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Weekly Digest – January 9, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Senate Blocks Filibuster on Extending Unemployment Benefits
The Senate voted 60-37 Jan. 7 to consider a a three-month restoration of extended unemployment benefits people out of work for more than 26 weeks. Five Republicans, led by Dean Heller of Nevada, crossed party lines to avert a filibuster of the measure, which would renew benefits that expired in late December after Congress refused to continue them. Republicans want spending cuts to cover the program’s $6-billion-plus cost. They also argue that unemployment benefits encourage people not to look for jobs, while simultaneously claiming that there are no jobs because of President Obama’s failed economic policies.

Boeing Contract Another Blow to Middle Class
In the Jan. 3 vote at Boeing, the rank-and-file majority seemed to think that the contract stank—but the key issue was whether the company was bluffing about moving a construction of the new 777X airliner out of state if the workers refused to give up their future pensions and voted no. Those who thought its threat was real voted “yes,” and “yes” won by a razor-thin majority of 51% to 49%. But the real impact of the contract is that it will continue—even accelerate—the hollowing-out of America's once-thriving middle class. Most significant, says Leon Grunberg, a labor-relations expert at the University of Puget Sound, is Boeing's attack on the defined-benefit pension.

Boeing Dissidents Seek Overturn of Revote
About 30 Machinists union members rallied at the union hall in Everett, Washington, Jan. 6, demanding a third vote on the contract with Boeing. They say that turnout was unfairly low in the Jan. 3 vote to approve the contract, which won by 600 votes out of almost 24,000 cast. About 7,700 IAM District 751 members did not cast ballots Jan. 3, significantly more than the about 5,000 who didn’t vote when the local rejected a similar contract in November, and protesters say this is because the vote was scheduled for a date when many workers were still on vacation. At least two complaints appear to have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board office in Seattle.

French Goodyear Workers Take Bosses Captive
Workers at a French Goodyear tire factory slated to be closed this month took two company executives hostage Jan. 6, demanding that the company seek a new owner for the plant or give the workers “an enormous amount of money.” About 200 workers surrounded a room where the executives were meeting with union representatives, blocking the door with a tractor tire. Goodyear plans to close the factory in Amiens and lay off almost 1,200 workers. “Even if we have to wait three or four days, they are not getting out,” said Franck Jurek of the Confédération Générale du Travail, France’s largest union. “We’ve lost all legal means of recourse, so now we’re changing tack.”

Mohegan Sun Agrees to Make Planned Casino Union
If Mohegan Sun wins approval to build a casino in the Boston suburb of Revere, it’ll build it union. The company announced Jan. 5 that it had reached agreements to hire union carpenters and tradesmen to construct the proposed casino, and that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with several unions for them to represent its permanent workers. Revere residents will vote Feb. 25 on whether to approve the casino. Wynn Resorts, which is competing with Mohegan Sun for the state’s only gambling license in the Boston area, has also says its casino will be union. 

Ontario Plastics Workers Locked Out
About 160 workers at the Horizon Plastics factory in Cobourg, Ontario were locked out Jan. 5, after United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175 members rejected a proposed contract. The company had been seeking cuts in benefits amounting to about $1,000 a year, and its president has noted that wages are significantly lower in the U.S. Workers braved single-digit temperatures, keeping warm by huddling around a fire barrel, to picket outside the plant, about 60 miles northeast of Toronto.

Bridgeport Laborers Agree to Furloughs
With the city of Bridgeport seeking to save $2 million in labor costs, members of the Laborers International Union of North America local representing about 80 city workers voted overwhelmingly Jan. 6 to take 6.5 furlough days over the next 18 months. Business manager Cory Bromley said the deal will prevent six or seven members from being laid off. Mayor Bill Finch hopes it will set a pattern for agreements with larger unions, including the city’s firefighters and the National Association of Government Employees.

Portland Declares Impasse With City Workers
City officials in Portland, Oregon declared an impasse Jan. 6 in contract talks with the District Council of Trade Unions, which represents more than 1,600 city workers. The move came after 11 months of negotiations. DCTU spokesperson Megan Hise said the main problem is the city’s refusal to restore a provision that it would contract out services only if it can prove that saves money. Both parties have until Jan. 13 to submit final contract proposals, and 30 days after that, the city could impose the proposed contract or DCTU workers could strike.

National Labor College to Close in April
Thee National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland—the only college in the United States devoted exclusively to serving the labor movement—will close at the end of the spring semester because of financial difficulties. College president Dr. Paula Peinovich said the institution owed $30 million when she took office in 2010, and a conference center it had borrowed heavily to build did not produce enough revenue to cover even its own operating costs. The college, which has granted degrees for 17 years, was largely subsidized by the AFL-CIO. It had about 600 online students last fall, and has about 260 students registered for the spring.

CWA, Union-Busters Deadlock at Upstate Hospital
Eighteen challenged ballots will determine whether 120 workers at Olean General Hospital in Olean, N.Y., will become represented by the Communications Workers of America. The workers, who include licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, and operating room, battled a fierce campaign in which management hired the notorious union-busting firm Jackson Lewis. They have not received a raise in more than three years, said respiratory therapist Sue DiPaolo, and they also had their shifts changed without advance notice and did not get overtime pay. The National Labor Relations Board will rule on the challenged ballots.

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