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Weekly Digest – January 29, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Obama to Raise Minimum Wage Under Federal Contractors
President Barack Obama announced Jan. 28 that he plans to sign an executive order requiring that janitors, construction workers, and others working for federal contractors be paid at least $10.10 an hour. Obama is using that power after failing to get Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 last year. The minimum will apply only under new contracts and those renegotiated with new conditions. An estimated 560,000 people working for federal contractors make $12 or less, while about 21 million workers nationally earn less than $10.10.

Pentagon Food Workers Accuse Contractor of Retaliating After Strike
Workers at Seven Hills, a company that operates several restaurants inside the Pentagon, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board Jan. 27, alleging that it illegally retaliated against workers who went on strike Jan. 22 to protest low wages for employees at federal contractors. Robyn Law, a worker at the company’s Sbarro pizza franchise, said a manager told her not to come back for the rest of the week, and Jerome Hardy, a cook at the Pentagon's Center Court Cafe, said he'd been told to stay home without pay the day after the strike. The complaint also alleges that a manager illegally “interrogated workers with the aid of Pentagon security officials” and threatened to start charging them for meals. Hardy said he earns the same $9 per hour he got when he started eight years ago.

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NYSUT Board of Directors OKs ‘No Confidence’ Vote for Commissioner
The New York State United Teachers Union’s board of directors on Jan. 25 unanimously approved a no-confidence vote for state Education Commissioner John King and the implementation of the national Common Core standards. The union will consider the resolution at a meeting in New York City April 4-6. “The commissioner has pursued policies that repeatedly ignore the voices of parents and educators who have identified problems and called on him to move more thoughtfully,” NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi said in a statement. He also criticized King for opposing a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from state testing.”

Volkswagen and Labor Might Start a Revolution in Dixie
The United Auto Workers’ efforts to establish a European-style “works council” at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee might be the key to organized labor winning the South. Though the UAW would give up its most precious right— that of being the “exclusive representative” of workers—it could gain the ability to negotiate shift schedules, staffing, the use of temporary workers, and even determine whether people were properly discharged or promoted. “It’s a brilliant idea in a right-to-work state,” said German labor expert Michael Fichter.  The spectacle of this kind of power—an enormous amount of worker control without a union being imposed as a wall-to-wall exclusive representative—might turn the world of the South’s workers upside down.

Anti-Union Group Says VW Is Top Priority
Blocking the United Auto Workers’ efforts to organize Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee plant has become the top goal for the “Center for Worker Freedom,” a front group for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Executive director Matt Patterson said the organization plans to intensify its anti-union advertising and Internet campaign in Chattanooga, and then take it to other Southern areas where the UAW is trying to organize, such as the Mercedes factory in Vance, Alabama, and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. The UAW has said a majority of VW's hourly workers in Chattanooga have signed cards requesting that the union represent them.

Teamsters Concede Givebacks at YRC Worldwide
Teamsters at the YRC Worldwide Inc. trucking firm approved a revised contract offer Jan. 26 by a 2-1 majority. The deal extends the 15 percent pay cut they received in 2009 for another five years, and also reduces the company’s pension contributions. Members rejected a similar deal earlier this month, but changed their minds after the union leadership said that YRC, based in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, would likely go bankrupt—costing more than 30,000 jobs—if it couldn’t pay off more than $1 billion it owes. “Once again, our members’ sacrifices are providing the lifeline for the company,” Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters freight division, said in announcing the vote.

Ohio Pipe-Makers Reject Union Bid
Workers at Vallourec Star, a steel-pipe manufacturer in Youngstown, Ohio, voted against joining the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America Jan. 23. The vote was 367-148. UE spokesperson Karen Hardin blamed the loss on an “aggressive anti-union” campaign in which the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. The union had been trying to organize the plant for almost a year. Curtis Lockwood Reynolds, an economics professor at Kent State University, said pro-union employees had little leverage because there are not many opportunities for other jobs in the area’s still-struggling economy.

Ford, UAW Agree on Plan to Avoid Mass Layoffs
Ford has withdrawn plans to eliminate an entire shift at its Lake Avon, Ohio factory, but will probably reduce the workforce by about 200 people. In a deal with United Auto Workers Local 2000 announced Jan. 27, the company will offer rotating shifts, job transfers, and early retirement packages to most of the 1,600 production workers while retooling the plant to build pickup trucks. “I feel very good about this agreement—1,408 employees will be protected,” said UAW lead negotiator Tim Rowe. The plant got a $15 million state job-retention tax credit in December 2011.

Walker’s Law Slashes AFSCME Dues Revenue
Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, the 2011 law that ended automatic dues checkoff for public workers’ unions, has dramatically reduced their income. In 2012, the amount of dues collected by the four councils of the state American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Wisconsin’s second largest union, fell by 40 percent, from $12 million to $7.1 million. Some locals parried the blow by getting new contracts from municipal governments before the law took effect, but AFSCME Council 24, which largely represents employees of state government, was the worst hit. It received $1.7 million in 2012, down from nearly $5 million in 2010.  The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, saw its revenue drop from $26 million in 2011 to $20 million in 2012.

‘Skills Gap’ a Convenient Myth
The idea that unemployment is high because workers lack the skills needed to work high-tech jobs is common. The National Association of Manufacturers claims that there are 600,000 unfilled factory positions, while President Barack Obama maintains that America’s manufacturers “cannot find enough workers with the proper skills.” But there’s little evidence a “skills gap” exists. Studies from Illinois and Wisconsin on welding jobs—where employers often cite labor shortages—demonstrate that welders’ wages have decreased over the past decade, and there are thousands more unemployed welders looking for work than there are projected openings. “National data on wages, hours, the ‘job gap’ (the ratio of job seekers to available openings), and the skills requirements of projected job openings reveal no evidence of a skills mismatch in national labor markets,” says University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee professor Marc Levine. “It is not the right workers we are lacking, it is work.”


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