Weekly Digest - July 23, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Only 6 Minutes a Shift for Bathroom?
Teamsters Local 743 has filed a complaint againstChicago's WaterSaver Faucet factory with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the company disciplined 19 workers because they averaged more than 6 minutes a shift in the bathroom. Management installed a system last winter that required workers to swipe a card when they used a bathroom. “The company has spreadsheets on every union employee on how long they were in,” said union representative Nick Kreitman. “There have been meetings with workers and human resources where the workers had to explain what they were doing in the bathroom.” WaterSaver CEO Steve Kersten said he thought workers were sneaking into the bathroom to talk or text on their cell phones. Read more

McDonald’s Workers Say They Were Fired for Union Activity
Nine McDonald’s workers who say they were fired fortheir union involvement and organizing activitiesare asking the National Labor Relations Board to rule that the company is responsible for the actions of its franchises. The nine, backedby the Fast Food Workers Committee, worked at McDonald’sin Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, but the company claims they weren’t its direct employees. “McDonald’s claims that it has no influence over the wages and working conditions of its employees, but it effectively controls workers’ pay, hours, and schedules by controlling every other variable in the business except wages,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project. “A decision in this case should leave no doubt that McDonald’s is an employer and put an end to its self-serving charade that it is not.” Read more

Oregon SEIU Stops Collecting Nonunion Health Workers’ Dues
SEIU Local 503, Oregon’s largest public-sector union, has stopped collecting "fair-share" dues from home-health workers who didn’t join the union. Executive Director Heather Conroy said she made the decision out of an “overabundance of caution” after the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling that Illinois home-health workers who weren’t members didn’t have to pay such fees. About 3,500 of Oregon’s 14,000 home-health workers and about two-thirds of its 1,700 "personal support workers” are not union members. Read more

Ontario City Locks Out Bus Drivers
The city of Guelph, Ontario locked out its 205 transit workers July 21 after they overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer. “Money and benefits aren't the issue,” said driver Art Van’t Wout, a former vice-president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189. “It’s the contract language that's the problem.” The rejected deal would have given workers raises of 6.8% over the next four years, but would have reduced maintenance technicians’ hours and lowered long-term disability payments. Local 1189 president Andrew Cleary said another issue was that bus drivers wanted a bathroom—when they stop at a restaurant to use the toilet, he said, people post their photos on social media and comment that they’re not doing their jobs. Read more

Unions Seek Buyers for Atlantic City Casinos
In a last-ditch effort to prevent three Atlantic City casinos from closing, UNITE HERE Local 54 is trying to find buyers for them and preserve almost 8,000 jobs. The owners of the Showboat and Trump Plaza have said they will close by September, and Revel will be put up for sale at a bankruptcy court auction next month. "The workers aren't lying down for this," said Local 54 president Bob McDevitt. "They haven't accepted that they are no longer needed as employees in the Atlantic City casino industry." Read more

Colorado Cop Fired for Union Activity Gets $525,000
Patrick Cillo, a decorated former police officer in Greenwood Village, Colorado, won $525,000 in damages and penalties July 16 after jurors found the city acted with “evil motive” when it fired him. The Denver suburb’s former police chief claimed that he had fired Cillo and several other officers in 2009 because they had illegally entered a sexual-assault suspect’s motel room while chasing him, but Cillo filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 claiming that the real reason was that he had organized his fellow officers to join the International Union of Police Associations Local 305. Read more

California Trades Train Unemployed for High-Speed Rail
With construction of the high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco slated to start this summer in California’s Central Valley, building-trades unions in the Fresno area are training unemployed people in the area for apprenticeships as electricians, operating engineers, ironworkers, surveyors, cement masons, and more. The first 22 students in the program graduated last fall, and its goal is to train 325. "The single largest public infrastructure project in the history of California is coming right through the middle of our community," said Blake Konczal, director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board. "We would be fools not to grasp it with both hands and try to make sure that our local residents who are unemployed get access to those jobs." Read more

U.S. Unions Protest Greyhound Owner in Scotland
Members of theAmalgamated Transit Union traveled to Scotland to join British transport unions protesting at FirstGroup’s annual general meeting in Aberdeen July 16. The company, which got its start taking over British public-transportation systems privatized in the 1980s, owns Greyhound and BoltBus. The company plans to raise CEO Tim O’Toole’s pay by 86%, to more than $3.2 million a year—while ignoring Greyhound terminal workers’ bid to get a raise from less than $11 an hour to $15. Read more

Chicago Cabbies Want Fare Increase
Chicago’s United Taxidrivers Community Council, which is trying to organize the city’s cabbies, issued a plan July 21 to raise fares by 25%. “We’re trying to fix a broken taxi industry. Drivers are not making enough money,” said UTCC secretary Peter Enger. Many drivers make less than minimum wage, and the city hasn’t raised fares since 2005. The plan would also reduce fines and cap increases on what drivers pay to lease cabs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 taxi “reforms” let owners raise lease rates by up to 40% and increased maximum fines to $750. AFSCME District Council 31, which is also trying to organize drivers, says Emanuel’s changes reduced cabbies’ average incomes by more than 25%, to barely $20,000 a year. Read more

With Pot Legal in Washington, UFCW Organizes Workers
Workers at a medical-marijuana dispensary in Puyallup, Washington have voted to join United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 367, becoming the first union cannabis-industry workers in the state, which legalized recreational pot sales July 1. The effort to organize is part of a nationwide UFCW campaign, “Cannabis Workers Rising,” said Local 367 secretary-treasurer Daniel Comeau. The union says it will work with dispensary owners in a “shared commitment to find regulatory solutions for the industry.” Read more

Unions Back September Climate-Change Demonstration
Several major Northeastern unions have endorsed a protest march about global warming scheduled for Sept. 21 in New York. “Let’s be clear, climate change is the most important issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives,” said John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists. The unions on the list include Local 1199 SEIU, AFSCME’s District Council 37, the New York State Nurses Association, the Amalgamated Transit Workers and Transport Workers Union, SEIU 32BJ, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. The AFL-CIO has not taken a position, and the endorsers do not include the Laborers and the United Mine Workers, who have opposed environmental initiatives they believe will cost their members jobs. “Local 3 has taken a big lead in solar projects and restoration projects,” says IBEW instructor Partha Banerjee. “Instead of talking about climate change’s impact on traditional jobs, we talk about how there has to be a serious priority on green jobs.” Read more

Weekly Digest - July 9, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Digest - July 30, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Federal Contract Workers Strike Again
Federal contractors who work minimum-wage jobs at Union Station, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the National Zoo, and the Pentagon staged their ninth mini-strike July 29. About 100 people, mostly women and children, protested outside Union Station, saying that President Barack Obama’s executive order to increase the minimum pay to $10.10 in future government contracts is “not enough” and demanding the right to unionize. “Workers need more than a minimum wage executive order,” the Rev. Michael Livingston of Interfaith Worker Justice yelled into a bullhorn. “Workers need a ‘good jobs’ executive order.” Another issue is that the president’s orders apply only to companies that contract with the executive branch and don’t cover the more than 2,500 people who work under contracts for Congress.

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Could Union Activity Be a Civil Right?
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and 12 other House members introduced a bill July 30 that would let workers fired for union activity sue their employers for civil-rights violations and seek damages and legal fees. Under current law, they can only seek back pay and reinstatement through the National Labor Relations Board. Those protections, said AFL-CIO director of government affairs Bill Samuel “are really completely inadequate” and “haven't kept pace with the increasing viciousness of anti-union efforts.” The AFL-CIO has endorsed the measure, but it has no chance of passing in the current House. Read more

Macy’s Workers Win Right to ‘Micro-Union’
The National Labor Relations Board ruled July 22 that cosmetics and fragrances workers at the Macy's in Saugus, Massachusetts, can vote on whether to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, even though they make up only about one-third of the store’s sales force. The 3-1 vote—on party lines—held that the 41 beauty-product workers qualified as a distinct bargaining unit because they were readily identifiable as a department and shared a “community of interest.” The ruling applied the NLRB’s 2011 decision in a case called Specialty Healthcare, which held that a group of nursing assistants at a long-term care facility could form a so-called “micro-union.”
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Engineers Sue Boeing on Age Discrimination
The union representing Boeing engineers filed charges July 23 with federal and Washington state agencies accusing the aircraft manufacturer of age discrimination. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace alleges that Boeing’s new method of selecting employees for layoffs, ranking workers with higher levels of skills and experience against each other instead of against all employees doing the same job, is a scheme to get rid of older workers—and their pension and health-care costs. “It dramatically shifts who is positioned for future layoffs,” said SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth. The union also charged that plans to move jobs out of the Puget Sound area have a discriminatory effect. Boeing called the charges “baseless” and said it was merely “diversifying” its engineers.
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San Diego Moves to Raise Minimum Wage
The San Diego City Council voted July 28 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by January 2017. The 6-3 vote means the measure would have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto threatened by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. If it’s enacted, the city’s minimum-wage workers—most of whom are in restaurants and retail—will get a raise to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2015, to $10 six months later when the state minimum rises from $9, and to $10.50 in 2016. The measure would also give workers a chance at up to five days of paid sick leave. Read more

Judge Says Mercedes-Benz Can’t Ban Union Flyers
A federal administrative judge ruled July 24 that Mercedes-Benz could not prohibit workers from handing out union literature at its Vance, Alabama, plant when they weren’t on the job, but did not impose any penalties on the company. Judge Keltner W. Locke said Mercedes-Benz’s “overly broad” rules against solicitation violated the National Labor Relations Act, but that the company had taken “prompt remedial action.” The judge also dismissed harassment charges that had been filed by the United Auto Workers, which is trying to organize the plant. Read more

Pension Cuts Stalled in Pennsylvania
Despite having a Republican majority in the state legislature, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has so far been unable to get it to cut state workers’ pensions. The Assembly sent his “pension reform” bill back to committee in July, with 15 more moderate GOP members, many from the Philadelphia suburbs, joining Democrats. “Our idea of pension reform is getting pensions for everybody,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed 13 of those 15 Republicans for re-election. The legislature also hasn’t passed union-opposed bills to privatize state-owned liquor stores and to require unions to get written permission from members to spend dues money on political activity.
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Judge Upholds Memphis Pay Cuts
A federal judge on July 21 dismissed a lawsuit by 13 labor unions in Memphis, Tennessee against the city’s 2011 decision to cut employees' wages by 4.6% percent. District Judge Samuel H. Mays ruled that the city hadn’t violated its contracts with the unions because those contracts weren’t valid if the City Council didn’t vote to fund them. “What has been learned from this process is that this city administration has no problem breaking its commitments and promises,” the Memphis Police Association said in a statement July 23. “Unfortunately, not all wrongs have a legal remedy.” Read more

UFCW Urges Obama to ‘Go Big’ on Immigration…
President Barack Obama should “go big” on immigration by using executive orders when Congress blocks legislation, United Food and Commercial Workers Union leader Joe Hansen wrote July 25. Citing Obama’s July 21 executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation, Hansen said the President should also “stop the deportation of those who would be eligible for citizenship” under the immigration bill the Senate passed last year that the House “has refused to act” on. UFCW members, he added, “have seen the wreckage of our broken immigration system firsthand—from the raided meatpacking plants to the worker who live in fear of deportation to the husband kept apart from his wife and children.” Read more

…But Border Patrol Union Criticizes AFL-CIO on Immigration
The National Border Patrol Council is trying to win its 17,000 members a new contract with the federal government and get Congress to pass a bill giving them more regular overtime pay—and also pushing for tougher restrictions on immigration. That last stance has put it at odds with the AFL-CIO, as union vice president Shawn Moran told that many members consider the federation’s position “pro-amnesty.” The Border Patrol Council, which is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, recently deleted its AFL-CIO affiliation from its Web site.  Read more

Weekly Digest - July 2, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Digest - July 16, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Digest - June 25, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neutrality Agreements Help UAW Organize

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