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Working In These Times

Saturday, Mar 31, 2012, 10:00 am

Labor News Round-Up: Rolling Strikes, OSHA Opposition and a Brooklyn Lockout

BY Mike Elk

At the end of (almost) each week, Working In These Times highlights important labor struggles and protests that contributors weren't able to cover.

—Twenty-five workers at various Gannet newspapers in Wisconsin are now facing potential disciplinary action for signing petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker. None of the workers are editors or reporters, but rather work on the business sides of the newspaper. Kevin Corrado writes in the Green Bay Gazette, a Gannet publication:

It was wrong, and those who signed the petition were in breach of Gannett's principles of ethical conduct.

All citizens, including journalists, have a right to hold their own opinions about this and other political issues. But journalists who work within a professional news organization must ensure against even the impression of favoring a candidate or a position. They must exercise caution and not become involved with issues that may cause doubts about their neutrality as journalists.”

Workers at several other Wisconsin newspapers not owned by Gannet are also facing potential disciplinary action for signing petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker 

—On March 22, 250 garbage workers in Mobile, Ala., went on strike to protest unfair bargaining that the Allied Waste and Republic company engaged in to force workers to accept a concessionary contract. The strike quickly became a rolling strike with other Teamsters in other states going out on short, brief strikes to protest. Josh Eidelson at AlterNet writes

The Teamsters represent 9,000 workers at over 150 Republic (or subsidiary) facilities.  “We expect the strike to escalate in other areas,” says Stiles.  If recent history is a guide, then – absent a settlement - expect the Republic strike to hit more cities, creating a “rolling strike” that, while continuous in Alabama, passes through a series of other states.  Workers could strike with little warning, stay out for a few days, and then return to work.”

The strike has already hurt the company. The vice president of Republic in charge of negotiations resigned from the company and now workers feel optimistic that they may get a contract.

—Dave Jamieson writes at the Huffington Post that some agriculture-friendly Democrats have joined the GOP in attempting to block new Department of Labor rules that would prevent children from working in certain dangerous farm occupations:

GOP members of both the House and Senate introduced bills this month that would preempt regulations proposed by the Labor Department forbidding kids under 16 from doing certain agricultural duties deemed too dangerous.

The Senate version quickly found a backer in Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the first Democrat to sign on as co-sponsor. Tester and fellow Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have joined 39 Senate Republicans in opposing the new rules.

—Federal Judge Brian Cogan ended a 16-month lockout of 70 workers who worked at the massive Flatbush Gardens apartment complex in Brooklyn owned by Renaissance Equity Holdings. The NLRB earlier this found that the apartment group failed to bargain in good faith and that the company did not provide full financial information to the union while bargaining.

The judge issued an injunction forcing the company back to the bargaining table. While the union is negotiating a new contract, the workers were ordered by the judge to take a 20-percent pay cut.

 “The judge’s decision to end a 16-month lockout and order Renaissance Equity Holdings back to the bargaining table is vindication for 70-plus workers in a David and Goliath-type of battle,” said Héctor Figueroa, secretary-treasurer of 32BJ SEIU. “The word should go out to Brooklyn and to all cities and towns that bullying workers into accepting unfair draconian cuts to their livelihoods has no place in our society.”

—Several railway unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Sheet Metal Workers (SMWIA), and United Transportation Union (UTU), have filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the BNSF Railway, owned by Warren Buffet, regarding new requirements that employees disclose private medical information that the union claims can be used to discriminate against them:

BLET officials allege the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other federal statutes.

“Locomotive engineers and trainmen already are among the most highly-regulated workers in the nation,” said BLET National President Dennis Pierce, adding that the policy is a “blatant invasion of privacy.”

UTU and SMWIA officials claim workers' personal information is protected and BNSF has no statutory right to view the medical information. They also believe the information provided by employees likely would result in BNSF obtaining genetic information and that the policy discriminates against women who are pregnant or affected by related medical conditions.

“Each day that BNSF’s policy remains in effect, more employees face the likelihood of having their statutory rights violated,” UTU and SMWIA officials said in a joint statement. “And once an employee’s rights are violated — that is, once BNSF has been notified of the away-from-work medication condition or event and has obtained the employee’s statutorily-protected medical information — there is no way to undo the violation.”

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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