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Labor Report

TMI Closure Would Have Major Impact on Central PA Jobs, Economy 

The planned closure of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant will have a major impact on the central Pennsylvania economy, including the loss of millions of dollars in annual revenue, 675 permanent jobs, and 1,000 temporary positions used by the facility during its annual refueling, according to a PennLive report.

Londonderry Township Manager Steve Latavic said his community, the Lower Dauphin School District, and Dauphin County will lose a combined $1 million a year in real estate tax revenue. Members of the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition have previously said that TMI injects $60 million a year in salaries into the local economy, the news agency reported.

According to a schedule quoted by PennLive, the shutdown would likely begin on Sept. 30 with the start of the decommissioning process. Permanent staff would be cut from about 675 employees to 300 next year. By 2022, the staff would consist of about 50 full-timers.

The plant’s owner, Exelon Corp., said on May 8 that it would shut down the plant because it’s losing money and state lawmakers have not advanced legislation that would have added nuclear power to the state’s existing Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards law which supports other forms of zero-carbon energy.

Exelon – the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator according to – has said it faces a June 1 deadline for purchasing the nuclear fuel needed to re-fuel TMI this fall.

Local 13 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, which represents contract workers at TMI and three other nuclear plants in Eastern Pennsylvania, rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on May 6 to advocate for a nuclear subsidy. After Exelon announced it would shut down TMI, the union posted on its Facebook page, in part, “Boilermakers Local 13 would like to thank those legislators who did fight for our jobs, the local communities that gain the revenues in taxes, and for a source of power that provides the bulk of clean energy for the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Nuclear plants account for 93 percent of the zero-carbon electricity produced in Pennsylvania, according to PennLive. In 2017, nuclear generators supplied 39 percent of the state’s electricity demand, reported, citing federal Department of Energy data. But the Commonwealth is one of the nation’s largest fossil-fuel producing states.

“Power from the plant along the Susquehanna River is expected to be replaced by electricity from coal and natural gas-fired power plants that run below capacity in a saturated market,” the Associated Press reported.

Governor Wolf, in a statement posted on his website, said he was “disappointed to learn (of the) unfortunate news” of the closure. Although Exelon may offer new positions elsewhere within the company to displaced employees, Wolf said he has deployed a “Rapid Response team” from the Department of Labor and Industry to engage with the skilled workforce.

Wolf added, “I still believe it is essential to continue this important conversation about preserving and growing Pennsylvania’s carbon-free energy footprint. I remain hopeful that a consensus on a path forward can be reached in the coming weeks.”

U.S. Steel Announces Billion-Dollar Investment in Mon Valley Works

U.S. Steel has announced plans to invest more than $1 billion to upgrade three plants in Western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Valley that together employ about 3,000 workers.

The company contends that the investment “will keep the region’s last integrated steel mill operating for decades to come,” according to the Post-Gazette. The company’s Mon Valley Works include Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, Clairton Coke Works and the Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.

“The facilities, expected to be running in 2022, will also make the Mon Valley Works the Pittsburgh company’s central source of base material for high-strength, lightweight, flexible steel that feeds the automobile sector,” the newspaper reported.

The company will build a combined casting and rolling facility in Braddock and a cogeneration power plant in Clairton.

“This will be the most innovative steel mill in the United States of America,” CEO Dave Burritt reportedly told the Post-Gazette.

The newspaper further reported that U.S. Steel has realized a “dramatic turnaround” to profitability largely due to new tariffs on foreign steel. But it also faces strong competition from so-called “mini-mills” that use melted scrap metal to produce new steel products and have also benefitted from billions of dollars in plant investments in recent years.

In a statement posted to his union’s website, United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard said, “This investment demonstrates a commitment to operate in the best interests of (USS) employees and their communities and shows respect for the part of our members, their families and neighbors have played in keeping the proud tradition of steelmaking alive in the Mon Valley for over a century.”

USW International Vice President Tom Conway said the investment will bolster the long-term job security of the union’s 3,000 members in the Mon Valley.

Pitt Grad Assistants Lose Close Union Election, But Allege Voter Intimidation

The United Steelworkers are seeking to overturn the results of a recent unionization election involving about 2,000 graduate assistants at the University of Pittsburgh, citing what the union alleges were the administration’s unfair labor practices during the vote.

Union advocates lost the vote, 712 to 675, although the final tally was drawn into question by challenges to 153 individual ballots. The election was conducted on campus from April 15 to 18. The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board announced the results eight days later but declared the outcome inclusive based on the 153 unresolved ballots.

On May 3, the university and union jointly announced that they had agreed that further examination of the challenged ballots would not have changed the outcome of the election. However, the USW is moving forward with its demand for a re-vote.

“Student organizers allege the conduct of administrators before and during last month’s election ‘prevented free and fair voting,’” the Post-Gazette reported, citing a statement published by the union.

Specifically, the union claims that the administration tried to intimidate voters by keeping an independent list of voters and checking them as they voted, by requiring voter identification at polling places, and requiring voters “to say and spell their name” before marking them on watchers’ lists.

EEOC Finally Has Quorum Again, But It May Be Short-Lived

The recent confirmation of a new Republican nominee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission restored a quorum to the five-member panel for “the first time in months.” But it may be short-lived as the lone sitting Democrat is due to leave the commission on July 1 when her term expires, according to Politico.

The EEOC’s website lists just two sitting commissioners: Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic, a Republican, and Charlotte A. Burrows, a Democrat. The other three seats are listed as “vacant,” as is the general counsel position. The U.S. Senate confirmed the new appointment of Janet Dhillon on May 8. She is expected to become the new chair.

A dispute between Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Senator Patty Murray, a Washington State Democrat, over LGBTQ rights delayed action on Dhillon’s nomination for months.

“Lee blocked confirmation of Democratic (former) commissioner Chai Feldblum, a lesbian and the first openly LGBT EEOC commissioner, calling her ‘an activist intent on stamping out all opposition to her cause,’ prompting Murray to delay action on Dhillon and other nominees,” Politico reported.

Murray stated from the Senate floor that Dhillon refused to commit to maintaining the EEOC’s current position that LGBTQ workers are protected under the Civil Rights Act. Under President Trump, the Justice Department reversed its Obama-era policy that LGBTQ workers were protected under the Act.

Facing Criticism for Extremist Content, Facebook Allegedly Treats Moderators as ‘Second-Class Citizens’

In an era where the influence and potential weaponization of social media on the social and political landscape is coming under an increasing level of scrutiny, many of the thousands of workers who regulate dubious content on the world’s largest social media service say they are devalued by the company.

The Washington Post reported that about a dozen U.S.-based content moderators for Facebook “have been spearheading a quiet campaign inside the social media giant to air their grievances about poor working conditions and their status as second-class citizens.”

“The thousands of people who do the bulk of Facebook’s work keeping the site free of suicides, massacres, and other graphic posts are not Facebook employees. As contractors employed by outsourcing firms, these content moderators don’t get Facebook’s cushy six-month maternity leave, aren’t allowed to invite friends or family into the company cafeteria, and earn a starting wage that is just 14 percent of the median Facebook salary,” the Post reported.

The moderators are employees of Dublin-based Accenture, whose clients include 95 of the Fortune Global 100 and more than three-fourths of the Fortune Global 500, according to the company’s website. Using Facebook’s internal communications system, the contract employees have “protested micromanagement, pay cuts, and inadequate counseling support while doing some of Facebook’s most psychologically-taxing jobs. Thousands of employees have seen or commented” on the internal messages, the Post found.

The newspaper’s revelations show a different side of company operations than portrayed in recent media reports that have highlighted Facebook’s efforts to remove third-party hate speech, violence, and other extremist material from the social media platform. PBS reported in April that Facebook recently “banned several high-profile accounts that it says engage in violence and hat including white supremacists, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and a number of right-wing commentators including Alex Jones.”

Also last month, reported that Facebook moderators must oversee “billions of posts a week in more than a hundred languages,” and that earlier this spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a series of “off-the-record dinners” at his Palo Alto, California, for “a few dozen social media academics” to discuss content moderation strategies.

“In recent months, Facebook has been attacked from all sides: by conservatives for what they perceive is a liberal bias, by liberals for allowing white nationalism and Holocaust denial on the platform, by governments and news organizations for allowing fake news and disinformation to flourish, and by human rights organizations for its use as a platform to facilitate gender-based harassment and livestream suicide and murder,” Vice reported.

Just last week, the Associated Press reported that a “confidential whistleblower” has filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Facebook has exaggerated its success at removing extremist posts and that “the company is inadvertently making use of propaganda by militant groups to auto-generate videos and pages that could be used for networking  by extremists.”