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Weekly Digest – August 20, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Labor Mourns Robin Williams
“Last night we all lost a union brother,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement after the suicide of actor Robin Williams Aug. 11, accompanying it with a photo of Williams walking in solidarity on a Writers Guild of America picket line. He was a performer of limitless versatility, equally adept at comedy and drama,” union President Ken Howard said. “He was not only a talented man, but a true humanitarian.” “Robin Williams was one of us progressives with a heart of love and compassion, a commitment to justice and to the human race, and a commitment to creating a more perfect union,” former AFL-CIO organizing director Stewart Acuff wrote on his blog. Read more

Texas Workers More Likely to Die on the Job
A Texas worker is 12 percent more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same work in another state, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal data. The state had the nation’s worst fatality rate in several construction trades, with almost 300 workers falling to their deaths between 2003 and 2012. Causes include that a large number of workers are classified as independent contractors, responsible for their own safety equipment and training; Texas’s ban on union shops, which makes it difficult to form unions; and weak safety regulations. “All that regulation adds to your overhead, and you can’t operate at a profit,” Gov. Rick Perry told a construction trade fair in 2009. Read more

S.F. Cabbies Form Union
About 150 San Francisco cab drivers voted Aug. 13 to form a local chapter of the Taxi Workers Alliance, the AFL-CIO’s first independent-contractor affiliate. “If we don't form a union, we’re toast,” said Beth Powder, 35, a union organizer and driver and dispatcher for DeSoto Cab Co. The city’s cabbies first had a union in 1904, but they were wiped out when cab companies switched drivers to independent-contractor status in the late 1970s. Drivers hope that having a union will gain them leverage against unregulated app-ride services like Uber and Lyft. The San Francisco local will become official once it has 500 dues-paying members, said National Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai. Read more

Virgin America Flight Attendants Join TWU
Flight attendants at Virgin America have voted to join the Transport Workers Union, making themselves the airline’s first unionized workers. Virgin America, based largely in San Francisco and Los Angeles, began flying in 2007 and had been the largest U.S. airline with a completely nonunion workforce. The flight attendants had rejected the TWU in 2011, but this time voted 430-307 to join. “Many of us voted ‘no’ in the last election because we wanted to give Virgin America management a chance to change,” said flight attendant Jeremy Schoggins. “But unfortunately in the past two years I have not seen that.” Read more

Nebraska to Vote on $9 Minimum Wage
Voters in Nebraska will decide Nov. 4 whether to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2016. On Aug. 15, seven weeks after Nebraskans for Better Wages began circulating petitions, Secretary of State John Gale announced that they had received the more than 80,000 signatures needed to qualify the state’s first ballot initiative since 2008. “We’ve seen multiple polls that show that about 60 percent of Nebraskans support it,” said State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha. “I think that support is going to hold.” Read more

Teachers Union Could Spend $1M to Back Chicago Leader for Mayor
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the union could spend $1 million to help Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis if she decides to try to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “If Karen was to run, we would be all in,” Weingarten told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview Aug. 19, adding that Emanuel, who closed a record number of schools last year, “has shown a deep disrespect for what public education is all about.” Lewis has said there’s a “50-50” chance she will challenge Emanuel in the February mayoral election. Emanuel has raised more than $8 million for his re-election bid, but respondents in a recent Sun-Times poll favored Lewis over him by nine percentage points. Read more

‘Low Wages and Grande Profits’ at Starbucks
Starbucks has dramatically improved profitability despite the Great Recession, but many of its more than 175,000 workers are making less than $9 an hour, according to a report released Aug. 12 by the Industrial Workers of the World’s Starbucks Workers Union. The report said company revenue per worker had increased by almost 50% since the recession began, while workers had to deal with “erratic scheduling and inadequate hours,” getting only 20-30 hours per week. “The company clearly has the resources to improve its employment policies, but instead chooses to shift more wealth to shareholders,” it added. Read more

Machinists Unionize Seattle Manufacturing Powerhouse
International Association of Machinists District Lodge 751, the union’s Seattle-area local, scored another organizing success when workers at the Jorgensen Forge plant voted to join. The company, founded more than 70 years ago, specializes in casting and precision-forging very large structures from metal, including propeller shafts for aircraft carriers, section rings for rocket boosters, and components for oil and gas rigs. Issues in the first contract talks will likely include pay structure, health care, and grievance procedures, said Lodge 751 spokesperson Bryan Corliss. Read more

UAW Says It’s Near Majority at VW Tennessee Plant
United Auto Workers Local 42, established five weeks ago at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has signed up almost half the plant’s workers, UAW secretary-treasurer Gary Casteel said Aug. 15. Casteel said at least 670 of the approximately 1,500 hourly employees have joined Local 42, enough to have won the election the union lost in February. If the union can prove that it has a clear majority of the workers, VW can name it their exclusive bargaining agent, but Casteel said he couldn’t speak for the company on that issue, only that the two parties “have a consensus" that VW would recognize the local. Read more

Unions Organizing in Hostile South Carolina
Despite South Carolina’s anti-labor climate, unions have begun organizing in the Charleston area. Less than 5% of the state’s workers are union members, the third-lowest rate in the nation, and Gov. Nikki Haley says she does not want unionized companies to move there. Still, the International Association of Machinists is trying to win back workers at the Boeing plant who decertified the union in 2009, and workers at the Medical University of South Carolina, the area’s largest hospital, have been demanding the reinstatement of Christine Nelson, a longtime nurse who helped found the employee-advocacy group Healthcare Workers United. Civil-rights activist Thomas Dixon says management fired the outspoken Nelson because “you can silence a lot of people by taking a vocal person out of the game.” Read more

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