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Weekly Digest – April 15, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

CEO Pay Hits ‘Insane Level’
America’s leading CEOs make more than 330 times as much as the average worker at their companies, according to the 2014 AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch.  PayWatch, released Apr. 14, found that the average CEO of an S&P 500 company pocketed $11.7 million in 2013, while the average worker earned $35,293. Many of these CEOs head companies notorious for paying low wages; Walmart CEO Michael T. Duke received $20.7 million in fiscal 2013. S&P 500 companies earned $41,249 in profits per employee last year, a 38% increase over 2008.

Baltimore Hospital Workers Strike Over Low Pay
Some 2,000 union workers went out on strike Apr. 9 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, beginning a three-day walkout intended to expose low wages at one of the nation’s most prestigious medical facilities. Local 1199SEIU United Health Workers East is pushing for all workers to get at least $14 an hour in 2018, and $15 for those with 15 years or more of experience. 1199SEIU Vice President Vanessa Johnson said that nearly 1,400 its members at Hopkins currently earn less than $14.92, the level at which a single parent with one child will qualify for food stamps, and management’s most recent offer would only raise the minimum from the current $10.71 to $12.25 in 2018. The union estimates that a $15 minimum would cost Hopkins less than $3 million in annual payroll expenses. The nonprofit hospital reported a $145 million surplus last year.

Minnesota Boosts Minimum Wage…
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the largest minimum wage increase in state history Apr. 14, giving raises to more than 325,000 workers there. The bill raises the state’s minimum from $6.15 an hour, one of the nation’s lowest, to $8 on Aug. 1 and $9.50 in 2016. But it exempts smaller businesses, which will only have to pay $7.75 in 2016, and also lets employers pay young workers less. The minimum will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2018, but the state government will have the power to stop those automatic increases.

…And Oklahoma Bans Local Minimums
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin Apr. 14 signed a bill banning local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s or requiring employers to give paid vacation or sick days. Fallin said raising the minimum would force businesses to lay off workers and do nothing to reduce poverty, because many minimum-wage workers are middle-class teenagers. Opponents of the bill say it was intended to pre-empt a campaign in Oklahoma City for a ballot initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Trumka Praises Pennsylvania Organizing
The jobs have moved from mills and mines to hospitals and casinos, but Western Pennsylvania is once again a hot spot for the nation’s labor movement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Apr. 10. “There’s more organizing drives going on in Pittsburgh than in any other city of the country,” he told the state AFL-CIO convention. With the SEIU targeting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health-care chain and campaigns at the Rivers Casino and three local universities, he said, there are now organizing drives at workplaces that employ 45,000 people. He also praised the United Steelworkers for supporting the SEIU’s efforts.

Tennessee’s Dirty Dozen: 12 Who Subverted VW Vote
The anti-UAW campaign at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant was a coordinated effort among Tennessee politicians, anti-union consultants, the nation’s leading right-wing activists, and AstroTurf organizations that purported to be groups of rank-and-file workers. The individuals and groups involved included Sen. Bob Corker and his chief of staff, Todd Womack; Grover Norquist’sCenter for Worker Freedom; state Republican chair Robin Smith, who compared the UAW to an “infestation” of “wasp larvae”; and Southern Momentum, Inc.,which claimed to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, but was run by Chattanooga anti-union lawyer Maury Nicely, received no money from actual workers, and hired the “union avoidance” firm Projections Inc.

Mississippi Pastors Support UAW Drive
As the UAW tries to organize the more than 5,000 workers at Nissan’s plant in Canton, Mississippi, local ministers have joined the campaign, forming the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. “People are going to work tired, and leaving tired. There is too much pressure on the assembly line,” said the Rev. Charles Miller. “We need to wake up the conscience of the management.” For Bishop Ronnie Crudup, it’s about stopping workers from being “mistreated and demeaned,” a civil-rights issue like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

Laborers Warn Dems onKeystone Pipeline
The Laborers' International Union of North America sent a letter Apr. 11 to members in the districts of 27 House Democrats who have opposed the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, telling them that “these so-called ‘friends’ of ours are destroying good-paying work opportunities” and should “feel the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.” The 27 include Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt of New Jersey. The pipeline’s opponents say it will be an environmental catastrophe, but the LIUNA letter said cancelling it “will do nothing to reduce climate change,” and that the jobs it will create are “a lifeline” for members.

UFCW, California Supermarkets Call in Mediator
The United Food & Commercial Workers and Southern California’s three largest supermarket chains have asked a federal mediator to join their contract talks. The UFCW represents about 60,000 grocery workers in Southern California, and its members at the Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons stores have been working under an expired contract for more than a month. The two sides agreed to extend the contract to May 11, but “it’s still glacial,” said Greg Conger, president of Local 324, which represents workers in Orange County. “The talks are not moving at all.”

Long-Term Unemployment Up for All Demographic Groups
The odds of being out of work for six months or longer tripled for all U.S. workers from 2007 to 2013, regardless of their education level, age, occupation, industry, gender, race or ethnicity, according to data posted by the Economic Policy Institute Apr. 9. The total long-term unemployment rate jumped from 0.8% to 2.8%, and it more than quadrupled for workers in management, educational, and health services. “Today’s long-term unemployment crisis is not at all confined to unlucky or inflexible workers who happen to be looking for work in specific occupations or industries where jobs aren’t available,” EPI economist Heidi Shierholz wrote, adding that the across-the-board breadth of the crisis means it “is not due to something wrong with these workers.”

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