Weekly Digest - November 19, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Walmart Workers Stage Sit-Down Strike in L.A.
Walmart retail workers in Southern California held the first sit-down strike in the company’s history Nov. 13, as workers from all over California blocked aisles in two stores in the Crenshaw and Pico Rivera sections of Los Angeles. Twenty-eight people were arrested. The sit-ins kicked off protests that will culminate on “Black Friday,” Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving. Linda Haluska, 53, who stocks shelves on the third shift at a Walmart in Glenwood, Illinois, says not a single employee in that store gets to spend Thanksgiving Day with their family. OUR Walmart, the organization of Walmart “associates” started by the United Food and Commercial Workers in 2011, expects to have protests at 1,600 stores on Black Friday. Read more

Ex-CEO Indicted in Coal-Mine Disaster
The former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company was indicted Nov. 13 on four charges stemming from the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch coal mine near Montcoal, W.Va. Donald L. Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate safety laws and defrauding the federal government, “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money,” the indictment said. He faces up to 31 years in prison. “The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts. Read more

Volkswagen Opens Door for Minority Unions
Volkswagen announced Nov. 12 that it would allow labor organizations with less than a majority of the workforce at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant to represent employees there on a limited basis. Groups that represent 15% of workers would get monthly meetings with human-resources executives, with more at 30% and 45%, but winning exclusive representation would still require a majority. The United Auto Workers, who lost an election at the plant in February, say that more than half the workers have joined its recently formed Local 42, but a lawyer for the anti-UAW American Council of Employees claimed it too could get 15%. Read more

Postal Workers Protest Privatization
U.S. Postal Service workers held demonstrations at more than 150 locations Nov. 14, protesting efforts to privatize some Post Office operations and demanding that the USPS cancel its plans to close 82 mail-processing centers early next year. The largest one was in Washington, D.C., where about 250 union members and supporters led by American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein picketed outside the public meeting of the USPS Board of Governors after being denied entry. Read more

Nurses to Resume Talks with Kaiser
After a two-day strike Nov. 11-12, California nurses are preparing for a return to the bargaining table with the Kaiser health-care system. “We have a very strong contract that we’re trying to protect,” said Linda Pasek, an oncology infusion nurse at Kaiser’s Oakland hospital. “We’re not asking for anything more than what we had for the last three years. We’re just asking to keep what we have.” Nurse Ama Jackson, meanwhile, said they are afraid Kaiser will try to cut their pensions and health care benefits. Kaiser has not made a formal proposal yet, but executive Odette Bolano said that “every industry is evaluating their pension plans,” and many hospitals are considering shifting to 401(k)-style plans. Read more

L.A. Port Truckers Stage 4th Strike
Truckers at three companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began their fourth strike this year Nov. 13, accusing Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services, and Pacific 9 Transportation of cheating them out of wages and retaliating against workers who protested. By the afternoon, drivers for two of the companies had agreed to a cooling-off period, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was working with the drivers and the carriers to end the stoppage. The strikes have been organized by the Teamsters’ Justice for Port Drivers. Read more

Newark FedEx Drivers Nix Teamsters
The Teamsters’ efforts to organize FedEx Freight workers suffered a setback Nov. 12, as road and city drivers at a terminal in Newark, N.J. voted against joining the union. The Teamsters have now won two elections and lost two at FedEx, the nation’s largest less-than-truckload freight carrier, and have submitted petitions for votes at terminals in Northern New Jersey, Virginia, and Kentucky. Under federal labor law, they have to seek separate elections at each of the company’s 360 U.S. terminals. Most of the nation’s less-than-truckload industry has been nonunion since trucking was deregulated in 1980, but four of its ten largest carriers—YRC Freight, UPS Freight, ABF Freight System- and regional YRC Worldwide carrier Holland—are now unionized. Read more

N.J. Toll Collectors Escape Privatization
Toll collectors on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway had their jobs spared Nov. 18, when state Turnpike Authority officials announced they wouldn’t privatize running tollbooths. “Now we can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of Local 194 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents 1,000 toll collectors, clerks, maintenance, and trade workers on the Turnpike. The two unions representing toll supervisors agreed to pay cuts in order to be safe from privatization until 2019.  Toll collectors took similar cuts in 2011 to save their jobs from a similar privatization threat. Read more

Resumed FairPoint Talks Break Down
Resumed talks between FairPoint Communications and the two unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers broke down in less than an hour Nov. 18, despite the presence of a federal mediator. “There wasn’t any progress,” said Peter McLaughlin, lead negotiator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “The company just had no interest in working with us.” The company wants $700 million in concessions, including the ability to bring in non-union contract workers and shifting health-care costs to workers. The strike, by workers in in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, has lasted more than a month. Read more

Canadian Telecommunication Workers to Join Steelworkers
Canada’s Telecommunications Workers Union will be joining the United Steelworkers on Jan. 1, after more than two-thirds of its members supported the merger on a second vote. The TWU, which represents 12,000 workers, will remain an autonomous national local with separate pension and benefit plans, but will have access to the USW’s organizing resources and $300 million strike fund. “This is a new sector for us,” said Steelworkers President Ken Neumann, “Now with this merged union we are going to be very much involved in organizing.” The USW, North America’s largest private-sector union, has more than 225,000 Canadian members. Read more

Weekly Digest - October 29, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

FairPoint Strikers Say They’re in it for Long Haul
Striking workers at the FairPoint telecommunications company in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont say they’re going to stand strong rather than accept $700 million in contract concessions. “Some of us are going to have to go and find some other work, but we are not going to cross this line,” said Todd Foster, an installation and maintenance worker in Waterville, Maine, as he and other strikers huddled around a fire of donated wood in pouring rain. “The money they’re trying to cut out of our contracts will go right back to the hedge funds,” said Peter Keefe, treasurer and shop steward for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. “They want to take good jobs and bring in out-of-state, sometimes out-of-country, contractors to do that work.” Read more

D.C. Bikeshare Workers Sign Cards for TWU
More than 80% of the workers at Capital Bikeshare, Washington, DC’s bicycle-sharing system, have signed cards asking to be represented by Transport Workers Union Local 100. “Most of our grievances are kind of like, we’d like to be able to do our job better,” said supervising mechanic Fhar Miess. “It’s not so much about wages. We’re doing pretty well there. It’s more having control over our workplace practices.” Workers at New York’s CitiBike joined the TWU in August, and Local 100 is looking to organize Bikeshare workers in a dozen other states. Read more

Arkansas Minimum Wage Stays on Ballot
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Oct. 27 unanimously rejected a Little Rock billionaire’s challenge to a ballot initiative that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Jack T. Stephens, whose family is the state’s second wealthiest after the Waltons of Walmart, had tried to get the measure knocked off the ballot. He argued that the measure’s sponsor, Give Arkansas a Raise Now, should not have gotten an extra 30 days to collect signatures after they handed in petitions, because some of them had a forged notary’s signature. Under state law, the court noted, petitioners who hand in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot get the extra 30 days to collect more as insurance in case some are found invalid. Read more

Labor Group Sues Scott Walker on Minimum Wage
Wisconsin Jobs Now filed a lawsuit Oct. 27 to demand a review of the state Department of Workforce Development’s decision against raising the minimum wage. The department said there was no evidence that Wisconsin’s $7.25 an hour minimum was less than the “living wage” required by state law. The department didn't even do a “cursory review,” said Peter Rickman of Wisconsin Jobs. The group wants the courts to order a more thorough review or to issue a finding that $7.25 doesn't meet the standard for a living wage. Gov. Scott Walker opposes raising the minimum, saying many workers receiving it are teenagers and increasing it would cost jobs. Read more

UAW Local Claims Ohio Lockout Unfair
The National Labor Relations Board is considering two unfair-labor-practices charges brought by auto-parts workers in Lebanon, Ohio, who have been locked out since June. United Auto Workers Local 2387 is alleging that Hayashi Telempu North America illegally locked out workers after their contract expired, and that it also unlawfully terminated their health and life insurance benefits after the lockout began. Local 2387 members rejected a proposed contract by 13 votes on Oct. 20. Read more

Union Metal Shop Wins 7th Safety Award
Cutting sheet metal is normally dangerous work—but no one at MechOne Inc., a Colorado Springs, Colorado company whose workers make and install sheet metal in commercial air conditioning and heating systems, has been injured badly enough to miss work in its 14-year history. They are members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 and must complete the union’s apprentice and journeyman programs. On Oct. 22, MechOne got its seventh consecutive Circle of Safety Award from Pinnacol Assurance, a quasi-public authority that provides workers’ compensation insurance. “The upfront cost to make sure we have what we need to maintain a safe workplace gets a return in no work time lost to injuries and lower workers’ compensation insurance rates,” said co-owner Mike Daugharty. Read more

NCAA Facing Minimum-Wage Lawsuit
A former college soccer player sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its more than 300 Division I schools in federal court in Indianapolis Oct. 20, alleging that they have cheated her and other student athletes by not paying them at least minimum wage. Samantha Sackos, who played for the University of Houston in 2010-11, contends that “students who work at food service counters or sell programs or usher at athletic events” qualify as temporary employees of the NCAA and get paid at least minimum wage, so not paying the athletes who put in more than 20 hours a week violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. She is seeking unpaid wages, damages, and a ruling that student athletes must be paid. Read more

Labor Secretary Calls Christie Clueless on Minimum Wage
Secretary of Labor Tom Perez responded to Chris Christie’s statement that he was “tired” of hearing people talk about raising the minimum wage by saying the New Jersey governor has “got his head in the sand.” Speaking in Washington Oct. 23, Perez noted that the U.S. minimum is below those in Canada, Australia, Japan, and most of Western Europe. In New Jersey, 24% of all workers earning minimum wage have children, and 45% have attended college, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank. Read more

Philadelphia Plane Cleaners Protest Over Ebola
Airplane cleaners employed by subcontractors at Philadelphia International Airport rallied outside a terminal there on Oct. 22, saying that they don’t have enough protection against infectious diseases, including Ebola. Cabin cleaner Tommy Rodney said his employer, Prospect Aviation Services Inc., gives workers latex gloves that rip easily, and no training on exposure to waste and bodily fluids on the job. The workers, who are not unionized, make an average of $7.85 an hour, despite a ballot initiative passed in May that set a $10.88 minimum for employees hired by subcontractors with city contracts and leases. Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and Philadelphia Local 1199C head Henry Nicholas also attended. Read more

 “Salt of the Earth” Union Decertified
The New Mexico miners union whose 15-month strike was celebrated in the classic 1954 film Salt of the Earth has been decertified. Workers at the Chino Mine voted 236-83 in late September to end their affiliation with United Steelworkers Local 9424-3, the successor to Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. “It’s just kind of hard to stomach,” said Local 9424-3 chair Ray Teran. The mine was closed in 2008 and reopened in 2010 with mostly new workers, who he said “have no sense for unionization. They weren’t around for the struggles that their grandparents and parents went through. They don’t realize the sacrifices that took place to get to where we are.” The “Salt of the Earth” strike in 1950-52 won better pay and working conditions for the mine’s Latino workers, and the movie, made by blacklisted filmmakers, featured Local 890 president Juan Chacon and women and men who’d participated in the strike. Read more

Weekly Digest - November 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Striking FairPoint Workers Rally in Maine
Workers at the FairPoint telecommunications company rallied in Portland, Maine Nov. 9 as their strike entered its fourth week. The company hasagreed to return to bargaining Nov. 18, but is still demanding about $700 million in concessions from the two unions that represent about 2,000 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the ability to hire contract workers. “I’m not overwhelmed with optimism,” said Jenn Nappi of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. She said FairPoint management wants to hire “low-wage, temporary, unskilled labor” and to pay all new employees minimum wage. Read more

Kentucky Election Stalls Republicans’ Right-to-Work Push
While Kentucky voters were sending Republican leader Mitch McConnell back to the Senate over a labor-endorsed Democrat, they were also returning a 54–46 Democratic majority to the state House—and thwarting GOP plans to enact a “right to work for less” law, one of the party’s top priorities. The outcome “was huge for us,” said Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. “All that stands between us and a right-to-work law is that Democratic House.” Kentucky and West Virginia are the only states south of the Ohio River that permit union shops. Read more

Phoenix Rejects Anti-Pension Initiative
Voters in Phoenix solidly rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated pensions for future city employees and replaced them with a 401(k)-style plan. Proposition 487, largely financed by Texas hedge-fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold, received less than 44% of the vote. City workers, led by the United Phoenix Firefighters, staged a massive grass-roots campaign against the measure, knocking on about 250,000 doors. “My average employee, their pension will be $28,000 a year. They're never going to be millionaires,” said Frank Piccioli, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2960, noting that city workers are already paying more for pensions under a 2013 initiative. Read more

Teamsters Organizing Boston Parking Attendants
After two years of trying to organize the about 1,600 parking attendants in the Boston area, Teamsters Local 25 has won contracts with five parking companies that run more than 100 lots. The union says it has won raises to an average of $12 an hour and gotten the companies to provide bathrooms, heat, and air conditioning. It expects to have the three main other companies unionized by next year, including one where a 36-year-old Somalian immigrant complains that he has to urinate in plastic bottles because there’s no bathroom on the lot and he’s not allowed to leave while on the job. Read more

Oregon County Workers Get $15 Minimum
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employeesmembers working for Oregon’s Multnomah County—Portland and its suburbs—will all earn at least $15 per hour by July 2016, under a tentative agreement announced in early November. A county spokesperson said almost all the 151 employees who will get the raises are pages at the Multnomah County Library, who now start at just under $12. The state minimum wage is $9.10. Read more

American Airlines Attendants Narrowly Nix Contract
Flight attendants at the recently merged American Airlines and US Airways voted down a proposed five-year contract Nov. 9 by a 16-vote margin out of more than 16,000 cast. The outstanding issues will go to binding arbitration next month. Leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants had urged their members to approve it, saying it was a much better deal than their current contracts or the industry-standard agreement they are likely to get from arbitration. Read more

Philadelphia Transit Workers Ratify New Contract
Philadelphia transit workers voted overwhelmingly Nov. 7 to ratify a new two-year contract with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Members of Transport Workers Union Local, which represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers, and mechanics, will get a 2% raise next month and another 3% a year later, with disputes on pension and health care issues left open until 2016. The contract “is a very good interim agreement that allows our members to make gains and does not inconvenience the public. We're not done yet," Local 234 President Willie Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. Read more

Trumka Calls Americans “Desperate for a New Economic Life”
After a disappointing election night, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Nov. 5 that the vote confirmed “beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans are desperate for a new economic life.” When they “had the chance to vote directly on the issues and not through the filter of candidates and billions of campaign dollars,” he said, they approved minimum-wage increases by large margins, and four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days also passed. The AFL-CIO is planning a long-term, year-round mobilization structure that won't stop with elections, he added, with a particular focus on raising wages, immigration-law reform, and making sure that international trade deals work for working families. Read more

Forced Arbitration: The New “Yellow-Dog Contract”
Forced-arbitration agreements—clauses that prohibit workers from using the courts against their employers for safety violations, discrimination, or unfair labor practices—are often buried in the fine print of non-union employment contracts, as they are in cell-phone contracts and credit-card agreements. In one case, a Texas court held that a woman who washed dishes at a fast-food restaurant could not sue her employer after she was injured on the job, because her employee handbook dictated that any claims against the company were to be decided by a private arbitrator. Before the Norris-LaGuardia Act outlawed them in 1932, companies frequently required their workers to sign “yellow-dog contracts” in which they agreed not to join a union. Read more

Is Salary Stagnation Legal Wage Theft?
Contractors refusing to pay undocumented immigrant day laborers for the work they’ve done, fast-food franchises cheating workers out of overtime pay, and Amazon forcing workers to wait around to be checked for stolen goods after they clock out are all common varieties of wage theft in America, economist Les Leopold notes—but he argues that a more massive form of paycheck pilfering has been built into the system legally for the last generation. Until the mid-1970s, he says, increases in real wages roughly matched those in workers’ productivity, but since then, while the average amount produced has risen from about $750 a week in current dollars to about $1,170, but average wages have fallen to about $612. Where did that extra $550 a week go? “It all comes back to Wall Street,” Leopold says. “Even if it's legal, in my book, it's the very definition of ‘wrongful taking.’” Read more

Weekly Digest - October 22, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Nurses’ Unions Hit CDC on Ebola
The nation’s two largest nurses’ unions sharply criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Oct. 15 for claiming that “a breach in protocol” caused a Texas nurse treating an Ebola victim to become infected. National Nurses United said that claim was unfair. “There was no advance preparedness on what to do with the patient, there was no protocol, there was no system,” said a statement given to the NNU by nurses at the Dallas hospital where Ebola victim Thomas Duncan was treated. NNU members at other hospitals said the only training they’d gotten was fact sheets, the CDC Web site, or less than 10 minutes of instruction. The American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 80,000 nurses, called for better training and restoring cuts in health-care funding Oct. 16. Read more

Judge Voids UNITE HERE Casino Contract
A federal bankruptcy court judge in Delaware ruled Oct. 17 that the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey can terminate its contract with UNITE HERE Local 54. “The decision today will certainly enrage the workers who have relied on and fought for their health care for three decades,” said Local 54 President Bob McDevitt. “We intend to continue to fight this both in the courts and in the streets.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who bought the casino’s $286 million in debt, says it needs to eliminate workers pensions and health care to stay open, while McDevitt responded that Icahn has “a long history of eliminating, reducing or freezing worker benefits” and dumping the burden on the government. Read more

New England Phone Workers Strike
About 2,000 workers at FairPoint Communications in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont continued their strike for a fourth day Oct. 20. The workers walked out Oct. 17 after the company demanded $700 million in contract concessions, including eliminating pensions for future hires and the ability to use nonunion contract workers. “We knew this was going to be rough,” said Peter McLaughlin, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Augusta, Maine, who predicted the strike might last for months. FairPoint may be running strikebreakers out of a truck hub in Merrimack, New Hampshire, he added. Read more

L.A. Port Truckers Win Jobs Back
Two Los Angeles Harbor-area truck drivers who say they were fired for union activity won a federal court order giving them their jobs back Oct. 14. U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ordered Green Fleet Systems to reinstate Amilcar Cardona and Mateos Mares pending a National Labor Relations Board ruling on their case. The two drivers have accused Green Fleet of more than 50 labor-law violations, including retaliating against them for union activity, filing claims for lost wages, and asserting that they were regular employees and not independent contractors. The judge also issued a cease-and-desist order to prevent Green Fleet from threatening to fire union supporters, creating an impression of surveillance, and interrogating employees about their union activity. Read more

Philly Teachers Get Injunction Preserving Contract
A Philadelphia judge on Oct. 20 issued a preliminary injunction preventing the city School Reform Commission from cancelling the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract and cutting their health-care benefits. The ruling maintains the contract until courts can decide whether the commission had legal authority to void it. “We're pleased,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan, who had told the judge that no collective bargaining sessions have been held since the commission cancelled one scheduled for July 2. The commission will appeal. Read more

Boston Adjuncts Win First Contract
Tufts University has reached a tentative agreement on a three-year union contract with about 200 part-time professors who voted last September to join the Service Employees International Union. Voting on whether to ratify it should be complete by the end of October, said Andy Klatt, a part-time Spanish professor and union organizer. If approved, it would be the first contract won at a Boston-area university by instructors organized through SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign. Adjunct professors have also voted to unionize at Lesley University and Northeastern University, and are in the early stages of negotiating contracts. Read more 

Mercedes Labor Head Wants Alabama Plant Unionized
The head labor representative on German automaker Daimler AG's supervisory board says it’s “unacceptable” that the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the only one of the company’s factories where workers don’t have a union. "It should be normal that we have a union at each of our plants,” Michael Brecht, head of Daimler's works councils and deputy chairman of the board, told the Associated Press Oct. 14, speaking in German. “But in the USA, in the South, it is being resisted. It is unacceptable to me how the company is acting here.” Daimler’s CEO has pledged neutrality on union issues at the Tuscaloosa plant, but workers there have claimed company officials have prevented them from distributing United Auto Workers materials and discussing organization there. Read more

Chicago Nurses’ Strike Averted
A one-day strike by more than 1,000 nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago was averted late Oct. 20 when the hospital reached a tentative deal with the Illinois Nurses Association. The nurses had voted overwhelmingly to strike, claiming that cuts and concessions the hospital was seeking would endanger their working conditions and patients’ safety. The hospital responded by seeking an injunction preventing one-third of them from walking out on the grounds that they were providing critical services, but on Oct. 17 a judge granted one covering only 85 nurses. Read more

Uber Driver Fired for Critical Tweet
Christopher Ortiz, an Uber driver in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was briefly fired Oct. 16 after he tweeted a link to an article about other Uber drivers being robbed along with a comment, “Driving for Uber, not much safer than driving a taxi.” A company manager responded with an e-mail telling Ortiz his account was “permanently deactivated due to hateful statements regarding Uber through Social Media… Best of luck. UBER on!” The on-line car service company “reactivated” him after the story went viral. “I think the scariest thing here is that drivers can be removed from the Uber system if they don’t toe the company line,” Ortiz said. “Uber has made it clear that drivers are not employees, they’re independent contractors, but it seems they want to hold drivers to employee standards.” Read more

The Shell Game of Contingent Employment
Making it harder for subcontractors, freelancers, and independent contractors to hold employers accountable if they get hurt or abused on the job isn’t an accident—it's a direct result of a political agenda, says the Boston-area think tank Political Research Associates. Employers are deliberately trying to put much of their workforce outside the scope of laws and taxes that apply to “employees” by outsourcing liability to intermediaries such as temp agencies, or by falsely claiming that no labor laws apply because the workers are independent contractors. This system also makes it harder for workers to organize because there is no clear employer. The group is calling for an “accountable employer” system that holds all parties in the chain responsible for violations. Read more

Weekly Digest - November 5, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

National Nurses United Grows
National Nurses United, formed by a merger of three nurses’ unions in 2009, has organized 20,000 new nurses in 50 new hospitals since then and grown to 190,000 members. President Rose Ann DeMoro says one advantage they have is that nurses aren’t just out for better wages or pensions, they’re out for their own safety and the safety of their patients. “You've got to fight for safety standards for the public, and you’ve got to fight in the public's interest. If unions don’t connect with the public interest, there’s not going to be unions,” she says. When nurses at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, who are not unionized, were frustrated with the lack of adequate preparations for Ebola patients, they contacted NNU. Read more

32BJ Wins Raises at Boston University
Maintenance workers at Boston University voted "overwhelmingly" Nov. 4 to ratify a contract that will give them 10% raises over four years and help employees maintain affordable healthcare benefits. The deal was reached Oct. 30, the day before the more than 700 custodians, mailroom operators, groundskeepers and skilled trades workers would have gone on strike. “In a city that is becoming increasingly unequal, this contract will keep 700 workers strongly in the middle class,” Roxana Rivera, director of 32BJ SEIU District 615, said in a statement. Read more

Fresno Workers Reject 5% Raise
County workers in Fresno, California rejected a deal to raise their salaries by 2% in three weeks and another 3% next August. The vote, announced Oct. 30, was an “overwhelming no,” said Riley Talford, a senior shop steward for SEIU’s supervisory employees. “The offer was just unacceptable.” The workers took pay cuts of 9% or more in 2011, and the rejected agreement would have required the six Service Employees International Union units that represent about 4,500 of the county’s 7,100 employees to drop their demand for back pay from the state employment board. Read more

Minnesota Hospital Faces Unfair Practice Charges
The National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, accusing it of “discouraging membership in a labor organization.” The Minnesota Nurses Association and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota had alleged the hospital fired one staffer, revoked work agreements, and forced employees to work weekends after they took part in an informational picket last June. The unions said Oct. 30 that workers were also “repeatedly interrogated” about union activities. A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for January. Read more

NLRB Dismisses Complaints About Boeing Contract
The National Labor Relations Board’s Seattle office announced Oct. 28 that it has dismissed all of the about 20 complaints against Boeing stemming from last January’s contract vote. Workers in Washington had accused the company of engaging in unlawful bargaining by threatening to move production of the forthcoming 777X airliner to another state unless the International Association of Machinists accepted a contract extension that froze their pensions. "We found that the evidence was insufficient that Boeing made any unlawful threats or that their bargaining proposals were unlawful," said Ron Hooks, director of the NLRB Region 19 office. Read more

California Recycling Workers Win Strike, Union Drive
Workers at one recycling center in San Leandro, California voted overwhelmingly in late October to unionize, while workers at another won a strike. At Alameda County Industries, 83% of workers voted to join Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The workers, hired through a temp agency, were paid $8.30 to $8.50 per hour, almost $6 less than the city’s legal living wage, and in February, after workers had filed a complaint for back pay, 18 were fired for allegedly being undocumented. Meanwhile, at the Waste Management, Inc. facility, a one-week strike by Local 6 was settled with an immediate raise of $1.48 and another 50 cents on Jan. 1. The deal will bring wages up to almost $21 in 2019. Both companies have contracts for garbage services with Oakland and other East Bay cities. Read more

Ohio UAW Lockout Ends
A five-month lockout at the Hayashi Telempu North America Corp. auto-parts plant in Lebanon, Ohio ended Nov. 3 after members of United Auto Workers Local 2387 ratified a four-year contract by 13 votes. The company will stop matching workers' 401(k) contributions and charge them more for health insurance, but it dropped its demand for a $2.25 per hour wage cut. "This was their last proposal to us,” said Local 2387 chair Darren Woods. "They were ready to make us sit for a long time." Read more

Durazo to Leave L.A. Labor Federation
Maria Elena Durazo, the first woman to head the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said Oct. 29 that she is leaving the post she has held since 2005 and moving to UNITE HERE. Under her leadership, the federation, which represents 600,000 workers, was able to push through a law requiring large hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour and the expansion of the city’s rail system. "She never left the table empty-handed," said City Council President Herb Wesson. "She's one of the most effective and powerful labor leaders in the country." Durazo, 61, who headed UNITE HERE Local 11 for 17 years, will become the national union’s vice president for immigration, civil rights, and diversity. Read more

UPS Will Stop Laying Off Pregnant Women
After a former worker sued it for discrimination for putting her on unpaid leave while she was pregnant, United Parcel Service announced that it will let women stay on the job through their pregnancies. In a brief filed in Peggy Young’s Supreme Court case, the company said it had “voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations,” such as giving them light-duty work similar to that done by workers injured on the job. Young, who had asked for light duty after her midwife told her she shouldn’t lift more than 20 pounds, is appealing a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that favored UPS.  The case could be a key ruling on how far the Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies, said Lenora Lapidus, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights. Read more

Ex-Enron Trader Funds Fight to Pummel Pensions
Texas hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold, who in 2002 walked away from the collapsing Enron corporate scam with an $8 million bonus, has contributed more than $50 million to efforts to reduce or eliminate public workers’ pensions. His Laura and John Arnold Foundation contributed most of the budget for EngageRI, an outside group that backed Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s drastic pension cuts. The foundation, which advocates replacing defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style plans, also funded “pension reform” studies by the Brookings Institution think tank and the libertarian Reason Foundation, backed attempts to get anti-pension initiatives on the ballot in California, and gave New York’s PBS-TV affiliate, WNET, $3.5 million for a series called “The Pension Peril.” Read more

Weekly Digest - October 15, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Philly Teachers Say They Give Enough
Facing calls for them to make the “sacrifice” of paying more for health care, Philadelphia teachers responded to the School Reform Commission’s Oct. 6 cancellation of their contract by saying they already send hundreds of dollars a year buying supplies. Kindergarten teacher Sharnae Wilson bought her own copier because her school's machine doesn't always work, as well as paper, notebooks, folders, books, crayons, and weekly educational magazines for the 29 kids in her class. "It's only October and I've already spent $500," said Wilson, a teacher for 15 years. "I usually spend close to $2,000 every year. I buy all the necessities—the parents don't have means, so I spend a lot." She says she will now have to pay $600 a month for health care. Read more

Wisconsin Denies Minimum-Wage Increase
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's administration has rejected an effort to use a little-known state law to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. Wisconsin Jobs Now, a liberal group, and 100 workers had asked the state labor department to raise it, citing a requirement that the minimum “shall not be less than a living wage,” defined as “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well-being, decency, and moral well-being.” The department denied the request Oct. 6, saying it “has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.” Read more

Nurses Union Warns That Hospitals Aren’t Ready for Ebola
Members of National Nurses United rallied in Oakland, California Oct. 12 to warn that the nation's hospitals aren't properly prepared to handle cases of Ebola fever. "We're seeing that caregivers who are not being adequately trained are being blamed," said Katy Roemer, a registered nurse for more than 20 years. The union said a survey of more than 1,900 registered nurses at more than 750 hospitals found that 76% reported that their hospital has not communicated an official policy regarding Ebola patients, and 37% said their hospital had insufficient supplies of eye protection or fluid-resistant gowns. Read more

RI Unions in Court to Preserve Pensions
A coalition of more than 175 Rhode Island public workers’ unions will be back in court Oct. 17 on their lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension cuts, which suspended cost-of-living increases for retirees. The union contends that the cuts are illegal because they violate an implied contract with the state, and the judge agreed that they had a valid case. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the Democratic candidate for governor, is seeking to have the case decided by a jury, while the unions want a judge to rule on it. Read more

NY Teachers Challenge Common Core Gag Order
The New York State United Teachers filed a lawsuit against the state Education Department in federal court Oct. 8, contending that the state law banning teachers from talking about the questions on Common Core-based tests is unconstitutional. "If teachers believe test questions are unfair or inappropriate, they should be able to say so without fear of dismissal or losing their teaching license," NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement. Read more

D.C. Unions Back Marijuana-Legalization Initiative
Three major labor groups in Washington, DC—the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, and D.C. Working Families—announced Oct. 14 that they were endorsing a Initiative 71, a ballot measure that would let people 21 of over possess up to two ounces of marijuana in the city. The legalization of marijuana in Washington State and Colorado has created living-wage jobs and generated tax revenue, said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici, while prohibition has caused “significant damage” to “communities of color within the District of Columbia.” The initiative would not set up a legal sales system, but would let adults grow up to six plants. Read more

Teamsters Win Raises in Tampa Suburbs
Teamsters Local 79 members in Tampa’s Pasco County suburbs on Oct. 13 almost unanimously ratified a one-year contract that will give almost all county employees longevity-based raises. The new salary scale is based on a study that found at least a third of all county workers were underpaid—so customer-service specialists could get $3,000 to $9,500 more a year, while electricians could get a $5.41 an hour raise. The deal also sets a $9.64 “living wage” minimum for county workers, above Florida’s $7.93 minimum. Read more

Obama Orders 2nd Emergency Board for Philly Trains
President Barack Obama on Oct. 12 called for the formation of a presidential emergency board to mediate between the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The move, requested by SEPTA, will prevent a strike by the engineers on Philadelphia-area commuter-rail trains for 120 days while negotiations continue. The board will be the second formed by Obama in four months; in June, he called for one to avert a strike by the Engineers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Read more

Detroit Hospital to Outsource 565 Custodial Jobs
The Detroit Medical Center has officially announced plans to lay off 565 custodial employees in December, when it will hire a new contractor for housekeeping services at seven area hospitals. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 300 of the workers being laid off, has filed a lawsuit to stop the hospital from seeking a new contractor, alleging that it’s trying to avoid bargaining with the union by switching to a nonunion vendor. Read more

Home Health-Care Aides’ Campaign Goes National
Home health-care aides work in the nation’s fastest-growing job and one of its lowest-paying—so they’re joining a national campaign to raise their pay to $15 an hour and gain union representation. The Service Employees International Union, which is backing the effort, hopes it can replicate fast-food workers “Fight for 15” campaign. “It’s not right, because these people that are getting more than us, they don’t do half the work we do, or deal with half the situations we have to deal with,” says Lynette Reece of Washington. “So why can’t we get paid?” The Obama administration announced Oct. 7 that it would delay enforcing a new requirement that home-care workers be paid the minimum wage and overtime for at least six months. Read more