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Labor Report

Teachers Gather for National Convention in Pittsburgh

Two weeks after the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court sided against public-sector unions in the landmark Janus case, one of the nation’s largest public-sector unions is hosting its biannual national convention in Pennsylvania. 
The American Federation of Teachers is gathering from Friday through Monday in Downtown Pittsburgh. The AFT has about 1.7 million members nationwide, including public school instructors in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. 

Bernie Sanders & Hillary ClintonThe convention will feature addresses by Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, along with the presidents of the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, according to the Post-Gazette.

AFT President Randi Weingarten will also address the convention. Her columns routinely appear in the New York Times, such as this July 1 piece in which she articulated how a right-wing group that spent millions to oppose Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland for almost 10 months in 2016 and to lobby for the approval of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch last year, is a leading donor to the anti-labor organization that financed Mark Janus’ lawyers. 

The convention also comes amid a growing groundswell of grassroots labor actions by teachers across the nation. 

As reported by the Post-Gazette: “The Pittsburgh conference also follows a wave of union activity across the country in 2018, during which teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job, calling for better pay and more money from their state legislators for public education. A teacher strike was averted in Pittsburgh in February after the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and Pittsburgh Public Schools reached a three-year contract agreement after months of tense negotiations. The PFT's roughly 3,000 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, and issued a four-day notice to the district and the community that it intended to stop work if an agreement wasn't reached.” 

"Everyone is coming together, just showing that solidarity," PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis told the paper. "And it's just perfect. That's what Pittsburgh is. A place where we fight back and stick together." 

The Verdict is in: Unions, Labor Advocates Denounce SCOTUS Nominee

#Save SCOTUSThe conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a double whammy to organized labor and the working class on June 27 with a much-expected anti-union ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME case, followed by the sudden retirement of purported “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy, who announced his departure from the bench soon after visiting Trump at the White House.

Surprise was short-lived, however, as the president predictably nominated another heavily conservative jurist, Brett Kavanaugh, to be Kennedy’s replacement. With Republicans holding 51 Senate seats compared to 47 for Democrats and two independents, minority members would have few options in rejecting Kavanaugh’s confirmation, particularly after Republicans changed Senate rules to prevent a filibuster of Neil Gorsuch’s 2017 confirmation.

Even with Sen. John McCain ailing and out of Washington, it would likely require total solidarity from Democrats and independents against Kavanaugh, as well as the defection of at least one Republican senator, to stop the current nominee from assuming a seat on the court.

In Kavanaugh, the president has chosen a former Kennedy clerk who has been rated slightly less conservative than Gorsuch based on his prior political monetary donations, yet more conservative than more than two-thirds of all current and former federal judges nominated since 1980.

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s July 9 announcement, POLITICO reported that Kavanaugh would only solidify the anti-labor sensibility of the court if he were confirmed. In one case as a circuit court judge in the District of Columbia, Kavanaugh ruled that employers can require employees to waive their right to picket as a condition of employment. In the same case, he also ruled with management on the forced arbitration/class action waiver issue.

U.S. Sen Bob Casey didn’t hesitate to condemn the Trump nomination – any Trump nomination in fact – as he declared his broad opposition to any hard-right nominee hours before the president formally announced the Kavanaugh selection.

Meanwhile, labor unions far and wide joined the chorus of opposition, including the AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, Communications Workers and AFT.

Nurses Say Staffing Has Worsened at W-B General Since May 31 Strike

Wilkes-Barre General Hospital Registered nurses at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital say that staffing levels at the medical facility have worsened since the unionized RNs held a one-day strike on May 31, and were subsequently locked out of their jobs for four additional days.

Leaders of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals claim that nurses assigned to medical and surgical floors at the hospital routinely experience patient-to-nurse ratios of seven-to-one or more, according to The Citizens Voice. Yet, as a certified trauma center, the ratio is not supposed to exceed four-to-one at Wilkes-Barre.

Union representatives also say that nurses have been ordered to work overtime since the end of the strike and lockout, in violation of state law.

A spokesperson for the hospital's for-profit parent company did not respond to the Voice's questions about the allegations, but issued a statement that the hospital values its patients and staff, and is taking part in "good-faith" negotiations with PASNAP to resolve labor issues. The union represents about 440 staff members at Wilkes-Barre. Their most recent contract expired in January.

Never Mind Voters: D.C. Council Dems, U.S. House GOPs Seek to Overturn One Fair Wage

ServerWashington, D.C, voters voted overwhelmingly in June to eliminate the district’s tipped wage credit and give a minimum wage raise to tipped workers, yet Democrat D.C. council members and Republicans in the U.S. House are leading efforts to contradict the electorate.

A new council bill proposes to repeal Initiative 77, which obtained 56 percent support via a referendum on the district’s June 19 primary ballot. According to the Washington Post, a majority of Democrat council members support the bill, which is expected to be the subject of a public hearing after the summer. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Jack Evans, said he thinks Initiative 77 will be “very harmful” to D.C. restaurants and their workers. Another council member, Charles Allen, said that workers are convinced that the initiative will lead to fewer shirts, fewer hours and less pay.

Meanwhile, the head of the local restaurant association argued that the new law should be repealed merely because it has created “mass public confusion” among restaurant patrons about when and how to tip their servers.

Under the former system, restaurants could pay servers as little as $3.89 an hour as long as the worker’s tips accounted for the difference between the hourly wage and the standard minimum wage of $13.25. The new law requires employers to gradually raise hourly wages to $15 by 2025.

Piggybacking on the D.C. council’s proposal (and the rhetoric from restaurant industry lobbyists), leaders of the “Freedom Caucus” in the U.S. House proposed legislation that would block the district from spending money to implement Initiative 77. Congress has the power to overturn local laws and spending decisions in D.C. due to its unique status as a federal district.

All is not harmonious between the local Democrats and House Republicans, however. Council members remain protective of their local authority and their ability to address the issue without outside interference.

One Fair Wage supporters and local voters have noted the irony of the situation.

“I love when the Council for our progressive, overwhelmingly Democratic city is on the same page as *checks notes* the chair of the Freedom Caucus,” Morgan Finkelstein of the Center for American Progress said via Twitter.

Public Unions Begin to Assess PA Impact of Janus Ruling

#UnionMore than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark anti-labor ruling in Janus vs. AFSCME, public unions in Pennsylvania have begun to assess the early impact on their memberships and revenues.

Steve Catanese, president of SEIU Local 668, the Pennsylvania Social Services Union, told WITF-FM that the local has gained more than 100 new members in recent weeks, including dozens of former “fair share” workers.

"Now that (fair share) is not an option they didn't want to be a free rider, so they felt like hey, I should sign up to do my part," Catanese said.

In Berks County, the Reading Eagle reported that there are about 1,544 unionized county workers, representing two-thirds of the total workforce. Among those, 119 were fair share workers prior to the Janus ruling.

"We are not going to wilt; we are going to thrive," Chris Ellis, a caseworker in the Berks County Assistance Office and member of the Service Employees International Union, said. "This ruling could have a domino effect when it comes to the rights of all workers because once they begin to take away our voice they will be able to strip away the rights of all workers."

PA’s Shapiro Joins Other AGs to Investigate Fast Food No Poaching Practices

A dozen state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro, suspect that some of the nation’s largest fast food franchises have for years engaged in “no poaching” alliances that may be keeping worker wages artificially low and hindering career advancement.

Fast Food EmployeeThe prosecutors have demanded that eight fast food companies surrender copies of their non-compete agreements for investigation. Shapiro and his counterparts jointly sent a letter to Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, Little Caesars, Panera, Popeye’s and Wendy’s, according to USAToday.

According to the letter, 58 percent of major franchisors have no-poach provisions in their franchise agreements, and the number is even higher, at 80 percent, for fast food franchisors. Worker advocates argue these provisions have led to persistent low wage growth and are anticompetitive.

“The use of ‘no poach’ and ‘no hire’ agreements by national fast-food franchises unfairly exploits working women and men, especially low-wage workers,” Shapiro said. “Many employees only learn these agreements exist when they are denied the chance to advance to a better job, earn more money or obtain family-friendly schedule options. It’s wrong and I’m standing up and fighting for the rights of Pennsylvanians not to be exploited.”

SE Leads In Job Growth, But Employment Lagging Elsewhere Around PA

A new study by Penn State researchers revealed a pronounced discrepancy between employment data from the Southeastern portion of the commonwealth and the rest of the state.

Growth comparison: Pennsylvania lagged behind several neighboring states as well as the U.S. average, in percentage growth of resident employment during the post-recovery period from 2014-2017. Only West Virginia performed worse.

“The report showed that Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Berks County, is flourishing, and most of the rest of the state is foundering, with respect to employment,” the Reading Eagle reported.

The report analyzed resident employment data by county from 2001 to ’16. Resident employment is based on the job status of those living within each county, regardless of where they work. The breakdown offers a more detailed depiction of trends than statewide employment data.

“In the 2001-2008 business cycle, employment grew in 53 counties, with the strongest growth in the southeast; it declined in 14 counties.

Philadelphia lost more than 12,000 resident employees in that time, the most in the state,” the Eagle reported.

“In 2008 to 2016, the state experienced growth. But, the report showed, employment grew in 15 counties, while it shrank in 52 counties. A seven-county cluster including Berks, Lehigh, York, Lancaster, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties added between 5,000 and 9,999 resident employees in that cycle. Philadelphia County added more than 73,000 resident employees in that time period.”

Statewide, “Pennsylvania's 0.5 percent growth rate for resident employment during the so-called recovery years from 2014-2017 lagged well behind six neighboring states including Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, New York and New Jersey, all of which were growing at rates ranging from 2.2 to 4.6 percent.”