Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Case to Watch: California case to test compulsory union dues
By Amanda Becker, May 21, 2013, Reuters
A group of California public school teachers has sued their state and national teachers’ unions, arguing that forcing them to pay union dues violates their right to free speech, in what could become a test case. The lawsuit was brought by 10 teachers and the Christian Educators Association International against the California Teachers Association, the National Education Association and local district officials. In their complaint, the teachers argue that a California law that requires them to pay union dues violates their First Amendment rights. It is burdensome to opt out of funding the union’s political activities and even money earmarked for non-political purposes supports policies with which they disagree, the teachers contend. Statutes that require public-sector employees to contribute to non-political union activities have been accepted law for more than 30 years, since the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. But in a narrow decision on union dues last year in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, five U.S. Supreme Court justices indicated that they were open to weighing the issue more generally. That decision “suggests the court now thinks that the longstanding legal rule that employees who are represented by unions can be compelled to pay for the services they receive involves elements of coerced speech,” said Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. Fisk, is the co-author, with Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, of an article on the Knox decision to be published soon by the Cornell Law Review. Peter Scheer, the executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, said the latest lawsuit came in direct response to the Knox decision. “When attorneys read that decision they saw it as an open invitation to initiate a new litigation,” said Scheer, who is not involved in the lawsuit. (read article)

Minnesota Legislature largely restrained unions
By Lori Sturdevant, May 21, 2013, Minnesota Start Tribune
“They own the place,” GOP state Rep. Pat Garofalo sarcastically said of labor unions Monday, as pro-union forces loudly celebrated the House’s 68-66 vote to authorize state-paid child care providers and personal care attendants to organize a union. The contentious unionization issue was indeed a big-deal, long-sought victory for the state’s union movement. It’s seen as a boon to the public employees’ union AFSCME, which will seek to organize providers of state-subsidized child care, and SEIU, the service workers union expected to organize state-paid providers of personal care services to the disabled. But in other respects, the DFL-controlled Legislature left plenty of union agenda items undone. A minimum wage increase that was among the first bills introduced didn’t cross the session’s finish line by 11:59 p.m. Monday. A conference committee couldn’t find an agreeable way to split the $1.75/hour difference between the wage floors preferred by the House ($9.50) and the Senate ($7.75). My guess is that there are few labor negotiators in Minnesota today who wish they could school those conferees in the art of deal-making. This is a situation in which a small gain would have been better than another year of delay. (read article)

An unexpected bright spot for unions
By David Koeppel, May 21, 2013, CNN Money
It’s safe to say that unions have taken quite a beating over the past few years, all across the U.S. But organized labor has found an oasis inside a most curious corner of anti-union America. In recent years, Georgia has undergone a film and television industry production boom that has positioned it as one of the most desirable shooting locations in the United States. As the entertainment industry in the Peach State has flourished, so too have the membership rolls of the local unions associated with the industry. New studios are being built to accommodate the demand, and shows like The Walking Dead are attracting tourists who flock to the locations where zombies have devoured their favorite characters. To be sure, Georgia is rarely thought of as union-friendly. It has been a right-to-work state since 1947 and currently has a Republican governor and a GOP legislative majority. In March, the senate passed legislation opposed by organized labor that in part allows union members to stop having dues deducted from their paychecks. One of the unintended consequences of passing tax incentives in 2008 to bolster the film industry has been the growth of entertainment-related labor unions. Jeff Bennett, the deputy general counsel and associate executive editor of SAG-AFTRA says that the number of Georgia residents who have found union-covered work has increased 90% since its theatrical collective bargaining agreement in 2009. The growth of the entertainment industry in Georgia has translated into increased union jobs for construction set builders, glaziers, hairdressers, and Teamster truck drivers who help move equipment and trailers to film sites, according to Lee Thomas, the director of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Division. (read article)

Unions break ranks on ObamaCare
By Kevin Bogardus, May 21, 2013, The Hill
Labor unions are breaking with President Obama on ObamaCare. Months after the president’s reelection, a variety of unions are publicly balking at how the administration plans to implement the landmark law. They warn that unless there are changes, the results could be catastrophic. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) — a 1.3 million-member labor group that twice endorsed Obama for president — is very worried about how the reform law will affect its members’ healthcare plans. Last month, the president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers released a statement calling “for repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act.” UNITE HERE, a prominent hotel workers’ union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are also pushing for changes. In a new op-ed published in The Hill, UFCW President Joe Hansen homed in on the president’s speech at the 2009 AFL-CIO convention. Obama at the time said union members could keep their insurance under the law, but Hansen writes “that the president’s statement to labor in 2009 is simply not true for millions of workers.” Republicans have long attacked Obama’s promise that “nothing in this plan will require you to change your coverage or your doctor.” But the fact that unions are now noting it as well is a clear sign that supporters of the law are growing anxious about the law’s implementation. (read article)

Officials defend deal with unions
By Josh Jarman, May 18, 2013, The Columbus Dispatch
Franklin County officials are defending an agreement with local labor unions that would require anyone working on a $45 million renovation project to pay union dues and pay into union benefit programs, whether or not they are union members. Members of the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council brought the idea to commissioners. In exchange for requiring all workers on the project to pay union fees, and for requiring successful bidders to recruit from local union halls if they need additional workers, the county gets a guarantee that union members will not strike or walk out and employers won’t lock out workers, to ensure that the project finishes on time. Renovating the Hall of Justice building at 369 S. High St. on time and on budget is worth any bad feelings the agreement might spark, Commissioner John O’Grady said. “Doing this memorandum of understanding provides for financial protection for the taxpayer,” O’Grady said. The agreement already has spurred one letter to The Dispatch, in which the writer, a nonunion construction worker, wrote: “Commission President John O’Grady and the rest of the commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for abusing our tax dollars and submitting to this kind of forced wasteful spending.” (read article)

Organized labor to oppose President Obama’s nomination of Penny Pritzker for commerce secretary
By James Warren, May 20, 2013, New York Daily News
Organized labor will break its silence and oppose President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary, Chicago’s Penny Pritzker, the Daily News has learned. The decision stems from long-standing grievances with labor practices at the Hyatt Hotels chain, a source of her family’s fortune, and despite earlier reports that unions would not raise objections to the nomination. Donald “D” Taylor, president of the 270,000-member union of hotel and restaurant workers known as UNITE HERE, confirmed the move to The News on Monday. His opposition was spurred by his just learning that the Senate Commerce Committee was moving up its confirmation hearing for Pritzker. The union had been led to understand that hearing would take place perhaps well after the Memorial Day weekend. But the surprise decision to move up the hearing forced the union’s hand. “We are opposed to the nomination of Penny Pritzker based on what has taken place at Hyatt,” Taylor said in a phone interview. (read article)

IRS union denies ‘smoking gun’ meeting with Obama
By Caroline May, May 20, 2013, Daily Caller
The National Treasury Employees Union is denying claims that the union’s president was in contact with President Obama shortly before Internal Revenue Service employees began targeting conservative groups. In a statement emailed to The Daily Caller, the NTEU explained just what NTEU president Colleen Kelley was doing at the White House on March 31, 2010 — shortly before the IRS Determinations Unit began targeting tea party groups. “On March 31, 2010, NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley attended the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility at the Old Executive Office Building,” an NTEU spokesperson wrote in an email. “The forum was attended by approximately 200 attendees including business leaders, workers, policy experts and labor representatives discussing telework and worklife balance issues. Attendees were broken into five groups to discuss workplace issues.” “The president made opening remarks,” the spokesperson continued. “President Kelley did not have any direct contact with the president or the first lady.” Monday, The American Spectator raised the possibility that Kelley’s March 31, 2010 visit could represent a “smoking gun” to conclude that the White House had more involvement in the tea party targeting than originally reported. “In short: the very day after the president of the quite publicly anti-Tea Party labor union — the union for IRS employees — met with President Obama, the manager of the IRS ‘Determinations Unit Program agreed’ to open a ‘Sensitive Case report on the Tea party cases.’ As stated by the IG report,” The American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord wrote, highlighting the fact that the unions PAC endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012 and donated to so-called “anti-Tea Party candidates” in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. (read article)

NLRB Update: Another Court of Appeals Dismantles Union Bosses’ Radical Labor Board
LaborUnionReport, May 20th, 2013, RedState.com
Since the beginning of his first term, Barack Obama has filled the National Labor Relations Board with union attorneys with a radical agenda to reshape American labor law. Now, as the result of a second appeals court ruling, it all may come unraveled. On Thursday, nearly mirroring a ruling made in January by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled 2-1 that the President cannot unilaterally declare the Senate in recess in order to appoint his chosen appointees. Unlike Noel Canning, the January ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that found Barack Obama’s unilateral declaration that the Senate was in recess in January 2012 so he could make ‘recess’ appointments to the NLRB was unconstitutional, last week’s decision made more clear that Obama’s NLRB ‘recess’ appointments all the way back to 2010 were also made unconstitutionally. What makes this case of great import is hat is directly affects the decisions and rulings that the union-friendly labor board has made since 2010 when Obama ‘recess’ appointed one of his most controversial ‘recess’ appointments, that of SEIU and AFL-CIO attorney Craig Becker. “The Third Circuit has issued an extremely well reasoned opinion finding that Mr. Becker was not properly appointed,” stated Michael J. Lotito of the law firm Littler Mendelson. “By implication, the current members are also serving unconstitutional terms.” (read article)

Labor unions form N.J. Super PAC
By Jenna Portnoy, May 20, 2013, New Jersey Star-Ledger 
The newly formed committee, N.J. Workers’ Voices, can accept unlimited donations, but must disclose contributions and expenditures. The former spokeswoman for the state Democratic Committee is launching the New Jersey chapter of the AFL-CIO’s left-leaning Super PAC, The Star-Ledger has learned. Alicia D’Alessandro said the paperwork will be filed today with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to create NJ Workers’ Voices. The group will provide “grassroots communications support for candidates and issues that we feel are in line with the interests of the state’s workers,” D’Alessandro said. The committee will communicate directly with union and nonunion workers about issues in the governor’s race, legislative races and the minimum wage ballot referendum, she said. If passed, the referendum would raise the minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation. (read article)

Labor union chief calls immigration bill dangerous, sees agency as ‘approval machine’
By Stephen Dinan, May 20, 2013, The Washington Times
The Senate’s immigration bill will raise national security risks and the Obama administration will do little more than “rubber-stamp” illegal immigrants into the program, endangering Americans, says the labor union representing the 12,000 employees who will have to approve the applications. Kenneth Palinkas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 119, which represents officers and staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will deliver a damning critique of the Senate bill Monday, according to a copy of his statement obtained by The Washington Times. His statement goes well beyond the current debate, portraying an agency intent on approving as many illegal immigrants as possible. “The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications,” his remarks say. “USCIS has been turned into an ‘approval machine.’” The union becomes the second key Homeland Security Department labor group to oppose the bill. Its opposition dents the bill and deals a blow to the AFL-CIO — the coalition of labor unions that has put major legislative muscle behind the bill this year but is seeing its members peel off. (read article)

State labor board seeks injunction against two UC unions
By Pooja Mhatre, May 19, 2013, The Daily Californian
The California Public Employment Relations Board will seek a temporary injunction to limit the number of employees from two health care unions who are planning to strike at UC medical centers on May 21. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, which represents more than 12,500 UC patient care employees, is planning to strike next week in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations with the university that began in June of 2012. University Professional and Technical Employees 9119, a union representing technical workers, is also asking its members to strike in sympathy with AFSCME 3299. According to the UC statement released Friday, PERB’s notification comes after UC representatives successfully argued that walkouts by certain essential employees pose an imminent threat to public health and safety. “Shame on them for jeopardizing health services that people need and deserve,” said John Stobo, senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services at the university, in a statement. “It is completely inappropriate to threaten services to patients as a negotiating tactic — the health of our patients must not be held hostage.” (read article)

Group files unfair labor practice charges, citing state’s ‘right to work’ law
By Chris Sikich, May 17, 2013, Indianapolis Star
The National Right to Work Foundation has filed unfair labor practice charges against Domtar Paper Co. and a local union, alleging they violated Indiana’s “right to work” law. The National Right to Work Committee, an allied group, lobbied Indiana to pass the landmark legislation in 2012. Under the law, companies and unions can’t negotiate a contract that requires nonmembers to pay fees for representation. The bill sailed through the Indiana General Assembly despite thousands of union members protesting daily at the Statehouse and several walkouts from Democrats who opposed the measure. Now, the foundation alleges that six Indianapolis-area Domtar employees are being forced to pay union fees to Graphics Communications International Union 17M, a Teamsters affiliate, despite the law. Broatus Lambert, Lawrence Langworth, Christopher McKay, Kenneth Rosenfeld, Kevin Schrader and William Schwier say they do not want to pay the union fees at the paper mill. They filed the unfair practice allegation with the National Labor Relations Board. The foundation is representing the six employees for free. “Teamster union officials are extracting full union dues from workers who want to exercise their rights under Indiana’s popular new right to work law,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, in a prepared statement. “This illegal action must stop.” (read article)

Immigrant Workers Give New Direction to Los Angeles Unions
By Jennifer Medina, May 17, 2013, The New York Times
As the head of the hotel workers’ union here in the 1990s, Maria Elena Durazo negotiated a contract with provisions rarely seen by labor unions: The jobs of workers who were deported or lost authorization to work in the United States would be held open for two years, with the same pay. It was remarkable protection for the immigrant workers who made up the bulk of the union’s membership — and it implicitly acknowledged that many of those immigrants were working without legal papers. In the years since, Ms. Durazo, 60, has become one of the most prominent labor leaders advocating an overhaul of the country’s immigration policies. As the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, she presides over what is widely perceived as the most successful group of unions in the country. While union membership is declining nationally, it is growing in California, and much of that growth can be attributed to Latino immigrants. (read article)

National labor union gave $180K to nonprofit for ‘political activity’ during Oct. 2012
By Eric Boehm, May 17, 2013, Watchdog.org (Franklin Center) 
A nonprofit running ads attacking Gov. Tom Corbett received at least $180,000 last year from a powerful national labor union. Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a Pittsburgh-based “social welfare nonprofit” is exploiting a loophole in state campaign finance laws to avoid filing reports on donations and expenditures. In addition to their attacks on Corbett, the group paid for mailers attacking Republican incumbents in four state House races during the final weeks of the 2012 campaign. But a federal database of union spending gives one hint about where they got their funding. The U.S. Department of Labor database shows that Pennsylvanians for Accountability received $180,000 from the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, in October 2012. The contribution coincides with the distribution of campaign mailers paid for by Pennsylvanians for Accountability. The labor department report indicates that the SEIU cash was used for “support for political advocacy” and describes the nonprofit recipient as a “political organization.” But that does not fit with the group’s designation as filed with the state Department of State. Pennsylvanians for Accountability is listed as a nonprofit 501(c)4, a designation that allows a group to keep donors secret and to engage in limited political activity, as long as those activities are not the sole or primary purpose the corporation exists. (read article)

Tech, labor at odds over immigration
Associated Press, May 16, 2013, Albany Times-Union 
To the U.S. technology industry, there’s a dramatic shortfall in the number of Americans skilled in computer programming and engineering that is hampering business. To unions and some Democrats, it’s more sinister: The push by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to expand the number of visas for high-tech foreign workers is an attempt to dilute a lucrative job market with cheap, indentured labor. The answer is somewhere in between, depending as much on new technologies and the U.S. education system’s ability to keep up as on the immigration law itself. But the sliver of computer-related jobs inside the U.S. that might be designated for foreigners — fewer than 200,000 out of 6 million — has been enough to strain a bipartisan deal in the Senate on immigration reform, showcase the power of big labor and splinter a once-chummy group of elite tech leaders hoping to make inroads in Washington. “A lot of people agree that employers should have access to (highly trained) immigrants — that they are a benefit to the country, and we are a country of immigrants,” said B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration. “I think the question is how much of a good thing is good.” The Senate immigration bill — the result of months of quiet negotiations among eight influential senators — is on track to nearly double the number of highly skilled foreign workers allowed to work in the U.S. under what’s called an H-1B visa, from 65,000 to 110,000. The number of visas could climb as high as 180,000 depending on the number of applications received and the unemployment rate. (read article)

Unions’ JPMorgan Power Play Is About Labor Organizing, Not Performance
By James R. Copland, May 16, 2013, Investors Business Daily
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, when serving as President Obama’s chief of staff, verbalized his view of the 2008 financial meltdown with the quip, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Labor union pension funds have taken the mantra to heart this proxy season with respect to the nation’s largest financial institution, JPMorgan Chase. Tapping into angst and anger over the bank’s $6.2 billion trading loss in London last year, a group of public-employee pension funds have pushed a shareholder proposal calling on the company to strip JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon of his joint chairman and chief executive role. The JPMorgan proposal is not a unique effort. Rather, proposals to split corporate chairman and CEO roles have recently been commonplace at America’s largest companies, most regularly by labor-union pension funds. (read article)

Labor Stats and Facts: Decertifications Are Down, but Unions Shouldn’t Celebrate
By Robert Combs, May 16, 2013, Bloomberg
The gradual, decades-old decline in the ranks of union workers is typically discussed in terms of attrition. Lower membership figures (down 26 percent over the past 40 years, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics) and fewer representation elections (less than half as many as there were just 20 years ago, according to National Labor Relations Board records) suggest a leaching of outreach efforts or organizing strength. But what about the more overt and abrupt act of decertification? How often does a unit of already-unionized workers actually decide to formally say goodbye to their union—and is it happening more often now than in the past? Actually, it is happening less often. The NLRB reported 228 decert elections in 2012—the lowest total since we started tracking NLRB election data in the mid-1980s. Unions typically faced more than 400 decert elections a decade ago. Even as recently as 2007, 331 decert attempts made it to the election phase. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that unions are doing a better job of hanging on to their members nowadays. Of those 228 elections last year, unions won only 87—by far the lowest total on record—earning a 38.2 percent win rate that itself marks a five-year low. In terms of living, breathing members, the 2012 figures were similarly bleak for unions. Of the 14,051 workers in bargaining units threatened with decertification, only about half—7,326—remained unionized after the votes were counted, marking the lowest retention total on record. (read article)

Incentives pull labor unions into Illinois fracking deal
By Ben Yount, May 16, 2013, Illinois Watchdog
Illinois is going to use the carrot and not the stick to get oil and gas companies to hire local, union workers if and when the drillers come to the state. A new agreement reached Wednesday at the statehouse that sets rules for high-volume hydraulic fracturing has the backing of organized labor, including the Operating Engineers Local 150, which had been holding up Illinois’ proposed fracking regulations. Ed Maher, communications director for the Operating Engineers Local 150, did not offer any specifics or explanation about the agreement that brought the union on-board. “Local 150 has been among the parties involved in negotiations toward providing incentives for hydraulic fracturing firms to utilize Illinois’ skilled workforce,” was all Maher would say in an email. Maher did say the local union is satisfied with the new deal. Mark Denzeler, vice president for the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said the deal will offer “incentives” to oil and gas drillers to hire “local” workers. “We finally reached this agreement whereby companies can get a small tax increase.” (read article)

Labor unions not raising a fuss over Pritzker
By Lynn Sweet, May 14, 2013, Chicago Sun Times
Penny Pritzker, President Barack Obama’s Commerce secretary nominee, has long been a target of organized labor — with the drive against her led by the Chicago Teachers Union and Unite Here Local 1, representing the city’s hotel workers. Yet as Pritzker is lining up Senate support for her confirmation — making her first courtesy calls on Tuesday, starting with a meeting in the Capitol with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — no union, either national or local, has raised any objection to her nomination. “I look forward to helping her through the confirmation process and to working with her once she’s sworn in as the next secretary of commerce,” Durbin said in a statement after the meeting. The unions have muzzled themselves, not because they are crazy about the Pritzker nomination. They are not. Labor officials I talked to told me they are taking a pass on Pritzker because unions have a lot more pressing battles than taking on Pritzker. Unions are worried because Republicans are blocking Obama’s nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez, and nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, including Chicago attorney Phillip Miscimarra, a partner at Morgan Lewis. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the NLRB nominees, and the nominees are “likely in for a contentious fight,” the Communications Workers of America said in a briefing memo. For the unions, fighting Pritzker is a lost cause, so best to move on to other battles and leave her alone —and keep out of trouble with the White House. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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