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Labor News Briefs

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.
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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 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

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