On the picket line

Chicago Teachers Union charges racial discrimination

In a federal lawsuit filed Dec. 26, the Chicago Teachers Union and three teachers charged the Chicago Public Schools with discrimination against tenured African-American teachers and staff. More than half of the 347 tenured teachers in schools on Chicago’s West and South sides selected for what’s called “turnaround results” are Black. (Turnaround schools are closed and all faculty replaced regardless of qualifications or experience.) However, Black tenured teachers only made up 29.6 percent of CPS’ tenured teaching staff in 2010, down from 40.6 percent in 2000. The suit alleges that the schools selected for turnaround have a higher percentage of Black teachers than schools that performed similarly but were not selected. The suit also noted that the CPS has never published its criteria for choosing schools for turnaround. (ctunet.com, Dec. 27)

Minimum wage to increase in 10 states

One million low-wage workers are getting a raise in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state. That makes Washington the state with the highest minimum wage: $9.19 an hour. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that another 140,000 people will benefit indirectly from the wage hikes. The federal minimum has been $7.25 an hour in 31 states since 2009, with no cost-of-living adjustment. Let’s make changing the federal minimum wage into a living wage one of labor’s top priorities in 2013! (AFL-CIO NOW blog, Dec. 27)

Warehouse workers on strike in Seattle area

After a three-day unfair-labor-practices strike in Auburn, Wash., in early December, warehouse workers at United Natural Foods Inc., represented by Teamsters Local 117, agreed to go back to work. But after UNFI announced Dec. 13 that it was permanently replacing 72 of the 168 workers, in violation of labor law, the workers returned to the picket line at 9 p.m. that night. The union called UNFI’s actions “retaliatory, unlawful and frankly despicable” and promptly filed new charges over the permanent replacement issue. UNFI is currently being investigated for 45 violations. (The Stand, Dec. 13) In the meantime, solidarity is growing for the strikers, who held a picket line, with labor, faith-based and community support, outside a Whole Foods in Seattle on Dec. 19. Since then, PCC Natural Markets has issued a statement supporting the workers, and the Olympic Food Co-op and Central Co-op have refused to do business with UNFI. (unfidrivenbygreed.com, Dec. 28) For more information, visit the strike website.

NYU grad student workers resume union struggle

More than 1,100 graduate student employees at New York University and NYU-Poly signed a letter to the administration and delivered it in December urging the school to respect their choice to join a union. These workers received a boost in pay, benefits and workers’ rights when they were represented by the Graduate Students Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers Local 2110 from 2001 to 2005. When the contract expired in 2005, NYU refused to renew it based on a 2004 ruling by the Bush-controlled National Labor Relations Board that graduate teaching employees and research assistants at private universities were not protected by federal labor law. They are protected at public universities, notably in California, Massachusetts and Michigan. If the NLRB rules in the workers’ favor, the GSOC says that NYU will appeal the decision. (AFL-CIO NOW blog, Dec. 17)

Report proves ‘right-to-work’ laws no help to workers

A report by the Minnesota 2020 think tank entitled “A Losing Bet,” about the impact of a “right-to-work” law in Minnesota, was released Nov. 20. It proves what unions have been saying about right-to-work-for-less laws like the one recently imposed in Michigan. Not only are they bad for workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions, but they’re bad for the entire economy. (mnaflcio.org, Dec. 17)