Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – November 19, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walmart Workers Stage Sit-Down Strike in L.A.
Walmart retail workers in Southern California held the first sit-down strike in the company’s history Nov. 13, as workers from all over California blocked aisles in two stores in the Crenshaw and Pico Rivera sections of Los Angeles. Twenty-eight people were arrested. The sit-ins kicked off protests that will culminate on “Black Friday,” Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving. Linda Haluska, 53, who stocks shelves on the third shift at a Walmart in Glenwood, Illinois, says not a single employee in that store gets to spend Thanksgiving Day with their family. OUR Walmart, the organization of Walmart “associates” started by the United Food and Commercial Workers in 2011, expects to have protests at 1,600 stores on Black Friday. Read more

Ex-CEO Indicted in Coal-Mine Disaster
The former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company was indicted Nov. 13 on four charges stemming from the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch coal mine near Montcoal, W.Va. Donald L. Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate safety laws and defrauding the federal government, “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money,” the indictment said. He faces up to 31 years in prison. “The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts. Read more

Volkswagen Opens Door for Minority Unions
Volkswagen announced Nov. 12 that it would allow labor organizations with less than a majority of the workforce at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant to represent employees there on a limited basis. Groups that represent 15% of workers would get monthly meetings with human-resources executives, with more at 30% and 45%, but winning exclusive representation would still require a majority. The United Auto Workers, who lost an election at the plant in February, say that more than half the workers have joined its recently formed Local 42, but a lawyer for the anti-UAW American Council of Employees claimed it too could get 15%. Read more

Postal Workers Protest Privatization
U.S. Postal Service workers held demonstrations at more than 150 locations Nov. 14, protesting efforts to privatize some Post Office operations and demanding that the USPS cancel its plans to close 82 mail-processing centers early next year. The largest one was in Washington, D.C., where about 250 union members and supporters led by American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein picketed outside the public meeting of the USPS Board of Governors after being denied entry. Read more

Nurses to Resume Talks with Kaiser
After a two-day strike Nov. 11-12, California nurses are preparing for a return to the bargaining table with the Kaiser health-care system. “We have a very strong contract that we’re trying to protect,” said Linda Pasek, an oncology infusion nurse at Kaiser’s Oakland hospital. “We’re not asking for anything more than what we had for the last three years. We’re just asking to keep what we have.” Nurse Ama Jackson, meanwhile, said they are afraid Kaiser will try to cut their pensions and health care benefits. Kaiser has not made a formal proposal yet, but executive Odette Bolano said that “every industry is evaluating their pension plans,” and many hospitals are considering shifting to 401(k)-style plans. Read more

L.A. Port Truckers Stage 4th Strike
Truckers at three companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began their fourth strike this year Nov. 13, accusing Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services, and Pacific 9 Transportation of cheating them out of wages and retaliating against workers who protested. By the afternoon, drivers for two of the companies had agreed to a cooling-off period, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was working with the drivers and the carriers to end the stoppage. The strikes have been organized by the Teamsters’ Justice for Port Drivers. Read more

Newark FedEx Drivers Nix Teamsters
The Teamsters’ efforts to organize FedEx Freight workers suffered a setback Nov. 12, as road and city drivers at a terminal in Newark, N.J. voted against joining the union. The Teamsters have now won two elections and lost two at FedEx, the nation’s largest less-than-truckload freight carrier, and have submitted petitions for votes at terminals in Northern New Jersey, Virginia, and Kentucky. Under federal labor law, they have to seek separate elections at each of the company’s 360 U.S. terminals. Most of the nation’s less-than-truckload industry has been nonunion since trucking was deregulated in 1980, but four of its ten largest carriers—YRC Freight, UPS Freight, ABF Freight System- and regional YRC Worldwide carrier Holland—are now unionized. Read more

N.J. Toll Collectors Escape Privatization
Toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway had their jobs spared Nov. 18, when state Turnpike Authority officials announced they wouldn’t privatize running tollbooths. “Now we can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of Local 194 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents 1,000 toll collectors, clerks, maintenance, and trade workers on the Turnpike. The two unions representing toll supervisors agreed to pay cuts in order to be safe from privatization until 2019.  Toll collectors took similar cuts in 2011 to save their jobs from a similar privatization threat. Read more

Resumed FairPoint Talks Break Down
Resumed talks between FairPoint Communications and the two unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers broke down in less than an hour Nov. 18, despite the presence of a federal mediator. “There wasn’t any progress,” said Peter McLaughlin, lead negotiator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “The company just had no interest in working with us.” The company wants $700 million in concessions, including the ability to bring in non-union contract workers and shifting health-care costs to workers. The strike, by workers in in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, has lasted more than a month. Read more

Canadian Telecommunication Workers to Join Steelworkers
Canada’s Telecommunications Workers Union will be joining the United Steelworkers on Jan. 1, after more than two-thirds of its members supported the merger on a second vote. The TWU, which represents 12,000 workers, will remain an autonomous national local with separate pension and benefit plans, but will have access to the USW’s organizing resources and $300 million strike fund. “This is a new sector for us,” said Steelworkers President Ken Neumann, “Now with this merged union we are going to be very much involved in organizing.” The USW, North America’s largest private-sector union, has more than 225,000 Canadian members. Read more

August 14, 2013

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