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Weekly Digest – August 14, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Chicago Guitar Center Workers Vote for Union

Workers at a Guitar Center store in Chicago voted Aug. 9 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It’s the second Guitar Center where employees have joined the RWDSU, which may take the organizing campaign national. The $2 billion company, owned by Bain Capital, tried to discourage them from unionizing, but workers objected to the company’s “fading” system, in which their hourly pay is deducted from their sales commissions. “I make exactly as much as I did when I started here seven years ago,” says Brian Webb, 33, an $11-an-hour sales associate who voted for the union. “Anyone who works a hard, 40-hour week should be able to earn an honest living.”

Railroad Contract Workers Strike in Chicago

Thirty workers doing locomotive-servicing jobs outsourced by the Union Pacific railroad are on strike, charging unfair labor practices by their employer, Mobile Rail Solutions. After the workers announced a bid for union recognition in July and filed safety complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mobile hired a union-busting law firm and fired three workers. Because the Mobile workers are contract employees, they are not bound by federal laws restricting railroad strikes, but they make $14 an hour and have no pension or health benefits. The strikers are represented by the Industrial Workers of the World, and being helped by the cross-union group Railroad Workers United.

Teachers Attack Florida Privatization

In an Aug. 12 speech to hundreds of teachers in Miami, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called Florida “ground zero for every single market-based experiment that has been done to our children.” The AFT also requested that the state turn over all communications between former education commissioner Tony Bennett and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and a charter-school company that the union says employs Bennett’s wife. Bennett resigned Aug. 1 after it was revealed that while superintendent of schools in Indiana, he had changed the grade for a Republican party donor’s charter school from a C to an A. “We want to follow the paper trail,” Weingarten told reporters. Bush spokesperson Jaryn Emhof called the request “an intimidation tactic” to protect unions’ political power.

Machinists Hold Off Teamsters in US Air Mechanics’ Vote

The nearly 5,000 mechanics at US Airways have voted to stay with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, instead of switching to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Results announced Aug. 12 said the Machinists, who have represented US Air mechanics since 1949, had won 57 percent of the vote. The Teamsters are also trying to win mechanics at American Airlines, which is planning to merge with US Air, away from the Transport Workers Union. The TWU has accused the Teamsters of forging signature cards.

Judge Orders Cooling-Off Period, Averting BART Strike

A San Francisco judge averted a second strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers Aug. 9, ordering a 60-day cooling-off period, but unions and management are still far apart on the on the key issues of pay, pensions, and health care. BART’s last offer was for a 10 percent pay raise over four years, but employees would have to contribute part of that to their pensions, rising from 1 percent in the first year to 4 percent in the fourth. The unions had earlier requested a 6.5 percent raise in the first year and 15 percent over the next three, and offered pension contributions of 7 percent a year. They also want BART to improve workplace safety.

Trumka Seeks to Recruit Non-Union Workers and Groups Into AFL-CIO

Calling the labor movement in crisis, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he will push the federation to let nonunion workers and outside groups as the Sierra Club and the NAACP join. He said that joining with unrepresented workers and liberal-leaning religious, environmental, and civil-rights groups is essential to increase unions’ political clout. “What we’ve been doing the last 30 years hasn’t worked real well. We need to do things differently,” he told USA Today. But this coalition could see conflict on issues such as the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which many building-trades unions support and environmental groups oppose.

Illinois Honeywell Plant Denies Summer Vacations

Workers at Honeywell’s uranium plant in Metropolis, Illinois, won't get any vacation time this summer. The company, which laid off 200 union workers last year when the plant closed for repairs, has rehired all but 21—but instead of bringing back those 21, it called workers in on their day off. When some refused to work overtime, the company cancelled all vacations, claiming it is understaffed. United Steelworkers Local 7-669 suspects the reason Honeywell doesn’t want to rehire the last 21 workers is that Stephen Lech, the local’s president, is next on the list.

Egyptian Army Breaks Up Suez Steelworkers’ Roadblock

Two people were arrested when military personnel broke up a protest by striking steelworkers in Suez Aug. 12. Thousands of Suez Steel workers have occupied the company’s headquarters for more than two weeks, after 14 workers were fired for demanding overdue incentives and bonuses. When the troops arrived and told them to end the occupation and go back to work, the workers blocked a road connecting the canal city to the nearby port of Ain al-Sukhna. Mohamed Said of the Federation of Independent Labor Unions condemned the army's use of force, saying that striking workers would "never give up" and "if this crisis isn't resolved, we will find ourselves on the verge of a labor revolution.”

Denver Hotel and Temp Agency Fined for Cheating Workers

The owners of the Grand Hyatt Denver and a company that provided temporary employees have paid $56,000 in back wages and $12,000 in penalties for cheating workers on overtime pay and breaks, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Aug. 13. The back pay will go to 52 room attendants hired through Xclusive Staffing of Denver, which didn’t pay them for time spent working before and after their scheduled shifts. The hotel and Xclusive also paid some employees less than minimum wage and didn’t pay them if they worked through meal breaks.

Unions Protest Chicago ALEC Conference

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Aug. 7-9 conference in Chicago provoked several days of protests by union members and others. The corporate-funded group promotes “model legislation” for states, including measures outlawing the union shop, repealing the minimum wage, and eliminating government workers’ right to bargain collectively. “We want to expose them, and we want people to understand exactly who they are,” said American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees president Lee Saunders. Six people were arrested Aug. 7 in a sit-in in the lobby of the hotel hosting the conference.

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