News & Commentary

April 18, 2014

In Tennessee, the dispute over the United Auto Workers’s unsuccessful election at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant continues in the lead up to a hearing before the NLRB on Monday, April 21. TN Attorney General Bob Cooper filed motions yesterday asking the NLRB to revoke subpoenas issued by the UAW to Governor Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwel, and other high ranking officials. NewsChannel5 reports that the UAW has issued the subpoenas to learn more about the governor’s office’s use of taxpayer funds to thwart the unionization effort at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant. The subpoenas come in the wake of the leaking of internal government documents stating that future support for new VW plants in Tennessee were “subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” The Washington Examiner reports that ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. George Miller, sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday asking for all communications between the Governor’s office, Volkswagen, and “other third parties” relating to the Chattanooga plant. In additional news, according to the Washington Examiner, the NLRB ruled Wednesday that plant workers backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation who voted in opposition to the union drive have the right to present evidence before the NLRB at this Monday’s hearing.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a contract agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents New York City’s bus and subway workers. The New York Times reports that the transport workers had been without a contract for two years as the MTA insisted that its long-term future depended on seeing no increase in labor costs over a three year period.

Indiana warehouse workers filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB yesterday, alleging that the Wal-Mart-owned warehouse fired two workers after they asked their colleagues to sign a petition asking for higher wages, a path to full time employment, and safer working conditions. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two fired workers are members of the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, which is funded by the United Electrical union.

According to Bloomberg News, Disney has offered to increase its theme-park staff’s wages to $10 an hour in the course of contract negotiations with the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups. Currently, Disney’s position is offset by its demand to stop offering pensions to hourly employees starting in 2016.

Newsday reports that the New York Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has reached a $1.7 million settlement with six Long Island restaurants for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The restaurants were accused of paying their workers below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, failing to pay overtime, and failing to keep records of hours worked.

In international news, the Associated Press reports that nearly 2,000 workers have ended their two-week strike at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also in the Associated Press, the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions has offered to mediate between striking Chinese workers and Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings), Ltd., which makes shoes for Nikes and Adidas. The strikers began their protest upon learning that Yue Yuen was not contributing to social security.

DNAInfo reports that lawyers for CareOne Management, a health service provider embroiled in labor disputes with SEIU Local 1199, have subpoenaed two NYU Law School students for their emails after they circulated a petition raising concerns about CareOne’s treatment of its workers. CareOne, which is owned by NYU Law Trustee Daniel Strauss, has faced numerous charges in front of the NLRB, elaborated on in the students’ petition. Following receipt of the subpoenas, student groups issued a petition stating that “forcing students to turn over emails and other private communications in litigation that does not concern them can chill free speech on campus.”

In the opinion pages, David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times writes a piece lambasting executive compensation while lamenting the decline of the labor movement.

In the Washington Post, Catherine Rampel calls for the criminalization of wage theft, the employer practice of deliberately paying employees less than they are owed under the law. This can take the form of cutting hours on a paycheck, not paying overtime, or paying below the minimum. Quoting Michael Rubin, an attorney at Altshuler Berzon, LLP, she explains the underlying forces behind wage theft: “If you keep coming with this directive that labor costs must be lowered, there are only a finite number of ways that can be done, most of which are unlawful. The lawful ways get exhausted quickly.” She ends by calling for harsher penalties, writing, “thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.”

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.