Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – February 24, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Jersey Judge Rules Christie Can’t Cut Pension Payments
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie must restore $1.57 billion he cut from payments to the state’s retirement fund for public workers, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Feb. 23. The ruling came in a suit by several government workers’ unions, including teachers and police, who said the cuts violated a 2011 law in which the state promised to shore up its underfunded pension system by putting more money in each year, and workers agreed to contribute more from their own paychecks. Judge Jacobson said the state had violated both that law and the workers’ contracts, and that it must pay the money into the fund by June 30. A Christie spokesperson dismissed the decision as “liberal judicial activism” and said the governor would appeal. "By refusing to make the required payments, the governor has exacerbated the chronic underfunding of the entire retirement system to the point of crisis," state AFL-CIO head Charles Wowkanech responded in a statement. Read more

UAW Rival Certified to Represent VW Workers
A second employee organization has been certified to represent workers at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, joining the United Auto Workers as a minority union there. The American Council of Employees, which grew out of the campaign against the UAW last year, now represents at least 15% of the plant's hourly and salaried workers. That gives it the right to raise questions and meet with management periodically, though not as often as UAW Local 42, which has been certified to represent more than 45% of the workers. Neither group has the power to bargain for a contract, but the UAW says it actually represents more than half of Volkswagen's hourly workers—which, should that be confirmed and recognized by the company, would make it the exclusive bargaining agent for all workers at the plant. Read more

FairPoint Strike Ends as Unions Accept Concessions
A bitter four-month strike by phone-company workers in northern New England ended last weekend, as the more than 1,700 union employees of FairPoint Communications agreed to accept a 3½-year contract with more than $200 million in concessions. Workers will get a $500 signing bonus and raises of 1% next year and 2% in 2017, and the company dropped its demand for a two-tier wage system that would pay new hires 20% less, but the deal cuts paid sick days from unlimited to six a year, allows more work to be outsourced, and will eventually eliminate paid health care for retirees. “I’m not happy that we lost a lot of benefits, no, but I’ll be happy after four months just to have a paycheck again,” said Tim McLean, a 20-year cable splicer. Read more

Upstate Nursing-Home Workers Join 1199SEIU
More than 80 caregivers and other workers at Fiddler’s Green Nursing Home in Springville, N.Y, were certified as members of Local 1199SEIU Feb. 10. The facility is the fifth in central and western New York State whose workers have joined the health-care union in the last several months. “For all my years of experience and dedication to my residents, I am not making much more than newly-hired employees,” said John Brayman, a certified nursing assistant with 24 years of experience at Fiddler’s Green. “I feel we deserve to be able to take care of our families like we have taken care of so many others.” Many upstate nursing homes have been recently acquired by downstate for-profit nursing homes and are struggling with financial issues and declining reimbursements, the union says. Read more

Minnesota Medical-Marijuana Workers Organize
Medical marijuana was only legalized in Minnesota last year, but one of the two planned cannabis-production facilities has been unionized before it even opened. Workers at Minnesota Medical Solutions, in the Minneapolis suburb of Otsego, have joined United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189 and signed a contract. "The UFCW has been working on this in multiple states," said Local 1189 organizer Bernie Hesse said. "We see a real potential for development, and I'll be using the word growth a lot, which people giggle about, but a lot of growth in this industry." He estimates the state’s industry will eventually provide 500 to 1,500 jobs. Under the contract, the head cultivator will make $2,200 a week, while other jobs, from custodian to horticultural technician to preparing extracts, pay from $18 to $24 an hour. Read more

August 14, 2013

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