On the picket line

Atlantic City casino workers protest health care rollbacks

As many as 700 UNITE-HERE Local 54 casino workers at Trump Taj Mahal blocked off the Atlantic City Expressway, chanting “No health care, no peace!” on Oct. 8. The workers were protesting attempts by Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Taj Mahal, to roll back workers’ hard-won pension plans and health insurance benefits. The casino, which filed for bankruptcy in September, has threatened to close down Nov. 13 unless the union agrees to massive concessions and unless city and state governments provide bailouts in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. The protest blocked traffic on the expressway and caused massive gridlock during the late afternoon rush hour. More than two dozen workers were arrested.

“We’re sitting down to stand up for our health care coverage,’’ said Charles Baker, a cook at the Taj Mahal since it opened in 1990. ”We fought too long and too hard for this coverage to give it up. Most of our members are 45 or older, and this is the time in our lives when we need health care coverage the most.’’ (cnsphilly.com, Oct. 8)

Alabama Mercedes-Benz workers form union

As of Oct. 3, hourly workers at Daimler Auto Group’s Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., can sign membership cards to join United Auto Workers Local 112. The newly formed local announced plans to provide paths to permanent employment for the plant’s more than 1,000 temporary workers, as well as to improve working conditions in the factory. A key point for the UAW is that the Alabama plant is the only Daimler auto factory without worker representation in the company’s global works council. UAW President Dennis Williams noted that the UAW already represents nearly 7,000 workers at other Daimler plants in the U.S.

The UAW’s efforts to unionize the Mercedes-Benz plant are similar to its strategy at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Local 42 was established in July. The UAW will not work toward a union election at the plant. Rather, it will get a majority of the workers to sign membership cards, which Daimler will then have to recognize. (Reuters, Oct. 3)

Adjunct instructors at U.S. colleges join unions

Adjunct professors at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland are the latest in a long series of adjunct teaching staff to unionize as part of the Service Employees’ Adjunct Action campaign. Adjunct instructors at Vermont’s Champlain and Burlington colleges filed to join SEIU on Oct. 3; they will soon vote on union representation. SEIU now represents more than 21,000 adjunct teachers across the U.S.

Adjuncts, who work part-time or on a temporary basis, comprise the majority of teaching faculty in U.S. colleges and universities. Despite logging the majority of teaching hours, adjuncts are typically denied tenure and benefits and are subject to high job insecurity. Median pay for adjuncts, according to a 2012-13 report by the American Association of University Professors, was about $2,700 per three-credit course. SEIU Adjunct Action aims to organize workers to fight for better working conditions — and learning conditions — in colleges and universities across the country. (Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 6; Adjunct Action, Oct. 3)

Women restaurant workers report high level of sexual harassment

A new study conducted by the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Forward Together, “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” reveals that of the 11 million people who work as tipped employees in restaurants, women experience sexual harassment at alarmingly high levels. They account for the single largest source of sexual-harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a rate five times higher than that in the general female workforce. Two-thirds of women surveyed reported harassment from management, and more than 80 percent reported harassment from customers and co-workers. Transgender restaurant workers experience sexual harassment as much as three times more than other restaurant workers. (rocunited.org, Oct. 7)

Although the federal minimum wage for most jobs is $7.25 an hour, the special category for “tipped wage” workers remains, since 1991, at $2.13 per hour for restaurant workers. Customer tipping is supposed to make up the majority of the workers’ income. Wait staffs are routinely forced to suffer in silence, for fear that reporting sexual harassment will result in retaliation from both customers and management. (msnbc.com, Oct. 7) Women’s rights activists and restaurant workers are rallying at New York’s City Hall on Oct. 14 to demand an end to sexual harassment of women restaurant workers.

By Matty Starrdust and Sue Davis