Newspaper employees sick of imposed sick leave changes

Employees of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald are sick of the treatment they’ve received from the newspaper’s owner, the Oahu Publishing Incorporated (OPI).

For more than a year, the two sides have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, but  the company has begun implementing new policies without negotiating with the workers’ union, the Pacific Media Workers Guild CWA Local 39521.

The last straw came when the company started punishing employees for being sick by deducting vacation days when they used their sick leave.

Additionally, the company began requiring employees to bring a doctor’s note when returning to work from being sick.

“Employees should be encouraged to take care of their health rather than be penalized,” said Tom Callis, the local’s vice president for Hawaii. “These policies do not create a healthy and productive workplace.”

The union responded to the company’s new sick leave rules by filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“To implement these new sick leave rules without negotiating with employees or telling them is a clear violation of labor law,” reads a statement issued by the union.

“The assumption by the company that its employees need to be managed in this fashion is both misguided and insulting,” said Brad Sherman, a member of the union’s bargaining team. “The stance that the newspaper’s employees are somehow deceitful is frankly absurd. These are the same employees whose hard work and dedication had created a business that was profitable–in an industry that is facing struggles–at the OPI made the purchase.”

The union and the company have been bargaining for a new contract for more than a year now.

The old collective bargaining agreement was terminated when OPI purchased the Tribune-Herald, which operates out of Hilo, Hawaii, in December 2014.

Collective bargaining on a new agreement began in 2015, and while some issues have been resolved the two sides are still far apart on others.

In the meantime, OPI has laid off half the Herald-Tribune employees and begun implementing policies without regard for the collective bargaining process.

OPI is owned by Black Press Limited Group, a private company owned by David Black, who the  Vancouver Sun describes as a Canadian “media mogul.”

Black Press, the largest privately owned newspaper company in Canada, owns a string of community newspapers throughout North America and daily newspapers in Akron, Ohio and Everett, Washington. It also owns the Honolulu Star Advertiser and the San Francisco Examiner.

Black has recently branched out of the publishing business and is seeking permission to build what he describes as an environmentally clean oil refinery in Kitmat, British Columbia.

The Vancouver Sun portrays Black as a shrewd (some might say ruthless) businessman adept at squeezing maximum profits from the newspapers he owns.

“His model for newspaper ownership — buy cheap or distressed properties, ruthlessly cut unnecessary staff, make budgets squeak and consolidate common services such as printing, accounting and human resources in regional centers–has wholly rewritten the newspaper industry in British Columbia and Washington,” reported the Sun in 2012.

Employees of the Tribune-Herald have not been impressed with the Black model for running a newspaper.

After OPI bought the Tribune Herald, he laid off 19 workers at a profitable business, outsourced much of the work at the newspaper, implemented a regressive sick leave policy, and eliminated the job security workers enjoyed under the previous collective bargaining agree.

In addition, OPI has proposed subjecting workers to drug tests without cause, which many employees think is an invasion of their privacy.

To protest the new drug testing policy, workers began displaying specimen cups in the workplace with the message, “My Urine, My Business.”

On the union’s Facebook page, one union member posted a picture of a specimen cup with a more detailed message, “What OPI’s sick leave and drug testing policies mean to me . . . That we at HTH are not trusted to act like adults and do our job (without being treated like children).”

Amid all this, the union has continued to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement by mobilizing workers and supporters in the community.

Union members are wearing “I love fair contracts” buttons at work and urging supporters to show their solidarity by posting pictures of themselves wearing the button on the union’s Facebook page.

Tribune-Herald workers recently received a strong message of support from fellow union members at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, where collective bargaining on a new contract with OPI is about to get underway.

“We stand with our brothers and sisters on the Big Island,” said Sjarif Goldstein, Star-Advertiser assistant sports editor and Honolulu unit chair of the union. “The Honolulu newsroom understands what’s at stake for media workers in Hawaii as ownership consolidation continues.”


Austin bus company required to compensate workers for its unfair labor practices

The National Labor Relations Board recently announced that a settlement was reached in an unfair labor practices dispute between Travis Transportation Management, Inc. and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1091 of Austin.

The settlement calls for Travis Transportation to pay $655,000 to its 600 employees as compensation for lost benefits and wages.

The NLRB filed a complaint against Travis after Local 1091 charged the company with unfair labor practices.

The charge resulted from actions taken by Travis Transportation and McDonald Transportation Associates during contract negotiations.

“The National Labor Relations Board Region 16 office in Fort Worth agreed with (Local 1091) that the Employer violated the National Labor Relations Act,” said the NLRB in a media statement about the settlement.

The dispute that led to the settlement began in 2012 when Cap Metro, the Austin area’s regional transportation authority, decided to fully privatize bus service and awarded a contract to McDonald Transit Associates for the operation of 44 of Cap Metro’s bus routes.

McDonald subcontracted with Travis Transportation to operate its newly awarded routes.

As a condition for taking over the bus routes, McDonald and Travis were required to recognize Local 1091, which had a collective bargaining agreement with its previous employer. McDonald and Travis were also required to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with Local 1091.

The negotiations that took place turned out to be a sham.

As soon as it was feasible, McDonald and Travis declared a bargaining impasse and, according to the NLRB, unilaterally and illegally implemented cuts to employee benefits and pay.

They reduced employer pension and health insurance contributions, They made workers pay more out-of-pocket expenses for medical treatment, and they implemented a two-tier pay system that resulted in lower pay for new hires.

The companies also tried to squelch on-the-job organizing by the union and discriminated against union leaders.

McDonald is a Fort Worth-based company that contracts with a number local governments and regional transportation authorities for transportation and related services.

McDonald is a subsidiary of  RATP Dev America, which in turn is owned by the RATP Group, a public corporation owned by the French government.

The RATP Group operates most of Paris’ transportation system. It also operates other public transportation systems throughout the world.

After McDonald and Travis unilaterally implemented their cuts, members of Local 1091 voted to authorize a strike.

There was some speculation that a strike would take place in 2012 during the initial run of Austin’s new Formula 1 Grand Prix racing event, but a strike never materialized.

The union, however, did file unfair labor practices charges against its members’ new employer.

Local 1091 originally sought $1.3 million as compensation for the employers’ illegal actions.

In addition to paying $655,000 in compensation, Travis Transportation must also post notices in the workplace providing workers with details of the settlement and notifying workers of their right to join a union and bargain collectively.

The Austin Chronicle reports that Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt called the settlement, “a major vindication of workers’ rights and a ‘major victory of (Travis) employees’.”




NLRB issues complaint against Walmart

The National Labor Relations Board Office of General Counsel on January 15 issued an unfair labor practices complaint against Walmart, charging the retail giant with illegally firing, disciplining, and/or retaliating against 117 workers who were seeking change at Walmart through collective action.

According to a media statement released by the NLRB, “The National Labor Relations Act guarantees the right of private sector employees to act together to try to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union.”

The complaint grew out of efforts by Walmart to silence workers active in Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR), a nationwide group of thousands of Walmart workers fighting for better pay, benefits, and working conditions and a collective voice in matters that affect their jobs.

“Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” said Barbara Collins a fired Walmart worker from Placerville, California, one of the workers named in the complaint. “But too much is at stake—the strength of our economy and the security of our families—to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs. Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: we have the right to speak out, and Walmart fired me and my coworkers illegally. With a new CEO taking over in a few weeks, we hope that Walmart will take a new direction in listening to associates and the country in the growing calls to improve jobs.”

The NLRB complaint identifies violations in 34 stores in 13 states: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. More than 60 Walmart supervisors and one corporate officer are named in the complaint.

The complaint grew out of Walmart’s stepped up activity to silence workers after their 2012 Black Friday protests, which included strikes and demonstrations at Walmart stores throughout the US.

Some of the workers who participated in the Black Friday protests or who were active in the OUR organizing campaign were fired or punished in other ways after the the protests.

The NLRB complaint finds that Walmart store managers threatened workers with firing if they participated in strikes or protests, disciplined workers for engaging in strikes and protests, and fired workers for taking collective action to improve working conditions.

The struggle of Walmart workers has been one of the defining elements of the growing movement of low-wage workers for a living wage.

“Walmart workers are bravely leading the national movement to end low wage work,” said Bill Fletcher Jr., chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. “Walmart is a major driver of the widening income inequality gap with its low wages that set the standard for retail jobs. We cannot get our economy moving again when the largest employer breaks federal law in an effort to keep wages down. Walmart needs to start following the law and improve jobs by paying workers a living wage.”

“Walmart workers like me are calling for better jobs for all Americans,” said Colby Harris, a fired worker from Lancaster, TX. “It’s not right that so many of us are struggling to get by on less than $25,000 a year while the Waltons (the family that owns more than 50 percent of Walmart’s stock) have more wealth than 42% of American families combined.”

The NLRB announced in November that it would be filing a complaint against Walmart but held off on doing so in hopes that it could reach a settlement with the company.

It issued the complaint after settlement discussions were unsuccessful.

Walmart must respond to the complaint by January 28. No date has been set for a hearing on the complaint.

The NLRB said that it has issued other complaints involving Walmart and that other charges involving the company are under investigation.

In Kentucky, an earlier complaint against Walmart has been resolved.

Aaron Lawson of Louisville, Kentucky was fired after he passed out flyers and spoke out publicly for change at Walmart. As part of the settlement, Walmart agreed to rehire Lawson and provide full back wages for the time that he was out of work.

More short-haul port drivers go on strike, seek union membership

About 30 low-wage short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles on August 26 became yet another of a growing group of low-wage workers to go on strike.

Drivers for Green Fleet Systems (GFS) went on a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest intimidation and harassment by their employer. The strikers said that the company is trying to thwart their attempt to join the Teamsters.

The strikers received support from other workers all over the US, including a group of GFS short-haul drivers in Savannah, Georgia, who are fighting their misclassification as contract employees.

“For too long port drivers have been treated unfairly, and it is time to take a stand,” said Randy Carmack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 and secretary-treasurer of Local 63.

Teamsters Local 848 has been assisting GFS workers in their organizing campaign. Teamsters Local 728 has been helping the GFS workers in Savannah.

“These giant corporations must stop exploiting these workers and cease their intimidation tactics,” added Carmack. “Everyone deserves respect on the job and an opportunity to provide for their families.”

GFS told the Los Angeles Times that it pays some of the highest wages in the industry.

But the short-haul industry is notoriously low-paying.

According to Marketplace, “studies show that port drivers earn an average of $28,000 a year,” well below the $74,605 annual salary the Economic Policy Institute estimates is needed for “a secure yet modest living standard” in the Los Angeles area.

Low wages aren’t the only problem motivating GFS short-haul drivers to organize.

“In the past, GFS management had been very racist towards many of us,” said Francisco Valencia a 12-year veteran port driver who has been with GFS for four years. “They screamed at us and humiliated us in front of everyone. The working conditions and the way that we are treated is not just. We deserve to be treated as human beings.”

Valencia like many of the port drivers is an immigrant. Valencia was born in El Salvador.

In response to he drivers’ organizing campaign, GFS has mounted an anti-union counter-offensive.

The company’s actions caused workers to file unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the charges, GFS has asked employees to sign an anti-union petition, offered workers wage increases for opposing the unionization effort, and interrogated them about union activities.

If GFS workers win their union organizing drive, they will become the second group of short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles to unionize.

Last year, drivers for Toll Group voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters, and earlier this year, they signed their first collective bargaining agreement.

The GFS drivers in Los Angeles work directly for the company and therefore have the right to join a union and bargain collectively, but most port drivers are classified as contract employees and are denied that right by law.

Many of these drivers say that they’ve been misclassified and should be treated as company employees rather than as contract employees.

One such group of drivers work for GFS in Savannah. When GFS drivers in Los Angeles went on strike, 130 Port of Savannah GFS drivers signed a letter that was sent to a company manager asserting their solidarity with the striking GFS drivers on the West Coast.

In the letter, the workers described their own treatment by the company as similar to that of sharecroppers.

“We are fighting misclassification because all port drivers should have the same rights,” reads the letter. “Port drivers in Savannah are sick and tired of being treated like modern day sharecroppers, just on wheels. This must end and that is why we support Green Fleet drivers who are organizing in Los Angeles.”

The Savannah workers ended their letter by pointing to the similarities between themselves and the GFS drivers in Los Angeles and expressing support for their unionization drive.

“Drivers at Green Fleet Systems have been unfairly treated, harassed, interrogated and intimidated because they are coming together to form their union,” reads the letter. “We call on Green Fleet to stop mistreating its drivers in Los Angeles and respect their right to form a union.”

Teamsters call out organic food distributor for unfair labor practices

Members of Teamsters Local 117 in Auburn, Washington returned to the picket line after United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) announced that it would permanently replace 72 of the 163 warehouse workers and truck drivers who walked off the job on December 10 to protest the company’s unfair labor practices. Teamster members on December 13 unconditionally agreed to return to work; UNFI accepted the offer and agreed to re-open negotiations for a new contract. However, according to the Teamsters, the company rescinded its commitment.

“UNFI misrepresented its position regarding its workers’ good-faith offer to return to work,” said Tracy A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Local 117. “The company’s action to replace its employees is retaliatory, unlawful, and frankly despicable.”

Members of Teamster Local 117 have been seeking a new contract since February 2012. They want to raise wages and benefits to warehouse industry standards in their area.

UNFI is a leading wholesale distributor of organic and natural foods. Its biggest customer is Whole Foods.

More than 1,100 miles south of Auburn in Moreno Valley, California, UNFI warehouse workers seeking to join the Teamsters also charged UNFI with unfair labor practices. Union supporters said that company executives told captive audience meetings that voting for the union could result in lost jobs and that management personnel made threats to union supporters such as, “If the union comes into the warehouse, I am going to go and kill all you motherfuckers in the union.” (Translation from Spanish of a threat alleged to have been made by a warehouse manager).

Teamsters recently called attention to UNFI’s labor practice during a conference call with investors and stock analysts. “UNFI management is risking its business across the country by provoking its workers into an unfair labor practices strike,” said Steve Vairma, Teamster international vice president. “The Teamsters will be notifying customers nationwide regarding UNFI’s abuses.”

A report by the International Labor Rights Forum seems to substantiate complaints raised by the Teamsters.

ILRF found that at the Auburn warehouse, UNFI began hiring temporary warehouse workers through the temporary staffing agency Roadlink when Local 117 members indicated that they were not satisfied with the company’s new contract proposal.

UNFI pay rates at its Auburn facility are 24 percent below the prevailing warehouse wage in the Seattle area, where Auburn is located. Benefits also lag behind.

Workers reasoned that UNFI was doing well and should share its prosperity with its workers. UNFI’s after tax income for fiscal year 2012 was $91.3 million, up from $76.6 million in 2011.

When the contract expired without an agreement, the two sides agreed to extend the contract through June.

In May, the company began hiring temporary workers who did the same work as union members. As a result, union members lost overtime and other work opportunities that reduced take home pay by 30 percent to 40 percent. Some union workers saw their paychecks for a two-week period drop from $1,700 to $1,000. Union members interpreted the pay cuts as retaliation.

Talks between the two sides broke off in the fall after workers formally rejected the company’s final offer, but union members stayed on the job.

Things came to a head December 10 when workers called an unfair labor practices strike and walked off the job for three days.

UNFI touts itself as a socially responsible corporation that treats its workers with respect by providing competitive wages and benefits.

But according to Thompson, “UNFI is not the company it pretends to be. Instead of upholding its stated commitment to sustainable practices and social responsibility, UNFI is mistreating its workers and demonstrating a complete disregard of federal labor law.”

Company mistreatment is the reason that workers at UNFI’s warehouse in Moreno Valley formed an organizing committee in February 2012 and began a campaign for union recognition. According to union supporters, working conditions are unsafe, the company plays favorites assigning work and equipment, work hours are too long, and pay is too low.

After the union campaign began, said union supporters, management began making threats to union supporters including threats of physical violence. Management also, forced workers to sit through captive audience meetings where corporate executives and consultants said that forming a union could lead to jobs being transferred to another company warehouse.

Workers lost the union representation election held in May, but with the help of the Teamsters filed unfair labor practice charges against UNFI. After the election, union supporters continued to face harassment and threats. According to the ILRF report,

Several workers reported that they believed that UNFI management has discriminated against union supporters by attempting to discipline them for their work performance more aggressively than it has other workers. One worker stated, “I think that the situation is bad; if they find out you are organizing, they start to watch you very carefully; they are looking to call you out for any small reason.”

Finally, the ILRF heard allegations that UNFI had orchestrated the termination of several union supporters, justifying the dismissals on pretextual grounds related to work performance. In one instance reported by a worker, a supervisor told the worker in a conversation regarding unionization, “It would be better if you kept quiet. There are three people who have complained about what is happening here and they have all been fired.”