The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News for the Week Ending July 3

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of workers rights, union, and wage stories... @ Educators on gay rights @ Northwest contract can be voided @ Sago blast cause unknown @ Teamster dissent on ballot @ Voters to mull wage raises @ Wage Inequality rises @ NYC construction halts

Educators union backtracks on same-sex marriage support

Weeks away from its annual convention, the National Education Association, whose members are employees of public schools and universities, recently changed the text of a proposed resolution supporting the rights of all people to marry regardless of their sexual orientation. The change came just days after fundamentalist Christian organizations criticized the proposal as “undermining traditional� marriage.

Focus on the Family and the American Family Association – two prominent organizations on the Christian Right – attacked the NEA over a week ago after learning of the proposed resolution, Cybercast News Service reported last Tuesday.

The original resolution called on the NEA to support the “legal rights and responsibilities� of people in civil unions and gay marriages, according to CNS. The replacement, which was first proposed on July 21, restricts the organizational support to states where gay marriage is “legally-recognized.�

A spokesperson for the 2.8 million member union told CNS that the new language did not arise from a resolute fundamentalist Christian pressure.

Court grants Northwest power to void union contracts

Northwest Airlines can legally enforce its own contract terms on its flight attendants, despite the fact that the workers have so far already rejected contract deals, a bankruptcy-court judge ruled last week. The airline is trying to rid itself of about $1.4 billion in costs in order to emerge from bankruptcy.

Judge Allan Gropper’s decision leaves the flight attendants, who are represented by the Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA), with little recourse and no support from other unions representing workers at the company. In the middle of last month, baggage handlers and ground workers employed by the airline agreed to concessions. Aside from PFAA members, they were the last group of unionized holdouts at Northwest.

Six months later, Sago mine blast cause still ‘unknown’

The official state investigation into the deadly blast at West Virginia’s Sago Mine has yet to find a cause, the probe’s lead investigator, J. Davitt McAteer, told reporters last week. His group’s report, which was due this past Friday, will not be completed until July 19, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III’s office said.

To date, none of the five official government investigations has been able to determine what sparked the deadly blast that led to the deaths of twelve mine workers. McAteer said that his group may never be able to explain the exact cause, Scripps News reported. But he noted that there are a number of explanations that have been put forth, including the mine’s proximity to oil and natural-gas wells, sparks from equipment being restarted after the holiday weekend or a lightning strike.

The last is favored by Sago mine operator International Coal Group, which released a report pinning the blame on lightening but declined to provide evidence or documentation, as TNS reported previously. The report has been heavily criticized by labor groups, and McAteer has reportedly derided the idea.

Hoffa’s challenger qualifies for fall election

As he runs for a third term, International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa will face a familiar challenger.

During the last day of the union’s 27th convention Friday, 107 delegates cast their nomination vote for Tom Leedham, the candidate put forth by the dissident group Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). Leedham gained the support of 6 percent of the delegates – enough to qualify for the Fall 2006 ballot but far fewer than Hoffa’s 1,614 delegate votes. 

In addition to Leedham, TDU managed to get candidates on the ballot for all but the union’s Western and Eastern Regional vice-presidential contests

Following Teamsters’ split last year with the AFL-CIO, it appears unlikely that TDU will make many gains at the ballot box this year, labor insiders told TNS. At the convention, the group failed to push through thirteen key proposals for greater accountability and transparency in the union.

Several states closer to fall minimum-wage referendums

Organized labor groups and other workers’ advocates have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to place wage raises on state ballots this fall.

In Arizona, supporters of an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $6.75 an hour turned in over 200,000 supportive signatures, well higher than the number needed. The state currently has no wage law and follows the federal standard, $5.15 an hour, which has not been changed in nine years.

Early last week, backers of a measure raising Montana’s minimum wage said they had gathered twice as many signatures as needed to qualify for the ballot, the Helena Independent Record reported. If approved by voters, the state’s wage floor would rise from the federal minimum to $6.15.

Proposals in both states would include wage increases as the cost of living goes up.

As TNS previously reported, voters in at least six other states are expected to decide on wage raises for their lowest-paid workers in the November elections..

Chasm between lowest, highest paid grew last year

The average corporate chief executive officer made 821 times what the federal minimum wage requires companies give their lowest-paid employees last year, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported last week. By comparison, on average CEO’s were paid 725 times the $5.15 an hour minimum wage in 2004.

EPI points out that this wage disparity means the average CEO makes more money before lunch time on the first work day of the year than a minimum wage workers brings home annually.

Since 2002, the ratio has been growing steeply. The 2005 measure marks the largest gap since at least 1965, EPI found. In addition, EPI reports, purchasing power for minimum wage-makers is at its lowest point since 1955.

Looming strike stops construction in parts of NYC

Fearing a strike, contractors in charge of construction at over 100 sites across New York City halted work over the weekend.

The companies, all of which belong to the New York chapter of the General Contractors Association, called off work in anticipation of a strike. A deadline imposed by Local 15 of the International Union of Operating Engineers passed at midnight on Friday, by which time a contract was to have been signed or workers would walk out.

The union’s contract expired June 30, and talks between the two sides broke down Thursday, the Associated Press reported. Local 15 members rejected an offer that included a 6 percent raise.

In total, upwards of 3,000 worksites in the city could be shuttered by the looming work stoppage, the Contractors Association said.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the July 3, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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