Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Kentucky Auto-Parts Supplier Recognizes UAW by Card Checks
Faurecia Interior Systems Inc. has agreed to recognize the United Auto Workers at its plant in Louisville, Ky.. A majority of the 172 workers signed cards in favor of the union, UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel UAW said in a statement Oct. 25. “Faurecia also deserves recognition for agreeing to use the majority recognition process, forgoing the approach of anti-union employers who force their employees into a divisive, disruptive and outdated election process," he added. The plant, which opened in 2011, produces the interiors for vehicles manufactured by Ford and General Motors.
Kellogg Locks Out Corn Flakes Bakers
The workers who bake Apple Jacks, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops got locked out Oct. 22, in a long-running dispute between the Kellogg Company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers' International Union. Kellogg locked out 226 employees at its Memphis plant after the workers refused its “last and best offer,” said BCTGM Memphis president Kevin Bradshaw. The key issue is the company’s insistence on expanding its use of temporary workers. “They bought Pringles for $2.8 billion cash. This is just corporate greed,” said Bradshaw.
Stealth Bill Would Allow Cuts to Current Pensions
A little-publicized bill in Congress would change federal law to let pension plans reduce payments to people already retired. The measure, aimed at troubled multiemployer plans, would give plan trustees the authority to cut pensions pre-emptively to 110 percent of the amount the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation pays to retirees whose pension fund went broke, a maximum of $14,157. Multiemployer pension plans now cover 10 million workers, but some, such as the Teamsters’ Central States Fund, are in danger of running out of money, as the deregulation of trucking drove most union firms out and drastically reduced the number of union workers contributing.
Detroit Manager Says He Wouldn’t Have Agreed to Pension Deal
Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr testified Oct. 29 that he probably wouldn’t have agreed to a deal to preserve retired city workers’ pensions. He said he’d been prepared to negotiate with creditors, but when a lawyer for the United Auto Workers—one of several unions challenging Detroit's bankruptcy, on the grounds that the city did not negotiate with creditors in good faith before filing for Chapter 9 protection in July—asked if he’d have agreed to keep hands off pensions, Orr replied: “Probably not.” He also said he believed federal bankruptcy law superseded the Michigan state constitution’s prohibiting public pensions from being impaired.
Fatal Accident Speeds BART Settlement
The tentative Oct. 21 agreement that ended a second strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers came two days after a maintenance train driven by a trainee struck and killed two track inspectors in the suburb of Walnut Creek. "When that happened over the weekend, they realized this thing had to end," said Amalgamated Transit Union international president Larry Hanley, whose union represents BART train drivers and station agents. “Management backed off the vast majority of the work rules.” BART track inspectors are represented by a union that was not on strike.
Latino Construction Workers More Likely to Die on Job in NYC
Construction workers killed in on-the-job accidents in New York City are most likely to be Latinos and immigrants, according to a study released Oct. 24 by the Center for Popular Democracy. The study, based on fatal falls investigated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2003 to 2011, found that while 41% of construction workers in the city identify themselves as Latino, 74% of those who died were either U.S.-born Latinos or immigrants. Safety violations are more common at job sites run by smaller, nonunion contractors—which are more likely to hire immigrant day laborers, the report said.
D.C. Cab Drivers Work With Teamsters
Cab drivers in Washington, D.C. have formed a group affiliated with Teamsters Local 922. The new D.C. Taxi Operators Association isn’t a formal union, but members hope it will give the city’s 6,000 cab drivers a collective voice. “For far too long, taxi drivers in Washington, D.C., have not had a strong voice to provide input about regulations and policies that affect their livelihoods,” Local 922 President Ferlien Buie said in a press release. The average driver earns between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, with many working seven days a week and 16-hour days, the release said.
IBEW Seeks to Organize Connecticut Nuke Workers
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is seeking to unionize about 350 operators, mechanics and maintenance workers at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Connecticut. John Fernandes, business manager with IBEW Local 457, said the organizing effort has been going on for several months, as workers are dissatisfied with benefit cuts and getting paid different rates for the same jobs. The plant’s owner, Dominion, which opposes unionization, has filed a case with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that a union election should involve a larger share of the 1,100 employees.
Oregon Labor Board Voids Ban on Union E-Mail
The state of Oregon broke labor laws in 2011 when it temporarily forbade government employees from using their work e-mail to send union-related messages, the state’s Employment Relations Board ruled in October. Service Employees International Union Local 503 had challenged the ban, imposed by the Department of Administrative Services after its contract with Local 503 expired but before a new one had been negotiated. The board ruled that while management had a legitimate right to control the use of state computer systems and to make sure employees are actually working, e-mail is one of most important ways employees communicate about wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Anchorage Mayor Vetoes Repeal of Anti-Labor Law
Anchorage, Alaska’s city Assembly voted Oct. 22 to repeal a law limiting city workers’ pay raises and right to strike—but Mayor Dan Sullivan immediately vetoed the repeal. The vote was 7-4, with two members who had voted to enact the law in March switching positions. Sullivan also vetoed a measure putting repeal on the ballot for the next municipal election in April. Assembly members who supported repeal are arguing that the mayor does not have the legal right to interfere with referendum scheduling.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
As the deadline for the U.S. government shutdown neared on Sept. 30, federal workers around the country protested Congressional Republicans' refusal to fund operations unless Obamacare is repealed. “We have dedicated public servants here. They’re basically being used as guinea pigs,” said Mike Mikulka, a vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 in Chicago, where nearly 100 government employees rallied. Mikulka, an environmental engineer, said the cleanup of an arsenic-contaminated site in Wisconsin he was supervising will be delayed. Other demonstrations took place in Boston, St. Louis, and Portland, Oregon.
While the shutdown of the federal government forces furloughs for 800,000 employees, Americans won't be able to find out what's going on in the rest of the job market. The Labor Department says it has no plans to release its monthly jobs report, which covers the unemployment rate and the number of jobs employers added, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics will have only three employees working. The report is due out Oct. 4, and much of the work on it was scheduled for this week, said a department official.
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case on whether “neutrality agreements”—in which employers agree not to interfere with union organizing campaigns—are legal. UNITE HERE is appealing a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that said when a Florida greyhound-racing track let union organizers speak to workers on its premises in 2004, it violated an anti-bribery provision of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that says employers can’t provide a union any “thing of value.” The Court might have decided to consider the case because the justices think the lower court’s decision is “a grievous mistake,” said Massachusetts labor lawyer Robert Schwartz, “but there’s always the concern that they’ll uphold the circuit court.” Oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 13.
With a second strike looming next week, California's Bay Area Rapid Transit system has paid about $3,400 a day for its chief negotiator. As of mid-June, BART had paid Thomas P. Hock, a lawyer with Veolia Transportation—a company with a long history of anti-union violations—$198,000 for 58 days of work, including more than $36,000 for first-class airfares, hotels, food, and wine on top of his $350-an-hour fee. Union members say that extra is about what an entry-level BART custodian takes home in a year after taxes. Negotiations remain deadlocked, with the unions saying the raise BART is offering would be canceled out by increases in health care and pension costs.
A group of mostly right-wing policy advocates in California is preparing a campaign to put an initiative that would dramatically cut public workers’ pensions on the state’s 2014 ballot. A leaked draft of the proposal defines employees’ “vested rights” as only covering years they’ve already worked, thus making it legal to reduce the amount they accrue for future years of service. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, is a main backer of the idea, but others involved in the planning have included the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold, and Ed Ring, editor of UnionFacts.org. Reed pushed a similar initiative city voters approved last November, but it’s being challenged in court.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to deny nearly two years’ worth of back pay to 3,000 city employees, their union charged Sept. 24. “We need wage increases that keep pace with the rising cost of city living for our members, but what the administration has offered doesn’t meet that standard,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. Their contract expired more than a year ago, and the city’s latest offer doesn’t include any retroactive raises, he said. The union is also demanding guarantees that, whenever city services are privatized, those jobs will “remain with city residents at comparable wages and benefits,” but Emanuel has kept legislation to do that bottled up in the City Council’s Rules Committee.
Six Wisconsin public-employee unions on Sept. 24 asked a state judge to hold the state’s Employment Relations Commission in contempt for continuing to schedule decertification elections for more than 400 locals, as required by Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 anti-union law. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas, who decided last year that the law’s restrictions were unconstitutional, ruled earlier last month that the commission can’t enforce them, but did not issue a formal injunction. The commission argued that the unions had asked for the elections; the unions countered that if they hadn’t, they would have been automatically decertified under the law. Lester Pines, an attorney who represents teachers’ unions in Kenosha and Madison, said Walker wants to decertify as many unions as he can and the commissioners are “puppets” defying the court order.
Former Beverly Hills 90210 actress Gabrielle Carteris was elected Sept. 26 as executive vice president of SAG-AFTRA. The more than 350 delegates at the union’s national convention picked Carteris over Mike Hodge, head of the New York local. The convention was the union’s first since it was formed last year by the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. With more than 165,000 members, SAG-AFTRA is the largest entertainment union in the industry.
The Connecticut AFL-CIO elected Lori Pelletier executive secretary-treasurer Sept. 27, making her the first woman to head the 135,000-member federation, and the first openly gay person to lead a state labor federation. Pelletier, a 50-year-old former Pratt & Whitney machinist, had been its second-ranking official for 14 years. However, she will have to take a 21% pay cut, as the state federation is trying to cut costs. “I've been at far too many rallies where our people were getting laid off and we see CEOs making huge money,” she said. “We were not going to do that at the AFL-CIO.”
Touring musicians working for a management company should be covered by unemployment insurance, but the roadies who unload their gear aren’t, a New York appeals court ruled Sept. 26. The state Appellate Division upheld the state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s decision that Columbia Artists Management had enough control over the musicians’ performances—including paying them a flat weekly salary and being able to fire them for alcohol or drug abuse—for them to be employees, not independent contractors. But because the roadies only unloaded equipment trucks and didn’t work inside the venues, the court said Columbia didn’t have to pay unemployment insurance for them.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Wildcat Strike by Boston School-Bus Drivers
Boston school-bus drivers staged a surprise wildcat strike Oct. 8. The one-day walkout came after they found that the National Labor Relations Board, closed by the partial shutdown of the federal government, would not be able to hear their complaints against Veolia Transportation, which took over managing the buses in July. The drivers, members of the United Steelworkers, said Veolia had made it harder for them to take bathroom breaks and had drawn new routes that caused overcrowding and delays, and they shouted down a union official when he told them to “get back to work.” “This morning we decided enough is enough,” said Macaire Dupuy, 47, a driver for 20 years. Mayor Thomas M. Menino called the drivers “a group of angry people who don’t like to follow the rules.”
BART Strike Postponed, But Talks Still Tense
Bay Area Rapid Transit workers postponed a possible strike Oct. 15 as negotiations with management continued until dawn. Pete Castelli, head of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said there was some “movement” after unions presented a late-night counter-offer, but BART Board President Tom Radulovich said “the money is not going to change.” The two unions involved had earlier rejected BART’s “final” offer, saying that its increases in health-care and pension costs would reduce workers’ raises to about 1 percent. Meanwhile, workers at the East Bay bus service AC Transit may go on strike on Thursday the 17th, as they rejected a proposed contract that would have increase their health-care contributions to up to $283 a month.
LIUNA Sends Congress Duct Tape
The Laborers’ International Union of North America sent leaders of Congress rolls of duct tape to symbolize lawmakers’ failed approach to taking care of our transportation infrastructure. “Our nation is literally falling apart,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan wrote. He urged Congress to increase the federal gas tax—18.4 cents a gallon, last raised in 1993—to finance more than $130 billion a year to repair aging highways and bridges. This, he added, would end the “duct-tape approach” and avert disasters like the collapse of the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 in Washington last May and that of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, which killed 13 people.
Postal Workers Elect Leaders Who Pledge to Be More Militant
Members of the American Postal Workers Union, facing a wave of pay cuts, post-office closings, and threats to end Saturday letter delivery, elected a slate of leaders who pledged to fight harder to stop that. The Members First slate, headed by Mark Dimondstein, won seven of the nine seats it contested, the union announced Oct. 8. “We’re at a crossroads,” Dimondstein said before the election. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.” The APWU, one of four postal unions, represents nearly 200,000 maintenance workers, truck drivers, and clerks.
Seattle Grocery Strike Looms Over Health-Care Cuts
With contract talks deadlocked over health-care costs, about 30,000 grocery workers in the Seattle area may go on strike this week. The grocery chains Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, and QFC want to stop insuring 8,000 union members who work 30 hours or less per week, claiming that under Obamacare, they don’t have to cover part-timers. “There is nothing in the law that requires them to eliminate coverage,” says Fred Geiger of UFCW Local 21 in Seattle, one of the four unions involved. The 12 Teamster locals that represent truckdrivers and warehouse workers at many of the supermarkets’ suppliers have pledged to honor picket lines.
VA Furloughs Hit Veterans and Workers
Stanley Walton, who helps homeless veterans in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area find housing and medical benefits, was one of 7,000 “non-essential” employees furloughed by the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration Oct. 8. “It’s devastating,” said Walton, who served 25 years in the Army before taking a job with the VBA eight years ago. “I’ve received calls from veterans, and I have to let them know I can’t help you until the furlough is over.” “VBA is already critically understaffed and the lockout is only making it worse. Our veterans deserve better from their elected leaders,” said Alma Lee of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 208,000 workers with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Washington City to Vote on $15 Minimum Wage
This November, voters in Seatac, Washington will decide whether to increase the local minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Proposition 1 initiative would give raises to thousands of workers at the booming Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is within this city of 27,000 people. “We want to achieve the American dream,” said Abdirahman Abdullahi, a Somali immigrant who earns $11.20 an hour after six years as a Hertz employee and who often works combined 70-hour weeks at two jobs to help support his family of four. “There are certainly a number of other cities where this idea might work,” said David Rolf, the president of a Service Employees International Union local in Seattle that organized to get the measure on the ballot.
Oregon Public Workers Move to Undermine ‘Right to Work’ Initiative
With anti-labor forces in Oregon preparing a ballot initiative that would enable union-represented government workers not to pay dues, officials at two unions have filed competing ballot measures to undermine it. The political director of SEIU Local 503 in Salem filed one that said “no law shall restrict the ability of employers and their employees” to negotiate dues checkoffs, and the state American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ political director filed a similar one that would also adjust the state’s minimum wage for inflation each year. If these initiatives make the ballot, the one that gets the most votes will determine the law.
Bell Helicopter Union Ratifies New Contract
After a long dispute that included a one-day strike in September, members of United Auto Workers Local 218 voted overwhelmingly Oct. 13 to ratify a new five-year contract with Bell Helicopter. The contract covers more than 2,500 machinists, packers and forklift operators in the Fort Worth area, who had been working without a contract since June. The contract apparently does not include cuts in holiday and overtime pay, but it will move new employees to a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan instead of a traditional pension.
Oregon Professors and Adjuncts Win First Contract
Teachers at the University of Oregon approved their first contract almost unanimously Oct. 8, after an organizing campaign that united tenure-track and adjunct faculty. The agreement will set up a framework to give more job security to the contingent workers who make up more than half the faculty, and raise their base pay to $36,000 a year. “The tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty were very united,” said business instructor Ron Bramhall. The university’s 1,800 professors, researchers, and librarians voted in 2012 to join United Academics, which is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
As many as 200,000 garment workers poured into the streets in Bangladesh Sept. 23, blocking roads and attacking vehicles in the industrial areas surrounding Dhaka. The workers are demanding that the government raise the minimum wage from $38 a month to $100. Police said about 300 factories that produce clothing for companies such as Walmart were closed after workers attacked plants that stayed open. At least 50 people were reported injured when police fired tear gas and plastic bullets at the protesters, who responded by throwing broken bricks.
The gap in employment rates between America's highest- and lowest-income families is wider than it’s been in the last decade, according to an analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press. People in households earning less than $20,000 a year have a Depression-level unemployment rate of over 21 percent—and almost as many underemployed—while households with incomes of more than $150,000 have an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. The report also noted that low-wage workers are now older and better educated than ever. “This was no 'equal opportunity' recession or an 'equal opportunity' recovery,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “One part of America is in depression, while another part is in full employment.”
In what’s been described as a contest between Hollywood and New York, SAG-AFTRA’s New York local president, Mike Hodge, is running against Los Angeles First National VP Gabrielle Carteris to be the union’s executive vice president. Hodge, who narrowly defeated Roberta Reardon in the New York local’s election last month, is being backed by union president Ken Howard and Clyde Kusatsu, head of the Los Angeles local. Carteris, who starred on the ’90s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, has been endorsed by Reardon and secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino. The vote will take place at this week’s convention.
The federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction Sept. 19 to delay a vote by Minnesota’s 12,500 in-home child-care providers on joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The state enacted a law to let the workers join unions earlier this year, but the court ordered the vote delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear a challenge to a similar Illinois law. Both challenges are being handled by anti-union litigators the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “It’s a temporary roadblock that doesn’t stop us from organizing,” said AFSCME spokesperson Jennifer Munt. “We are moving full-speed ahead, because child-care providers want a union.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Sept. 18 that he “did not” offer Volkswagen specific incentives to reject the United Auto Workers’ attempts to unionize its Chattanooga factory. State House Democratic Caucus chair Mike Turner of Nashville has filed a request under the state Open Records Act seeking documents that might indicate that Haslam, who opposes unionization, was offering such a deal, saying reports he's heard sound “almost like he’s trying to bribe them if they don't bring the union in.” The UAW has announced that a majority of workers at the Chattanooga plant have signed cards supporting being represented by the union in a European-style works council.
The Seattle office of the National Labor Relations Board held hearings Sept. 16-20 on charges by Unite Here Local 8 that the Space Needle’s management engaged in unfair labor practices, unlawfully encouraging employees to quit the union or stop paying dues. Food and banquet workers at the local landmark have been unionized since it opened in 1962. The NLRB’s administrative law judge isn’t expected to issue a decision for several weeks, said Unite Here Local 8 spokesperson Jasmine Marwaha.
More than one out of every 10 children in the world are doing work considered “child labor,” according to a report issued this month by the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland. The report, “Marking Progress Against Child Labour,” estimated 168 million child laborers worldwide, including 73 million kids under 12 and 85 million in jobs considered “hazardous.” The number of child laborers has declined by almost one-third since 2000, it said. More than three-fourths of them are in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, where one out of every 10 children is working at a “hazardous” job. About two-thirds of child laborers are doing unpaid work for their families, most in farming or services.
The city of Anchorage is appealing to the Alaska Supreme Court, trying to keep an initiative to repeal its new labor law off the city ballot. The law, enacted earlier this year, limits raises, eliminates binding arbitration, and allows outsourcing of work currently done by unions. It was suspended after municipal unions filed a petition for a vote on repeal, and the unions say they’ve gathered enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. In August, local Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth rejected the city’s arguments that the law was too narrow and technical to be judged by voters.
When backers of proposed right-to-work initiatives in Oregon and Washington gathered to plan strategy for 2014 at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., Sept. 5, more than 50 protesters greeted them. Protesters, primarily from construction trades unions, blocked cars and entered the building with signs and a bullhorn. “We want to let them know that they’re not going to come into Washington or Oregon without a fight,” said Eric Fanning, a member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290. The proposed initiatives would outlaw any requirement that public employees pay dues or fees to unions representing their workplaces. On Sept. 12, the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the initiative’s ballot title should be changed from the “Public Employee Choice Act” to something that indicates the “free-rider effect” of letting represented workers avoid union dues.
Hundreds of workers at two of Amazon.com’s shipping and warehouse facilities in Germany went on strike from Sept. 19-21. The brief strikes, in Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig, are the latest in a series organized by the German labor union ver.di to win raises and paid vacation time. “We can't accept that Amazon won't adopt collective bargaining, gaining a competitive advantage at the expense of employees,” Bernhard Schiederig, union negotiator at Amazon’s Bad Hersfeld site, said in a statement. Germany is the online retailer’s second-largest market after the U.S., producing about one-seventh of the company’s revenue.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
With their membership less than one-third what it was in 1979, the United Auto Workers are undertaking an ambitious campaign to break the anti-union regime in the South. UAW President Bob King “has basically staked his legacy” on organizing Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan plants there, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research. “Unless they unionize more of the automotive work force in the country, they will become wage takers, not wage setters.” A key target is the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where 40 percent of the more than 5,000 workers are temporary. The UAW is carrying the campaign to South Africa, Japan, France, and Brazil, where the country’s largest union has pledged to picket Nissan dealerships “until they have a union inside the plant in Mississippi.”
Bernd Osterloh, head of Volkswagen’s global “works council,” said Oct. 7 that he supported the company forming such a council with the United Auto Workers at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He added that having a council was important if the plant wanted to produce other VW cars besides the Passat. More than 80 percent of VW’s factories have such a system, in which the union cedes some rights in exchange for a voice in running the plant, and the company has been negotiating with the UAW about setting one up here. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker both oppose the company recognizing the union.
Mike Burton, a worker at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, said Oct. 4 that he had given management petitions signed by 563 hourly workers opposing the United Auto Workers. “There are no duplicates,” he said. Last month, the UAW said that a majority of the plant’s 1,567 production and skilled maintenance workers had signed cards authorizing it to represent them. Since then, it has said it wants VW to recognize the union using card check.
The partial shutdown of the federal government has meant hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed, and thousands more are working without paychecks—and they’re also doing it without union representation on the job. Because of the shutdown, some federal personnel lawyers have said, it’s illegal for union officials and representatives to get time off from their regular duties to represent other workers. If they do, they will get furloughed.
With federal inspectors not working because of the government shutdown, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, a major military contractor, furloughed 3,000 workers Oct. 4. Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson sent a memo to workers saying more furloughs are likely if Congress doesn’t pass a bill to fund government operations. At Bell Helicopter, another military supplier, CEO John Garrison said his company “cannot rule out impacts later next week.”
Communications Workers of America District 7 voted Sept. 29 to reject a tentative contract deal reached in July with the CenturyLink phone company, Colorado’s largest landline phone service provider. The union, which represents 11,000 call-center operators, network technicians, and other front-line employees in 13 states, has been working under a contract that expired last year, and a temporary extension ended Oct. 3. A District 7 spokesperson said a strike was not imminent. CWA officials told workers last month that “if we went on strike, it would be classified as an economic strike, meaning we could be permanently replaced.”
Labor representatives confronted Darden Restaurants Inc. CEO Clarence Otis, at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Orlando, Florida, last month. Theydemanded to know why the company, which owns the Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Capital Grille restaurant chains, pays its servers only $2.13 an hour, the federal minimum wage for employees who routinely receive tips. Otis, who’d personally lobbied against raising the tipped minimum wage, told the shareholders that “no Darden worker makes $2.13 an hour” and a higher wage for servers “would only fuel additional tension and arguably would be unfair to the non-tipped employees.” The company has 28,000 workers.
The National Labor Relations Board has charged the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with 19 violations against employees involved in a campaign by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to organize service workers at the hospital. The accusations include that UPMC illegally fired four workers for union activity and punished others who testified at NLRB hearings on charges filed last year. A hearing is scheduled for Dec.16.
The Transport Workers Union on Oct. 3 filed a request to intervene in an antitrust lawsuit intended to stop the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways. The union, which represents 26,000 workers at American, told the court it “does not have an independent cause of action or defense to plead, but does have a significant interest in the outcome of the matter.”The lawsuit, filed in August by the Department of Justice and several states, contends that the merger would be anti-competitive and harmful to consumers.
The International Trade Union Confederation said Oct. 4 that the 2022 World Cup should be moved from Qatar to a country that “respects workers.” “Workers from countries including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and increasingly Africa are used as forced labor, denied the right to join a union, live in squalid living conditions, and often are not paid the wages they are promised,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement. The Federation of International Football Associations, she said, “has the power to make workers' rights a condition of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.” FIFA President Sepp Blatter responded that the organization was not responsible for the workers' safety but would not turn a blind eye to the situation.
Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Responding to a lawsuit brought by Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, an Indiana judge has declared the state’s so-called “right to work” law banning union shops unconstitutional. In a ruling issued Sept. 5, Lake County Superior Court Civil Division Judge John Sedia said the 2012 law illegally prohibits unions from collecting fees from nonmembers they are required to represent by federal law. “Put simply,” Sedia wrote, “it becomes a criminal offense for a union to receive just compensation for particular services federal law demands it provide to employees.” Local 150 president-business manager James M. Sweeney called the decision a “big win” against laws that are “thinly veiled tools to weaken unions.” State Attorney General Greg Zoeller will appeal.
California’s minimum wage is going up to $10 an hour. On Sept. 12, the state legislature voted to raise it to $9 as of next July, and it will go to $10 in January 2016, the highest in the country. Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to sign the bill, saying it “establishes California as the national leader in supporting low-wage workers” but that “even at $10, low-wage workers will still struggle.” The increase, the first in six years, will affect more than 2.3 million California workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray on Sept. 12 vetoed a bill that would have boosted the minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $12.50 for workers in large chain stores. The bill, passed 8-5 by the City Council in July, was aimed at Walmart, which is planning to open six stores in the city, and threatened to cancel three if the measure became law. With nine votes needed to override Gray’s veto, Respect DC, a coalition of unions (such as United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400) and community groups, is trying to persuade City Councilmember Tommy Wells, who has supported some living-wage legislation, to switch his vote.
The Labor Department announced Sept. 17 that it will extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home-care workers hired through companies or agencies, beginning in January 2015. The department had previously classified caring for the elderly and disabled as “companionship services,” not covered by wage laws. The nation’s nearly 2 million home care workers are more than 90 percent women, and are covered by wage and hour laws in about 15 states, but specifically excluded in about 20.
The University of Oregon, trying to bargain its first-ever contract with its newly unionized faculty, wanted to get access to their personal computers. In late August, it proposed a contract that would let bosses monitor work e-mail accounts and documents created on employer-provided computers—a policy common in workplaces—and also let the university check faculty’s home computers or e-mails from their personal account “to the extent that they address work-related subjects.” The administration dropped the proposal after it provoked protests from as far away as New York City.
Jerry Dias, president of the newly merged Canadian union Unifor, will meet with Japanese union leaders in December to plan a renewed bid to unionize Toyota and Honda workers in Canada. Dias said he was encouraged by the United Auto Workers’ alliance with Germany’s IG Metall union to organize workers at Volkswagen factories in the U.S. South. “The hypocrisy is that Honda and Toyota are fully organized in Japan,”" he said. “They have decent relations with the Japanese union. Why is it they do everything humanly possible to keep unions out of their North American operations?” John Aman, Unifor's director of organizing, said the union needs signed membership cards from at least 40 per cent of workers to apply for a certification vote.
The federal government on Sept. 13 rejected pleas from labor unions not to deny tax credits to workers who get health insurance in multiemployer “Taft-Hartley plans,” which are common in industries such as construction. Low- and moderate-income people who buy insurance are supposed to get the credits under the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, but the Treasury Department said only those who buy private insurance on exchanges are eligible, not those “covered by an eligible employer-sponsored plan.” The Obama administration’s position, that workers covered by the plans get a tax benefit because employers’ contributions are not counted as taxable income, was closer to that of Congressional Republicans than to that of unions, who said the law creates incentives for employers to drop coverage.
Maids and janitors trying to form a union at the Embassy Suites hotel in Irvine are also trying to get the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association to drop its investment in the hotel. Unite Here Local 11 has been boycotting the hotel for more than two years, and the pension fund has $150 million in a private-equity firm that bought the hotel in 2010. Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran told the association’s investment board last month that it was “responsible for a multibillion-dollar union pension fund that has become heavily invested in an anti-union enterprise.” Fund chief executive Gregg Rademacher said it had exercised whatever influence it had, and the only other option was to sell its investment.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools Sept. 12 to launch its “Full Funding Fridays” campaign, urging city officials to restore money cut from the city’s schools. The city has closed and privatized schools, laid off guidance counselors, and is seeking pay cuts and other concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “Our children deserve more,” said Kia Hinton, education committee co-chair at ACTION United. “They deserve to have enough desks so students aren’t sitting on the floor.” Weingarten later spoke outside a local high school, after the principal told her she couldn’t come in because it would be disruptive.
Temporary food-service workers at the Oregon Zoo in Portland have voted to join Laborers International Union of North America Local 483. The vote, after a months-long organizing campaign, was 61-4. Workers had complained that they has not gotten raises and that as part-time workers, they weren’t covered by the city’s paid sick-leave ordinance. Local 483 representative Megan Hise said the union was “pleasantly surprised” that the Portland metropolitan government did not oppose it.
Threatening a general strike, throwing smoke grenades, and blowing whistles, more than 100,000 Polish union members marched through Warsaw Sept. 14 to vent their anger at Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government raising the retirement age to 67 and allowing longer daily and weekly working hours. “We don't accept a policy that leads to poverty,” Jan Guz, leader of OPZZ, Poland's largest union, told the crowd, saying “we will block the whole country” if the government doesn’t change its policies. With unemployment up to 13 percent, many people are working on short-term contracts without benefits, and Poland’s wages are among Europe’s lowest. One protesting nurse said she makes 2,000 zlotys a month (about $630) after 31 years in her job.