Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Cal State chancellor tackles tuition, diversity and salaries
By Carla Rivera, February 2, 2016, Los Angeles Times
Tuition increases will likely become a new reality for students in the California State University system because of the state’s disinvestment in higher education, Chancellor Timothy P. White said Tuesday. For decades, the 23-campus Cal State system relied on the state to pay for the vast majority of public higher education costs. Now, state general funds cover about half these costs and tuition revenues make up the rest, White said. Despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to gradually increase funding for Cal State and the University of California, the CSU system still has not completely recovered more than $1 billion in cuts made during the recession, the chancellor added. “There are a new set of expectations in California and we have to be honest with ourselves,” White said in an interview during a meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees in Long Beach. “Nobody likes the word that begins with a ‘T,’” he said. “I’m an idealist and want to maintain costs as low as possible for students, but I’m also a realist.” White’s comments indicated strong support for a set of recommendations from a panel he appointed to study ways to support the schools and their 460,000 students into the future. Among the proposals presented to trustees was instituting small annual tuition increases, possibly tied to inflation. That would allow students and their families more predictability in planning for education costs. It would also avoid the need for dramatic tuition hikes, White said. (read article)

Pasadena City Council Votes for Higher Wage w/Pathway to $15/Hour and Enforcement
By Allison Mannos, February 2, 2016, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
Joining the ranks of numerous Southern California cities who have raised their wages and fought wage theft, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Monday night in favor of a pathway to $15, and in support of wage enforcement. The Council made explicit that the wage would go to $13.25 by 2018 with one incremental review to review the economic impact of rising to $15/hour by 2020, and that future raises beyond 2020 be indexed to annual cost of living adjustments. Additionally, the council agreed to include non-profits, small businesses, and tipped workers. It is expected to improve the lives of 30,000 workers, and lift 10,000 people out of poverty. The legislation will be drafted by the City Attorney and is expected to return to the full City Council for a second reading, with the popular wage enforcement item to return to the Ed Tech Committee for finalized recommendations. Monday night’s vote aligned Pasadena with other local cities who have taken on poverty, including the City and County of L.A., Long Beach, and Santa Monica.Hundreds of Pasadena community members celebrated after the vote and spoke at an earlier press conference. Dozens held up signs in favor of the increased wage and 60 speakers commented, nearly all in support. The Raise the Wage coalition had advocated since summer 2015 for the City to address its long-standing economic inequality problems. (read article)

Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team rejects city’s contract offer
By Juan Perez Jr., February 2, 2016, Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Teachers Union rejected a four-year contract offer from the city, with union leaders saying they approved of certain provisions in the proposal but were concerned about the cash-strapped district’s ability to enforce the deal. “The real problem is the lack of trust in CPS,” CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters gathered at the union’s Merchandise Mart headquarters. Contract talks, which have now gone on for more than a year, will move into a final fact-finding stage that must precede any potential strike. A deal could be reached during that process. “There were a lot of things that were great,” Lewis said of the city’s offer. “I’m not going to tell you they weren’t. However, the things that will affect the classrooms the most — especially around the budget — were the ones that were concerning to people.” The union said its 40-member “Big Bargaining Team” rejected the deal unanimously, and posted a video to YouTube that showed members applauding after the vote. The offer from Chicago Public Schools would bar economic layoffs and provide some moderate pay increases, sources said last week. It would put a cap on privately run charter schools, although the union noted Monday that a state commission can override the district on charters. In exchange, union members would have to make concessions that included paying more toward their pensions and health care expenses. The district said Monday that its proposal also included a commitment to restore a city property tax levy solely for teacher pensions, a move that would require state approval. In a statement, district CEO Forrest Claypool said he was “disappointed” with the union’s decision to turn down the offer. (read article)

Stillwater CEO ‘relieved’ at signing of new labor deal at largest mine
By Erik Olson, February 2, 2016, RTT News
Now that Stillwater Mining Co. has signed a new labor contract with its largest workforce, CEO Mick McMullen says the company is in a better position to compete in a low-price environment and to continue expanding in Montana. McMullen said Monday last week’s ratification of a new four-year contract with about 800 union workers at the main Nye mine and Columbus smelter is a big achievement for both sides. “We’re relieved to have it behind us. I think it serves us, the company and employees, to move on with life, and concentrate on working safely,” McMullen said in a telephone interview from Colorado, where his office is located. Shares of publicly traded Stillwater were selling for $6.77 at close Monday, rising about 3 percent following announcement of the labor deal. Members of the United Steelworkers local 11-0001 voted Thursday and Friday to approve the contract after negotiations were restarted in January. It includes no pay increases and an option in two years to renegotiate base pay. According to the company, miners at the Nye mine cost Stillwater are paid about $126,000 annually on average, which includes incentives, health insurance and retirement contributions. The base pay tops out at about $34 an hour for the most experienced workers, or about $70,720 annually, according to the union. The union miners have been working since Sept. 1 under the contract they twice rejected last year after the two side reached an impasse. The one they approved last week is mostly the same, except for a minor change to monthly production incentives for rock breakers. (read article)

Right-to-work brings new challenge to labor
By Hoppy Kercheval, February 1, 2016, WV Metro News
Barring an unforeseen development, West Virginia will soon become the 26th state to adopt a right-to-work law. The Workplace Freedom Act (SB 1) has already passed the Senate (18-16, along party lines) and is now moving through the House of Delegates. Last week’s 55-44 vote to pass a bill eliminating prevailing wage was an indication that the votes are there for right-to-work. Governor Tomblin will veto the right-to-work bill, but Republicans have enough votes to override. Right-to-work will not be an economic panacea. The often quoted (and criticized) study by WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research last year determined that “RTW policy leads to long-run rates of GDP growth that are around .5 percentage point higher than non-RTW states.” West Virginia’s real GDP is about $65 billion, so an increase of one-half-of one percent in growth would equal about $325 million. The study also found a 1.4 percent job rate growth in RTW states over the last two decades, compared with one percent in non-RTW states. That’s needed improvement, but it’s certainly not a boom. Also remember Governor Tomblin and Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette insist that right-to-work has never come up in discussions with prospective businesses. That’s either because RTW really isn’t a factor or any business interested in coming here already knows West Virginia is not a right-to-work state. The WVU study also determined that union membership tends to decline in right-to-work states. That’s self-evident since RTW eliminates the ability of unions to require workers to join or pay dues as a condition of employment.While that’s a blow to union power, it’s not a death knell. (read article)

Labor hopes anti-Trump Democrats help workers love unions again
By Kelsey Snell, February 1, 2016, The Washington Post
There’s a debate among union leaders over whether Donald Trump’s candidacy will repel or attract the millions of American union voters who help sway elections from the top of the ballot to the bottom. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is not on the fence, or on the “wall” in Trumpese, about how Trump’s candidacy should affect his 11.6 million members: Trump should be soundly rejected if he’s the GOP nominee in favor of the Democratic candidate. “Donald Trump says we make too much money already and he wants to lower our wages,” Trumka said said in an interview after addressing House Democrats’ retreat in Baltimore last week. “If you watch a Democratic debate, they talk about issues that affect people. If you watch the Republican debate, it’s bickering about who can exclude the most people from this country.” As the head of the country’s largest labor union, Trumka preaches what he believes is the key to Democrats increasing their numbers at the ballot box in November: a message of narrowing income inequality. “All of the candidates, including the Republican candidates are talking about inequality and opportunity,” he said. “The question now becomes what’s the solution.” After years of declining membership and shrinking influence, labor leaders are working aggressively to get their issues — higher wages, expanding worker protections and increasing benefits — on the campaign table in 2016, Trump or no Trump. They’ve succeeded in becoming part of the conversation as the income inequality refrain is frequently echoed on the campaign trail from Democrats — and some Republicans — as well as on Capitol Hill. (read article)

Clinton Can’t Count on Union Backing in Iowa, Despite Endorsements
By Patrick Caldwell, January 31, 2016, Mother Jones
When Bill Clinton swings by the Machinists Union hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday night, he’ll be flanked by a bevy of national labor leaders. It will be a fitting scene for the final night before the first votes of the Democratic presidential nomination contest, a campaign in which Hillary Clinton has wrapped up the vast majority of national union endorsements. She’s received the support of 24 unions, she bragged at an event last week, representing more than 10 million of the 14.6 million unionized workers in the country. Organized labor has been a major push for her campaign as she closes out Iowa. Last week, Hillary Clinton hosted a “Hard Hats for Hillary” event that included the presidents of the Carpenters, Ironworkers, and Federation of Government Employees, among others. She released a gauzy video on her support for unions, in which she tells their members, “A lot of the work you do may not be as well understood and appreciated as it should be.” On the ground here in Iowa, however, Clinton’s labor advantage isn’t quite so clear-cut. There aren’t polls measuring statewide union support for the two candidates, and it’s notoriously difficult to forecast caucus results anyway, given how much they come down to turnout and organization. But mounting anecdotal evidence from Iowa suggests that notwithstanding the endorsements of the people atop the unions, Clinton might not be able to count on the same level of support from actual union members in Monday’s caucuses. (read article)

The Supreme Court Case Against Teachers’ Unions Could Have a Far-Reaching Impact
By Dwyer Gunn, January 29, 2016, Pacific Standard
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case—which was brought by veteran fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers, and organized by the libertarian-leaning Center for Individual Rights—asks the Court to overturn the 1977 Abood v. Detroit of Education ruling in favor of the constitutionality of mandatory union fees. There’s a dearth of data available on how the elimination of mandatory union fees would affect union membership, but a ruling in favor of Friedrichs and her fellow petitioners at least has the potential to shrink public-sector union budgets around the country, which has troubling consequences for an already-struggling middle class. While the Abood decision concluded that so-called “agency fees”—payments that non-union member public sector employees are required to dish out to unions to cover their portion of the union’s collective bargaining expenses—were legal, it also determined that non-union employees must be permitted to opt out of any fees that were dedicated to a union’s “political activities.” The California teachers in the Friedrichs case are arguing that everything public-sector unions do is, in fact, political, and that agency fees thus constitute a violation of their First Amendment rights. (read article)

Unions Lean Democratic, but Donald Trump Gets Members’ Attention
By Noam Scheiber, January 29, 2016, New York Times
Of all the voters who might be expected to resist the charms of Donald J. Trump, the two million members of the Service Employees International Union would most likely be near the top of the list. The union, which endorsed Hillary Clinton in November, is widely regarded as one of the more progressive in the labor movement. It skews female and racially diverse — roughly the opposite of a Trump rally, in other words. But the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, acknowledged that Mr. Trump holds appeal even for some of her members. “There is deep economic anxiety among our members and the people we’re trying to organize that I believe Donald Trump’s message is tapping into,” Ms. Henry said.In expressing her concern, Ms. Henry reflected a different form of anxiety that is weighing on some union leaders and Democratic operatives: their fear that Mr. Trump, if not effectively countered, may draw an unusually large number of union voters in a possible general election matchup. This could, in turn, bolster Republicans in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all of which President Obama won twice. The source of the attraction to Mr. Trump, say union members and leaders, is manifold: the candidate’s unapologetically populist positions on certain economic issues, particularly trade; a frustration with the impotence of conventional politicians; and above all, a sense that he rejects the norms of Washington discourse. (read article)

Patrick Murphy Grabs Laborers’ Union Endorsement, Tightens Hold On Unions 
By Scott Powers, January 29, 2016, Florida Politics
The Laborers’ International Union Of North America announced Friday it is endorsing U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, strengthening Murphy’s hold on the labor union sector of the Democratic Party. The half-million member construction workers’ union announced the endorsement at its training center in Pompano Beach. The union joins the Teamsters and the AFSCME, which endorsed Murphy earlier in his contest with U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and Palm Beach Gardens labor lawyer Pam Keith for the Democratic nomination. In a news release issued by Murphy’s campaign, Glenn Farner, business manager of LIUNA’s Southeast Laborers’ District Council said LIUNA picked Murphy because it believes he supports working families and “we believe that his commonsense approach to leadership is exactly what Florida needs right now. “Time and again, Patrick has proven that he will fight to protect our workers’ rights, fight for their hard-earned, high-quality union health benefits, and fight to raise the minimum wage,” Farner stated. Murphy’s campaign stated that he is the only Senate candidate to have received statewide union endorsements, and now he has three. (read article)

Akron City Council passes emergency labor deal, averts union standoff; raises council pay
By John Harper, January 29, 2016, Cleveland.com
Akron City Council members pushed through legislation in emergency session Thursday to approve a new labor agreement, averting a union standoff and possible work slowdown, while also voting themselves a raise. Questions raised earlier in the day about the legality of politicians voting themselves a raise in the same term as which they are serving – prohibited by Ohio Revised Code – were set aside after city Law Director Eve Belfance determined the state laws don’t apply to Akron’s form of government under the state’s home rule provision. The passage of the new labor agreement, a cut in city healthcare benefits in exchange for 8 percent raises for all city employees, satisfied union leaders and assuaged concerns about possible work slowdowns among the city’s snowplow drivers. Council awarded themselves the same raise in the 9-3 vote. “We got the heavy lifting out of the way,” AFSCME local President George Johnson, who represents service employees such as road workers and snowplow drivers, said after the meeting. “Now it’s time to push the car out of the road.” On Wednesday, Johnson had warned that some snowplow drivers and road workers were considering calling off work if council didn’t pass the deal. With the raises passed, the unions and city can now work out the fine details of the labor agreement that don’t require council approval. Raises become effective Jan. 3 of this year, meaning employees will earn back pay. But the nearly two-hour debate left open questions about council ethics as well as raises given to six-figure cabinet employees. (read article)

Union Claims Sanders Campaign Staffers Posed As Members To Influence Workers
By Dave Jamieson, January 28, 2016, Huffington Post
A powerful Las Vegas labor union said Thursday that staffers of the Bernie Sanders campaign wore union pins in order to gain access to employee areas at four of the city’s unionized hotels. Culinary Workers Union Local 226, an affiliate of Unite Here, said it was “disappointed and offended” by what it suggested was an unethical move by the Vermont independent’s campaign. The union, powerful in Nevada politics, hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate in the presidential race, and the Democratic candidates have all been wooing the union in hopes of securing its support. The union said it believes the Sanders staffers wore the pins in order to access to the same employee areas that union staffers visit. Jon Ralston reported Thursday that Sanders staffers were “masquerading” as members of the culinary union. “It’s completely inappropriate for any campaign to attempt to mislead Culinary Union members, especially at their place of work,” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the union, said in a statement. “The Culinary Union button that hundreds of thousands of union members have proudly worn to work every day represents 80 years of struggle and fighting for justice.” The Sanders campaign told CNN that staffers “did wear Culinary buttons to try to talk to workers, but did not misrepresent who they were.” That may well be true, but from the vantage point of the union that may not matter. (read article)

West Virginia House OKs bill to repeal prevailing wage
By Jonathan Mattise, January 27, 2016, Sun Herald
With frustrated union workers looking on, the Republican-led House of Delegates on Wednesday approved a bill to eliminate West Virginia’s prevailing wage for public construction projects. In a contentious 55-44 vote, the House sent the bill opposed by organized labor to the Republican-majority Senate. Eight House Republicans voted “no” alongside Democrats. Wednesday’s debate continues a tussle from last year about how to change the government-set wages for a variety of workers on public construction jobs, from plumbers to electricians. Republicans said they believe the wage is inflated and repealing it would save taxpayer money. Some also characterized the vote as a direct statement against unions. “Today is that day that you will decide to stand with the taxpayer or to stand with the union bosses,” said Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. Democrats said the move wouldn’t produce savings, but would reduce workers’ paychecks and benefit out-of-state contractors. The wage applies to union and non-union contracts. Del. Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said a vote in favor of repeal would say to the union workers in the stands that they “are not good enough, they’re not bright enough and their value is of no concern to you.” Lawmakers rejected a Democratic amendment to study possible economic impacts. On Tuesday, the House didn’t consider a Democratic appeal to get rid of the wage for only five years and figure out the effect. Republican leaders aren’t happy with the outcome of a compromise bill last year that let Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration retool the wage. (read article)

Correction union boss Norman Seabrook may endorse Trump because ‘he can get jobs’
By Reuven Blau, January 27, 2016, New York Daily News
Correction union boss Norman Seabrook is contemplating getting into the Donald Trump clown car. Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, told former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to endorse the Republican presidential frontrunner. “Who is an African-American, enormously well respected by everyone in the African-American community,” Giuliani continued. “He said to me tonight, ‘I’m endorsing Donald Trump, because he can get jobs.’” On Wednesday, Seabrook said he had not made up his mind. “Donald Trump and I have known one another for some time and are on friendly terms,” he said in a statement. “I am considering what candidate to back in the presidential election – it will be someone who supports the issues that are important to COBA members and makes the safety of correction officers a priority.” “Mr. Trump has created thousands of union jobs during his career and is the leading contender for one of the major party nominations,” Seabrook continued. “Certainly he is under consideration, but we have not yet met to discuss it.” It would not be the first time the union president made a controversial political endorsement. He was one of only two city labor leaders to back Mike Bloomberg’s first run for mayor in October 2001. Seabrook represents approximately 10,000 city correction officers. (read article)

Windham Couple Indicted in $2M Union Fraud
By Tom Schinella, January 26, 2016, Patch
A couple from Windham were arrested on Jan. 26, 2016, and indicted on mail fraud, embezzlement, and filing false documents against a Bay State union fund, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Massachusetts. Christopher and Kimberly Thompson, both 52, were indicted on 18 counts of mail fraud, one count of benefit fund embezzlement, and 18 counts of filing false documents with an ERISA fund. Also charged are the two corporate entities used by the Thompsons to perpetrate the fraud: AQE, Inc. and Air Quality Experts, Inc., an asbestos removal business they operated. Investigators alleged that they were involved in a fraudulent “double breasted shop” scheme aimed at enabling them to defraud the Massachusetts Laborers Benefit Fund (MLBF) of more than $2 million. A “double breasted shop” is a business which enters into a collective bargaining agreement with a union while at the same time seeking to avoid its contractual obligations by operating an alter ego non-union company, according to investigators. The Thompsons, according to the indictment, employed members of Tewksbury Local 1421 of the Laborers International Union of North America and allegedly paid members for jobs which required union participation from the AQE, Inc. payroll which was a union signatory corporation. When the jobs did not require a union signatory company, the Thompsons paid the union members from the Air Quality Experts, Inc. payroll. (read article)

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