Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – May 21, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Christie Ponders How to End Pensions
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is developing a plan to shift future state employees to a 401(k)-style plan instead of a traditional pension, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The governor told a Peter G. Peterson Foundation conference May 14 that the only way to close the state’s budget deficit was “to stop the insanity of a defined-benefit pension system that we cannot afford.” The idea is “such a nonstarter for us,” responded Seth Hahn of the Communications Workers of America, the largest union representing state workers.

AFSCME Says State Bills Could Derail Detroit Deal
AFSCME District Council 25, Detroit’s largest public-employee union, decided to hold back on endorsing the city’s latest bankruptcy plan after the state legislature introduced bills to end health-care payments for retirees and give future city workers 401(k)-style plans instead of pensions. “If they were enacted as written, the ‘grand bargain’ would fail and we would be forced to oppose settlement of the bankruptcy proceedings," DC 25 legislative director Nick Ciaramitaro told a state House committee May 14. But he said it would not take too many changes in the city’s plan for the union to recommend that its members vote for it. “I’m not predicting a positive outcome, but I’m certainly hoping for one,” he said after the hearing.

NLRB Rules Videotaping Pickets Is Unfair Labor Practice
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Boeing was guilty of an unfair labor practice when it photographed and videotaped marches by engineers in and around its plants in the Seattle area and Portland, Oregon, during contract talks in 2012. The decision by administrative law judge Gerald Etchingham requires Boeing to rescind security policies that call for such surveillance and to post a notice that the company will not “create an impression that we are watching your union activities.” “This ruling is a searing indictment of the illegal intimidation tactics Boeing uses,” said Ray Goforth, head of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which filed the charges. The company will appeal.

Toronto Transit Workers Win Raise
Toronto transit union workers approved a new four-year contract May 16 that gives them annual 2% raises and what Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 president Bob Kinnear called “a 100% ban on contracting out bargaining-unit work.” The deal was the first the union had reached with the Toronto Transit Commission since 2008 without going to arbitration. “Our members told us at the outset that job security was our number one priority, and we couldn’t do any better than we have in that department,” Kinnear said. Toronto’s transit system was declared an essential service in 2011, taking away workers' right to strike.

Second New Orleans High School Unionizes
After 85% of teachers at New Orleans’ Benjamin Franklin High School signed union cards, the school’s board voted 9-1 May 15 to recognize the union without an election. The teachers will be joining the United Teachers of New Orleans, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The school is only the second New Orleans public school to unionize since the city fired all its teachers after Hurricane Katrina, and the state replaced most of the city’s schools with charters.

UNITE HERE Opens Health-Care Center in Atlantic City
In an effort to reduce costs and provide better health care for its members, UNITE HERE Local 54 opened a primary-care clinic in Atlantic City May 13. The center, funded by Unite Here Health, a national labor-management trust fund that provides health benefits to the 200,000 of the union’s members, has three physicians, a nurse-practitioner, a pharmacy, laboratory services, and a center for physical therapy—and no co-pays for members who use it. Local 54 president Bob McDevitt said the union had realized that the only way to deal with health-care providers raising prices was “to start taking control of it ourselves.” Unite Here Health plans to open similar centers in Las Vegas.

Mississippi Machinists Strike to Protect Pensions
Members of Local 2249 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers went on strike May 16 against Lockheed Martin’s operations at the Stennis Space Center in southwestern Mississippi. Chief steward Ken Powe said the 116 union members decided to strike after Lockheed’s final contract offer eliminated funding for their pensions. “It's not a matter of money; it's where we want to put the money,” Powe said. “These companies come in and out of here every five to seven years, and we just want our pension to be consistent.”

Teachers Elect Testing Foes in Massachusetts and L.A.
Teachers unions in Massachusetts and Los Angeles have both elected new presidents who are foes of standardized tests and corporate-style education “reform.” Barbara Madeloni, elected May 10 to head the Massachusetts Teachers Association, is calling for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing. She argues teachers’ and schools’ futures are being unfairly linked to the tests. Her victory follows that of Alex Caputo-Pearl, who won a runoff to head the Los Angeles teachers union in April. But in Seattle, high-school teacher Jesse Hagopian, who became nationally known for leading a boycott of standardized tests last year, lost his bid for the union presidency by 45 votes on May 8.

Switzerland Rejects $25 Minimum Wage
Swiss voters on May 18 rejected a ballot initiative to establish a minimum wage of 22 francs an hour (about $24.63). The measure would have given Switzerland by far the highest minimum wage in the world, but it lost by 76%-24%. Switzerland, like Germany and Italy, does not have a legal minimum wage; minimum salaries are usually set by collective bargaining agreements in different economic sectors. Unions supported creating a minimum, saying that workers needed to make at least $50,000 a year to live in a country where a big-city apartment rents for $2,000 a month and health insurance costs $330-$450, but business groups, especially farmers, opposed it.

Turkish Mine Disaster Sparks Strikes, Protests
A mining disaster in Soma, Turkey on May 13 that killed more than 300 workers provoked widespread street protests and a one-day strike May 15 by the country’s largest unions. “In the past few years, we've seen hundreds of incidents, and we've lost thousands of workers,” said Pevrul Kavlak, general secretary of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions. On May 14, a crowd in Soma attacked Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s car after he said other mine accidents have been worse. The mine is owned by the government, but its operation was contracted out in 2005. “The private mining sector has enforced an intense working tempo in order to extract more coal, which can result in cracks in worker safety,” said Tufan Günay of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey.

August 14, 2013

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