News & Commentary

December 23, 2015

Christmas just got merrier for the 37 truck drivers awarded $7 million in back pay. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled that a port trucking firm in Carson, Cal. had misclassified the drivers as independent contractors and made illegal paycheck deductions. Although the award covers a small faction of the nearly 12,000 drivers at Southern California ports, it reflects a major victory for the Teamsters union, which has been trying to organize port drivers. Unlike independent contractors, truck drivers classified as employees are allowed to unionize. The Teamsters attorney Julie Gutman Dickinson told the Los Angeles Times that worker misclassification is rampant in the industry.

On Monday the United Auto Workers filed an unfair labor practices charge against Volkswagen AG, alleging the carmaker refuses to enter contract negotiations with the plant’s recently formed bargaining unit in Chattanooga, Tenn. The 161 skilled trades workers voted to unionize on Dec. 5 and received NLRB certification on Dec. 15. Within a week, the union filed the charge, at a speed the Wall Street Journal describes as atypically fast. The UAW may have acted so quickly to pressure Volkswagen to recognize the union and come to an agreement. The New York Times writes the formation of the bargaining unit is significant as “the first time workers at an auto assembly plant in the southern United States and owned by a foreign automaker voted to join the union.”

In other negotiations news, after months of stalemate, Delta Air Lines and the Airline Pilots Association say they have “re-engaged” in contract talks, according to the Wall Street Journal. This summer the pilots rejected a contract that would have raised salaries but lowered employees’ payouts in the company’s profit-sharing structure. After failed talks in July, Delta threatened to cancel orders for new aircraft carriers, but has since proposed deals with Boeing and Embraer, a good sign for the pilots. As Delta emerges out of bankruptcy, other major airlines closely watch how the carrier will balance pressure from its employees who want a share in the earnings and from investors who fear another bust in the airline industry.

A judge struck down Pittsburgh’s labor ordinance requiring city businesses to grant one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours an employee worked. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reports the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and five businesses sued the city after it passed the law in August, “contending it was an illegal exercise of municipal authority.” After a 2009 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision limiting municipalities’ ability to regulate businesses, cities find themselves both unable to pass new ordinances and unable to persuade state and federal legislatures to take up the regulations. The mayor of Pittsburgh called the decision “a step back for Pittsburgh.”

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