Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – Sept. 12, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

OUR Walmart Protests in 15 Cities
Thousands of people protested Sept. 6 against Walmart firing 20 workers who participated in a week-long strike in June. The protests, organized by OUR Walmart, took place in 15 cities, and 100 people were arrested. In San Francisco, 11 people, including fired striker Pam Davis, were arrested for blocking the entrance to the luxury condo where Walmart board member and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has a penthouse. In Raleigh, North Carolina, after store managers refused to accept a 170,000-signature petition to reinstate the fired and disciplined workers, about 25 people in yellow “UFCW Local 1208 Steppin’ 4 Justice” T-shirts performed a synchronized dance routine, while chanting “Walmart, respect your workers.”

AFL-CIO Votes to Ally With “Alt-Labor”

At its convention in Los Angeles Sept. 9, the AFL-CIO passed resolutions slamming “the big business behind mass incarceration” and promising intensified collaboration with alternative labor groups. The 57-union federation endorsed closer cooperation with “worker centers” that organize and mobilize workers who lack the legal right to unionize, such as taxi drivers, or haven’t won union recognition, such as restaurant workers. It also voted to require each member union to submit an annual organizing plan to President Richard Trumka. Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer María Elena Durazo called that resolution “a huge step forward,” saying it acknowledged “that we have to do workplace organizing, more workplace organizing.”

Some Unions Resist Ties to Progressive Groups

With the AFL-CIO considering plans to include environmental and civil-rights organizations under its banner, some member unions have objected. “We are supposed to be representing workers and workers’ interests,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “We are not going to be the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.” “Does that mean we are going to turn energy policy of the AFL-CIO over to the Sierra Club?” asked Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which left the BlueGreen Alliance, an environmental-labor partnership, in 2012, over environmental groups’ opposition to building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that with labor “in a crisis,” it needs to have a relationship with progressive groups “so that we can withstand the issues we disagree on and still be able to work for a common goal of an economy that works for the 99 percent.”

Volkswagen Ponders ‘Works Council’ With UAW at Tennessee Plant

Volkswagen is talking with the United Auto Workers about establishing a German-style “works council” at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Plant executives sent workers a letter about “the possibility of implementing an innovative model of employee representation for all employees.” The UAW has made organizing at foreign-owned plants in the South a priority, against opposition from local politicians like Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans. But German labor representatives on the company’s board have said every other Volkswagen plant has some form of organized labor, and it would be unfair if the company’s only U.S. plant is the exception.

Federal Court Upholds Michigan Ban on PLAs

A federal appeals court Sept. 6 upheld a Michigan law banning “project labor agreements” on public construction projects. Two building-trades councils had contended that the 2011 law, which bars governmental agencies from agreeing to use only union labor, violated the federal National Labor Relations Act. Judge John M. Rogers, a George W. Bush appointee to the Sixth Circuit, wrote the majority opinion, saying that the law was intended to cut costs and did not prohibit unions from making deals with private contractors. Judge Karen Moore, a Clinton appointee, dissented, arguing that the law illegally limited collective bargaining.

Most New York City Union Members Women, Minorities

More than three-fourths ofNew York City’s union members are racial minorities or women, according to a study by Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and a colleague, Stephanie Luce. Fully 60 percent identify themselves as either black or Latino, with another 17 percent women who do not identify themselves in those groups. The study also found that nearly one-third of the residents of Staten Island and the Bronx are union members, and the most unionized ethnic groups are non-Latino blacks—a large share of transit workers—and workers born in Puerto Rico, who are “highly overrepresented in public-sector employment.”

West Virginia Workers Fired for Talking Union

About 35 union construction workers and their supporters demonstrated outside a partially built Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Charleston Sept. 5, charging that contractor Hi-Tech Electric fired workers for trying to establish a union at the site. Electrician Justin Lore, who worked for Hi-Tech Electric for six years, said he was fired after he got caught talking to union members about being unable to cash his paycheck. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 317, based in Huntington, filed a complaint against Hi-Tech with the National Labor Relations Board Sept. 4. Joe Samples, business manager for IBEW Local 466 in Charleston, said five Hi-Tech workers were either fired or laid off during the past two weeks.

Publisher Threatens to Close Newark Star-Ledger

The Star-Ledger publisher Richard Vezza threatened Sept. 5 to close the newspaper, New Jersey’s largest daily, at the end of the year if he doesn’t get $9 million in labor concessions by Sept. 27. Officials at Teamsters-New Jersey Mailers Union 1100, the largest of the four unions there, said they have not reached a deal because Star-Ledger officials proposed firing almost half of the 121 highest-paid mailers, eliminating pension and retirement benefits, and reducing lower-paid mailroom helpers to a four-day workweek. The mailers were planning to ask that 40 workers be given a buyout. The paper has won three Pulitzer Prizes, but is losing money and has seen two rounds of buyouts and layoffs since 2008.

Bell Helicopter Workers Stage One-Day Strike

More than 2,500 machinists, packers, forklift operators, and other workers at the Bell Helicopter plant in Fort Worth, Texas, staged a one-day on strike against Sept. 6. United Auto Workers Local 218 accused the company of unfair labor practices, saying it had secretly diverted work from union members and made clear that it would not bargain on issues of pensions, overtime, and health care. Company officials called the strike a “bargaining tactic.” The union members have been working without a contract since June and twice rejected company offers. One, Toby Nicholson, said that when union leaders met with Bell officials Sept. 5 to negotiate, “they said take it or leave it, so we left it.”

DynCorp Labor Dispute Ends

Defense contractor DynCorp International and about 900 of its workers at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland reached a contract agreement Aug. 31, ending the threat of a strike. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents aircraft mechanics and technicians for the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, had filed unfair labor practice charges against DynCorp with the National Labor Relations Board, and hundreds of workers picketed outside the air station last month. Union leader Rick Compher called the deal a success, saying it had kept workers from paying more of their health-care costs. A DynCorp International press release says the company’s revenue in 2012 increased by 8.7 percent over 2011.

August 14, 2013

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