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Weekly Digest – September 17, 2014

Compiled by Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel

AFSCME Calls Scott Walker Top Target
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a top target for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in this November’s election, union president Lee Saunders told the Washington Post. “We have a score to settle with Scott Walker,” Saunders said in an interview published Sept. 10. “He stole our voices, in a state where we were born.” AFSCME, which was founded in Madison in 1932, is planning a massive canvassing and phone-banking operation to help elect Democrat Mary Burke. A Walker campaign spokeswoman called it an effort by “union bosses.” Read more

Jersey AFL-CIO Accuses Christie of Pension ‘Pay-to-Play’
Financial firms that contribute to Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican Party are getting a disturbing share of contracts to manage New Jersey’s pension funds, the state AFL-CIO alleged in a complaint filed Sept. 12 with the State Ethics Commission. The union says management fees paid to such companies, including the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group, have more than tripled under Christie, to $398 million last year. State ethics rules require a two-year wait before campaign donors can get pension-management contracts. “We urge the State Ethics Commission to investigate this pay-to-play scheme on behalf of taxpayers who are footing the bill for this abuse and pensioneers being shortchanged of their retirement funds,” said New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.
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VW Global Labor Groups Back UAW in Tennessee
Unions representing Volkswagen workers around the world are backing the United Auto Workers’ renewed efforts to represent workers at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The endorsement came in a statement released Sept. 10 by members of VW’s global “works council,” including Germany's IG Metall union and the global union umbrella group IndustriALL. VW wants to set up a works council at the Chattanooga factory, and would have to do it with a union under U.S. law. Some workers who opposed joining a union when the UAW lost a vote there in February have tried to form a rival group. Read more

Letter Carriers Honor 9 Heroes
The National Association of Letter Carriers named nine members “Heroes of the Year” Sept. 10. The honorees included Illinois letter carriers Cristy Perfetti and Steve Plunkett, who foiled a knife-wielding pedophile’s attempt to kidnap a 10-year-old boy outside the post office in Peoria, and Jermaine George of Greenwich, Connecticut, who was on his way to work when his apartment building caught fire, and climbed up onto a roof to catch and save two 11-month-old babies that his neighbor dropped from the third-floor fire escape. Read more

Nevada Union Wants Local Workers at Tesla Plant
A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature Sept. 10 would give the Tesla electric-car company $1.3 billion in tax breaks while requiring that half the estimated 9,000 workers who will build and run its planned battery factory are state residents. State AFL-CIO director Danny Thompson criticized the bill for not requiring that construction workers be paid the prevailing wage, saying that any development getting that much in tax breaks should be considered a public-works project. He also worried that Tesla could bring in out-of-state workers who could easily evade the residency requirement. The plant is slated for an isolated area southeast of Reno. Read more

Boston UNITE HERE Recruits Black Workers
Boston’s UNITE HERE Local 26 has launched a training program intended to attract Afro-American workers to hotel jobs that start at $18 an hour plus benefits. The four-week program is part of an initiative to reduce unemployment among black Bostonians and meet the growing demand in the hotel industry for workers who are fluent in English. Immigrants have largely supplanted Afro-Americans as workers in the area’s hotels; more than five-sixths of the union’s current trainees speak English as a second language. Some hotel managers, said Local 26 president Brian Lang, seem to believe immigrants have a stronger work ethic and are “less likely to know and assert their rights in this country.” Read more

Study Estimates Wage Theft at $50 Billion a Year
Wage theft might cost American workers as much as $50 billion a year, says a report released Sept. 11 by the Economic Policy Institute. The group found that in an average week, two-thirds of the low-wage workers it surveyed in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were cheated out of some pay. Few victims report wage theft and fewer win back pay, it noted, but the amount of stolen wages workers recovered in 2012 was more than $933 million—almost triple the amount reported taken in robberies that year. The maximum federal fine for failure to pay the minimum wage or for overtime is $1,100. Read more

Grain Agreement Ends Lockouts in Northwest Ports
Five International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals have approved a contract with grain companies in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington,  ending the lockouts of two locals that lasted more than a year. The 46-month deal includes raises, but the most important thing is that it maintains unionized grain terminals in the U.S., said Roger Boespflug, a former ILWU Local 23 president who represented his local in the negotiations. The union agreed to let management personnel do bargaining-unit jobs during a work stoppage, but beat back worse concessions. Columbia River and Puget Sound ports move over a quarter of all U.S. grain exports, including almost half of all wheat. Read more

Railroad Union Rejects One-Person Crews
The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union announced Sept. 10 that its members had rejected a contract that would have allowed BNSF Railway to run trains with one-person crews. BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., operates tracks in most of the western U.S. and two Canadian provinces, and has “Positive Train Control” systems that can stop trains remotely installed on about 60 percent of its 32,500 miles of track. It wanted to be able to use one-person crews on those tracks, except for trains carrying hazardous materials. Railroad unions insist that two-person crews are safer. Read more

Unions Gain in the South
The labor movement is being reborn in the unlikeliest of places—the once union-averse South, says MaryBe McMillan of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. In late August and early September, North Carolina saw scores of farmworkers sign union cards, dozens of congregations across the state talking about the value of unions as part of the first annual Labor Sabbath, and workers and civil-rights leaders rallying for higher wages in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte on Labor Day. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the five states last year with the most growth in union membership were all in the South. This Southern revival has a distinctly evangelical zeal, McMillan says: Labor leaders together with clergy are claiming the moral high ground for economic justice. Read more

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