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Weekly Digest – March 26, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

L.A. Port Truckers Ruled Employees
Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach won a National Labor Relations Board settlement Mar. 21, when the board ruled that they were employees of Pacific 9 Transportation Inc. and not independent contractors. “The 30-year debate is over. The misclassification lie has been busted. The port drivers are, in fact, employees,” said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848. The union had accused Pacific 9 of threatening to close the business if the drivers joined the union, and of using the independent-contractor designation to dodge labor laws. A company statement still called the drivers “contractors.”

Chicago Voters Endorse $15 Minimum Wage
In an advisory referendum March 18, voters in Chicago endorsed $15-an-hour minimum wage for large employers in the city by a margin of 87-13%. The referendum, on the state and local primary ballot in about 5% of the city’s precincts, may encourage the city council to consider a wage hike. It will also be an issue in the state’s gubernatorial election, where Gov. Pat Quinn has endorsed raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to at least $10, while his Republican challenger, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, proposed cutting it to the national rate of $7.25.

Trumka Says Tennessee Pols Broke Law
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Mar. 25 that Tennessee politicians such as Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and State Sen. Bo Watson committed “a clear violation of the law” when they said Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant would lose future jobs and state aid if workers voted to join the United Auto Workers. They were effectively telling workers, “if you vote for a union we’re going to take your livelihood away,” Trumka said, and they had the power to carry out those threats. That, he said, violates the requirement that union elections be held in “laboratory conditions where people can vote without being threatened and intimidated.” The UAW, on similar grounds, has asked the National Labor Relations Board to schedule a new election at the factory. A hearing has been set for April 21.

Maine Medical-Pot Workers Win Labor-Law Protection
In its first case involving workers in the cannabis industry, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Mar. 10 that they are protected by federal labor law. The board authorized a complaint that Wellness Connection, Maine’s largest medical-marijuana dispensary chain, repeatedly retaliated against and interfered with workers who were trying to join the United Food and Commercial Workers. Former employee Ian Brodie said workers began talking union in early 2013, after a walkout by Wellness growers who’d developed lung problems from illegally used pesticides, and management wasn’t “willing to speak to us as individuals, so a few of us got together and compounded a list of everything that needed to change.” Though marijuana is illegal under federal law, the UFCW has been organizing industry workers in the states where it’s legal for medical use.

Rappers Back UAW Nissan Drive
Rapper Common headlined a rally and concert Mar. 23 at Jackson State University in Mississippi, supporting workers at Nissan’s Canton factory who are trying to join the United Auto Workers. Hip-hop producer Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy and P. Diddy, sent a videotaped message of support, and actor and activist Danny Glover also took part. Key issues at the plant include the company’s growing use of temporary workers, who get paid less than direct hires and have no job security. “While we welcome the presence of foreign-owned companies like Nissan in Mississippi, we will not tolerate a company treating Mississippians as second-class citizens,” said the Reverend R. Isiac Jackson, Jr., chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

California Hospital Strike Averted
A five-day strike scheduled to begin Mar. 24 at the University of California’s five medical centers was averted after the university reached a tentative contract agreement with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. The four-year deal, reached after almost two years of negotiation, includes raises and secure benefits and staffing levels, the union said, and the university withdrew a proposal for expanded “emergency” layoff powers. AFSCME 3299 represents 13,000 patient-care technical workers at UC hospitals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, and Davis.

Canada Stops Mexican Blacklist
The British Columbia Labour Relations Board has ruled that the Mexican government improperly interfered with a union by singling out seasonal agriculture workers who had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers and preventing them from returning to Canada. The decision blocks an effort to decertify the union at Sidhu & Sons Nursery in Abbotsford. “It has been a long battle, but finally the truth has won out,” said Ivan Limpright, head of UFCW Canada Local 1518. “Every worker in Canada has the right to join a union, including migrant workers.”

Machinists Mull Strike at US Airways
Angry that US Airways workers are paid about 10% less than those doing similar jobs at American Airlines, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has taken its first steps toward a possible strike, asking federal mediators to give it a 30-day cooling-off period. The IAM, which represents about 14,000 US Airways machinists, mechanics, and fleet service workers, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since before the two airlines merged last year. The Transport Workers Union, which represents 22,000 workers at American, says it would support a strike by the US Airways workers.

Seattle Limits Rideshare Companies
The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Mar. 17 to limit rideshare companies to no more than 150 drivers on the road at a time. These companies, such as Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber, pair drivers with riders through a Web application and have been growing competition for regular taxi companies, as they don’t face the same licensing, insurance, and tax requirements. But activist cabbie Joe Blondo said the vote was a defeat for taxi drivers because it “basically legitimized all the illegal activity of the for-hire and rideshare companies.” New Orleans, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon have banned rideshare-app companies, and Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Detroit have imposed taxi-like regulations on them.

International Unions Charge ‘Slave Labor’ in Qatar
More than 1,000 migrant workers in Qatar have died in the last three years, the International Trade Union Confederation says in a report released in mid-March, and another 4,000 could die by the time the nation hosts the 2022 World Cup. Workers from countries like Nepal, India, and the Philippines, who are more than two-thirds of the country’s 2 million people, “are enslaved,” the report says, under the “kafala” system, in which “employers enjoy near total control over the movement of workers in their employ, including over their ability to reside in Qatar, to change jobs or even to leave the country.”

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