Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – October 16, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wildcat Strike by Boston School-Bus Drivers
Boston school-bus drivers staged a surprise wildcat strike Oct. 8. The one-day walkout came after they found that the National Labor Relations Board, closed by the partial shutdown of the federal government, would not be able to hear their complaints against Veolia Transportation, which took over managing the buses in July. The drivers, members of the United Steelworkers, said Veolia had made it harder for them to take bathroom breaks and had drawn new routes that caused overcrowding and delays, and they shouted down a union official when he told them to “get back to work.” “This morning we decided enough is enough,” said Macaire Dupuy, 47, a driver for 20 years. Mayor Thomas M. Menino called the drivers “a group of angry people who don’t like to follow the rules.”

BART Strike Postponed, But Talks Still Tense
Bay Area Rapid Transit workers postponed a possible strike Oct. 15 as negotiations with management continued until dawn. Pete Castelli, head of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said there was some “movement” after unions presented a late-night counter-offer, but BART Board President Tom Radulovich said “the money is not going to change.” The two unions involved had earlier rejected BART’s “final” offer, saying that its increases in health-care and pension costs would reduce workers’ raises to about 1 percent. Meanwhile, workers at the East Bay bus service AC Transit may go on strike on Thursday the 17th, as they rejected a proposed contract that would have increase their health-care contributions to up to $283 a month.

LIUNA Sends Congress Duct Tape
The Laborers’ International Union of North America sent leaders of Congress rolls of duct tape to symbolize lawmakers’ failed approach to taking care of our transportation infrastructure. “Our nation is literally falling apart,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan wrote. He urged Congress to increase the federal gas tax—18.4 cents a gallon, last raised in 1993—to finance more than $130 billion a year to repair aging highways and bridges. This, he added, would end the “duct-tape approach” and avert disasters like the collapse of the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 in Washington last May and that of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, which killed 13 people.

Postal Workers Elect Leaders Who Pledge to Be More Militant
Members of the American Postal Workers Union, facing a wave of pay cuts, post-office closings, and threats to end Saturday letter delivery, elected a slate of leaders who pledged to fight harder to stop that. The Members First slate, headed by Mark Dimondstein, won seven of the nine seats it contested, the union announced Oct. 8. “We’re at a crossroads,” Dimondstein said before the election. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.” The APWU, one of four postal unions, represents nearly 200,000 maintenance workers, truck drivers, and clerks.

Seattle Grocery Strike Looms Over Health-Care Cuts
With contract talks deadlocked over health-care costs, about 30,000 grocery workers in the Seattle area may go on strike this week. The grocery chains Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, and QFC want to stop insuring 8,000 union members who work 30 hours or less per week, claiming that under Obamacare, they don’t have to cover part-timers. “There is nothing in the law that requires them to eliminate coverage,” says Fred Geiger of UFCW Local 21 in Seattle, one of the four unions involved. The 12 Teamster locals that represent truckdrivers and warehouse workers at many of the supermarkets’ suppliers have pledged to honor picket lines.

VA Furloughs Hit Veterans and Workers
Stanley Walton, who helps homeless veterans in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area find housing and medical benefits, was one of 7,000 “non-essential” employees furloughed by the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration Oct. 8. “It’s devastating,” said Walton, who served 25 years in the Army before taking a job with the VBA eight years ago. “I’ve received calls from veterans, and I have to let them know I can’t help you until the furlough is over.” “VBA is already critically understaffed and the lockout is only making it worse. Our veterans deserve better from their elected leaders,” said Alma Lee of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 208,000 workers with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Washington City to Vote on $15 Minimum Wage
This November, voters in Seatac, Washington will decide whether to increase the local minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Proposition 1 initiative would give raises to thousands of workers at the booming Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is within this city of 27,000 people. “We want to achieve the American dream,” said Abdirahman Abdullahi, a Somali immigrant who earns $11.20 an hour after six years as a Hertz employee and who often works combined 70-hour weeks at two jobs to help support his family of four. “There are certainly a number of other cities where this idea might work,” said David Rolf, the president of a Service Employees International Union local in Seattle that organized to get the measure on the ballot.

Oregon Public Workers Move to Undermine ‘Right to Work’ Initiative
With anti-labor forces in Oregon preparing a ballot initiative that would enable union-represented government workers not to pay dues, officials at two unions have filed competing ballot measures to undermine it. The political director of SEIU Local 503 in Salem filed one that said “no law shall restrict the ability of employers and their employees” to negotiate dues checkoffs, and the state American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ political director filed a similar one that would also adjust the state’s minimum wage for inflation each year. If these initiatives make the ballot, the one that gets the most votes will determine the law.

Bell Helicopter Union Ratifies New Contract
After a long dispute that included a one-day strike in September, members of United Auto Workers Local 218 voted overwhelmingly Oct. 13 to ratify a new five-year contract with Bell Helicopter. The contract covers more than 2,500 machinists, packers and forklift operators in the Fort Worth area, who had been working without a contract since June. The contract apparently does not include cuts in holiday and overtime pay, but it will move new employees to a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan instead of a traditional pension.

Oregon Professors and Adjuncts Win First Contract
Teachers at the University of Oregon approved their first contract almost unanimously Oct. 8, after an organizing campaign that united tenure-track and adjunct faculty. The agreement will set up a framework to give more job security to the contingent workers who make up more than half the faculty, and raise their base pay to $36,000 a year. “The tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty were very united,” said business instructor Ron Bramhall. The university’s 1,800 professors, researchers, and librarians voted in 2012 to join United Academics, which is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.

August 14, 2013

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