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Weekly Digest – October 15, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Philly Teachers Say They Give Enough
Facing calls for them to make the “sacrifice” of paying more for health care, Philadelphia teachers responded to the School Reform Commission’s Oct. 6 cancellation of their contract by saying they already send hundreds of dollars a year buying supplies. Kindergarten teacher Sharnae Wilson bought her own copier because her school's machine doesn't always work, as well as paper, notebooks, folders, books, crayons, and weekly educational magazines for the 29 kids in her class. "It's only October and I've already spent $500," said Wilson, a teacher for 15 years. "I usually spend close to $2,000 every year. I buy all the necessities—the parents don't have means, so I spend a lot." She says she will now have to pay $600 a month for health care. Read more

Wisconsin Denies Minimum-Wage Increase
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's administration has rejected an effort to use a little-known state law to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. Wisconsin Jobs Now, a liberal group, and 100 workers had asked the state labor department to raise it, citing a requirement that the minimum “shall not be less than a living wage,” defined as “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well-being, decency, and moral well-being.” The department denied the request Oct. 6, saying it “has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.” Read more

Nurses Union Warns That Hospitals Aren’t Ready for Ebola
Members of National Nurses United rallied in Oakland, California Oct. 12 to warn that the nation's hospitals aren't properly prepared to handle cases of Ebola fever. "We're seeing that caregivers who are not being adequately trained are being blamed," said Katy Roemer, a registered nurse for more than 20 years. The union said a survey of more than 1,900 registered nurses at more than 750 hospitals found that 76% reported that their hospital has not communicated an official policy regarding Ebola patients, and 37% said their hospital had insufficient supplies of eye protection or fluid-resistant gowns. Read more

RI Unions in Court to Preserve Pensions
A coalition of more than 175 Rhode Island public workers’ unions will be back in court Oct. 17 on their lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 pension cuts, which suspended cost-of-living increases for retirees. The union contends that the cuts are illegal because they violate an implied contract with the state, and the judge agreed that they had a valid case. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the Democratic candidate for governor, is seeking to have the case decided by a jury, while the unions want a judge to rule on it. Read more

NY Teachers Challenge Common Core Gag Order
The New York State United Teachers filed a lawsuit against the state Education Department in federal court Oct. 8, contending that the state law banning teachers from talking about the questions on Common Core-based tests is unconstitutional. "If teachers believe test questions are unfair or inappropriate, they should be able to say so without fear of dismissal or losing their teaching license," NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement. Read more

D.C. Unions Back Marijuana-Legalization Initiative
Three major labor groups in Washington, DC—the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, and D.C. Working Families—announced Oct. 14 that they were endorsing a Initiative 71, a ballot measure that would let people 21 of over possess up to two ounces of marijuana in the city. The legalization of marijuana in Washington State and Colorado has created living-wage jobs and generated tax revenue, said Local 400 President Mark P. Federici, while prohibition has caused “significant damage” to “communities of color within the District of Columbia.” The initiative would not set up a legal sales system, but would let adults grow up to six plants. Read more

Teamsters Win Raises in Tampa Suburbs
Teamsters Local 79 members in Tampa’s Pasco County suburbs on Oct. 13 almost unanimously ratified a one-year contract that will give almost all county employees longevity-based raises. The new salary scale is based on a study that found at least a third of all county workers were underpaid—so customer-service specialists could get $3,000 to $9,500 more a year, while electricians could get a $5.41 an hour raise. The deal also sets a $9.64 “living wage” minimum for county workers, above Florida’s $7.93 minimum. Read more

Obama Orders 2nd Emergency Board for Philly Trains
President Barack Obama on Oct. 12 called for the formation of a presidential emergency board to mediate between the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The move, requested by SEPTA, will prevent a strike by the engineers on Philadelphia-area commuter-rail trains for 120 days while negotiations continue. The board will be the second formed by Obama in four months; in June, he called for one to avert a strike by the Engineers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Read more

Detroit Hospital to Outsource 565 Custodial Jobs
The Detroit Medical Center has officially announced plans to lay off 565 custodial employees in December, when it will hire a new contractor for housekeeping services at seven area hospitals. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 300 of the workers being laid off, has filed a lawsuit to stop the hospital from seeking a new contractor, alleging that it’s trying to avoid bargaining with the union by switching to a nonunion vendor. Read more

Home Health-Care Aides’ Campaign Goes National
Home health-care aides work in the nation’s fastest-growing job and one of its lowest-paying—so they’re joining a national campaign to raise their pay to $15 an hour and gain union representation. The Service Employees International Union, which is backing the effort, hopes it can replicate fast-food workers “Fight for 15” campaign. “It’s not right, because these people that are getting more than us, they don’t do half the work we do, or deal with half the situations we have to deal with,” says Lynette Reece of Washington. “So why can’t we get paid?” The Obama administration announced Oct. 7 that it would delay enforcing a new requirement that home-care workers be paid the minimum wage and overtime for at least six months. Read more

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