Wage Theft Gets Jail Time In NY, NV Union May Sit Out Election, Detroit Cuts Pay by 10%

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

A Brooklyn car wash owner who engaged in wage theft found himself in jail. From the New York Daily News:

This car-wash owner’s utter disregard for our labor laws resulted in a criminal conviction and landed him in jail,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement.

This prosecution makes clear that dishonest employers of low-wage workers are not above the law.”

Moreno is the latest employer to get jail time as Schneiderman cracks down on labor violators.

Last month, the co-owners and manager of a LaGuardia Airport construction firm got four months in jail for bilking workers. A Brooklyn tortilla factory owner who recently pleaded guilty to felony labor violations also faces 90 days in jail.

Moreno, who was arrested in 2009, pleaded guilty this summer to underpaying employees, going without workers’ compensation insurance for five months and not listing all employees on the books when filing taxes.

Moreno could not be reached Sunday. He no longer owns the gas station, which is currently listed for sale online.

We’re thrilled that the attorney general is really treating wage theft like the crime that it is,” said Deborah Axt of nonprofit Make the Road New York, which is campaigning to improve conditions for car-wash workers.

Earlier this week, In These Times covered how the Nevada-based Culinary Union was pressuring the United States Marine Corps to drop its sponsorship of Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) as they face union busting in their attempt to organize 12,000 casino workers at Station Casinos, which is owned by same owners as UFC. Now the Culinary Union is also threatening not to work on behalf of Democrats because of Harry Reid’s refusal to help the union in its attempt to organize the Casinos. From the National Journal:

D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the union, said that the fall campaigns aren’t a priority. With all their contracts with local unionized casinos expired and a bitter organizing fight underway with the non-union Station Casinos chain, Taylor said that the group is at capacity.

We really divide between two things, which [are] our contracts and Stations,” Taylor told National Journal. I’ve told everybody if we don’t have those settled, or some of them settled, we’re not going to lie to you and tell you we’re going to be involved politically.”

Taylor isn’t bashful about wanting some help from the same Democratic politicians the union has helped elect over the years. But such assistance has not been forthcoming. Sometimes the Democrats wonder why workers don’t rally around them. It’s because they really don’t rally around workers in time of need,” he said.

The union’s warning shot has ricocheted across Nevada politics, though neither party is sure how to react to a labor union known for its hardball tactics.

I don’t think the Culinary ever makes idle threats,” said Jan Jones, a two-term former Democratic mayor of Las Vegas who is now an executive with the casino-operating Caesar’s Entertainment.

The impact could trickle down past the presidential level. Nevada is home to one of the top Senate races in the country, with appointed GOP Sen. Dean Heller trying to win a full term and Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, vying to stop him. The Las Vegas region is also home to one of the most contested House races in the country involving the reelection of freshman Republican Rep. Joe Heck.

The Republican Governor of Alaska is considering sending public employees out of the state for medical care in an attempt to take advantage of medical costs in the Pacific Northwest, which are 30 – 35% cheaper than in Alaska. While the state currently encourages public employees to go south voluntarily for medical treatment, public employee leaders in the state worry the program could become mandatory. From the Juneau Empire:

[Regional Manager of the Alaska Public Employees Association] Geary said he’d prefer public employees in Alaska be able to stay in Alaska for their health care if the costs were comparable.

If it’s a wash, its much better to be able to stay here,” he said.

Duncan said he was worried that what starts out optional such as Hultberg has proposed might wind up with employees being penalized if they didn’t go down south for cheaper care.

To require folks to be away from home, to be away from family members, that can be pretty traumatic,” Duncan said.

While his members are now in a union health care trust, after they retire the state will again provide their health care. Travel can be even harder for older people, he said.

The City of Detroit has cut city workers’ pay without engaging in collective bargaining. Under a new Michigan law, the Mayor of the city is allowed to cut the wages of workers without getting an agreement from the union or approval from City Council. From the New York Times:

This is a tough day for me, a tough day for city workers and a tough day for all of Detroit,” Mayor Bing said, announcing 10 percent wage cuts that will affect many of the city’s nearly 50 unions. Among the city’s financial problems — which include long-term debts of $12 billion — was its annually spending $150 million beyond its means, then borrowing millions more to cover the shortfall, Mr. Bing said. Without action, the city will shut down,” he said.

For City Council members, the result was a sign of their newfound weakness: The Council voted 5‑to‑4 on Tuesday to reject the cuts to workers’ pay and benefits, but the rejection was trumped by approval from the administration and an advisory board, appointed by state and city officials as part of Michigan’s broad oversight powers.

Union leaders, many of whom had negotiated with Mr. Bing’s administration months ago and said they had reached tentative deals, including sacrifices from workers in pay and benefits, only to have them swept aside, were furious.

According to Mr. Bing’s office, city employees face pay cuts, a shift from rules of seniority for transfers and promotions, a reduction in additional pay for afternoon and nighttime shift work, an end to supplemental unemployment benefits beyond legal requirements, and more. About 11,000 people work for the City of Detroit, a number that officials expect to cut by nearly 1,000 by the end of 2012.

This isn’t about all this other stuff they’re saying — it all goes to one goal,” said Ed McNeil, a local council official for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The real goal is to get rid of union employees, to gut the union contracts.”

Baskin Robbins will close its last ice cream manufacturing plant in North America, resulting in the layoff of 80 workers. From the Patriot Ledger:

The plant closure will save Dunkin’ Brands, the ice cream shop chain’s Canton-based parent company, an estimated $4 million to $5 million a year starting in 2013.

We deeply regret the need to close the Peterborough plant, but the facility, which is already operating around the clock, is unable to keep up with the demands of our rapidly growing international business,” Peter Laport, a vice president with Baskin-Robbins, said in a prepared statement. We have explored other options, but modernizing the facility and adding capacity are unfortunately not viable.”

The Peterborough plant makes ice cream for about one-third of Baskin-Robbins’ shops outside of the U.S. The manufacturing work for shops outside of Canada will shift to Dean Foods, while the Canadian work will go to Scotsburn Dairy.

Peterborough is the only remaining manufacturing facility we operate in North America,” Laport said. We believe it makes sense to focus on our core skills of franchising, retail and product innovation, rather than ice cream production.”

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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