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Weekly Digest – January 14, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFL-CIO Plans Push for Wage Increases
“Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced Jan. 7. The federation’s political agenda for the next year, he said, will include projects in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—the first four states to hold primaries or caucuses in 2016—to get presidential candidates to say what they would actually do to improve Americans’ wages. The AFL-CIO will also launch campaigns in seven cities, including Atlanta, Columbus, and Washington, to raise the minimum wage, mandate paid sick days, and require retailers to tell workers in advance what their hours are going to be. Read more

Democrats, Unions Move to Stop TPP Trade Deal
President Barack Obama’s efforts to win “fast-track authority”to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal through Congress is facing new opposition from Democrats, labor unions, and others. The President has made the 12-nation trade pact a priority, with enough Republican support to tout it as a bipartisan achievement, but opponents say it will lower wages and weaken food-safety, environmental, and financial regulations. The U.S. should not sign trade pacts “that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told an AFL-CIO forum in Washington Jan. 7. Read more

2,600 Kaiser Mental-Health Workers On Strike
More than 3,000 workers at 65 Kaiser Permanente clinics in California went on strike Jan. 12, intending to stay out all week. The strikers, members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, include 2,600 mental-health clinicians and 700 others, such as optical workers, speech pathologists, audiologists, and dietitians. Their main complaint is that despite Kaiser profits being up 40% over last year, the insurer’s clinics are painfully understaffed. It has not added the mental-health workers needed to handle the quarter-million people who’ve joined its network under Obamacare, and this forces patients to wait up to two months for an appointment. Read more

Musicians Celebrate Right to Carry Instruments on Planes
Musicians in the U.S. and Canada are celebrating a new Department of Transportation rule that requires airlines to let them put small instruments such as violins and guitars in overhead compartments on planes instead of having to check them as baggage. They can also buy tickets for the likes of double basses and tubas. “For many years, AFM members have been subject to very arbitrary and contradictory size and weight requirements imposed by each airline,” American Federation of Musicians President Ray Hair wrote in a letter to members. “Airlines will now follow a consistent policy for all musicians traveling with instruments.” Those “arbitrary” rules included an Air Canada policy that violins could be carried on planes, but violas had to be checked. Read more

Union Organizing Makes Slow Gains in Pittsburgh
Workers at casinos and the city’s largest hospital are among those in Pittsburgh fighting to unionize, along with museum workers, adjunct professors, fast-food workers, and security guards. But their gains have been slow in coming. Workers at the Rivers Casino have won better benefits and more vacation days, but still get penalized for coming in even one minute late. UNITE HERE says management is illegally intimidating workers from joining the union, and the National Labor Relations Board has affirmed 28 charges in the last two years. “The fear of working for even less makes it hard for people to stand up to their employers," says fast-food organizer Kyndall Mason. "They are watching their coworkers get fired or reprimanded for being involved in organizing. I would be willing to wager that if there was no union-busting happening at these places, it would take less than a year to organize.” Read more

Maryland Garbage Strike Ends
A strike by 65 union trash haulers in Washington’s Maryland suburbs ended Jan. 8, after the Unity Disposal garbage contractor and the Laborers’ International Union of North America agreed to meet with a federal mediator Jan. 12. The strike began Dec. 26 after Unity refused to give drivers and helpers a raise. Drivers at the company make less than $30,000 per year, according to LIUNA, and helpers, who load the trash into the trucks, typically make less than $25,000. The company hired  temporary employees during the strike, while the union workers used the hashtag #WeAreNotDisposable. Read more

Cold, Not Union-Busting, Halts Canadian Construction
When construction stopped at a 13-story condominium project in Chatham, Ontario early this month, rumors spread that the developer had cancelled the project because of “union pressure”—workers there had just joined the Laborers' International Union of North America. Not so, LIUNA Local 625 business manager Robert Petroni said Jan. 7. The workers are still on the job, but the concrete subcontractor told him the developer shut down the site because the weather was too cold for the concrete to cure properly. Read more

Toronto Harm-Reduction Workers Join Wobblies
More than 50 “harm reduction” workers in Toronto have joined the Industrial Workers of the World Local 610. Intermittently employed by health agencies that take the “harm reduction” approach to drug use—that if people can’t or won’t stop shooting up, it’s better for them to use a clean needle than to get or spread HIV—they do outreach to drug users on the street and work in needle-exchange programs. But the work doesn’t pay very well: Two hours of putting together crack-use kits nets $5 and two transit fares. Agency funding is precarious, and many are addicts or ex-addicts, which gives them credibility on the street but not in the job market. “Some employers can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re valuable,” said worker Peter Leslie. Read more

Job Growth Fails to Help Paychecks…
The Labor Department reported Jan. 9 that employers had added 252,000 workers to their payrolls in December, while the unemployment rate declined to 5.6%. But average hourly earnings also fell. “The good news is that in 2014, people were increasingly finding jobs,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist for the Economic Policy Institute, in a statement. “The bad news is that we are still digging our way out of the recession, and wage growth remains stagnant and untouched by recovery.” Read more

…And Without Collective Bargaining, Neither Does Productivity
More productivity used to mean that workers made more money—but it hasn’t recently, according to “Raising America’s Pay,” a report released Jan. 6 by the Economic Policy Institute. From World War II to 1973, both wages and output per worker almost doubled, but in the 40 years since then, productivity has grown by almost 75%, while median hourly wages went up only 9%. The gap has widened sharply in the last 10 years, it said, and the difference is sharpest in the states with the biggest declines in the percentage of union members: In Ohio and Michigan, where unions’ share of the workforce fell by about 20% between 1979 and 2012, the median wage actually declined. “It is only once workers have the ability to bargain for higher wages that we will see the broad-based wage growth necessary to remedy these problems,” the study concluded. Read more

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