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Weekly Digest – November 12, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Striking FairPoint Workers Rally in Maine
Workers at the FairPoint telecommunications company rallied in Portland, Maine Nov. 9 as their strike entered its fourth week. The company hasagreed to return to bargaining Nov. 18, but is still demanding about $700 million in concessions from the two unions that represent about 2,000 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the ability to hire contract workers. “I’m not overwhelmed with optimism,” said Jenn Nappi of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. She said FairPoint management wants to hire “low-wage, temporary, unskilled labor” and to pay all new employees minimum wage. Read more

Kentucky Election Stalls Republicans’ Right-to-Work Push
While Kentucky voters were sending Republican leader Mitch McConnell back to the Senate over a labor-endorsed Democrat, they were also returning a 54–46 Democratic majority to the state House—and thwarting GOP plans to enact a “right to work for less” law, one of the party’s top priorities. The outcome “was huge for us,” said Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. “All that stands between us and a right-to-work law is that Democratic House.” Kentucky and West Virginia are the only states south of the Ohio River that permit union shops. Read more

Phoenix Rejects Anti-Pension Initiative
Voters in Phoenix solidly rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated pensions for future city employees and replaced them with a 401(k)-style plan. Proposition 487, largely financed by Texas hedge-fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold, received less than 44% of the vote. City workers, led by the United Phoenix Firefighters, staged a massive grass-roots campaign against the measure, knocking on about 250,000 doors. “My average employee, their pension will be $28,000 a year. They're never going to be millionaires,” said Frank Piccioli, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2960, noting that city workers are already paying more for pensions under a 2013 initiative. Read more

Teamsters Organizing Boston Parking Attendants
After two years of trying to organize the about 1,600 parking attendants in the Boston area, Teamsters Local 25 has won contracts with five parking companies that run more than 100 lots. The union says it has won raises to an average of $12 an hour and gotten the companies to provide bathrooms, heat, and air conditioning. It expects to have the three main other companies unionized by next year, including one where a 36-year-old Somalian immigrant complains that he has to urinate in plastic bottles because there’s no bathroom on the lot and he’s not allowed to leave while on the job. Read more

Oregon County Workers Get $15 Minimum
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employeesmembers working for Oregon’s Multnomah County—Portland and its suburbs—will all earn at least $15 per hour by July 2016, under a tentative agreement announced in early November. A county spokesperson said almost all the 151 employees who will get the raises are pages at the Multnomah County Library, who now start at just under $12. The state minimum wage is $9.10. Read more

American Airlines Attendants Narrowly Nix Contract
Flight attendants at the recently merged American Airlines and US Airways voted down a proposed five-year contract Nov. 9 by a 16-vote margin out of more than 16,000 cast. The outstanding issues will go to binding arbitration next month. Leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants had urged their members to approve it, saying it was a much better deal than their current contracts or the industry-standard agreement they are likely to get from arbitration. Read more

Philadelphia Transit Workers Ratify New Contract
Philadelphia transit workers voted overwhelmingly Nov. 7 to ratify a new two-year contract with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Members of Transport Workers Union Local, which represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers, and mechanics, will get a 2% raise next month and another 3% a year later, with disputes on pension and health care issues left open until 2016. The contract “is a very good interim agreement that allows our members to make gains and does not inconvenience the public. We're not done yet," Local 234 President Willie Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. Read more

Trumka Calls Americans “Desperate for a New Economic Life”
After a disappointing election night, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Nov. 5 that the vote confirmed “beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans are desperate for a new economic life.” When they “had the chance to vote directly on the issues and not through the filter of candidates and billions of campaign dollars,” he said, they approved minimum-wage increases by large margins, and four ballot initiatives supporting paid sick days also passed. The AFL-CIO is planning a long-term, year-round mobilization structure that won't stop with elections, he added, with a particular focus on raising wages, immigration-law reform, and making sure that international trade deals work for working families. Read more

Forced Arbitration: The New “Yellow-Dog Contract”
Forced-arbitration agreements—clauses that prohibit workers from using the courts against their employers for safety violations, discrimination, or unfair labor practices—are often buried in the fine print of non-union employment contracts, as they are in cell-phone contracts and credit-card agreements. In one case, a Texas court held that a woman who washed dishes at a fast-food restaurant could not sue her employer after she was injured on the job, because her employee handbook dictated that any claims against the company were to be decided by a private arbitrator. Before the Norris-LaGuardia Act outlawed them in 1932, companies frequently required their workers to sign “yellow-dog contracts” in which they agreed not to join a union. Read more

Is Salary Stagnation Legal Wage Theft?
Contractors refusing to pay undocumented immigrant day laborers for the work they’ve done, fast-food franchises cheating workers out of overtime pay, and Amazon forcing workers to wait around to be checked for stolen goods after they clock out are all common varieties of wage theft in America, economist Les Leopold notes—but he argues that a more massive form of paycheck pilfering has been built into the system legally for the last generation. Until the mid-1970s, he says, increases in real wages roughly matched those in workers’ productivity, but since then, while the average amount produced has risen from about $750 a week in current dollars to about $1,170, but average wages have fallen to about $612. Where did that extra $550 a week go? “It all comes back to Wall Street,” Leopold says. “Even if it's legal, in my book, it's the very definition of ‘wrongful taking.’” Read more

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