Weekly Digest - April 15, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

CEO Pay Hits ‘Insane Level’
America’s leading CEOs make more than 330 times as much as the average worker at their companies, according to the 2014 AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch.  PayWatch, released Apr. 14, found that the average CEO of an S&P 500 company pocketed $11.7 million in 2013, while the average worker earned $35,293. Many of these CEOs head companies notorious for paying low wages; Walmart CEO Michael T. Duke received $20.7 million in fiscal 2013. S&P 500 companies earned $41,249 in profits per employee last year, a 38% increase over 2008.

Baltimore Hospital Workers Strike Over Low Pay
Some 2,000 union workers went out on strike Apr. 9 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, beginning a three-day walkout intended to expose low wages at one of the nation’s most prestigious medical facilities. Local 1199SEIU United Health Workers East is pushing for all workers to get at least $14 an hour in 2018, and $15 for those with 15 years or more of experience. 1199SEIU Vice President Vanessa Johnson said that nearly 1,400 its members at Hopkins currently earn less than $14.92, the level at which a single parent with one child will qualify for food stamps, and management’s most recent offer would only raise the minimum from the current $10.71 to $12.25 in 2018. The union estimates that a $15 minimum would cost Hopkins less than $3 million in annual payroll expenses. The nonprofit hospital reported a $145 million surplus last year.

Minnesota Boosts Minimum Wage…
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the largest minimum wage increase in state history Apr. 14, giving raises to more than 325,000 workers there. The bill raises the state’s minimum from $6.15 an hour, one of the nation’s lowest, to $8 on Aug. 1 and $9.50 in 2016. But it exempts smaller businesses, which will only have to pay $7.75 in 2016, and also lets employers pay young workers less. The minimum will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2018, but the state government will have the power to stop those automatic increases.

…And Oklahoma Bans Local Minimums
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin Apr. 14 signed a bill banning local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s or requiring employers to give paid vacation or sick days. Fallin said raising the minimum would force businesses to lay off workers and do nothing to reduce poverty, because many minimum-wage workers are middle-class teenagers. Opponents of the bill say it was intended to pre-empt a campaign in Oklahoma City for a ballot initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Trumka Praises Pennsylvania Organizing
The jobs have moved from mills and mines to hospitals and casinos, but Western Pennsylvania is once again a hot spot for the nation’s labor movement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Apr. 10. “There’s more organizing drives going on in Pittsburgh than in any other city of the country,” he told the state AFL-CIO convention. With the SEIU targeting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health-care chain and campaigns at the Rivers Casino and three local universities, he said, there are now organizing drives at workplaces that employ 45,000 people. He also praised the United Steelworkers for supporting the SEIU’s efforts.

Tennessee’s Dirty Dozen: 12 Who Subverted VW Vote
The anti-UAW campaign at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant was a coordinated effort among Tennessee politicians, anti-union consultants, the nation’s leading right-wing activists, and AstroTurf organizations that purported to be groups of rank-and-file workers. The individuals and groups involved included Sen. Bob Corker and his chief of staff, Todd Womack; Grover Norquist’sCenter for Worker Freedom; state Republican chair Robin Smith, who compared the UAW to an “infestation” of “wasp larvae”; and Southern Momentum, Inc.,which claimed to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, but was run by Chattanooga anti-union lawyer Maury Nicely, received no money from actual workers, and hired the “union avoidance” firm Projections Inc.

Mississippi Pastors Support UAW Drive
As the UAW tries to organize the more than 5,000 workers at Nissan’s plant in Canton, Mississippi, local ministers have joined the campaign, forming the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. “People are going to work tired, and leaving tired. There is too much pressure on the assembly line,” said the Rev. Charles Miller. “We need to wake up the conscience of the management.” For Bishop Ronnie Crudup, it’s about stopping workers from being “mistreated and demeaned,” a civil-rights issue like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

Laborers Warn Dems onKeystone Pipeline
The Laborers' International Union of North America sent a letter Apr. 11 to members in the districts of 27 House Democrats who have opposed the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, telling them that “these so-called ‘friends’ of ours are destroying good-paying work opportunities” and should “feel the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.” The 27 include Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt of New Jersey. The pipeline’s opponents say it will be an environmental catastrophe, but the LIUNA letter said cancelling it “will do nothing to reduce climate change,” and that the jobs it will create are “a lifeline” for members.

UFCW, California Supermarkets Call in Mediator
The United Food & Commercial Workers and Southern California’s three largest supermarket chains have asked a federal mediator to join their contract talks. The UFCW represents about 60,000 grocery workers in Southern California, and its members at the Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons stores have been working under an expired contract for more than a month. The two sides agreed to extend the contract to May 11, but “it’s still glacial,” said Greg Conger, president of Local 324, which represents workers in Orange County. “The talks are not moving at all.”

Long-Term Unemployment Up for All Demographic Groups
The odds of being out of work for six months or longer tripled for all U.S. workers from 2007 to 2013, regardless of their education level, age, occupation, industry, gender, race or ethnicity, according to data posted by the Economic Policy Institute Apr. 9. The total long-term unemployment rate jumped from 0.8% to 2.8%, and it more than quadrupled for workers in management, educational, and health services. “Today’s long-term unemployment crisis is not at all confined to unlucky or inflexible workers who happen to be looking for work in specific occupations or industries where jobs aren’t available,” EPI economist Heidi Shierholz wrote, adding that the across-the-board breadth of the crisis means it “is not due to something wrong with these workers.”

Weekly Digest - March 26, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

L.A. Port Truckers Ruled Employees
Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach won a National Labor Relations Board settlement Mar. 21, when the board ruled that they were employees of Pacific 9 Transportation Inc. and not independent contractors. “The 30-year debate is over. The misclassification lie has been busted. The port drivers are, in fact, employees,” said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848. The union had accused Pacific 9 of threatening to close the business if the drivers joined the union, and of using the independent-contractor designation to dodge labor laws. A company statement still called the drivers “contractors.”

Chicago Voters Endorse $15 Minimum Wage
In an advisory referendum March 18, voters in Chicago endorsed $15-an-hour minimum wage for large employers in the city by a margin of 87-13%. The referendum, on the state and local primary ballot in about 5% of the city’s precincts, may encourage the city council to consider a wage hike. It will also be an issue in the state’s gubernatorial election, where Gov. Pat Quinn has endorsed raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to at least $10, while his Republican challenger, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, proposed cutting it to the national rate of $7.25.

Trumka Says Tennessee Pols Broke Law
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Mar. 25 that Tennessee politicians such as Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and State Sen. Bo Watson committed “a clear violation of the law” when they said Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant would lose future jobs and state aid if workers voted to join the United Auto Workers. They were effectively telling workers, “if you vote for a union we’re going to take your livelihood away,” Trumka said, and they had the power to carry out those threats. That, he said, violates the requirement that union elections be held in “laboratory conditions where people can vote without being threatened and intimidated.” The UAW, on similar grounds, has asked the National Labor Relations Board to schedule a new election at the factory. A hearing has been set for April 21.

Maine Medical-Pot Workers Win Labor-Law Protection
In its first case involving workers in the cannabis industry, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Mar. 10 that they are protected by federal labor law. The board authorized a complaint that Wellness Connection, Maine’s largest medical-marijuana dispensary chain, repeatedly retaliated against and interfered with workers who were trying to join the United Food and Commercial Workers. Former employee Ian Brodie said workers began talking union in early 2013, after a walkout by Wellness growers who’d developed lung problems from illegally used pesticides, and management wasn’t “willing to speak to us as individuals, so a few of us got together and compounded a list of everything that needed to change.” Though marijuana is illegal under federal law, the UFCW has been organizing industry workers in the states where it’s legal for medical use.

Rappers Back UAW Nissan Drive
Rapper Common headlined a rally and concert Mar. 23 at Jackson State University in Mississippi, supporting workers at Nissan’s Canton factory who are trying to join the United Auto Workers. Hip-hop producer Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy and P. Diddy, sent a videotaped message of support, and actor and activist Danny Glover also took part. Key issues at the plant include the company’s growing use of temporary workers, who get paid less than direct hires and have no job security. “While we welcome the presence of foreign-owned companies like Nissan in Mississippi, we will not tolerate a company treating Mississippians as second-class citizens,” said the Reverend R. Isiac Jackson, Jr., chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

California Hospital Strike Averted
A five-day strike scheduled to begin Mar. 24 at the University of California’s five medical centers was averted after the university reached a tentative contract agreement with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. The four-year deal, reached after almost two years of negotiation, includes raises and secure benefits and staffing levels, the union said, and the university withdrew a proposal for expanded “emergency” layoff powers. AFSCME 3299 represents 13,000 patient-care technical workers at UC hospitals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, and Davis.

Canada Stops Mexican Blacklist
The British Columbia Labour Relations Board has ruled that the Mexican government improperly interfered with a union by singling out seasonal agriculture workers who had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers and preventing them from returning to Canada. The decision blocks an effort to decertify the union at Sidhu & Sons Nursery in Abbotsford. “It has been a long battle, but finally the truth has won out,” said Ivan Limpright, head of UFCW Canada Local 1518. “Every worker in Canada has the right to join a union, including migrant workers.”

Machinists Mull Strike at US Airways
Angry that US Airways workers are paid about 10% less than those doing similar jobs at American Airlines, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has taken its first steps toward a possible strike, asking federal mediators to give it a 30-day cooling-off period. The IAM, which represents about 14,000 US Airways machinists, mechanics, and fleet service workers, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since before the two airlines merged last year. The Transport Workers Union, which represents 22,000 workers at American, says it would support a strike by the US Airways workers.

Seattle Limits Rideshare Companies
The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Mar. 17 to limit rideshare companies to no more than 150 drivers on the road at a time. These companies, such as Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber, pair drivers with riders through a Web application and have been growing competition for regular taxi companies, as they don’t face the same licensing, insurance, and tax requirements. But activist cabbie Joe Blondo said the vote was a defeat for taxi drivers because it “basically legitimized all the illegal activity of the for-hire and rideshare companies.” New Orleans, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon have banned rideshare-app companies, and Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Detroit have imposed taxi-like regulations on them.

International Unions Charge ‘Slave Labor’ in Qatar
More than 1,000 migrant workers in Qatar have died in the last three years, the International Trade Union Confederation says in a report released in mid-March, and another 4,000 could die by the time the nation hosts the 2022 World Cup. Workers from countries like Nepal, India, and the Philippines, who are more than two-thirds of the country’s 2 million people, “are enslaved,” the report says, under the “kafala” system, in which “employers enjoy near total control over the movement of workers in their employ, including over their ability to reside in Qatar, to change jobs or even to leave the country.”

Weekly Digest - April 9, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Tennessee Gov Offered VW $300M to Stay Nonunion

Documents leaked to a Nashville TV station say Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam offered $300 million in incentives for Volkswagen to expand its factories in Chattanooga—as long as they stayed nonunion. “The incentives… are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee,” said a confidential document from last August about “Project Trinity.” “It's obvious that the state was threatening or at least intimidating Volkswagen, to get the incentives,” said UAW organizer Gary Casteel. The Haslam administration declined to comment on camera.

Senate Votes to Restore Unemployment Benefits
The Senate voted 59-38 Apr. 7 to restore federal funding for unemployment benefits for 2.8 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. But the House is unlikely to bring the bill to the floor, although a handful of Republicans—including five from New York and New Jersey—have asked Speaker John A. Boehner to do so. “I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a House deputy whip. “The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren’t adequate pay-fors and it’s time for this program to come to an end.” The extended benefits were cut off in December.

Ironworkers Demand Union Jobs on Domino Project
Calling it “a clear test for the de Blasio administration,” Ironworkers Local 46 business manager Terrence Moore is demanding that the city require the developer converting the former Domino Sugar plant in Brooklyn to housing to do it with union workers. Two Trees Management Co., which plans to build more than 2,200 units of mostly luxury housing and is getting nearly $700 million in tax-exempt bonds, “wants to pick and choose which construction workers will receive adequate wages, health care, retirement benefits, and safety training, leaving other workers out in the cold,” Moore charged. He also urged that the project include more low-income housing.

NYSUT Elects First Female President
The New York State United Teachers Apr. 5 elected Karen Magee as its first new president in nine years and its first woman president. Magee’s “Revive NYSUT” slate, which included current executive vice president Andrew Pallotta, defeated the slate headed by incumbent president Richard Iannuzzi. Key issues in dispute were the union’s internal management and its response to the use of the “Common Core” standards in evaluating teachers. Delegates at the union’s convention also withdrew its support for Common Core, called for the removal of state Education Commissioner John King, and backed parents’ rights to have their children not take high-stakes tests.

Companies Cut Retiree Health Benefits
Retiree health benefits, once a mainstay of blue-collar and government jobs, are steadily being ditched by employers. In 1997, 29% of American workers had employer-provided retiree health coverage; by 2010, only 17.7% did. They were a key issue in FirstEnergy Corp.’s lockout at Penelec in Altoona, Pa., which ended Apr. 7, after more than four months. The workers returned under the company’s last offer, which cut off retirees’ benefits until they turn 65 and are eligible for Medicare. A FirstEnergy spokesperson said the company, which reported $142 million in profit for the last quarter of 2013, pays its CEO more than $8 million a year, and spent $120 million to get the naming rights to the Cleveland Browns football stadium in January 2013, didn’t “have the resources” to cover retiree benefits.

Texas Helicopter Mechanics Join Machinists
The 450 military helicopter mechanics, technicians, and maintenance personnel at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas voted Apr. 2 to join the International Association of Machinists. The workers are employed by L3, a New York-based military contractor whose workforce is about one-fifth union. “Our organizers were able to overcome the anti-union bias that is promoted in some southern states by providing concrete examples of what IAM contracts have already secured for similar workers throughout the South," said Machinists vice president Mark Blondin. The union is also planning organizing campaigns at the forthcoming Airbus plant in Mobile, Alabama, and Boeing's plant in North Charleston, S.C. 

Unifor Calls Off Toyota Vote
Canada’s Unifor union has “temporarily” withdrawn its application to represent workers at Toyota’s factories in Woodstock and Cambridge, Ontario. The move cancels a certification vote scheduled for April 7. Unifor said 3,000 of the plant’s 6,500 employees had signed union cards, more than the 40% needed to call a vote, but Toyota told the Ontario Labour Relations Board that wasn’t enough, as about 7,550 employees would qualify to be in the proposed bargaining unit. Unifor president Jerry Dias said it would continue trying to get workers to sign cards.

Dakota Building Trades Seek More Workers
With an estimated 1,400 skilled construction jobs open in North Dakota, a coalition of six building-trades unions has recently launched what it calls an unprecedented campaign to recruit and train workers. “Right now we are running out of people for jobs,” said Brian Aske, apprenticeship coordinator for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49. The influx of people to the booming Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota has been followed by a building boom, said construction company owner Andy Scull. Union construction jobs there pay around $50 an hour plus benefits, compared with an industry average of $29 in North Dakota and $13-17 in South Dakota.

California Students Arrested for Picketing
More than 20 students at the University of California of Santa Cruz were arrested for picketing April 2, as a two-day statewide strike by graduate assistants began. United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents 12,000 academic student employees in the University of California system, charges that it has intimidated graduate assistants who participate in labor actions by threatening to fire them or get their visas revoked. The people arrested included five strikers and 17 undergraduate supporters. “This is a premeditated attack on workers for legal picketing, and it’s very much in line with the unfair labor practices that the strike was all about,” said doctoral student Josh Brahinsky.

Labor Seeks Ways to Handle Vaguer ‘Employment’
From fast-food workers to adjunct professors, more than 40 million Americans now work precariously in gray areas of employment status, as independent contractors or temps, or for subcontractors or franchises. This makes traditional unionization much more difficult, but the labor movement is exploring new ways to organize these workers. For example, music-video dancers—fed up with having to come in at 5 a.m. and then wait around for hours, and suffering knee damage from dancing on concrete without protective gear—recently won affiliation with SAG-AFTRA and a contract that covers all videos produced by major record labels, even though they technically worked for subcontractors. The organizing tactics they used included making viral-ready videos to share with fellow dancers through social media, and holding meetings at dance studios and nightclubs.

Weekly Digest - March 19, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

TVA Unions Object to Privatization Study
Buried deep in President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget is a proposal to study privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority—and the unions representing several thousand TVA workers don’t like the idea. Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, called it “a poorly crafted, poorly intended, never to be realized, budget gimmick that won’t save money, but will cost jobs.” The TVA, a landmark New Deal project, provides low-cost electricity to more than 9 million people in seven Southern states. It hasn’t needed federal operating aid since 1999, but owes about $25 billion on bonds.

McDonald's Sued for Wage Theft
McDonald’s employees filed seven lawsuits March 13 alleging that they are being systematically cheated by being forced to work off the clock and not getting meal breaks or overtime pay. Jason Hughes, a plaintiff who said he’s worked at a McDonald’s in Northern California for about two years, said he’s had to punch out when business is slow, but stay in the store and punch back in as soon as it gets busy. Five of the suits name company franchisees as codefendants. “We believe it is time McDonald’s accepts responsibility for the pay practices at its franchise restaurants,” said Joe Sellers, one of the lawyers representing workers. If the cases are granted class-action status, they could affect more than 30,000 workers.

Vermont Bus Drivers Strike Over Dangerous Schedules
Bus drivers in Burlington, Vermont and the surrounding county went out on strike March 17, charging that their split-shift schedules are onerous and dangerous. “Drivers are calling for a fair contract that treats drivers with respect, avoids increasing driver fatigue and creates livable jobs,” said Teamsters Local 597 member Rob Slingerland, who works from 6:50 to 9 a.m. and from 2:20 to 7:20 p.m., but is paid for only seven hours’ work. The current contract, he says, requires drivers to be available for up to 15 hours a day. The strike vote was unanimous.

UAW to Appeal NLRB Decision on Anti-Union Groups
The United Auto Workers said March 12 it will appeal a National Labor Relations Board official’s decision to let two anti-union groups present arguments against its bid to get a new election at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. It’s asking the full NLRB to overrule a decision by the Atlanta regional director that granted the National Right to Work Foundation and Southern Momentum standing to intervene. The UAW charges that the two groups, who “openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce,” were among the outsiders whose interference prevented a fair election.

Portland City Workers Vote to Strike
After city officials in Portland, Oregon, rejected a contract offer by the District Council of Trade Unions on March 14, the two biggest unions in the coalition representing 1,600 city workers voted to authorize a strike. Laborers Local 483 did later that night, and AFSCME Local 189 members followed on March 17. The city and DCTU have been negotiating the four-year contract for more than a year, with contracting out city services the main sticking point. The earliest a strike could happen is March 28.

Iowa Wage-Theft Bill Stalls
An Iowa bill intended to protect workers against wage theft is likely to die in committee in the Republican-controlled state House. The bill, which would require employers to tell their workers in writing how and how much they will be paid, clarifying wages and creating a paper trail that would help document fraud, passed the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this month. House Labor Committee chair Greg Forristall, who’s been backed by state business groups that oppose the measure, says his committee will likely not meet again this session. The state has one investigator who handles up to 1,000 wage-theft cases a year.

Philly Workers Might Get Better Deal
AFSCME District Council 47 members in Philadelphia recently won their first raise in five years—but they might get more if the city gives a better deal to DC 33, which represents blue-collar city employees. After DC 47 ratified the contract March 5, the city’s chief negotiator sent union president Frederick Wright a letter saying that if the city negotiates “more favorable terms… with any other union,” they’ll be applicable to the white-collar workers represented by DC 47. DC 33 members haven’t gotten a raise since 2007.

Unifor Optimistic on Organizing Toyota
Canada’s Unifor has made organizing the Toyota plants in Cambridge and Woodstock, Ontario its first major campaign since the merger that formed the union—and “I think we're closer than we've ever been,” said Darryl Watkins, a contract worker at the Cambridge plant who’s been active in organizing. Unifor organizing director John Aman says that over 3,000 workers at both plants have signed union cards, close to the 40% they need to win a certification vote. The union is seeking higher wages, better benefits, and protections for contract workers.

Texas Cafeteria Workers to Vote on UFCW
Food-service workers at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth will vote in late March on whether to join the United Food and Commercial Workers. The workers, employees of the giant food-services contractor Sodexo, “want a secure union contract” that provides job security and protects benefits, said UFCW Local 1000 organizer Abraham Wangnoo. Sodexo last fall announced that it was redefining several dozen workers as part-time to avoid having to pay for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If the union wins, however, workers will not be required to join or pay dues, because Texas law bans the union shop.

Did Bad Investments Cause San Jose’s Pension Problems?
While voters in San Jose, California, were approving a law to cut city workers’ pensions, the city’s two pension funds were losing money by shifting almost half their investments from stocks and bonds to the riskier fields of private equity, hedge funds, and real estate. One of the two funds returned –3.2% in fiscal 2012, the worst performance of any public pension fund in California. If it had done as well as the S&P 500 stock index, it would have brought in more than twice the $68 million slated to be cut from pensions. “Any discussion about the unsustainability of benefits must come after discussion of radical market underperformance,” says Edward Siedle, president of Benchmark Financial Services and a former attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law has been temporarily stayed by a state court decision.

Weekly Digest - April 2, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

NLRB Says College Athletes Have Right to Unions
A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Mar. 26 that a group of Northwestern University football players were employees of the university and thus have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Peter Ohr, head of the Chicago office, wrote that because the players devoted 40 to 60 hours a week to football during the preseason and season, received compensation in the form of scholarships, and can have their scholarships revoked by coaches, “it cannot be said” that they are “primarily students.” Northwestern is appealing the ruling, which could set a precedent applying to scholarship football players at other private universities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I.

Chicago Unions Slam Mayor’s Pension Plan
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to reduce the city’s pension debt is to raise property taxes and cut retirement benefits for almost 50,000 city workers and retirees. The mayor’s plan, outlined Mar. 31, would require employees to pay more of their salaries into the pension fund, while giving retirees fewer and lower cost-of-living increases. Emanuel said he had significant union support, but the We Are One Chicago union coalition called the plan “an unconstitutional approach that makes onerous cuts.” Under it, the coalition contended, a worker retiring in 2015 with a $33,500 pension would eventually see its value eroded to $22,700.

Federal Judge Allows 5/8 of Suit Against Michigan ‘Right to Work’
Michigan labor groups can proceed with a challenge to the state’s 2012 law banning union shops, a federal judge ruled Mar. 31. “Michigan has legislated, or at the very least arguably legislated, outside the boundaries” of what the National Labor Relations Act permits, U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy in Detroit wrote. Andrew Nickelhoff, an attorney for the state AFL-CIO and other labor groups, said the judge could strike down the entire law if he finds some provisions invalid. But antilabor forces, including state Attorney General Bill Schuette, also claimed a victory, as the judgedismissed three of the suit’s eight claims.

Missouri Unions Protest ‘Right to Work’ Bills
Hundreds of union members and supporters packed the lawn outside of the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City Mar. 26, carrying signs reading “Right to Work is a Ripoff,” “Solidarity,” and “Stop the War on Workers.” State House Speaker Tim Jones has repeatedly said that passing legislation prohibiting union shops is a priority for this year’s session, but Gov. Jay Nixon told the crowd he would not hesitate to veto any that passed. The House is considering a measure to put a union- shop ban on the ballot for the state primaries in August, bypassing the governor.

U.S. trade policy has “proved to be primarily a vehicle to increase corporate profits at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself,” the AFL-CIO charges in “NAFTA at 20,” a report issued Mar. 27. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, it says, led to stagnant wages and weaker unions in all three countries, almost 700,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs moved to Mexico, and the loss of 2 million jobs in Mexican agriculture.

County Considers Scabs in Vermont Bus Strike
As a bus drivers’ strike in Vermont’s Chittenden County entered its third week Mar. 31, the county Transportation Authority’s board voted 12-1 to consider hiring strikebreakers. The drivers, members of Teamsters Local 597, unanimously rejected management’s contract offer. Driver and steward Nate Bergeron said the authority would not agree to keep split shifts limited to 12.5 hours, even after the union had compromised on letting it hire part-time drivers. The strike, which began March 17, has affected about 9,700 daily riders, including 2,400 Burlington schoolchildren.

Alaska AFL-CIO Asks Legislature to Wait for Minimum-Wage Vote
AlaskaAFL-CIO president Vince Beltrami told legislators Mar. 29 that they shouldn’t vote to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 an hour before voters decide on whether to increase it to $8.75 on Jan. 1 and $9.75 in 2016. The initiative is on the ballot for this summer’s primary elections, and it would be removed if the state enacts a substantially similar bill. Organizers fear a repeat of what happened in 2002, when the legislature pre-empted an initiative by raising the minimum and then reduced it the next year.

Milwaukee Janitors Say Walker Blacklisted Them
AFSCME’s District Council 48 has filed a suit against Milwaukee County in federal court, charging that it blacklisted 25 janitors at the county courthouse for being union members. The 25 were laid off in 2009 when then-county executive Scott Walker, now governor, privatized janitorial services and gave the contract to a campaign contributor. The suit alleges that the county refused to give them references “or provided false information” when they applied for other jobs. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Walker's former chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, sent an e-mail that stated, “We are never going to get DC 48, so I would furlough the hell out of them. Find the most senior members and burn them a new one!”

UAW Membership Up for Fourth Year
The United Auto Workers gained almost 9,000 members last year, bringing its total membership to 391,415, the union announced Mar. 29. It was the fourth consecutive year the UAW has grown, although membership is still a fraction of the more than 1.5 million it was in 1979. The union benefited from job growth in Detroit’s auto industry and from organizing southern vehicle assemblers and suppliers, including Navistar’s IC Bus plant in Tulsa, Okla., Flex-n-Gate in Arlington, Texas, and Faurecia in Louisville, Ky. It also got thousands of new members by organizing at casinos in Ohio and Las Vegas.

NYSUT Charges LI Charter School With ‘Union-Busting’
The New York State United Teachers has filed an improper labor practice charge against the Riverhead Charter School, the first charter school in the state to be unionized. The complaint, filed with the Public Employees Relations Board in February, says the school’s administration fired teachers who were union supporters while pressuring the others to support decertifying the Riverhead Charter School Employees Association. “It’s one of the worst instances of union animus and intimidation of employees I've seen in my 15-year-plus career,” said Peter Verdon, regional staff director of NYSUT Local 22170. “This is a classic textbook example of why in 2014 people need unions.” Teachers at the school can be fired without cause, and Jaclyn Scoglio-Walsh, one of the five sacked since September, had been named “Teacher of the Year.”

Weekly Digest - March 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Vegas Workers Threaten Strike Over Health Care
Nearly 10,000 Las Vegas casino and hotel workers will vote March 20 on whether to authorize a strike to preserve their health benefits. The housekeepers, porters, cooks, cocktail servers, and others represented by Nevada’s largest union, the Culinary Union Local 226, now get coverage at no cost through a Taft-Hartley multiemployer plan, but as it isn’t eligible for tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, some companies have asked their employees to pay into an HMO, said Yvanna Cancela, the Culinary’s political director. “The biggest hurdle to reaching settlements in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare,” said Donald “D” Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, the Culinary’s parent union. “Even though the president and Congress promised we could keep our health plan, the reality is, unless the law is fixed, that won’t be true.” However, the union has worked out deals to maintain free coverage for the 35,000 workers at MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment.

Major League Soccer Opens Season With Scab Refs
Major League Soccer started its 2014 season with scabs on the pitch, locking out the Professional Soccer Referees Association Mar. 7 after it refused to sign a no-strike pledge. The union, trying to negotiate its first collective bargaining agreement in league history, also wants refs to get paid for training sessions. The lockout comes after the union filed unfair labor practice and labor intimidation complains with the National Labor Relations Board.

MTA Seeks Mediation With LIRR Unions
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority formally requested more federal mediation of the Long Island Railroad’s dispute with its labor unions Mar. 5. The move means that workers who authorized a strike as early as Mar. 21 can’t legally walk out until July 19. The previous panel of mediators said the MTA could afford to give workers raises if they began paying some of their health-care premiums, but the MTA refused, saying the cost would force larger fare increases and service cuts. The MTA“continues to find money to spend on what they want to spend it on,” responded Anthony Simon, chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union, which represents some LIRR workers.

Volkswagen Sides With UAW on Appeal
The United Auto Workers and Volkswagen have filed their opposition to two antiunion groups trying to prevent a new election at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. Volkswagen’s attorney told the National Labor Relations Board that there is no legal basis for Southern Momentum and the National Right to Work Foundation to be involved in the proceedings, and the UAW argues that they don’t have legal standing because neither one was a party to the election. The two groups claim they are representing antiunion workers who have a right to be heard. The UAW has asked for a new election on the grounds that a “coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign” by politicians and antiunion outsiders tainted the vote.

Philly’s DC 47 Gets First Raise in Five Years
Members of AFSCME District Council 47, the union representing Philadelphia’s white-collar municipal workers, ratified a contract Mar. 6 that will give them their first raise in since June 2009, when their last contract expired. The pact includes $2,000 signing bonuses for the union’s 2,000 members and raises totaling 9 percent through 2017. The city will contribute more for health-care coverage, but workers will have to put more of their paychecks into the pension fund. District Council 33, which represents the city’s 10,000 blue-collar workers, has also been without a contract or raises since 2009.

Conservative Confab Conspires to Undermine Unions
Panelists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland Mar. 8 agreed that with Democrats in power in Washington, the best way to undermine unions is through state legislation, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s rollback of collective bargaining and the union-shop bans recently passed in Michigan and Indiana. Grover Norquist, who bankrolled an ad campaign against the United Auto Workers in Tennessee, said such laws also weaken labor’s political clout, and that Walker had proved that public-sector unions were vulnerable. F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy think tank in Michigan, said the next targets for union-shop bans include Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky.

NLRB: Postal Service Must Give Union Staples Info
Region 5 of the National Labor Relations Board has recommended that the board seek an injunction in federal court to compel the U.S. Postal Service to give information to the American Postal Workers Union about its deal to provide postal services in Staples stores. The APWU, which is demanding that those jobs go to postal employees, wants to know how the mail’s security will be protected, how Staples employees will be trained, and how much the Postal Service will pay Staples. A hearing before an administrative law judge has been set for March 31.

Portland Port Strike Stopped
A strike by longshoremen in the port of Portland, Oregon Mar. 4 ended after an arbitrator ruled the picket line they were refusing to cross wasn’t “bona fide.” Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off the job after lunch, in solidarity with Honduran dockworkers picketing to protest the terminal operator’s Central American subsidiary firing union workers and having them arrested. But arbitrator Jan Holmes said that because the Hondurans were not directly employed by the Oregon subsidiary that runs the terminal, the U.S. workers could not legally honor their picket line.

Washington Machinists Elect New President
Jon Holden, 41, was elected president of the International Association of Machinists District 751 in Washington March 6. He succeeds Tom Wroblewski, who retired Jan. 31, citing health reasons, after the bitterly disputed contract vote by Boeing workers in the local. Holden, formerly business representative for workers on Boeing’s 747 assembly line in Everett, said he would “channel that anger” over the contract givebacks to build a more united union. “We can and should be pushing the contract enforcement envelope,” he said.

Temp Workers Face Modern-Day ‘Harvest of Shame’
Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 TV documentary “Harvest of Shame” exposed the exploitation of migrant farmworkers—and today’s temp workers face similar abuses. “Low wages, wage theft, unsafe conditions, working with chemicals with no respect and dignity, and no organized effort to try to fight back,” says Lou Kimmel, an organizer for the New Labor workers’ center in New Brunswick, N.J.  In the 21st-century system of online shopping and just-in-time delivery, the temp industry now employs 2.8 million workers—the highest proportion of the American workforce in history—and many get hired through shape-ups, ride to work in overcrowded buses and vans, and earn about as much, adjusted for inflation, as migrant farmworkers did 54 years ago.