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Weekly Digest – June 25, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Wage Theft: Employers Steal More Than Armed Robbers
According to the Economic Policy Institute, robbers took $139 million from banks, gas stations, and convenience stores in the U.S. in 2012—half of the $280 million in illegally withheld back wages that the Department of Labor recovered from U.S. companies that year. EPI vice president Ross Eisenbrey estimates that U.S. workers are cheated out of $40 billion to $60 billion a year. Common methods include paying less than minimum wage, having employees work off the clock, and classifying workers as salaried employees or independent contractors so they don’t have to be paid for overtime.

Massachusetts Teachers Union Head Says ‘Fighting Is Winning’
“I accessed anger at the rank-and-file level,” says recently elected Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni, “but I also tried to hold up a more positive vision for re-engaging the world.” While she says teachers’ unions are in a position where they might “lose everything”—she calls the “overwhelming focus” on raising test scores “bureaucratic cruelty”—she’s optimistic that can be stopped. “I think fighting is winning,” she told the EduShyster blog, saying she believes that members become much more active when “we tell them, ‘We can be powerful. We can use our power. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be hard. But history shows that we can do this.’”

NYC Correction Officers Challenge Obamacare Drug Limits
New York City’s Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that it is unconstitutional for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to prohibit insurers from putting limits on how much they’ll pay for drugs. The union offers its members a supplemental prescription-drug plan that doesn’t require them to contribute, but limits annual payments to $10,000 per family. In the complaint, union president Norman Seabrook said eliminating that limit “has resulted in skyrocketing costs” and that the Obama administration’s refusal to grant union benefit funds an exemption stemmed from either “an irrational hostility targeting such funds because they are sponsored by public-sector unions” or ignoring the provision’s “disparate adverse impact” on union benefits.

NLRB Rules for Steelworkers Upstate
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to seek a court order voiding a vote against the United Steelworkers at an upstate aluminum plant and mandating the company recognize them as bargaining agent. The nearly 600 hourly workers at the Novelis Inc. factory in Scriba, N.Y., near Oswego, voted against the union in February, but the board ruled that the company had prevented a fair election by illegally telling workers that pay would be cut, working conditions would worsen, and the plant would close if they voted to join the union. A hearing before a federal administrative law judge in Syracuse is scheduled for July 16.

Philly Building Trades Agree to Take Lower Pay for Public Housing
Philadelphia’s building-trades unions have agreed to take 20% lower pay and benefits by 20 percent when constructing new buildings for the city Housing Authority. In return, the authority will pledge to engage only contractors who hire union laborers, carpenters, painters, and other workers when it builds “affordable housing.” “This is a very, very good negotiated agreement," said Pat Eiding, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Philadelphia, who explained that it would enable members of the council’s 14 unions to get work that now often goes to nonunion contractors.

Aqueduct Union Deal Bodes Well for Upstate Casino Jobs
Contracts negotiated by the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council at Resorts World’s Aqueduct racino in Queens are an encouraging sign for high wages at casinos slated for the Albany area. The state Gaming Commission is requiring bidders for casino licenses to open their facilities to union organizing and to make project-labor agreements to pay prevailing wages when constructing them. While workers’ salaries at the new casinos probably won’t be as high as those in New York City, there’s a strong chance that they will average more than $40,000 a year. The casino license applications are due June 30.

Jewish-School Teachers Running Out of Options to Save Union
Teachers at two Jewish elementary schools in the Philadelphia suburbs are running out of options to prevent management from ending their union recognition. The Perelman Jewish Day School board told teachers in March that it would no longer recognize their American Federation of Teachers representation after the contract expires on Aug. 31. “The brunt of Jewish law is on the side of the workers and on the side of the unions,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of T’ruah, a rabbinical human-rights organization, explained at a June 18 meeting. The school board is ignoring that, and it also claims that private religious schools are exempt from federal collective-bargaining laws. The AFT has filed several unfair-practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

NLRB Asks for Revote at Oklahoma Chicken Plant
The National Labor Relations Board has asked OK Foods to let maintenance and refrigeration workers at its chicken-processing plant in Heavener, Oklahoma vote again on whether to join United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1000. The union narrowly lost a vote May 1, but alleged that the company had denied wage increases, benefits, and retroactive pay to workers engaged in union activities. In a June 20 letter, NLRB Region 14 in Overland Park, Kansas asked OK Foods to settle voluntarily or face formal charges. “We’ve concluded there was enough evidence,” said NLRB regional director Dan Hubbel.

Sharpton Calls for Healing at Jewish Labor Committee
“We that have done things that has led to the division of blacks and Jews have to work vigorously to heal the wounds,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at the Jewish Labor Committee’s annual Human Rights Awards Dinner in New York June 19. JLC president Stuart Appelbaum, who also heads the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said the group decided to invite Sharpton to help “re-establish the relationship that motivated us for so many decades,” such as in the civil-rights movement. The group honored Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Teamsters international vice president at-large George Miranda.

Neutrality Agreements Help UAW Organize
Getting neutrality agreements from employers has helped the United Auto Workers organize workers at a bus factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma and graduate-student employees at several universities. Since 2009, nine of every 10 new UAW members have come from elections in which management did not actively oppose the organizing effort, the union said earlier this month. Peter Barker, a retired regional director at the National Labor Relations Board, says the UAW’s relationships with GM, Ford and Chrysler helped it win neutrality agreements elsewhere in the industry because “the Detroit Three wanted to make sure their auto suppliers were not going to have labor problems if there was an organizing drive going on.” But neutrality remains the exception when most employers are hostile to unions, especially in the South.

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