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Weekly Digest – January 15, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Senate Fails Again to Extend Unemployment Benefits
Senate efforts to extend long-term unemployment benefits failed againJan. 14, as two bills to do that did not get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. One would have provided benefits for the next three months for people unemployed for more than 26 weeks; the other would have extended them for 11 months. The program’s expiration Dec. 28 cut off benefits for 1.3 million people at a time when 4 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months—the highest rate of long-term unemployment since World War II. On average, it takes a laid-off worker almost eight months to find a new job.

D.C. to Raise Minimum Wage
Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed a bill Jan. 15 that will eventually raise the city’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $11.50 an hour. The minimum will go up to $9.50 on July 1 and by another $1 in 2015 and 2016. Gray, who last year vetoed a bill for a $12.50 minimum at “big box” chain stores, acceded to pressure from the City Council. The increases parallel those recently enacted in two adjacent suburban areas, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.

Maryland Gov. Backs $10.10 Minimum
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Jan. 14 that he will introduce legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over the next two years, with automatic cost-of-living increases after that. "We all do better when we're all doing better," O'Malley told a rally outside the State House in Annapolis. The measure is likely to draw opposition in the state Senate, where a minimum-wage increase died in committee last year, and both Republicans and some Democrats argue that it would discourage businesses.

NYSUT Calls for No-Confidence Vote on Ed Commissioner
Incensed by the state Education Department’s push for tougher school testing and teacher evaluations based on test scores, the New York State United Teachers is planning to call for a vote of no confidence in Commissioner John King. "The frustration level is overwhelming," NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi said Jan. 9. The union’s board of directors will vote on the plan this month, he added, and send it to the membership in April. NYSUT has called for a three-year moratorium on teacher evaluations tied to test results, which a department spokesperson dismissed as a “distraction.”

Boeing Machinists Leader to Retire
Tom Wroblewski, leader of the International Association of Machinists local at Boeing, announced Jan. 14 that he’ll retire at the end of the month for health reasons, two years before his term expires. “Your job should not destroy your health,” he told a District 751 meeting. Wroblewski, who’d headed the local since 2007, had reportedly been hospitalized twice for complications from ulcers in the previous three weeks, as the bitter struggle over a contract extension eliminating pensions came to a climax. Wilson Ferguson, vice president of the Local A unit, said that many in the union anticipate that Boeing will make more demands before the newly extended contract expires in 2024.

Teamsters Reject Givebacks at YRC Trucking
Teamsters Union members at trucking giant YRC Worldwide Inc. overwhelmingly rejected a five-year contract extension that would have continued pay, pension, and benefit cuts until 2019. More than 60% of the almost 20,000 members who cast ballots voted no, according to results announced Jan. 9. YRC, based in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, had amassed more than $1 billion in debts buying up other trucking firms, and company executives said it would not be able to get loans to repay them unless workers agreed to extend the 15% pay cut they took in 2009. “Our members have sacrificed billions of dollars in wages and pension benefits over the past five years, and yet the company has been unable to recover from the disastrous policies of the previous management,” Teamsters president Jim Hoffa said in the union’s announcement.

Civil-Rights Group Protests Nissan at Detroit Auto Show
Accusing Nissan of intimidating workers trying to organize at its three U.S. factories, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan held a protest and news conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 13. “Nissan workers globally enjoy a right that American workers do not have and that is the right to collectively bargain,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. The United Auto Workers, which has unsuccessfully tried to organize the more than 4,000 workers at Nissan’s plant in Canton, says the company has threatened to close the factory if they unionize. Managers also say they want to be able to talk with their employees without a “third party,” said Chip Wells, 43, who has worked there for nearly 11 years, but “I’m telling you now… we need that third party.”

Portland, Unions End Impasse
A week after Portland, Oregon declared an impasse in contract talks with the unions representing 1,600 city workers, it reached a tentative deal with them. The agreement, announced Jan. 15, retains language limiting the city’s ability to contract out work, said District Council of Trade Unions chief negotiator Rob Wheaton. The proposed four-year pact still has to be approved by the City Council and the members of DCTU’s seven unions, with those votes expected to come next month.

No More 411: Last Telephone Operators to Lose Jobs
Following AT&T’s December announcement that it will end personalized directory service, 109 Connecticut telephone operators, members of Communications Workers of America Local 1298, will lose their jobs in February. The union is seeking enhanced severance pay for them. A company spokesperson said of directory assistance had dropped by 54 percent in the past three years, primarily because people with smartphones could look up numbers without being charged for talking to an operator. Local 1298 president William Henderson mourned the loss of jobs that were once “a particular avenue of opportunity for women workers” and had a history in Connecticut going back to 1879. AT&T, which recently sold off its landline operations in the state, will replace the operators with voice recognition computer responders.

Toronto Restaurant Workers Win Ruling
Forty workers at a Toronto restaurant that closed and then reopened with nonunion employees still have bargaining rights there, the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled Jan. 9. The 40, members of UNITE HERE Local 75, had been laid off from the Richtree restaurant in the Eaton Centre mall, and not rehired when it reopened at a nearby spot. “I am not persuaded that… the union’s bargaining rights should be extinguished by a move of some 50 meters across the corridor of the mall,” wrote board chair Bernard Fishbein. UNITE HERE Local 75 also represents workers at two other Richtree locations who are either on strike or have been locked out.

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