Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – August 22, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

SAG-AFTRA Re-Elects Ken Howard President
SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard won the union’s presidency in his own right Aug. 15, defeating Esai Morales in the merged union’s first national election. Howard won a two-year term with 57 percent of the 29,000 votes cast, and his running mate Amy Aquino was elected secretary-treasurer. His Unite for Strength faction strongly supported the merger, while Morales’ Membership First group opposed it. The union’s other co-president, Roberta Reardon, narrowly lost her bid to head the New York local, trailing incumbent Mike Hodge by 118 votes. Clyde Kusatsu was elected president of the Los Angeles local.
 
Korean Autoworkers Stage 4-Hour Strike
Workers at the Hyundai Motor Co. in South Korea staged a four-hour strike Aug. 20, demanding a $116-a-month raise and for 30 percent of net income to be distributed to workers. The strike was a show of strength before talks resume Aug. 22 between Korean autoworkers’ unions and Hyundai and Kia. Hyundai said the strike, by 45,000 workers, resulted in more than 2,100 cars not being built, costing the company $39 million. A major strike last year got Hyundai to end overnight shifts at its Korean plants.
 
Patriot Coal Workers Approve Settlement
On Aug. 16, union miners at Patriot Coal in West Virginia and Kentucky voted 85 percent to 15 percent to approve a new contract that won back several concessions the company sought after a federal bankruptcy judge voided their contract in May. The workers will take a $1-an-hour pay cut, not as bad as the $7 the company wanted, and will keep some benefits while losing several paid days off. Most important, Patriot—which the United Mine Workers of America charges was designed to fail by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal so they could dump their obligations to retirees—will continue to pay into pension and health funds, although newly hired workers will get only a 401(k). “We are coal miners and as such we are used to being handed junk and making it work under adverse conditions,” said retired miner Larry Miller.
 
Michigan Court Says Non-Union State Workers Don’t Have to Pay Fees
Rejecting several public workers’ unions’ challenge to the state law banning union shops, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Aug. 15 that the state government can’t require non-union employees to pay an “agency fee” equal to the amount of union dues spent on collective bargaining services. The ruling said the government as employer may no longer require public employees “to pay money to a union if the worker opposes the political or ideological views of the union.” Dissenting Judge Elizabeth Gleicher said the law violated the state constitution by taking away the state Civil Service Commission’s jurisdiction over “all conditions of employment” for the state’s more than 35,000 employees.
 
Teamsters Drop Bid to Recruit American Airlines Mechanics
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has dropped its bid to win about 12,000 aircraft mechanics and other personnel at American Airlines, after a bitter struggle with the Transport Workers Union. The decision came after the Justice Department announced it would fight a proposed merger between American and US Airways, and the Teamsters lost an election to represent US Airways mechanics. “Continued conflict between labor organizations is not in the best interest of the workers,” Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell said in a statement.
 
Labor Department Expected to Aid Unions
With Thomas Perez finally confirmed as head of the Labor Department, the agency is expected to issue several new pro-labor rules. One would require employers to disclose the attorneys and consultants they hire to advise them during union-organizing drives and how much they are paid. Others would extend minimum wage and overtime pay rules to more than 2 million home health care workers, expand affirmative action for veterans and the disabled, and limit exposure to silica dust. Perez may also go after companies that misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid paying minimum wage and overtime.
 
Non-Union W. Va. Construction Fined for Breaking Safety Rules
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined a subcontractor building a Marriott hotel in Charleston, W. Va. $9,000 for having employees work in a dangerous ditch. The project has been criticized for hiring out-of-state and nonunion workers. “Guys were down in ditches and in holes that were over their heads,” said Terry Turley, business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which reported the problems this spring. “It was on back-fill—loose dirt—with heavy equipment working right over them. There was no protection to keep it from caving in.”

Federal Court Says Unions Can Organize “Micro Units”
The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 15 upheld a 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that unions can organize smaller groups of workers at an employer. The NLRB had said that a union could organize nursing assistants in a health-care facility, while the employer argued that it had to include all nonprofessional employees. The court said the NLRB has “wide discretion” in determining which workers should be included in a bargaining unit, and the burden of proof is on the employer to show that it is “arbitrary, unreasonable, or an abuse of discretion.” Several business and management groups expressed fear that the decision will give unions a foothold by enabling them to organize “micro units” instead of having to win over all employees.
 
Fast-Food Workers Call for Nationwide Strike Aug. 29
Following one-day walkouts in several cities, fast-food and low-wage retail workers are calling for a national day of strikes Aug. 29. Backed by community groups and labor unions such as the Service Employees International Union, they’re calling for a raise to $15 an hour and the right to form unions. “I think it is high time that I did something,” said Willietta Dukes, 39, a mother of two from Durham, N.C., who makes $8.65 an hour at Burger King. “I work hard. I don’t sit around. I am good at what I do. Yet after working all day, I do not earn enough to even pay for the basics. I don’t want to be in poverty forever.”
 
Philadelphia Charter-School Teachers Try to Unionize
With the help of the Philadelphia Alliance of Charter School Employees and the American Federation of Teachers’ Pennsylvania chapter, teachers at Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia are trying to form a union. The teachers have one-year contracts with no security, and ASPIRA, the nonprofit that runs the school, has committed $400,000 to counter efforts by teachers to organize in the schools it manages, including 17,000 in public funds. The proliferation of charter schools, says social-studies and French teacher Ellen Pierson, means that major educational decisions “are now being made in closed-meetings by the unelected board members of private organizations.”

August 14, 2013

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