Labor Notes #381, December 2010

Stewards encounter a raft of tricky situations when defending workers against discipline. What counts as disparate treatment? Are anonymous complaints grounds for discipline? Do "zero tolerance" policies trump the contract? Here are some crystal-clear guidelines, excerpted from a forthcoming handbook.

Teamster bus attendants in NY have a contract that pays new hires less than minimum wage. Through group grievances, leafleting, and legal action, they’re demanding their rights from the boss—and the union.

Idled by the housing bust, non-union contractors are attacking agreements that building trades unions have used to defend their work for the last two decades.

As soon as the corn millers and refiners of Keokuk, Iowa, cast an overwhelming “no” vote against a contract choked with 60-plus concessions, workers returned to the plant to clock in for the second shift. They found that their employer, the French firm Roquette, had barricaded them out.

Proposals to cut Social Security benefits were met with outrage when the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission released their recommendations November 10. Though many of the cuts would happen gradually, the cost-of-living formula would be cheapened starting next year—breaking earlier promises not to hurt current retirees.

Ailing housekeepers from 12 Hyatt hotels called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to respond to an alarming pattern of injuries. Workload pressures bring lifting strains and repetitive-motion problems, but OSHA has no standards for cleaners.

U.S. Steel is trying to drive a wedge between generations, locking out steelworkers in Hamilton, Ontario, when union negotiators would not take a deal that sold out past and future workers.

The Canadian Auto Workers’ Auto Parts Worker Day of Action in October promptly helped win contracts that staved off big concessions at three plants. Rather than respond plant by plant, the union wants to tackle the industry as a whole.

The largest and most prominent Working Families Party, in New York State, had a rough year. The WFP endorsed Andrew Cuomo, Democratic candidate for governor, agreeing to back his austerity agenda for public services and public workers.

In Oregon, unions and community organizations are challenging the two-party system and testing the limits of what they can do together to promote their agenda in elections without being marginalized as “spoilers.”

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