Weekly Digest - January 21, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Richest 1% Own Half World’s Wealth
The world’s richest 1% will own more than everyone else on the planet combined by next year, according to a report released Jan. 19 by the British anti-hunger group Oxfam. With an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014, they collectively owned 48% of global wealth, up from 44% in 2009 and on a path to reach more than half in 2016. The 80 richest people, whose wealth doubled in the previous five years, owned more than the 3.5 billion people poorer than the global median. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering,” said Oxfam head Winnie Byanyima. “It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world.”
Read more

Cabbies Plot App to Take on Uber
With Uber and other app-based services undercutting taxi drivers’ incomes around the world, cabbies are plotting ways to fight back. One possibility is developing an app that would give passengers the convenience of hailing cabs on their smartphones but would work only with licensed drivers. The problem is competing with Uber’s financial muscle and brand recognition. “They see technology as a way to democratize the world,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance leader Bhairavi Desai said at a meeting Jan. 16. “But what Uber has done is use it to grab power for itself. We want to take it back as a tool to improve the lives of workers.” Read more

California Nurses Strike Averted
The Kaiser Permanente health-care chain reached a tentative contract deal Jan. 16 with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, averting a 48-hour strike scheduled to begin Jan. 21. The pact will give raises totaling 14% to about 18,000 registered nurses at Kaiser hospitals and clinics in the northern and central parts of the state, from Fresno to Santa Rosa. It also includes “groundbreaking workplace protections” for nurses from diseases such as Ebola. Read more

Low-Wage Employers Fight Database on Worker Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is finishing up a rule that would require all large employers to submit data on worker injuries to a national database—and trade groups representing Walmart, McDonald’s, Target, and Home Depot are spending millions of dollars lobbying to block it, claiming it would be too much of a burden. The regulation would apply to businesses with more than 250 employees, and to smaller companies in more dangerous fields such as trucking and construction. It would help workers prove their injuries were part of a job-related pattern and not just an individual mishap, said Robyn Robbins, a safety official at the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Read more

Hollywood Teamsters Authorize TV-Ad Strike
Members of Teamsters Local 399 voted 414-36 on Jan. 11 to reject the “last, best, final” offer on a new two-year contract from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. The members objected to the deal because it would have raised the amount of money a producer can spend on an ad and still have it qualify as a lower-paying low-budget shoot, said Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan. The no vote means members in 14 Western states will strike when their contract expires Jan. 31 unless another agreement is reached before then. Read more

L.A. Trucking Firm May Go Union
Truck drivers at Shippers Transport Express, a major firm serving the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been reclassified as employees instead of independent contractors and joined the Teamsters Union. The company made the change on Jan. 1, and 88 of the 111 drivers signed union authorization cards. “This historic agreement represents an important step in drivers’ efforts to reform the drayage industry, and demonstrates clearly that labor and management can work together constructively to find solutions to challenges facing the industry and to the injustices facing the drivers,” said Fred Potter, head of the Teamsters’ port division. The union has staged strikes at several trucking companies at the port, trying to get them to hire truckers as employees with benefits. Read more

Majority of Delta Flight Attendants Sign Union Cards
Unions have been trying to organize flight attendants at Delta Airlines for years—and on Jan. 13, the International Association of Machinists delivered almost 12,000 signed cards to the National Mediation Board, requesting a union-representation election, The signers make up about 60% of the airline's 20,000 flight attendants. “This is a historic day for these courageous flight attendants,” IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said in a statement. Flight attendants at Delta have voted against a union three times in the last 13 years. A Machinists victory would be the largest transportation sector organizing win ever, the union said. Read more

S.C. Governor Makes Anti-Union Ad for Boeing
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has made a radio ad urging Boeing workers not to join the International Association of Machinists. The union has been campaigning to organize workers at the company’s facilities in North Charleston, where the 787 Dreamliner is built. The spot, which began airing Jan. 19 in the Charleston area, follows anti-union ads Boeing placed on local stations last month. Haley has been a virulent opponent of organized labor, even to the point of discouraging union employers from bringing jobs to South Carolina. Read more

Hotel Lobby Sues L.A. to Block $15 Minimum
Two hotel trade organizations affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council have sued to stop the city of Los Angeles from raising the minimum wage for non-union hotel workers to $15.37. The suit, filed last month by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, calls the minimum an “insidious mechanism that improperly aids the Hotel Workers' Union.” The American Hotel & Lodging Association, whose members include the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton chains, has campaigned against “extreme minimum and living wage initiatives” and lobbied for ALEC-written state laws that prevent local governments from raising the minimum wage. Read more

Rahm Emanuel ‘Redefines’ Pension-Fund Ethics
Although Chicago’s municipal pension system is included in the city’s budget, directly funded by the city, and administered by city officials, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is claiming that it’s not part of the city government. At least that’s what an ethics commission he appointed said last month, after it was asked to investigate more than $600,000 given to his re-election campaign by executives at firms managing city pension money. Chicago laws restrict campaign contributions from municipal contractors, but the commission said the pension funds are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city”—and that it was trying “to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.” Alderman Scott Waguespack called that legal opinion a “weak attempt at splitting hairs,” adding, “There should be oversight, and the pay-to-play rules apply to these firms.” Read more

Weekly Digest - December 31, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

21 States Raising Minimum Wage
Twenty-one states, more than any at one time in U.S. history, will raise their minimum wage this week. Washington’s minimum will go up to $9.47 per hour, and workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont will get $9 or more. The increases will mean more money for about 3.1 million workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute—including 700,000 in New York State, where the minimum will go from $8 to $8.75. Twenty-nine states now exceed the federal minimum of $7.25. Read more

New Mexico Legislator Introduces Bill to Ban Union Shop
New Mexico state Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque) on Dec. 29 introduced a “right to work” bill that would outlaw the union shop for private-sector employers. He also introduced a second measure to stop the state from deducting union dues or fees from its employees’ paychecks. Gov. Susana Martinez has supported the idea, and the newly Republican state House is expected to approve both bills, but the Democrats who control the Senate are opposed. “I think he [Rue] knows darn well, and the administration knows, that this is a political attack that has nothing to do with the law or helping the economy,” said Carter Bundy, political director for the state branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Read more

GOP Prepares Anti-Union Push in State Legislatures
New Mexico isn’t the only state that will see a so-called “right to work” bill introduced in 2015. Republican legislators plan to introduce them in Wisconsin and Ohio, and Colorado, Missouri, and New Hampshire are also possibilities. While Missouri and New Hampshire both have Democratic governors, Republicans control both houses of those state legislatures, with enough of a majority in Missouri to override a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. "We'll fight this every step of the way," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Read more

FairPoint Strikers Lose NLRB Rulings
The National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 29 dismissed six complaints filed by the two unions on strike at FairPoint Communications in northern New England. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America had alleged that the company bargained in bad faith when it cut off talks and imposed its final contract offer before the strike began in October, but the NLRB said it had reached a legitimate impasse with them. The unions said Dec. 30 they will appeal at least one of the dismissals. “Unfortunately, U.S. labor law favors corporations like FairPoint, not working people,” said IBEW negotiator Peter McLaughlin. Read more

Maryland Garbage Collectors Go On Strike
Trash collectors working for a company that serves much of Washington’s Maryland suburbs went on strike on Dec. 26. Unity Disposal employees voted to join the Laborers International Union of North America more than nine months ago, but have not yet gotten their first contract. They are also suing to recover unpaid living wages and overtime, according to LIUNA. “We work hard and we provide a vital public service,” truck driver Martin Puesan said in a statement announcing the strike. “These should not be poverty-level jobs. We don’t make enough to begin with, and then we aren’t always paid for the hours we work.” Read more

Judge Nixes Minimum Wage for Some Home-Care Workers
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 22 ruled that some home health-care workers aren’t eligible for the minimum wage or overtime pay, because it conflicts with federal law exempting third-party providers of in-home care for the elderly and disabled from having to pay that. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling, in a suit filed by home-care industry trade groups, struck down pending Labor Department regulations extending wage and hour protections to workers who live in their clients’ homes and those who provide mainly “fellowship and protection” instead of to more extensive medical care. The Labor Department is considering an appeal. Read more

San Antonio Police Union Accuses City of ‘Push Poll’
Accusing the city of conducting a “push poll” with questions loaded against unions, the San Antonio Police Officers' Association on Dec. 29 released a recording of a telephone survey about negotiations between the city and police and firefighters' unions. The poll included questions like “Do you think it's time the police and firefighters got back to negotiating with the city?” and asked people if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “The city manager is just doing her job by questioning how the city can find savings from a 25-year-old union contract.” City officials at first denied commissioning the poll, but then a spokesperson left a message about it intended for the head of the Chamber of Commerce on a firefighter’s cell phone. “They denied it, which they lied about,” said police-union president Michael Helle. “And then, when they finally get caught and the story broke out with the audio recording, now they start pointing fingers." Read more

NLRB Sets Hearings on Jersey Janitors
The National Labor Relations Board will hold hearings Feb. 3 in Newark on charges that the new owners of office buildings in East Rutherford and Secaucus hired a cleaning contractor that discriminated against union workers. The complaint alleges that Eastern Essential Services refused to hire 18 workers from the previous contractor “because of the employees' union sympathies, activities and membership.” Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which represented the former contractor’s employees, says Eastern pays janitors $8.50 an hour, instead of the $13.20 with health benefits they would be getting under the old contract.The 15-story East Rutherford building sold for $108 million last June. Read more

Temple University Adjuncts Sign Cards to Join AFT
On Dec. 17, adjunct faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia handed in cards seeking to have the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board recognize them as members of United Academics of Philadelphia, the American Federation of Teachers local representing adjuncts. They need cards signed by 60% of Temple’s about 1,100 adjunct instructors to qualify. The UAP, pursuing a city-wide organizing strategy, has members at several other area universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore. Read more

Santa and the Grinch Join Pennsylvania Union Protest
Union leaders joined Santa Claus and the Grinch Dec. 22 in front of the Northampton County Courthouse in Easton, Pennsylvania, protesting dramatic cuts to county employees’ health benefits. United Steelworkers Local 2599 President Jerry Green said the only time County Executive John Brown calls him is when the county is seeking concessions. Local 2599, which represents nurses at the county’s Gracedale nursing home in Nazareth, has filed a complaint alleging that a pending increase in their health-care contributions violates their contract. Read more

Weekly Digest - January 14, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFL-CIO Plans Push for Wage Increases
“Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced Jan. 7. The federation’s political agenda for the next year, he said, will include projects in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—the first four states to hold primaries or caucuses in 2016—to get presidential candidates to say what they would actually do to improve Americans’ wages. The AFL-CIO will also launch campaigns in seven cities, including Atlanta, Columbus, and Washington, to raise the minimum wage, mandate paid sick days, and require retailers to tell workers in advance what their hours are going to be. Read more

Democrats, Unions Move to Stop TPP Trade Deal
President Barack Obama’s efforts to win “fast-track authority”to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal through Congress is facing new opposition from Democrats, labor unions, and others. The President has made the 12-nation trade pact a priority, with enough Republican support to tout it as a bipartisan achievement, but opponents say it will lower wages and weaken food-safety, environmental, and financial regulations. The U.S. should not sign trade pacts “that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told an AFL-CIO forum in Washington Jan. 7. Read more

2,600 Kaiser Mental-Health Workers On Strike
More than 3,000 workers at 65 Kaiser Permanente clinics in California went on strike Jan. 12, intending to stay out all week. The strikers, members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, include 2,600 mental-health clinicians and 700 others, such as optical workers, speech pathologists, audiologists, and dietitians. Their main complaint is that despite Kaiser profits being up 40% over last year, the insurer’s clinics are painfully understaffed. It has not added the mental-health workers needed to handle the quarter-million people who’ve joined its network under Obamacare, and this forces patients to wait up to two months for an appointment. Read more

Musicians Celebrate Right to Carry Instruments on Planes
Musicians in the U.S. and Canada are celebrating a new Department of Transportation rule that requires airlines to let them put small instruments such as violins and guitars in overhead compartments on planes instead of having to check them as baggage. They can also buy tickets for the likes of double basses and tubas. “For many years, AFM members have been subject to very arbitrary and contradictory size and weight requirements imposed by each airline,” American Federation of Musicians President Ray Hair wrote in a letter to members. “Airlines will now follow a consistent policy for all musicians traveling with instruments.” Those “arbitrary” rules included an Air Canada policy that violins could be carried on planes, but violas had to be checked. Read more

Union Organizing Makes Slow Gains in Pittsburgh
Workers at casinos and the city’s largest hospital are among those in Pittsburgh fighting to unionize, along with museum workers, adjunct professors, fast-food workers, and security guards. But their gains have been slow in coming. Workers at the Rivers Casino have won better benefits and more vacation days, but still get penalized for coming in even one minute late. UNITE HERE says management is illegally intimidating workers from joining the union, and the National Labor Relations Board has affirmed 28 charges in the last two years. “The fear of working for even less makes it hard for people to stand up to their employers," says fast-food organizer Kyndall Mason. "They are watching their coworkers get fired or reprimanded for being involved in organizing. I would be willing to wager that if there was no union-busting happening at these places, it would take less than a year to organize.” Read more

Maryland Garbage Strike Ends
A strike by 65 union trash haulers in Washington’s Maryland suburbs ended Jan. 8, after the Unity Disposal garbage contractor and the Laborers’ International Union of North America agreed to meet with a federal mediator Jan. 12. The strike began Dec. 26 after Unity refused to give drivers and helpers a raise. Drivers at the company make less than $30,000 per year, according to LIUNA, and helpers, who load the trash into the trucks, typically make less than $25,000. The company hired  temporary employees during the strike, while the union workers used the hashtag #WeAreNotDisposable. Read more

Cold, Not Union-Busting, Halts Canadian Construction
When construction stopped at a 13-story condominium project in Chatham, Ontario early this month, rumors spread that the developer had cancelled the project because of “union pressure”—workers there had just joined the Laborers' International Union of North America. Not so, LIUNA Local 625 business manager Robert Petroni said Jan. 7. The workers are still on the job, but the concrete subcontractor told him the developer shut down the site because the weather was too cold for the concrete to cure properly. Read more

Toronto Harm-Reduction Workers Join Wobblies
More than 50 “harm reduction” workers in Toronto have joined the Industrial Workers of the World Local 610. Intermittently employed by health agencies that take the “harm reduction” approach to drug use—that if people can’t or won’t stop shooting up, it’s better for them to use a clean needle than to get or spread HIV—they do outreach to drug users on the street and work in needle-exchange programs. But the work doesn’t pay very well: Two hours of putting together crack-use kits nets $5 and two transit fares. Agency funding is precarious, and many are addicts or ex-addicts, which gives them credibility on the street but not in the job market. “Some employers can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re valuable,” said worker Peter Leslie. Read more

Job Growth Fails to Help Paychecks…
The Labor Department reported Jan. 9 that employers had added 252,000 workers to their payrolls in December, while the unemployment rate declined to 5.6%. But average hourly earnings also fell. “The good news is that in 2014, people were increasingly finding jobs,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist for the Economic Policy Institute, in a statement. “The bad news is that we are still digging our way out of the recession, and wage growth remains stagnant and untouched by recovery.” Read more

…And Without Collective Bargaining, Neither Does Productivity
More productivity used to mean that workers made more money—but it hasn’t recently, according to “Raising America’s Pay,” a report released Jan. 6 by the Economic Policy Institute. From World War II to 1973, both wages and output per worker almost doubled, but in the 40 years since then, productivity has grown by almost 75%, while median hourly wages went up only 9%. The gap has widened sharply in the last 10 years, it said, and the difference is sharpest in the states with the biggest declines in the percentage of union members: In Ohio and Michigan, where unions’ share of the workforce fell by about 20% between 1979 and 2012, the median wage actually declined. “It is only once workers have the ability to bargain for higher wages that we will see the broad-based wage growth necessary to remedy these problems,” the study concluded. Read more

Weekly Digest - December 24, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

NLRB Says McDonald’s Retaliated
The National Labor Relations Board filed 13 complaints against McDonald’s on Dec. 19, alleging that it illegally retaliated against workers who took part in protests demanding higher wages. The cases are the first time the board has held the company to be a “joint employer” liable for working conditions at franchises that carry its brand, rejecting the company’s contention that its franchises are independent businesses and it is not responsible. The NLRB that the “nationwide response” to the protests showed that McDonald’s “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations” to qualify. The International Franchise Association has hired a high-powered Washington lobbying firm to fight the charges. Read more

Federal Spending Bill Sneaks in Cuts to Existing Pensions
Since 1974, federal law has said that pensions that a worker has already owned can’t be cut—but a provision added to the omnibus spending bill passed Dec. 13 will change that. An amendment cosponsored by Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) will let trustees of multiemployer pension plans cut benefits with federal approval if they believe it’s necessary to keep the plans solvent. About 10 million workers, including many in construction and film production, have such plans. And about 150 to 200 of them covering 1.5 million workers, are considered underfunded enough so that they might be affected in the next 10 to 20 years. “It’s letting the genie out of the bottle. Once it becomes legal to cut accrued benefits, then it’s a different world,” said Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Read more

Walmart Ordered to Pay $151M for Wage Theft
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Dec. 15 that Walmart and Sam's Club have to pay $151 million in back wages and damages to workers who were forced to work off the clock or skip breaks. The decision affects more than 185,000 people who worked at the stores in Pennsylvania between March 1998 and April 2006. It caps more than a decade of litigation that began when former employees filed a class-action suit in Philadelphia, alleging that the company forced employees to work through meal periods, during breaks, and while off the clock. Walmart is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more

Adjuncts, Religious-College Professors Win Right to Unionize
The National Labor Relations Board ruled Dec. 19 that faculty members at religious colleges and universities have the right to unionize if they aren’t performing a specifically religious function. It said that Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., had failed to prove that its teachers performed such functions. It also rejected the university’s claim that its non-tenure-track faculty were management and not eligible to join unions. A 1980 board decision says tenured faculty at private universities are management, but the board said adjuncts and faculty not on the tenure track are different because they don’t have a role in academic and hiring decisions. “We welcome the NLRB ruling as a step towards justice for faculty and the students they teach,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. SEIU Local 925 filed a petition to represent Pacific Lutheran’s non-tenure track employees. Read more

S.F. Restaurant Workers Celebrate $4M in Back Pay
Three weeks after winning more than $4 million in back pay, workers at the upscale Yank Sing dim sum restaurant in San Francisco now have not just better wages, but holiday and vacation pay, fully paid health care for full-time employees, and a “workers compliance committee” to hold management accountable. The about 280 workers, many Chinese-speaking immigrants, collaborated with a coalition of legal advocates and community organizers on a months-long campaign. While they benefited from Yank Sing’s desire to avoid tarnishing its reputation, they hope the victory will inspire workers at lower-paying Chinatown restaurants. Read more

Vegas Exhibit Tells Culinary Union’s Story
UNITE HERE Local 226, the Culinary Union, is the most powerful union in Las Vegas, with 55,000 members. “Line in the Sand: The People, Power and Progress of the Culinary Union,” an exhibit at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, tells its 80-year history, including the 1970 Desert Inn picket line and the six-year strike at the Frontier hotel-casino in the ’90s, through photographs, stories, memorabilia, and the recollections of Hattie Canty, the Alabama-born hotel maid who became Local 226 president in 1990. Read more

Michigan Moves to Ban Student-Athlete Unions
It could be a Spartan life for Wolverines who try to organize a union: The Michigan state Senate passed a bill Dec. 16 that says athletes at public universities are not public employees, in order to preclude them claiming that the work they do and the money it brings the university entitle them to collective bargaining. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign it. Ohio enacted a similar measure in June. Read more

N.C. Baggage Handlers Picket Southwest Airlines
Members of Transport Workers Union Local 555 picketed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Dec. 23 to protest how Southwest Airlines treats its employees and customers. The union, which represents the airline’s baggage handlers, has been working almost four years without a raise, and says management is increasing the workload to the point where it causes more delays for passengers. The picket was part of an 18-city campaign by the TWU. Read more

Gingrich, Berman Push Anti-Union Legislation
Right-wing lobbyists Rick Berman and Newt Gingrich are urging the incoming Congress to pass the “Employee Rights Act,” a bill intended to undermine workers’ ability to organize and sustain unions in the name of “freedom.” Its seven main provisions include redefining victory in union-recognition elections as a majority of all employees in the workplace, not just those who vote, and if the union wins, requiring it to go through annual recertification elections. Berman, CEO of the anti-labor propaganda site the Center for Union Facts, told an energy-industry confab in June that he wakes up every morning trying “to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.” Read more

Vermont Governor Abandons Single-Payer Health Care
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who promised for almost four years to set up a single-payer health-care system in the state, announced Dec. 17 that “now is not the right time” for such major changes. He said he was disappointed, but his proposed Green Mountain Care plan was “just not affordable” anymore, with recent estimates saying it would cost more than the $2 billion originally projected. “We all currently pay for hodgepodge health-care system—we just don't pay in a way that leads to giving people access to care,” responded the Vermont Workers Center, which held a protest in Montpelier the next day. “The governor's task was to shift private payments to a more equitable, public financing mechanism. His task was not to find new money.” Read more

Weekly Digest - January 7, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Two More Kentucky Counties Ban Union Shop
Two small Kentucky counties enacted local laws banning the union shop Dec. 30. Simpson and Fulton counties, both on the Tennessee border, followed Warren County in approving a so-called right-to-work law. They are the first local governments in the nation to pass such laws, and three others in the state’s rural southwest,Hardin, Todd, and Cumberland counties, are in the process of passing similar measures. Kentucky labor unions have vowed to fight them in court, on the grounds that the county governments are usurping power legally reserved for states. A dark-money organization called Protect My Check, recommended by Sen. Rand Paul, has promised to pay the counties’ legal bills. Read more

‘Minnesota Ice’ Doesn’t Faze Ironworkers
As the new year approached, wind-chill factor temperatures in the Minneapolis area plummeted to 15 below zero—but that didn’t faze the workers building the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium, members of Ironworkers Local 512. “I’ve lived here my entire life, that’s how,” Jess Hill, working on her first winter construction project, scoffed when asked how she copes with cold. Workers on the job universally wear layers that include more than one jacket, flannel-lined pants and/or overalls, heavily insulated boots, and gloves. The structure also has two giant propane-fueled heaters, and sheets of plastic keep the heat in and the wind out. Still, different trades contracts say that when the wind-chill gets colder than 15 or 20 below, the jobs get shut down. Read more

Indiana Union May Take ‘Right-to-Work’ Law to Supreme Court
Despite federal and state court rulings upholding Indiana’s ban on union shops, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 is considering taking the fight to the Supreme Court. The likely argument, said Local 150 general counsel Dale Pierson, would be that the federal 7th Circuit appeals court was simply wrong when it held that the law did not force unions to perform services without just compensation, as they have to represent workers who don’t pay dues or fees. Another possibility would be a new suit, if a union can show that its ability to represent workers has suffered because nonmembers are not paying their fair share. Read more

Hours-Law Change Would Axe Obamacare for 1.5 Million Workers
A top priority for House Republicans is to amend the Affordable Care Act to redefine “full-time” work as 40 hours a week instead of 30—in order to cut the number of workers employers are required to cover under Obamacare. The legislation would undercut the law’s employer mandate, which will go into effect this year and requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to 95 percent of their full-time workers or pay a fine. The change could mean that up to 1.5 million Americans will lose their insurance. One possible tactic might be attaching the amendment to a budget bill that President Barack Obama has to sign or risk shutting down the government. Read more

Wage Stagnation Squeezes Working Families
“It’s been six years since anyone at our company has had a raise,” says Laurie Chisum, 52, who works as a manager for a small office-equipment company in Los Angeles’ Orange County suburbs. “It seems like I just keep falling further into a hole. The price of gas has gone down, but nothing else has.” Average hourly wages rose by 1.7% in the year ending in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and have gone up about 11% since 2009—but the Consumer Price Index has also gone up by 11% since then, including increases of 12.5% in average food costs, 12% in rents, and 17% in health care. Read more

Virtual-School Teachers Organize
Those trying to privatize education have promoted nonunion charter and online schools over public schools with unionized teachers—but “virtual teachers” in an online charter school system in California are pushing back. A majority of the 750 teachers at California Virtual Academies, a chain of online schools with 16,000 students, have signed petitions to join the California Teachers Association, and the union filed with the state labor relations board in May. The chain, however, is refusing to recognize them, claiming it is actually 11 separate schools and not one bargaining unit. Read more

Judge Rejects Workers' Suit Against UAW
A federal judge in Michigan has dismissed a suit filed last summer by Ford workers who claimed that the United Auto Workers didn’t represent them fairly. The 191 workers, who had been transferred to Ford assembly plants after layoffs at its parts-making subsidiary Automotive Component Holdings, were mostly making second-tier wages of $17 to $18 an hour, well under the $28 regular Ford workers got. Judge Nancy G. Edmunds said the workers had filed the suit after the six-month statute of limitations on the actions they alleged had passed. A UAW lawyer said their claims were baseless. Read more

Illinois Court Likely to Sustain Ruling Against Pension Cuts
Illinois’ highest court is likely to reject the state's appeal of a November lower-court ruling that struck down the 2013 law cutting pension benefits to all state workers. The state constitution says that as retirement benefits are part of a contract, they cannot be "diminished or impaired." Arizona courts invalidated similar laws on those grounds in 2012 and 2014. Illinois’ five-fund pension system is the most underfunded in the nation. New Gov. Bruce Rauner has favored eliminating pensions and switching state workers to a defined contribution system. Read more

Jersey Transit Union Blasts Plan to End Late-Night PATH Trains
The head of the New Jersey Amalgamated Transit Union State Council sharply criticized plans to end late-night service on the PATH trains connecting New York City with Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken. Ray Greaves said the plan, announced Jan. 2, “would be detrimental to people who are trying to make ends meet,” denying affordable transportation to low-wage workers. The system carries an average of more than 200,000 riders a day, but a panel appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that not running trains between 1 and 5 a.m. on weeknights could save at least $10 million a year.  Read more

Atlanta Stagehands Fight ‘Labor Pimp’ Contracting System
Tired of working for low-wage temporary contractors for as little as $10 an hour,stagehands in the Atlanta area are trying to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The main target is Crew One Productions, one of several nonunion temp agencies whose domination of work at pop concerts is undermining IATSE’s membership base, says organizer Daniel Di Tolla. A majority of Crew One workers voted to join the union in April, but the firm is refusing to bargain a first contract, claiming they are independent contractors. “It was atrocious the way I was treated,” says former employee Chris Stewart, who said the company didn’t give stagehands drinking water and enforced rules that workers must not speak to the performers. Read more

Weekly Digest - December 18, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Cuomo Seeks to Make 1,000 PEF Members Nonunion
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Dec. 15 informed about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation that the state has applied to reclassify their jobs as nonunion managerial positions. The jobs, at more than three dozen state agencies, include attorneys, auditors, parole hearing officers and tax-law judges. “Be assured we will be fighting this,” union President Susan Kent told members in an e-mail later in the day. The state Public Employment Relations Board previously ruled that the jobs did not qualify as nonunion, and the state lost a court challenge to that decision. Some speculate that the Cuomo administration is retaliating for that or the PEF’s endorsement of the governor’s challenger in last September’s Democratic primary. Read more

Chicago Raises Minimum Wage to $13—By 2019
The Chicago City Council on Dec. 4 approved a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $13—which would be the second-highest minimum in the nation, but it won’t reach that level until 2019. The bill, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would eventually mean raises for almost a third of the city’s workers, but to less than the $15 striking fast-food workers have been demanding. “The workers I've been with chant, 'Show me $15,' not '$13 by 2019,'” Alderman Bob Fioretti said in a statement. "That means fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage today, which will both lift up Chicago working families and stop the state from limiting our ability to do the right thing." Read more

S.F. Airport Restaurant Workers Strike for Two Days
After working without a contract for more than a year, nearly 1,000 workers at San Francisco Airport went on strike Dec. 11, shutting down 55 restaurants there for 48 hours. “When restaurants slash our healthcare, or deny us job security, we just can’t get by,” said Jesse Johnson, a bartender at the Buena Vista Café and a member of UNITE HERE Local 2’s executive board. “The restaurants at SFO bank huge money from airline passengers.” The workers, who make an average of about $24,000 a year, are resisting restaurant owners’ efforts to freeze their health-care payments—a proposal that would likely result in them having to pay up to $4,200 per year for coverage. They also want to get first crack at any other jobs open when airport concession outlets close. Read more

Vermont Gov Urges FairPoint Strike Settlement
After FairPoint Communications customers in Vermont lost broadband Internet service, and a previous outage disrupted much of the state’s 911 system, Gov. Peter Shumlin wrote to company CEO Paul Sunu Dec. 12 and urged him to “Come back to the table; listen; and compromise. I will urge the unions to do likewise.” A FairPoint spokesperson responded that the company had made its final offer in August, and “it is the unions who chose to go on strike.” Mike Spillane, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2326, called her “a liar,” saying that the two unions on strike had offered $212 million in concessions, but the company has refused to take anything less than $700 for months. The strike began Oct. 17. Read more

Wisconsin Legislators Plan to Pursue ‘Right-to-Work’ Bill
Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dec. 4 that he plans to act quickly to enact a bill outlawing the union shop when the legislature resumes in January. Republican state Rep. Chris Kapenga has said he will introduce a similar bill, and Lorri Pickens, a former official of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, announced the formation of a group called Wisconsin Right to Work Dec. 1. “We'll fight this every step of the way,” said state AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt. Democrats are too small a minority in both houses to stop such a bill, but Gov. Scott Walker may be reluctant—he’s supported similar legislation since 1993, but says that a fight on the issue now would be a distraction. Read more

Miami Con-way Freight Drivers Vote to Join Teamsters
Workers at Con-way Freight’s facility in Miami Lakes, Florida, voted Dec. 11 to join Teamsters Local 769. The vote is a victory for the Teamsters’ campaign to organize drivers at “less-than-truckload” shipping companies like Con-way and FedEx Freight. “The drivers and dockworkers at Con-way, like the workers at FedEx Freight, are fed up,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. The company, however, may accuse the union of improper tactics and challenge the vote, as it did when the Teamsters won elections at locations in Los Angeles and Laredo, Texas. Read more

VW Recognizes UAW at Tennessee Plant
United Auto Workers Local 42 has been certified as a minority union to represent workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, the first time the UAW has been recognized at foreign-owned auto factory in the South. An audit announced Dec. 8 found that more than 45% of the about 1,500 workers had joined Local 42, winning it the right to meet biweekly with company management and executives. The UAW, which lost an election at the plant in February, still hopes to win the 50% needed to get exclusive bargaining rights. Read more

NLRB Moves to Speed Up Union Elections…
The National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 12 published regulations intended to enable workers to vote more quickly on whether they want to join a union. The new rules do not set a specific timetable, but require that the election be held at “the earliest date practicable.” The board says it now takes an average of 38 days to hold a union election. Business groups say the changes will allow “ambush” elections in as little as 10 days, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said they will “reduce unnecessary delay,” while SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said “corporate bosses will have fewer opportunities to cheat you out of your right to join together.” Read more

And to Let Workers Use Work E-Mail to Organize
Employers have to let workers use company e-mail addresses to discuss grievances and talk about union organizing, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Dec. 11. In a complaint brought by the Communications Workers of America against a California company, the board said that e-mail has “effectively become a natural gathering place pervasively used for employee-to-employee conversations” and thus employers could not prohibit communications protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB reversed its 2007 holding, saying that given the rise in telecommuting and Internet use since then, “e-mail’s effectiveness as a mechanism for quickly sharing information and views increases its importance to employee communication.” Read more

Illinois Asks State High Court for Quick Pension-Law Hearing
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the state Supreme Court to accelerate hearings on a legal challenge to its pension-cut law. The law, enacted in December 2013, reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions and raises retirement ages. Sangamon County Court Judge John Belz, responding to five lawsuits brought by public-employee unions and retiree groups, ruled Nov. 21 that the law violated a constitutionally protected promise to state workers about their pension benefits. The state is appealing, and in a motion filed Dec. 4, Madigan asked the court to schedule oral arguments as soon as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10. Read more