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Weekly Digest – Sept. 19, 2013

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

Indiana Judge Rules Union-Shop Ban Unconstitutional

Responding to a lawsuit brought by Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, an Indiana judge has declared the state’s so-called “right to work” law banning union shops unconstitutional. In a ruling issued Sept. 5, Lake County Superior Court Civil Division Judge John Sedia said the 2012 law illegally prohibits unions from collecting fees from nonmembers they are required to represent by federal law. “Put simply,” Sedia wrote, “it becomes a criminal offense for a union to receive just compensation for particular services federal law demands it provide to employees.” Local 150 president-business manager James M. Sweeney called the decision a “big win” against laws that are “thinly veiled tools to weaken unions.” State Attorney General Greg Zoeller will appeal.

California Legislature Raises Minimum Wage to $10

California’s minimum wage is going up to $10 an hour. On Sept. 12, the state legislature voted to raise it to $9 as of next July, and it will go to $10 in January 2016, the highest in the country. Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to sign the bill, saying it “establishes California as the national leader in supporting low-wage workers” but that “even at $10, low-wage workers will still struggle.” The increase, the first in six years, will affect more than 2.3 million California workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

DC Mayor Vetoes Big-Box Minimum Wage

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray on Sept. 12 vetoed a bill that would have boosted the minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $12.50 for workers in large chain stores. The bill, passed 8-5 by the City Council in July, was aimed at Walmart, which is planning to open six stores in the city, and threatened to cancel three if the measure became law. With nine votes needed to override Gray’s veto, Respect DC, a coalition of unions (such as United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400) and community groups, is trying to persuade City Councilmember Tommy Wells, who has supported some living-wage legislation, to switch his vote.

Home-Care Workers to Get Minimum Wage, Overtime Pay

The Labor Department announced Sept. 17 that it will extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home-care workers hired through companies or agencies, beginning in January 2015. The department had previously classified caring for the elderly and disabled as “companionship services,” not covered by wage laws. The nation’s nearly 2 million home care workers are more than 90 percent women, and are covered by wage and hour laws in about 15 states, but specifically excluded in about 20.

University of Oregon Sought Access to Professors’ Computers

The University of Oregon, trying to bargain its first-ever contract with its newly unionized faculty, wanted to get access to their personal computers. In late August, it proposed a contract that would let bosses monitor work e-mail accounts and documents created on employer-provided computers—a policy common in workplaces—and also let the university check faculty’s home computers or e-mails from their personal account “to the extent that they address work-related subjects.” The administration dropped the proposal after it provoked protests from as far away as New York City.

Unifor Aims to Unionize Canadian Toyota and Honda Plants

Jerry Dias, president of the newly merged Canadian union Unifor, will meet with Japanese union leaders in December to plan a renewed bid to unionize Toyota and Honda workers in Canada. Dias said he was encouraged by the United Auto Workers’ alliance with Germany’s IG Metall union to organize workers at Volkswagen factories in the U.S. South. “The hypocrisy is that Honda and Toyota are fully organized in Japan,”" he said. “They have decent relations with the Japanese union. Why is it they do everything humanly possible to keep unions out of their North American operations?” John Aman, Unifor's director of organizing, said the union needs signed membership cards from at least 40 per cent of workers to apply for a certification vote.

Administration Rejects Union Pleas on Taft-Hartley Plans

The federal government on Sept. 13 rejected pleas from labor unions not to deny tax credits to workers who get health insurance in multiemployer “Taft-Hartley plans,” which are common in industries such as construction. Low- and moderate-income people who buy insurance are supposed to get the credits under the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, but the Treasury Department said only those who buy private insurance on exchanges are eligible, not those “covered by an eligible employer-sponsored plan.” The Obama administration’s position, that workers covered by the plans get a tax benefit because employers’ contributions are not counted as taxable income, was closer to that of Congressional Republicans than to that of unions, who said the law creates incentives for employers to drop coverage.

L.A. Hotel Workers Push Pension Fund to Drop Investment

Maids and janitors trying to form a union at the Embassy Suites hotel in Irvine are also trying to get the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association to drop its investment in the hotel. Unite Here Local 11 has been boycotting the hotel for more than two years, and the pension fund has $150 million in a private-equity firm that bought the hotel in 2010. Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran told the association’s investment board last month that it was “responsible for a multibillion-dollar union pension fund that has become heavily invested in an anti-union enterprise.” Fund chief executive Gregg Rademacher said it had exercised whatever influence it had, and the only other option was to sell its investment.

Weingarten Joins Campaign for Philly School Funding

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools Sept. 12 to launch its “Full Funding Fridays” campaign, urging city officials to restore money cut from the city’s schools. The city has closed and privatized schools, laid off guidance counselors, and is seeking pay cuts and other concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “Our children deserve more,” said Kia Hinton, education committee co-chair at ACTION United. “They deserve to have enough desks so students aren’t sitting on the floor.” Weingarten later spoke outside a local high school, after the principal told her she couldn’t come in because it would be disruptive.

Oregon Zoo Temps Vote to Join Union

Temporary food-service workers at the Oregon Zoo in Portland have voted to join Laborers International Union of North America Local 483. The vote, after a months-long organizing campaign, was 61-4. Workers had complained that they has not gotten raises and that as part-time workers, they weren’t covered by the city’s paid sick-leave ordinance. Local 483 representative Megan Hise said the union was “pleasantly surprised” that the Portland metropolitan government did not oppose it.

Polish Unions Threaten General Strike

Threatening a general strike, throwing smoke grenades, and blowing whistles, more than 100,000 Polish union members marched through Warsaw Sept. 14 to vent their anger at Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government raising the retirement age to 67 and allowing longer daily and weekly working hours. “We don't accept a policy that leads to poverty,” Jan Guz, leader of OPZZ, Poland's largest union, told the crowd, saying “we will block the whole country” if the government doesn’t change its policies. With unemployment up to 13 percent, many people are working on short-term contracts without benefits, and Poland’s wages are among Europe’s lowest. One protesting nurse said she makes 2,000 zlotys a month (about $630) after 31 years in her job.

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