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Weekly Digest – August 13, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Kansas Teachers Challenge Tenure Ban
The Kansas National Education Association filed a lawsuit Aug. 11 to overturn the state’s new law ending tenure for public-school teachers. The union is arguing that the Republican-dominated legislature violated the state constitution’s provision that bills should generally have only one subject by tacking the tenure ban onto a school-funding measure. The law, which went into effect July 1, repealed teachers’ right to an independent review of any dismissal if they have more than three years on the job. Gov. Sam Brownback dismissed the lawsuit as “an exercise in labor union politics.”
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California Millionaire Backs Ending Tenure in New York
David Welch, the Silicon Valley millionaire who bankrolled the lawsuit against teacher tenure in California, wants to do the same in New York. Welch will fund an anti-tenure suit filed in Staten Island last month by the Parents Union. Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, will represent them. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown has filed a similar suit. "Once again, we see the right-wing and the wealthy elite trying to take away basic rights—like due process—from teachers,” responded New York State United Teachers spokesperson Carl Korn. “If Mr. Welch and other 1 percenters wanted to truly help students in New York City and other high-poverty communities, they would join parents, teachers, and teachers unions in fighting for adequate resources and the support programs students need.” Read more

Ontario Bus Lockout Ends
A two-week lockout of transit workers in Guelph, Ontario ended Aug. 5 after the City Council reached a contract agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189. The deal, which replaces a contract that expired in 2013, will raise wages by 6.8% over four years, to C$28.85 per hour (about $26.38) in 2017, but will also reduce long-term disability payments from 75% of salary to 70%. It also promises to give workers a lunchroom and more bathroom access. Read more

Machinists Sue Manufacturer on Outsourcing
The International Association of Machinists union sued aircraft parts maker Spirit AeroSystems Aug. 8, seeking to stop it from selling off its fabrication operations in Wichita, Kansas. The union says the company told it in May that it was planning to sell the unit, which would eliminate about 1,200 jobs, and that Spirit also intends to outsource support work done by about 200 other employees. In 2010, the Machinists signed a 10-year contract that sacrificed pay increases and the right to strike in exchange for Spirit keeping its major manufacturing operations in Wichita. Read more

32BJ Hits Boston on Janitor Layoffs
The Boston transit system’s proposal to reduce the 92 layoffs scheduled for next month would still cost too many janitors their jobs, Service Employees International Union 32BJ says. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority General Manager Beverly A. Scott announced Aug. 8 that it would renegotiate contracts with cleaning-service companies so they couldn’t lay off workers who clean subway stations, but could still dismiss janitors in facilities not open to the public, such as garages. “We put out ways in which they would have cost savings, but cuts wouldn’t be so draconian,” said 32BJ New England director Roxana Rivera, who added that the union would continue appealing to Gov. Deval Patrick. Read more

UNITE HERE Alleges Racial Inequality in Airport Jobs
Black service workers at Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall International (BWI) Airport are far more likely to be working in fast-food and “back of the house” restaurant jobs, according to a survey released by UNITE HERE July 28. The survey found that while 59% of the airport workers who responded were black, African-Americans were 83% of fast-food workers there and only 30% of “front of the house” restaurant workers such as waiters and bartenders. UNITE HERE has been trying to organize BWI workers, who lost their union after Maryland outsourced managing the airport’s food and retail services to AirMall USA in 2004. Read more

NLRB Says Water Company Illegally Cut Benefits
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the nation’s largest for-profit water company illegally cut health care and other benefits for about 3,200 workers in 2011. The board said American Water imposed the cuts during a contract dispute without notifying state mediation agencies, and ordered it to restore the benefits and give the affected workers back pay with interest.  “This decision is another huge step in our efforts to win justice for American Water employees,” said Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, which filed the charge against the company and estimates that it owes several million dollars in back pay. Read more

California Drought Parches Farmworkers
California’s record-setting drought has hit the state’s farmworkers hard, costing them an estimated 17,000 jobs and reducing their already low pay. “We hear about workers asking for wage increases and getting laid off because there’s someone else willing to work for $9 per hour,” says Ephraim Camacho of California Legal Assistance in Fresno. Some employers who once paid by the hour now only pay piecework, by the bucket, and drought-stunted fruit and vegetables make it harder for workers to fill the buckets. “With less water, the oranges are smaller, and you have to work longer,” says United Farm Workers organizer Antonio Cortes. As more than 90 percent of the farmworkers he organizes are undocumented immigrants, they are generally not eligible for government aid such as unemployment insurance.
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CWA Mocks Christie on Pensions
With the Discovery Channel holding its annual “shark week,” the Communications Workers of America’s New Jersey chapter posted a parody video called “Shirk Week” on YouTube Aug. 11. The video mixes clips from speeches by Gov. Chris Christie with newspaper headlines like “Christie Cheats NJ Pension Reform” to a soundtrack of ominous music similar to the theme from Jaws. “The governor already broke New Jersey’s economy,” the CWA says. “Now, he’s not only broken his word by failing to make promised pension payments, he’s breaking the law.” In June, the governor cut $1.57 billion from a required payment for the state’s pension funds. Read more

Rhode Island Pension Foe Hides Wall Street Payments
Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who has advocated cutting public workers’ pensions while moving a quarter of the state’s retirement funds into higher-risk investments such as hedge funds and private equity, has refused to release information on how much the state is paying Wall Street for those deals. In a letter obtained by International Business Times, Raimondo said that hedge-fund managers “keep this information confidential to help preserve the productivity of their staff and to minimize attention around their own compensation.” An AFSCME-financed report in 2013 found that the fees paid to investment managers had increased almost sixfold since Raimondo took office in 2011, with the state getting a lower rate of return. The treasurer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has gotten well over half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the financial industry. Read more

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