Weekend News and Commentary – October 12-13

Published October 13th, 2013 -  - 10.13.131


The San Francisco Chronicle reports that no agreement has been reached on a new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) labor contract. The two transit unions, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 (SEIU) and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 (ATU) announced late Thursday that they would not strike once the 60-day cooling off period, ordered by the Governor, expired at 11:59 p.m. that night. However, they reserved the right to issue a voluntary 72-hour strike notice, with a deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, 2013. In an effort to reach an agreement, BART General Manager and members of the Board of Directors joined the bargaining table, which the unions had been requesting for months. Legislators have also become involved, acting as mediators and facilitators.  Although the parties are still at the bargaining table, the executive director of BART’s largest union, SEIU, said that the “elements are here to get an agreement.”

Residents of SeaTac, Washington will soon be voting on whether to raise the local minimum wage, which currently sits at $9.19/hour, the highest state minimum wage in the country.  The New York Times reports that if a majority of voters say yes to a referendum known as Proposition 1, a minimum wage of $15.00/hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, would be mandated for many of the local businesses. Specifically, this measure would raise the wages of thousands of airport workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Union leaders are supporting the referendum, arguing that the higher wage would raise the economic status of thousands of struggling families. Opponents of the measure claim that the unions are manipulating the hopes of a largely blue-collar community by ignoring the potential long-term effects of this measure.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, spent four days in China this past week. Although independent labor unions are still officially banned in China, Trumka met with workers and public interest lawyers, including a visit to a training center for migrant workers, a coal mine, and a GM plant. A spokeswoman for Trumka stated that his “trip was focused on promoting more worker to worker exchanges between our countries”, reports The Washington Post.

The government shutdown brought labor and management together this past Friday, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO sent a joint letter to the President and Congress pressing for an end to the shutdown. The letter warned that a slide back into the recession was a likely outcome if the shutdown didn’t cease “immediately”. The Wall Street Journal reports that the letter acknowledged the differences between union and business officials, but made it clear that the parties were “in complete agreement that the current shutdown is harmful and the risk of default is potentially catastrophic for our fragile economy.”

Finally, as we have been covering, the culture clash between Volkswagen and the United Automobile Workers (U.A.W.) continues to hinder attempts to unionize assembly workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The New York Times reports that the German company is expected to advocate for a German-style works council. While conventional in Europe, this approach would be novel to the American auto industry. The U.A.W has said it would welcome a works council, but the council would only be legal if a majority of workers opted for the union, which the U.A.W. recently claimed to be the case. However, with the assistance of an anti-union foundation, some workers are now challenging the validity of the cards to the National Labor Relations Board. German labor leaders plan to visit Chattanooga in the near future to begin talks with Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. As of now, the U.A.W.’s future at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant remains uncertain.

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