Labor News Round-Up: Hunger Strike on the Strip, Public Pension Cutbacks, NYT’s Labor Struggle

Mike Elk

In a merging of Occupy encampment tactics, Cesar Chavez-style hunger strikes and old-school organizing, casino workers in Las Vegas created a camp where workers are sleeping and fasting to force Station Casino to agree to a union election without company intimidation.

The AP reports:

Las Vegas union supporters have launched a seven-day hunger strike to protest a casino operator’s alleged attempts to prevent workers from organizing. Roughly 17 protesters, including 10 current Station Casinos Inc. employees, have pledged to consume only water through Tuesday. The fast began Wednesday at a makeshift camp outside the casino operator’s oldest property, Palace Station, near the Las Vegas Strip. …

Organizers spent a month training the protesters to fast, said Yvanna Cancela, the Culinary Union’s spokeswoman in Las Vegas. Medical professionals met with the participants before the protest started and plan to examine the workers for health issues every morning. …

The union and Station Casinos have been locked in an ugly, years-long battle over the company’s 13,000 employees.

In Rhode Island, changes to public workers’ pensions are considered by some to unprecedented and trendsetting. Last November, the state’s government shifted employees into hybrid defined 401(k)-style pensions. In addition, the pension rates decrease from 75 percent of a worker’s pay in the five years before they retired to roughly 70 percent. However, since the financial burden is now on workers, the rate could dip much lower if the market crashes again.

From Labor Notes :

According to the Pew Center, Rhode Island was one of 35 states to enact pension changes in 2010 and 2011. But while most of those attacks affected only employees yet to be hired, Rhode Island’s was unprecedented in its scope and depth — hitting both current employees and, through the [cost of living adjustment] freeze, current retirees.

Chillingly, Fitch Ratings, a major credit rating agency, speculated that the sweeping nature of the reform may inspire similar efforts in other states grappling with large unfunded pension obligations.” …

The new film Paraiso, which follows the lives of three Mexican immigrants washing windows on skyscrapers in Chicago, has opened at the Tribeca Film Festival:

In the short documentary Paraiso, which screens this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Nadav Kurtz follows three Mexican immigrants as they wash the windows of Chicago skyscrapers. You watch them prep on rooftops — tying thick coils of rope to a post, suiting up with harnesses and easing themselves over the edge without scaffolding. As the sidewalk appears hundreds of feet below, the danger immediately feels more real than any skyscraper rappel scene in a Hollywood action flick.

Circumstances of the men’s lives emerge during their banter. Window-washing is a coveted job, they say, because it’s the only job that’s always needed.” And despite their calm demeanor, they’re well aware of the risk of fatality. Yes, I’ve thought that I could die,” one washer says matter-of-factly.

In a leaked email, veteran New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse sounds off about his displeasure with the Timesongoing contract negotiations with employees. The newsroom members have been without a contract for 11 months and Greenhouse believes that the company is intentionally trying to bust the will of the union to resist concessions:

I often wonder why the Times dragged its feet for nearly a year before it finally put forward its second offer. Sometimes I think that [Times negotiaters] hoped that the delays and lack of progress in the bargaining would break our spirit and cause us to fight among ourselves. But Guild members have held together and, with each passing month, Guild members have grown angrier, more frustrated and more united.

One of the major points of contentions in the negotiations is cost of healthcare, he says:

The real issue, they said, is that the Times contribute far less toward employee health coverage than do most major corporations. The Times contributes an amount equal to 6 percent of our pay toward our health coverage, while the average for large American corporations is around 12 percent.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the typical worker at a large company pays 24 percent of his or her total health premiums, with the company paying 76 percent. But we at the Times pay 46 percent of our total health premiums — nearly double the nationwide employee average — while the Times pays just 54 percent. The average annual total health premium per worker at a large American company is $15,520, with the average worker paying $3,755 of that. Because we in the Guild shoulder 46 percent of our health premiums, we each pay about $3,500 more on average per year toward our health coverage than employees at other large corporations.

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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