The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News for Week Ending June 6

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of labor, money and business stories... @ Minimum wage increases @ Calif. SEIU may strike @ No free speech for workers @ Pilots agree to give-backs @ Activists protest Wal-Mart

Minimum wage increase gains momentum in states

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Faced with years of inaction at the federal level, several states have passed or are considering legislation to raise the wage floor this year. In total, six states will likely deal with the issue before the year is out, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Last Thursday, Wisconsin’s minimum wage jumped 80 cents to $6.50. The following day, the California legislature approved one of the most comprehensive minimum wage bills in the country, bumping it by $1 to $7.75 over the next two years and tying future increases to inflation.

According to the Tribune, minimum wage increases are likely to be on the November ballot in Ohio and Missouri. The federal minimum wage has been $5.15 an hour since 1997. Eighteen states have higher minimum wages than required by federal law. At $7.63, Washington State currently has the highest minimum wage, according to the Department of Labor.

California state workers weighing strike

After working more than a year without a contract and going three years without a raise, members of California’s largest public employees union may soon walk off the job. If approved, a strike by the approximately 85,000 members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 would affect most of the state’s government, from agricultural inspections to nursing to teaching.

Last month, the union’s bargaining and governing council recommended that members authorize a strike. Voting will continue through June 10.

Negotiations over raises, employee health insurance and pension payments have been tense. Last week, Local 1000 announced that the state had rescinded its demand that employees contribute more to pensions. The union contends, however, that the state’s offer is not good enough since it includes only a 3 percent raise and would require a 1.3 percent increase in employee health insurance contributions, as well as the loss of one paid holiday.

The union’s membership includes clerical workers, custodians, teachers, nurses and numerous other state employees. The strike would mark the first undertaken by California public employees.

Workers’ free speech rights threatened by Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court last week eroded workers’ rights in the US, finding that public employee speech does not necessarily enjoy First Amendment protections. Under the ruling, employees who raise concerns about possible misconduct can be demoted or even fired for doing so, with no legal repercussions.

Labor unions and government watchdog groups immediately decried the ruling. The day after the ruling, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald McEntee called the ruling a "chilling warning" to government workers.

"The Court has said to public employees, in effect: 'Your conscience or your job. You can't have both,'" McEntee said in a press statement.

In a statement Friday, Public Citizen warned that government workers who are best placed to expose waste and fraud will be less likely to do so. The organization represented Richard Ceballos, a former Los Angeles district attorney, in the case.

The ruling does not affect whistleblower status or speech undertaken outside of work, the majority ruled.

Delta pilots’ concessions OK’d

In what both sides cited as a necessary step to help pull the company from bankruptcy, pilots employed by Delta Airlines agreed to even more give-backs last week. The agreement would trim pilot pay by 14 percent and comes nearly two years after the union coughed up $1 billion in concessions to the air carrier.

A bankruptcy judge approved of the deal hours after members of the union representing Delta pilots approved the agreement, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced. According to ALPA, 61 percent of members who voted endorsed of the plan.

Last year, the top five Delta executives took home about $2.5 million combined, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

In a statement, Delta said ALPA’s agreement was crucial to company plans to emerge from bankruptcy next year. It expects to save about $200 million annually from the latest pay cut.

Activists target Wal-Mart stores during shareholders meeting

Trying to draw attention to plight of Wal-Mart employees with no health insurance, several groups joined in declaring stores across the country dangerous to workers’ health last weekend. The actions came as evidence continues to mount that the retail behemoth exacts huge healthcare costs from local taxpayers.

Hazmat-suit-clad protesters gathered at Wal-Mart stores in New York, California, Tennessee, Ohio and thirteen other locations on Saturday as the company convened its annual shareholders’ meeting. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, the site of the meeting, over 40 protesters attempted to quarantine company officials and shareholders, according to reports from the ad-hoc coalition, Quarantine Wal-Mart.



The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the June 6, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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