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Weekly Digest – January 1, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Local Pols Urge Machinists to Take Boeing Offer
Six local political leaders in the Puget Sound area on Dec. 30 urged Boeing workers to accept a contract similar to the one they overwhelmingly rejected in November. International Association of Machinists District 751’s vote is scheduled for Jan. 3, and Boeing has repeatedly threatened to build the wings for the new 777X plane somewhere else unless workers accept having their future pensions replaced with a 401(k) plan. Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson called it “a great contract,” and former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel said that if the Machinists turn it down, “we will watch [the aerospace] industry shrink in front of us.” “We are used to being threatened—it is nothing new for us,” responded Robley Evans, a forklift driver at Boeing’s Auburn plant and vice president in the union’s Local F unit.

Boeing Revote Divides Local, National Machinists

IAM District 751, the local representing Boeing workers in Washington, is urging its members to reject the company’s slightly revised contract offer in the vote scheduled for Jan. 3. In an email sent to members Dec. 23, District 751 said that “the International is forcing a vote” and that accepting the elimination of pensions would “destroy everything that we have built over 78 years” while Boeing is “experiencing record profits and backlogs.” Longtime Machinist Jim Levitt charges that scheduling the vote for Jan. 3 was “a calculated voter suppression effort,” because many veteran workers will be on vacation.

Bangladesh Orders Arrest of Fatal Fire Factory's Owners
A Dhaka court on Dec. 31 ordered the arrest of the owners of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. on murder charges stemming from the factory fire that killed 112 people in November 2012. The 13 people charged with “culpable homicide” due to gross negligence of safety measures include Delwar Hossain, the company’s owner and managing director; his wife, Mahmuda Akther, its chairwoman; and 11 factory officials. Seven of the 13 have been arrested, but Hossain and Akther are among the six at large.

Bart Workers Yield on Family Leave
Bay Area Rapid Transit workers in California have accepted a contract that deletes a provision for six weeks of family leave that management claimed was a mistake. In exchange, they will get a $500 bonus if ridership exceeded projections by 1% in a six-month period. However, BART director Zakhary Mallett said he would still vote against the contract when the board considers it on Jan. 2. BART management had signed off on a contract containing the six weeks of paid leave, but rejected the deal in November after the union had ratified it, claiming they had not intended to leave that provision in.

Minimum Wage Rises in 13 States, Four Cities
The minimum wage will go up Jan. 1 in 13 states and four cities. Low-paid New Jersey workers will get a raise from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, while the minimum will rise to $8.70 in Connecticut and to $8 in New York and Rhode Island. Workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington will get cost-of-living adjustments, most less than 15 cents per hour. Local minimums will also rise in San Francisco, San Jose, Albuquerque, N.M., and SeaTac, Wash. California will raise its minimum wage to $9 in July.

…But Not So Fast in SeaTac
A lawsuit backed by airlines and the restaurant industry has voided the new $15-an-hour minimum wage for workers at SeaTac International Airport in Washington. Voters in SeaTac, the town surrounding the airport, approved the unprecedented raise in November, but on Dec. 27, the King County Superior Court ruled that the airport is a separate jurisdiction that belongs to the Port of Seattle, not the town. Supporters of the $15 minimum plan to appeal the ruling, which cuts out almost three-fourths of the 6,300 workers covered. Workers’ pay at SeaTac and other U.S. airports has been dramatically reduced in the past decade by airlines contracting out jobs like handling baggage and security. “That's the new hustle, subcontract everything. Cut the salary, cut the benefits, and CEO pay goes up,” said Ahmed Jama, 26, a dispatcher for wheelchair pushers who makes $10.05 after being on the job since he was 16.

UAW Exec Says Union Wants to End Two-Tier System
United Auto Workers vice-presidential nominee Norwood Jewell said Dec. 16 that the union wants to eliminate lower pay for newly hired workers when Big Three contracts come up in 2015. He said the union had conceded two-tier wages in 2007 because the industry was weak, but “we hate them. We intend to eliminate them over time.” About one-fifth of the 130,000 hourly employees at GM, Ford, and Chrysler are second-tier workers, who start at just under $16 an hour and top out at less than $20, while veteran workers make more than $28. However, Jewell said, if the UAW can’t organize nonunion plants in the South and “bring them up to our standard, we're never going be able to totally eliminate the second tier.”

Connecticut Hospital Ends Lockout
Nurses and technicians at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., returned to work Dec. 19, after the hospital announced it would end the lockout. The 790 employees had gone on strike for four days in late November to protest layoffs and outsourcing, and the hospital refused to let them return until the two unions, American Federation of Teachers Locals 5049 and 5051, agreed to a new contract. Management agreed to end the lockout after further negotiations failed.

 AFT Questions Online Classes
In less than five years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have gone from being an obscure experiment to a radical reimagining of higher education—but they are not a quality alternative to face-to-face teaching or hybrid classroom and online experiences, say writers in the winter issue of the union’s magazine AFT On Campus. Because the classes contain as many as 50,000 students, argues English professor Steven Krause, “the student discussion forums are useless.” Others suspect that that the motive for MOOCs is not to use technology to enhance learning, but to generate profits for corporations like Coursera and Udacity, enable administrators to cut costs, and provide a cheap version of college for less-affluent students.

Rochester Teamsters Emerge from Trusteeship
International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 118 will come out of trusteeship Jan. 2, as new president Paul Markwitz takes office. Markwitz says his job is to rebuild workers' confidence in the union through greater transparency and increase membership. “We have organizing efforts currently underway at various levels at different employers, and one good-sized one, too,” he says. “We bucked the trend.” Local 118 has 4,300 members in Rochester and the Southern Tier, at Wegmans supermarkets, United Parcel Services, the Genesee Brewing Co., and schools in the city of Greece.

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