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Weekly Digest – May 28, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Sandberg Won’t ‘Lean In’ for Boston Hotel Workers
With Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg scheduled to speak at Harvard University May 28, UNITE HERE Local 26 tried to get her to support workers at the Hilton DoubleTree Suites hotel in Boston—who are trying to empower themselves in the workplace by joining the union. They asked the Facebook executive to meet with the hotel’s women workers, and created flyers in the style of her book’s cover, with housekeepers’ faces over the subtitle “Sheryl Sandberg, will you lean in with the women of Harvard’s hotel?” Sandberg said she did not have time, and Harvard—the hotel’s landlord—has also refused to intervene. UNITE HERE has called for a boycott of the DoubleTree because it is resisting the workers’ attempt to unionize.

Chicago Teachers Call School Closings Failure
One year after Chicago decided to close 49 public elementary schools and one high school program, the Chicago Teachers Union said the closings “have done nothing to improve the education of CPS students, nor have they saved money.” A study the union released May 21 found that the city gave more than ten times as much money per pupil to expanding charter schools than it did to help most of the schools receiving transfers from the schools. It also found that class sizes had not been reduced in the schools receiving transfers, most of them didn’t have librarians, and only one-fifth had technology teachers.

Union Film Jobs Move to Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico
Film and TV production moving to Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico has caused International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employeesmembership in those three states to skyrocket in the last dozen years. IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 479 in Atlanta, which had only 191 members in 2002, now has more than 2,000, and has become the union’s largest local outside of New York and Los Angeles. Local 479’s New Orleans chapter and Local 480 in New Mexico have each grown from less than 150 to more than 1,000 members. Filmmakers shooting in these states benefit from recently enacted government tax incentives, and the IATSE agreement that covers them lets them pay less than they would in New York and Los Angeles.

Machinists Settle Mississippi Strike
Members of Machinists Lodge 2249 voted 41-7 May 20 to accept a three-year contract with Lockheed Martin, ending a five-day strike at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. They took the company’s final offer, which replaces their pension with a 401(k) retirement plan—the issue that provoked the strike. Lodge 2249 president J.C. Felder said they wanted to end the strike quickly, the contract includes raises and benefit improvements, and they will negotiate retirement issues again when it expires.

Anti-Union VW Workers Drop Suit Against UAW
Three Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee on May 23 withdrew their federal lawsuit challenging the company’s agreement with the United Auto Workers not to interfere with its efforts to organize the plant. The National Right to Work Foundation, which represented the three, said they dropped the suit because VW and UAW attorneys had said that the union, which lost a vote at the plant in February, could not try again until next year. The withdrawal came two days after the Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that federal labor law permits such neutrality agreements, so neither Volkswagen nor the UAW did anything illegal.

Recession, Unemployment Hammer Black College Grads
More than 12% of young black college graduates are unemployed, and more than half of all college-educated African-Americans are underemployed, working in occupations that don’t require a diploma, says a study released in May by the Center for Economic Policy and Research. The 12.4% unemployment rate for black college grads ages 22 to 27 is more than twice the overall unemployment rate for all recent graduates that age, and almost three times what it was in 2007. Those with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math have a 10% unemployment rate and a 32% underemployment rate. The study’s authors blame racism and the economy.

CWA Wins Vote at Verizon…
Retail sales reps and customer service reps at six Brooklyn Verizon Wireless stores voted by a 2-1 margin May 14 to join the Communications Workers of America. The stores are Verizon’s first to be unionized, and while Verizon’s landline workers are heavily CWA members, only a handful on its wireless side are. The workers who organized say solidarity and adroit social networking enabled them to withstand “six weeks of intense union-busting.

…And Loses a Close One at Upstate Hospital
After a seven-month court battle over which ballots were valid, the results of last October’s election at Olean General Hospital in western New York State were announced May 23—and its licensed practical nurses and technicians had voted 57-54 against joining Communications Workers of America Local 1168. “We’re extremely disappointed,” said Local 1168 president Cori Gambini. The hospital’s only union is the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 230 registered nurses. 

ITUC Ranks U.S. in Second-Worst Category for Workers’ Rights
Cambodia, where police killed at least three garment workers protesting for higher wages in January, and Qatar, which prohibits migrant workers from joining unions, are among the world’s worst nations for labor, according to the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index, released May 19 in Berlin. Denmark led the 18 nations rated as having only “irregular” violations of workers’ rights. The United States, along with Iran, Mexico, and Kuwait, was among the 30 listed as having “systematic” violations, where “the government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers.” “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow.

Filipino Teachers Trafficked to U.S.
Researchers estimate that there are somewhere between 14,000 to 20,000 teachers in American public schools who have been imported on temporary guest worker visas—and get paid far less than local teachers do. A placement agency that sent 350 Filipino teachers to Louisiana charged them $12,500 plus 10% of their first two years’ salaries and confiscated their passports. A Georgia contractor advertised that its administrative fees cost less than regular teachers’ benefits. Meanwhile, teachers in the Philippines, which has the highest student-teacher ratio in Asia at 45:1, work multiple sessions with as many as 70 to 80 students packed in a room.

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