Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – September 10, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Pension Foe Wins RI Gov Primary
Rhode Island State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, who pushed through a 2011 law that raised the retirement age for state workers, cut their pension benefits, and suspended annual cost-of-living increases until the state’s retirement system is 80 percent funded, won the Democratic primary for governor Sept. 9. The former venture capitalist defeated Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and senator’s grandson Clay Pell. Labor divided on the race. Public-employee unions, who are challenging the pension cuts in court and accuse Raimondo of using them to enrich her Wall Street friends and possibly herself, mostly backed Taveras, but the two main teachers’ unions endorsed Pell, and several Laborers locals supported Raimondo. She will face Republican Allan W. Fung in November. Read more

AFL-CIO Warns Against TISA Trade Deal
An international agreement covering trade in services could undermine American workers’ wages and laws and programs from immigration reform to public transit, the AFL-CIO warns. The United States, the European Union, and several other nations are currently negotiating a proposal called the Trade in Services Agreement, or TISA. Not much is known about the details, because the negotiations have been largely secret, but a main purpose of the agreement will be removing “regulatory barriers to trade” in construction, education, telecommunications, and other services. “Instead of benefiting the public interest, this agreement seems positioned to serve the interests of private, for-profit corporations,” the federation says. Read more

Freezer Contractors Too Cold to Pay Prevailing Wage
Three Ironworkers locals have filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board against two contractors building a giant freezer-storage facility in Richland, Washington. Ironworkers Local 14 and the others are charging that the contractors pay as little as $12 to $14 an hour, pay Latinos less than whites, won’t give workers breaks or safety training, and are refusing to hire union workers. “I'm not a union company, so I don't go down to the hall and hire local union guys,” the owner of one contractor said. Construction began in May on the Preferred Freezer Services storage facility, touted as “the largest public refrigerated warehouse in North America.” It will be finished next July. Read more

New Mexico City Raises Minimum Wage to $10.10
The Las Cruces, New Mexico City Council voted Sept. 8 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by January 2017. The Council previously voted to raise the minimum to $8 next January and $8.50 in 2016. The new law also covers tipped workers, who will get 60% of what nontipped workers make in the city of 100,000 people. "What we don't want is to become the low-wage capital of New Mexico. Right now, we're the largest city with the lowest minimum wage," said Sarah Nolan, head of Comunidades en Accion y de Fe. Read more

AFL-CIO Runs 'Koch Sister' Ads
To counter the anti-labor and anti-union laws and candidates backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the AFL-CIO has launched an ad campaign starring pairs of women also named Koch. The first “Koch Sisters” spot, slated to run on CNN and MSNBC, will feature Karen Koch, a member of the Michigan Education Association, and Joyce Koch, a retired teacher from New Jersey. The ads are intended “to expose the destructiveness of unchecked money in politics, generally, and the Koch brothers, especially,” said AFL-CIO strategic advisor Eric Hauser. They will run heavily in Michigan, where the Koch brothers have spent millions of dollars attacking the Democratic senatorial candidate. Read more

UNITE HERE Says Airline Food Carts Vulnerable
Nearly one in four airline-catering workers say that unauthorized people could get into their kitchens and trucks or place contraband on food carts, according to a UNITE HERE report given to the Transportation Security Administration Sept. 8. The union, which represents 12,000 airline-catering workers nationwide, based those claims on a survey of 400 members working at 10 airports. "It's a big deal," said Jim Dupont, Unite Here's executive vice president of the food service division. "Our members are very concerned." To avoid security risks, the report recommends that subcontractors be certified and the use of temporary labor ended immediately. Read more

Discrimination Against Bikers Provokes Machinists’ Strike
Workers at Precision Custom Components in York, Pa., went out on strike Sept. 2, angry that the company has proposed increasing their health-insurance deductibles tenfold—and capping coverage at $50,000 for injuries sustained while riding motorcycles. About 50 of the 130 union workers ride, said one longtime employee. Earl Shue, president of International Association of Machinists Local 1403, said the idea could lead to further restrictions on what people do off the job. “Where's it going to stop?" he asked. "Jet skis, muscle cars, horseback riding?” Read more

Canadian Transit Workers Reject Contract
Transit workers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract, saying that a 10% wage increase over four years was not enough to make up for the elimination of their defined-benefit pensions. Results released Sept. 5 showed that more than 90% of Amalgamated Transit Union 615’s members had voted against what the city called its final offer. The western Canadian city has said it has had a hard time attracting transit mechanics because their wages are too low, and one-sixth of its buses were out of service. Read more

N.Y., Illinois Praised for ‘Independent Contractor’ Enforcement
Illinois and New York are national leaders when it comes to curbing the misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” at least on publicly financed projects, according to a study conducted by reporters for the McClatchy and ProPublica news services. The study found no cases of misclassification in the two states. In contrast, public-works projects in North Carolina and other Southern states have misclassification rates on approaching nearly 40 percent. New York and Illinois, the report said, have strengthened their laws against misclassification, established task forces that inspect worksites, and a strong union presence in the building trades. Read more

Fast-Food Strikes Boost Minimum-Wage Campaign
The multiple fast-food strikes around the nation over the last two years haven’t led to any unionized McDonald’s or Taco Bell franchises yet. But viewed as the spearhead of a broader living-wage movement, the walkouts organized by Fast Food Forward and bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union have managed to rewire how the public and politicians think about wages. In the two years since the movement began, 13 states and 10 local governments have increased their minimum wage, and San Francisco residents will vote on whether to raise theirs to $15 an hour in November. Read more

August 14, 2013

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