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Weekly Digest – December 31, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

21 States Raising Minimum Wage
Twenty-one states, more than any at one time in U.S. history, will raise their minimum wage this week. Washington’s minimum will go up to $9.47 per hour, and workers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont will get $9 or more. The increases will mean more money for about 3.1 million workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute—including 700,000 in New York State, where the minimum will go from $8 to $8.75. Twenty-nine states now exceed the federal minimum of $7.25. Read more

New Mexico Legislator Introduces Bill to Ban Union Shop
New Mexico state Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque) on Dec. 29 introduced a “right to work” bill that would outlaw the union shop for private-sector employers. He also introduced a second measure to stop the state from deducting union dues or fees from its employees’ paychecks. Gov. Susana Martinez has supported the idea, and the newly Republican state House is expected to approve both bills, but the Democrats who control the Senate are opposed. “I think he [Rue] knows darn well, and the administration knows, that this is a political attack that has nothing to do with the law or helping the economy,” said Carter Bundy, political director for the state branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Read more

GOP Prepares Anti-Union Push in State Legislatures
New Mexico isn’t the only state that will see a so-called “right to work” bill introduced in 2015. Republican legislators plan to introduce them in Wisconsin and Ohio, and Colorado, Missouri, and New Hampshire are also possibilities. While Missouri and New Hampshire both have Democratic governors, Republicans control both houses of those state legislatures, with enough of a majority in Missouri to override a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. "We'll fight this every step of the way," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Read more

FairPoint Strikers Lose NLRB Rulings
The National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 29 dismissed six complaints filed by the two unions on strike at FairPoint Communications in northern New England. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America had alleged that the company bargained in bad faith when it cut off talks and imposed its final contract offer before the strike began in October, but the NLRB said it had reached a legitimate impasse with them. The unions said Dec. 30 they will appeal at least one of the dismissals. “Unfortunately, U.S. labor law favors corporations like FairPoint, not working people,” said IBEW negotiator Peter McLaughlin. Read more

Maryland Garbage Collectors Go On Strike
Trash collectors working for a company that serves much of Washington’s Maryland suburbs went on strike on Dec. 26. Unity Disposal employees voted to join the Laborers International Union of North America more than nine months ago, but have not yet gotten their first contract. They are also suing to recover unpaid living wages and overtime, according to LIUNA. “We work hard and we provide a vital public service,” truck driver Martin Puesan said in a statement announcing the strike. “These should not be poverty-level jobs. We don’t make enough to begin with, and then we aren’t always paid for the hours we work.” Read more

Judge Nixes Minimum Wage for Some Home-Care Workers
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 22 ruled that some home health-care workers aren’t eligible for the minimum wage or overtime pay, because it conflicts with federal law exempting third-party providers of in-home care for the elderly and disabled from having to pay that. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling, in a suit filed by home-care industry trade groups, struck down pending Labor Department regulations extending wage and hour protections to workers who live in their clients’ homes and those who provide mainly “fellowship and protection” instead of to more extensive medical care. The Labor Department is considering an appeal. Read more

San Antonio Police Union Accuses City of ‘Push Poll’
Accusing the city of conducting a “push poll” with questions loaded against unions, the San Antonio Police Officers' Association on Dec. 29 released a recording of a telephone survey about negotiations between the city and police and firefighters' unions. The poll included questions like “Do you think it's time the police and firefighters got back to negotiating with the city?” and asked people if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “The city manager is just doing her job by questioning how the city can find savings from a 25-year-old union contract.” City officials at first denied commissioning the poll, but then a spokesperson left a message about it intended for the head of the Chamber of Commerce on a firefighter’s cell phone. “They denied it, which they lied about,” said police-union president Michael Helle. “And then, when they finally get caught and the story broke out with the audio recording, now they start pointing fingers." Read more

NLRB Sets Hearings on Jersey Janitors
The National Labor Relations Board will hold hearings Feb. 3 in Newark on charges that the new owners of office buildings in East Rutherford and Secaucus hired a cleaning contractor that discriminated against union workers. The complaint alleges that Eastern Essential Services refused to hire 18 workers from the previous contractor “because of the employees' union sympathies, activities and membership.” Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which represented the former contractor’s employees, says Eastern pays janitors $8.50 an hour, instead of the $13.20 with health benefits they would be getting under the old contract.The 15-story East Rutherford building sold for $108 million last June. Read more

Temple University Adjuncts Sign Cards to Join AFT
On Dec. 17, adjunct faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia handed in cards seeking to have the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board recognize them as members of United Academics of Philadelphia, the American Federation of Teachers local representing adjuncts. They need cards signed by 60% of Temple’s about 1,100 adjunct instructors to qualify. The UAP, pursuing a city-wide organizing strategy, has members at several other area universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore. Read more

Santa and the Grinch Join Pennsylvania Union Protest
Union leaders joined Santa Claus and the Grinch Dec. 22 in front of the Northampton County Courthouse in Easton, Pennsylvania, protesting dramatic cuts to county employees’ health benefits. United Steelworkers Local 2599 President Jerry Green said the only time County Executive John Brown calls him is when the county is seeking concessions. Local 2599, which represents nurses at the county’s Gracedale nursing home in Nazareth, has filed a complaint alleging that a pending increase in their health-care contributions violates their contract. Read more

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