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Weekly Digest – January 7, 2015

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Two More Kentucky Counties Ban Union Shop
Two small Kentucky counties enacted local laws banning the union shop Dec. 30. Simpson and Fulton counties, both on the Tennessee border, followed Warren County in approving a so-called right-to-work law. They are the first local governments in the nation to pass such laws, and three others in the state’s rural southwest,Hardin, Todd, and Cumberland counties, are in the process of passing similar measures. Kentucky labor unions have vowed to fight them in court, on the grounds that the county governments are usurping power legally reserved for states. A dark-money organization called Protect My Check, recommended by Sen. Rand Paul, has promised to pay the counties’ legal bills. Read more

‘Minnesota Ice’ Doesn’t Faze Ironworkers
As the new year approached, wind-chill factor temperatures in the Minneapolis area plummeted to 15 below zero—but that didn’t faze the workers building the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium, members of Ironworkers Local 512. “I’ve lived here my entire life, that’s how,” Jess Hill, working on her first winter construction project, scoffed when asked how she copes with cold. Workers on the job universally wear layers that include more than one jacket, flannel-lined pants and/or overalls, heavily insulated boots, and gloves. The structure also has two giant propane-fueled heaters, and sheets of plastic keep the heat in and the wind out. Still, different trades contracts say that when the wind-chill gets colder than 15 or 20 below, the jobs get shut down. Read more

Indiana Union May Take ‘Right-to-Work’ Law to Supreme Court
Despite federal and state court rulings upholding Indiana’s ban on union shops, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 is considering taking the fight to the Supreme Court. The likely argument, said Local 150 general counsel Dale Pierson, would be that the federal 7th Circuit appeals court was simply wrong when it held that the law did not force unions to perform services without just compensation, as they have to represent workers who don’t pay dues or fees. Another possibility would be a new suit, if a union can show that its ability to represent workers has suffered because nonmembers are not paying their fair share. Read more

Hours-Law Change Would Axe Obamacare for 1.5 Million Workers
A top priority for House Republicans is to amend the Affordable Care Act to redefine “full-time” work as 40 hours a week instead of 30—in order to cut the number of workers employers are required to cover under Obamacare. The legislation would undercut the law’s employer mandate, which will go into effect this year and requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to 95 percent of their full-time workers or pay a fine. The change could mean that up to 1.5 million Americans will lose their insurance. One possible tactic might be attaching the amendment to a budget bill that President Barack Obama has to sign or risk shutting down the government. Read more

Wage Stagnation Squeezes Working Families
“It’s been six years since anyone at our company has had a raise,” says Laurie Chisum, 52, who works as a manager for a small office-equipment company in Los Angeles’ Orange County suburbs. “It seems like I just keep falling further into a hole. The price of gas has gone down, but nothing else has.” Average hourly wages rose by 1.7% in the year ending in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and have gone up about 11% since 2009—but the Consumer Price Index has also gone up by 11% since then, including increases of 12.5% in average food costs, 12% in rents, and 17% in health care. Read more

Virtual-School Teachers Organize
Those trying to privatize education have promoted nonunion charter and online schools over public schools with unionized teachers—but “virtual teachers” in an online charter school system in California are pushing back. A majority of the 750 teachers at California Virtual Academies, a chain of online schools with 16,000 students, have signed petitions to join the California Teachers Association, and the union filed with the state labor relations board in May. The chain, however, is refusing to recognize them, claiming it is actually 11 separate schools and not one bargaining unit. Read more

Judge Rejects Workers' Suit Against UAW
A federal judge in Michigan has dismissed a suit filed last summer by Ford workers who claimed that the United Auto Workers didn’t represent them fairly. The 191 workers, who had been transferred to Ford assembly plants after layoffs at its parts-making subsidiary Automotive Component Holdings, were mostly making second-tier wages of $17 to $18 an hour, well under the $28 regular Ford workers got. Judge Nancy G. Edmunds said the workers had filed the suit after the six-month statute of limitations on the actions they alleged had passed. A UAW lawyer said their claims were baseless. Read more

Illinois Court Likely to Sustain Ruling Against Pension Cuts
Illinois’ highest court is likely to reject the state's appeal of a November lower-court ruling that struck down the 2013 law cutting pension benefits to all state workers. The state constitution says that as retirement benefits are part of a contract, they cannot be "diminished or impaired." Arizona courts invalidated similar laws on those grounds in 2012 and 2014. Illinois’ five-fund pension system is the most underfunded in the nation. New Gov. Bruce Rauner has favored eliminating pensions and switching state workers to a defined contribution system. Read more

Jersey Transit Union Blasts Plan to End Late-Night PATH Trains
The head of the New Jersey Amalgamated Transit Union State Council sharply criticized plans to end late-night service on the PATH trains connecting New York City with Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken. Ray Greaves said the plan, announced Jan. 2, “would be detrimental to people who are trying to make ends meet,” denying affordable transportation to low-wage workers. The system carries an average of more than 200,000 riders a day, but a panel appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that not running trains between 1 and 5 a.m. on weeknights could save at least $10 million a year.  Read more

Atlanta Stagehands Fight ‘Labor Pimp’ Contracting System
Tired of working for low-wage temporary contractors for as little as $10 an hour,stagehands in the Atlanta area are trying to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The main target is Crew One Productions, one of several nonunion temp agencies whose domination of work at pop concerts is undermining IATSE’s membership base, says organizer Daniel Di Tolla. A majority of Crew One workers voted to join the union in April, but the firm is refusing to bargain a first contract, claiming they are independent contractors. “It was atrocious the way I was treated,” says former employee Chris Stewart, who said the company didn’t give stagehands drinking water and enforced rules that workers must not speak to the performers. Read more

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