Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – December 18, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Washington Gov’s Call for Boeing Revote Irks Labor
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Dec. 13 statement that the International Association of Machinists should let Boeing workers vote again on contract proposals they rejected last month has irked the state’s labor movement. Inslee’s statement implied that the workers should accept the company replacing future pensions with a 401(k) in order to avert it building the new 777X airliner out of state. Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, called the idea “absolutely disrespectful” to union members and their leadership. Labor groups also boycotted a holiday reception at the governor’s mansion Dec. 16.

Walmart Warehouse Workers Win Withheld Wages
A federal judge in California has approved a settlement giving $4.7 million in back pay to 568 workers at Walmart’s largest Western warehouse. Wal-Mart contractor Schneider Logistics, said Warehouse Workers United, had “shaved employees’ time” to cheat them out of pay and had forced them to “voluntarily” sign forms agreeing not to take paid meal breaks. Walmart, which was not a defendant, denied any responsibility, saying the workers involved were not its employees, although all the goods they moved were for Walmart and the company co-owns the warehouse in Mira Loma.

Labor-Law Flouters Still Get Federal Contracts
The federal government has awarded tens of billions of dollars in contracts to “many of the most flagrant violators” of safety and wage laws over the last six years, according to a report issued on behalf of the Democratic senators on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee. Major violators included Tyson Foods, where 11 workers have been killed on the job since 1999; BP, which paid more than $20 million in fines for its Texas City, Texas refinery where 15 workers were killed in a 2005 explosion; Imperial Sugar, fined $6 million after a factory explosion in Georgia killed 14 workers in 2008; and the Management and Training Corporation, a private-prison company that had to give workers $21 million in back pay because of wage violations, but still got $347.8 million last year to run immigrant-detention centers. The value of federal contracts for services has tripled since 2000, reaching $307 billion in 2012, the report said.

Supermarket Workers Keep Health Benefits
Workers for Giant Food and Safeway stores in the Baltimore-Washington area voted overwhelmingly Dec. 17 to ratify a three-year contract that preserves health benefits and raises wages. The two chains had wanted to have all part-time workers buy insurance through the government exchanges, but will continue to cover those who work more than 28 hours a week. “No deal is perfect, but I think we accomplished all [our] goals, in the face of an employer that is going up and down the East Coast taking away things that people have earned, taking away all part-time benefits,” United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 president George R. Murphy Jr. told about 1,300 workers before the vote. The contract covers the 28,000 members of Local 27 and UFCW Local 400.

Federal Budget Deal Hits Pensions
The federal budget deal announced Dec. 10 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and passed by the Senate Dec. 17 more than doubles employees’ pension contributions, from 0.8% of their salary to 2%. That wipes out the 1% raise federal workers got in October after a pay freeze lasting nearly four years. The Federal Workers Alliance, a coalition of unions representing federal employees, estimates that between the pay freeze and furloughs, federal workers have sacrificed $114 billion over the past three years, an average of over $50,000 per employee. The alliance also notes federal workers’ average pension benefit is about $12,800 per year.

Amazon Workers Strike in Germany, Protest in Seattle
Workers at several Amazon logistics centers in Germany began brief strikes Dec. 16, as several U.S. unions joined a protest at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. The Ver.di services union estimated that more than 1,600 workers had joined the walkouts in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, and Graben. The union is demanding that Amazon pay the prevailing wage and classify the employees as part of the retail and mail-order sector instead in the lower-paid logistics sector. Amazon has about 9,000 employees in Germany, it’s second-biggest market after the U.S., and hired about 14,000 temps for the holiday shopping season.

NYC Domino’s Rehires 25 Fired Workers
A Domino’s Pizza franchisee in New York City has agreed to rehire 25 workers it fired Dec. 7 after they complained about being underpaid. Robert Cookston, who owns 11 Domino’s franchises in the city and Long Island, said he would put the 25 back on the job at the Washington Heights Domino’s he owns by the 15th, after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ruled that he had illegally retaliated against them. The workers had objected to being paid $5.65 an hour, the state’s minimum wage for employees who regularly get tips, when they were spending a significant amount of time doing untipped work such as cleaning the kitchen. A Domino's spokesman said the company couldn't comment because it doesn’t directly own the store.

Lockout Ends at Canadian Utility
More than 200 workers at a British Columbia electric company went back to work Dec. 16 after being locked out since June. FortisBC, which provides electricity to the province’s south-central West Kootenay and Okanagan regions, agreed to go to binding arbitration with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213. The company had been trying to get the union to agree to a two-tier contract where new workers would be paid less. “It was a war that nobody won and could have easily been avoided,” said IBEW business manager Rod Russell.

Union Gains at Toyota’s Ontario Factories
Unifor, the union that represents auto and communications workers in Canada, says it is near the point where it can get a certification vote at Toyota’s factories in Cambridge and Woodstock, Ontario. Unifor president Jerry Dias said more than 3,000 of the 6,500 workers at the two plants had signed membership cards, but that the union would wait until “we are significantly over what is required” before applying for the vote. He said the drive was the most promising yet at the two plants, where hundreds of workers are long-term temps and the company recently ended pensions for new hires.

L.A. County Reaches Tentative Deal With Striking Social Workers
Los Angeles County “reached a tentative agreement” with striking social workers Dec. 13. The deal ended a walkout that began Dec. 7, the first strike by county workers in more than a decade. Service Employees International Union Local 721 officials said the proposed contract includes hiring 450 new social workers next year and reducing current employees’ caseloads. Chychy Ekeochah, a social worker bargaining-unit chair, called it “a victory for us and for the children we serve.”

August 14, 2013

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