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Weekly Digest - July 16, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Detroit Retirees Plead for Pensions
The federal judge overseeing Detroit’s bankruptcy plan opened his courtroom to public testimony July 15, and 46 people urged him to prevent cuts to pensions and health care benefits. “I want to live the last few years of my life,” said retired police Sgt. Gisele Caver, who worked despite suffering from an incurable disease. “Don’t take away my pension and my medical. My life is at stake.” Under the plan, city workers and retirees’ pensions would be cut by 4.5% and annual cost-of-living increases eliminated, retired police and firefighters would have their cost-of-living increases sliced in half, and annuities for people who contributed extra reduced by up to 15.5%. Detroiter Andrea Hackett said the purpose of the city’s bankruptcy “is to shed pension obligations and get this court and judge to set a precedent so other cities can do the same,” adding that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr “has no problem slitting our throats and letting us bleed out.” Read more

Will Staples Abandon Postal Service Trial?
Staples said July 14 that it was dropping a pilot program to offer postal services at 82 of its stores and would join the standard Post Office Approved Shipper program. The announcement came shortly after the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachersendorsed the American Postal Workers Union’sboycott of the office-supply chain. But APWU President Mark Dimondstein called it a “ruse,” saying in a statement that the U.S. Postal Service still intends “to continue to privatize postal retail operations” and “replace living-wage Postal Service jobs with low-wage Staples jobs,” and that the union would “keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business.” Read more

Pittsburgh Janitors Demand Jobs Back
About 150 people rallied July 11 outside University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital, calling for the reinstatement of 10 janitors who lost their jobs when the hospital switched to a nonunion office-cleaning service July 1. The janitors, members of SEIU Local 32BJ, had made $11.30 an hour with benefits, union district president Sam Williamson said, and the new service pays $9.50. Donald Malcolm, 54, who’d worked there for 12 years, said he’d applied to the new contractor but hadn’t gotten his job back. “I don’t think we lost the contract,” he told the crowd. “They just didn’t want the union in here.” Read more

Obama Renames Sharon Block to NLRB
President Barack Obama has renamed Sharon Block to the National Labor Relations Board, sending her nomination to the Senate July 14. Block, who served on the board for 18 months in 2012-13, was one of the three members whose recess appointments were invalidated by the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans are likely to oppose confirming her, but procedural rules adopted last November will likely prevent them from filibustering the nomination. Block would succeed another Democrat, Nancy Schiffer, whose term expires on Dec. 16. Read more

Will NLRB Cases Undermine Outsourcing Dodge?
Two cases now pending before the National Labor Relations Board might redefine what it means to be an “employer”—and prevent companies from claiming that they’re not responsible for workers who are technically employed by someone else. In one, based on complaints filed by the Fast-Food Workers Committee and the Service Employees International Union, the board will rule on whether McDonald's qualifies as a "joint employer" along with the franchise owner. In the other, the Teamsters are appealing a regional board’s decision that only workers hired by a staffing agency were eligible to vote in a union election at a recycling plant in Milpitas, California. The AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the NLRB's general counsel argue that companies like McDonald’s retain substantial control of the terms and conditions of employment. Several major business organizations have lined up on the opposite side. Read more

Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Before Fatal Accident
The accident that killed sugar-plant worker Janio Salinas in February 2013 came 13 days after the CSC Sugar company removed a protective screen from a hopper because the plant’s manager believed it was slowing down production. Salinas, a 50-year-old immigrant from Peru, was buried alive in sugar while trying to dig out a clogged hopper at the company’s warehouse in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The screen had been placed over the hopper to prevent clumps of sugar from clogging the hole at the bottom. Salinas, like every other worker there, had been hired through a temp agency. Read more

Feds Eyeing Charges in Refinery Blast?
More than four years after an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington killed seven workers, no one at the company has been held publicly accountable for the deaths. The state Labor Department, accusing Tesoro of breaking the law 39 times, fined the company $2.39 million, the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history, but a judge reduced that to less than $700,000. The federal government is investigating whether to file criminal charges under environmental laws, which are tougher than the workplace-safety laws. It would have to file any charges before the five-year statute of limitations runs out next April and prove willful negligence to win a conviction. “Serious OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury should be felonies like insider trading, tax crimes or customs and antitrust violations,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration head David Michaels told Congress in 2010.
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Spirit Airlines Ramp Workers Join Machinists
Spirit Airlines ramp workers voted to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in an election that ended July 8. They join pilots, flight attendants, and dispatchers as union workers at the low-cost airline. “The days of Spirit management unilaterally dictating wages and working conditions end today,” Daniel Krampert, a ramp agent in Atlantic City, said in a Machinists statement. The IAM is also organizing flight attendants at Delta Air Lines. Read more

Milwaukee Remembers Ironworkers Killed Building Ballpark
Fifteen years after a crane collapsed during the construction of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park, the city still remembers the three members of Iron Workers Local 8killed in the accident. Jeffrey Wischer, 40, William DeGrave, 39, and Jerome Starr, 52, died on July 14, 1999, when the 567-foot-tall Big Blue crane was blown over by winds of more than 20 mph while it was lifting a 450-ton piece of the stadium’s roof. Engineer Mike Duckett says he remembers the day like he does 9/11 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The three men’s widows sued the contractor for negligence and settled out of court for $57 million in 2006. Read more

British Public Workers Stage Giant One-Day Strike
More than a million British public-sector workers “took a day off” July 10 to protest a pay cap that has frozen wages or limited raises to 1% a year, the loss of 400,000 public-sector jobs since 2010, and reduced pensions. The strikers included members of the National Union of Teachers, the public-sector union UNISON, the Fire Brigades Union, and UNITE, Britain’s largest union. “We were promised £1 an hour more—we haven’t had it yet. No pay rise for three years,” said James, a garbage collector, while teaching assistants said their pay has been frozen for six years. Read more

Weekly Digest - June 25, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wage Theft: Employers Steal More Than Armed Robbers
According to the Economic Policy Institute, robbers took $139 million from banks, gas stations, and convenience stores in the U.S. in 2012—half of the $280 million in illegally withheld back wages that the Department of Labor recovered from U.S. companies that year. EPI vice president Ross Eisenbrey estimates that U.S. workers are cheated out of $40 billion to $60 billion a year. Common methods include paying less than minimum wage, having employees work off the clock, and classifying workers as salaried employees or independent contractors so they don’t have to be paid for overtime.

Massachusetts Teachers Union Head Says ‘Fighting Is Winning’
“I accessed anger at the rank-and-file level,” says recently elected Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni, “but I also tried to hold up a more positive vision for re-engaging the world.” While she says teachers’ unions are in a position where they might “lose everything”—she calls the “overwhelming focus” on raising test scores “bureaucratic cruelty”—she’s optimistic that can be stopped. “I think fighting is winning,” she told the EduShyster blog, saying she believes that members become much more active when “we tell them, ‘We can be powerful. We can use our power. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be hard. But history shows that we can do this.’”

NYC Correction Officers Challenge Obamacare Drug Limits
New York City’s Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that it is unconstitutional for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to prohibit insurers from putting limits on how much they’ll pay for drugs. The union offers its members a supplemental prescription-drug plan that doesn’t require them to contribute, but limits annual payments to $10,000 per family. In the complaint, union president Norman Seabrook said eliminating that limit “has resulted in skyrocketing costs” and that the Obama administration’s refusal to grant union benefit funds an exemption stemmed from either “an irrational hostility targeting such funds because they are sponsored by public-sector unions” or ignoring the provision’s “disparate adverse impact” on union benefits.

NLRB Rules for Steelworkers Upstate
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to seek a court order voiding a vote against the United Steelworkers at an upstate aluminum plant and mandating the company recognize them as bargaining agent. The nearly 600 hourly workers at the Novelis Inc. factory in Scriba, N.Y., near Oswego, voted against the union in February, but the board ruled that the company had prevented a fair election by illegally telling workers that pay would be cut, working conditions would worsen, and the plant would close if they voted to join the union. A hearing before a federal administrative law judge in Syracuse is scheduled for July 16.

Philly Building Trades Agree to Take Lower Pay for Public Housing
Philadelphia’s building-trades unions have agreed to take 20% lower pay and benefits by 20 percent when constructing new buildings for the city Housing Authority. In return, the authority will pledge to engage only contractors who hire union laborers, carpenters, painters, and other workers when it builds “affordable housing.” “This is a very, very good negotiated agreement," said Pat Eiding, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Philadelphia, who explained that it would enable members of the council’s 14 unions to get work that now often goes to nonunion contractors.

Aqueduct Union Deal Bodes Well for Upstate Casino Jobs
Contracts negotiated by the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council at Resorts World’s Aqueduct racino in Queens are an encouraging sign for high wages at casinos slated for the Albany area. The state Gaming Commission is requiring bidders for casino licenses to open their facilities to union organizing and to make project-labor agreements to pay prevailing wages when constructing them. While workers’ salaries at the new casinos probably won’t be as high as those in New York City, there’s a strong chance that they will average more than $40,000 a year. The casino license applications are due June 30.

Jewish-School Teachers Running Out of Options to Save Union
Teachers at two Jewish elementary schools in the Philadelphia suburbs are running out of options to prevent management from ending their union recognition. The Perelman Jewish Day School board told teachers in March that it would no longer recognize their American Federation of Teachers representation after the contract expires on Aug. 31. “The brunt of Jewish law is on the side of the workers and on the side of the unions,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of T’ruah, a rabbinical human-rights organization, explained at a June 18 meeting. The school board is ignoring that, and it also claims that private religious schools are exempt from federal collective-bargaining laws. The AFT has filed several unfair-practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

NLRB Asks for Revote at Oklahoma Chicken Plant
The National Labor Relations Board has asked OK Foods to let maintenance and refrigeration workers at its chicken-processing plant in Heavener, Oklahoma vote again on whether to join United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1000. The union narrowly lost a vote May 1, but alleged that the company had denied wage increases, benefits, and retroactive pay to workers engaged in union activities. In a June 20 letter, NLRB Region 14 in Overland Park, Kansas asked OK Foods to settle voluntarily or face formal charges. “We’ve concluded there was enough evidence,” said NLRB regional director Dan Hubbel.

Sharpton Calls for Healing at Jewish Labor Committee
“We that have done things that has led to the division of blacks and Jews have to work vigorously to heal the wounds,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at the Jewish Labor Committee’s annual Human Rights Awards Dinner in New York June 19. JLC president Stuart Appelbaum, who also heads the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said the group decided to invite Sharpton to help “re-establish the relationship that motivated us for so many decades,” such as in the civil-rights movement. The group honored Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Teamsters international vice president at-large George Miranda.

Neutrality Agreements Help UAW Organize

Getting neutrality agreements from employers has helped the United Auto Workers organize workers at a bus factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma and graduate-student employees at several universities. Since 2009, nine of every 10 new UAW members have come from elections in which management did not actively oppose the organizing effort, the union said earlier this month. Peter Barker, a retired regional director at the National Labor Relations Board, says the UAW’s relationships with GM, Ford and Chrysler helped it win neutrality agreements elsewhere in the industry because “the Detroit Three wanted to make sure their auto suppliers were not going to have labor problems if there was an organizing drive going on.” But neutrality remains the exception when most employers are hostile to unions, especially in the South.

Weekly Digest - July 9, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

1199 Wins Raises at Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Local 1199 SEIU reached a tentative agreement July 8 on a new contract that will raise the minimum pay for current workers to $13 an hour by 2018. The 4½-year deal, which covers about 2,000 service workers from janitors to surgical technicians, establishes an immediate $15 minimum wage for members with 20 years of experience. The hospital’s lowest-paid workers now start at $10.71. Workers staged a three-day strike in April after rejecting a previous offer, and Gov. Martin O’Malley intervened to prevent a second walkout last month. Union spokesperson Jim McNeill said the deal, which will give some lower-paid workers 38% raises, “is setting a higher standard for the entire city.” Read more

SAG-AFTRA Reaches Deal for New Film and TV Contract
SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced July 4 that they had reached an agreement on a new three-year film and TV contract that will give the union’s 165,000 members raises of 2.5% to 3% a year. The deal creates a single master contract that replaces the separate pacts negotiated by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists before they merged in 2012. It also improves rates paid to actors on subscription-video and Web shows, including Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards.
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L.A. Port Truckers Strike Three Companies
About 120 truck drivers went on strike July 7 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach against Green Fleet Systems, Pac 9, and Total Transportation Services Inc. International Brotherhood of Teamsters spokesperson Barb Maynard said the strike would be indefinite and had shut down all three companies’ operations at the ports. She said the three misclassify truckers as independent contractors, and Green Fleet has fired drivers who complained about wage theft. The companies ship goods for shoe manufacturer Skechers; retailers Walmart, Target, Costco, and IKEA; and designer brands Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. Read more

Teachers, Postal Workers Push Staples Boycott
Teachers’ unions in California, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire are urging their members not to buy supplies at Staples to protest the chain’s plan to run U.S. Postal Service counters in its stores, where workers are paid about one-third of what regular postal clerks earn. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is expected to approve a boycott at its convention in Los Angeles this weekend, and is already planning to join California postal workers for a demonstration July 12 in front of the Staples Center arena there. American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein said the Postal Service’s program, which is expected to spread to 1,600 Staples stores, “absolutely represents a shift of living-wage jobs to low-wage, non-benefit jobs.” Read more

NEA Urges Arne Duncan to Resign
Delegates at the National Education Association’s convention in Denver voted July 4 to adopt a resolution urging Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign. The vote was a “venting of frustration of too many things that are wrong,” said outgoing union president Dennis Van Roekel. Those things included the “department's failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing” and “continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions,” such as Duncan’s support for a California judge’s ruling last month that struck down tenure and seniority protections for the state's public school teachers.
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LIUNA Uses Crushed Bus to Push for Bridge Repairs
Holding an orange banner that read “This Bridge Is Structurally Deficient” and standing in front of a school bus crushed when a piece of concrete fell off a bridge, about 20 Laborers’ International Union of North America members rallied July 3 under the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati. The rally was part of the union’s “Fix Our Bridges” campaign, urging Congress to appropriate $2.6 billion to repair the bridge, which carries Interstate 71/75 over the Ohio River to Kentucky. “The bus is symbolic but the stakes are real,” said LIUNA vice president Robert Richardson. The union previously bought billboards on the highway that advised drivers to carry life preservers. Read more

United Outsources Jobs at 12 Airports
United Airlines announced July 7 that it is outsourcing more than 600 jobs at 12 airports, including Detroit, Buffalo, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The outsourced jobs include ticket and gate agents and baggage handlers. The International Association of Machinists said it negotiated seniority protection for many of the workers if they relocate, and that about 400 outsourced jobs would be brought back at four airports, including Denver, Phoenix, and Dulles International near Washington. Union spokesman James Carlson called the outsourcing a "race to the bottom. How can you compete with vendors paying $12 an hour?" He said United's top pay for the work is about $24 an hour. Read more

UFCW Wins Recognition at Texas College Cafeteria
Food-service workers at Texas Christian University who voted last March to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000 have won a tentative collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo, the company that runs the Fort Worth college’s cafeteria. The workers decided to unionize after Sodexo reclassified many of them as part-time to avoid having to pay for health-care benefits. The agreement came less than a week after the company announced plans to restore its employees’ health coverage. Read more

NJ Court Nixes CWA Bid to Stop Lottery Privatization
A New Jersey appeals court July 3 ruled against the Communications Workers of America’s lawsuit to stop the state from hiring a private company to manage the lottery’s sales and marketing branches. The union, which represents New Jersey’s lottery workers, had argued that the state constitution says the lottery can be conducted by the state only and not by a private entity, and that a state Treasury Department had unlawfully approved a payment to the company, Northstar New Jersey. The court rejected both arguments. Read more

Employment Up in States That Raised Minimum Wage
Jobs increased at a rate faster than the national average in nine of the 13 states that raised their minimum wages in 2014, according to an analysis released June 30 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. The study, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the first five months of 2014, found that employment rose by an average of 0.99% in the 13 states that increased their minimum wage, compared with 0.68% in those that didn’t. Of the eight states that reported job losses, the only one that had raised its minimum was New Jersey. “While this kind of simple exercise can't establish causality, it does provide evidence against theoretical negative employment effects of minimum-wage increases,” the report said. Read more

Weekly Digest - June 18, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Rhode Island Blocks $15 Minimum in Providence

Rhode Island’s legislature approved a state budget June 16 that prohibits local governments from raising their minimum wage higher than the state’s. The provision pre-empts a proposed Providence ordinance that would set a $15-an-hour minimum for hotel workers. Three members of UNITE HERE Local 217 and a Central Falls city councilmember went on a hunger strike urging Gov. Lincoln Chafee to veto the measure. The House Labor Committee did approve a bill to raise the state minimum from $8 to $9 as of January.

Weingarten Blasts Arne Duncan on Anti-Tenure Decision
Saying that he was “pitting students against their teachers,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten angrily criticized Education Secretary Arne Duncan for his support of a California judge’s decision that voided state laws giving teachers tenure and seniority protections. Duncan had called the decision a “mandate” to fix “laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students” and said it presents an opportunity “to build a new framework for the teaching profession.” “Teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed,” Weingarten responded in a June 12 letter to him.

Obama Ends Philly Commuter-Rail Strike
President Barack Obama signed an executive order June 14 mandating eight months of mediation after workers on the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s regional rail lines went on strike earlier in the day. The 430 engineers and electricians represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmenwalked out after SEPTA management announced it would impose its terms to settle a long-running contract dispute. Those terms would have given the workers raises, but the union rejected them because the raises were not retroactive to the last contract’s expiration, and did not include a pension increase that Philadelphia city bus and subway workers got in 2009. Both management and the union predict a strike in February, when the mediation period expires.

Machinists Reach Deal With American Airlines
American Airlines Group reached a tentative agreement June 16 with US Airways workers represented by the International Association of Machinists. The three-year contract covers 11,000 mechanics and ground workers who became part of American when the two airlines merged last year, and will give them annual raises and protection against furloughs. If ratified, the deal clears the way for the Machinists and the Transport Workers Union to represent workers at both airlines jointly.

Jersey Workers Protest Christie’s Pension Cuts
Chanting “Obey the law, keep your promise,” hundreds of New Jersey public employees marched to the State House in Trenton June 12, protesting Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to reduce the state’s contributions to its underfunded pension plan by $2.4 billion. “No one responsibly believes that we should allow a pension plan worth billions of dollars to collapse,” said Hetty Rosenstein, area director of the Communications Workers of America, one of 14 unions suing Christie to stop the plan. “No responsible leader actually recommends reneging on debt as if he were stiffing a buddy in a sports bet.”

Puerto Rico Unions Mull General Strike
With Puerto Rico’s legislature considering a draconian austerity budget, public workers’ unions have said they may call a general strike. The proposed Fiscal Sustainability Act, a response to credit agencies downgrading Puerto Rico’s bonds to “junk” status,would give the commonwealth’s government “emergency powers” to renegotiate all public employees’ contracts, privatize its electricity company, and close 100 schools. Union workers have protested by stopping ferry service for one day and blocking the entrance to the central government building in San Juan.

UNITE HERE Wins at Atlantic City’s Nonunion Casino
Workers at the Revel casino, the only non-union casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted overwhelmingly to join UNITE HERE Local 54 in early June. Local 54 President Bob McDevitt called the vote a “huge victory.” The union will now represent about 1,000 housekeepers, bartenders, food service workers, and others, and hopes to win them retirement and health benefits, as well as protecting their jobs when a new owner takes over the financially troubled casino.

Philly Airport Workers Demand Minimum Wage
About three dozen Philadelphia International Airport workers stormed the hallway outside Mayor Michael Nutter’s office June 10, demanding that he enforce his executive order raising the minimum wage for contractors doing business with the city to $10.88 an hour. “We’re concerned that people are still working full-time, living in deep poverty here in the city of Philadelphia, and the administration has the power to be able to enforce this right now,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER interfaith organization and pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ. The mayor’s chief of staff told the workers, mostly Local 32BJ SEIU members ranging from security checkpoint officers to baggage handlers, that contracts were being renegotiated and “we’re trying to get it done as quickly as we can.”

NY State Court Employees Approve New Contract
Employees of New York State’s Unified Court System have voted 2-to-1 to approve a new contract that will give them three 2% raises between now and 2017 and contains provisions to prevent furloughs if the state budget is late. “This was a very difficult negotiation and I am proud that CSEA members ignored outside noise and focused on the facts about this agreement," said Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 5,700 court clerks, officers, reporters and other employees. The deal now goes to the state legislature for approval.

Mexican Workers Protest Mass Firing
Workers at the CBI maquiladora in the border city of Matamoros have been staging a “permanent” picket outside the plant gates since 300 employees were fired after they went on strike June 3. It was the second strike this year at the factory, which manufactures ducts and metal platforms, and the workers say they’re going to stay until they get their jobs back. “We are struggling against an entire system,” said National Miners Union representative Luis Sanchez Zuniga, accusing the local labor conciliation board of favoring the employer. Welders at CBI take home less than $100 a week, half what they would make in other northern Mexican cities.

Weekly Digest - July 2, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Supreme Court Ruling Could Affect Massachusetts 1199 Members
The Supreme Court’s June 30 decision on union fees for “partial public employees” might affect home health-care workers in Massachusetts, who work under a collective bargaining system set up with the state eight years ago. The ruling would likely bolster a challenge to that system, under which home health aides pay up to $40 a month in fees. SEIU Local 1199, which represents home-care providers in the state, has won them a minimum wage of $13.38 an hour, paid time off, and a training fund since they were unionized in 2006. Read more

Christie Signs Budget Cutting Pension Payments
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a $32.5 billion state budget June 30 that will cut out more than two-thirds of a legally required payment for public workers’ retirement funds. The governor signed a law in 2010 that mandated a $2.25 billion payment to the funds this year, but he vetoed a bill to include that in the budget and slashed the payment to $681 million. Christie also vetoed bills by Democratic legislators that would have increased taxes on millionaires and corporations to raise an extra $1.1 billion for the pension funds. State and local pension funds have almost $50 billion in unfunded liabilities. Read more

House GOP Split Saves Saturday Mail Delivery
The House voted June 25 to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from cutting mail deliveries to five days a week. Several Republicans defied party leadership to support an appropriations-bill amendment sponsored by Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and José Serrano (D-N.Y.) to preserve Saturday deliveries. Latham said eliminating Saturday mail service would “make life more difficult for these many small businesses and individuals.” “This is a clear victory for letter carriers and other supporters of a strong Postal Service,” said Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
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Supreme Court Decision Unlikely to Change NLRB Rulings
The Supreme Court’s June 26 decision invalidating President Barack Obama’s “recess appointments” of three National Labor Relations Board members puts hundreds of board rulings into legal limbo—but the current NLRB is almost certain to reaffirm those rulings. The Court decision jeopardizes NLRB rulings made in the 19 months before the Senate confirmed enough Obama appointees to create a legal quorum, but its impact “is far less than it might have been,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “I would anticipate the new board reaching the same conclusions that the previous board did,” said Joel S. Barras, a lawyer who represents employers in labor litigation. If the NLRB does re-examine all those cases, however, it could be backlogged for months. Read more 

San Francisco Reaches Transit Deal
A tentative agreement announced June 30 will give San Francisco’s bus and train operators a 14.25% percent raise over three years, but will also require them to pay 7.5% of their salaries into their pensions. The deal between Transport Workers Union Local 250-A and the Municipal Transportation Agency was brokered by former mayor Willie Brown. The proposed contract got mixed reactions from drivers, who had overwhelmingly rejected a previous contract agreement in May and then staged a sickout. They will vote on it July 7. Read more 

Canada Court Rules Walmart Owes Workers for Closing Store
Canada’s highest court ruled June 27 that Walmart has to pay damages to employees who lost jobs at the store it closed in 2005 after they voted to form a union. The court held that the company, which closed its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, after its 190 workers voted to join Local 503 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, had violated a provincial law that prohibits employers from changing working conditions while contracts are being negotiated. Walmart argued that it closed the store because it was not profitable enough. Read more

NYSUT Calls Tenure Foes ‘Celebrity Dilettantes’
With former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice plotting a California-emulating lawsuit against New York’s teacher tenure and seniority protections, NYSUT President Karen Magee is pledging to defend the system. “Earning tenure in New York simply means that, if a teacher is accused of incompetence or wrongdoing, she is entitled to a fair hearing before she can be fired,” Magee said in a June 26 statement. “If hedge-fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.” Read more 

Sodexo Cafeteria Workers Regain Health Coverage
The Sodexo food-service company announced June 26 that it would again cover health benefits for about 5,000 college cafeteria workers it had reclassified as “part-time” in January in order to drop their coverage. The French-owned company had been trying to avoid the Obamacare mandate that employers with 50 or more workers buy insurance for full-timers or pay a fine, but the cutbacks fueled campus protests and an organizing drive by UNITE HERE. Read more

Teachers Protest at Gates Foundation
About 150 educators calling themselves the Badass Teacher Association demonstrated outside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Seattle office June 26, protesting the foundation’s campaign for the Common Core standards and increases in standardized testing. “We want to get corporations out of teaching,” said Tom O’Kelley, an English teacher at Tacoma’s Oakland High School. “They are trying to turn public schools into a corporate moneymaker and push out the voice of teachers, like we have no idea what we’re doing in education.” Read more 

South Carolina Longshoremen Hold Off on Strike
Longshoremen at the Port of Charleston have authorized a strike due to stalled contract negotiations, but are “nowhere near” walking out as of now, International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 president Ken Riley said June 27. The union and ILA Local 1771 had previously rejected a "best and final offer" from the South Carolina Stevedores Association, a third-party group that manages work done by the about 14,500 ILA workers at the port. Both parties have declined to discuss details of the talks, but a trade publication reported that the union wants increased pension funding and jurisdiction over work now done by State Ports Authority employees. Read more

Weekly Digest - June 11, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

California Judge Voids Teacher Tenure
A California judge ruled June 10 that the state’s teacher tenure laws violated students’ civil right to an education by letting ineffective teachers keep their jobs. Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court also criticized protecting teachers with seniority from layoffs, and wrote that the laws involved “disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students.” Silicon Valley tycoon David Welch spent several million dollars to launch the case, Vergara v. California, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan celebrated the ruling. California teachers unions will appeal.  “We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.”

11 NJ Unions Sue Christie on Pensions
Two groups comprising 11 New Jersey public employees’ unions filed lawsuits June 9 charging that Gov. Chris Christie’s pension plan unconstitutionally breaks their contracts. State employees agreed to pay more for their retirement benefits in 2011 in exchange for the state putting more money into its underfinanced pension fund—but the governor now wants to cut those contributions by more than $2.4 billion, almost two-thirds of the amount earmarked for the fund for the next two years. The 11 unions include teachers, police, firefighters, and the state AFL-CIO. A hearing on both suits will be held June 25 in state Superior Court in Trenton.

New UAW Head Williams Vows ‘No More Concessions’
Newly elected United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams on June 5 said the union had made concessions to help the Big Three automakers during the recession, but now the companies shouldn’t “ask for ridiculous things.” “No more concessions. We are tired of it. Enough is enough,” Williams shouted while speaking at the union’s convention in Detroit. Veteran UAW members at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler haven’t gotten a raise in almost ten years, and the union has also agreed to a two-tiered system in which newly hired workers are paid substantially less.

Illinois Gov. Signs Bill to Cut Chicago Pensions
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation June 9 that would cut pension benefits and increase contributions for about 57,000 Chicago municipal workers. The city has failed to make adequate payments into its pension funds for years, so they now have a shortfall of more than $20 billion. A property-tax increase was removed from the bill, which was backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. A coalition of Chicago unions, We Are One Chicago, said it would sue to stop the cuts.

Seattle’s $15 Minimum Has Several Loopholes
Seattle’s landmark $15-an-hour minimum wage, approved unanimously by the City Council June 3, has several large loopholes. Employers may be allowed to pay workers under 18 only 85% of the minimum, and they can also pay trainees, apprentices, and the disabled less if they get state approval. Workers at “large” employers, those with more than 500 workers and including franchises, will first see the $15 in January 2017 if they don’t get health benefits from their employer, and a year later if they do. Workers at smaller employers will get the $15 in 2019—unless they receive tips or health benefits, in which case they’ll have to wait until 2021.

32BJ Protests Boston Subway Cleaning Cuts
Workers, officials of SEIU 32BJ, and state legislators on June 5 criticized the MassachusettsBay Transportation Authority’s plans to cut 30% of its cleaning staff. The MBTA has awarded contracts to a cleaning service that authorize laying off 90 of its 300 janitorial workers Sept. 1. “We’re very concerned about the quality-of-life effect, the public-safety effect and obviously the burden this would place on displaced workers,” said state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston). “You can imagine what we have to clean up,” janitor Jose Vasquez said through a translator, describing how he had to clean coffee spilled onto platforms, blood on the floor, and spit on the walls.

Pot-Chocolate Workers Ratify First UFCW Contract
Workers at Bhang Chocolate, a cannabis-chocolate company in Oakland, California, voted overwhelmingly June 5 to ratify their first contract as members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5. The contract includes wage increases, employer contributions to health insurance, and paid sick leave and vacation. The UFCW and California’s Local 5 are the main union for workers in cannabis and hemp businesses such as medical dispensaries, bakeries, hydroponics stores, and growing facilities in the states where its medical or recreational use has been legalized.

Letter Carriers Push to Preserve Door Delivery
The National Association of Letter Carriers is mobilizing to fight U.S. Postal Service plans to deliver mail to “cluster boxes” instead of directly to people’s doors.  Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, President Barack Obama, and House and Senate committees have proposed legislation to allow this service cut, which the union estimates would eliminate 80,000 mail carrier jobs. The Letter Carriers contend that mail delivered directly to people’s homes is less likely to be lost or stolen, and old people don’t have to walk far in bad weather to get theirs.

Pennsylvania Unions Protest Dues-Deduction Bill
Republicans in Pennsylvania’s legislature have introduced a so-called “paycheck protection” bill that would prohibit public-employee unions from collecting dues by having them automatically deducted from state paychecks. The bill is backed by anti-union groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation, who claim that because it costs the state money to process the deductions, unions are thus using public funds for political activity. Nonsense, responded AFSCME District Council 13, the state AFL-CIO, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, who said that their contributions to political campaigns are funded by voluntary contributions by members, not from dues. State Treasurer Rob McCord wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers June 4 that processing the deductions costs Pennsylvania less than $100 a year.

Taxi Drivers Seek National Union
With their incomes decimated by leasing fees, gas prices, and app-based car services like Uber, taxi drivers are making efforts to form a national union. The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance, with 17,000 members, is helping a campaign to unionize drivers in Chicago, and is linking up with drivers’ unions in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston, northern Maryland, and Austin, Texas. A University of Illinois study done in 2010 found that Chicago cabbies worked more than 70 hours a week on average and earned $4.81 an hour after paying for gas, leasing the cab, and other costs. But drivers are usually barred from collective action because they’re classified as independent contractors, and the presence of Uber and other “ride-sharing” companies could undercut a strike.