Philly Carpenters on strike

Five thousand Philadelphia area Carpenters returned to work May 3 after a two-day strike tied up work on major construction projects, including the Comcast tower in Center City. The workers won increased compensation of 6.7 percent in the city and 5.5 percent in the suburbs. Contractors also agreed to begin contributing to the pensions of apprentices during their four-year program.

Pickets at the Comcast site May 1 said that their line was being honored by other workers including electricians, mechanical trades workers, rod setters and laborers and that they expected crane operators who arrived in the afternoon for the second shift to do the same.

Noting the racial diversity on the picket line, workers told the World that their union, along with others in the building trades, were part of an agreement to facilitate the admission of some graduates from the city’s public schools into the unions’ apprenticeship program.

ILWU attacks Homeland Security regs

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s plan to screen the nation’s port workers is being challenged by the Longshore union, which represents West Coast port workers.

The union supports efforts to make ports more secure, said the union’s communications director Steve Stallone, but “we need to balance real security with civil rights.” Under the program, before workers are issued ID cards their names must be checked against a terrorist watch list. This list is notoriously inaccurate, Stallone said. “People shouldn’t lose their jobs because of a false name on the terrorist watch list.”

The requirement for a criminal background check for current workers also concerns the union. The checks should be limited to crimes that might have something to do with the possibility of a person committing terrorism, not just any felony, Stallone said. “You shouldn’t lose your job for a youthful indiscretion.” He also pointed to the racist impact of the plan, noting that people of color are disproportionately convicted of felonies. The union is calling for an appeals process in the plan.

Bankruptcy judge rebuffs Comair

Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, was barred from breaking its contract with its flight attendants by a bankruptcy judge in Cincinnati, the BNA news service reported. The 970 flight attendants are members of Teamsters Local 513. Comair filed for bankruptcy along with Delta in September 2005.

Judge Adlai Hardin ruled that the company failed to bargain in good faith with the local when it made a $8.9 million “non-negotiable” demand for concessions from the workers. Comair’s cuts would result in a loss in pay and benefits of $10,000 annually per worker. Attendants are paid between $16,000 and $40,000 a year. The judge ordered the union and company to return to the bargaining table. The flight attendants have voted to authorize a strike if their contract is unilaterally voided.

OSHA fines BP again

An OSHA fine of $2.4 million for unsafe conditions at BP’s Oregon, Ohio, refinery shows that the company’s safety and health problems are systemwide across its refineries, said the United Steelworkers, the union representing workers at BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery. After a March 2005 explosion at the Texas plant that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, the company tried to blame the incident on “operator error.” The violations OSHA found at BP’s Ohio plant were similar to the ones found in the Texas facility.

NYU struggle continues

New York University graduate assistants aren’t giving up on their battle for a union. Graduate Student Organizing Committee Local 2110 of the UAW held a convention April 27 to demand that the university negotiate a new contract with them. A majority of members of the bargaining unit have signed petitions reaffirming their commitment to the union.

Last year the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students are not protected under federal labor law, reversing its own earlier ruling.

Following the convention, 43 GSOC members and 14 supporters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. “NYU must understand that this union will not go away,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood ( Ben Sears contributed.