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Weekly Digest – December 11, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Boeing and Machinists Resume Talking
Boeing airliner CEO Ray Conner met with Tom Wrobleski, president of International Association of Machinists District Lodge 751 on Dec. 10—the day that up to 17 other states were expected to submit offers for building the 777X jet airliner. It was the first time the two sides had met since Nov. 13, when IAM members at Boeing’s Everett plant rejected a contract extension that would have eliminated future pensions in exchange for the company building the 777X there. Company spokesperson Doug Alder characterized the meeting as a “conversation,” while District 751 described it as “a chance for both sides to give feedback.”

Illinois County Workers Win Raises After 16-Day Strike
A 16-day strike by 1,000 government workers in Will County, Illinois, ended Dec. 4 with the county agreeing to grant four years of raises. AFSCME Local 1028 members overwhelmingly voted to approve the deal, which will give them three raises totaling 10 percent and a 4.5 percent cost-of-living increase partially retroactive to last December, but will also include higher health-care premiums. Workers in Will County, a rapidly growing area at the southwestern edge of Chicago’s suburbs, hadn’t gotten a raise since the Great Recession began.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Neutrality Case
The Supreme Court on Dec. 10 refused to review a lower-court decision invalidating “neutrality agreements” between labor and management. In a case involving UNITE HERE and a Florida casino and dog-racing track, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had held that the casino management’s agreement not to interfere with the union’s organizing campaign was the equivalent of giving a “thing of value”—a bribe—under the Labor Management Relations Act. The move leaves the 11th Circuit ruling intact and the lower courts divided on the issue, but also prevented a possible decision eliminating neutrality agreements nationwide.

Pension Cuts May Cost Illinois Pols Union Support
Pension cuts signed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Dec. 3 may cost him and state legislators union support next year. The bill reduced cost-of-living increases and raised the retirement age for younger state workers. “It’s hard to motivate members to vote for elected officials who have hurt families of working women and men,” said Michael Carrigan, president of the state AFL-CIO, which will consider endorsements next month. “It’s more than Quinn; the bill had to get to his desk to sign it. We’re disappointed in many House members.” Illinois public-employee unions have contributed more than $100 million to state candidates since 2000, including Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan, and Senate President John Cullerton.

Detroit Bankruptcy Endangers New York Pensions
The federal bankruptcy court’s decision that Detroit can cut pensions despite them being protected by the state constitution has unions in New York State worried that governmental fiscal problems could override similar protections here. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has determined that at least 23 cities, counties, and towns, from Niagara Falls to Nassau County are significantly or moderately stressed financially. “This was a ruling that should send chills through every working American,” said Stephen Madarasz of the Civil Service Employees Association, who added that “unscrupulous” politicians might use the ruling as leverage to gain cuts. In New York City’s 1975-76 fiscal crisis, unions agreed to pension cuts, fearing that the city going into bankruptcy would end the constitutional protection of pensions.

Oregon Workers Sue to Stop Pension Cuts
State workers in Oregon have filed a series of lawsuits challenging two rounds of pension cuts enacted by the state this year. Retiree George Riemer filed his suit Dec. 5 in the first challenge to the pension-slashing law passed in September, joining four previous suits against the cuts enacted during the summer. Riemer alleges the cuts violate the contracts clauses in the state and U.S. constitutions and claims the law is “taking without just compensation.” Attorney Greg Hartman, who represents Service Employees International Union Local 503 and the Public Employee Retirement System Coalition, has said he also plans to file a suit. The state Supreme Court will hear all the cases together.

Connecticut Machinists Narrowly OK 3-Year Pact
Machinists at Pratt & Whitney aircraft-engine plants in Connecticut narrowly approved a new three-year contract Dec. 8, winning wage and pension increases but agreeing to the elimination of about 140 jobs. The 1,119-1,037 vote came against the recommendations of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Locals 1746 and 700 and Machinists District 26. Mike Stone, assistant directing business representative for District 26, said he thought that workers who voted to ratify the deal probably “saw enough movement from the company to preserve [jobs].” But Ron Frost, who works in quality inspection and parts manufacturing, said he was angry that the agreement didn’t protect metal cutters and other materials workers from outsourcing.

Unions Sue as BART Reneges on Contract
The two unions representing most Bay Area Rapid Transit employees filed suit Dec. 3 to prevent management from reneging on a family-leave provision in the contract agreed to in October. The BART Board of Directors on Nov. 21 refused to approve the provision, which would give workers six weeks of paid family leave, saying its inclusion was a mistake. The unions, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021, have both ratified the deal, which ended a four-day strike. “The Board of Directors is not in any position to cherry-pick which parts of the contract it intends to honor,” said Kate Hallward, an attorney for SEIU. “We have a complete and final agreement, and they need to honor it.”

Minnesota Bus Drivers Protest Lack of Contract
Bus drivers in Rochester, Minnesota hit the streets Dec. 7 protesting the lack of a contract with First Transit, the company that took over the city’s buses last year. The old contract expired Dec. 31, 2012, but First Transit says it and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 agreed to a month-to-month extension. A federal mediator is overseeing the negotiations, which have dragged on for more than a year, as the company wants cuts in wages and benefits. “We're just asking their support to help us preserve what we have,” one protester said.

Federal Workers’ Unions Gain Members After Shutdown
Federal employee unions have continued to gain members despite last summer’s government shutdown, increased outsourcing, and significant cuts in federal jobs. The American Federation of Government Employees gained about 1,100 members in November, and now has almost 285,000, one-third more than it did in 2000. The smaller National Federation of Federal Employees also saw a “small spike” in membership after the shutdown and has been growing over the last five years. “The shutdown was a drastic reminder to federal employees of how extreme this Congress is and its willingness to use federal employees as a political punching bag,” said Drew Halunen, an NFFE spokesperson. “We saw a renewed sense of urgency to join the movement that advocates for the federal workforce.”

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