Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – June 4, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Organizing Won $15 Minimum in Seattle
Seattle won a $15 an hour minimum wage thanks to a combination of street heat, union mobilization, and electoral action. Activists with Working Washington say the one-day fast-food strike in May 2013 helped “spark an extraordinary grassroots workers’ movement that rapidly built support across the entire city.” Then in November, the suburb of Sea-Tac voted for a $15 minimum, and Seattle elected Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant—who ran on the “$15 Now” slogan—to the City Council. Sawant and her allies are now working for a ballot initiative that would have the $15 wage go into effect Jan. 1 for large businesses, instead of the three-year period set by the bill the Council passed June 2.

Chicago Next for $15 Minimum?
Supporters of a $15-an-hour minimum wage rallied in Chicago May 28, with aldermen saying it’s time to introduce such a bill in the City Council. "My car note is $500 a month, my rent is about $500, food is going up, lights are going up," said fast-food worker Tanika Smith, who makes $8.75, 50 cents more than the current state minimum. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed a task force that will likely recommend a smaller increase, and state House Speaker Michael Madigan is backing a referendum that would recommend raising the state minimum to $10.

Study Urges $25,000 Minimum for Retail Workers
“Walmart Moms” planning protests at the company’s shareholder meeting June 6 got a boost from a study that endorsed their push for a $25,000-a-year minimum salary for retail workers. “Retail’s Choice: How Raising Wages and Improving Schedules for Women in the Retail Industry Would Benefit America,” released June 2 by the public-policy group Demos, notes that the industry employs about 1.3 million women who live close to the poverty threshold, with the average hourly wage for saleswomen $10.58 and hour. As of 2012, it said, more than 90% of low-wage female retail workers were at least 20 years old, more than a third had children at home, and almost 40% contributed at least half of their family’s income.

Retiring UAW Head Sees Union Future in South
Despite the United Auto Workers’ defeat at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant last February, outgoing president Bob King said May 30 that he believes he laid the groundwork for the union to gain representation there and at Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama and BMW's plant in South Carolina. "I think that within the next term, you will see the UAW get across the goal line on more than one,” he said. "You are not going to have the auto industry providing middle-class jobs if we don’t organize the whole industry. It’s our members and the workers who don’t have representation yet who are tied at the hip."

Bad Contract Provokes San Francisco Sickout
Hundreds of San Francisco transit workers called in sick June 2, three days after they overwhelmingly rejected a contract that would have eaten up the raises it offered with increased payments for pensions. The sickout meant that two-thirds of the Municipal Transportation Authority’s buses, light-rail vehicles, streetcars and cable cars weren’t running, officials said. The Muni’s 2,200 operators, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, are not legally allowed to go on strike. They voted down the proposed contract by a 1,198-42 margin May 30.

NLRB Rejects Boeing Local’s Complaints About Contract Vote
The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed complaints filed by about 40 Boeing workers that the International Association of Machinists leadership had unfairly scheduled a controversial contract vote to depress turnout and undermine opposition. The complainants argued that the Jan. 3 vote, in which Machinists Lodge 751 members accepted a deal that cut off future pensions, had been held when many workers were still on vacation. In a letter received May 30 by Robley Evans, president of Lodge 751’s Local F, the board said it was an internal matter, that the union’s constitution gives the leadership authority to accept a contract without a vote. Evans said he plans to appeal.

Southern California Grocery Workers OK Contract
Workers at three leading supermarket chains in Southern California ratified a two-year contract May 29, winning raises of up to $1.50 an hour and freezing health-care charges. “We came out very well,” said Rick Icaza, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. The deal covers about 60,000 workers at Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons. But with the companies that own Vons and Albertsons planning to merge, Icaza added, the union also wants to ensure that any stores sold off go to union operators, so health care and pensions are not affected.

Las Vegas Casino Strike Averted
Strikes at five Las Vegas casinos were averted over the weekend of May 31-June 1, as negotiators for the culinary and bartenders’ unions reached tentative agreements on a five-year contract just before the 5 a.m. strike deadline. The five casinos were the last in the city to settle contracts that expired a year ago. The 44,000 housekeepers, cooks, food servers, cleaners, cocktail servers, and others represented by the Culinary Union, UNITE HERE Local 226, and the Bartenders, Local 165, will get raises retroactive to June 1, 2013.

Operating Engineers End Indiana Strike
A five-day strike against an Indiana construction company ended June 3, after International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 reached a tentative agreement with the Four County Highway Contractors Group. The strike, against Superior Construction Co. of Gary, stopped several building projects in the region. Local 150, which represents 23,000 workers who operate and maintain heavy construction equipment in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, has also signed or reached agreements with three other groups of contractors in northern Indiana.

Conyers Pushes Full-Employment Bill
LongtimeCongressman John Conyers (D-MI), who narrowly escaped being bumped off the primary ballot in May, says his main priority now is the Full Employment Act, a measure that would have the federal government create enough jobs to bring the unemployment rate down to 4%. Almost 40% of the nation’s roads, bridges, and tunnels need serious repairs, he added. The bill, HR 1000, has 57 cosponsors. Conyers is aiming at get more than 100 cosponsors, but the bill is unlikely to go anywhere in a House, whose leadership has blocked a vote on a less ambitious infrastructure program proposed by President Barack Obama. “The failure of the Congress to focus on jobs is not just a political blunder.  It’s a dereliction of duty and has caused real human suffering,” Conyers said.  

August 14, 2013

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