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Weekly Digest – June 18, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Rhode Island Blocks $15 Minimum in Providence

Rhode Island’s legislature approved a state budget June 16 that prohibits local governments from raising their minimum wage higher than the state’s. The provision pre-empts a proposed Providence ordinance that would set a $15-an-hour minimum for hotel workers. Three members of UNITE HERE Local 217 and a Central Falls city councilmember went on a hunger strike urging Gov. Lincoln Chafee to veto the measure. The House Labor Committee did approve a bill to raise the state minimum from $8 to $9 as of January.

Weingarten Blasts Arne Duncan on Anti-Tenure Decision
Saying that he was “pitting students against their teachers,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten angrily criticized Education Secretary Arne Duncan for his support of a California judge’s decision that voided state laws giving teachers tenure and seniority protections. Duncan had called the decision a “mandate” to fix “laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students” and said it presents an opportunity “to build a new framework for the teaching profession.” “Teachers across the country are wondering why the secretary of education thinks that stripping them of their due process is the way to help all children succeed,” Weingarten responded in a June 12 letter to him.

Obama Ends Philly Commuter-Rail Strike
President Barack Obama signed an executive order June 14 mandating eight months of mediation after workers on the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s regional rail lines went on strike earlier in the day. The 430 engineers and electricians represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmenwalked out after SEPTA management announced it would impose its terms to settle a long-running contract dispute. Those terms would have given the workers raises, but the union rejected them because the raises were not retroactive to the last contract’s expiration, and did not include a pension increase that Philadelphia city bus and subway workers got in 2009. Both management and the union predict a strike in February, when the mediation period expires.

Machinists Reach Deal With American Airlines
American Airlines Group reached a tentative agreement June 16 with US Airways workers represented by the International Association of Machinists. The three-year contract covers 11,000 mechanics and ground workers who became part of American when the two airlines merged last year, and will give them annual raises and protection against furloughs. If ratified, the deal clears the way for the Machinists and the Transport Workers Union to represent workers at both airlines jointly.

Jersey Workers Protest Christie’s Pension Cuts
Chanting “Obey the law, keep your promise,” hundreds of New Jersey public employees marched to the State House in Trenton June 12, protesting Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to reduce the state’s contributions to its underfunded pension plan by $2.4 billion. “No one responsibly believes that we should allow a pension plan worth billions of dollars to collapse,” said Hetty Rosenstein, area director of the Communications Workers of America, one of 14 unions suing Christie to stop the plan. “No responsible leader actually recommends reneging on debt as if he were stiffing a buddy in a sports bet.”

Puerto Rico Unions Mull General Strike
With Puerto Rico’s legislature considering a draconian austerity budget, public workers’ unions have said they may call a general strike. The proposed Fiscal Sustainability Act, a response to credit agencies downgrading Puerto Rico’s bonds to “junk” status,would give the commonwealth’s government “emergency powers” to renegotiate all public employees’ contracts, privatize its electricity company, and close 100 schools. Union workers have protested by stopping ferry service for one day and blocking the entrance to the central government building in San Juan.

UNITE HERE Wins at Atlantic City’s Nonunion Casino
Workers at the Revel casino, the only non-union casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted overwhelmingly to join UNITE HERE Local 54 in early June. Local 54 President Bob McDevitt called the vote a “huge victory.” The union will now represent about 1,000 housekeepers, bartenders, food service workers, and others, and hopes to win them retirement and health benefits, as well as protecting their jobs when a new owner takes over the financially troubled casino.

Philly Airport Workers Demand Minimum Wage
About three dozen Philadelphia International Airport workers stormed the hallway outside Mayor Michael Nutter’s office June 10, demanding that he enforce his executive order raising the minimum wage for contractors doing business with the city to $10.88 an hour. “We’re concerned that people are still working full-time, living in deep poverty here in the city of Philadelphia, and the administration has the power to be able to enforce this right now,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER interfaith organization and pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ. The mayor’s chief of staff told the workers, mostly Local 32BJ SEIU members ranging from security checkpoint officers to baggage handlers, that contracts were being renegotiated and “we’re trying to get it done as quickly as we can.”

NY State Court Employees Approve New Contract
Employees of New York State’s Unified Court System have voted 2-to-1 to approve a new contract that will give them three 2% raises between now and 2017 and contains provisions to prevent furloughs if the state budget is late. “This was a very difficult negotiation and I am proud that CSEA members ignored outside noise and focused on the facts about this agreement," said Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 5,700 court clerks, officers, reporters and other employees. The deal now goes to the state legislature for approval.

Mexican Workers Protest Mass Firing
Workers at the CBI maquiladora in the border city of Matamoros have been staging a “permanent” picket outside the plant gates since 300 employees were fired after they went on strike June 3. It was the second strike this year at the factory, which manufactures ducts and metal platforms, and the workers say they’re going to stay until they get their jobs back. “We are struggling against an entire system,” said National Miners Union representative Luis Sanchez Zuniga, accusing the local labor conciliation board of favoring the employer. Welders at CBI take home less than $100 a week, half what they would make in other northern Mexican cities.

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