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Weekly Digest – April 2, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

NLRB Says College Athletes Have Right to Unions
A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Mar. 26 that a group of Northwestern University football players were employees of the university and thus have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Peter Ohr, head of the Chicago office, wrote that because the players devoted 40 to 60 hours a week to football during the preseason and season, received compensation in the form of scholarships, and can have their scholarships revoked by coaches, “it cannot be said” that they are “primarily students.” Northwestern is appealing the ruling, which could set a precedent applying to scholarship football players at other private universities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I.

Chicago Unions Slam Mayor’s Pension Plan
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to reduce the city’s pension debt is to raise property taxes and cut retirement benefits for almost 50,000 city workers and retirees. The mayor’s plan, outlined Mar. 31, would require employees to pay more of their salaries into the pension fund, while giving retirees fewer and lower cost-of-living increases. Emanuel said he had significant union support, but the We Are One Chicago union coalition called the plan “an unconstitutional approach that makes onerous cuts.” Under it, the coalition contended, a worker retiring in 2015 with a $33,500 pension would eventually see its value eroded to $22,700.

Federal Judge Allows 5/8 of Suit Against Michigan ‘Right to Work’
Michigan labor groups can proceed with a challenge to the state’s 2012 law banning union shops, a federal judge ruled Mar. 31. “Michigan has legislated, or at the very least arguably legislated, outside the boundaries” of what the National Labor Relations Act permits, U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy in Detroit wrote. Andrew Nickelhoff, an attorney for the state AFL-CIO and other labor groups, said the judge could strike down the entire law if he finds some provisions invalid. But antilabor forces, including state Attorney General Bill Schuette, also claimed a victory, as the judgedismissed three of the suit’s eight claims.

Missouri Unions Protest ‘Right to Work’ Bills
Hundreds of union members and supporters packed the lawn outside of the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City Mar. 26, carrying signs reading “Right to Work is a Ripoff,” “Solidarity,” and “Stop the War on Workers.” State House Speaker Tim Jones has repeatedly said that passing legislation prohibiting union shops is a priority for this year’s session, but Gov. Jay Nixon told the crowd he would not hesitate to veto any that passed. The House is considering a measure to put a union- shop ban on the ballot for the state primaries in August, bypassing the governor.

U.S. trade policy has “proved to be primarily a vehicle to increase corporate profits at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself,” the AFL-CIO charges in “NAFTA at 20,” a report issued Mar. 27. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, it says, led to stagnant wages and weaker unions in all three countries, almost 700,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs moved to Mexico, and the loss of 2 million jobs in Mexican agriculture.

County Considers Scabs in Vermont Bus Strike
As a bus drivers’ strike in Vermont’s Chittenden County entered its third week Mar. 31, the county Transportation Authority’s board voted 12-1 to consider hiring strikebreakers. The drivers, members of Teamsters Local 597, unanimously rejected management’s contract offer. Driver and steward Nate Bergeron said the authority would not agree to keep split shifts limited to 12.5 hours, even after the union had compromised on letting it hire part-time drivers. The strike, which began March 17, has affected about 9,700 daily riders, including 2,400 Burlington schoolchildren.

Alaska AFL-CIO Asks Legislature to Wait for Minimum-Wage Vote
AlaskaAFL-CIO president Vince Beltrami told legislators Mar. 29 that they shouldn’t vote to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 an hour before voters decide on whether to increase it to $8.75 on Jan. 1 and $9.75 in 2016. The initiative is on the ballot for this summer’s primary elections, and it would be removed if the state enacts a substantially similar bill. Organizers fear a repeat of what happened in 2002, when the legislature pre-empted an initiative by raising the minimum and then reduced it the next year.

Milwaukee Janitors Say Walker Blacklisted Them
AFSCME’s District Council 48 has filed a suit against Milwaukee County in federal court, charging that it blacklisted 25 janitors at the county courthouse for being union members. The 25 were laid off in 2009 when then-county executive Scott Walker, now governor, privatized janitorial services and gave the contract to a campaign contributor. The suit alleges that the county refused to give them references “or provided false information” when they applied for other jobs. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Walker's former chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, sent an e-mail that stated, “We are never going to get DC 48, so I would furlough the hell out of them. Find the most senior members and burn them a new one!”

UAW Membership Up for Fourth Year
The United Auto Workers gained almost 9,000 members last year, bringing its total membership to 391,415, the union announced Mar. 29. It was the fourth consecutive year the UAW has grown, although membership is still a fraction of the more than 1.5 million it was in 1979. The union benefited from job growth in Detroit’s auto industry and from organizing southern vehicle assemblers and suppliers, including Navistar’s IC Bus plant in Tulsa, Okla., Flex-n-Gate in Arlington, Texas, and Faurecia in Louisville, Ky. It also got thousands of new members by organizing at casinos in Ohio and Las Vegas.

NYSUT Charges LI Charter School With ‘Union-Busting’
The New York State United Teachers has filed an improper labor practice charge against the Riverhead Charter School, the first charter school in the state to be unionized. The complaint, filed with the Public Employees Relations Board in February, says the school’s administration fired teachers who were union supporters while pressuring the others to support decertifying the Riverhead Charter School Employees Association. “It’s one of the worst instances of union animus and intimidation of employees I've seen in my 15-year-plus career,” said Peter Verdon, regional staff director of NYSUT Local 22170. “This is a classic textbook example of why in 2014 people need unions.” Teachers at the school can be fired without cause, and Jaclyn Scoglio-Walsh, one of the five sacked since September, had been named “Teacher of the Year.”

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