Monday, November 3, 2014

Labor South roundup: FedEx drivers' court victories, big win for airline employees union, contract negotiations for casino workers in New Orleans, and international solidarity for auto workers in Mississippi

It’s time for another Labor South roundup with reports coming in of significant gains for labor on several fronts in the South. That includes court rulings against FedEx’s contention that its drivers are “independent contractors,” union representation for thousands of airline ticket and gate agents, contract negotiations for casino workers in New Orleans, and an international gathering of labor leaders in Canton, Miss., on behalf of auto workers.

FedEx drivers’ campaign to be recognized as employees

Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx lost three rounds in California, Oregon and Kansas in the last couple of months in its effort to keep its ground drivers designated as “independent contractors” rather than employees and thus stymie them in efforts to organize into a labor union.

The Kansas Supreme Court, hardly a liberal bastion, agreed last month with earlier opinions in the Ninth Circuit involving cases in California and Oregon that drivers should be considered employees. The cases were appeals of a 2010 court decision that upheld FedEx’s claim. That decision spread across as many as 23 states. A number of appeals were filed based on a wide variety of state laws and standards.

American Airlines gets a union

An estimated 9,000 ticket and gate agents at American Airlines in Texas, Florida and North Carolina won union representation in a September vote that The Guild Reporter called “the biggest union win in the South in decades.”

After a 19-year battle, the Communications Workers union scored a major victory with Dallas-based American Airlines. The vote was made possible by American Airlines’ merger 10 months earlier with US Airways, which already had union representation.

Casino workers negotiating contract in New Orleans

As many as 900 employees at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino are waiting and watching to see the outcome of more than six months of contract negotiations that will add them to the city’s unionized workforce.

A card check last March showed some 70 percent of eligible workers supported union representation. If things go well with the contract discussions, the hospitality union Unite Here will add some 750 housekeeping and food service employees to its ranks. The Teamster’s union local will add about 150 valets, front desk workers, bellmen, and warehouse workers, marking the first time the Teamsters local has entered the hospitality industry.

An estimated 2,000 workers are employed at Harrah’s in New Orleans.

International solidarity with auto workers in Canton, Mississippi

Labor leaders from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, South Africa and Spain, representatives from auto unions in those countries and members of the IndustriALL Global Union, last month stood together in a show of solidarity with auto workers seeking union representation at the giant Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.

IndustriALL represents more than 50 million workers in 140 nations, including workers at Nissan and Renault plants around the world.

“For years, workers have weathered an environment of intimidation and implied threats from the company regarding the fundamental, internationally recognized human right to organize a union in the workplace,” a press release from the United Auto Workers said about the event.

Local community leaders and workers have testified to a management-spawned anti-union atmosphere at the plant and Nissan’s strong dependence on temporary workers who work for less wages and fewer benefits.

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