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Weekly Digest – April 30, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

JetBlue Pilots Win Union
The 2,500 pilots at JetBlue Airways voted by a 3-1 margin in late April to join the Air Line Pilots Association. The vote is the first time a union has won at JetBlue, which has strongly opposed attempts at organizing, since it was founded in 2000. JetBlue, the only one of 12 major U.S. air carriers whose pilots aren’t union members, ranks last among them in pilots’ pay, benefits, and pensions. One pilot complained of “Walmart-style insurance with high premiums, high deductibles, and high out-of-pocket expenses. … the worst in the industry.”

AFT Seeks End to ‘Gag Order’ on Tests
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has urged Pearson, the world’s largest standardized-test company, to stop prohibiting teachers and principals from talking about what’s on the tests, as its contracts with New York and other states do. In an April 24 letter to CEO John Fallon, Weingarten said the policy meant that “parents aren’t allowed to know what is on their children’s tests” and “educators have no voice in how assessments are created and are forbidden from raising legitimate concerns about these assessments’ quality.” Pearson denied that it was responsible for the bans, saying they’re a matter of state policy.

Recovery Creates Mostly Low-Wage Jobs
Since 2010, the number of jobs has risen back to what it was before the recession began in 2008—but most of the new jobs are low-paying, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project released Apr. 27. Lower-wage industries, defined as paying less than about $13.33 an hour, have gained more than 1.8 million jobs since 2008. Higher-paid industries, which lost 3.6 million jobs in the recession, are still almost a million short of the number in 2008, and mid-wage industries have lost a similar amount. “Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end—the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author.

Movie Worker’s Death Was Preventable, Crew Member Says
Movie hairstylist Joyce Gilliard, who almost lost her arm when she was hit by the train killed camera assistant Sarah Jones in February, says the accident “could have been prevented if safety preventions and protocols were met and people who were in charge made conscious decisions to ensure we were safe.” Gilliard, who was working with Jones on Midnight Rider, a biopic about Southern-rock singer Gregg Allman, says crew members filming on a railroad bridge had less than 60 seconds to escape when the train came. “Each one of these workplace fatalities is a wake-up call,” said Peter Dooley of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.

Mulgrew Praises de Blasio Agenda, but Won’t Talk Contract Details
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who has spent most of his tenure battling former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies, said April 23 that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointees offer an opportunity to develop a better system for evaluating teachers. “I think with people who understand education sitting at a table, we’ll be able to come up with a system that makes a little bit more sense and is actually about helping the teachers,” he said, a “support system” instead of a “compliance mechanism.” The UFT’s 125,000 members have been working without a contract since 2009, and the union is seeking retroactive raises for them.

Submarine Builders OK Five-Year Contract
Members of the Metal Trades Council at the Electric Boat submarine plant in Groton, Conn., voted overwhelmingly April 22 to approve a five-year contract that will give them raises of 3% or more a year. The deal increases pensions for current employees, but new workers hired after the end of the year will get a 401(k) plan instead. MTC president Kenneth DelaCruz called the pact “a good contract” considering the economic climate, and said it shows that “the company acknowledges the skill sets of the workforce and recognizes that you have to maintain these skill sets.

Teamsters Overrule Locals to Ratify UPS Contract
Overruling no votes by three locals, Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall declared a five-year contract with UPS ratified in April. Locals in Philadelphia, western Pennsylvania, and Louisville, Kentucky had held up the national contract by demanding improvements in local supplements and riders to it, with Louisville’s Local 89 voting 94% no on April 16, objecting to unpaid travel time and wanting more full-time jobs. Hall said he’d stepped in because the locals didn’t have the power to reject national-level changes to health care, which included concessions on coverage for part-timers.

Pennsylvania Supermarket Terminates UFCW Contract
The Acme Markets supermarket chain announced April 23 that it was unilaterally terminating its contract with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, effective at the end of the month. The company that acquired Acme last year said it didn’t want to pay an increase in contributions to the joint employer-employee health-care fund that was due May 1. “Acme is trying to avoid their responsibility by terminating the contract,” said Local 1776 head Wendell Young 4th. The 2,700 Acme employees in southeastern Pennsylvania the union represents have been working without a contract for more than two years. A company spokesperson said Acme would pay workers and follow rules under the old contract until a new one is negotiated.

Sherpas Mull Strike on Mount Everest
The Nepalese Sherpas who guide climbers up Mount Everest moved April 22 to cancel all trips up the world’s highest mountain for the season, after at least 13 of their coworkers were killed in a landslide April 18. Foreigners pay tour companies as much as $100,000 to climb the mountain, but the Sherpas make only $3,000 to $5,000 a season—still a high salary in impoverished Nepal. Nepalese authorities offerered 40,000 rupees, about $410, as compensation to the families of the dead.

Labor Historian Calls ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’ a Lie
The idea that saving the environment is incompatible with good jobs—often expressed in disputes between environmentalists and labor over projects like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline—is bogus, argues labor historian Jeremy Brecher. “We all need a livelihood and we all need a livable planet to live on,” he writes. “If we don’t address both, we’ll starve together while we’re waiting to fry together.” Instead, he contends, we should have a “green New Deal” to create jobs that protect the environment, shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, expanding public transportation, and fixing failing water and sewer pipelines.

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