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Weekly Digest – December 4, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFSCME Rips Detroit Pension Ruling
After a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Dec. 3 that Detroit could cut pensions to pay off its other debts, the head of the union representing thousands of retired city employees called the decision “just nuts,” “inhumane,” and “morally wrong.” “It’s morally corrupt to attack retirees getting $19,000 a year,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The ruling, by Judge Steven W. Rhodes, said the city’s bankruptcy supersedes the state constitution’s provisions that pensions workers have earned can’t be reduced, accepting the argument pushed by Kevyn Orr, the “emergency manager” imposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

States Compete to Build Boeing 777X
After International Association of Machinists members at Boeing’s Seattle-area facilities rejected drastic pension cuts Nov. 13, the company has begun looking for other places to build the 777X airliner—and several states are rushing to offer it tax breaks. “We didn't call them. They called us,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. On Nov. 29, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called the state legislature back into session, urging it to pass a $150 million package of tax breaks to offer Boeing. The company is also soliciting deals from California, South Carolina, Texas, and seven other states. Washington gave Boeing the largest corporate tax break in the nation's history, nearly $9 billion, just before the workers rejected its contract-extension deal.

Connecticut Hospital Locks Out Workers
Workers at a Connecticut hospital trying to come back in for the night shift Nov. 30 after a three-day strike were met with a lockout. The 790 nurses and health-care technicians at New London's Lawrence + Memorial Hospital were demanding more job security and less outsourcing to lower-paid staff and temporary workers. “This is a whole turning point everywhere in health care. They are going to water down patient care,” said registered nurse Liz Caruso, a widow who walked the picket line with her two sons. Management said the union, AFT Healthcare, had “left us no choice” by threatening more “intermittent strike activity.” AFT Healthcare local president Lisa D'Abrosca said the hospital must have “made that one up.”

32BJ Joins Newark Airport Protest
About 30 Newark Airport workers joined with SEIU Local 32BJ and Brick City church groups at the Terminal C arrival gate Nov. 26 to protest low wages caused by airlines outsourcing security, cleaning, and baggage-handling jobs. “There are thousands of workers here whose jobs are minimum wage, and these used to be good-paying middle-class jobs that have been contracted out to the lowest bidder,” said 32BJ vice president Kevin Brown. “Things got so bad I had to send my two sons to live with their grandmother upstate in Poughkeepsie because I cannot afford to take care of them on my income,” said security guard Daniel Scott, who makes $8 an hour working for contractor Aviation Safeguard at LaGuardia Airport.

APWU to Protest Postal Service Sending Jobs to Staples
The American Postal Workers Union is preparing to protest the U.S. Postal Service’s opening retail units in 84 Staples stores. The units, which began opening in the office-supply chain in October, offer most postal products and services, including selling stamps and taking letters and packages, but are staffed by Staples employees instead of post-office workers. “This is a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “We are adamantly opposed to USPS plans to replace good-paying union jobs with non-union low-wage jobs held by workers who have no accountability for the safety and security of the mail.” The APWU’s executive board endorsed the protests Nov. 22, two days after Dimondstein met with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

CWA Launches Drive for Newark Taxi Drivers
In a rally at Newark’s City Hall Nov. 26, the Communications Workers of America launched the United Transportation Alliance, a labor organization for the city’s 2,000 taxi drivers—who work up to 14 hours a day, make minimum wage after costs are deducted, and are classified as independent contractors so they don’t have regular workers’ rights. “The days of ripping these drivers off are over,” said Chris Shelton, CWA District 1 vice president, who added that the union has spoken to more than 300 Newark cabbies and has interest from drivers in four other New Jersey cities.

UNITE HERE Calls Chicagoland Casino Unfair
UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago has filed 31 unfair labor practice charges against the Rivers Casino with the National Labor Relations Board. The union alleges that the casino has met its efforts to organize workers there with a “management-led intimidation campaign,” including mandatory anti-union meetings. The casino, in the suburb of Des Plaines and owned by Neil Bluhm, is Illinois’ newest and most lucrative gambling spot: Opened in 2011, it brought in $415 million last year. UNITE HERE has filed similar charges against Bluhm’s casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

UAW's Southern Campaign Key to King's Legacy
As United Auto Workers President Bob King prepares to retire in June, the union has gained members after decades of decline and has successfully organized auto-parts factories in Kentucky and Alabama—but has yet to win recognition at the Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan plants in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. “Bob King has basically staked his legacy on organizing these international assembly plants,” said Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research. The UAW has gotten a majority of the workers at VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee factory to sign cards saying they are interested in joining, and has “made significant progress at Mercedes,” King said, but Nissan’s American management has chosen “a very confrontational approach.”

Did Whole Foods Strike Win Thanksgivings Off?
A strike Nov. 27 by workers at two Whole Foods stores in Chicago may have won workers there the right to take Thanksgiving off. A company spokesperson who had earlier insisted that the company took pride in helping last-minute  shoppers “for this special food-focused holiday” stated that “regional and store leadership in the Chicago area have informed Team Members that working Thanksgiving Day is voluntary. If they want Thanksgiving Day off, they can take it off.” “If that’s what the company is now saying, then I would say that’s a direct response to our organizing,” responded striker Matthew Camp, who’d said management at his store had told employees months ago that they couldn’t take Thanksgiving off “without accruing a point or a demerit on our record.”

Did IT Outsourcing Cause Obamacare Website Snafu?
The problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Web site for buying health insurance, argues former Army contracting supervisor Charles M. Smith, stem from the Reagan administration, when the federal government adopted the management philosophy of “concentrating on your core capabilities” and contracting out other processes such as logistics, food services, and information technology. The result, he says, was that by the time Barack Obama became President, the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t have IT workers who could design the site. CGI Federal, the company HHS hired, won the contract without competition despite a sketchy record, and privatization added a layer of bureaucracy that made it much more difficult for department workers to communicate what the site required.

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