Today's News and Commentary–December 5, 2014
Fast food workers and their supporters walked off the job and protested in over 190 cities yesterday, calling for $15 an hour, improved scheduling and working conditions, and a union. This fast food strike, occurring just over two years since the first such strike in November 2012, was the largest of its kind to date. For the first time, convenience and dollar store workers (from such outlets as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Shell, Sonoco, BP, and Speedway, among others) joined the protests. The protests have received support and guidance from the SEIU. The SEIU says it does not pay anyone participating in the protests, with the exception of a small amount (less than a day’s wages) from its strike fund for striking employees who miss work to participate. Airport workers at several major airports, home health care workers, and employees of federal contractors also took part in the protests.
Delta Airlines fired baggage handler Kip Hedges of Minneapolis for appearing in a video for a labor publication calling for improved pay and working conditions and unionization at the airline. 15 Now, one of the groups coordinating the recent efforts to improve working conditions in service sector employment, plans to hold a rally outside the Delta terminal in Minneapolis today calling for Hedges’s reinstatement.
And Steven Greenhouse, the outstanding and sadly soon-to-be outgoing labor and employment reporter for the New York Times, profiled Terrance Wise, a fast food employee and father of three from Kansas City, Missouri who has emerged as a leader of the fast-food and retail labor movement. Wise worked two jobs and 16-hour days, making $7.47 an hour at Pizza Hut and $9.30 an hour at Burger King. “My kids are living in poverty. It’s hard getting just the basic necessities, and they truly are the reason I fight,” Wise told other employees on a recent conference call planning yesterday’s protests.
On Tuesday, the NLRB ruled that automaker Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, must allow employees at its Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama to discuss unionization on the plant’s premises during non-work time. Specifically, the Board ruled that the automaker has to change its employee handbook, which had apparently banned such conversations. The handbook will now have to explicitly inform employees of their statutory right to organize and to engage in unionization discussions on the employer’s premises during non-work time. The United Auto Workers is attempting to organize the Alabama plant as part of its push to unionize foreign automakers in the South, an effort that also includes Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga and Nissan’s plant in Mississippi.
Speaking of the UAW’s Southern push, a UAW officer told Automotive News on Monday that an independent firm is expected to verify that a majority of the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant’s 1,500 employees have signed authorization cards designating UAW Local 42 as their bargaining representative. Once Volkswagen recognizes the results, under a recently announced plant policy Local 42 will be entitled to meet with management at least monthly to discuss any issues at the plant, potentially including pay and other terms and conditions of employment. But the verified cards do not render Local 42 the legal bargaining representative at the plant and do not impose a legal obligation on Volkswagen to collectively bargain with the union.
On Tuesday, the Senate HELP Committee voted to advance the nomination of Lauren McFerran to a confirmation vote by the full Senate. The Senate is scheduled to vote on her actual confirmation on Monday, December 8, when she will likely be confirmed for a term ending December 16, 2019. On Labor has covered President Obama’s efforts to replace outgoing Board Member Nancy Schiffer in some detail. McFerran’s confirmation would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority on the Board through at least the end of President Obama’s term.
As On Labor recently discussed, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plans to push right-to-work legislation at the local government level through a new offshoot organization called the American City County Exchange (ACCE). ACCE and its allies are analyzing the prospects for enactment in counties in Washington state, Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, with Kentucky potentially being the initial focal point of the effort. Kentucky is considered a prime target because of the conservative bent of some of its counties and the unusually large amount of autonomy held by its county governments. However, federal law may well preempt such local right-to-work laws, and there is Kentucky judicial precedent holding that local governments in the state cannot enact such laws.
The Republican-controlled Wisconsin state senate will take up right-to-work legislation despite Republican Governor Scott Walker’s repeated requests that it not do so. Walker has not said whether or not he would sign a right-to-work bill but has said that he would like the legislature to prioritize other matters and that the right-to-work bill would be an unneeded distraction.
And the Washington Post reports on a coming onslaught of state anti-labor legislation in the wake of unprecedented Republican gains at the state legislature level in the 2014 midterm elections. According to the report, Republicans in Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, and Pennsylvania have already introduced right-to-work legislation or plan to do so in the next legislative session, with the prospects for enactment varying from state to state.
President Obama told a group of CEOs of large corporations that he will pursue a proposed 12-nation trade deal in the Asia Pacific region, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, despite the objections of many Democrats, labor organizations, policy analysts, and environmental groups. Obama told the Business Roundtable that the deal would be good for workers by making it easier to export American-made products to the Asia Pacific region. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has said he supports the deal, but current Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has impeded White House efforts to conclude such a deal in the past. Leading worker advocates in Congress, as well as the AFL-CIO and numerous other employee advocacy groups, argue that the trade deal will simply make it easier for companies to slash labor costs by offshoring jobs currently in the United States to Asia, thereby hurting American manufacturing and contributing to already severe wage stagnation and decline in the United States.