Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest – September 3, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Court Says FedEx Drivers Aren’t ‘Contractors’
FedEx can’t legally claim that its drivers are “independent contractors,” the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 27.  A three-judge panel in San Francisco held that because the company dictates details of the drivers’ jobs from the shelving in their vans to the kind of shoes and socks they can wear on the job, they are effectively employees and were illegally denied wages, benefits, and reimbursement for driving expenses. While the company’s operating agreement defines drivers as contractors, not employees, “calling a dog's tail a leg does not make it a leg,” Judge Stephen Trott wrote, quoting Abraham Lincoln. FedEx plans to appeal to the full Ninth Circuit. Read more

Indiana ‘Right to Work’ Law Upheld
Indiana’s 2012 law banning union shops does not violate either federal labor law or workers’ constitutional right to free speech, the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago held Sept. 2. The 2-1 ruling upheld a lower-court decision that dismissed an International Union of Operating Engineers local’s challenge. The IUOE and the Steelworkers, who have each won state court rulings against the law, may have better luck when the state Supreme Court rules in those cases. Because the law requires union members to “subsidize the people who choose not to pay,” IUOE lawyer Dale Pierson argues, it violates a provision in the state constitution that “no person's particular services shall be demanded without just compensation.” Read more

Temporary Jobs Reach Record High
Both the number of U.S. workers employed through temporary agencies and their proportion of the workforce have reached record highs: 2.87 million representing 2% of workers, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the growing industry has shifted from providing office workers to manufacturing and warehousing, says a report released Sept. 2 by the National Employment Law Project. About 75% of Fortune 500 companies now use temps to staff their warehouses, it said. The growth of temp work, said report coauthor Rebecca Smith, is creating an economy where “some of our nation’s largest and most profitable corporations” can get around providing “livable wages, benefits or job security for their workers” and “can lower standards for all workers” in that industry. Read more

Missouri to Vote on Teacher Tenure
An initiative on the Missouri state ballot this November would eliminate tenure for teachers hired in the future and limit their job security to three-year contracts. Constitutional Amendment 3, bankrolled by far-right billionaire Rex Sinquefield, would also require local schools to base decisions on which teachers get raises or rehired on “quantifiable student performance data”—test scores. Teachers’ unions—the National Education Association and its state chapter, the Missouri State Teachers Association, and the American Federation of Teachers—are leading the opposition. Sinquefield, little known outside Missouri, has also backed efforts to ban the union shop and replace the state income tax with a high sales tax. Read more

California Appeals to Protect Teacher Tenure
California Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala D. Harris will appeal the June state court ruling that would end tenure and seniority protections for elementary-school teachers. The notice filed Aug. 30 said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu had “declined to provide a detailed statement of the factual and legal bases for the ruling.” “We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full,” state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a release. “We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.” Read more

New Mexico's Chileros Win State Minimum Wage
Chile pickers in New Mexico have won the right to be paid the state’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, a quarter more than the federal minimum. The state raised its minimum in 2009, but exempted small farms, and the contractors who hire farmworkers have paid at the lower rate regardless of farm size. The change came almost a year after an Albuquerque lawyer and farmworker-rights activist informed the state labor department about the discrepancy. Workers who arrive in the fields before dawn are still not paid for the time they spend waiting for it to be light enough to work.
Read more

New England Phone Workers Threaten Strike
More than 1,700 workers at FairPoint Communications in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have authorized a strike after management imposed its final offer Aug. 28. That would enable the company to hire temporary contract workers, freeze pensions, and charge workers for their health benefits and cut them off when they retire. FairPoint bought Verizon’s landlines in the area from Verizon in 2007, and contracts with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America expired Aug. 2. “We get that FairPoint doesn't have the deep pockets that Verizon had. But we just want to come up with something that's fair and equitable,” said Pete McLaughlin, chairman of the unions' bargaining committee. Read more

Michigan Teachers Try to Retain Members
With about three-fourths of Michigan teachers’ contracts falling under the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law on Sept. 1, the Michigan Education Association spent much of August campaigning to hold onto its 112,000 members. “If I don't stand up and stay in my union, then we don't have a voice," said Chandra Madafferi, a high-school health teacher and local president in Novi, a Detroit suburb. Meanwhile, the Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity bought a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press urging teachers to quit the union, and the anti-union Mackinac Center sent them postcards reminding them they had until Aug. 31 to opt out. Read more

Daimler to Pay $480 Million to UAW Retirees
The German vehicle manufacturer Daimler has agreed to pay $480 million to a trust fund to cover health care for its retired truck workers in the U.S., according to documents filed on Aug. 25 in federal court in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of retirees and the United Auto Workers union had accused the company of illegally cutting their benefits. The fund will finance a post-retirement health-care plan for current and recently retired workers represented by the UAW.
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Teamsters Oppose Food-Distributor Merger
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has spoken out against the proposed merger of two of the nation’s largest commercial food distributors. The $8.2 billion deal between Sysco Corp. and US Foods would “result in significant job loss for our members” and create “a virtual market monopoly in every market in the continental U.S.,” Teamsters vice president Steve P. Vairma, director of the union’s warehouse division, said Aug. 29. The Teamsters, who represent about 11,500 drivers and warehouse workers at the two firms, say the merged company would control 70% of the market for distributing food to restaurants and institutional clients. Both companies say their share is much less.
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August 14, 2013

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