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Weekly Digest – October 22, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Nurses’ Unions Hit CDC on Ebola
The nation’s two largest nurses’ unions sharply criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Oct. 15 for claiming that “a breach in protocol” caused a Texas nurse treating an Ebola victim to become infected. National Nurses United said that claim was unfair. “There was no advance preparedness on what to do with the patient, there was no protocol, there was no system,” said a statement given to the NNU by nurses at the Dallas hospital where Ebola victim Thomas Duncan was treated. NNU members at other hospitals said the only training they’d gotten was fact sheets, the CDC Web site, or less than 10 minutes of instruction. The American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 80,000 nurses, called for better training and restoring cuts in health-care funding Oct. 16. Read more

Judge Voids UNITE HERE Casino Contract
A federal bankruptcy court judge in Delaware ruled Oct. 17 that the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey can terminate its contract with UNITE HERE Local 54. “The decision today will certainly enrage the workers who have relied on and fought for their health care for three decades,” said Local 54 President Bob McDevitt. “We intend to continue to fight this both in the courts and in the streets.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who bought the casino’s $286 million in debt, says it needs to eliminate workers pensions and health care to stay open, while McDevitt responded that Icahn has “a long history of eliminating, reducing or freezing worker benefits” and dumping the burden on the government. Read more

New England Phone Workers Strike
About 2,000 workers at FairPoint Communications in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont continued their strike for a fourth day Oct. 20. The workers walked out Oct. 17 after the company demanded $700 million in contract concessions, including eliminating pensions for future hires and the ability to use nonunion contract workers. “We knew this was going to be rough,” said Peter McLaughlin, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Augusta, Maine, who predicted the strike might last for months. FairPoint may be running strikebreakers out of a truck hub in Merrimack, New Hampshire, he added. Read more

L.A. Port Truckers Win Jobs Back
Two Los Angeles Harbor-area truck drivers who say they were fired for union activity won a federal court order giving them their jobs back Oct. 14. U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ordered Green Fleet Systems to reinstate Amilcar Cardona and Mateos Mares pending a National Labor Relations Board ruling on their case. The two drivers have accused Green Fleet of more than 50 labor-law violations, including retaliating against them for union activity, filing claims for lost wages, and asserting that they were regular employees and not independent contractors. The judge also issued a cease-and-desist order to prevent Green Fleet from threatening to fire union supporters, creating an impression of surveillance, and interrogating employees about their union activity. Read more

Philly Teachers Get Injunction Preserving Contract
A Philadelphia judge on Oct. 20 issued a preliminary injunction preventing the city School Reform Commission from cancelling the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract and cutting their health-care benefits. The ruling maintains the contract until courts can decide whether the commission had legal authority to void it. “We're pleased,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan, who had told the judge that no collective bargaining sessions have been held since the commission cancelled one scheduled for July 2. The commission will appeal. Read more

Boston Adjuncts Win First Contract
Tufts University has reached a tentative agreement on a three-year union contract with about 200 part-time professors who voted last September to join the Service Employees International Union. Voting on whether to ratify it should be complete by the end of October, said Andy Klatt, a part-time Spanish professor and union organizer. If approved, it would be the first contract won at a Boston-area university by instructors organized through SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign. Adjunct professors have also voted to unionize at Lesley University and Northeastern University, and are in the early stages of negotiating contracts. Read more 

Mercedes Labor Head Wants Alabama Plant Unionized
The head labor representative on German automaker Daimler AG's supervisory board says it’s “unacceptable” that the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the only one of the company’s factories where workers don’t have a union. "It should be normal that we have a union at each of our plants,” Michael Brecht, head of Daimler's works councils and deputy chairman of the board, told the Associated Press Oct. 14, speaking in German. “But in the USA, in the South, it is being resisted. It is unacceptable to me how the company is acting here.” Daimler’s CEO has pledged neutrality on union issues at the Tuscaloosa plant, but workers there have claimed company officials have prevented them from distributing United Auto Workers materials and discussing organization there. Read more

Chicago Nurses’ Strike Averted
A one-day strike by more than 1,000 nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago was averted late Oct. 20 when the hospital reached a tentative deal with the Illinois Nurses Association. The nurses had voted overwhelmingly to strike, claiming that cuts and concessions the hospital was seeking would endanger their working conditions and patients’ safety. The hospital responded by seeking an injunction preventing one-third of them from walking out on the grounds that they were providing critical services, but on Oct. 17 a judge granted one covering only 85 nurses. Read more

Uber Driver Fired for Critical Tweet
Christopher Ortiz, an Uber driver in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was briefly fired Oct. 16 after he tweeted a link to an article about other Uber drivers being robbed along with a comment, “Driving for Uber, not much safer than driving a taxi.” A company manager responded with an e-mail telling Ortiz his account was “permanently deactivated due to hateful statements regarding Uber through Social Media… Best of luck. UBER on!” The on-line car service company “reactivated” him after the story went viral. “I think the scariest thing here is that drivers can be removed from the Uber system if they don’t toe the company line,” Ortiz said. “Uber has made it clear that drivers are not employees, they’re independent contractors, but it seems they want to hold drivers to employee standards.” Read more

The Shell Game of Contingent Employment
Making it harder for subcontractors, freelancers, and independent contractors to hold employers accountable if they get hurt or abused on the job isn’t an accident—it's a direct result of a political agenda, says the Boston-area think tank Political Research Associates. Employers are deliberately trying to put much of their workforce outside the scope of laws and taxes that apply to “employees” by outsourcing liability to intermediaries such as temp agencies, or by falsely claiming that no labor laws apply because the workers are independent contractors. This system also makes it harder for workers to organize because there is no clear employer. The group is calling for an “accountable employer” system that holds all parties in the chain responsible for violations. Read more

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