Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – July 17, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
 
Obama Picks Two for NLRB After Senate Filibuster Deal
President Obama chose two longtime labor lawyers for the National Labor Relations Board July 16: Nancy Schiffer, a retired AFL-CIO attorney, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to the NLRB’s chair. The appointments came after Senate Republicans agreed to stop filibustering the confirmation of several Obama nominees, including Thomas E. Perez for Secretary of Labor, in exchange for Democrats not trying to restrict filibusters and abandoning previous NLRB nominees Richard Griffin and Sharon Block. Obama had appointed Griffin and Block during a brief Senate recess to circumvent the filibuster, but federal courts voided that earlier this year.

Chicago Cabbies Fight for a Fairer Fare
Fed up with low wages, long hours, and frequent fines, Chicago taxi drivers are suing to be declared city employees instead of independent contractors. They are arguing that because the city issues their licenses, controls the number of cabs, sets both the fare and the amount they pay to lease their cabs from private companies, and establishes rules and enforces penalties for drivers’ conduct, it controls their working conditions enough to be considered their employer. A federal judge rejected the city’s bid to have the case dismissed. Chicago’s 14,000 cabbies work 13-hour shifts, often six days a week, and on average earn well below minimum wage before tips.
 
UFCW Expected to Rejoin AFL-CIO
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is likely to vote to rejoin the AFL-CIO at its annual convention in Chicago next month. The 1.3-million member union split off from the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change to Win, a seven-union federation that also included the SEIU, UNITE HERE, and the Teamsters, that said it wanted to focus more on organizing. The AFL-CIO’s resources could help the UFCW in its bid to organize workers at Walmart, which is notoriously anti-union.
 
D.C. Passes Living-Wage Bill; Walmart May Pull Out of City
Washington’s City Council voted 8-5 on July 10 to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $12.50 at “big box” retailers, those with more than $1 billion in annual profits and at least 75,000 square feet of indoor store space. Walmart, which has started building three stores in the city, said it would reconsider finishing them and cancel three other stores it planned. Local activists and unions, including the UFCW, pushed for the bill after Walmart refused to sign a binding agreement on wages and benefits. Mayor Vincent Gray may veto the bill; it would take nine votes on the Council to override that.
 
Greeks Stage General Strike
Thousands of Greek workers staged a 24-hour strike July 16 to protest government plans to lay off 4,000 to 11,000 workers, including teachers. It was the fourth such strike this year. The country’s creditors—the “troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—have demanded massive cuts in public services and workers’ pay in exchange for bailout loans, and the unemployment rate is 27 percent. “You politicians, kowtowing to the troika, have raped our souls, destroyed our lives,” union leader Nikolaos Kioutsoukis told a rally in Athens’ Syntagma Square.

Esai Morales Challenges Ken Howard in SAG-AFTRA Election
Esai Morales, famous for his roles in NYPD Blue and La Bamba, will challenge Emmy award winner Ken Howard, the incumbent co-president, for the presidency of SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood's largest entertainment union. The vote will be the first since the Screen Actors Guild merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists last year. Howard, elected SAG president in 2009, supported the merger; Morales opposed it. Two other candidates are running in the election, which begins this week and runs until Aug. 15.
 
Battle Lines Harden Over Detroit Pension Cuts
In a July 10 meeting with Detroit “emergency manager” Kevyn Orr, union officials angrily rejected Orr’s proposed cuts to city workers’ pensions and health care. Union members have also filed two lawsuits, one arguing they have a constitutional right to their pensions, the other challenging the state’s emergency-manager law. Many believe that Orr is planning to have the city file for bankruptcy, which would enable a judge to order pensions reduced. “They think they can break the state Constitution by filing bankruptcy,” said Michael Nicholson, general counsel for the United Auto Workers, who was kicked out of the meeting for refusing to sign an agreement to keep the talks confidential.
 
Oregon State Workers Authorize Strike
SEIU Local 503, Oregon’s largest public-sector union, voted July 13 to authorize a strike, 30 days after it declared that contract talks were at an impasse. The state has offered 1 percent annual cost-of-living increases and an end to furloughs—which it calls a raise. The union wants 4-6 percent raises and a cap on health-insurance costs. SEIU negotiator Dan Smith said a strike was a real possibility; it could happen as early as July 22.
 
UAW Moves to Organize Alabama Mercedes Plant
The United Auto Workers is again trying to organize the 3,000 workers in the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama. President Bob King has made unionizing foreign-owned plants in the South a priority, and the UAW has at least $60 million committed to the effort. Many workers were laid off when sales slumped earlier in the recession, and most new hires have been temporary workers, who make half what on-staff workers do.
 
UFCW Helps Stall Pennsylvania Liquor Privatization
A bill to privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores died in the state Senate earlier this month, after a massive lobbying campaign by United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 23 and 1776. “This was the largest member mobilization ever,” said Local 1776 President Wendell Young. A privatization bill is expected to be reintroduced in the fall legislative session, but as of now, “over 3,500 UFCW members will keep their jobs,” the union said.
 
New York Court to Rule on Publicizing Pensions
New York State’s top court has agreed to hear an appeal on whether retired teachers’ pension benefits should be public information. The Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center had demanded the names of individual retirees and how much they were getting under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, but lower courts held that doing so would violate the retirees’ privacy. The Empire Center, which advocates reducing public workers’ pensions, planned to post the names and amounts on its Web site. Several of the state’s leading newspapers filed amicus briefs supporting its suit.

July 18, 2013

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