Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – October 8, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Philly Schools Cancel Teachers’ Contract
Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission unilaterally cancelled city teachers’ contract Oct. 6. The move, approved unanimously at a meeting held with virtually no public notice, means that the 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, and others who are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will have to pay from $21 to $200 a month for health care starting in December, and retirees will lose prescription, dental, and vision benefits. The Philadelphia school district and the state Education Department also asked state courts to rule that the Commission, which took over running city schools in 2001, has the power to cancel union contracts, while PFT president Jerry Jordan vowed to fight that. Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed the action, but State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) called it “a war on the union.” Read more

Facebook’s Shuttle-Bus Drivers Want to Join Teamsters
More than half of the 40 shuttle-bus drivers who transport Facebook employees to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley have signed cards asking to be represented by Teamsters Local 853, according to union officials. The drivers, who work for a contractor, make $18 to $21 an hour, but have to work split shifts of 16 hours a day, from roughly 6 to 11 in the morning and 5:15 to 9:45 at night. “It is reminiscent of a time when noblemen were driven around in their coaches by their servants,” Northern California Teamsters leader Rome Aloise wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to get the bus contractor to accept the card check and negotiate a contract with the union. Read more

NLRB Pronounces Pickle-Placement Punishment Unfair Practice
A National Labor Relations Board administrative judge ruled Sept. 29 that the owner of 22 Detroit-area Burger King franchises had violated federal law by retaliating against workers who talked union—including sending one home early for failing to “put pickles on her sandwiches in perfect squares.” The woman was an organizer for D15, part of the Fast Food Forward network, and had been written up the day before for talking to coworkers about wages while she was off duty. The franchise owner, EYM King, argued that it was "plainly entitled" to bar workers from discussing wages, working conditions, or unions during work. A Burger King spokesperson responded that all “scheduling, wage, or other employment-related decisions” are made by franchisees. Read more

Supreme Court Eyes Amazon Wage-Theft Case
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Oct. 8 on Amazon warehouse workers’ claim that they should get paid for the time they have to wait after work to be searched for stolen goods. Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, two temp workers at a Nevada warehouse, sued their agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, in 2010, arguing that they were being cheated out of 25 minutes pay every day. The company claims that the screening is the equivalent of washing up or commuting, not “integral and indispensable” to the job, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it. The Justice and Labor Departments have filed an amicus brief supporting that position. Read more

Bankruptcy Judge Says City Can Cut Pensions
A federal judge on Oct. 1 ruled that the city of Stockton, California, could withdraw from the state’s pension system without paying a penalty. The system, known as Calpers, has said that if Stockton tried to resolve its bankruptcy by ceasing payments for city workers’ pensions, it would claim a $1.6 billion lien on the city’s assets. Judge Christopher M. Klein said Stockton could legally refuse to pay that, because bankruptcy law allows debtors to void contracts. The ruling does not order the city to cut pensions, but it echoes similar rulings in Detroit that public workers’ pensions don’t have any special protected status in a municipal bankruptcy. Read more

Canadian Bus Lockout Enters Third Week
Pensions are the key area of dispute in a lockout that has kept transit workers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan off the job since Sept. 20. Talks between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 continue, but the city council voted Sept. 22 to increase workers’ contributions to the pension plan, and union president Jim Yakubowski suspects the city may claim it can no longer afford to pay defined benefits. The Saskatchewan provincial labor-relations board will rule Oct. 14 on whether those changes are legal. Read more

Judge Nixes Trump Bid to End Pension Payments
Trump Entertainment Resorts can’t eliminate pensions yet at the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, a Delaware bankruptcy judge ruled Oct. 3. The company has threatened to close the casino in mid-November and lay off its almost 3,000 workers if it doesn’t get concessions from UNITE HERE Local 54 and tax breaks from the city and state. Judge Kevin Gross said he would hold a hearing Oct. 14 on Trump’s request to terminate the entire collective-bargaining agreement. The union is arguing that because the contract expired last month, its terms remain in effect and the National Labor Relations Board has jurisdiction. Read more

Indiana Electrical Workers Strike
Around 330 employees at Schneider Electric’s Square D plant in Peru, Indiana went on strike Oct. 5 after rejecting a proposed three-year contract. Anthony Wickerstram, assisting business representative for the International Association of Machinists, said the deal didn’t offer a high enough pay raise for entry-level workers, and it would have also frozen pension benefits for employees. Workers at Schneider Electric’s plant in Oxford, Ohio, are also on strike over the contract. Read more

Walmart Eliminates Part-Timers’ Health Benefits
Walmart will stop offering health-insurance coverage to most of its part-time U.S. workers on Jan. 1, cutting off the about 30,000 “associates” who work less than an average of 30 hours a week. The company said its health-care costs for the year will be about 50% more than it projected, because it expected that more workers would sign up for Obamacare instead of enrolling in its insurance plans. It will also raise full-time workers’ premiums by about 20% and increase their copayments. Read more

Boeing to Build 777X Wing Assemblies in St. Louis
Boeing announced Oct. 6 that it would build significant sections of the new 777X plane’s wings and tail in St. Louis instead of Washington state. That means it won’t be done at the company’s Seattle-area plants, where the International Association of Machinists made major concessions last winter to keep production of the plane, but it will still be done in a union facility. “We had hoped the 777X wing tips would be placed here in Puget Sound because we have the skilled workers, composite center, and everything necessary to be successful on this work package,” Machinists District Lodge 751 President Jon Holden said in a statement. “Seeing Machinists Union members in St. Louis gain work is positive for members there, who are facing deep cuts in defense contracts, and the ending of longstanding assembly lines on the only products they build.” Read more

August 14, 2013

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