Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – March 10, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wisconsin Labor Eyes Tough Future
With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signing a “right to work for less” bill March 9, unions in the state are mulling their options to fight back. A spokesperson for the AFL-CIO said the federation is “looking into the possibilities” for a legal challenge, but the odds of winning one are long: Federal law lets states prohibit unions from requiring fees from all workers they represent, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court has a “very partisan, very political” 4-3 right-wing majority, says Paul Secunda, director of the labor-law program at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Repealing it would depend on Democrats recapturing the heavily gerrymandered state Assembly. Meanwhile, Walker and the legislature will push to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law this week, and also plan to prevent local governments from making project-labor agreements. Read more

Illinois AG Takes on Gov’s Anti-Labor Lawsuit
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion Mar. 9 to dismiss Gov. Bruce Rauner’s lawsuit to void the state law that lets state workers’ unions collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers they represent. The governor “does not have the legal authority… to challenge the law in federal court,” Madigan said in a statement. “Because the governor’s case questions the validity of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, I moved to intervene to provide the court with arguments regarding the law’s constitutionality.” Rauner, who issued an executive order banning fair-share fees last month, has gotten an outside law firm to handle his suit for free. Meanwhile, several Illinois unions are challenging that order in state courts. Read more

Unions Lobby Against Fast-Tracking Trade Deals
Hundreds of members of the AFL-CIO and other unions visited more than 100 Congressmembers last week, urging them to vote against fast-tracking trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The campaign pits labor against the Obama administration, which is seeking “trade promotion authority” that would prevent Congress from making amendments to such deals. The President is working with more moderate Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, while pro-labor Democrats are opposed. “We can’t afford another bad trade deal,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said at a rally. “We’re not going to rubber-stamp their agreement.” Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is wrangling with ranking minority member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the panel’s ranking member, who wants any fast-track measure to let Congress end the amendment ban if members aren’t happy with a trade pact. Read more

‘Mountaineer Workers Rising’ Rally in West Virginia
Thousands of people rallied outside the West Virginia capitol in Charleston Mar. 7 to protest the state legislature’s anti-labor agenda. The new Republican majority is pushing to weaken mine-safety and prevailing-wage laws, increase the number of charter schools, and outlaw the union shop. “For nearly 60 days, they’ve conspired with their big owners and their big donors and out-of-state corporations to lower your wages and to take your benefits,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the crowd. “Richest nation on earth, at its most rich point in time, and we can’t figure out how to pay people decent wages.” Members of the United Mine Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, School Service Personnel Association, and more came in on buses from all across West Virginia and neighboring states. Read more

Ohio Teachers Unions Aim to Organize Top Charter Schools
The Franklinton Preparatory Academy high school in Columbus became Ohio’s first union charter school last week, with teachers voting to affiliate with the Ohio Education Association. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is also campaigning to organize charters, concentrating on the minority that are doing well. “We don’t feel right in organizing teachers in a school we are trying to shut down,” says OFT President Melissa Cropper. A key issue is that the charters have high turnover and can fire teachers in the middle of the year without cause. The OFT has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that two Cleveland charters run by the I CAN SCHOOLS chain did not renew contracts for seven teachers after they tried to organize a union. “We felt scared to speak out,” says Mason Pesek, who teaches in one of those schools. “We had many expectations that went above and beyond the time we were given to accomplish them.” Read more

Pittsburgh Firefighters Reach Contract Deal
The city of Pittsburgh reached agreement on a four-year contract with the International Association of Firefighters Local No. 1 on Mar. 6. The deal gives small raises—none this year, 1% in 2016, and 2% in both 2017 and 2018—but preserves staffing levels and doesn’t close any of the city’s 30 fire stations. “The city is still dealing with financial problems but [this deal] still maintains the safety necessary for the residents as well as our firefighters,” said Local 1 President Ralph Sicuro. The union’s members voted 85% in favor of approving the contract. Read more

August 14, 2013

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