Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – February 27, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wisconsin Senate Passes Union-Busting Bill
By a 17-15 vote, the Wisconsin state Senate passed a bill outlawing the union shop Feb. 25, as about 2,000 people protested in and around the state capitol. The bill would make it a crime to require private-sector workers who aren't in a union to pay dues or fees for representation, with a maximum penalty of nine months in jail. The vote went along party lines except for one Republican who voted no. The state Assembly, where the Republican majority is wider, is expected to pass the bill next week, and Gov. Scott Walker has said he will sign it. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that gave unions and businesses “adequate time” to extend union-shop contracts before the law went into effect. Sen. Jerry Petrowski, the one Republican to vote against it and a former union member, said in a statement that he was "not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” Read more

Jersey Unions Call Christie Pension Scheme ‘Deceptive’
New Jersey public workers’ unions are harshly criticizing Gov. Chris Christie’s pension-revamping proposal, which would freeze current workers’ plans and switch them to a “cash balance” scheme closer to a 401(k) defined-contribution plan, cut their health benefits, and eliminate cost-of-living increases for retirees. Christie announced the plan Feb. 25, two days after a court ruled that he had illegally withheld $1.57 billion in payments to the state’s pension fund. "To propose solutions to further reduce employee benefits essentially ignores the math,” said Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association, adding that the scheme "punishes nearly 40,000 law enforcement officers and firefighters who have no part to play in the state's underfunded pension plans.” “The pension plan's long-term problem has always been the state refusing to put the money in," said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 55,000 public workers in the state. “No matter how many back-room meetings transpire, there won't be a solution until we address the problem by putting the legally required money into the pension.” Read more

Strike Possible in Major League Soccer
With the 2015 Major League Soccer season supposed to get underway next week, the MLS Players Union may go on strike to demand free agency. Unlike American pro baseball, basketball, football, or hockey players, their team retains the rights to their services even after their contracts have expired. “The sense one gets from MLS players is that they consider this a show-stopper in terms of the current collective-bargaining process,” said Anto Bianco, co-host of the Sirius XM soccer show Beyond the Pitch. “We are very unified and committed to what we are trying to achieve,” said Toronto FC defender Steven Caldwell, a veteran of the English Premier League. But the union’s small strike fund might hinder its ability to sustain a walkout. Read more

SEIU 32BJ Gains in Organizing Pittsburgh Security Guards
About 400 security guards in Pittsburgh have joined Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ since it began an organizing drive last August, and another 400 are expected to join in the next month. The union’s strategy is the one it used to organize janitors in the city’s downtown a decade ago, getting enough guards to sign up at different employers and then negotiating a single unified contract with all of them. Sam Williamson, district director for Local 32BJ, said 85% of the building guards in the city work for companies that have agreed to allow them to join the union, and he expects bargaining to start this spring. The guards, who now make $9 to $10 an hour, are seeking a raise and better training. Read more

Safety Core Issue as Refinery Strike Continues
With the United Steelworkers’ strike at 12 oil refineries in its fourth week, two explosions have underscored the workers’ demands for stronger safety measures and an end to outsourcing, short staffing, and forced overtime. Several workers were injured in an explosion Feb. 18 at a not-yet-struck ExxonMobil refinery in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, and there was another blast Feb. 23 at a struck refinery in Whiting, Indiana that’s being run by managers and engineers. The Torrance explosion “damn near killed leaders of our union committee,” said Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer of Steelworkers Local 675. The blast also spewed toxic dust over the surrounding area, so union members and Occupy activists dressed up in hazmat suits and delivered a dump truck full of manure to ExxonMobil’s area administrative offices. “Why is it illegal to deposit organic material on corporate property,” Campbell asked, “but perfectly legal for a corporation to drop toxic materials on a community?” The strike, which began Feb. 1, now includes 6,500 workers and affects one-fifth of U.S. oil production capacity, including the country’s largest refinery, in Port Arthur, Texas. Read more

August 14, 2013

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