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Weekly Digest – December 24, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

NLRB Says McDonald’s Retaliated
The National Labor Relations Board filed 13 complaints against McDonald’s on Dec. 19, alleging that it illegally retaliated against workers who took part in protests demanding higher wages. The cases are the first time the board has held the company to be a “joint employer” liable for working conditions at franchises that carry its brand, rejecting the company’s contention that its franchises are independent businesses and it is not responsible. The NLRB that the “nationwide response” to the protests showed that McDonald’s “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations” to qualify. The International Franchise Association has hired a high-powered Washington lobbying firm to fight the charges. Read more

Federal Spending Bill Sneaks in Cuts to Existing Pensions
Since 1974, federal law has said that pensions that a worker has already owned can’t be cut—but a provision added to the omnibus spending bill passed Dec. 13 will change that. An amendment cosponsored by Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) will let trustees of multiemployer pension plans cut benefits with federal approval if they believe it’s necessary to keep the plans solvent. About 10 million workers, including many in construction and film production, have such plans. And about 150 to 200 of them covering 1.5 million workers, are considered underfunded enough so that they might be affected in the next 10 to 20 years. “It’s letting the genie out of the bottle. Once it becomes legal to cut accrued benefits, then it’s a different world,” said Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Read more

Walmart Ordered to Pay $151M for Wage Theft
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Dec. 15 that Walmart and Sam's Club have to pay $151 million in back wages and damages to workers who were forced to work off the clock or skip breaks. The decision affects more than 185,000 people who worked at the stores in Pennsylvania between March 1998 and April 2006. It caps more than a decade of litigation that began when former employees filed a class-action suit in Philadelphia, alleging that the company forced employees to work through meal periods, during breaks, and while off the clock. Walmart is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more

Adjuncts, Religious-College Professors Win Right to Unionize
The National Labor Relations Board ruled Dec. 19 that faculty members at religious colleges and universities have the right to unionize if they aren’t performing a specifically religious function. It said that Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., had failed to prove that its teachers performed such functions. It also rejected the university’s claim that its non-tenure-track faculty were management and not eligible to join unions. A 1980 board decision says tenured faculty at private universities are management, but the board said adjuncts and faculty not on the tenure track are different because they don’t have a role in academic and hiring decisions. “We welcome the NLRB ruling as a step towards justice for faculty and the students they teach,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. SEIU Local 925 filed a petition to represent Pacific Lutheran’s non-tenure track employees. Read more

S.F. Restaurant Workers Celebrate $4M in Back Pay
Three weeks after winning more than $4 million in back pay, workers at the upscale Yank Sing dim sum restaurant in San Francisco now have not just better wages, but holiday and vacation pay, fully paid health care for full-time employees, and a “workers compliance committee” to hold management accountable. The about 280 workers, many Chinese-speaking immigrants, collaborated with a coalition of legal advocates and community organizers on a months-long campaign. While they benefited from Yank Sing’s desire to avoid tarnishing its reputation, they hope the victory will inspire workers at lower-paying Chinatown restaurants. Read more

Vegas Exhibit Tells Culinary Union’s Story
UNITE HERE Local 226, the Culinary Union, is the most powerful union in Las Vegas, with 55,000 members. “Line in the Sand: The People, Power and Progress of the Culinary Union,” an exhibit at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, tells its 80-year history, including the 1970 Desert Inn picket line and the six-year strike at the Frontier hotel-casino in the ’90s, through photographs, stories, memorabilia, and the recollections of Hattie Canty, the Alabama-born hotel maid who became Local 226 president in 1990. Read more

Michigan Moves to Ban Student-Athlete Unions
It could be a Spartan life for Wolverines who try to organize a union: The Michigan state Senate passed a bill Dec. 16 that says athletes at public universities are not public employees, in order to preclude them claiming that the work they do and the money it brings the university entitle them to collective bargaining. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign it. Ohio enacted a similar measure in June. Read more

N.C. Baggage Handlers Picket Southwest Airlines
Members of Transport Workers Union Local 555 picketed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Dec. 23 to protest how Southwest Airlines treats its employees and customers. The union, which represents the airline’s baggage handlers, has been working almost four years without a raise, and says management is increasing the workload to the point where it causes more delays for passengers. The picket was part of an 18-city campaign by the TWU. Read more

Gingrich, Berman Push Anti-Union Legislation
Right-wing lobbyists Rick Berman and Newt Gingrich are urging the incoming Congress to pass the “Employee Rights Act,” a bill intended to undermine workers’ ability to organize and sustain unions in the name of “freedom.” Its seven main provisions include redefining victory in union-recognition elections as a majority of all employees in the workplace, not just those who vote, and if the union wins, requiring it to go through annual recertification elections. Berman, CEO of the anti-labor propaganda site the Center for Union Facts, told an energy-industry confab in June that he wakes up every morning trying “to figure out how to screw with the labor unions.” Read more

Vermont Governor Abandons Single-Payer Health Care
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who promised for almost four years to set up a single-payer health-care system in the state, announced Dec. 17 that “now is not the right time” for such major changes. He said he was disappointed, but his proposed Green Mountain Care plan was “just not affordable” anymore, with recent estimates saying it would cost more than the $2 billion originally projected. “We all currently pay for hodgepodge health-care system—we just don't pay in a way that leads to giving people access to care,” responded the Vermont Workers Center, which held a protest in Montpelier the next day. “The governor's task was to shift private payments to a more equitable, public financing mechanism. His task was not to find new money.” Read more

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