Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
AFSCME Rips Detroit Pension Ruling
After a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Dec. 3 that Detroit could cut pensions to pay off its other debts, the head of the union representing thousands of retired city employees called the decision “just nuts,” “inhumane,” and “morally wrong.” “It’s morally corrupt to attack retirees getting $19,000 a year,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The ruling, by Judge Steven W. Rhodes, said the city’s bankruptcy supersedes the state constitution’s provisions that pensions workers have earned can’t be reduced, accepting the argument pushed by Kevyn Orr, the “emergency manager” imposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
States Compete to Build Boeing 777X
After International Association of Machinists members at Boeing’s Seattle-area facilities rejected drastic pension cuts Nov. 13, the company has begun looking for other places to build the 777X airliner—and several states are rushing to offer it tax breaks. “We didn't call them. They called us,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. On Nov. 29, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called the state legislature back into session, urging it to pass a $150 million package of tax breaks to offer Boeing. The company is also soliciting deals from California, South Carolina, Texas, and seven other states. Washington gave Boeing the largest corporate tax break in the nation's history, nearly $9 billion, just before the workers rejected its contract-extension deal.
Connecticut Hospital Locks Out Workers
Workers at a Connecticut hospital trying to come back in for the night shift Nov. 30 after a three-day strike were met with a lockout. The 790 nurses and health-care technicians at New London's Lawrence + Memorial Hospital were demanding more job security and less outsourcing to lower-paid staff and temporary workers. “This is a whole turning point everywhere in health care. They are going to water down patient care,” said registered nurse Liz Caruso, a widow who walked the picket line with her two sons. Management said the union, AFT Healthcare, had “left us no choice” by threatening more “intermittent strike activity.” AFT Healthcare local president Lisa D'Abrosca said the hospital must have “made that one up.”
32BJ Joins Newark Airport Protest
About 30 Newark Airport workers joined with SEIU Local 32BJ and Brick City church groups at the Terminal C arrival gate Nov. 26 to protest low wages caused by airlines outsourcing security, cleaning, and baggage-handling jobs. “There are thousands of workers here whose jobs are minimum wage, and these used to be good-paying middle-class jobs that have been contracted out to the lowest bidder,” said 32BJ vice president Kevin Brown. “Things got so bad I had to send my two sons to live with their grandmother upstate in Poughkeepsie because I cannot afford to take care of them on my income,” said security guard Daniel Scott, who makes $8 an hour working for contractor Aviation Safeguard at LaGuardia Airport.
APWU to Protest Postal Service Sending Jobs to Staples
The American Postal Workers Union is preparing to protest the U.S. Postal Service’s opening retail units in 84 Staples stores. The units, which began opening in the office-supply chain in October, offer most postal products and services, including selling stamps and taking letters and packages, but are staffed by Staples employees instead of post-office workers. “This is a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “We are adamantly opposed to USPS plans to replace good-paying union jobs with non-union low-wage jobs held by workers who have no accountability for the safety and security of the mail.” The APWU’s executive board endorsed the protests Nov. 22, two days after Dimondstein met with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.
CWA Launches Drive for Newark Taxi Drivers
In a rally at Newark’s City Hall Nov. 26, the Communications Workers of America launched the United Transportation Alliance, a labor organization for the city’s 2,000 taxi drivers—who work up to 14 hours a day, make minimum wage after costs are deducted, and are classified as independent contractors so they don’t have regular workers’ rights. “The days of ripping these drivers off are over,” said Chris Shelton, CWA District 1 vice president, who added that the union has spoken to more than 300 Newark cabbies and has interest from drivers in four other New Jersey cities.
UNITE HERE Calls Chicagoland Casino Unfair
UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago has filed 31 unfair labor practice charges against the Rivers Casino with the National Labor Relations Board. The union alleges that the casino has met its efforts to organize workers there with a “management-led intimidation campaign,” including mandatory anti-union meetings. The casino, in the suburb of Des Plaines and owned by Neil Bluhm, is Illinois’ newest and most lucrative gambling spot: Opened in 2011, it brought in $415 million last year. UNITE HERE has filed similar charges against Bluhm’s casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
UAW's Southern Campaign Key to King's Legacy
As United Auto Workers President Bob King prepares to retire in June, the union has gained members after decades of decline and has successfully organized auto-parts factories in Kentucky and Alabama—but has yet to win recognition at the Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan plants in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. “Bob King has basically staked his legacy on organizing these international assembly plants,” said Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research. The UAW has gotten a majority of the workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee factory to sign cards saying they are interested in joining, and has “made significant progress at Mercedes,” King said, but Nissan’s American management has chosen “a very confrontational approach.”
Did Whole Foods Strike Win Thanksgivings Off?
A strike Nov. 27 by workers at two Whole Foods stores in Chicago may have won workers there the right to take Thanksgiving off. A company spokesperson who had earlier insisted that the company took pride in helping last-minute shoppers “for this special food-focused holiday” stated that “regional and store leadership in the Chicago area have informed Team Members that working Thanksgiving Day is voluntary. If they want Thanksgiving Day off, they can take it off.” “If that’s what the company is now saying, then I would say that’s a direct response to our organizing,” responded striker Matthew Camp, who’d said management at his store had told employees months ago that they couldn’t take Thanksgiving off “without accruing a point or a demerit on our record.”
Did IT Outsourcing Cause Obamacare Website Snafu?
The problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Web site for buying health insurance, argues former Army contracting supervisor Charles M. Smith, stem from the Reagan administration, when the federal government adopted the management philosophy of “concentrating on your core capabilities” and contracting out other processes such as logistics, food services, and information technology. The result, he says, was that by the time Barack Obama became President, the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t have IT workers who could design the site. CGI Federal, the company HHS hired, won the contract without competition despite a sketchy record, and privatization added a layer of bureaucracy that made it much more difficult for department workers to communicate what the site required.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour in January and index future increases to inflation. The measure won more than 60% of the vote. Business groups spent about $1 million campaigning against it, arguing that it would lead to job losses. But other businesspeople supported it, and a union-backed campaign for the increase raised $1.3 million and held large rallies in cities across the state. The vote makes New Jersey the 20th state to set its minimum higher than the federal standard of $7.25.
Supporters of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in SeaTac, Washington, claimed victory as the measure led by a 54-46% margin in early returns Nov. 5. SeaTac, a city of about 27,000 people between Seattle and Tacoma, is home to SeaTac Airport and numerous restaurants and hotels around it, so the measure would give about 6,300 workers a raise. “Everybody deserves a living wage and that's what I'm happy about,” said Roxan Sibel, who’s worked at the airport for 30 years. “We've got it.” But as Washington votes by mail, there are still many ballots that haven’t been counted.
Will a little-known Tennessee ban on “card check” enacted in 2011 affect the United Auto Workers’ drive to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga? The measure states that workers may choose to join a union by secret-ballot vote, and “no alternative means shall be used… as convincing evidence of employee majority support.” However, it would likely not override the federal laws permitting card check. “You could have something in the state charter taking voting rights away from women, but you can't do it because the federal law supersedes it,” said UAW regional director Gary Casteel. State Attorney General Bob Cooper wrote in 2011 that the state statute does not conflict with federal law, but that it applies only to situations in which a secret-ballot election has already been selected.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit System’s two main unions approved a new contract Nov. 1, ending a dispute that had provoked two strikes. Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 155 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 voted heavily in favor of the four-year agreement, which will give raise their pay by 16.4 percent over four years, with bonuses of up to $1,000 a year if ridership exceeds expectations. But members will have to contribute up to 4 percent of their pay for pensions, and their health care contributions will rise from about $92 to $129 a month. The contract must also be ratified by BART's board of directors and a third union, AFSCME Local 3993. Both are expected to do so.
Thousands of British university staff walked off their jobs Oct. 31, in their first national strike over pay in seven years. The three unions that organized the action say lecturers, technicians, and administration workers have had an effective 13 percent pay cut since 2008. The universities have offered a 1 percent raise. “Staff around the UK are taking strike action to try and reverse some of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “Staff are furious at what has happened to their pay.”
State legislators and corporate lobbies have engaged in an unprecedented attack on minimum wages and other labor-protection laws in the last two years, according a report by the Economic Policy Institute released Oct. 31. New Hampshire repealed its minimum-wage law in 2011, and South Dakota eliminated its minimum for seasonal tourism workers. These and state anti-union measures, the report said, have been pushed primarily by powerful national corporate lobbies “that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country.”
Seven people were arrested Oct. 29 in Portland, Oregon, while trying to deliver a petition protesting postal privatization to the city’s main post office. “Postal truckers, mail handlers, and mail-processing clerks are losing their jobs to profiteering private corporations,” said retired teacher Michael Colvin, one of those arrested. The seven were charged with trespassing, and protesters are considering filing assault charges against a postal inspector who threw four of them to the floor. Protesters have been arrested several times in recent demonstrations against the Postal Service’s closing facilities and outsourcing trucking and mail processing in Portland and Salem.
Workers at the Guitar Center store in Las Vegas voted 14-5 Nov. 1 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “It feels really good, like there's hope to turn this into a decent job,” said Doug Simpson, 58, a salesperson in the audio department. “It all boiled down to a lack of respect and the company trying to get more out of us for less money.” The store is the third in the Bain Capital-owned music-equipment chain to go union: Workers in the Manhattan and Chicago stores joined the RWDSU earlier this year, but organizing campaigns failed at the Brooklyn and Queens outlets.
More than 1,000 Verizon workers in Southern California walked off the job Oct. 29 over what they called “unfair labor practices.” The company has been in negotiations with the Communications Workers of America for more than a year, and the federal government is now mediating the bargaining. CWA District 9 area director Libby Sayre said the one-day strike was over pensions and health care, but Local 9588 secretary/treasurer Rosa Bernal said it was triggered by an lockout at a Verizon facility in Camarillo.
Close to 28,000 workers for United Airlines and its subsidiaries approved a new contract Oct. 30, winning them wage increases ranging from 7 to 29 percent. The agreement covers fleet service, passenger service, and stockroom employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Negotiating the three-year deal took more than four years, as it involved sorting out issues stemming from the merger of United and Continental Airlines.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
With pro-union protesters gearing up for “Black Friday” demonstrations at 1,500 Walmart stores around the nation, a Maryland county judge Nov. 26 barred them from entering company property or disrupting access to the stores. Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, ruling that the protests have hurt the company's reputation, sales, and shopping experience, issued an injunction against the United Food and Commercial Workers, OUR Walmart, and anyone not employed by Walmart who joins a demonstration they organize. “Walmart has made it a practice to pursue over-the-top legal maneuvers to try to avoid hearing the real concerns of workers and community members,” said Derrick Plummer of Making Change at Walmart, which has been organizing the protests.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said Nov. 24 that a state panel investigating corruption should look at Walmart’s contributions to state Senate Republicans. Walmart has given the Senate’s GOP members $425,000 since 2010—including a $100,000 donation last March, when they were adding a tax credit for employers who hire teenagers at the minimum wage to the bill raising the state’s minimum. “I believe the Moreland Commission needs to investigate the timing of the contribution and the obscene tax credit,” said Appelbaum. Walmart and the Republicans denied any connection.
Houston’s City Council voted unanimously Nov. 20 to penalize wage theft, creating new procedures for victims to bring claims and to deny perpetrators city contracts, permits, and licenses. “If you can win it in Houston, you can win it in Atlanta or Dallas,” said Kim Bobo, longtime director of Interfaith Worker Justice and author of the 2008 book Wage Theft in America. Chicago, Miami-Dade County, and New York State have passed relatively tough wage-theft laws, she added, but right-wing state legislators have tried to pre-empt them in other places, and federal enforcement is “just pitiful.” The cause is advancing, however, because of “really good organizing” by unions and advocates and broad popular support for the principle that “if you work you should get paid, and you should get paid according to the law.”
Union workers at MGM Resorts casinos in Las Vegasvoted overwhelmingly Nov. 20 to approve a five-year contract that will get them $1.40 an hour in raises over the next three years. The deal covers about 26,000 waiters, bartenders, housekeepers and other employees who are members of UNITE HERE’s biggest local, Culinary Union Local 226, and Bartenders Union Local 165. The contract also intends to bring back workers laid off since 2007, but part of the raises will go to cover increases in the union’s health-insurance costs. Local 226 is still negotiating with the city’s other casinos except for Wynn Resorts Ltd., as about 20,000 members are working under contracts that expired June 1.
More than 22,000 workers at the University of California’s campuses and medical centers staged a one-day strike Nov. 20, joined by 13,000 unionized graduate students who walked out in sympathy. AFSCME Local 3299 said management has been interrogating workers about union activity and threatening disciplinary action against strikers. The university is insisting on freezing pay and cutting benefits, saying what it pays service workers is competitive given the labor market. “If their market is McDonalds, that’s not very difficult,” Local 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger responded. The university is also refusing to ban subcontracting or to give benefits to “permatemps.”
New York University, which busted a union of graduate students in 2005 when it refused to negotiate a new contract with them, has agreed to let its more than 1,200 graduate employees vote on whether to rejoin the United Auto Workers. The agreement, announced Nov. 26, will cover graduate students who work as teaching, graduate, and research assistants. The election is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10-11, and if the UAW wins, it could have a new contract in place by the end of the academic year. “It is great news that we are finally able to win back our union,” said PhD student Hadi Gharabaghi. “And, as a TA who had to put my family on state-subsidized healthcare because of NYU’s 33% increase in dependent premiums, the cost of not having a union has been too high.”
Penelec, the power company serving west-central Pennsylvania, locked out more than 140 workers Nov. 25 after Utility Workers Union of America Local 180 rejected a final contract offer that would have eliminated health care for both current and future retirees. “Retiree health care is as basic as it gets,” said David Bilek. “People have dedicated their working lives and careers to the company.” Bilek was among the workers at Penelec’s Lewistown facility who came in on Monday morning and found the parking lot blocked by a backhoe. A spokesperson for FirstEnergy, Penelec’s parent company, said the deal was fair because it had warned workers since 2009 that retirees would have to buy their own insurance once the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges opened.
The Nov. 23 murder of Maryland mailman Tyson Jerome Barnette highlighted the dangers of night deliveries, postal workers say. The combination of “insufficient manpower” and the failure of automated mail-processing procedures, said Robert Williams, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Branch 142, has forced letter carriers to work longer and later shifts—such as the one Barnette, 26, was on when he was fatally shot while delivering mail on a Saturday night in a “really dark” and “secluded” area. “It could have been one of us,” said Mack Julion, president of the NALC’s Branch 11 in Chicago, who added that the eight-hour route is becoming the “exception.” The dangers aren’t confined to night deliveries: In Chicago, 15 letter carriers have been assaulted and nine robbed in the past 13 months, mostly during the day.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez has hired McDonald’s national media-relations manager Ofelia Casillas to be the department’s director of public outreach. In August, Casillas told Bloomberg News that protesters demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage were not “providing an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s.” The appointment “certainly sends a troubling message,” said a top organizer in the minimum-wage fight who did not want to be identified. But a department spokesperson defended it, saying the Obama administration is committed to raising the minimum wage and that Casillas previously worked for the Obama campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In exchange for a four-year no-layoffs pledge from the Suffolk County legislature, the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees agreed to accept a two-year wage freeze and lower salaries for new hires by 1 to 5%. The union, with nearly 5,000 members, represents more than half the county’s workers, including nurses, janitors, clerks, and water-quality testers. The legislature unanimously approved the deal as part of the budget Nov. 19.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Kentucky Auto-Parts Supplier Recognizes UAW by Card Checks
Faurecia Interior Systems Inc. has agreed to recognize the United Auto Workers at its plant in Louisville, Ky.. A majority of the 172 workers signed cards in favor of the union, UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel UAW said in a statement Oct. 25. “Faurecia also deserves recognition for agreeing to use the majority recognition process, forgoing the approach of anti-union employers who force their employees into a divisive, disruptive and outdated election process," he added. The plant, which opened in 2011, produces the interiors for vehicles manufactured by Ford and General Motors.
Kellogg Locks Out Corn Flakes Bakers
The workers who bake Apple Jacks, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops got locked out Oct. 22, in a long-running dispute between the Kellogg Company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union. Kellogg locked out 226 employees at its Memphis plant after the workers refused its “last and best offer,” said BCTGM Memphis president Kevin Bradshaw. The key issue is the company’s insistence on expanding its use of temporary workers. “They bought Pringles for $2.8 billion cash. This is just corporate greed,” said Bradshaw.
Stealth Bill Would Allow Cuts to Current Pensions
A little-publicized bill in Congress would change federal law to let pension plans reduce payments to people already retired. The measure, aimed at troubled multiemployer plans, would give plan trustees the authority to cut pensions pre-emptively to 110 percent of the amount the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation pays to retirees whose pension fund went broke, a maximum of $14,157. Multiemployer pension plans now cover 10 million workers, but some, such as the Teamsters’ Central States Fund, are in danger of running out of money, as the deregulation of trucking drove most union firms out and drastically reduced the number of union workers contributing.
Detroit Manager Says He Wouldn’t Have Agreed to Pension Deal
Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr testified Oct. 29 that he probably wouldn’t have agreed to a deal to preserve retired city workers’ pensions. He said he’d been prepared to negotiate with creditors, but when a lawyer for the United Auto Workers—one of several unions challenging Detroit's bankruptcy, on the grounds that the city did not negotiate with creditors in good faith before filing for Chapter 9 protection in July—asked if he’d have agreed to keep hands off pensions, Orr replied: “Probably not.” He also said he believed federal bankruptcy law superseded the Michigan state constitution’s prohibiting public pensions from being impaired.
Fatal Accident Speeds BART Settlement
The tentative Oct. 21 agreement that ended a second strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers came two days after a maintenance train driven by a trainee struck and killed two track inspectors in the suburb of Walnut Creek. "When that happened over the weekend, they realized this thing had to end," said Amalgamated Transit Union international president Larry Hanley, whose union represents BART train drivers and station agents. “Management backed off the vast majority of the work rules.” BART track inspectors are represented by a union that was not on strike.
Latino Construction Workers More Likely to Die on Job in NYC
Construction workers killed in on-the-job accidents in New York City are most likely to be Latinos and immigrants, according to a study released Oct. 24 by the Center for Popular Democracy. The study, based on fatal falls investigated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2003 to 2011, found that while 41% of construction workers in the city identify themselves as Latino, 74% of those who died were either U.S.-born Latinos or immigrants. Safety violations are more common at job sites run by smaller, nonunion contractors—which are more likely to hire immigrant day laborers, the report said.
D.C. Cab Drivers Work With Teamsters
Cab drivers in Washington, D.C. have formed a group affiliated with Teamsters Local 922. The new D.C. Taxi Operators Association isn’t a formal union, but members hope it will give the city’s 6,000 cab drivers a collective voice. “For far too long, taxi drivers in Washington, D.C., have not had a strong voice to provide input about regulations and policies that affect their livelihoods,” Local 922 President Ferlien Buie said in a press release. The average driver earns between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, with many working seven days a week and 16-hour days, the release said.
IBEW Seeks to Organize Connecticut Nuke Workers
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is seeking to unionize about 350 operators, mechanics and maintenance workers at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Connecticut. John Fernandes, business manager with IBEW Local 457, said the organizing effort has been going on for several months, as workers are dissatisfied with benefit cuts and getting paid different rates for the same jobs. The plant’s owner, Dominion, which opposes unionization, has filed a case with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that a union election should involve a larger share of the 1,100 employees.
Oregon Labor Board Voids Ban on Union E-Mail
The state of Oregon broke labor laws in 2011 when it temporarily forbade government employees from using their work e-mail to send union-related messages, the state’s Employment Relations Board ruled in October. Service Employees International Union Local 503 had challenged the ban, imposed by the Department of Administrative Services after its contract with Local 503 expired but before a new one had been negotiated. The board ruled that while management had a legitimate right to control the use of state computer systems and to make sure employees are actually working, e-mail is one of most important ways employees communicate about wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Anchorage Mayor Vetoes Repeal of Anti-Labor Law
Anchorage, Alaska’s city Assembly voted Oct. 22 to repeal a law limiting city workers’ pay raises and right to strike—but Mayor Dan Sullivan immediately vetoed the repeal. The vote was 7-4, with two members who had voted to enact the law in March switching positions. Sullivan also vetoed a measure putting repeal on the ballot for the next municipal election in April. Assembly members who supported repeal are arguing that the mayor does not have the legal right to interfere with referendum scheduling.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
L.A. Port Truckers Strike
About 100 truckdrivers from three companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike at 5 a.m. Nov. 18. Drivers for Green Fleet Systems object to being paid piecework, by the load, and to the company retaliating against their efforts to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Drivers for Pacific 9 Transportation object to the company classifying them as independent contractors so it can charge them for operating costs, such as leasing the truck, gas, insurance, and repairs—deductions that reduced one driver’s weekly pay to $12.90. “They've taken from us everything that a human being needs to have a decent life,” said Daniel Linares, a Pacific 9 driver for seven years.
Claiming a family-leave provision was a “mistake,” Bay Area Rapid Transit management announced Nov. 15 that it wants to renegotiate the contract that ended a four-day strike in October. The provision gives workers up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick child, spouse, or parent. BART officials say it could cost $11 million a year and they did not intend to include it. Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, responded that the policy would only cost around $1.4 million a year, and that it was “the height of incompetence” for management to risk shutting the transit system down again over that amount.
Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh have agreed to a minimum monthly wage of 5,300 taka ($67) for the 4 million workers in the industry, officials said Nov. 14. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the increase from $38 after a week when protests by angry workers closed hundreds of factories, and police attacked them with rubber bullets and tear gas. Factory owners had wanted to limit the minimum to $57, claiming that the Western companies they produce clothes for would be unwilling to pay more, while the protesting workers and left-leaning unions were demanding $100. The increase still leaves Bangladeshi garment workers among the lowest paid in the world.
With Qatar beginning to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty International says the 1.35 million migrant workers who make up almost all the country’s workforce face “an alarming level of exploitation.” In a report released Nov. 18, it said one-fifth of the construction workers it surveyed were regularly cheated out of pay, and 90% had their passports held by their employers. Migrants from Nepal said they were forced to work up to 84 hours a week and threatened with fines and deportation if they refused to work after not being paid. “FIFA [the Federation of International Football Associations] has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human-rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup,” said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Nov. 13 on a lawsuit claiming that employers who agree to stay neutral during union organizing campaigns are illegally giving “things of value” to the union. Justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia asked whether allowing card check enabled unions to intimidate workers into joining, to which federal Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben responded that employers can be “very coercive” too, and neutrality agreements “have been elements of federal labor policy for decades.” Meanwhile, when Justice Elena Kagan asked William Messenger of the National Right to Work Committee if he thought it was illegal for employers to give unions access to their premises, the anti-labor lawyer replied, “Yes.” The Court’s decision is expected by June.
Labor union pension funds should not invest money in hedge funds and private-equity firms that give money to organizations that are trying to destroy traditional pensions, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told CNBC Nov. 13. If these money managers “are actually trying to kill pension funds,” she said on the “Squawk Box” program, “we want pension funds to know.” In September, the AFT listed 28 money-management firms that have contributed to or work with three groups that are campaigning to eliminate defined-benefit pensions, including StudentsFirst and the Manhattan Institute. It noted that “some asset managers have directly backed initiatives that harm the retirement security of plan participants.”
How can adjunct professors successfully organize unions? At the annual Coalition of Academic Labor conference in Washington, DC, Nov. 16-17, two strategies pondered were forming citywide unions and allying with students fighting debt and high tuition. Service Employees International Union Local 500, which hosted the conference, now represents adjuncts at four colleges in the area, and wants to parlay that success into a citywide union that would be able to set standards for the area’s labor market. SEIU is also organizing adjuncts in Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed papers Nov. 13 asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to send whatever decision he makes on the city’s bankruptcy case to the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal law requires municipalities to make a good-faith effort to reach a deal with creditors before filing for bankruptcy, and AFSCME, which represents most of Detroit’s municipal workers other than police and firefighters, alleges that the city engaged only in “surface bargaining.” City workers’ unions and retirees accuse Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder of refusing to negotiate because bankruptcy proceedings give him a way to evade the state constitution’s ban on cutting public workers’ pensions. AFSCME also said that there are too few cases involving labor laws and good-faith bargaining for there to be a clear precedent.
The University of California reached a tentative contract agreement with the California Nurses Association Nov. 17, averting a one-day strike by nurses at its medical and student-health facilities that had been scheduled for Nov. 20. If ratified, the four-year deal will give the 11,700 nurses 4% annual raises through 2017 and preserve pension benefits for new hires. But AFSCME Local 3299, which represents 22,000 patient-care workers, custodians, and food workers at UC’s five medical centers and ten campuses, still plans a one-day strike, to protest unsafe staffing levels and unfair labor practices.
Union activist Oscar López may have become the latest victim in Colombia’s long history of antiunion violence when he was shot to death Nov. 9 at a bar in the town of Bugalagrande. The food workers’ union Sinaltrainal, which has been trying to win recognition at the Nestlé plant where López worked, said it had received death-threat texts the day before, signed by the Urabeños, a crime syndicate formed by former members of right-wing paramilitary groups. Nestlé denies any connection to the crime and has asked for an investigation. In 2012, 22 Colombians “were murdered for their union involvement,” according to a U.S. congressional labor-rights report. The Swiss human-rights group MultiWatch said López was the 15th Nestlé worker killed there.
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.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Boeing 777X Offer Divides Machinists
Workers at Boeing Airplanes in Washington voted Nov. 13 on a contract that eliminates pensions and limits pay increases—and CEO Ray Conner said the company’s threat to build the new 777X airliner in another state if they don’t accept it “is not a bluff.” “What’s at stake here is jobs for the future, jobs to build 777X for 20 to 25 years,” International Association of Machinists District 751 President Tom Wroblewski said Nov. 11, four days after he called the contract offer “a piece of crap.” Meanwhile, more than 300 Machinists and officials rallied at the union hall in Everett to denounce the contract, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill giving Boeing tax incentives through 2040 to encourage it to build the plane in Washington.
Massachusetts Domestic Workers Seek ‘Bill of Rights’
Nearly 100 Massachusetts domestic workers and their allies crowded a State House hearing Nov. 12 to push for “bill of rights” legislation. “My colleagues and I clean up to 14 houses a day and still struggle to make ends meet,” Sonia Soares of Lynn told the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “I personally have been slapped in the face, pushed, yelled at and sexually harassed.” The bill would require people hiring housekeepers, nannies, and elder-care workers to give them paid sick days, time off, and a written contract if they work more than two days a week in a home.
Walmart Strikes Spread Around Country
Walmart workers in the Seattle area staged a one-day strike Nov. 12, following a two-day strike four days earlier by workers in Southern California. The walkouts are part of a campaign by OUR Walmart leading up to larger strikes planned for Nov. 29, the “Black Friday” heavy shopping day after Thanksgiving, with janitors at Target and other stores in the Minneapolis area saying they’ll join too. “I want people to be able to live better, you know, like the commercial says,” said Walmart striker Mary Watkins. “Nobody lives better except for the Waltons now.”
House Members Seek Probe of Black-Lung Denials
Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) have asked the Labor Department to investigate allegations that doctors and lawyers working on behalf of the coal industry have “used medically and ethically questionable tactics” to deny compensation for miners with black lung disease. The allegations focus on Jackson Kelly, a union-busting law firm in West Virginia, and Johns Hopkins Medical in Baltimore, which earlier this month suspended work reviewing X-rays of miners seeking compensation. According to the Center for Public Integrity, one doctor at Johns Hopkins “found not a single case of severe black lung” in more than 1,500 cases he commented on. CPI said that less than 10 percent of the coal miners seeking benefits under the federal black lung compensation system have gotten them.
The AFL-CIO launched a television-ad campaign Nov. 7 attacking House Republicans for their stances on immigration-law reform. The ads quote House members’ statements like Paul Broun of Georgia saying undocumented immigrants are “criminals and they need to be treated as such.” They’re running on the Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision in Atlanta, Denver, and other cities, and in English in Washington, DC. “We want to spur House Republicans into action on immigration reform this year, right now, and we’re going to hold Republican congressmen responsible for their hostile statements about Latino immigrants,” said AFL-CIO strategist Tom Snyder.
The United Auto Workers’ Reuther Caucus nominated Dennis Williams Nov. 7 to succeed Bob King as the union’s president. Williams, 60, a former welder from Illinois, has been the UAW’s secretary-treasurer since 2010 and led a five-year strike against Caterpillar in the 1990s. The Reuther Caucus also nominated Jimmy Settles, Cindy Estrada, and Norwood Jewell for vice presidents, and picked Gary Casteel, who’s leading the union’s organizing efforts at Volkswagen and Nissan plants in Tennessee and Alabama, for secretary-treasurer. The election will be held during the UAW’s convention in June; no one has won the union’s presidency without the Reuther Caucus’s support since 1970.
Mardi Gras Gaming, the South Florida gambling complex whose challenge to “neutrality agreements” was heard by the Supreme Court Nov. 13, is being backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a powerful anti-union group. The group is also representing Martin Mulhall, the longtime Mardi Gras employee whose lawsuit against UNITE HERE Local 355 set off the case. Neither Mulhall nor the NRTWLDF would say why he opposed the union or how they came into contact. But for AFL-CIO attorney Craig Becker, the evidence is clear: The case “represents what is a longstanding effort on the part of the Right to Work Foundation to basically turn labor law upside down.”
Lawyers for Wisconsin labor unions told the state Supreme Court Nov. 11 that Gov. Scott Walker's restrictions on public unions deny public workers their right to freely associate with a union. The laws, enacted in 2011, prohibit unions from bargaining for real-wage increases, prohibit dues checkoff, and require workers to vote every year on whether they want to keep the union. Lester Pines, an attorney for a Madison teachers union, said the laws were “designed to make it impossible” for people to sustain unions. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a arguing for the Walker administration, said the restrictions don’t prevent union members from asking their employers for higher wages and other benefits; they just can't force their employers to listen. The court’s right-wing majority is likely to rule against the unions.
Chanting, "Organize, don't fool around, Pottsville is a union town," more than 400 people marched in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Nov. 9 to protest against union-busting “right-to-work” laws. The group, which included representatives from about 20 unions, picked Pottsville because it’s the site of the brewery owned by billionaire Dick Yuengling, who last summer said Pennsylvania would attract more business if it banned union shops. "There's a draft of legislation in Harrisburg. It didn't go anywhere yet, but it's real and we're concerned. Dick Yuengling made his views known,” said Liz Bettinger of the United Steelworkers’ District 10.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to apologize to a teacher he yelled at while campaigning for re-election. Weingarten’s letter said it was “wrong and unbecoming” for the governor to confront Melissa Tomlinson and “bully her in such a hostile and intimidating way for simply asking a question.” Tomlinson had asked, “Why do you continue to spread the myth that our schools and teachers are failing?” and Christie responded, “Because they are!… I am tired of you people.”
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
With their membership less than one-third what it was in 1979, the United Auto Workers are undertaking an ambitious campaign to break the anti-union regime in the South. UAW President Bob King “has basically staked his legacy” on organizing Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan plants there, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research. “Unless they unionize more of the automotive work force in the country, they will become wage takers, not wage setters.” A key target is the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where 40 percent of the more than 5,000 workers are temporary. The UAW is carrying the campaign to South Africa, Japan, France, and Brazil, where the country’s largest union has pledged to picket Nissan dealerships “until they have a union inside the plant in Mississippi.”
Bernd Osterloh, head of Volkswagen’s global “works council,” said Oct. 7 that he supported the company forming such a council with the United Auto Workers at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He added that having a council was important if the plant wanted to produce other VW cars besides the Passat. More than 80 percent of VW’s factories have such a system, in which the union cedes some rights in exchange for a voice in running the plant, and the company has been negotiating with the UAW about setting one up here. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker both oppose the company recognizing the union.
Mike Burton, a worker at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, said Oct. 4 that he had given management petitions signed by 563 hourly workers opposing the United Auto Workers. “There are no duplicates,” he said. Last month, the UAW said that a majority of the plant’s 1,567 production and skilled maintenance workers had signed cards authorizing it to represent them. Since then, it has said it wants VW to recognize the union using card check.
The partial shutdown of the federal government has meant hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed, and thousands more are working without paychecks—and they’re also doing it without union representation on the job. Because of the shutdown, some federal personnel lawyers have said, it’s illegal for union officials and representatives to get time off from their regular duties to represent other workers. If they do, they will get furloughed.
With federal inspectors not working because of the government shutdown, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, a major military contractor, furloughed 3,000 workers Oct. 4. Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson sent a memo to workers saying more furloughs are likely if Congress doesn’t pass a bill to fund government operations. At Bell Helicopter, another military supplier, CEO John Garrison said his company “cannot rule out impacts later next week.”
Communications Workers of America District 7 voted Sept. 29 to reject a tentative contract deal reached in July with the CenturyLink phone company, Colorado’s largest landline phone service provider. The union, which represents 11,000 call-center operators, network technicians, and other front-line employees in 13 states, has been working under a contract that expired last year, and a temporary extension ended Oct. 3. A District 7 spokesperson said a strike was not imminent. CWA officials told workers last month that “if we went on strike, it would be classified as an economic strike, meaning we could be permanently replaced.”
Labor representatives confronted Darden Restaurants Inc. CEO Clarence Otis, at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Orlando, Florida, last month. Theydemanded to know why the company, which owns the Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Capital Grille restaurant chains, pays its servers only $2.13 an hour, the federal minimum wage for employees who routinely receive tips. Otis, who’d personally lobbied against raising the tipped minimum wage, told the shareholders that “no Darden worker makes $2.13 an hour” and a higher wage for servers “would only fuel additional tension and arguably would be unfair to the non-tipped employees.” The company has 28,000 workers.
The National Labor Relations Board has charged the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with 19 violations against employees involved in a campaign by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to organize service workers at the hospital. The accusations include that UPMC illegally fired four workers for union activity and punished others who testified at NLRB hearings on charges filed last year. A hearing is scheduled for Dec.16.
The Transport Workers Union on Oct. 3 filed a request to intervene in an antitrust lawsuit intended to stop the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways. The union, which represents 26,000 workers at American, told the court it “does not have an independent cause of action or defense to plead, but does have a significant interest in the outcome of the matter.”The lawsuit, filed in August by the Department of Justice and several states, contends that the merger would be anti-competitive and harmful to consumers.
The International Trade Union Confederation said Oct. 4 that the 2022 World Cup should be moved from Qatar to a country that “respects workers.” “Workers from countries including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and increasingly Africa are used as forced labor, denied the right to join a union, live in squalid living conditions, and often are not paid the wages they are promised,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement. The Federation of International Football Associations, she said, “has the power to make workers' rights a condition of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.” FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded that the organization was not responsible for the workers' safety but would not turn a blind eye to the situation.