Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – July 16, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Detroit Retirees Plead for Pensions
The federal judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy plan opened his courtroom to public testimony July 15, and 46 people urged him to prevent cuts to pensions and health care benefits. “I want to live the last few years of my life,” said retired police Sgt. Gisele Caver, who worked despite suffering from an incurable disease. “Don’t take away my pension and my medical. My life is at stake.” Under the plan, city workers and retirees’ pensions would be cut by 4.5% and annual cost-of-living increases eliminated, retired police and firefighters would have their cost-of-living increases sliced in half, and annuities for people who contributed extra reduced by up to 15.5%. Detroiter Andrea Hackett said the purpose of the city’s bankruptcy “is to shed pension obligations and get this court and judge to set a precedent so other cities can do the same,” adding that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr “has no problem slitting our throats and letting us bleed out.” Read more

Will Staples Abandon Postal Service Trial?
Staples said July 14 that it was dropping a pilot program to offer postal services at 82 of its stores and would join the standard Post Office Approved Shipper program. The announcement came shortly after the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachersendorsed the American Postal Workers Union’sboycott of the office-supply chain. But APWU President Mark Dimondstein called it a “ruse,” saying in a statement that the U.S. Postal Service still intends “to continue to privatize postal retail operations” and “replace living-wage Postal Service jobs with low-wage Staples jobs,” and that the union would “keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business.” Read more

Pittsburgh Janitors Demand Jobs Back
About 150 people rallied July 11 outside University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital, calling for the reinstatement of 10 janitors who lost their jobs when the hospital switched to a nonunion office-cleaning service July 1. The janitors, members of SEIU Local 32BJ, had made $11.30 an hour with benefits, union district president Sam Williamson said, and the new service pays $9.50. Donald Malcolm, 54, who’d worked there for 12 years, said he’d applied to the new contractor but hadn’t gotten his job back. “I don’t think we lost the contract,” he told the crowd. “They just didn’t want the union in here.” Read more

Obama Renames Sharon Block to NLRB
President Barack Obama has renamed Sharon Block to the National Labor Relations Board, sending her nomination to the Senate July 14. Block, who served on the board for 18 months in 2012-13, was one of the three members whose recess appointments were invalidated by the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans are likely to oppose confirming her, but procedural rules adopted last November will likely prevent them from filibustering the nomination. Block would succeed another Democrat, Nancy Schiffer, whose term expires on Dec. 16. Read more

Will NLRB Cases Undermine Outsourcing Dodge?
Two cases now pending before the National Labor Relations Board might redefine what it means to be an “employer”—and prevent companies from claiming that they’re not responsible for workers who are technically employed by someone else. In one, based on complaints filed by the Fast-Food Workers Committee and the Service Employees International Union, the board will rule on whether McDonald's qualifies as a "joint employer" along with the franchise owner. In the other, the Teamsters are appealing a regional board’s decision that only workers hired by a staffing agency were eligible to vote in a union election at a recycling plant in Milpitas, California. The AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the NLRB's general counsel argue that companies like McDonald’s retain substantial control of the terms and conditions of employment. Several major business organizations have lined up on the opposite side. Read more

Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Before Fatal Accident
The accident that killed sugar-plant worker Janio Salinas in February 2013 came 13 days after the CSC Sugar company removed a protective screen from a hopper because the plant’s manager believed it was slowing down production. Salinas, a 50-year-old immigrant from Peru, was buried alive in sugar while trying to dig out a clogged hopper at the company’s warehouse in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The screen had been placed over the hopper to prevent clumps of sugar from clogging the hole at the bottom. Salinas, like every other worker there, had been hired through a temp agency. Read more

Feds Eyeing Charges in Refinery Blast?
More than four years after an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington killed seven workers, no one at the company has been held publicly accountable for the deaths. The state Labor Department, accusing Tesoro of breaking the law 39 times, fined the company $2.39 million, the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history, but a judge reduced that to less than $700,000. The federal government is investigating whether to file criminal charges under environmental laws, which are tougher than the workplace-safety laws. It would have to file any charges before the five-year statute of limitations runs out next April and prove willful negligence to win a conviction. “Serious OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury should be felonies like insider trading, tax crimes or customs and antitrust violations,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration head David Michaels told Congress in 2010.
Read more

Spirit Airlines Ramp Workers Join Machinists
Spirit Airlines ramp workers voted to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in an election that ended July 8. They join pilots, flight attendants, and dispatchers as union workers at the low-cost airline. “The days of Spirit management unilaterally dictating wages and working conditions end today,” Daniel Krampert, a ramp agent in Atlantic City, said in a Machinists statement. The IAM is also organizing flight attendants at Delta Air Lines. Read more

Milwaukee Remembers Ironworkers Killed Building Ballpark
Fifteen years after a crane collapsed during the construction of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park, the city still remembers the three members of Iron Workers Local 8killed in the accident. Jeffrey Wischer, 40, William DeGrave, 39, and Jerome Starr, 52, died on July 14, 1999, when the 567-foot-tall Big Blue crane was blown over by winds of more than 20 mph while it was lifting a 450-ton piece of the stadium’s roof. Engineer Mike Duckett says he remembers the day like he does 9/11 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The three men’s widows sued the contractor for negligence and settled out of court for $57 million in 2006. Read more

British Public Workers Stage Giant One-Day Strike
More than a million British public-sector workers “took a day off” July 10 to protest a pay cap that has frozen wages or limited raises to 1% a year, the loss of 400,000 public-sector jobs since 2010, and reduced pensions. The strikers included members of the National Union of Teachers, the public-sector union UNISON, the Fire Brigades Union, and UNITE, Britain’s largest union. “We were promised £1 an hour more—we haven’t had it yet. No pay rise for three years,” said James, a garbage collector, while teaching assistants said their pay has been frozen for six years. Read more

August 14, 2013

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