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Labor Report

Celebrate the Holidays the Union Way with These Labor-Friendly Brands

With the holiday shopping season in full force, the AFL-CIO has released its annual list of gift recommendations. The products included in the list are made by union members from labor-friendly companies and represent a multitude of gift categories such as apparel, beer, wine and spirits, children’s toys and games, candies, sports equipment, and personal care items.

The full list was compiled by Union Plus, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s resource site, Labor 411, the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department, and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers website.

Congress Cancels Minimum Wage Hearing Due to Witness Controversy

The U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee was finally scheduled to conduct a long-sought public hearing on Dec. 12 to discuss the possible effects of raising the nation’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009. But Republican lawmakers, who will cede leadership of the committee to Democrats when the 116th Congress convenes next month, abruptly cancelled the hearing after learning of anti-gay and anti-feminist blog posts written 16 years ago by one of the key GOP witnesses.

The controversial posts were authored by Joseph J. Sabia, an economist and researcher with San Diego State University, and a longtime outspoken critic of raising the minimum wage. In 2002, he was a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University and columnist for several conservative media outlets.

In comments reported by, Sabia described the blog posts as “satirical college opinion” and said he “regrets the hurtful and disrespectful language” he used in them. He also dismissed the posts as “college nonsense."

A Republican spokeswoman for the committee reportedly told Politico that the majority members “were uncomfortable moving forward on the hearing” after they discovered the posts.

In an opinion article published before the cancellation, the Huffington Post noted that Republicans haven’t held a hearing to discuss minimum wage since their party won control of the House in 2010, although numerous polls have indicated that most Americans support the idea of raising the minimum wage.

“During their eight years in power, House Republicans have mostly avoided talking about a minimum wage proposal, let alone voting on one,” the HuffPost reported.
In the meantime, 29 U.S. states and numerous municipalities have enacted minimum wages higher than the federal $7.25 an hour rate.

The HuffPost further reported that the same Education and Workforce Committee (the committee that would handle a minimum wage bill in the House) has held 38 hearings or “markups” to discuss issues involving the National Labor Relations Board and labor unions since 2010.

“The Republicans who set the (legislative) calendar were preoccupied with the NLRB during the presidency of Barack Obama (when) the Democratic majority on the five-member board issued a slew of worker-friendly decisions and rules that Republicans – and various business lobbies --- viewed as a gift to unions,” the HuffPost reported.

Northeast Philly Charter School Teachers Unionize, Win Raises in New Contract

Days after unionized teachers in Chicago settled the nation’s first ever charter school strike, recently-organized teachers from a Philadelphia charter school announced the ratification of a lucrative new contract.

Sixty-two teachers and staff from New Foundations Charter School in the city’s Northeast section will receive an average raise of $5,700 for the current school year under the new deal, according to Raises will be applied retroactively for the 2017-18 school year and the elapsed portion of 2018-19. The contract runs through 2020-21. The bargaining unit includes teachers, nurses, and counselors, who organized last year with the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania.

Although New Foundations offers courses for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in multiple buildings, the contract applies only to those employed at the high school. The contract sets members’ healthcare premiums at zero and allows the union to collect fair-share fees from employees who choose not to join.

AFTPA represents teachers and staff at three of Philadelphia’s 87 charter schools.

W-B Nurses Up the Ante in Dispute with Oft-Cited Hospital Operator

Registered nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital raised the stakes in their year-long contract negotiations with their employer as they voted on Dec. 11 to authorize their union leaders to send a 10-day strike notice to management.

The vote doesn’t mean that the notice will be issued immediately. Nor does it mean that a strike date has been set. But it empowers the Wyoming Valley Nurses Association’s bargaining team to send the notice at its discretion. The local union is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP). Unionized nurses are legally required to give hospitals at least 10 days’ notice before commencing a strike.

About 440 Wilkes-Barre nurses have been without a contract since Jan. 31. Union representatives have met with management 21 times since then, but they say they have made little to no progress in resolving their key issues. At the top of their agenda is what they describe as chronic staffing deficiencies at the hospital.

In a report released on the same day as the strike notice vote, the WVNA alleges that the hospital’s for-profit owner “is not investing in proper staffing, even as executive salaries have nearly doubled over the same period.”

The nation’s largest for-profit hospital company, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, purchased Wilkes-Barre in 2008 along with five other Northeastern PA hospitals then-known as the Wyoming Valley Health Care System. The group of facilities now operates as Commonwealth Health under the CHS umbrella. CHS is publicly traded.

“Since Community Health Systems bought our hospital, we have experienced increasing vacancies resulting in chronic understaffing,” WVNA President Elaine Weale reportedly said during a Dec. 11 news conference. “When we are understaffed, we experience problems such as unsafe patient limits, which results in delays in care to the patients. When we are understaffed, the hospital also utilizes illegal mandatory overtime or forced overtime that results in longer shifts.”

Wilkes-Barre nurses have staged at least three strikes since 2013, including one last May and June. They planned to walk out for a single day, but their employer brought in temporary workers on five-day contracts. So the nurses were effectively locked out for four ensuing days.

In September, the Pennsylvania Department of Health cited the hospital for a “systematic nature of non-compliance with regards to nursing services” and for failing “to schedule a sufficient number of RNs and/or ancillary staff on the nursing units for 81 of 148 shifts reviewed.” Earlier this year, the Department of Labor and Industry cited CHS for at least 10 violations of state law regarding forced overtime.

Kentucky Supreme Court Strikes Down Controversial Pension Reform Act

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has unanimously struck down a pension reform bill enacted hastily by the state’s Republican legislature and governor earlier this year that would have eliminated the traditional defined benefit plan for new hires and placed then into a new “hybrid cash balance” plan similar to a 401(k).

As reported by the state’s largest newspaper, the Courier-Journal, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear joined the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police in filing a lawsuit to challenge the bill immediately after Gov. Matt Bevin signed it into law in April.

The high court agreed with Beshear that the legislature violated the state constitution when it gutted the original language of wastewater-related legislation known as Senate Bill 151 and replaced it with 291 pages of pension reform language. Republicans brought the amended bill to a vote within hours. The court ruled that lawmakers were not given a “fair opportunity” to consider the bill, as required by the state constitution.

Although the modified pension program specifically applied to new teaching hires statewide, the bill also contained provisions affecting current teachers, as well as police officers, firefighters, social workers, EMS workers, and other state and local public employees. Together, their retirement plans have almost 500,000 members.

Prior to amending and passing SB 151, the governor and his allies in the legislature attempted to forward more drastic changes to public pensions, including cuts in benefits for teachers and other state workers. But strong opposition caused many Republican lawmakers to cool on the proposal.

Democrats have proposed expanding the state’s legalized gambling to fund the state’s public pensions, which are reportedly $43 billion in debt.

Sheraton Workers in Connecticut Vote to Join Labor Movement

Organized labor is expanding again in the hotel industry as employees of the Sheraton Stamford in Connecticut voted on Dec. 13 to join Unite Here, the union that represents about 300,000 hospitality workers in the United States and Canada.

About 100 employees will join Local 217, which represents about 3,000 hotel and food-service workers in the state. The Sheraton is the second Stamford hotel to unionize, according to the Advocate.

“Sheraton workers were seeking unionization because of what they described as low wages, poor benefits, excessive work, and an overall lack of respect,” the newspaper reported.

About two-thirds of employees voted to organize, representing a major shift from 15 years ago when workers at the same hotel voted against forming a union. This time, Sheraton management allegedly hired a prominent “union-avoidance” company to dissuade workers from supporting the effort to organize.

NYC Amazon Workers Seek to Organize as Company Plans HQ2 Development

With Amazon planning to develop one of its forthcoming “HQ2” sites in the Queens Borough of New York City, workers at the company’s recently opened fulfillment center in nearby Staten Island have announced a new unionization campaign.

Bloomberg reported that workers say “the company treats them like robots and should be focused on improving conditions there rather than raking in tax breaks to build a new headquarters.” Leaders of the campaign figure that Amazon will not want to retaliate against organizers lest they jeopardize up to $3 billion in public financial incentives the company stands to receive for the HQ2 development.

“Issues at the warehouse include safety concerns, inadequate pay, and 12-hour shifts with insufficient breaks and unreasonable hourly quotas,” as well as unpaid waits at security checkpoints while exiting the facility, Bloomberg reported.

Several pro-union employees were joined by community activists and elected officials for a rally outside New York City Hall on Dec. 12 prior to a Council hearing on the Queens HQ2 project. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union posted video of the rally on Facebook.