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Working In These Times

Saturday, Jul 14, 2012, 10:00 am

Black Lung Returns, Female Congressional Staffers Paid Less, Chicago Public Schools Lie

BY Mike Elk

Every Saturday, Working In These Times rounds up the labor news that we missed the week before. Email stories to mike@inthesetimes.com

Following a joint investigation by NPR, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced that they are looking into tougher regulations to deal with a recent skyrocketing increase in black lung, which was once thought to be nearly eradicated in the mines. From NPR:

NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) have learned that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Labor Department are putting together a team of agency experts and lawyers to specifically consider how to bolster coal mine dust enforcement given the statutory and regulatory weaknesses detailed by NPR and CPI this week in stories about the resurgence of black lung.

The effort includes discussion of how the agency might be more aggressive in filing civil and criminal actions against mining companies that violate coal mine dust standards, according to an internal Labor Department communication obtained by NPR.

Black lung is the disease that steals the breath of coal miners and is both incurable and irreversible in later stages. It is caused by inhalation of excessive coal mine dust.

An NPR and CPI investigation found that the disease has spiked in the last decade, especially in portions of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. NPR and CPI documented weak enforcement by federal regulators and cheating by mining companies involving the system that is supposed to limit exposure to coal mine dust.

From 1980 through 2002, the Justice Department successfully prosecuted close to 200 mining company managers and contractors for falsifying mine dust compliance samples, according to federal records obtained by CPI and NPR.

But MSHA says there have been no convictions since then. The agency declines to say whether there have been any attempted prosecutions since 2002.

A new study shows that female Republican House staffers make on average $10,000 a year less than their male counterparts. From the National Journal:

House Staff Salaries

For all House staff, women made on average $5,862.56 less annually than men. Although that may sound like a lot, compared with the national average it's actually quite an improvement. In the House, women on the whole made about 90 cents on the dollar compared with men. The national average for 2010 was 77 cents on the dollar. The salaries: Female House staff made $56,671.15; male House staff made $62,533.71.

Female Republican House staff made on average $10,093.09 less annually than male Republican House staff. That's good for 84 cents on the dollar, female to male. Female Republican House staff made on average $3,774.80 less annually than the average female House staff member. The salaries: Female Republican House staff made $52,896.35; male Republican House staff made $62,989.44.

Female Democratic House staff made on average $1,473.65 less annually than male Democratic House staff. That's 97 cents on the dollar compared with men. It's not parity, but it's not far off. The salaries: Female Democratic House staff made $60,048.92; male Democratic House staff made $61,522.57.

Senate Staff Salaries

For all Senate staff, women made $7,277.69 less annually on average than male staff. Female staff in the Senate made 89 percent of what male staff took home. That's slightly less than the 90 percent that female staff made in the House. The salaries: Female Senate staff made $58,984.67; male Senate staff made $66,262.36.

Female Republican Senate staff made on average $9,805.85 less annually than male Republican Senate staff. That's 86 cents on the dollar for female Republican Senate staff. The salaries: Female Republican Senate staff made $59,846.47; male Republican Senate staff made $69,652.32.

Female Democratic Senate staff made on average $4,916.46 less annually than male Democratic staff. Female Democratic Senate staff made 92 cents on the dollar compared with male staffers. The salaries: Female Democratic Senate staff made $58,449.55; male Democratic Senate staff made $63,366.01.

The Chicago Teachers Union has obtained through a FOIA request internal documents that should that the Chicago Public School system lied about payments to the Chicago Police Department to avoid paying teacher’s their contractually granted 4% raise. From the Chicago Teachers’ Union blog:

A newly-acquired secret agreement obtained in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) confirms that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) diverted about $70 million, largely from teacher salaries and unemployment benefits, to avoid paying teachers a promised 4 percent contractual raise last school year. The money was instead given to the Chicago Police Department (CPD), mostly as payment for services previously rendered under prior agreements. CPS then falsely told the media that these payments were “owed” to CPD, and that CPS “had no choice” but to make these payments.

Records obtained from the FOIA lawsuit show that CPS has been paying about $8 million per year to CPD since 2002 for two police officers to be stationed at approximately 100 high schools to process arrests of juvenile offenders. The officers are supervised exclusively by CPD personnel. CPS provides, at its own expense, computer terminals connected to CPD for the officers’ use. CPS approved this continuing arrangement on February 24, 2010 (10-0224-PR16), authorizing the $8 million annual payments from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012, for a total cost of $32.8 million.

In 2011, CPS claimed to be broke. On June 15, 2011, in their first meeting, the newly-installed Emanuel appointed School Board voted to cancel a promised 4 percent raise for teachers in the 2011-12 school year on the grounds that there wasn’t enough money in the budget and the district faced an alleged $712 million deficit (11-0615-RS2). This also negatively impacted the pensions of any teachers who retired at the end of the 2011/12 school year. In 2007, under Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-CPS chief officer Arne Duncan, teachers signed a five-year contract ending with the 2011/2012 school year that granted them the raises.

But a month after CPS cancelled last school years 4 percent raises to CPS teachers, which would have cost an estimated $80 million, CPS then authorized a renegotiation of its CPD deal to pay the Police about $25 million per year, more than three times the agreed amount, for the same time period 2009-2012, for a total increase of $70 million for these same services. It also approved a retroactive payment of $47 million for services already rendered. 

Locked out Con Ed utility workers in New York are concerned that donations from Con Ed to a committee closely linked to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo may negatively affect them. From Crain’s New York:

As a labor dispute intensifies between Consolidated Edison Inc. and its unionized workforce, good-government groups expressed concerns that the utility giant gave $250,000 last year to the Committee to Save New York, a pro-business group set up at the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Con Ed confirmed Thursday that it gave the donation to the group, which spent $12 million in 2011 to bolster Mr. Cuomo's economic agenda. The money came from shareholders and not ratepayers, a company spokesman said.

"We agree with the committee's goals, including fiscal discipline, low taxes and a business friendly environment," said a spokesman for Con Ed.

But the donation has raised questions from organized labor and good-government groups because the governor appoints board members of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates Con Ed. The commission is reviewing a request by Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America to force Con Ed to end its lockout of 8,500 workers

250 farm workers in California who went out on strike to win union recognition were formally recognized as members of the United Farm Workers. From the United Farm Workers:

More than 250 workers employed at Gargiulo Inc., a Florida-based fresh tomato company with operations in the Central Valley, voted today to join the United Farm Workers of America.

On Monday, Gargiulo workers at a field in Firebaugh, located in Fresno County, walked out on strike protesting unfair labor practices by the company. A large majority of workers joined the concerted activity asking the company, which grows and harvests fresh tomatoes, for fairness.

The workers filed a petition for a union election Monday and cast their vote Wednesday morning supporting the union by a 186 to 40 vote.

 "This is a historic win. The workers, through their vote, sent a clear message to the company that they want to be represented by the UFW. We call on Gargiulo's management to respect the will of the workers and immediately engage in good faith bargaining negotiations, so workers can have a union contract," said UFW Vice President Armando Elenes.

 

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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