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Weekly Digest – November 7, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

New Jersey Voters Raise Minimum Wage

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour in January and index future increases to inflation. The measure won more than 60% of the vote. Business groups spent about $1 million campaigning against it, arguing that it would lead to job losses. But other businesspeople supported it, and a union-backed campaign for the increase raised $1.3 million and held large rallies in cities across the state. The vote makes New Jersey the 20th state to set its minimum higher than the federal standard of $7.25.

$15 Minimum Leads in SeaTac

Supporters of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in SeaTac, Washington, claimed victory as the measure led by a 54-46% margin in early returns Nov. 5. SeaTac, a city of about 27,000 people between Seattle and Tacoma, is home to SeaTac Airport and numerous restaurants and hotels around it, so the measure would give about 6,300 workers a raise. “Everybody deserves a living wage and that's what I'm happy about,” said Roxan Sibel, who’s worked at the airport for 30 years. “We've got it.” But as Washington votes by mail, there are still many ballots that haven’t been counted.

Will Tennessee Card-Check Ban Affect UAW’s VW Campaign?

Will a little-known Tennessee ban on “card check” enacted in 2011 affect the United Auto Workers’ drive to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga? The measure states that workers may choose to join a union by secret-ballot vote, and “no alternative means shall be used… as convincing evidence of employee majority support.” However, it would likely not override the federal laws permitting card check. “You could have something in the state charter taking voting rights away from women, but you can't do it because the federal law supersedes it,” said UAW regional director Gary Casteel. State Attorney General Bob Cooper wrote in 2011 that the state statute does not conflict with federal law, but that it applies only to situations in which a secret-ballot election has already been selected.

Main BART Unions Approve Contract

The Bay Area Rapid Transit System’s two main unions approved a new contract Nov. 1, ending a dispute that had provoked two strikes. Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 155 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 voted heavily in favor of the four-year agreement, which will give raise their pay by 16.4 percent over four years, with bonuses of up to $1,000 a year if ridership exceeds expectations. But members will have to contribute up to 4 percent of their pay for pensions, and their health care contributions will rise from about $92 to $129 a month. The contract must also be ratified by BART's board of directors and a third union, AFSCME Local 3993. Both are expected to do so.

One-Day Strike Shuts UK Universities

Thousands of British university staff walked off their jobs Oct. 31, in their first national strike over pay in seven years. The three unions that organized the action say lecturers, technicians, and administration workers have had an effective 13 percent pay cut since 2008. The universities have offered a 1 percent raise. “Staff around the UK are taking strike action to try and reverse some of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “Staff are furious at what has happened to their pay.”

Corporations Rewriting State Labor Laws

State legislators and corporate lobbies have engaged in an unprecedented attack on minimum wages and other labor-protection laws in the last two years, according a report by the Economic Policy Institute released Oct. 31. New Hampshire repealed its minimum-wage law in 2011, and South Dakota eliminated its minimum for seasonal tourism workers. These and state anti-union measures, the report said, have been pushed primarily by powerful national corporate lobbies “that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country.”

Oregonians Protesting Post Office Privatization Arrested

Seven people were arrested Oct. 29 in Portland, Oregon, while trying to deliver a petition protesting postal privatization to the city’s main post office. “Postal truckers, mail handlers, and mail-processing clerks are losing their jobs to profiteering private corporations,” said retired teacher Michael Colvin, one of those arrested. The seven were charged with trespassing, and protesters are considering filing assault charges against a postal inspector who threw four of them to the floor. Protesters have been arrested several times in recent demonstrations against the Postal Service’s closing facilities and outsourcing trucking and mail processing in Portland and Salem.

Las Vegas Guitar Center Workers Join RWDSU

Workers at the Guitar Center store in Las Vegas voted 14-5 Nov. 1 to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “It feels really good, like there's hope to turn this into a decent job,” said Doug Simpson, 58, a salesperson in the audio department. “It all boiled down to a lack of respect and the company trying to get more out of us for less money.” The store is the third in the Bain Capital-owned music-equipment chain to go union: Workers in the Manhattan and Chicago stores joined the RWDSU earlier this year, but organizing campaigns failed at the Brooklyn and Queens outlets.

Southern California Verizon Workers Strike Over Grievances

More than 1,000 Verizon workers in Southern California walked off the job Oct. 29 over what they called “unfair labor practices.” The company has been in negotiations with the Communications Workers of America for more than a year, and the federal government is now mediating the bargaining. CWA District 9 area director Libby Sayre said the one-day strike was over pensions and health care, but Local 9588 secretary/treasurer Rosa Bernal said it was triggered by an lockout at a Verizon facility in Camarillo.

United Airlines Employees Ratify Contract

Close to 28,000 workers for United Airlines and its subsidiaries approved a new contract Oct. 30, winning them wage increases ranging from 7 to 29 percent. The agreement covers fleet service, passenger service, and stockroom employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Negotiating the three-year deal took more than four years, as it involved sorting out issues stemming from the merger of United and Continental Airlines.

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