Labor News Briefs

Weekly Digest - March 10, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wisconsin Labor Eyes Tough Future
With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signing a “right to work for less” bill March 9, unions in the state are mulling their options to fight back. A spokesperson for the AFL-CIO said the federation is “looking into the possibilities” for a legal challenge, but the odds of winning one are long: Federal law lets states prohibit unions from requiring fees from all workers they represent, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court has a “very partisan, very political” 4-3 right-wing majority, says Paul Secunda, director of the labor-law program at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Repealing it would depend on Democrats recapturing the heavily gerrymandered state Assembly. Meanwhile, Walker and the legislature will push to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law this week, and also plan to prevent local governments from making project-labor agreements. Read more

Illinois AG Takes on Gov’s Anti-Labor Lawsuit
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion Mar. 9 to dismiss Gov. Bruce Rauner’s lawsuit to void the state law that lets state workers’ unions collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers they represent. The governor “does not have the legal authority… to challenge the law in federal court,” Madigan said in a statement. “Because the governor’s case questions the validity of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, I moved to intervene to provide the court with arguments regarding the law’s constitutionality.” Rauner, who issued an executive order banning fair-share fees last month, has gotten an outside law firm to handle his suit for free. Meanwhile, several Illinois unions are challenging that order in state courts. Read more

Unions Lobby Against Fast-Tracking Trade Deals
Hundreds of members of the AFL-CIO and other unions visited more than 100 Congressmembers last week, urging them to vote against fast-tracking trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The campaign pits labor against the Obama administration, which is seeking “trade promotion authority” that would prevent Congress from making amendments to such deals. The President is working with more moderate Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, while pro-labor Democrats are opposed. “We can’t afford another bad trade deal,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said at a rally. “We’re not going to rubber-stamp their agreement.” Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is wrangling with ranking minority member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the panel’s ranking member, who wants any fast-track measure to let Congress end the amendment ban if members aren’t happy with a trade pact. Read more

‘Mountaineer Workers Rising’ Rally in West Virginia
Thousands of people rallied outside the West Virginia capitol in Charleston Mar. 7 to protest the state legislature’s anti-labor agenda. The new Republican majority is pushing to weaken mine-safety and prevailing-wage laws, increase the number of charter schools, and outlaw the union shop. “For nearly 60 days, they’ve conspired with their big owners and their big donors and out-of-state corporations to lower your wages and to take your benefits,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the crowd. “Richest nation on earth, at its most rich point in time, and we can’t figure out how to pay people decent wages.” Members of the United Mine Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, School Service Personnel Association, and more came in on buses from all across West Virginia and neighboring states. Read more

Ohio Teachers Unions Aim to Organize Top Charter Schools
The Franklinton Preparatory Academy high school in Columbus became Ohio’s first union charter school last week, with teachers voting to affiliate with the Ohio Education Association. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is also campaigning to organize charters, concentrating on the minority that are doing well. “We don’t feel right in organizing teachers in a school we are trying to shut down,” says OFT President Melissa Cropper. A key issue is that the charters have high turnover and can fire teachers in the middle of the year without cause. The OFT has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that two Cleveland charters run by the I CAN SCHOOLS chain did not renew contracts for seven teachers after they tried to organize a union. “We felt scared to speak out,” says Mason Pesek, who teaches in one of those schools. “We had many expectations that went above and beyond the time we were given to accomplish them.” Read more

Pittsburgh Firefighters Reach Contract Deal
The city of Pittsburgh reached agreement on a four-year contract with the International Association of Firefighters Local No. 1 on Mar. 6. The deal gives small raises—none this year, 1% in 2016, and 2% in both 2017 and 2018—but preserves staffing levels and doesn’t close any of the city’s 30 fire stations. “The city is still dealing with financial problems but [this deal] still maintains the safety necessary for the residents as well as our firefighters,” said Local 1 President Ralph Sicuro. The union’s members voted 85% in favor of approving the contract. Read more

Weekly Digest - March 4, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Teachers Hold ‘Call Out Cuomo’ Rally in Massena
Several hundred people turned out Feb. 28 for a “Call Out Cuomo” rally in the northern New York town of Massena. The speakers, who included American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee, stood next to a cardboard cutout of Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Massena High School and criticized his plans to give schools only about half of the $2 billion increase recommended by the state Board of Regents. Cuts in state aid over the past few years have forced major staffing cuts and elimination of courses at many North Country public schools, they said. Colton-Pierrepont Central Superintendent Joe Kardash added that the governor’s proposed teacher-evaluation system would decrease local administrators' input from 60% to 15%of a teacher’s rating. NYSUT also held similar rallies in Plattsburgh and Watertown. Read more

AFSCME President Demands Apology from Scott Walker
Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, on Feb. 27 demanded that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker apologize for his remarks the day before that he was tough enough to handle ISIS because he’d taken on “100,000 protesters” against his union-busting bills in 2011. “We’re not going to stand by and let Scott Walker smear hard-working Americans, simply because they exercise their First Amendment freedom to disagree with him,” Saunders said in a statement. “To compare the 100,000 men and women who stood up in Madison and called Governor Walker out for his attack on workers’ freedom to terrorists is disgusting.” He noted that numerous AFSCME members had worked in the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks, including Father Mychal Judge, the Fire Department chaplain killed when the World Trade Center collapsed. AFSCME Council 24 represents Wisconsin state workers, and numerous locals and other councils represent local government workers in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Read more

Jersey Unions to Sue Christie on Pensions
Fourteen New Jersey public-sector unions have instructed their lawyers to prepare a lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie for illegally underfunding pensions, the state AFL-CIO announced March 3. The governor’s fiscal 2016 budget, the federation said in a statement, is the third consecutive one in which he has failed to include payments to the state’s pension fund mandated by Chapter 78, “the 2011 pension law that he negotiated, promoted and signed.” “Last year, the Legislature funded the pensions according to the law, and Gov. Christie vetoed it,” said New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer. “Last month, the court ordered that legally required funding and Gov. Christie defied it.  It’s time to return to the rule of law in our state and to protect the future of hundreds of thousands of New Jersey families.” The 14 unions suing include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 1, the state’s two main teachers’ unions, the Communications Workers of America, and the Fraternal Order of Police. Read more

Thousands Gather in Wisconsin to Protest ‘Right to Work for Less’
Thousands of people rallied Feb. 28 at the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison to protest an anti-union-shop bill expected to be passed by the state Assembly this Thursday. The state Senate approved the so-called “right to work” measure last week, and Gov. Scott Walker says he will sign it. “We know that when wages go down for some, wages go down for all, and ‘right to work’ will not create a single job,” Central Labor Council AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt told the crowd. Two other rallies last week drew about 2,000 people each. Read more

More Silicon Valley Bus Drivers Vote to Join Teamsters
Bus drivers at the company that shuttles workers to jobs at Silicon Valley tech firms like Apple and Genentech have voted 140-38 to join the Teamsters Union. The Compass Transportation drivers objected to wages that aren’t enough to cover housing costs and to split shifts, which often force them to stay on corporate campuses or in bus yards for up to eight hours without pay. “You work eight hours a day, but you are at the job 18 hours,” driver Tracy Kelly said before the vote. “We have drivers that live in their cars.” The vote came less than a week after drivers at Loop Transportation, Facebook’s bus contractor, approved their first Teamsters contact. It raised their wages by $5.75 an hour on average from about $17, included employer-paid health insurance and 401k matching, and modified the split-shift system.
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CSEA Celebrates End of Lottery Outsourcing
The Civil Service Employees Association declared victory this winter, when the last contract employees left a pilot program that had them doing the same job as civil-service workers for the New York State Lottery. State officials had given GTECH, an Italian company that manages lotteries around the world, $25 million in September 2012 for the program, but the last of its 20 workers left Jan. 31, CSEA reported in its magazine Work Force. Hiring 20 state employees from the active civil-service list would have cost less than $1 million over the same period, the union said.  Read more

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