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Weekly Digest – August 1, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Fast-Food Workers Stage One-Day Strike

Chanting “Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make our wages super-size,” fast-food workers in New York and five other cities staged a one-day strike July 29, demanding a raise to $15 an hour and the right to join unions without retaliation. “I can’t support my family on $7.25, I could barely support myself on $7.25,” one KFC worker in New York said. Workers in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Kansas City also walked out. In response, Burger King issued a statement saying it provides millions of entry-level jobs and is not responsible for individual franchises’ wages or working conditions. 

Senate Confirms Five NLRB Nominees

The Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board July 30, giving the board a full five members for the first time in more than a decade. New nominees Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer got only one Republican vote, but were confirmed by 54-44. Two Republicans, Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, were confirmed by voice votes, and incumbent chair Mark Gaston Pearce was approved by 59-38. The vote came after a compromise ended a Republican filibuster that threatened to reduce the board to only two members, too few to function legally.

Detroit Pension-Fund Suits Go to Federal Court

U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist July 30 ordered that lawsuits filed against Detroit’s bankruptcy by the city’s two pension systems should be moved to federal court. A county judge in Lansing, Rosemarie Aquilina, had ruled that the bankruptcy violated the state constitution’s prohibition on cutting pensions. But Judge Quist approved a request by state-imposed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who wanted the suits handled by the same court overseeing the city’s bankruptcy. Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder are planning to cut pension benefits for 20,000 retirees and the about 9,500 current city employees who are paying into the system.

China Labor Watch Accuses iPhone Subcontractor

China Labor Watch, a New York-based labor-rights group, on July 29 accused Apple subcontractor Pegatron of cheating workers out of pay and forcing them to work almost 70 hours a week. Pegatron, a five-year-old Taiwanese company, employs more than 130,000 people to build the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 and other products at factories in mainland China. China Labor Watch also reported that Pegatron forced pregnant women to work 11-hour days, pressured workers to falsify their time cards to show fewer hours than they actually put in, and refused to hire people over 35, Tibetans, or Uighurs. Apple said its audit had found that Pegatron employees worked an average of 46 hours per week, below the legal maximum of 49 hours.

Judge Won’t Stop Day-Care Union Drive in Minnesota

Federal Judge Michael Davis on June 28 dismissed two lawsuits trying to prevent unions from organizing Minnesota day-care workers. The suits, filed by owners of in-home day-care centers, were in response to a May state law that said day-care workers could join unions if the children’s care was subsidized by the state. The judge said that because the law did not require the 12,700 workers covered to join unions, the owners could not prove that it had actually harmed them yet.

Walmart Tries to Quash Union’s Parody Web Site

Walmart has filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization against the United Food and Commercial Workers’ use of the domain name, claiming it’s infringing on their trademark., which states that it’s a parody site “in no way affiliated with Walmart,”features stories from Walmart workers about low wages and mistreatment on the job. It’s a response to the company’s, which defends Walmart's wages as “at or above the retail industry average.” That site also features blurbs from workers about how much they like their jobs—although the closest any come to praising their pay is one woman who says getting bonuses is “awesome.”

Full NLRB Might Help Virginia Shipyard Union

The Senate’s confirmation of President Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board might help the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ efforts to organize nuclear-safety workers at a shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. The NLRB had ordered Newport News Shipbuilding to bargain with the 223 workers, but last year, a federal appeals court struck that down on the grounds that Obama’s recess appointees to the board were illegal. Bill Haller, the IAMAW's associate general counsel, was optimistic that now that the NLRB has a quorum, it would again rule in favor of recognizing the union.

Oregon Truck-Plant Strike Ends

Workers at Daimler Trucks North America’s Western Star truck plant in Portland ended a three-week strike and returned to work July 23. Machinists Lodge 1005 and Painters Local 1094 accepted a company offer largely the same as the one they’d rejected, except for a 25-cents-per-hour raise in 2016 and a little more time for workers to retire before the company stops paying for health insurance for people over 65. “I don’t think we won. I don’t think we lost,” Painters business representative Dave Winkler said.

Anti-Union Lawmakers Eye “Worker Centers”

Key Congressional Republicans and anti-union groups are beginning to look at “worker centers” and other alternative ways of labor organizing, claiming that they’re front groups for unions trying to avoid elections and restrictions on picketing and boycotts. “Today, many of these worker centers are dealing with employers directly on behalf of employees," Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in late July, citing the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance’s campaign to get restaurants in its Los Angeles neighborhood to increase minimum wages. The Center for Union Facts, the Heritage Foundation, and the Mackinac Center in Michigan have also joined in.

Oakland Airport Workers Strike Against Unfair Practices

Workers at Oakland Airport’s food concessionsstaged a one-day strike July 28. The city’s living-wage law and port regulations require concessions to pay at least $13.45 per hour or $11.70 with health care, but Subway worker Hakima Arhab said the franchise’s owner forced employees to work at other sites for minimum wage. "They'd make us open at one store and close at another," she said. "Sometimes they'd have someone work 26 hours straight without any overtime pay or any breaks.” UNITE HERE won a National Labor Relations Board ruling that Arhab and two other workers had been illegally fired for union activity, but her boss has refused to take her back since April.

Postal Workers Warn That House Bill Would Kill Postal Service

On July 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 22-17 along party lines to approve the Postal Reform Act of 2013. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), would phase out door-to-door mail delivery by 2022 and eliminate most weekend mail service. American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey said the bill “will lead to the demise of the Postal Service.” National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando told Issa that if he really wants to solve the Postal Service’s financial problems, he should end the “unwise and unfair” mandate that it pay for retirees’ health benefits 75 years in advance.

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