Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest - February 13, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walker Caught Lying About ‘Teacher of the Year’
Late last month, Wisconsin Gov.Scott Walker told an Iowa audience that the state’s “outstanding teacher of the year” in 2010-11 had been laid off because union seniority rules. He was lying. The woman he mentioned had won a very obscure award for first-year teachers—and on Feb. 9, the woman who actually was Wisconsin’s high-school teacher of the year denounced him in an open letter. Instead of blaming the seniority system for the younger teacher’s layoff, Claudia Klein Felske wrote, Walkershould have blamed his own “systematic defunding of public education to the tune of $2.6 billion.” Noting that Walker had tried to delete legal language stating that the University of Wisconsin system’s purpose “is the search for truth,” she added, Hmm… I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about that one.” Read more

Trumka Calls Illinois Anti-Union Move Unconstitutional
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to end the union shop for state workers is "unconstitutional," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told CNBC on Feb. 10. “He's saying he wants to have people that don't pay for the services they get," Trumka said on the show Closing Bell. “They get a collective bargaining agreement and all the benefits under it and he says they don't have to pay for it. What he's doing is actually unconstitutional.” If the government can force unions to provide representation for people who don’t want to pay for it, Trumka modestly proposed, then maybe workers shouldn’t have to pay taxes for the governor’s salary: “He's doing stuff to lower my wages and I don't want my wages lowered. Should I be able to withhold my taxes from him? Isn't that my First Amendment right as well?" Read more

Boston University Adjuncts Join SEIU
Adjunct professors at Boston University voted by a 2-to-1 margin to unionize Feb. 4, making it the fourth Boston-area college where part-time faculty have joined Faculty Forward, a part of Service Employees International Union Local 509. Bayla Ostrach, who serves on the BU union organizing committee, said a top priority would be to change the current system of assigning courses, in which “you don’t know until the first week whether you’re going to have class,” even if adjuncts have spent weeks preparing to teach a course. Ostrach, a 34-year-old single mother, said that last year, her first at BU, she taught six classes in three programs but was paid so little that she was eligible for Medicaid and food stamps. Read more

Kellogg Threatens to Close Plant
Kellogg Co. has threatened to close one of its four U.S. plants “in the very near future” if workers don’t approve contract changes they rejected in December. Workers at the four plants—in Battle Creek, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Omaha, Neb.—overwhelmingly rejected the contract, which would have switched them to a high-deductible health-insurance plan, reduced time off, and cut pay for casual and seasonal workers in exchange for some benefits. The company urged people in those four communities “to implore local union leaders to provide their membership another chance to be heard and to preserve jobs in their hometown.” Trevor Bidelman, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union local in Battle Creek, said the about 400 employees at the plant there would not vote on the proposal again. “At no point in time at all has the company said they can't afford to pay us what they're paying,” he said. “It's just they're not wanting to." Read more

Wisconsin to Eliminate Third Shift for Prison Guards?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed leaving guard towers at the state’s prisons empty for the midnight shift, saving 46 million by eliminating 60 jobs. The governor said having guards in the towers overnight doesn’t “provide any real additional security. That’s done through electronic monitoring.” “He's talking about replacing people with technology, which just shows he has no idea what the job actually involves,” responded Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, which represents the state prison system’s workers. “Walker is playing with the lives of correctional officers here and threatening community safety. It makes no sense to cut staff at correctional institutions that are already understaffed.” Read more

Weekly Digest - February 10, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Steelworkers Widen Refinery Strike
The largest oil workers’ strike since 1980 expanded to two more refineries Feb. 9, with United Steelworkers members at refineries in Indiana and Ohio joining those at nine other facilities who walked out Feb. 1. The 11 plants account for more than one-eighth of U.S. refining capacity, and BP and other companies are using strikebreakers to run most of them without the about 5,500 workers on strike. Safety is the main issue. "Management cannot continue to resist allowing workers a stronger voice on issues that could very well make the difference between life and death for too many of them," Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard said in a statement issued Feb. 7. Read more

Illinois Gov Sets Anti-Labor Agenda
In his first State of the State address Feb. 4, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said that local governments in the state should be allowed to pass laws banning the union shop. The multimillionaire governor also said the state should ban some political contributions by public employee unions and weaken prevailing-wage requirements on public construction projects. “Public servants will be disappointed to learn that the governor is pursuing an aggressive agenda to undermine their rights to a voice on the job and in the democratic process,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. But Democrats in the state legislature were surprisingly lukewarm. “I wouldn’t characterize anything as a nonstarter,” Assembly Speaker Michael J. Madigan told reporters. Read more

Delta Flight Attendants Prepare for Massive Union Drive
Delta Air Lines’ about 20,000 flight attendants will vote in the spring or early summer on whether to join the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, and a union spokesperson says the IAM is planning “the biggest airline drive in the history of the industry.” Delta flight attendants rejected another union three times between 2001 and 2010, but the Machinists are optimistic. The airline has added 3,000 new attendants since 2010, and a two-year organizing campaign got 60% of the flight attendants to sign union cards. Read more

West Virginia Unions Protest Anti-Labor Bills
West Virginia union members rallied Feb. 4 in the state capital of Charleston, protesting a package of anti-labor measures pending in the state legislature.  The Republicans who now control both houses are looking to ban the union shop, repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law, and set up charter schools. Repealing the prevailing-wage law, said Steve White, West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council director, “would be disastrous, hurt local contractors, lead to wage cuts, fewer training opportunities, less people who have benefits and more accidents on the job. All for no savings of taxpayer funds.” Read more

Arkansas Court Backs Comp for Ironworker Hurt on Way to Job
The Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 4 that an ironworker who injured his back slipping on ice as he entered the job site was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even though he hadn’t clocked in yet. Ronnie Nabors, an ironworker in Blytheville, had fallen in 2009 while walking from the gate to the trailer where he was going to clock in, and his employer argued that he wasn’t entitled to benefits because he hadn’t been on the job yet that day. The court held that because Nabors had already put on his protective gear, he “had already engaged in employment activity” and thus had been “injured while engaged in conduct that benefited [his employer], making his injury compensable.” Read more

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