The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News Digest for Week Ending July 17

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of workers' rights, union and wage stories... @ Flight attendants threaten “CHAOS” @ CA newspaper staff walks out @ Sate minimum wage raises @ Mine safety position questioned

Northwest flight attendants escalate toward ‘CHAOS’ actions

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Flight attendants hoping to negotiate a new contract with Northwest Airlines held a series of informational pickets at Friday. The job action came as the workers face the prospect of having a concession-heavy contract forced upon them by the airline as early as this evening.

At the end of last month, a bankruptcy judge ruled that Northwest could impose a contract the flight attendants union had previously rejected as part of the company’s reorganization process. The judge’s two-week stay expires today but, as of press time, Northwest and the union representing its flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants, expressed confidence that they could reach an agreement, the Associated Press reported.

AFA members have already authorized a strike and the union noted that it would initiate stronger job actions should Northwest impose the rejected contract. The union is threatening to unleash its much-ballyhooed “CHAOS� actions, which entail random, roving work stoppages that would force sporadic flight cancellations nationwide.

Santa Barbara newspaper staff stands together over meddling

Amidst resignations over alleged meddling by the paper’s owner, staffers at the Santa Barbara News-Press briefly walked off the job Friday. The paper’s employees claim that its publisher has quashed stories, forced dissenting editors to resign, and tried to steer the direction of reporting.

Twenty-five newsroom workers appeared before a crowd of about 300 supporters Friday at a rally in a nearby park, informing them that News-Press bosses had threatened their jobs should they talk about the alleged interference in their reporting from management, the Associated Press reported.

As of Friday, nine News-Press editors and writers had resigned their positions to protest the forced resignation of other editors and several killed stories. One of the stories nixed by management was about the paper’s interim publisher’s sentencing for drunk driving, the Associated Press reported.

Protesting staff members presented the paper’s managers with a list of demands Thursday that included recognition of their decision to affiliate with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the reinstatement of recently resigned workers, and a renewed focus on journalistic ethics.

News-Press interim publisher Travis Armstrong denied the workers’ allegations.

Minimum wage to rise one dollar in North Carolina

North Carolina’s lowest-paid workers will see a small bump in their hourly wages beginning January 1st, when the state’s minimum wage is set to rise from the federal floor, $5.15 an hour, to $6.15 an hour.

The dollar-an-hour raise signed into law last Thursday will give the average worker about $173 a month more in take-home pay, the Associated Press reported. With the hike, a full-time minimum-wage worker will make $12,792 annually before taxes, more than $400 below the official poverty level for a two-person family.

Massachusetts’ minimum-wage increase in Governor’s hands

Massachusetts lawmakers approved a bill gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $8 an hour last week. If signed by Governor Mitt Romney, the two-step increase would see the state’s lowest hourly wages rise from $6.75 to $7.50 at the beginning of 2007 and 50 cents more the following year.

With the measure, Massachusetts would have the third-highest minimum wage in the nation in 2008.

Gov. Romney, a Republican, has not commented on the bill’s passage, nor has he indicated publicly whether he will sign the measure. While campaigning for office in 2002, Romney advocated a modest raise to $6.94 an hour and indexing future increases to inflation, which the pending law does not address.

Mine-workers union, senator question Stickler’s MSHA duties

Workplace-safety advocates last week began raising questions about a recent Bush administration decision to give its choice for mine safety oversight a job at the agency he has been nominated to head.

Richard Stickler’s nomination to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has been in limbo for months, and in June Senate leaders pulled a schedule vote due to lack of lawmaker support.

Last Wednesday, the United Mine Workers of America announced that it had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to clarify what the former Pennsylvania mine-safety chief’s new duties entail at MSHA. “If Mr. Stickler is involved in directing or developing policy at MSHA through this consulting role, then there is a serious problem,â€� UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in a statement. “He has no business being involved in critical decision-making at the agency.â€�  

In a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Senator Robert Byrd (D–West Virginia) sought confirmation that Stickler “is not assuming any of the duties or functions� of the position for which he has been nominated, the Courier-Journal reported.

Her office replied that Stickler’s appointment is temporary and that “there is no intent to bypass the constitutional process for the appointment of federal officials,� the paper reported.

Stickler’s critics contend that he is too close to the mining industry and that his term heading Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Deep Mine Safety was marred by less-than-aggressive standards enforcement. Stickler told senators in January that current MSHA rules are “adequateâ€� and that the agency need not spend more resources on enforcement.  



The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the July 17, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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