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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 - October 8, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Philly Schools Cancel Teachers’ Contract
Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission unilaterally cancelled city teachers’ contract Oct. 6. The move, approved unanimously at a meeting held with virtually no public notice, means that the 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, and others who are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will have to pay from $21 to $200 a month for health care starting in December, and retirees will lose prescription, dental, and vision benefits. The Philadelphia school district and the state Education Department also asked state courts to rule that the Commission, which took over running city schools in 2001, has the power to cancel union contracts, while PFT president Jerry Jordan vowed to fight that. Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed the action, but State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) called it “a war on the union.” Read more

Facebook’s Shuttle-Bus Drivers Want to Join Teamsters
More than half of the 40 shuttle-bus drivers who transport Facebook employees to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley have signed cards asking to be represented by Teamsters Local 853, according to union officials. The drivers, who work for a contractor, make $18 to $21 an hour, but have to work split shifts of 16 hours a day, from roughly 6 to 11 in the morning and 5:15 to 9:45 at night. “It is reminiscent of a time when noblemen were driven around in their coaches by their servants,” Northern California Teamsters leader Rome Aloise wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to get the bus contractor to accept the card check and negotiate a contract with the union. Read more

NLRB Pronounces Pickle-Placement Punishment Unfair Practice
A National Labor Relations Board administrative judge ruled Sept. 29 that the owner of 22 Detroit-area Burger King franchises had violated federal law by retaliating against workers who talked union—including sending one home early for failing to “put pickles on her sandwiches in perfect squares.” The woman was an organizer for D15, part of the Fast Food Forward network, and had been written up the day before for talking to coworkers about wages while she was off duty. The franchise owner, EYM King, argued that it was "plainly entitled" to bar workers from discussing wages, working conditions, or unions during work. A Burger King spokesperson responded that all “scheduling, wage, or other employment-related decisions” are made by franchisees. Read more

Supreme Court Eyes Amazon Wage-Theft Case
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Oct. 8 on Amazon warehouse workers’ claim that they should get paid for the time they have to wait after work to be searched for stolen goods. Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, two temp workers at a Nevada warehouse, sued their agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, in 2010, arguing that they were being cheated out of 25 minutes pay every day. The company claims that the screening is the equivalent of washing up or commuting, not “integral and indispensable” to the job, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it. The Justice and Labor Departments have filed an amicus brief supporting that position. Read more

Bankruptcy Judge Says City Can Cut Pensions
A federal judge on Oct. 1 ruled that the city of Stockton, California, could withdraw from the state’s pension system without paying a penalty. The system, known as Calpers, has said that if Stockton tried to resolve its bankruptcy by ceasing payments for city workers’ pensions, it would claim a $1.6 billion lien on the city’s assets. Judge Christopher M. Klein said Stockton could legally refuse to pay that, because bankruptcy law allows debtors to void contracts. The ruling does not order the city to cut pensions, but it echoes similar rulings in Detroit that public workers’ pensions don’t have any special protected status in a municipal bankruptcy. Read more

Canadian Bus Lockout Enters Third Week
Pensions are the key area of dispute in a lockout that has kept transit workers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan off the job since Sept. 20. Talks between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 continue, but the city council voted Sept. 22 to increase workers’ contributions to the pension plan, and union president Jim Yakubowski suspects the city may claim it can no longer afford to pay defined benefits. The Saskatchewan provincial labor-relations board will rule Oct. 14 on whether those changes are legal. Read more

Judge Nixes Trump Bid to End Pension Payments
Trump Entertainment Resorts can’t eliminate pensions yet at the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, a Delaware bankruptcy judge ruled Oct. 3. The company has threatened to close the casino in mid-November and lay off its almost 3,000 workers if it doesn’t get concessions from UNITE HERE Local 54 and tax breaks from the city and state. Judge Kevin Gross said he would hold a hearing Oct. 14 on Trump’s request to terminate the entire collective-bargaining agreement. The union is arguing that because the contract expired last month, its terms remain in effect and the National Labor Relations Board has jurisdiction. Read more

Indiana Electrical Workers Strike
Around 330 employees at Schneider Electric’s Square D plant in Peru, Indiana went on strike Oct. 5 after rejecting a proposed three-year contract. Anthony Wickerstram, assisting business representative for the International Association of Machinists, said the deal didn’t offer a high enough pay raise for entry-level workers, and it would have also frozen pension benefits for employees. Workers at Schneider Electric’s plant in Oxford, Ohio, are also on strike over the contract. Read more

Walmart Eliminates Part-Timers’ Health Benefits
Walmart will stop offering health-insurance coverage to most of its part-time U.S. workers on Jan. 1, cutting off the about 30,000 “associates” who work less than an average of 30 hours a week. The company said its health-care costs for the year will be about 50% more than it projected, because it expected that more workers would sign up for Obamacare instead of enrolling in its insurance plans. It will also raise full-time workers’ premiums by about 20% and increase their copayments. Read more

Boeing to Build 777X Wing Assemblies in St. Louis
Boeing announced Oct. 6 that it would build significant sections of the new 777X plane’s wings and tail in St. Louis instead of Washington state. That means it won’t be done at the company’s Seattle-area plants, where the International Association of Machinists made major concessions last winter to keep production of the plane, but it will still be done in a union facility. “We had hoped the 777X wing tips would be placed here in Puget Sound because we have the skilled workers, composite center, and everything necessary to be successful on this work package,” Machinists District Lodge 751 President Jon Holden said in a statement. “Seeing Machinists Union members in St. Louis gain work is positive for members there, who are facing deep cuts in defense contracts, and the ending of longstanding assembly lines on the only products they build.” 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 - October 1, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

L.A. City Council OKs $15 Minimum for Hotel Workers
The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-3 on Sept. 24 to require the city’s large hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour. It will go into effect next July for hotels with at least 300 rooms, and be extended to those with at least 150 rooms in 2016. It is expected to cover at least 40 hotels and 5,300 to 13,500 workers, although it exempts those where unions agree to take less. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he will sign the measure, and also wants to raise the city’s overall minimum to $13.25 by 2017. "Our position is that we need to explicitly get to $15 an hour as soon as possible," said Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Read more

Did Indiana Autoworkers Really Beat Two-Tier Contract?
Workers at the Lear car-seat factory in Hammond, Indiana celebrated winning a contract Sept. 14 that ended four years of two-tier wages—but then found out that some would be transferred to a new lower-paying plant. About two-thirds of the 450 workers who had been receiving the lower wages will be reclassified as “subassembly workers” and will make $4 to $6 an hour less than regular assembly workers, and about 130 of them will be moved to a new subassembly plant in nearby Portage. Those workers will have first priority to return to the Hammond plant as positions open up. Read more

Colorado Teachers’ Sickout Shuts Two Schools
Two Colorado high schools cancelled classes Sept. 29 after more than three-fourths of the teachers called in sick to protest a right-wing county school board’s proposed changes to the history curriculum and the way teachers are paid. Students have staged walkouts at several schools in the Jefferson County suburbs of Denver to protest the board’s attempts to have history taught in a way that promotes “respect for authority” and does not “encourage or condone… social strife,” but teachers are also irate that the board wants to base any pay increases on their perceived “effectiveness.” In nearby Douglas County, where a similar far-right faction took over the school board in 2009, teachers are now paid according to the “market value” of their subjects and grades. Read more

Machinists Move to Organize Delta
The International Association of Machinists has been pushing to organize the 20,000 flight attendants at Delta, where only pilots and dispatchers are union members. Flight attendants, fleet-service workers, and customer-service workers all voted against joining unions in 2010, after Delta merged with unionized Northwest, and the company launched an anti-union campaign. “Delta made a lot of promises during the merger,” said IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi. “Now, several years later, people have seen that those promises were not kept.” A win at the Atlanta-based airline would also be a victory for union organizing in the South, noted AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Read more

Fired Boston Hyatt Workers to Get $1M
Hyatt Hotels Corp. has agreed to pay $1 million to 98 housekeepers it fired from its three Boston-area hotels five years ago after they’d trained their replacements, contractors who were paid half as much. The settlement, announced Sept. 26, will also end a worldwide boycott organized by UNITE HERE Local 26, which backed the sacked workers even though they weren’t unionized. “I don’t think [Hyatt] could ever make up for what they did,” said one of the fired housekeepers. The deal comes as Hyatt is competing for the chance to run a 1,000-room hotel planned as part of the expansion of the city’s convention center. Read more

Devil’s Duo: Christie Campaigns for Walker
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie traveled to Wisconsin Sept. 29 to help Gov. Scott Walker campaign for re-election, and both of them celebrated their attacks on public-employee unions. “Scott and I have had similar governorships,” Christie said at an appearance in Hudson, near the Minnesota border, adding that “big government union bosses from Washington D.C.” want to “make an example of him.” “We took their power,” Walker said. The Badger State union-buster is in a close race against Democrat Mary Burke, and six of his aides have been convicted of campaign-finance violations. Read more

San Diego Ironworkers Seek Back Pay
San Diego ironworkers demonstrated Sept. 25 outside the offices of Japanese-based developer North American Sekisui House, protesting wage theft by its rebar subcontractor Millennium Reinforcing. The mostly Latino workers, who are suing Millennium, told stories about not getting paid for overtime, getting surprise pay cuts, working more than 12 hours a day without legally mandated breaks, and being pressured not to report injuries. While they are not union members, they are being supported by Iron Workers Local 229. A bill to let wage-theft victims put liens on their employers’ property failed to pass the California state Senate in August. Read more

Seattle Hyatt Workers Demand Right to Unionize
More than 100 people picketed the front entrance of the Grand Hyatt Seattle on Sept. 25, organized by UNITE HERE Local 8. Workers at the city’s two Hyatt hotels say they are being denied a fair process to form a union, despite the national chain having agreed with UNITE HERE last year to allow one. Grand Hyatt management says there was no such agreement. Read more

Albany Convention Center Agrees to PLA
The Albany Convention Center Authority’s board voted unanimously on Sept. 26 to approve a project-labor agreement with local building-trades unions. The deal will cover both union and nonunion contractors on the planned Albany Capital Center, an 84,000-square-foot facility scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2016. It includes no-strike and no-lockout causes, and will let contractors change the workweek to four 10-hour days when there’s enough daylight. Read more

Package-Delivery Schemes Undercut Wages
The U.S. Postal Service in the San Francisco Bay Area has hired permatemps for an experimental program—delivering groceries for Amazon at 4 a.m. The workers, the lowest tier of union letter carriers, make $15-17 an hour and are issued miner-style headlamps so they can find their way in the dark. While the plan uses union postal workers, it’s one of numerous schemes by companies like Amazon, eBay, and Uber to speed up package delivery in densely populated, affluent city neighborhoods while paying lower wages than the Postal Service and UPS, hiring workers as “independent contractors,” and ignoring less profitable rural areas. The companies are also taking advantage of cuts to public postal services. 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

Weekly Digest - September 17, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFSCME Calls Scott Walker Top Target
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a top target for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in this November’s election, union president Lee Saunders told the Washington Post. “We have a score to settle with Scott Walker,” Saunders said in an interview published Sept. 10. “He stole our voices, in a state where we were born.” AFSCME, which was founded in Madison in 1932, is planning a massive canvassing and phone-banking operation to help elect Democrat Mary Burke. A Walker campaign spokeswoman called it an effort by “union bosses.” Read more

Jersey AFL-CIO Accuses Christie of Pension ‘Pay-to-Play’
Financial firms that contribute to Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican Party are getting a disturbing share of contracts to manage New Jersey’s pension funds, the state AFL-CIO alleged in a complaint filed Sept. 12 with the State Ethics Commission. The union says management fees paid to such companies, including the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group, have more than tripled under Christie, to $398 million last year. State ethics rules require a two-year wait before campaign donors can get pension-management contracts. “We urge the State Ethics Commission to investigate this pay-to-play scheme on behalf of taxpayers who are footing the bill for this abuse and pensioneers being shortchanged of their retirement funds,” said New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.
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VW Global Labor Groups Back UAW in Tennessee
Unions representing Volkswagen workers around the world are backing the United Auto Workers’ renewed efforts to represent workers at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The endorsement came in a statement released Sept. 10 by members of VW’s global “works council,” including Germany's IG Metall union and the global union umbrella group IndustriALL. VW wants to set up a works council at the Chattanooga factory, and would have to do it with a union under U.S. law. Some workers who opposed joining a union when the UAW lost a vote there in February have tried to form a rival group. Read more

Letter Carriers Honor 9 Heroes
The National Association of Letter Carriers named nine members “Heroes of the Year” Sept. 10. The honorees included Illinois letter carriers Cristy Perfetti and Steve Plunkett, who foiled a knife-wielding pedophile’s attempt to kidnap a 10-year-old boy outside the post office in Peoria, and Jermaine George of Greenwich, Connecticut, who was on his way to work when his apartment building caught fire, and climbed up onto a roof to catch and save two 11-month-old babies that his neighbor dropped from the third-floor fire escape. Read more

Nevada Union Wants Local Workers at Tesla Plant
A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature Sept. 10 would give the Tesla electric-car company $1.3 billion in tax breaks while requiring that half the estimated 9,000 workers who will build and run its planned battery factory are state residents. State AFL-CIO director Danny Thompson criticized the bill for not requiring that construction workers be paid the prevailing wage, saying that any development getting that much in tax breaks should be considered a public-works project. He also worried that Tesla could bring in out-of-state workers who could easily evade the residency requirement. The plant is slated for an isolated area southeast of Reno. Read more

Boston UNITE HERE Recruits Black Workers
Boston’s UNITE HERE Local 26 has launched a training program intended to attract Afro-American workers to hotel jobs that start at $18 an hour plus benefits. The four-week program is part of an initiative to reduce unemployment among black Bostonians and meet the growing demand in the hotel industry for workers who are fluent in English. Immigrants have largely supplanted Afro-Americans as workers in the area’s hotels; more than five-sixths of the union’s current trainees speak English as a second language. Some hotel managers, said Local 26 president Brian Lang, seem to believe immigrants have a stronger work ethic and are “less likely to know and assert their rights in this country.” Read more

Study Estimates Wage Theft at $50 Billion a Year
Wage theft might cost American workers as much as $50 billion a year, says a report released Sept. 11 by the Economic Policy Institute. The group found that in an average week, two-thirds of the low-wage workers it surveyed in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were cheated out of some pay. Few victims report wage theft and fewer win back pay, it noted, but the amount of stolen wages workers recovered in 2012 was more than $933 million—almost triple the amount reported taken in robberies that year. The maximum federal fine for failure to pay the minimum wage or for overtime is $1,100. Read more

Grain Agreement Ends Lockouts in Northwest Ports
Five International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals have approved a contract with grain companies in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington,  ending the lockouts of two locals that lasted more than a year. The 46-month deal includes raises, but the most important thing is that it maintains unionized grain terminals in the U.S., said Roger Boespflug, a former ILWU Local 23 president who represented his local in the negotiations. The union agreed to let management personnel do bargaining-unit jobs during a work stoppage, but beat back worse concessions. Columbia River and Puget Sound ports move over a quarter of all U.S. grain exports, including almost half of all wheat. Read more

Railroad Union Rejects One-Person Crews
The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union announced Sept. 10 that its members had rejected a contract that would have allowed BNSF Railway to run trains with one-person crews. BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., operates tracks in most of the western U.S. and two Canadian provinces, and has “Positive Train Control” systems that can stop trains remotely installed on about 60 percent of its 32,500 miles of track. It wanted to be able to use one-person crews on those tracks, except for trains carrying hazardous materials. Railroad unions insist that two-person crews are safer. Read more

Unions Gain in the South
The labor movement is being reborn in the unlikeliest of places—the once union-averse South, says MaryBe McMillan of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. In late August and early September, North Carolina saw scores of farmworkers sign union cards, dozens of congregations across the state talking about the value of unions as part of the first annual Labor Sabbath, and workers and civil-rights leaders rallying for higher wages in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte on Labor Day. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the five states last year with the most growth in union membership were all in the South. This Southern revival has a distinctly evangelical zeal, McMillan says: Labor leaders together with clergy are claiming the moral high ground for economic justice. Read more