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Weekly Digest – February 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Tennessee Pols Say They’ll End VW’s Tax Breaks If Workers Pick UAW
Republican politicians in Tennessee are threatening to end tax breaks for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga if its employees vote to join the United Auto Workers in this week’s election. “I believe additional incentives for expansion will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate,” state Sen. Bo Watson said Feb. 10, calling VW’s cooperation with the UAW “unfair, unbalanced and, quite frankly, un-American.” The three-year-old factory received state tax breaks to encourage “job creation,” but Gov. Bill Haslam believes manufacturers won’t want to move to Tennessee if it gets unionized. “In my 20 years on the hill, I’ve never seen such a massive intrusion into the affairs of a private company,” said state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat.

Kellogg’s Lockout Continues
The lockout at Kellogg’s Memphis plant is now in its fourth month, as the company seeks the right to employ up to 100 percent of the factory’s work force as temporary or casual workers for lower pay than the 225 locked-out union workers. The company claims that $28 an hour union wages are not “competitive,” and that on average, workers make more than $100,000 a year—but that’s including overtime, as many workers say they get only two days off a month. “It’s simple—Kellogg’s is a highly profitable company and just wants to pay people less,” said Joey Watts, who has worked at the plant for 28 years. The company is running the plant with scabs, and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Portland Teachers Vote to Strike
Teachers in Portland, Oregon voted nearly unanimously Feb. 5 to go on strike, setting a Feb. 20 deadline. After two decades of cuts, the about 2,900 members of the Portland Association of Teachers are demanding smaller class sizes, a reduced workload, more funding for the arts, and more counselors. The city school board has declared its intention to get “aggressive” with teachers, and has hired a union-busting consultant for $15,000 a month.

Canadian Ironworkers Replaced by Foreign Temps Get Jobs Back
About 65 ironworkers laid off and replaced by temporary foreign workers at the Kearl oil-sands mine in Alberta Feb. 4 will be rehired, construction company Pacer Promec Joint Venture said Feb. 7. The move came after Ironworkers Local 720 and the Alberta Federation of Labour asked the Canadian government to investigate whether PPJV was in compliance with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The program is designed to fulfill labor shortages, and companies cannot hire temporary foreign workers if qualified Canadians want the jobs—or use it to hire cheaper employees from abroad. Union members believe their replacements were being paid about C$18 an hour (about $16.25), less than half of what they were making.

Altoona Nurses Stage One-Day Strike
Nurses at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania walked off the job for 24 hours Feb. 11 after contract negotiations broke down. “The main priority is staffing,” said Tammy Morgan, a nurse in the Behavioral Health Inpatient Unit. “We’re not asking for a lot of staff, we’re just asking for adequate staff, so the nurses aren’t overwhelmed with patients. Many of the hospital’s 750 nurses, represented by the Service Employees International Union, joined the picket line, but the hospital hired 270 temporary nurses to work as strikebreakers.

Tappan Zee Ironworkers Leader Critically Injured
Peter Creegan, business agent for Iron Workers Ornamental Local 580 and vice president of the Building and Construction Trade Council of Westchester and Putnam Counties, was critically injured when he fell off the roof of his house Feb. 7 and was placed on life support. He had been trying to fix a leak. Creegan, 52, the son of an ironworker on the original Tappan Zee Bridge, was a leader of the building-trades workers constructing its replacement.

As California University Strike Looms, AFSCME Alleges Coercion
The University of California has threatened to rescind its current offer to give patient-care workers a 2 percent raise over the contract’s four-year term if they and campus service workers vote this week to authorize a strike. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents both groups of workers, says that is illegal, because it would penalize the patient-care workers when the service workers would be the primary strikers. The university claims that preparing for a strike would cost so much that it could no longer afford to give raises.

Connecticut Aquarium Workers Protest Wage Cuts
Led by SEIU Local 32BJ, dozens of people protested in Norwalk, Connecticut Feb. 8 against the Maritime Aquarium’s cutting its cleaners’ pay from $15.25 an hour to minimum wage. The aquarium decided two months ago to stop hiring eight union part-time cleaners from an outside contractor and bring the jobs in-house. According to 32BJ spokesperson Teresa Candori, the cleaners were also told that they could keep their jobs only if they agreed to quit the union, a demand that is illegal in the United States.

Whole Foods Fires Worker for Staying With Son on ‘Snow Day’
About 40 people protested outside Whole Foods’ Midwestern headquarters in Chicago Feb. 5, supporting single mother Rhiannon Broschat, who said she was fired after staying home from work with her “special needs” child when city schools were closed due to extreme cold on Jan. 28. Broschat said she had called in to say she’d been unable to find a babysitter for the boy, but was terminated the next day for “abusing their attendance policy.” A company spokesperson said the weather Jan. 28 hadn’t been bad enough for that to qualify as an “excused absence.”

Keystone Pipeline Divides Environmentalists, AFL-CIO
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has often urged the labor movement to ally with environmentalist groups, but his recent endorsement of the Keystone XL tar-sands-oil pipeline and new natural gas export terminals has irritated them. “We can create far more jobs fixing infrastructure and transitioning to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources,” says Brendan Smith, co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. Trumka told reporters that “there’s no environmental reason” the pipeline “can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs.” Environmental groups argue that the pipeline would be an environmental disaster and not create many jobs, but building-trades unions, most notably the Laborers International Union of North America, want President Barack Obama to approve constructing it. The AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department has also backed a proposed liquefied natural-gas export terminal in Maryland that environmentalists oppose. But Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program, was careful not to criticize Trumka. “We share much more in common with the labor movement than the few things that we disagree on,” he wrote.

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