office Approved Shipper program. The announcement came shortly after the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachersendorsed the American Postal Workers Union’sboycott of the office-supply chain. But APWU President Mark Dimondstein called it a “ruse,” saying in a statement that the U.S. Postal Service still intends “to continue to privatize postal retail operations” and “replace living-wage Postal Service jobs with low-wage Staples jobs,” and that the union would “keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business.” Read more

Pittsburgh Janitors Demand Jobs Back
About 150 people rallied July 11 outside University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital, calling for the reinstatement of 10 janitors who lost their jobs when the hospital switched to a nonunion office-cleaning service July 1. The janitors, members of SEIU Local 32BJ, had made $11.30 an hour with benefits, union district president Sam Williamson said, and the new service pays $9.50. Donald Malcolm, 54, who’d worked there for 12 years, said he’d applied to the new contractor but hadn’t gotten his job back. “I don’t think we lost the contract,” he told the crowd. “They just didn’t want the union in here.” Read more

Obama Renames Sharon Block to NLRB
President Barack Obama has renamed Sharon Block to the National Labor Relations Board, sending her nomination to the Senate July 14. Block, who served on the board for 18 months in 2012-13, was one of the three members whose recess appointments were invalidated by the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans are likely to oppose confirming her, but procedural rules adopted last November will likely prevent them from filibustering the nomination. Block would succeed another Democrat, Nancy Schiffer, whose term expires on Dec. 16. Read more

Will NLRB Cases Undermine Outsourcing Dodge?
Two cases now pending before the National Labor Relations Board might redefine what it means to be an “employer”—and prevent companies from claiming that they’re not responsible for workers who are technically employed by someone else. In one, based on complaints filed by the Fast-Food Workers Committee and the Service Employees International Union, the board will rule on whether McDonald's qualifies as a "joint employer" along with the franchise owner. In the other, the Teamsters are appealing a regional board’s decision that only workers hired by a staffing agency were eligible to vote in a union election at a recycling plant in Milpitas, California. The AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the NLRB's general counsel argue that companies like McDonald’s retain substantial control of the terms and conditions of employment. Several major business organizations have lined up on the opposite side. Read more

Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Before Fatal Accident
The accident that killed sugar-plant worker Janio Salinas in February 2013 came 13 days after the CSC Sugar company removed a protective screen from a hopper because the plant’s manager believed it was slowing down production. Salinas, a 50-year-old immigrant from Peru, was buried alive in sugar while trying to dig out a clogged hopper at the company’s warehouse in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The screen had been placed over the hopper to prevent clumps of sugar from clogging the hole at the bottom. Salinas, like every other worker there, had been hired through a temp agency. Read more

Feds Eyeing Charges in Refinery Blast?
More than four years after an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington killed seven workers, no one at the company has been held publicly accountable for the deaths. The state Labor Department, accusing Tesoro of breaking the law 39 times, fined the company $2.39 million, the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history, but a judge reduced that to less than $700,000. The federal government is investigating whether to file criminal charges under environmental laws, which are tougher than the workplace-safety laws. It would have to file any charges before the five-year statute of limitations runs out next April and prove willful negligence to win a conviction. “Serious OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury should be felonies like insider trading, tax crimes or customs and antitrust violations,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration head David Michaels told Congress in 2010.
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Spirit Airlines Ramp Workers Join Machinists
Spirit Airlines ramp workers voted to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in an election that ended July 8. They join pilots, flight attendants, and dispatchers as union workers at the low-cost airline. “The days of Spirit management unilaterally dictating wages and working conditions end today,” Daniel Krampert, a ramp agent in Atlantic City, said in a Machinists statement. The IAM is also organizing flight attendants at Delta Air Lines. Read more

Milwaukee Remembers Ironworkers Killed Building Ballpark
Fifteen years after a crane collapsed during the construction of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park, the city still remembers the three members of Iron Workers Local 8killed in the accident. Jeffrey Wischer, 40, William DeGrave, 39, and Jerome Starr, 52, died on July 14, 1999, when the 567-foot-tall Big Blue crane was blown over by winds of more than 20 mph while it was lifting a 450-ton piece of the stadium’s roof. Engineer Mike Duckett says he remembers the day like he does 9/11 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The three men’s widows sued the contractor for negligence and settled out of court for $57 million in 2006. Read more

British Public Workers Stage Giant One-Day Strike
More than a million British public-sector workers “took a day off” July 10 to protest a pay cap that has frozen wages or limited raises to 1% a year, the loss of 400,000 public-sector jobs since 2010, and reduced pensions. The strikers included members of the National Union of Teachers, the public-sector union UNISON, the Fire Brigades Union, and UNITE, Britain’s largest union. “We were promised £1 an hour more—we haven’t had it yet. No pay rise for three years,” said James, a garbage collector, while teaching assistants said their pay has been frozen for six years. Read more

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