Labor News Briefs

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 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

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