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Weekly Digest – February 26, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

UAW Asks NLRB Board for New VW Vote
Citing “a firestorm of interference” from outside groups and politicians, the United Auto Workers filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board Feb. 21, asking it to set aside the vote in which workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee narrowly rejected the union earlier this month. The 13-page appeal says “threats” made by Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and state Senate Speaker Bo Watson were “clearly designed to influence the votes” of VW workers. The UAW now has a week to present evidence that outsiders’ statements, such as Corker’s claim that VW would build its new SUV in Mexico if workers joined the union, interfered enough to taint the election.

SC Gov Says She Doesn’t Want Union Jobs
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told an auto-industry conference Feb. 20 that she actively discourages companies that have unions from bringing jobs to the state “because we don’t want to taint the water.” “My job is to make sure that I keep kicking them out,” she told the Greenville News afterwards, saying that unions were not necessary because employers take care of their “associates.” “To keep jobs from coming here because they’re union, I don’t think she’s representing the people,” responded Erin McKee, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s Democratic opponent in this year’s election, said he supports retaining South Carolina’s ban on union shops, but “if Ford Motor Co. wanted to bring 10,000 jobs to South Carolina, we would welcome them with open arms.”

Portland Teachers Win 150 New Jobs
After preparing for a strike set for Feb. 20, teachers in Portland, Oregon, won a contract in which the district agreed to hire 150 teachers for next school year, which might reduce class sizes by more than 5%. After insisting on givebacks for months and advertising for strikebreakers, administrators finally agreed to address teachers’ working conditions, and reached a deal with the Portland Association of Teachers in a 23-hour bargaining session. The proposed contract includes more planning time for elementary and special education teachers, and prohibits the use of students’ standardized testing data to determine where teachers work or how much they’re paid. Teachers will also get a cost-of-living increase in pay, but agreed to phase out eligibility for early retirement benefits.

Postal Workers Urge Boycott of Staples Stores
The American Postal Workers Union has called for a boycott of Staples office-supply stores until the chain stops operating postal retail units staffed by non-postal employees. The U.S. Postal Service has launched a pilot program to sell stamps and send mail and packages from 82 Staples stores in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. “We’re calling for a nationwide boycott,” said Bob Gunter, president of the Illinois Postal Workers Union. “Staples pays workers minimum wage, maybe a little more, without benefits. If there’s Postal Service work done at Staples or anywhere else, it should be done by postal employees.”

Union Calls 1% Federal Pay Hike ‘Pitiful’
The American Federation of Government Employees is denouncing President Barack Obama’s plans to propose a 1% pay raise for federal employees in his budget for fiscal 2015. “President Obama has said that his upcoming budget will reflect an ‘end to austerity,’ AFGE President David Cox said in a statement Feb. 24. “But a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees who have seen more austerity than anyone else is pitiful.” Federal workers got a 1% raise in January, but their pay was frozen from 2011 to 2013, which the President portrayed as part of the effort to limit government spending during the recession. The budget will be released next week.

Boeing Machinists OK Two-Tier Contract
Boeing machinists building military planes voted 1,269-449 Feb. 23 to approve a 7½-year contract extension that cuts pay for future hires, reduces the amount of time that workers can accrue pensions, and offers buyouts to veteran workers. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837 President Gordon King said the vote would help Boeing bid for projects this spring and could avert more than 300 layoffs when current contracts run out. The contract covers 2,400 Boeing aerospace employees, in the St. Louis area, China Lake, California, and at the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Poll Finds 26% of Americans Go to Work While Sick
One in every four Americans goes into work even when they’re sick enough to infect other people, according to a survey conducted in January by NSF International, a public-health testing group based in Michigan. The survey found that 37% of people who worked while ill said they couldn’t afford to take a day off without pay, and 25% said they did it “because their boss expects them to come in no matter what.”Men were twice as likely as women to come in while sick. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 40% of private-sector workers don’t have paid sick days, especially in low-wage jobs like retail and restaurants.

Chicago Professors Stage Two-Day Strike
More than 1,000 tenured and non-tenured faculty members at the University of Illinois-Chicago went out on strike Feb. 18-19 after months of failed negotiations between the university and UIC United Faculty Local 6456. The union gained recognition in 2012, but has not yet won a contract. Faculty are demanding that the minimum salary for professors without tenure be raised from $30,000 to $45,000; the university has offered $36,000. “We don’t see that as an actual compromise,” says John Casey, a non-tenure-track writing instructor who is a member of the union’s bargaining team and says he has to work outside jobs to make ends meet.

Will Kellogg’s Lock Out Omaha Workers?
With their contract expiring in May, the 500 union workers at Kellogg’s plant in Omaha, Nebraska are looking nervously at Memphis, where the company has locked out 200 workers since last October in an effort to win the power to hire employees for $6 an hour less than union scale. “The company said, gave them an ultimatum, ‘Do this or you're locked out,’” said John Dredla, a representative for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents workers at both plants, and he fears it will do the same thing at the Omaha plant where he’s worked for nearly 37 years. “What it just comes down to is greed. It's not like this company is not making money. They’re making a lot of money hand over fist,” Dredla said.

U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections
The United States has some of the weakest labor protections for temp workers in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In South Korea, temps have to be hired as regular employees after two years; in Germany, they are guaranteed the same wages and working conditions as regular employees; and in Chile, temp agencies can be shut down if they fail to pay wages or expose workers to unsafe conditions. In the U.S., where companies including Walmart and Microsoft rely heavily on “permatemps,” some have worked for the same company for as long as 11 years without being taken on full-time or getting benefits, and temps are also more likely to be injured on the job. The OECD ranked the U.S. 41st among 43 developed and emerging economies.


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