Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – July 10, 2013

Compilied By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walmart, Other Chains Release Rival Bangladesh Safety Plan
Seventeen major American retailers who refused to sign a safety accord for factories in Bangladesh released their own rival plan July 10. The 17, including Walmart, Target, J.C. Penney, Gap, Sears, and Macy’s, objected to the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety, signed by more than 70 mostly European companies in May, because they said it would expose them to lawsuits. Their plan, the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, relies mainly on voluntary commitments. It was developed by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank affiliated with former Maine senators George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe that has received funding from Walmart and its lobbyists. Read More

Bay Area Rapid Transit Workers End Strike
Striking Bay Area Rapid Transit workers went back on the job July 5, agreeing to work under the current contract until Aug. 4 while negotiations with management continue. The two unions and BART remain far apart on pay, health benefits, and pensions. “We still have a wide gap of disagreements to bridge over the next 30 days,” said BART General Manager Grace Crunican. Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555, accused BART of "hijacking the entire situation and causing anxiety" for the public. Read More

BART Strike Highlights Debate Over Public-Sector Unions
The strike that stopped commuter trains in the San Francisco-Oakland area for five days illuminated a divide in public opinion: between people who see public-sector unions as defenders of working people and those who see them as takers of taxpayers’ dollars. "There are plenty of people looking for work that will happily take what they will not,” said Sierra Reed, 26, of San Francisco, who said she gets only 1 percent annual raises. "Unions fight for higher wages, which translate to higher wages for all Americans," responded Jane Smith, 30, of San Francisco. "I can't believe that people are missing the point." Since 2009, a majority of U.S union members have been public workers: 36 percent of government workers now are union members, while less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are. Read More

Poll Finds Union Support Strongest Among Young
A survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 51 percent of respondents approved of labor unions, up from the all-time low of 41 percent in 2011. Whites and retirees mostly had an unfavorable opinion of organized labor, while the highest approval ratings came among women, people of color, and young people between the ages of 18 and 29. City University of New York sociologist Penny Lewis said the 61-percent favorable response among people under 30 “reflects the precarity so many young people are facing” and the influence of the Occupy era. Read More 

Federal Unions Fight Furloughs
More than 100,000 federal workers were on furlough July 5, and the American Federation of Government Employees is trying to end the practice, which was imposed after the budget sequester. AFGE, which represents 9,300 workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will go to arbitration with the agency next month, seeking to stop it from mandating any more unpaid days off and get back wages already lost. "We believe HUD has not cut expenses in the appropriate places," said Eddie Eitches, president of AFGE Local 476. Workers at the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of Management and Budget were also furloughed July 5, and civilian workers at the Department of Defense will have to take off one day a week without pay until Sept. 30. Read More

California State Worker Unions Seek Pay Hikes
Contracts expired in early July for most of California’s state workers, and after years of losing income to furloughs, they’re looking for raises. The Legislature approved a deal for a 4.5 percent raise by 2015 with SEIU Local 1000, which represents more than half of the state's roughly 171,000 full-time non-university rank-and-file workers and nine of its 21 bargaining units. California Highway Patrol officers and state firefighters’ contracts run for the next several years, but the remaining 10 units, including those representing doctors, lawyers and engineers, are still at the bargaining table with Gov. Jerry Brown, who said he didn’t like the word “negotiations.” Read More

Silicone Workers Narrowly OK ‘Concession Contract’
Workers at Momentive Performance Materials silicone factories in Waterford, N.Y., and Willoughby, Ohio, approved a new three-year contract July 3 by a nine-vote margin. IUE-CWA Local 81359 officials had previously called it a "concession contract," as it apparently replaces workers’ pensions with a 401(k) unless they’re over 50 and have at least 10 years on the job. After workers rejected an earlier version in June, IUE-CWA national president James Clark warned them they were risking losing their jobs. Read More 

Unions Lead Battle Against Koch Bid for Tribune Newspapers
Labor unions are leading the fight against right-wing billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch’s bid to buy the Tribune Co. newspaper chain, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, and Hoy, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language newspaper. Several union pension funds own shares in the company directly or indirectly. The Koch brothers have given millions to organizations that want to dismantle Social Security and eliminate workers’ collective bargaining rights, said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. The Newspaper Guild, which represents Baltimore Sun workers, says it’s urged the Tribune Co. “to pledge to sell its holdings to a buyer that will protect the objectivity of the news product.” Read More

Would Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal ‘Void Democracy’?
Negotiations resume July 15-25 in Malaysia on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a NAFTA-style trade deal that would cover 40 percent of the world’s economy—including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Japan—and let corporations challenge national and local laws, such as labor or environmental regulations, that interfere with “expected future profits.” President Obama called it a priority in his State of the Union speech and wants Congress to give him “fast-track” authority, which would limit debate and prohibit amendments. The negotiations have included representatives from 600 “corporate advisors,” but largely excluded unions. The Teamsters and Communications Workers of America have actively opposed the deal, but most other U.S. unions have been quieter. Read More

Philippines Legislator Introduces ‘Magna Carta’ for Call-Center Workers
Filipino Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has reintroduced legislation she calls “a Magna Carta” for call-center workers. The bill would establish safety regulations and protect the workers’ rights to organize unions. “Business-process outsourcing” firms have discouraged labor organizations, she said. Call centers and other outsourced business services are rapidly expanding in the Philippines: They made $13.5 billion in revenue last year, up 22 percent from 2011, and are expected to employ more than 700,000 workers this year. Read More

June 27, 2013

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