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Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest - February 20, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walmart to Raise Its Minimum Wage to $9
Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, announced Feb. 19 that it would increase its minimum wage to $9 an hour by April. The company said that will mean raises for about 40 percent of its 1.3 million workers, about 500,000 people. Christine L. Owens, head of the National Employment Law Project, said the move was “clearly the result of years of organizing by Walmart employees.” OUR Walmart, a group for store employees organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers, has demanded that the company raise wages to $15. “Few could have envisioned a group of workers forcing Walmart, ruthlessly committed to cost-cutting, to unilaterally raise wages,” Owens added, although she said the company’s pay was still low and workers’ hours inconsistent and insufficient. Read more

Ohio Retirees Fear Fed Law Will Force Severe Pension Cuts
The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, signed last December by President Barack Obama, was intended to save some of the nation’s most severely underfunded pension funds, but it could mean dramatically lower benefit checks for a million or more retirees. In order to keep multiemployer pension funds—common in trucking and construction, where people work for many different employers—solvent, what they pay retirees under 75 could be reduced by up to 60%. Joe Mardula, 62, a retired truckdriver and Teamsters member from Akron, Ohio, said his $3,000-a-month pension could be cut to as low as $1,200. “My [ex-wife] and I would have to split that, too,” he added. Thomas Morneweck, executive secretary-treasurer of the Tri-County Labor Council in Akron, said he got “the big picture” on the funds’ financial state, but “allowing cuts to pensions would be unprecedented…. You don’t want to start down that road. It’s a slippery slope. The cuts keep coming. There’s no stopping them.” Read more

Kentucky County Rejects ‘Right-to-Work’
Kentucky’s Marshall County has become the first in the state to reject so-called “right to work” laws. In response to several other counties passing ordinances banning the union shop, the county’s Fiscal Court on Feb. 17 unanimously approved an anti-right-to-work resolution, drafted by Kentucky AFL-CIO president William Londrigan and local union member Howard “Bubba” Dawes. The Kentucky AFL-CIO filed suit last month in federal court challenging the other counties’ ordinances. “They’re even reconsidering in some of those counties that they might have done something that was illegal already," Dawes said. Marshall County is in the state’s west, between Paducah and the Tennessee line. Read more

Connecticut FOX Newsroom Votes to Join NABET
Employees in FOX CT's newsroom voted 35 to 17 on Feb. 18 to join the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians. The union, a division of the Communications Workers of America, succeeded on its second try after a one-vote loss in 2003. The Hartford-based station had been the only last non-union local TV news operation in Connecticut. NABET staffer Carrie Biggs-Adams called the vote  “a pretty impressive testament to the desires of the people of the workplace,” saying management had run “a full-court press” to convince workers to vote no. Read more

Conn. Unions Give Gov’s Budget Mixed Reviews
Connecticut labor leaders gave mixed reviews to the $19.7 billion budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed Feb. 18. State AFL-CIO head Lori J. Pelletier praised the governor for keeping his campaign promise to avoid layoffs, preserving aid to local governments, and maintaining contributions intended to solidify the state pension fund. But the Better Choices Coalition, an alliance of state employee unions and social services advocates, criticized his proposed cuts to health care, including ending Medicaid for 34,000 parents and eliminating state-funded home care for elderly people who don’t require a nursing home. The budget also restricts hiring new state workers. Read more

Weekly Digest - February 18, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

SUNY Cops Push for Pension Parity
Police union officials say the State University of New York is having a hard time keeping campus police officers because their pensions are inadequate compared to those of other police. SUNY cops currently have to work until they are 63 before they can collect a state pension, says Dan De Federicis, executive director of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, while other officers can retire after 20 years. This means many officers trained at SUNY transfer out to local police forces, causing “a serious recruitment and attrition problem,” De Federicis added. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed a bill in 2014 that would have provided pension equity for nearly 600 SUNY police officers.
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Illinois AG Calls Rauner’s Anti-Union Order Unconstitutional
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Feb. 9 executive order to eliminate “fair share” fees for state employees who won’t join unions has hit a few obstacles. State Comptroller Leslie Munger, appointed by Rauner, has not yet complied with the order, and the state attorney general’s office said it was unconstitutional. “There’s no question that under the current law that fair share fees are constitutional,” chief of staff Ann Spillane told the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Munger] can’t ignore validly signed contracts.” “The governor’s actions were a blatantly illegal abuse of his power, so we’re glad to see a bipartisan confirmation that the constitution still matters,” the Illinois Federation of Teachers said in a statement. A democracy does not allow one man to implement his ideological will as he chooses, and so Comptroller Munger and Attorney General Madigan rightfully put the law over politics.” Read more

Missouri House Passes ‘Right to Work’ Bill, but Veto Likely
Missouri’s state House passed a so-called “right-to-work” bill banning the union shop Feb. 12, but the 91-64 margin was a dozen votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a likely veto by Gov. Jay Nixon, who said before the vote he’d never seen a right-to-work bill he would sign. Twenty-three Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the measure. It is not certain whether the state Senate, which also has a large GOP majority, will take up the bill this session. But Ed Martin, chair of the state Republican Party, said he believed the legislature was “making progress” toward passing a right-to-work law. Read more

How Sleazy Restaurants Steal Your Tip Money
Montana restaurant manager Laurie Zabawa is suing the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman and the Gateway Hospitality Group for illegally pocketing tip money. When the Hilton outsourced its banquet service to the Ohio-based Gateway in 2012, she charges, Gateway continued to charge customers a 20% service fee—but kept the money for itself instead of letting the servers, buspeople, and bartenders split it, as has been done in the past. Servers got a $1 an hour raise, but had to sign papers giving up their rights to the tips. When Zabara told her bosses that she believed the fee was illegal, she was fired. Read more

Texas Unions See Oil Strike Energizing Local Workers
Union members and supporters say the United Steelworkers strike at five Houston-area refineries and petrochemical plants say the two-week-old walkout, the biggest in the area’s oil industry in 35 years, might energize the labor movement in one of the nation’s least union-friendly states. “They’re tired of getting taken advantage of,” millwright Forrest Probst said at a barbecue to support strikers and their families. At ECO Services, a chemical plant in the industrial suburb of Pasadena, all 80 workers are union members, said Steve Ballesteros, president of the Steelworkers local there, and the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council reports “a surge in apprentice training.” Overall, the number of union members in Texas rose to 543,000 last year, 25,00 more than in 2013, but still only 4.8% of the state’s workforce. Read more

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