Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Los Angeles could use more COIN
Editorial, September 1, 2015, Los Angeles Times
Last month, when Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson announced a tentative contract with unions representing more than half of the city’s civilian workforce, budget watchdogs clamored for details so they could analyze the potential financial impact. They’re still waiting, and they’re getting increasingly impatient. Why? Because Los Angeles leaders have a history of rushed votes, insufficient analysis and little debate over labor contracts that can have major impacts on the city’s budget and services. The public deserves a transparent accounting and discussion of labor deals. The most glaring example was the last contract with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions in 2007, when city leaders agreed to raises totaling nearly 25% even as then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was demanding across-the-board budget cuts. The deal ended up costing far more than officials had publicly estimated, and the city was forced to slash staff and services to cover the promised raises and higher pension obligations once the recession hit. (read article)

Ugly Labor Dispute Between Gerawan, ALRB Heads to State Supreme Court
By Thomas Peele, September 2015, California Lawyer
Dan Gerawan appears unassuming—a slight, plain-faced farmer who looks as if he’d be comfortable driving a tractor across Nebraska wheat fields. A fading blue shirt hangs from his frame as Gerawan, 53, sits in an office adjacent to his sprawling packing facility in Sanger, east of Fresno. It’s May—still early in the growing season—and the parking lot outside is nearly empty of workers’ cars. Beyond that expanse of pavement, tight green rows of stone-fruit trees run nearly to the horizon. Gerawan Farming is known as the largest peach grower in the United States, and also as a major producer of nectarines, plums, apricots, and table grapes. When harvest arrives in late summer, the family-owned business directly employs some 5,000 workers—plus thousands of additional contract laborers—who pick the delicate fruit by hand, one gentle tug at a time. Gerawan is also the vocal leader of a new movement of growers who oppose “interest arbitration” ordered by the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB). A litigant in multiple lawsuits and administrative matters, Gerawan nonetheless gives interviews, issues statements about his cause, and makes his opinions known on local talk radio. “I have nothing to hide,” he says. “One of my biggest fears is that this story won’t be told.” (read article)

Obama labor board flexes its muscles
By Timothy Noah and Brian Mahoney, September 1, 2015, Politico
President Barack Obama may end up doing more for the struggling labor movement than any president in three decades. Using a thin partisan majority on the National Labor Relations Board, Obama’s Democratic appointees have issued a string of rulings that favor unions — including six pro-labor decisions in just the past few days. On Thursday, the NLRB issued a momentous 3-2 ruling along party lines that may make it easier for McDonald’s to unionize, reversing a 34-year precedent. The board subsequently issued five additional decisions ruling for unions on less-momentous matters ranging from whether a worker may demand that a union rep be present during a drug test (yes) to whether an employer may exclude union reps from voluntary peer review committees (no). Two of these new rulings were made public Monday, concluding a flurry of NLRB votes from a board that observers say is more pro-union than any since the early 1980s.
Such decisions delight organized labor and infuriate the business lobby. (read article)

Comment Period for Controversial Overtime Rule Closes Soon
By Tina A. Syring, September 1, 2015, National Law Review
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will not extend the comment period for its controversial proposed Overtime Rule, which was formally published on July 6, 2015. As a result, the comment period will close Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Comments can be submitted on the proposed Overtime Rule at www.regulations.gov. The proposed Overtime Rule sparked controversy as it would extend overtime protections to persons currently falling within the exempt status definition under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Currently, to qualify as exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements under the FLSA, the employee must meet both a salary test and job duties test. The salary test currently requires the exempt employee to be paid at least $455 per week (or $23,660 annually). The proposed Overtime Rule would increase the salary test to $950 per week (or $50,440 annually). Additionally, the DOL stated it was examining possible changes to the job duties test for certain white collar exemptions (e.g., executive, administrative, professional, computer, outside sales and highly compensated employees). The DOL indicated it may consider modifying the job duties test to fall the model current model utilized by California, namely the employee must spend at least 50 percent of his or her time on those exempt duties to qualify for the exemption. (read article)

How Digital Media Unionization Can—and Can’t—Strengthen the Labor Movement
By Steven Cohen, September 1, 2015, New Republic
Journalists like writing about journalism, so the dimensions of the industry’s decline are no secret. Across the country, news organizations are contracting—as of last week, Bloomberg was slated to lay off 100 editorial employees, or a full 4.2 percent of its workforce—and so is the job market for recent graduates. (Especially for minorities, it should go without saying.) Industry wages have fallen below the national average, even as soaring living costs render media hubs like New York and Washington, DC increasingly unaffordable. As Jezebel’s Anna Merlan put it, of the supposedly thriving digital media industry: “We’re in a very good place right now. But we also exist in a bubble. When it bursts, I’d like us to have fair labor practices in place.” Organized labor in the U.S.—that historical protector of the middle class—is in a similarly weakened position; and, over the last year, the two have entered into a mutually beneficial relationship. In April, editorial staffers at Gawker announced they were considering unionizing, which they eventually elected to do in June. By early August, workers at Salon, Guardian US, and Vice had followed suit. The next week, the founders of Upworthy and BuzzFeed held meetings intended to discourage their employees from organizing. The week after that, Mike Elk, a labor reporter and self-described “union organizer,” was let go from Politico. The union organizers I spoke with tell me they are already engaging workers at other digital outlets; in the coming months, we can expect more stories like these. (read article)

Democrats and labor unions are doomed without each other – and so are we
By Daniel Schlozman, September 1, 2015, The Hill
“Together, the Democrats and labor made a middle-class America,” Tip O’Neill, then Speaker of the House, declared in 1981. “We put together thirty of the greatest, fruitful and beneficial years that a democracy ever had.” The late, great Speaker didn’t know how far the tide would recede. In the decades since, as economic inequality has risen, we have lost the political means to combat it. We have entered a doom loop between the Democrats and the labor movement. The loop works like this: Unions are in decline. As a result, unions lose influence inside the Democratic Party. The Democrats then feel no pressure to stem unions’ decline, and the economically disadvantaged lose what was once their most powerful advocate. Then the cycle continues. We cannot revive unions, and we have no template for egalitarian politics without them. Unions aren’t simply economic actors. They’re political actors. Labor still needs the Democrats. The Democrats, more than they realize, still need labor. But most of all, all those who want to build a fairer society need their partnership. Republican elites understand the doom loop. Big business, small business, and Tea Party alike have pushed hard against unions. As the parties have polarized, Republicans have taken the gloves off, risking the votes of the 40 percent of union members who back Republicans in order to crush a pillar of the Democratic coalition. Even President Bernie Sanders would have real trouble rebuilding unions in the face of a Republican Congress and a federal judiciary eager to swat down pro-labor executive action. (read article)

Study: Right-to-work does not lower wages
By Jason Russell, September 1, 2015, Washington Examiner
Labor union activists often push back against right-to-work laws with the quip, “Right-to-work for less.” Their claim that right-to-work lowers wages has made many state legislators hesitant to vote for the anti-union laws. But new research from the conservative Heritage Foundation counters the claim that right-to-work decreases wages. Right-to-work laws prohibit an employer from forcing employees to join a union or pay union dues. “When living costs are fully taken into account, private-sector workers in RTW states enjoy real wages equivalent to those in non-RTW states,” Heritage Research Fellow James Sherk writes in an issue brief published Tuesday. “Policymakers considering RTW legislation may do so confident that it will have no negative impact on private-sector wages.” (read article)

As talks endure, Riverside County District Attorney’s union works without contract
By Jeff Horseman, August 30, 2015, Press Enterprise
Members of a union representing Riverside County prosecutors and other county lawyers have been working since the end of June without a new contract and the county is taking a firm line on pay raises, according to the union’s president. The outcome of talks between the county and the Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Association could serve as a bellwether for negotiations with several large bargaining units representing thousands of employees. Contracts with those unions are set to expire next summer. Ninety-three percent of the county’s roughly 20,000 employees belong to a union. The last time the county engaged in large-scale collective bargaining talks was in 2011 and 2012, when the county sought employee concessions on retirement benefits intended to overhaul what supervisors described as an unsustainable public pension system. (read article)

Unions hide union label in Missouri right-to-work fight
By Jason Hart, August 31, 2015, Watchdog.org
When it comes to organized labor’s campaign to keep Missouri workers tied to unions, it’s not enough to look for the union label. To keep state lawmakers from overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s June veto of a right-to-work bill, unions are broadcasting their message through campaign groups that don’t advertise their union backing. Preserve Middle Class America, which calls itself “a grassroots coalition of citizens and organizations,” is campaigning against right-to-work as “Preserve Middle Class Missouri.” It’s run by the Teamsters union. Preserve Middle Class America’s campaign materials don’t mention the Teamsters, but the nonprofit lists Teamsters Local 245 headquarters as its mailing address in a filing with the Missouri secretary of state. (read article)

Labor board: Firms must deduct union dues after contract expires
By Sean Higgins, August 31, 2015, Washington Examiner
A business must continue to deduct union dues from an employee’s paycheck even after the union’s contract with management expires, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, reversing a 50-year precedent. The new requirement will give unions a major edge in contract negotiations with management, removing one of the main factors — the loss of money — that could compel them to compromise to reach a deal. “The fact that dues checkoff normally is an arrangement created by (a labor/management) contract simply does not compel the conclusion that checkoff expires with the contract that created it,” a 3-2 board majority found in the case Lincoln Lutheran of Racine and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin. The NLRB, the main federal labor law enforcement agency, released the ruling Thursday. (read article)

Labor Watchdog: Ad Spiked to Please Union ‘Clients’
By Bill McMorris, August 28, 2015, Washington Free Beacon
A labor watchdog is claiming that a New York newspaper refused to run an advertisement because of its support from unions. The Center for Union Facts attempted to place a centerfold ad in City and State, a public affairs magazine and website operating out of New York City, drawing attention to a lack of diversity in the Empire State’s construction unions. CUF said in a release that the publication spiked the ad as a “business decision” because of City and State’s relationship with several of the union heads. “I’ll be perfectly frank with you, I mean, the ad specifically mentions, you know, six to eight clients of ours and it was basically a business decision that, you know, in mentioning those clients and people we’ve had longstanding relationships with that it makes it a little bit difficult to run that,” publisher Andrew Holt told a CUF ad buyer in a phone conversation, according to a recording of the call obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Holt initially informed CUF’s ad buyer of the rejection in an email. That message does not mention or allude to any existing business relationship between the publication and trade unions. (read article)

Labor Board Ruling Eases Way for Fast-Food Unions’ Efforts
By Noam Scheiber and Stephanie Strom, August 27, 2015, The New York Times
The National Labor Relations Board, in a long-awaited ruling, made it easier on Thursday for unions to negotiate on behalf of workers at fast-food chains and other companies relying on contractors and franchisees. The ruling, adopted in a 3-to-2 vote along partisan lines, was immediately attacked by business groups, who called on the Republican-controlled Congress to overturn it. Employers like McDonald’s and Yum Brands are also likely to challenge the decision if unions manage to organize a group of employees at one or more of their franchises, if not well before that. The labor board, which is charged with protecting workers’ rights to organize, changed the definition of a crucial employer-employee relationship that had held in some form since the Reagan era of the 1980s. (read article)

Union wins closely watched labor case over who’s the boss
August 27, 2015, Crains Chicago Business
More companies may be held responsible for labor-law violations committed by the contractors they hire under a decision by a politically split U.S. labor board in a closely watched case. The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday unveiled a new standard that also could require more businesses to negotiate pay and benefits for workers employed by another company. Previously, employers had to have direct control over working conditions to be deemed so-called joint employers. That standard no longer fits in “the current economic landscape,” the board’s three Democrats wrote. They noted that almost 2.9 million Americans had jobs through temporary agencies a year ago, or 2 percent of the workforce, up from 1.1 million in 1990. Under the ruling by the five-member board, companies that exert indirect control over workers through employment contracts or franchise agreements may be deemed joint employers. The case, involving Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. and a union at one of its contractors, drew attention from labor, businesses and Republicans in Congress, who vow to try to block the panel’s decision. (read article)

Tim Nesbitt: Labor unions and Oregon’s new New Deal
By Tim Nesbitt, August 27, 2015, Oregon Live
Oregon’s labor movement engineered a mini-New Deal in Salem this year, with the passage of laws that mandated sick leave benefits and launched a process to establish retirement plans for virtually all workers in the state. Next up, almost certainly, will be an increase in the state’s minimum wage, either through legislation next year or a subsequent ballot measure campaign. Whether you agree with all of its components, this is what a working families’ political agenda looks like. And the way in which a coalition of unions and community groups advanced that agenda reminds me of a time when activists vied to “put the movement back in the labor movement” – a slogan born of frustration with the parochialism of unions focused on serving their own members in isolated bargaining units. But it has new resonance now, and we can expect to hear variations of this theme at the union picnics that will draw politicians to Portland’s Oaks Park and other venues around the state for Labor Day 2015. (read article)

The Teamsters Take on Tech Shuttle Unions
By Julia Carrie Wong, August 26 2015, San Francisco Weekly
When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s controversial pilot program to allow Google buses (and Yahoo buses and Apple buses and Facebook buses) to use Muni stops for a small fee went before the SFMTA board in January 2014, neither Google, Yahoo, Apple, nor Facebook showed up to speak in defense of their commuter programs. The titans of Silicon Valley rarely stoop to conquer local regulatory bodies. Instead, the strongest voice in favor of tech shuttles that day came from Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, the luxury bus and limousine company founded by Novato-born Gary Bauer in 1989. Over the course of the contentious hearing, representatives from Bauer’s touted their company as an important job provider to working class San Franciscans. Bauer’s enjoys a cozy relationship with San Francisco’s political establishment. A Bauer’s VP stood behind Mayor Ed Lee when Lee announced the shuttle program in 2014, emails later revealed that Bauer’s believed it had a “handshake agreement” with the SFMTA to use Muni stops free of charge for the 10 years prior to the Google bus backlash, and Bauer’s buses ferried attendees at this year’s US Conference of Mayors from the Hilton to a tour of Uber’s headquarters. (Bauer’s did not respond to inquiries for this story.) But that relationship is about to be tested by the Teamsters union, which is determined to ensure that the jobs created by tech shuttle companies are union jobs. (read article)

Organized labor decries use of open-shop workers at Assembly Row
By Jon Chesto, August 26, 2015, Boston Globe
The excavators and dump trucks are finally rumbling across a vacant spot behind the bustling shops and restaurants at Assembly Row, preparing the site for a 20-story apartment complex. It’s the latest in a series of buildings to crop up in the Somerville complex, but construction follows a year of turmoil as the parcel became a high-profile battleground for local trade unions’ war against open-shop contractors. In the past year-and-a-half, developers ushered in 325,000 square feet of retail space, including a popular movie theater and restaurants, a new MBTA Orange Line station, and 448 apartments developed by AvalonBay. A new tower for Partners HealthCare is underway. Amid the bustle, a site designated for a 447-unit apartment development remained in limbo as labor representatives worked hard to persuade Assembly Row’s developer, Federal Realty Investment Trust, to hire an all-union company to manage the job. Union supporters waged a public campaign and lobbied in closed-door meetings. In the end, a union-backed proposal was significantly underbid by a company that uses nonunion crews. (read article)

Illinois Democrats Try To Silence Gov. Rauner Over Union Talks
By Connor D. Wolf, August 25, 2015, Daily Caller
Democrats in the Illinois legislature may soon silence Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner by taking way his ability to negotiate with public unions. SB1229 was introduced in February in response to troubled labor negotiations between Rauner and the Illinois chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The measure would allow an arbitrator to takeover state labor negotiations if a new agreement is not reached within 30 days. Some have argued, though, that the bill is a huge giveaway to state unions. According to F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy expert at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the measure will put power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats while allowing unions to stonewall deals they don’t like. “Under impasse arbitration, an unelected arbitrator will write a contract binding taxpayers,” Vernuccio wrote in June for the Illinois Policy Institute. “Neither party can make a change during this time without the consent of the other. These are known as ‘evergreen clauses’ and give one party the ability to stonewall and keep a beneficial contract in place.” (read article)

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