On the picket line

Calif. largest public employees union set to strike

Some 95,000 California civil service workers represented by Service Employees Local 1000 voted to strike Dec. 5 after contract ­negotiations hit a standstill on Nov. 22. The majority-women workforce, including administrative assistants, custodians, nurses, teachers and others, accused the state of bargaining unfairly and refusing to close the gender pay gap. According to Local 1000 President Yvonne R. Walker: “Since June, the state has had a ‘take it or leave it’ approach and has engaged in unlawful conduct and bad faith bargaining. The state has inexplicably failed to budge from its opening proposal on ­salary and benefits and has even bargained regressively.” (seiu1000.org/strike) The state’s proposed pay increases — a paltry 2.96 percent each year for four years — would be offset by cuts to employee and retiree health care plans. (sacbee.com, Nov. 22)

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown’s bargaining team has refused to respond to the union’s concerns about the pervasive gender pay gap among California public workers. According to a Human Resources Department report, women earn 79.5 cents for every dollar men workers are paid. Despite this injustice, state unions representing more male-dominated professions such as engineers, lawyers and scientists have negotiated substantially higher pay raises. (sacbee.com, Oct. 28) Workers and supporters are urged to join picket lines throughout the state on Dec. 5.

Federal injunction halts expansion of overtime eligibility

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Nov. 22 against a new expansion of overtime eligibility for millions of workers. A predictable assortment of business groups, headed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation, as well as a coalition of 21 states, led the opposition to the new Department of Labor regulation. Under the old regulation, only workers with a yearly salary of $23,660 or less were qualified for overtime pay, meaning one-and-a-half times their regular hourly pay for work above 40 hours a week. The new regulation, which was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1, raised that yearly salary to $47,476, which would grant the right to overtime pay to 4.2 million workers. Since Congress first enacted the rule in 1938, the Labor Department had raised the salary base repeatedly, until 2004. It hasn’t been raised since then. The DOL is considering an appeal to the judge’s ruling.

The injunction is a gift on a silver platter to Trump, who has vowed to reverse many regulations instituted by the Obama administration. However, as the Nov. 23 New York Times observed, rescinding the rule could require a lengthy process similar to the one that produced it, and might lead to a “deal” raising the limit more gradually below the slated amount. The Times noted that “the politics of essentially withdrawing a planned salary increase from many workers could prove complicated for an incoming president elected on a message of improving workers’ economic circumstances.” Will Trump help middle-income workers or side with his wealthy business buddies and his own narrow interests as a boss?

sweetpotatofarmworkersN.C. sweet potato farmworkers win back wages, union rights

If you’ve enjoyed a sweet potato recently, chances are it was harvested in North Carolina by migrant farmworkers, who supply nearly half of all sweet potatoes in the U.S. Although the state’s minimum wage is currently $7.25, the workers who produce the state vegetable are paid piece rates that fall well below the minimum wage. (america.aljazeera.com, Nov. 27, 2014)

In 2014, four farmworkers at Birch Farms filed a lawsuit against their employer for widespread wage theft and other labor law violations. With help from the AFL-CIO’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the workers negotiated a settlement that included over $7,000 in payouts to the four plaintiffs, remunerations for the rest of the workers and a three-year collective bargaining contract. In total, Birch Farms paid out over $200,000. Armed with union power, the workers have won an hourly pay raise to $10.72, as well as protection from unjust firing. (floc.com)

Workers win contracts at Giant Food, Safeway

The 17,000 grocery workers at Giant Food and Safeway stores in mid-Atlantic states were prepared to strike on Nov. 18 to prevent takebacks such as higher health insurance costs — which would wipe out wage increases — and elimination of higher pay on Sundays. But they didn’t have to strike to get the three-year contract they ratified Nov. 16. Starting wages are now increased to over $9 an hour for members of Local 27 and Local 400 of the Food and Commercial Workers. Wages will increase more frequently based on months of service, not number of hours worked. The workers credit their win to widespread customer support for the union’s demands.

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