On the picket line

Tentative transit agreement in San Francisco

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A announced on June 27 that it had reached a tentative contract agreement with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Workers, after voting down the MTA’s first offer at the end of May, were so disgusted at being offered a contract that included a pay cut that they held a sickout in protest. At an MTA board meeting on June 24, a group of workers and union officers lashed out at MTA “for stating publicly it appreciated its drivers while trying to cut their pay. ‘What you’re saying here is totally insulting,’ [TWU Local 250-A President Eric] Williams said. ‘This is a calculated attack on the biggest minority group of employees in the city. If you really cared, you would give us a fair contract.’” The protest worked. While Williams was not at liberty to announce the terms of the deal until it was submitted to the workers, he thanked “the strong support of our membership and hard work at the negotiating table” for the new agreement. (San Francisco Chronicle, June 28) Now the membership gets to vote again. Stay tuned.

LIRR strike looms

Workers on the Long Island Rail Road voted to strike in February. The contract proposed by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has also been rejected by two federal mediation panels. The most recent ruling called the union leaders’ offer of a 17 percent raise over six years “the most reasonable.” The strike could take place as early as July 20. If the MTA forces the strike, it will disrupt the daily commute of 300,000 riders. As of June 23, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181-1061, the New York City school bus drivers’ union, issued a press release calling on all members to refuse to scab on LIRR workers.

Ikea to increase minimum hourly wage

Global furniture retailer Ikea announced on June 26 that it will raise the average hourly minimum wage at its 38 U.S. stores to $10.76 — a 17 percent increase. However, Ikea will not give its employees an across-the-board raise, but will set a minimum for each store based on the cost of living in the area determined by the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which takes housing, food, transportation costs and taxes into consideration. The resulting minimum will range from a low of $8.69 an hour in Pittsburgh to $13.32 an hour in Woodbridge, Va.

The June 26 New York Times article announcing the store policy noted that Ikea’s “decision was made as many low-wage workers and labor unions are pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage” and that, in February, Gap Inc. announced a new minimum of $9 this year, with a raise to $10 next year. That will affect two-thirds of its 90,000 U.S. employees, including those at Banana Republic and Old Navy. Only half of Ikea’s 13,120 employees will get a raise.

Federal “Good Jobs Policy” would raise wages for women, people of color

On June 18, Demos, a public policy organization, issued its third “Underwriting Good Jobs” report, which detailed how 8 million workers, or more than 20 million people if their families are included, depend on low-wage jobs largely funded by taxpayer dollars. A disproportionate number of those low-wage workers are women (71 percent) and people of color (44 percent). Because $1.3 trillion of federal spending is in the private sector, the report called on President Obama to establish a federal “Good Jobs Policy” so that only those private companies that adhere to the policy would receive contracts with federal agencies. Adhering to the policy would mean respecting employees’ right to bargain collectively; offering living wages, health care, paid sick leave and predictable work schedules; complying with workplace protection laws; and limiting executive compensation to 50 times the median worker’s salary. The National Women’s Law Center lauded the report.

On June 23, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Working Families, where the problems of low-wage working women were discussed at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, hundreds of working mothers and grandmothers walked off their jobs from over 50 profit-making companies that do business with the federal government and held a rally at the National Zoo, near the Omni. “We need a living wage and benefits,” said Yesenia Vega, who works at the McDonald’s in the Pentagon. “We need a union to get things like decent health insurance, vacation benefits and paid sick days.” (dclabor.org, June 23)