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Weekly Digest – January 21, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Richest 1% Own Half World’s Wealth
The world’s richest 1% will own more than everyone else on the planet combined by next year, according to a report released Jan. 19 by the British anti-hunger group Oxfam. With an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014, they collectively owned 48% of global wealth, up from 44% in 2009 and on a path to reach more than half in 2016. The 80 richest people, whose wealth doubled in the previous five years, owned more than the 3.5 billion people poorer than the global median. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering,” said Oxfam head Winnie Byanyima. “It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world.”
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Cabbies Plot App to Take on Uber
With Uber and other app-based services undercutting taxi drivers’ incomes around the world, cabbies are plotting ways to fight back. One possibility is developing an app that would give passengers the convenience of hailing cabs on their smartphones but would work only with licensed drivers. The problem is competing with Uber’s financial muscle and brand recognition. “They see technology as a way to democratize the world,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance leader Bhairavi Desai said at a meeting Jan. 16. “But what Uber has done is use it to grab power for itself. We want to take it back as a tool to improve the lives of workers.” Read more

California Nurses Strike Averted
The Kaiser Permanente health-care chain reached a tentative contract deal Jan. 16 with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, averting a 48-hour strike scheduled to begin Jan. 21. The pact will give raises totaling 14% to about 18,000 registered nurses at Kaiser hospitals and clinics in the northern and central parts of the state, from Fresno to Santa Rosa. It also includes “groundbreaking workplace protections” for nurses from diseases such as Ebola. Read more

Low-Wage Employers Fight Database on Worker Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is finishing up a rule that would require all large employers to submit data on worker injuries to a national database—and trade groups representing Walmart, McDonald’s, Target, and Home Depot are spending millions of dollars lobbying to block it, claiming it would be too much of a burden. The regulation would apply to businesses with more than 250 employees, and to smaller companies in more dangerous fields such as trucking and construction. It would help workers prove their injuries were part of a job-related pattern and not just an individual mishap, said Robyn Robbins, a safety official at the United Food and Commercial Workers.
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Hollywood Teamsters Authorize TV-Ad Strike
Members of Teamsters Local 399 voted 414-36 on Jan. 11 to reject the “last, best, final” offer on a new two-year contract from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. The members objected to the deal because it would have raised the amount of money a producer can spend on an ad and still have it qualify as a lower-paying low-budget shoot, said Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan. The no vote means members in 14 Western states will strike when their contract expires Jan. 31 unless another agreement is reached before then. Read more

L.A. Trucking Firm May Go Union
Truck drivers at Shippers Transport Express, a major firm serving the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been reclassified as employees instead of independent contractors and joined the Teamsters Union. The company made the change on Jan. 1, and 88 of the 111 drivers signed union authorization cards. “This historic agreement represents an important step in drivers’ efforts to reform the drayage industry, and demonstrates clearly that labor and management can work together constructively to find solutions to challenges facing the industry and to the injustices facing the drivers,” said Fred Potter, head of the Teamsters’ port division. The union has staged strikes at several trucking companies at the port, trying to get them to hire truckers as employees with benefits. Read more

Majority of Delta Flight Attendants Sign Union Cards
Unions have been trying to organize flight attendants at Delta Airlines for years—and on Jan. 13, the International Association of Machinists delivered almost 12,000 signed cards to the National Mediation Board, requesting a union-representation election, The signers make up about 60% of the airline's 20,000 flight attendants. “This is a historic day for these courageous flight attendants,” IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said in a statement. Flight attendants at Delta have voted against a union three times in the last 13 years. A Machinists victory would be the largest transportation sector organizing win ever, the union said. Read more

S.C. Governor Makes Anti-Union Ad for Boeing
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has made a radio ad urging Boeing workers not to join the International Association of Machinists. The union has been campaigning to organize workers at the company’s facilities in North Charleston, where the 787 Dreamliner is built. The spot, which began airing Jan. 19 in the Charleston area, follows anti-union ads Boeing placed on local stations last month. Haley has been a virulent opponent of organized labor, even to the point of discouraging union employers from bringing jobs to South Carolina. Read more

Hotel Lobby Sues L.A. to Block $15 Minimum
Two hotel trade organizations affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council have sued to stop the city of Los Angeles from raising the minimum wage for non-union hotel workers to $15.37. The suit, filed last month by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, calls the minimum an “insidious mechanism that improperly aids the Hotel Workers' Union.” The American Hotel & Lodging Association, whose members include the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton chains, has campaigned against “extreme minimum and living wage initiatives” and lobbied for ALEC-written state laws that prevent local governments from raising the minimum wage. Read more

Rahm Emanuel ‘Redefines’ Pension-Fund Ethics
Although Chicago’s municipal pension system is included in the city’s budget, directly funded by the city, and administered by city officials, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is claiming that it’s not part of the city government. At least that’s what an ethics commission he appointed said last month, after it was asked to investigate more than $600,000 given to his re-election campaign by executives at firms managing city pension money. Chicago laws restrict campaign contributions from municipal contractors, but the commission said the pension funds are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city”—and that it was trying “to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.” Alderman Scott Waguespack called that legal opinion a “weak attempt at splitting hairs,” adding, “There should be oversight, and the pay-to-play rules apply to these firms.” Read more

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