Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest - January 21, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Richest 1% Own Half World’s Wealth
The world’s richest 1% will own more than everyone else on the planet combined by next year, according to a report released Jan. 19 by the British anti-hunger group Oxfam. With an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014, they collectively owned 48% of global wealth, up from 44% in 2009 and on a path to reach more than half in 2016. The 80 richest people, whose wealth doubled in the previous five years, owned more than the 3.5 billion people poorer than the global median. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering,” said Oxfam head Winnie Byanyima. “It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world.”
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Cabbies Plot App to Take on Uber
With Uber and other app-based services undercutting taxi drivers’ incomes around the world, cabbies are plotting ways to fight back. One possibility is developing an app that would give passengers the convenience of hailing cabs on their smartphones but would work only with licensed drivers. The problem is competing with Uber’s financial muscle and brand recognition. “They see technology as a way to democratize the world,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance leader Bhairavi Desai said at a meeting Jan. 16. “But what Uber has done is use it to grab power for itself. We want to take it back as a tool to improve the lives of workers.” Read more

California Nurses Strike Averted
The Kaiser Permanente health-care chain reached a tentative contract deal Jan. 16 with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, averting a 48-hour strike scheduled to begin Jan. 21. The pact will give raises totaling 14% to about 18,000 registered nurses at Kaiser hospitals and clinics in the northern and central parts of the state, from Fresno to Santa Rosa. It also includes “groundbreaking workplace protections” for nurses from diseases such as Ebola. Read more

Low-Wage Employers Fight Database on Worker Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is finishing up a rule that would require all large employers to submit data on worker injuries to a national database—and trade groups representing Walmart, McDonald’s, Target, and Home Depot are spending millions of dollars lobbying to block it, claiming it would be too much of a burden. The regulation would apply to businesses with more than 250 employees, and to smaller companies in more dangerous fields such as trucking and construction. It would help workers prove their injuries were part of a job-related pattern and not just an individual mishap, said Robyn Robbins, a safety official at the United Food and Commercial Workers.
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Hollywood Teamsters Authorize TV-Ad Strike
Members of Teamsters Local 399 voted 414-36 on Jan. 11 to reject the “last, best, final” offer on a new two-year contract from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. The members objected to the deal because it would have raised the amount of money a producer can spend on an ad and still have it qualify as a lower-paying low-budget shoot, said Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan. The no vote means members in 14 Western states will strike when their contract expires Jan. 31 unless another agreement is reached before then. Read more

L.A. Trucking Firm May Go Union
Truck drivers at Shippers Transport Express, a major firm serving the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been reclassified as employees instead of independent contractors and joined the Teamsters Union. The company made the change on Jan. 1, and 88 of the 111 drivers signed union authorization cards. “This historic agreement represents an important step in drivers’ efforts to reform the drayage industry, and demonstrates clearly that labor and management can work together constructively to find solutions to challenges facing the industry and to the injustices facing the drivers,” said Fred Potter, head of the Teamsters’ port division. The union has staged strikes at several trucking companies at the port, trying to get them to hire truckers as employees with benefits. Read more

Majority of Delta Flight Attendants Sign Union Cards
Unions have been trying to organize flight attendants at Delta Airlines for years—and on Jan. 13, the International Association of Machinists delivered almost 12,000 signed cards to the National Mediation Board, requesting a union-representation election, The signers make up about 60% of the airline's 20,000 flight attendants. “This is a historic day for these courageous flight attendants,” IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said in a statement. Flight attendants at Delta have voted against a union three times in the last 13 years. A Machinists victory would be the largest transportation sector organizing win ever, the union said. Read more

S.C. Governor Makes Anti-Union Ad for Boeing
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has made a radio ad urging Boeing workers not to join the International Association of Machinists. The union has been campaigning to organize workers at the company’s facilities in North Charleston, where the 787 Dreamliner is built. The spot, which began airing Jan. 19 in the Charleston area, follows anti-union ads Boeing placed on local stations last month. Haley has been a virulent opponent of organized labor, even to the point of discouraging union employers from bringing jobs to South Carolina. Read more

Hotel Lobby Sues L.A. to Block $15 Minimum
Two hotel trade organizations affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council have sued to stop the city of Los Angeles from raising the minimum wage for non-union hotel workers to $15.37. The suit, filed last month by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, calls the minimum an “insidious mechanism that improperly aids the Hotel Workers' Union.” The American Hotel & Lodging Association, whose members include the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton chains, has campaigned against “extreme minimum and living wage initiatives” and lobbied for ALEC-written state laws that prevent local governments from raising the minimum wage. Read more

Rahm Emanuel ‘Redefines’ Pension-Fund Ethics
Although Chicago’s municipal pension system is included in the city’s budget, directly funded by the city, and administered by city officials, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is claiming that it’s not part of the city government. At least that’s what an ethics commission he appointed said last month, after it was asked to investigate more than $600,000 given to his re-election campaign by executives at firms managing city pension money. Chicago laws restrict campaign contributions from municipal contractors, but the commission said the pension funds are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city”—and that it was trying “to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.” Alderman Scott Waguespack called that legal opinion a “weak attempt at splitting hairs,” adding, “There should be oversight, and the pay-to-play rules apply to these firms.” Read more

Weekly Digest - January 14, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFL-CIO Plans Push for Wage Increases
“Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced Jan. 7. The federation’s political agenda for the next year, he said, will include projects in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—the first four states to hold primaries or caucuses in 2016—to get presidential candidates to say what they would actually do to improve Americans’ wages. The AFL-CIO will also launch campaigns in seven cities, including Atlanta, Columbus, and Washington, to raise the minimum wage, mandate paid sick days, and require retailers to tell workers in advance what their hours are going to be. Read more

Democrats, Unions Move to Stop TPP Trade Deal
President Barack Obama’s efforts to win “fast-track authority”to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal through Congress is facing new opposition from Democrats, labor unions, and others. The President has made the 12-nation trade pact a priority, with enough Republican support to tout it as a bipartisan achievement, but opponents say it will lower wages and weaken food-safety, environmental, and financial regulations. The U.S. should not sign trade pacts “that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told an AFL-CIO forum in Washington Jan. 7. Read more

2,600 Kaiser Mental-Health Workers On Strike
More than 3,000 workers at 65 Kaiser Permanente clinics in California went on strike Jan. 12, intending to stay out all week. The strikers, members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, include 2,600 mental-health clinicians and 700 others, such as optical workers, speech pathologists, audiologists, and dietitians. Their main complaint is that despite Kaiser profits being up 40% over last year, the insurer’s clinics are painfully understaffed. It has not added the mental-health workers needed to handle the quarter-million people who’ve joined its network under Obamacare, and this forces patients to wait up to two months for an appointment. Read more

Musicians Celebrate Right to Carry Instruments on Planes
Musicians in the U.S. and Canada are celebrating a new Department of Transportation rule that requires airlines to let them put small instruments such as violins and guitars in overhead compartments on planes instead of having to check them as baggage. They can also buy tickets for the likes of double basses and tubas. “For many years, AFM members have been subject to very arbitrary and contradictory size and weight requirements imposed by each airline,” American Federation of Musicians President Ray Hair wrote in a letter to members. “Airlines will now follow a consistent policy for all musicians traveling with instruments.” Those “arbitrary” rules included an Air Canada policy that violins could be carried on planes, but violas had to be checked. Read more

Union Organizing Makes Slow Gains in Pittsburgh
Workers at casinos and the city’s largest hospital are among those in Pittsburgh fighting to unionize, along with museum workers, adjunct professors, fast-food workers, and security guards. But their gains have been slow in coming. Workers at the Rivers Casino have won better benefits and more vacation days, but still get penalized for coming in even one minute late. UNITE HERE says management is illegally intimidating workers from joining the union, and the National Labor Relations Board has affirmed 28 charges in the last two years. “The fear of working for even less makes it hard for people to stand up to their employers," says fast-food organizer Kyndall Mason. "They are watching their coworkers get fired or reprimanded for being involved in organizing. I would be willing to wager that if there was no union-busting happening at these places, it would take less than a year to organize.” Read more

Maryland Garbage Strike Ends
A strike by 65 union trash haulers in Washington’s Maryland suburbs ended Jan. 8, after the Unity Disposal garbage contractor and the Laborers’ International Union of North America agreed to meet with a federal mediator Jan. 12. The strike began Dec. 26 after Unity refused to give drivers and helpers a raise. Drivers at the company make less than $30,000 per year, according to LIUNA, and helpers, who load the trash into the trucks, typically make less than $25,000. The company hired  temporary employees during the strike, while the union workers used the hashtag #WeAreNotDisposable. Read more

Cold, Not Union-Busting, Halts Canadian Construction
When construction stopped at a 13-story condominium project in Chatham, Ontario early this month, rumors spread that the developer had cancelled the project because of “union pressure”—workers there had just joined the Laborers' International Union of North America. Not so, LIUNA Local 625 business manager Robert Petroni said Jan. 7. The workers are still on the job, but the concrete subcontractor told him the developer shut down the site because the weather was too cold for the concrete to cure properly. Read more

Toronto Harm-Reduction Workers Join Wobblies
More than 50 “harm reduction” workers in Toronto have joined the Industrial Workers of the World Local 610. Intermittently employed by health agencies that take the “harm reduction” approach to drug use—that if people can’t or won’t stop shooting up, it’s better for them to use a clean needle than to get or spread HIV—they do outreach to drug users on the street and work in needle-exchange programs. But the work doesn’t pay very well: Two hours of putting together crack-use kits nets $5 and two transit fares. Agency funding is precarious, and many are addicts or ex-addicts, which gives them credibility on the street but not in the job market. “Some employers can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re valuable,” said worker Peter Leslie. Read more

Job Growth Fails to Help Paychecks…
The Labor Department reported Jan. 9 that employers had added 252,000 workers to their payrolls in December, while the unemployment rate declined to 5.6%. But average hourly earnings also fell. “The good news is that in 2014, people were increasingly finding jobs,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist for the Economic Policy Institute, in a statement. “The bad news is that we are still digging our way out of the recession, and wage growth remains stagnant and untouched by recovery.” Read more

…And Without Collective Bargaining, Neither Does Productivity
More productivity used to mean that workers made more money—but it hasn’t recently, according to “Raising America’s Pay,” a report released Jan. 6 by the Economic Policy Institute. From World War II to 1973, both wages and output per worker almost doubled, but in the 40 years since then, productivity has grown by almost 75%, while median hourly wages went up only 9%. The gap has widened sharply in the last 10 years, it said, and the difference is sharpest in the states with the biggest declines in the percentage of union members: In Ohio and Michigan, where unions’ share of the workforce fell by about 20% between 1979 and 2012, the median wage actually declined. “It is only once workers have the ability to bargain for higher wages that we will see the broad-based wage growth necessary to remedy these problems,” the study concluded. Read more

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