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.

Kansas Teachers Vote to Decertify Their Union
James Sherk and Michael Cirrotti, June 18, 2013, Heritage Network
Teachers in Deerfield, Kansas, just did something unusual—they voted to decertify their union. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) no longer represents them. Teachers disliking their union representation do not make news, but teachers actually leaving their union do: The law makes it very difficult for teachers to remove unwanted unions. Unlike most public officials, unions do not stand for re-election, so their members cannot regularly hold them accountable. Workers can remove an unwanted union only by filing for decertification. But bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to hold a vote on decertification. The hoops Deerfield’s teachers had to jump through illustrate this problem. Joel McClure, the teacher who led the effort, submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Kansas Department of Labor in November 2012. But Kansas teachers can request a vote only in a two-month window every three years. KNEA officials contested the petition by claiming that the teachers missed the December 1 deadline. (The Department of Labor had misplaced the initial petition paperwork.) Then the KNEA objected that the teachers’ attorney was not certified in Kansas and that they did not have enough signatures. However, the teachers prevailed and voted out their union—in June, just eight months after the initial submission. (read article) 

Unions call on State of Oregon to sue LIBOR banks, but no action yet
By Don McIntosh, June 18, 2013, Nortwest Labor Press
Eight weeks ago, a group of union leaders called on the State of Oregon to file suit against a group of banks in what’s known as the LIBOR scandal. There’s no sign the call is being heeded. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber — and state legislators — have been pushing all year to trim public employee pension benefits in a variety of ways. Yet the pension system’s underfunding stems from financial asset losses, public employee union leaders point out. One component of those losses is the LIBOR scandal, which is so complicated and underreported that most Americans still don’t know about it a year after it broke. (read article) 

Wal-Mart Sues Labor Union And Protesters In An Effort To Keep Them Away From Stores
Ashley Lutz, June 18, 2013, Business Insider
Wal-Mart is suing labor union that has protested at stores around the country this year. The lawsuit alleges that the union has been “confrontational and abusive,” according to NBCDFW.com, a local NBC affiliate. “They have screamed through bullhorns, paraded around with banners and signs on sticks, conducted in-store ‘flash mobs,’ and diverted management and local police from their normal job functions,” the lawsuit said, according to the station. The union, United Food and Commercial Workers International, has tried to mobilize Wal-Mart workers over the past year. The group accuses Wal-Mart of mistreating workers by not paying enough or offering adequate benefits. UFWCI members also participate in a website called ReallyWalmart.org where employees and activists air their grievances. The union ignored “cease and desist” orders sent by Wal-Mart, continues to trespass at stores, and some of its demonstrations “have turned confrontational and abusive,” according to the lawsuit. (read article) 

Excited by Bloomberg’s Exit, Labor Seeks to Influence Race for His Successor
By Javier Hernandez, June 18, 2013, New York Times
They can tailor messages based on brands of toilet paper voters buy. They have so much polling data that they can pinpoint the views of Puerto Ricans and Chinese immigrants alike. Normally busy handling complaints from teachers, they are now scouring financial records and questioning candidates about $4,000 restaurant bills. In a war room high above Lower Manhattan, leaders of the United Federation of Teachers are plotting a comeback. After more than a decade of sitting out the fiercest race in town the union is expected on Wednesday to throw its sophisticated political machine behind a candidate for mayor of New York City. Unions across the city, after years of low morale amid stalled contract negotiations, are roaring back to life this election season, excited by the prospect of installing a friend of labor in City Hall when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg leaves office at the end of the year. Some groups, like the teachers’ union, are expected to spend several million dollars on the race. Several labor leaders are weighing advertising blitzes aimed at the broader public. Organizations are training callers, social media activists and door-to-door canvassers. (read article) 

Unions and the Democrats
By Chad Stafko, June 18, 2013, American Thinker
For generations the Democratic Party has relied upon unions and their members to dutifully pull the lever for Democratic candidates and to man their call centers and canvass neighborhoods. And yet, an objective look at what are arguably the three biggest issues shows that Democrats are on the wrong side of these issues when compared to the desires and needs of union members. Union members — it is time to break the allegiance with the Democratic Party. Take the issue of ObamaCare. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted May 30-June 2, 49% of respondents believe ObamaCare to be a bad idea, while only 37% see the Affordable Care Act as beneficial. That 49% is the highest rate since polling began on the issue back in March 2010, indicating that support is eroding for the much ballyhooed legislation. The poll also found that twice as many individuals believe they will be worse off under ObamaCare than better off. That belief is especially strong among those who receive their healthcare insurance through the government or an employer — a description that fits many union workers. Expecting to be worse off under ObamaCare is synonymous with the common belief that you will pay more for your healthcare benefits under ObamaCare or that your employer will drop the employer-sponsored healthcare plan. Even union leaders, many of whom originally pushed hard for the law and encouraged members to support the legislation, have been barking at President Obama of late as to the negative effect ObamaCare will have on its members. Immigration reform is another issue of which the Democrats are on the wrong side of the issue versus union members. A Rasmussen poll taken earlier this year found that 90% of union members felt the issue was important to them with 51% of union respondents indicating that they opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants. Granted, 51% is only a slight majority. However, consider that a near unanimous number of Democrats support some version of amnesty. Union members are right to oppose amnesty from an economic perspective. Amnesty would result in millions of suddenly legal workers who could latch on to non-union labor groups and give organizations in need of labor a far lower cost alternative to consider. Democrats don’t care about that. All they see is that suddenly legal immigrants will soon be loyal voting Democrats for decades to come. (read article) 

Housekeepers Protest What They Call Hyatt’s “Longstanding Labor Abuses”
By Harry Stevens, June 18th, 2013, Triple Pundit
A union representing Hyatt housekeepers says the company refuses to remedy “longstanding labor abuses.” Hyatt accuses the union of negotiating in bad faith. Dozens of Hyatt hotel workers gathered outside the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Chicago last week to protest what they call “longstanding labor abuses” by the 55-year old hospitality group. The protesters were members of UNITE HERE, a labor union that has been in unresolved contract negotiations with Hyatt in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, leaving thousands of Hyatt workers without contracts for up to four years. While the two sides reached agreement on wages and benefits years ago, UNITE HERE remains unsatisfied with Hyatt’s intransigence on two particular issues: subcontracting and workplace safety. UNITE HERE objects to Hyatt’s policy regarding hiring subcontracted workers. Hyatt has been severely criticized for laying off housekeepers with decades of experience and replacing them with subcontracted temporary housekeepers earning half the wages of the experienced workers. The most egregious and oft-cited example of this practice occurred in mid-2009 at three separate Hyatt hotels in the Boston area. On the same day, 98 Hyatt housekeepers, women who for decades had cleaned up after Hyatt’s guests, were handed trash bags, told to collect their things, and were unceremoniously replaced with workers from an outsourcing firm called Hospitality Staffing Solutions. (read article) 

NLRB’s Continuing Mischief at the Expense of Worker Rights
Fred Wszolek, June 18, 2013, Townhall
The National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) strongly supports, is a nationwide campaign aimed at educating employees about their statutory and constitutional right to not be a union member. NEFW furthers the underlying principle of American labor law: workplace democracy. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, who were recently declared unlawfully appointed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit but who continue to issue decisions, issued an important decision this week. That’s right, without Chairman Mark Pearce, who was recused. The Board appears to have wanted to issue the decision before one of the Republican nominees to the Board could be seated and be able to blow the whistle on what the federal agency was doing. There is a lot to say about the decision; the important thing to state about it this week is how it emphasizes the need for this nationwide campaign. The case involves the Communication Workers of America (CWA) which represents 13,000 employees who decided not be union members. Of the 13,000 employees, however, 11,500 still pay full union dues; 1,500 do not. (read article) 

Detroit’s Recovery Plan Dips Into Pensions to Keep City Afloat
By Chris Christoff & Steven Church, June 17, 2013, Bloomberg
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s proposal to cut pension benefits previously thought sacrosanct for 30,000 workers and retirees may tip Detroit into bankruptcy if unions don’t play along. Getting dispassionate bondholders to take partial payment will be easier than wresting retirement cuts from unions, said Ken Schneider, a Detroit bankruptcy lawyer. He said Orr’s June 20 meeting with unions and creditors meant to frame negotiations over $17 billion in debt and obligations may presage the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy. “It’s one thing for union leaders to say, ‘This was forced on us by a court,’ and something else to say, ‘We agreed to this,’” Schneider said in a telephone interview. “That’s a harder sell to your members.” Orr’s plan will test retirees’ contention that Michigan’s constitution protects vested pension benefits. No such shield exists, the state-appointed manager’s advisers said June 14 when they unveiled his plan to restructure Michigan’s largest city, a former auto-manufacturing powerhouse that lost one-quarter of its population since 2000. Orr has said that if he doesn’t get what he wants, Chapter 9 bankruptcy would be a last resort. (read article) 

AFL-CIO wants original deal for H-1B workers
By Seung Min Kim, June 17, 2013, Politico
The AFL-CIO is blanketing Senate offices with a list of demands for the Gang of Eight immigration bill, detailing what measures it will and will not support as the chamber continues debating the mammoth legislation.
On the approved list for the union: keeping hard-fought labor protections for immigrant workers and making sure the pathway to citizenship is still attainable. And what they’ll fight: enacting additional barriers for undocumented immigrants to become legalized, denying immigrants federal benefits, and tampering with a new guest-worker program it negotiated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a four-page letter sent to senators Monday evening, the AFL-CIO also said they would fight to reinstate the original agreement on H-1B workers — a deal that was changed during the committee markup to placate Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the high-tech community, much to the dismay of unions. (read article) 

Home invasion by Big Labor
By Mark Mix, June 17, 2013, The Washington Times
Last month, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that designates home-based child care and personal care providers, many of whom are self-employed business owners, as state workers solely for the purpose of forcing them into union ranks. The bill, which effectively codifies an unlawful executive order dictated by Mr. Dayton, gives American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and the Service Employees International Union organizers the power to become the exclusive political representatives for thousands of providers who care for children of low-income parents and families who receive state subsidies. Starting next month, union organizers will descend on Minnesota’s home-based child care providers, performing door-to-door “home visits” to browbeat unsuspecting care providers to sign over their right to represent themselves. As a result, state funding that is earmarked to low-income families will instead go into union bosses’ political coffers. Executing the plan perfectly, corrupt union bosses will then funnel millions of dollars to the campaigns of pro-forced unionism politicians. The mandated political association that is occurring in Minnesota is hardly new. This union boss quid pro quo was popularized by disgraced former Democratic Govs. Gray Davis of California and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. Home-based child care and personal care providers are subject to similar forced-unionization-by-government-fiat schemes in several states across the country. (read article) 

Tappan Zee project to boost unions’ political action funds
By John Dyer, June 17, 2013, Newsday New York
Laborers operating jackhammers on the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project can expect to earn $33.15 an hour, enjoy a 10-minute coffee break between 9 and 11 a.m. and ply their trade under conditions governed by an agreement reached last year by the New York Thruway Authority and labor organizations.
If the laborers choose, they can also transfer 5 cents out of their paycheck for every hour they work to the New York State Laborer’s Political Action Committee. Judging by the description of the PAC on the laborers union website, they’ll help themselves by doing so. “The Laborers’ PAC has become one of the most powerful union political action committees in New York,” the website says. “The PAC also provides support to the Laborers’ Political League in Washington, D.C., for contributions to national candidates. The PAC’s track record of passing important legislation and putting a stop to harmful, anti-labor bills is truly impressive.” A critic viewed the laborers’ PAC less favorably. “It’s just a giant slush fund,” said Ben Brubeck, director of labor and federal procurement at the Associated Builders and Contractors, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group that advocates for nonunion construction firms. (read article) 

Unions are key on struggle for LGBT equality
By Nancy Wohlforth and Hans Johnson, June 15, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Call it the parting of the blue curtain. In just the past two decades, labor unions have gone from inhospitable places for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people to welcoming spaces. They’ve gone from institutional bystanders in most major fights over gay rights to outspoken advocates. The vast change shows the handiwork of hundreds of openly gay rank-and-file members. Some have won election as local and national union officers. This month thousands of Californians will march in pride parades that feature a union presence. But a pair of rulings are looming from the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 and federal marriage cases that could test the power of labor and LGBT solidarity to build on recent breakthroughs. Long a hallmark of Democratic campaigns, labor’s muscle flexed this spring in legislative victories for marriage in Rhode Island and Minnesota. State union federations lobbied for both bills and celebrated their signing. This gay-union alliance first emerged in California in the 1970s, deepened during the AIDS crisis, and won the first domestic partnership protections for workers in public-sector contracts and local ordinances in the Bay Area in the 1980s. It could now determine how many more states follow suit on marriage equality over the next decade. (read article) 

Project Labor Agreements give unions unfair advantage
By Eric Christen, June 15, 2013, Napa Valley Register
The Napa County Board of Supervisors should be commended for recently having approved the Napa Pipe mixed-use development. In doing so, they have, to a small degree, dealt a blow to union attempts to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a tool to block and delay proposed projects until the public or private developer accepts a union agreement. As if proof of what we refer to as “greenmail” was needed to prove that unions attempt to hijack CEQA for their own benefit, we had former union leader Bud Huss’ May 23 commentary, “Napa Pipe project workers deserve Napa living wages,” explicitly stating that the owner of this project would have an easier time of it if they signed a union-only Project Labor Agreement. Greenmail is extensive, but largely unreported on by most California papers. It is a manifestation of the clash of economic ideologies. It involves implicit and sometimes explicit threats before and during negotiations leading to secret deals behind closed doors. It is the flexing of power between corporate and union interests. And the unwitting and unaware individual citizen ultimately pays the price, as Napa citizens are learning firsthand. (read article) 

In the small print, Cuomo’s casino bill provides gifts to labor unions
By E.J. McMahon, June 14, 2013, Syracuse Post-Standard
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that his proposal to allow up to three casinos in upstate New York will “create thousands of new jobs where they are needed most.” Now comes the small print: it turns out those jobs will be controlled mainly by the state’s politically powerful labor unions, whose support the governor presumably is courting for the constitutional amendment that voters will be asked to approve this fall to legalize casino gambling on a broader scale. Under the bill Cuomo unveiled last week, each casino will be required to enter into a “labor peace agreement” with unions seeking to represent their workers – which explains why the head of the state AFL-CIO was present for the governor’s announcement of the plan in May. But that’s not all: in an unprecedented move, Cuomo’s bill would also treat all capital projects at casino sites as “public work” under the state labor law. The privately financed, owned and operated facilities would be covered by prevailing wage requirements and would have to submit union-friendly project-labor agreements for renovations and construction work. (read article) 

Kevyn Orr could put the squeeze on unions at meeting with labor leaders next week
By Alisa Priddle, June 14, 2013, Detroit Free Press
Detroit’s city unions are bracing for what could be a pivotal meeting next week as emergency manager Kevyn Orr seeks steep concessions to resolve what he says is conservatively a $3.5-billion shortfall in the pension obligations. Orr’s presentation to creditors Friday was gentle on unions, even recognizing that many workers have taken furloughs, 10% pay cuts and are operating without collective agreements and protections they enjoyed in the past. But the concern over what Orr is asking was palpable. As he prepared to meet with creditors Friday morning, protesters from the Moratorium Now Coalition, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and Detroit city worker retirees demonstrated outside. The lengthy proposal Orr and his team presented to creditors speaks of the need for more cuts as part of the creation of a single agreement for all workers in the future. In an exclusive interview with the Free Press after the meeting, Orr also made it clear he needs to consider the best interest of the city’s 700,000 residents over its workers, saying he knows the proposal will upset employees and retirees. “The city must reduce employment costs for both represented and unrepresented workers as part of its restructuring,” the report says. (read article) 

Do private-sector unions still have a future in the U.S.?
By Brad Plumer, June 13, 2013, Washington Post
In the latest issue of Democracy, Rich Yeselson has a long and interesting essay considering the decline of private-sector labor unions in the United States and whether they might ever make a comeback. The piece is way too detailed to summarize in full (which means you should read the whole thing), but I’ll draw out three salient points here: Taft-Hartley was the beginning of the end for unions in the private sector. The piece opens with a vivid account of the birth of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which imposed a series of restrictions on union organizing and activities. Congress passed the bill when labor was at its peak and postwar strikes were rampant: “All in all, about 10 percent of the entire American workforce withheld their labor in 1946.” Scholars have long debated how crucial a role Taft-Hartley played in the decline of private-sector unions in the decades since, as opposed to factors like globalization. Yeselson offers a slightly recast argument here, suggesting that the blizzard of new legal restrictions “bureaucratized labor unions,” by forcing them to lawyer up and “drain[ing] the energy and creativity out of the members and their rank-and-file leadership.” (read article) 

As Senate Begins Debate, Organized Labor Makes Immigration Push
By Julia Preston, June 12, 2013, New York Times
As the Senate opens debate on an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, organized labor is picking up the pace of its advocacy for the bill. The Service Employees International Union, which claims more than two million members, said it had purchased more than $1 million in television advertising to run in June on cable networks nationwide. Five advertisements, which will rotate, feature police officers, Republicans and small-business owners — not traditional supporters of labor — calling on Congress to stop fighting over immigration and “fix what’s broke” in the system. The ads call for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s largest labor federation, said it would take 50 union leaders from 27 states to Washington on Wednesday to lobby in the Senate and the House. The organization said it was also starting a call-in campaign by union members focusing on about two dozen senators, including lawmakers from Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, who have not made public their positions on the legislation. Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., was among an array of supporters who appeared with President Obama when he spoke from the White House on Tuesday morning to urge the Senate to pass the bill. (read article) 

Municipal Unions Rally Against Bloomberg, Without Unity on Next Mayor
By Anna Sale, June 12, 2013, WNYC News
Thousands of city workers crowded the sidewalks around City Hall at a rally on Wednesday and blasted their problems with the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and they unequivocally declared that they see the next mayoral election as a chance to reject the status quo. “This is the end of the Bloomberg administration. That’s the good news,” Steven Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association said to cheers. “Do we deserve a raise? You’re damn right we do.” All the major city contracts are expired. Some have been for years. That leaves a potentially big budget hole for the next mayor. The independent budget office says retroactive pay hikes could cost the city more than 5 billion dollars. This rally was designed as a show of force leading up to those fights, and to show the muscle of labor as the mayoral election heats up. But labor as a whole is not united in the Democratic mayoral primary. CWA 1180 has lined up behind Comptroller John Liu. So have District 37’s municipal workers. The big health care union, SEIU 1199, is backing Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has retail workers, and Bill Thompson got the endorsement last week of a coalition of police and sanitation workers. But a few big prizes remain, including the teachers union. Members are scheduled to vote on their endorsement next week. (read article) 

BART labor unions ‘welcome’ state mediator to aid contract talks
By Eric Young, June 12, 2013, San Francisco Business Times
BART’s biggest labor unions said Wednesday they were “hopeful” a state mediator will invigorate negotiations over a contract that expires at the end of the month. BART managers earlier this week asked a state mediator to get involved in talks. “We are concerned with just how far apart we are,” said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost. “We are getting close to the deadline of June 30 and we’re hoping this takes us to the next level.” Representatives of SEIU and Amalgamated Transit Union said they were surprised by the move by BART officials, “but are hopeful a mediator can put an end to district negotiating tactics… aimed at provoking labor strife.” Labor negotiators said many of BART management’s wage and work rule proposals seem calculated to provoke a negative response from BART’s 3,200 workers. The BART unions said management’s current contract offer includes: a 1 percent raise over a four-year contract while reducing take-home pay by 10 percent through higher mandatory payments for health insurance and retirement benefits; allowing BART police to investigate BART workers and visit their homes for even minor workplace infractions; and eliminating a labor-management safety committee, a body comprised of frontline BART workers and agency executives focused on creating safety improvements. BART managers, while declining to go into detail about their overall contract offer, said they want employees to pay more for health care in order to help the transit system cope with its long term financial pressures. Currently BART workers pay $92 per month for health coverage, which represents about 6 percent of the cost of an average premium. (read article)

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