Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

High Stakes in Union-Fee Case Before Supreme Court
By Mark Walsh, January 5, 2016, Education Week
The face of the movement seeking to upend the public-employee labor sector has had a back-and-forth relationship with her own local teachers’ union. Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff among a small group of California teachers whose case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 11, started her teaching career in a small school district in Orange County by refusing to join the local union. Later, she joined the union and even became an officer. Friedrichs is now back to her roots as a so-called agency-fee payer—a nonmember of the union who must pay the proportion of dues that goes for collective bargaining and a few other related costs. The main legal question in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (Case No. 14-915) is whether a key Supreme Court precedent authorizing such agency-fee arrangements should be overruled. “The unions have core values that are in direct opposition to my core values,” Friedrichs said in an interview. “They’re using those fees to support their core values and their agenda.” Friedrichs and nine other teachers are asking the Supreme Court to overrule that 1977 precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and hold that states may not allow unions to exact such fees from public employees who refuse to join. (read article)

If teachers unions were less politicized, they might not be facing the Supreme Court
By Greg Piper, January 5, 2016, The College Fix
Something that has surprised me over the years is how many teachers I’ve met who say they don’t like their union. Politics can be part of it – try being pro-life and seeing your dues allied with Planned Parenthood – but there seems to be a greater feeling that teachers don’t benefit much as teachers because of their union. This dissatisfaction with the aims and priorities of teachers unions is the undercurrent of a lawsuit, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that’s being heard by the Supreme Court next week. Ostensibly it’s about whether unions can force non-members to pay dues just for collective bargaining. Harlan Elrich, a 30-year veteran of public schools mostly in California who is one of those plaintiffs, writes in The Wall Street Journal he became a math teacher because “I was good at teaching and I really enjoyed it.” The school district appears to have scrubbed any mention of him from its website, but I learned from the Internet Archive that Erlich was one of three teachers awarded $4,000 for their TV tutoring on the government-access program “Do the Math.” He was even a union rep and has seen it all – much of which deeply offended his conscience: When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid. Instead, the union focused on politics. (read article)

The Labor Prospect: What to Watch in 2016
By Justin Miller, January 5, 2016, The American Prospect
After a banner year of labor victories, 2016 may have an even bigger impact on workers. The year 2015 was widely regarded as a reinvigorating one for the labor movement, with federal administrative rulings and local minimum-wage ordinances breaking workers’ way. Last year, however, merely set the stage for a much more consequential 2016. This year could either go very badly or very well, depending on a whole host of labor prospects. The year 2016 could be the one in which a majority of the United States becomes right-to-work. It will be the year that the Supreme Court decides one of the most consequential union cases in decades. While the Obama administration’s labor legacy was polished in 2015 with new Department of Labor rules and a blockbuster NLRB decision, 2016 could see even more such rulings. The elephant in the room—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—could tarnish Obama’s labor record, though the trade deal’s passage is more uncertain than ever. And finally, what will happen with the Fight for 15 this year? Will it maintain its surging momentum, or will it wither? (read article)

Gov. Nikki Haley to deliver GOP response to the State of the Union
By Andrew Shain, January 5, 2016, The State
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, coming off a year where she gained national attention for her handling of the Charleston church mass shooting, will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union address on Jan. 12. Haley is calling her nationally televised speech from Columbia an “address” rather than a “response” as they have been called since they began in 1966. She is the first South Carolinian to deliver the State of the Union response. “This is a time of great challenges for our country, but also of great opportunities,” she said in a statement. “I intend to speak about both.” The Lexington Republican, considered a possible vice presidential pick, is heading to the middle of her second term as governor in a state that holds the first presidential primary in the South. The response has had presidential campaign ties in recent years. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., gave the address a year before being picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who delivered the 2013 response, is running for the White House this year. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has been called a rising star in the party since she became South Carolina’s first woman and first minority governor in 2011. She gave a prime time speech during the 2012 Republican National Convention. (read article)

Why I’m Fighting My Teachers Union
By Harlan Elrich, January 3, 2016, The Wall Street Journal
I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice. I have taught in public schools for nearly 30 years, mostly in California. I grew up in the Central Valley, and though I’m the son of two teachers and related to eight more, I didn’t think I’d choose a career in education. But when I went off to college, I started tutoring other students in math and realized that I was good at teaching and I really enjoyed it. I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid. (read article)

Murray Energy Expected To Lay Off Hundreds Of Coal Miners
By Cole Stangler, December 31, 2015, International Business Times
Murray Energy, the United States’ largest underground coal company, is preparing to lay off hundreds of workers, according to the miners’ labor union. Such a move would be the latest sign of a struggling industry, which is coming off what is likely one of its least productive years in the U.S. in recent memory. The layoffs will hit at least 690 workers — or roughly 9 percent of the company’s workforce — at five West Virginia mines represented by the United Mine Workers of America, the union told International Business Times. It remains unclear how many workers at the company’s non-union mines will be affected. The Ohio-based company, which is privately held, declined to go into specifics about the job losses. But it confirmed layoffs will take place and blamed them, in part, on the Obama administration, which it has sued over environmental regulations. “Murray Energy Corporation confirms that certain workforce adjustments and scheduling changes, made in the normal course of business, are necessary to reflect the current coal marketplace, which has been destroyed by President Barack Obama and his supporters, including the Sierra Club, the increased utilization of natural gas to generate electricity, and the extremely excessive coal severance tax in the state of West Virginia,” Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said. (read article)

Northeastern adjunct professors union files labor complaint
By Travis Andersen, December 31, 2015, Boston Globe
A union representing about 900 adjunct professors at Northeastern University filed a complaint against the school with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, alleging the university “unilaterally implemented changes to health insurance eligibility and benefits.” The unfair labor practices complaint also contends that Northeastern officials “failed to notify and bargain with the union regarding changes to the parking rates charged to bargaining unit employees.” “Throughout this process, Northeastern administrators have treated adjunct faculty as second-class citizens,” Annabel Dodd, a Northeastern computer systems instructor, said in a statement released by the union. “The administration must be held accountable for refusing to negotiate on salaries while pushing more costly and restrictive health plans than those offered to every other level of full-time faculty, administration, and clerical staff.” Northeastern pushed back against those allegations in a statement Thursday evening. “The university continues to bargain in good faith and we’re optimistic about finalizing a contract that will include parking and heath care costs,” the university said. “While we’re disappointed that the union has resorted to these diversionary tactics, we remain committed to this important process.” (read article)

Ruling threatens San Diego pension overhaul
By David Garrick, December 30, 2015, San Diego Union Tribune
A new state labor board ruling casts doubt on San Diego’s aggressive pension cutbacks and orders the city to spend millions creating retroactive pensions for roughly 2,000 employees hired since those cutbacks took effect. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said he hopes to quickly get City Council approval to appeal Tuesday’s ruling by the Public Employment Relations Board, which he has previously criticized as staunchly pro-union. Goldsmith predicted a state appellate court would nullify the ruling and vindicate the pension cutbacks, which city voters easily approved as Proposition B back in 2012. The measure replaced guaranteed pensions with 401(k)-style retirement plans for most new city hires. Labor leaders on Wednesday praised the PERB ruling and urged city officials to accept defeat so they could rein in the potentially spiraling costs of the litigation, which contends former Mayor Jerry Sanders and other city officials illegally put Proposition B on the ballot without conferring with labor groups. (read article)

Ground workers union at Southwest will send tentative labor contract to members for a vote
By Sheryl Jean, December 30, 2015, The Dallas Morning News
The union representing gate agents and other ground workers at Southwest Airlines will send a tentative labor contract, which includes pay raises, to its members for a vote. Southwest and the Transport Workers Union reached an “agreement in principle” on Dec. 23, after nearly five years of contract negotiations. TWU Local 555 represents more than 12,000 ground crew workers at the Dallas-based airline. The TWU Local 555 executive board agreed to send the tentative contract to union members for a ratification vote, without a recommendation, the union announced late Tuesday night after a meeting in Dallas. The tentative contract includes pay raises of more than 20 percent over the life of the five-year agreement for union members, the union said. “That’s the main thing we were looking for,” TWU president Greg Puriski said about the pay raises. “I feel pretty good about it. It’s been four and a half years, and when the money started getting to that point, it was time for the membership to decide.” In addition to the wage increase, the tentative contract includes a company increase in its 401k retirement contribution: A dollar-for-dollar match will rise to a limit of 9.3 percent in 2019 from 8.3 percent today, Puriski said. There also were some slight adjustments to work bidding and scheduling, he said. (read article)

City reaches labor deal with correction officers union
By Gloria Pazmino, December 30, 2015, Capital New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the union representing the city’s rank-and-file correction officers reached a tentative labor deal late on Wednesday evening, sources confirmed to POLITICO New York, which would bring the overwhelming majority of the city workforce under contract. The tentative deal, which must still be ratified by the members of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, would follow the same pattern for wage increases established by the city’s other uniformed unions, giving correction officers 11 percent raises over the next seven years and requiring health savings from the union. In addition to the wage increases, sources briefed on the deal said the city has also agreed to significant work rule changes that will bring several reforms the union had been advocating for in recent months. As part of the deal, the city’s Department of Correction will work with recently elected Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke to create a new Rikers Central Arrest Unit tasked with pursuing arresting and prosecution of inmates involved in aggravated assaults against correction officers. (read article)

States’ Pension Woes Split Democrats and Union Allies
By Timothy W. Martin & Kris Maher, December 29, 2015, The Wall Street Journal
A $1 trillion U.S. pension gap is dividing two longtime allies: Democrats and unions. Left-leaning politicians from Rhode Island to California are increasingly supporting more aggressive overhauls of government pension benefits despite opposition from labor officials, traditionally one of the Democratic Party’s biggest policy and electoral supporters. The erosion of Democratic backing for conventional retirement benefits prized by teachers, firefighters and police officers is a sign of how strained government budgets are as obligations for 24 million public workers and retirees continue to mount. The latest clash is unfolding in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has been seeking to end a six-month budget impasse with a Republican-controlled Legislature by agreeing to approve retirement cuts for new state hires and current workers. The Keystone State has $50 billion in unfunded pension obligations, one of the deepest retirement holes in the country. “I know you’re not going to be happy,” Mr. Wolf told union leaders in private phone calls during recent weeks, those labor officials said. Union officials said the cuts aimed at current workers violate state laws. A spokesman for Mr. Wolf said the governor understands that some people would be upset with the pension cuts, but his priority has been boosting education spending. (read article)

Walter Energy Wins Court Approval to Scrap Union Obligations
By Dawn McCarty, December 29, 2015, Bloomberg
Walter Energy Inc. can scrap its union obligations to facilitate a sale, a move that will affect multi-employer funds covering health and retirement benefits for thousands of former miners but may allow the company to keep operating. After two days of hearings, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Tamara O. Mitchell in Birmingham, Alabama, found that the company’s assets can be sold without the liabilities associated with union benefits. She rejected objections by funds that are responsible for paying retiree and health benefits to former miners from Walter and other companies. “This court finds that maintaining the coal operations as a going concern, keeping the mines open, offering future job opportunities and continuing to be a productive member of the business community all require this court to overrule” the objections, Mitchell said in an opinion filed Monday. She said that she assumed an offer to buy the company wouldn’t go forward without such a ruling. Walter Energy filed for bankruptcy in July and is set to put its assets up for auction Jan. 5. As an opening bid, lenders who banded together as Coal Acquisition LLC have offered to exchange $1.25 billion of debt and pay $5.4 million in cash. (read article)

The Missouri Right-To-Work Fight Has Created Some Unlikely Allies
By Connor D. Wolf, December 29, 2015, Daily Caller
Missouri unions are preparing to endorse a handful of Republicans who broke with party lines to stop a bill which would have outlawed forced union dues, according to reports Tuesday. Labor unions were some of the most adamantly opposed to the Republican bill. The policy, known as right-to-work, would have outlawed mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Now the state chapter of the AFL-CIO is prepared to endorse the Republicans who helped defeat the bill by opposing their own party. “We are starting to become blind to whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican,” Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s all about who is labor-friendly and who cares about the workers.” The Republican bill was defeated Sept. 16 during a veto override vote. While supporters were able to get it passed, it was rejected not long after in June by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Without the handful of Republicans the veto override vote was short just 13 votes of the 109 needed. (read article)

Battle Over OLCC Privatization Unites Unlikely Allies—Labor Union and Beer Distributors
By Nigel Jaquiss, December 29, 2015, Willamette Week
Beer distributors sometimes have contentious relationships with their unionized employees, and it’s certain the distributors and one of Oregon’s largest public employee unions will be on opposite sides of a proposed $5 billion corporate tax increase headed for the 2016 ballot. Yet today, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contributed $10,000 to Beverage PAC, a private-sector political action committee funded by beer and wine distributors. Why? The distributors oppose a 2016 ballot measure that would privatize the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and dismantle the tightly controlled alcoholic beverage business, threatening the lucrative niche distributors occupy. As for AFSCME, it represents the workers employed at the OLCC’s mammoth Milwaukie warehouse, where virtually every bottle of booze consumed in the state is shipped before being sent to retail locations. The union’s money will help underwrite polling on the OLCC. (read article)

Attorney for anti-union construction group to fundraise for Cuomo
By Dana Rubinstein, December 28, 2015, Capital New York
The attorney for a campaign against union construction labor is co-hosting a fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Monday afternoon, the founding partners of Gotham Government Relations invited powerbrokers to a Jan. 7 fundraiser for Cuomo at the home of Brad and Cheryl Gerstman in Roslyn, on Long Island. The hosts are listed as the Gerstmans and David and Heather Schwartz. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is scheduled to make an appearance, according to the invitation. It’s not clear whether Cuomo himself will attend. Brad Gerstman and David Schwartz are the founding partners at Gotham and represent some developers who have been in the news lately. State records indicate their firm lobbies for 400 Times Square Associates LLC, which is reportedly using non-union labor to develop a hotel at 577 Ninth Ave., where a construction worker recently died. Gerstman is also frontman for BuildingNYC, a group launched this month that advocates against union construction labor. Gerstman did not return a call for comment, but when he launched BuildingNYC, he issued a statement saying his group is battling the “old inefficient and corrupt ways of construction in NYC.” (read article)

Labor Union Irked by Volkswagen’s Refusal to Bargain
By Martin Blanc, December 24, 2015, Bidness ETC
The United Auto Workers (UAW), a labor union for workers in the automotive sector has filed charges against Volkswagen AG’s (ADR) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The UAW alleges that the German car maker has refused to bargain with employees at the company’s production plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The workers want Volkswagen to revise their service contracts. This is not UAW’s first attempt at a protest against the same plant. Last year they tried to bring together all of the 1,450 workers that work at the facility. They had a more successful run earlier this month however they were only able to gather 161 skilled laborers from the plant. Director of the union’s Transnational Department and UAW’s secretary-treasurer Gary Casteel debated that there was a clean sweep in the elections held on December 4 in favor of a collective unit of the 161 skilled workers for bargaining revised contracts. Volkswagen pointed out that it simply cannot create a separate bargaining unit for the small fraction of workers as it would not favor the company’s united structure and would dissatisfy a larger proportion of workers who would not be allowed into the unit. (read article)

School board wants to throw out CTU strike vote
By Juan Perez Jr., December 24, 2015, Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Board of Education is asking the state’s educational labor relations board to invalidate the recent strike authorization vote by teachers, arguing that the three-day process was “inherently flawed.” The Chicago Teachers Union said last week that 88 percent of eligible members authorized union leaders to call a strike, well above the 75 percent threshold required before a walkout. The union has maintained that it could call for a strike authorization vote at any time during talks to replace a contract that expired June 30. The school board disputes the union’s position in a memo attorney James Franczek sent last week to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The board says the union cannot vote on a strike until contract talks have gone through a final stage known as “fact-finding,” which has yet to begin. “A vote taken prior to conclusion of mediation, prior to issuance of the fact-finder’s report, prior to exchange of comprehensive proposals is indicative of nothing,” Franczek wrote. (read article)

7,000 Janitors Clean House With New Labor Contract
By Connor D. Wolf, December 23, 2015, Daily Caller
Roughly 7,000 New Jersey janitors ratified a new labor contract Wednesday bringing an end to a bitter labor dispute which put the workers on the verge of striking. The new four-year contract will cover office cleaners and school custodians throughout the state. The agreement was first forged Dec. 17 between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the New Jersey Contractors Association. Now with ratification, the contract is legally valid. The contract will apply to the 7,000 janitors belonging to 32BJ SEIU New Jersey. “This is a good contract that includes family sustaining wages and maintains quality employer-paid benefits,” SEIU NJ State Director Kevin Brown said in a statement. “But it’s not just 32BJ cleaners who will benefit.” Negotiations began Oct. 13 but were quickly plagued with problems. Workers voted Dec. 16 to authorize a strike if no deal was reached by the end of the month. The vote was followed by a rally and march. The two sides were able to agree on a contract the next day after a 12-hour bargaining session. The deal allowed the two sides to just barely avoid a massive strike. (read article)

Right-to-work Legislation Introduced in Ohio
By Michael C. Griffaton & Nelson D. Cary, December 23, 2015, Lexology
In October 2015, Representative Tom Brinkman introduced House Bill 377 in the Ohio General Assembly to make Ohio the nation’s 26th right-to-work state (along with Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming). “Right-to-work” refers to prohibitions on union security agreements or agreements between a union and the employer to require union membership. House Bill 377 would prohibit union membership in the private sector as a condition of employment. Collective bargaining in the private sector is generally governed by the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Under the NLRA, a private sector employer and union may agree to a requirement in a collective bargaining agreement that requires an employee as a condition of employment (1) to join the labor union representing the employer’s employees, or (2) to pay an agency or “fair share” fee to the labor union if the employee is not a union member but is covered by the collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the union. The NLRA expressly permits a state to have a law that prohibits requiring labor union membership as a condition of employment. (read article)

Michigan Teacher’s Unions Lose Numbers (And Their Dues) Under Michigan Right-To-Work Law 
By Keith J. Brodie, December 23, 2015, National Law Review
Recent data from Michigan’s two largest teacher unions demonstrates the profound impact Michigan’s Right-to-Work law has had. According to two recent articles, since the law was signed in 2012, the right to withdraw and no longer pay dues has heavily impacted Michigan’s largest teachers’ unions, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan. Since 2012, the MEA has lost 23,000 dues-paying members. The smaller American Federation of Teachers has also lost 4,800 Michigan members. Similar losses have been reported in other right-to-work states like Wisconsin. These membership losses represent substantial financial hits to both unions. As we reported earlier, the MEA worked hard to limit its members from withdrawing by utilizing narrow window periods and restrictive procedures. (read article)

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