Blue Collar Buzz, Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – March 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Vegas Workers Threaten Strike Over Health Care
Nearly 10,000 Las Vegas casino and hotel workers will vote March 20 on whether to authorize a strike to preserve their health benefits. The housekeepers, porters, cooks, cocktail servers, and others represented by Nevada’s largest union, the Culinary Union Local 226, now get coverage at no cost through a Taft-Hartley multiemployer plan, but as it isn’t eligible for tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, some companies have asked their employees to pay into an HMO, said Yvanna Cancela, the Culinary’s political director. “The biggest hurdle to reaching settlements in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare,” said Donald “D” Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, the Culinary’s parent union. “Even though the president and Congress promised we could keep our health plan, the reality is, unless the law is fixed, that won’t be true.” However, the union has worked out deals to maintain free coverage for the 35,000 workers at MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment.

Major League Soccer Opens Season With Scab Refs
Major League Soccer started its 2014 season with scabs on the pitch, locking out the Professional Soccer Referees Association Mar. 7 after it refused to sign a no-strike pledge. The union, trying to negotiate its first collective bargaining agreement in league history, also wants refs to get paid for training sessions. The lockout comes after the union filed unfair labor practice and labor intimidation complains with the National Labor Relations Board.

MTA Seeks Mediation With LIRR Unions
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority formally requested more federal mediation of the Long Island Railroad’s dispute with its labor unions Mar. 5. The move means that workers who authorized a strike as early as Mar. 21 can’t legally walk out until July 19. The previous panel of mediators said the MTA could afford to give workers raises if they began paying some of their health-care premiums, but the MTA refused, saying the cost would force larger fare increases and service cuts. The MTA“continues to find money to spend on what they want to spend it on,” responded Anthony Simon, chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union, which represents some LIRR workers.

Volkswagen Sides With UAW on Appeal
The United Auto Workers and Volkswagen have filed their opposition to two antiunion groups trying to prevent a new election at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. Volkswagen’s attorney told the National Labor Relations Board that there is no legal basis for Southern Momentum and the National Right to Work Foundation to be involved in the proceedings, and the UAW argues that they don’t have legal standing because neither one was a party to the election. The two groups claim they are representing antiunion workers who have a right to be heard. The UAW has asked for a new election on the grounds that a “coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign” by politicians and antiunion outsiders tainted the vote.

Philly’s DC 47 Gets First Raise in Five Years
Members of AFSCME District Council 47, the union representing Philadelphia’s white-collar municipal workers, ratified a contract Mar. 6 that will give them their first raise in since June 2009, when their last contract expired. The pact includes $2,000 signing bonuses for the union’s 2,000 members and raises totaling 9 percent through 2017. The city will contribute more for health-care coverage, but workers will have to put more of their paychecks into the pension fund. District Council 33, which represents the city’s 10,000 blue-collar workers, has also been without a contract or raises since 2009.

Conservative Confab Conspires to Undermine Unions
Panelists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland Mar. 8 agreed that with Democrats in power in Washington, the best way to undermine unions is through state legislation, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s rollback of collective bargaining and the union-shop bans recently passed in Michigan and Indiana. Grover Norquist, who bankrolled an ad campaign against the United Auto Workers in Tennessee, said such laws also weaken labor’s political clout, and that Walker had proved that public-sector unions were vulnerable. F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy think tank in Michigan, said the next targets for union-shop bans include Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky.

NLRB: Postal Service Must Give Union Staples Info
Region 5 of the National Labor Relations Board has recommended that the board seek an injunction in federal court to compel the U.S. Postal Service to give information to the American Postal Workers Union about its deal to provide postal services in Staples stores. The APWU, which is demanding that those jobs go to postal employees, wants to know how the mail’s security will be protected, how Staples employees will be trained, and how much the Postal Service will pay Staples. A hearing before an administrative law judge has been set for March 31.

Portland Port Strike Stopped
A strike by longshoremen in the port of Portland, Oregon Mar. 4 ended after an arbitrator ruled the picket line they were refusing to cross wasn’t “bona fide.” Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off the job after lunch, in solidarity with Honduran dockworkers picketing to protest the terminal operator’s Central American subsidiary firing union workers and having them arrested. But arbitrator Jan Holmes said that because the Hondurans were not directly employed by the Oregon subsidiary that runs the terminal, the U.S. workers could not legally honor their picket line.

Washington Machinists Elect New President
Jon Holden, 41, was elected president of the International Association of Machinists District 751 in Washington March 6. He succeeds Tom Wroblewski, who retired Jan. 31, citing health reasons, after the bitterly disputed contract vote by Boeing workers in the local. Holden, formerly business representative for workers on Boeing’s 747 assembly line in Everett, said he would “channel that anger” over the contract givebacks to build a more united union. “We can and should be pushing the contract enforcement envelope,” he said.

Temp Workers Face Modern-Day ‘Harvest of Shame’
Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 TV documentary “Harvest of Shame” exposed the exploitation of migrant farmworkers—and today’s temp workers face similar abuses. “Low wages, wage theft, unsafe conditions, working with chemicals with no respect and dignity, and no organized effort to try to fight back,” says Lou Kimmel, an organizer for the New Labor workers’ center in New Brunswick, N.J.  In the 21st-century system of online shopping and just-in-time delivery, the temp industry now employs 2.8 million workers—the highest proportion of the American workforce in history—and many get hired through shape-ups, ride to work in overcrowded buses and vans, and earn about as much, adjusted for inflation, as migrant farmworkers did 54 years ago.

August 14, 2013

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