Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – July 30, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Federal Contract Workers Strike Again
Federal contractors who work minimum-wage jobs at Union Station, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the National Zoo, and the Pentagon staged their ninth mini-strike July 29. About 100 people, mostly women and children, protested outside Union Station, saying that President Barack Obama’s executive order to increase the minimum pay to $10.10 in future government contracts is “not enough” and demanding the right to unionize. “Workers need more than a minimum wage executive order,” the Rev. Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice yelled into a bullhorn. “Workers need a ‘good jobs’ executive order.” Another issue is that the president’s orders apply only to companies that contract with the executive branch and don’t cover the more than 2,500 people who work under contracts for Congress.

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Could Union Activity Be a Civil Right?
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and 12 other House members introduced a bill July 30 that would let workers fired for union activity sue their employers for civil-rights violations and seek damages and legal fees. Under current law, they can only seek back pay and reinstatement through the National Labor Relations Board. Those protections, said AFL-CIO director of government affairs Bill Samuel “are really completely inadequate” and “haven't kept pace with the increasing viciousness of anti-union efforts.” The AFL-CIO has endorsed the measure, but it has no chance of passing in the current House. Read more

Macy’s Workers Win Right to ‘Micro-Union’
The National Labor Relations Board ruled July 22 that cosmetics and fragrances workers at the Macy's in Saugus, Massachusetts, can vote on whether to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, even though they make up only about one-third of the store’s sales force. The 3-1 vote—on party lines—held that the 41 beauty-product workers qualified as a distinct bargaining unit because they were readily identifiable as a department and shared a “community of interest.” The ruling applied the NLRB’s 2011 decision in a case called Specialty Healthcare, which held that a group of nursing assistants at a long-term care facility could form a so-called “micro-union.”
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Engineers Sue Boeing on Age Discrimination
The union representing Boeing engineers filed charges July 23 with federal and Washington state agencies accusing the aircraft manufacturer of age discrimination. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace alleges that Boeing’s new method of selecting employees for layoffs, ranking workers with higher levels of skills and experience against each other instead of against all employees doing the same job, is a scheme to get rid of older workers—and their pension and health-care costs. “It dramatically shifts who is positioned for future layoffs,” said SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth. The union also charged that plans to move jobs out of the Puget Sound area have a discriminatory effect. Boeing called the charges “baseless” and said it was merely “diversifying” its engineers.
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San Diego Moves to Raise Minimum Wage
The San Diego City Council voted July 28 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by January 2017. The 6-3 vote means the measure would have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto threatened by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. If it’s enacted, the city’s minimum-wage workers—most of whom are in restaurants and retail—will get a raise to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2015, to $10 six months later when the state minimum rises from $9, and to $10.50 in 2016. The measure would also give workers a chance at up to five days of paid sick leave. Read more

Judge Says Mercedes-Benz Can’t Ban Union Flyers
A federal administrative judge ruled July 24 that Mercedes-Benz could not prohibit workers from handing out union literature at its Vance, Alabama, plant when they weren’t on the job, but did not impose any penalties on the company. Judge Keltner W. Locke said Mercedes-Benz’s “overly broad” rules against solicitation violated the National Labor Relations Act, but that the company had taken “prompt remedial action.” The judge also dismissed harassment charges that had been filed by the United Auto Workers, which is trying to organize the plant. Read more

Pension Cuts Stalled in Pennsylvania
Despite having a Republican majority in the state legislature, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has so far been unable to get it to cut state workers’ pensions. The Assembly sent his “pension reform” bill back to committee in July, with 15 more moderate GOP members, many from the Philadelphia suburbs, joining Democrats. “Our idea of pension reform is getting pensions for everybody,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed 13 of those 15 Republicans for re-election. The legislature also hasn’t passed union-opposed bills to privatize state-owned liquor stores and to require unions to get written permission from members to spend dues money on political activity.
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Judge Upholds Memphis Pay Cuts
A federal judge on July 21 dismissed a lawsuit by 13 labor unions in Memphis, Tennessee against the city’s 2011 decision to cut employees' wages by 4.6% percent. District Judge Samuel H. Mays ruled that the city hadn’t violated its contracts with the unions because those contracts weren’t valid if the City Council didn’t vote to fund them. “What has been learned from this process is that this city administration has no problem breaking its commitments and promises,” the Memphis Police Association said in a statement July 23. “Unfortunately, not all wrongs have a legal remedy.” Read more

UFCW Urges Obama to ‘Go Big’ on Immigration…
President Barack Obama should “go big” on immigration by using executive orders when Congress blocks legislation, United Food and Commercial Workers Union leader Joe Hansen wrote July 25. Citing Obama’s July 21 executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation, Hansen said the President should also “stop the deportation of those who would be eligible for citizenship” under the immigration bill the Senate passed last year that the House “has refused to act” on. UFCW members, he added, “have seen the wreckage of our broken immigration system firsthand—from the raided meatpacking plants to the worker who live in fear of deportation to the husband kept apart from his wife and children.” Read more

…But Border Patrol Union Criticizes AFL-CIO on Immigration
The National Border Patrol Council is trying to win its 17,000 members a new contract with the federal government and get Congress to pass a bill giving them more regular overtime pay—and also pushing for tougher restrictions on immigration. That last stance has put it at odds with the AFL-CIO, as union vice president Shawn Moran told CNBC.com that many members consider the federation’s position “pro-amnesty.” The Border Patrol Council, which is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, recently deleted its AFL-CIO affiliation from its Web site.  Read more

August 14, 2013

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