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.

Under The Radar Case Could Yield Most Significant Labor Law Case of the Last Decade
By Scott J. Witlin, July 2013, National Law Review
Last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear two important cases involving labor law. While Noel Canning has been getting most of the press because of the high profile political drama and all of its separation of power implications, the other case, UNITE HERE, Local 355 v. Mulhall, could end up as the most significant labor law decision the Supreme Court has handed down in a generation. Mulhall deals with whether neutrality agreements violate the anti-corruption provisions contained in Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 186. Those provisions restrict financial transactions between an employer and a union or union leaders. The restrictions are so broad, they prohibit a union from demanding or accepting any “thing of value” from an employer subject to certain strictly construed exceptions not implicated by neutrality agreements. In the decision below, the 11th Circuit held that such agreement could violate Section 302. If the Supreme Court agrees, Mulhall could invalidate perhaps the most important tool the union movement has created to combat private sector employee disinterest. That makes Mulhall a key case to watch. (read article)

Michigan’s employees need to know their rights
Richard Berman, July 9, 2013, Detroit News
Roughly 28 percent of Michigan’s union households would leave their union if they could do so without penalty of losing their jobs, seniority or pay. That’s the finding of a new poll by National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide campaign that ran from June 23-29. It conducted a series of scientific surveys to ascertain just how many of the nation’s union household members would support leaving their unions if they could. Michigan’s results weren’t out of the ordinary. Nationally, 33 percent of respondents indicated that they would stop paying union dues if given the chance. Even Midwestern states with strong labor roots had impressive numbers: Pennsylvania and Illinois came in at 27 percent and 30 percent, respectively. These results beg the question: Why aren’t union members leaving their unions in droves? Quite simply, because they don’t know that they can. Organized labor has worked overtime to make sure that every employee knows that they have the right to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board’s now-invalidated “poster rule,” which would have required employers to post notice of an employee’s right to unionize in a conspicuous place, was a case in point. Predictably, the emphasis was on an employee’s right to join a union, but failed to equally support the corresponding right not to join. Yet the fact is that union members in every state — including Michigan — have the right to leave their union. Since Michigan is a right-to-work state, where holding a job is not contingent on joining the union, this choice is obvious: They can simply decline membership without any loss of salary, benefits or seniority. (read article)

Kansas labor, community groups plan to protest Americans For Prosperity
By Scott Rothschild, July 9, 2013, The Dispatch
Labor and community organizations will hold rallies in Topeka and Wichita this week to protest Americans For Prosperity, which they say helped produce one of the most anti-worker legislative sessions in state history. “Their (AFP’s) agenda is extreme austerity aimed at all working people and our communities,” said Lisa Ochs, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Kansas. The rallies will be at 5 p.m. Wednesday in front of AFP offices in Topeka and Wichita. AFP is a nationwide organization that describes itself as “advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity.” It supports cutting both taxes and government spending and was founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, who run Wichita-based Koch Industries. As a tax-exempt “social welfare” organization, AFP does not have to disclose its donors. When the legislative session ended in June, AFP-Kansas applauded legislators who voted for spending cuts and a provision that limits growth in state spending to no more than 2 percent per year. (read article)

Spitzer’s opponent has more than 40 endorsements, including from top unions
Patrick Howley, July 8, 2013, Daily Caller
Eliot Spitzer’s opponent has already raised several million dollars and locked up numerous endorsements in the race for New York City comptroller, including from some of the city’s top labor unions. Democratic Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, whom Spitzer is opposing in the comptroller’s race, has already locked up the endorsements of more than 40 New York City organizations, including top labor unions that will play a crucial role in the election. Spitzer, who was known as the crusading “Sheriff of Wall Street” during his tenure as New York Attorney General and eventually resigned from the state’s governorship in 2008 after admitting that he patronized call girls, announced Sunday that he is running for comptroller. The powerful position is being vacated by Democrat John Liu, who is running for mayor of the city in a crowded field that includes former congressman Anthony Weiner. “I’m hopeful there will be forgiveness, I am asking for it,” Spitzer said in a phone call with a reporter. “I’ve never viewed politics as pushing anybody else aside” Spitzer later said in a WNYC radio interview Monday in reference to Stringer. But Spitzer’s comeback campaign is already at a disadvantage, according to a DecideNYC.com analysis of New York organizational endorsements in the race. Stringer has been endorsed by 1199 SEIU and other prominent locals of the Service Employees International Union. Stringer has also been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers, Hotel and Motel Trades Council, Council of School Administrators, Communication Workers of America, Teamsters Joint Council 16, NYC Central Labor Council, United Association of Plumbers Local 1 and Uniformed Fire Officers Association. Stringer has also gained the endorsement of the Queens County Democrats and the Working Families Party, a left-wing political party formed by various labor unions in 1998 that helped Spitzer gain more than 100,000 votes in his 2006 gubernatorial run. (read article)

The Worst People In New York All Hate Eliot Spitzer — And That’s Why You Should Like Him
By Josh Barro, July 8, 2013, Business Insider
New York City’s business, labor and Democratic Party establishments are teaming up to defeat Eliot Spitzer’s comeback bid for Comptroller of New York City. Unions have gone to bat for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Spitzer’s opponent in the Comptroller race, and he’ll owe them favors if he wins. Spitzer won’t owe them anything. And though Spitzer is a liberal, that’s not the same as being captive to union interests. As Governor, he fought with the United Federation of Teachers over expanding charter schools and SEIU Local 1199 — the city’s largest health care workers’ union — over reforming Medicaid. As Comptroller, Spitzer might advocate cost-saving reforms that cut benefits. For example, he might line up with Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner — the two Democratic candidates for mayor who are getting no union love — and say city workers should start paying part of their health insurance premiums. He might also start warning that the city’s pension systems are unsustainably expensive and in need of reform. Unions prefer a comptroller who will send a message about the pension funds along the lines of “everything will be OK if we invest wisely”—even when that’s not true. (read article)

IRS Paying Over 200 Employees to Work Full-Time For Labor Union
By Eliana Johnson, July 8, 2013, National Review
The Internal Revenue Service pays over 200 full-time employees not to conduct audits or process tax returns but to work for a federal employees’ union, according to documents released by the agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government. Forty-three of those employees are earning six-figure salaries, the documents show. Oddly, the employees working for the National Treasury Employees Union have titles that suggest they perform work in behalf of the American taxpayer, among them “Tax Examining Technician,” “Internal Revenue Agent,” and “Tax Specialist.” Known as “official time,” the practice is perfectly legal as a result of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. It continues even as the IRS faces financial woes — due to the sequester, the agency has been forced to close its doors on five days and has also requested more money for its operating budget from Congress. (read article)

The State of the Unions
By Harold Meyerson, July 8, 2013, The American Prospect
According to new polls, just over half of Americans like organized labor—but that’s still enough to make a real impact. Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions. In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009. So unions are modestly, sorta, kinda back, in the public’s estimation. Back, that is, from the trough into which they fell during the first year of the recession, when their approval ratings toppled from the high-50s (Gallup) and the mid-50s (Pew) by ten points in each poll. (read article)

Former Jerry Brown aide among consultants blacklisted by labor
By David Siders, July 6, 2013, Sacramento Bee
The California Labor Federation, an ally of Gov. Jerry Brown, has formally blacklisted Brown’s former political adviser, Steve Glazer, and pollster Jim Moore, punishing them for their work in two divisive Assembly races last year. The labor federation recently posted on its website a “California Labor ‘Do Not Hire’ List,” rebuking Glazer (right), Moore and four other consultants for their involvement “in two campaigns in 2012 that directly attacked labor unions and caused damage to the labor movement.” The campaigns were Democrat-versus-Democrat Assembly races that pitted labor against the California Chamber of Commerce, whose influential political action committee Glazer advised. Glazer and the other consultants did work opposing incumbent lawmakers Michael Allen and Betsy Butler or supporting their opponents, Marc Levine and Richard Bloom, respectively. The challengers were successful in both races, in the Santa Rosa and Los Angeles areas. (read article)

Labor Unions Against the Public Interest
By Chris Edwards, July 05, 2013, Townhall Finance
The folly of monopoly unionism (“collective bargaining”) in government is most evident when labor unions strike. Hundreds of thousands of San Francisco area residents are currently having their lives disrupted by union actions against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. BART’s unions want higher wages: The unions, which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff, want a 5 percent raise each year over the next three years. BART said train operators and station agents in the unions average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. Bloomberg says that BART workers receive annual benefits averaging $50,800, so these folks are well-paid. It is true that every worker in America would like higher pay. The difference is that most of us don’t have special government-created powers to cause city-wide damage when we ask for a raise. Most Americans compete in the marketplace, which limits their power and encourages the provision of low-cost, high-quality services. But most government services are enforced monopolies, which breed inefficiency. Monopoly unions compound the inefficiencies, and lead to the sort of selfish, anti-consumer behavior this strike represents. By the way, the same thing happened to BART in 1997 “when a six-day shutdown jammed freeways and saddled workers with lengthier commutes.” Strikes are not the only problem caused by unions in government. Unions push up operating costs and generally reduce service quality. A Washington Post editor yesterday discussed union problems in D.C.’s Metro system after a conversation with the system’s manager, Richard Sarles: (read article)

DFL control drove big union wins in Minnesota Legislature
By Tom Scheck, July 5, 2013, Minnesota Public Radio
The state’s labor unions are celebrating a big year at the Capitol. New state employee contracts, labor peace deals, unemployment aid for locked out workers and bills that let day care providers unionize all passed into law. That success came because Democrats control the Legislature and the governor’s office. Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders have been more receptive to union-backed initiatives than Republicans, who ran at least part of state government between 1998 and 2012. Republicans claim the new laws are political payback and say it’s a sign of DFL overreach. The state’s unions, meanwhile, are running radio ads and sending out mailings thanking Democrats for their support. “The 2013 legislative session was a big win for working families,” said Jamie Gulley, president of the Minnesota Service Employees International Union. “After years and years of politics of gridlock or politics that was focused on protecting the wealthiest in the state, the upper income folks and tax cuts for the wealthy, we saw a session that was focused on working families.” Republicans were mostly forced to watch on the sidelines as Democrats pushed through labor-friendly laws. “We’ve got to look at reality. The unions fund Democrats’ elections. They fund them very well,” said Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. Democrats, he said, have been a “rubber stamp” for the unions, which mostly backed DFL candidates for the Legislature. Those union-backed policies, he argued, will help grow union membership and boost political contributions for DFL candidates. (read article)

Trade and labor union members rally for Christie
By Kathy Chang, July 4, 2013, The Sentinel
Union leaders and members of trade and labor organizations came out in numbers to rally for Gov. Chris Christie on the grounds of the Operating Engineers Local 825 training facility in the Dayton section of South Brunswick. “I’ve passed this site 100,000 times, wondering what it is like in there,” Christie said at the rally on June 27. “Well, you just have to run for a second term as governor to get on this site.” The governor’s comments brought laughter to the crowd, many of whom held signs for Christie. When he started speaking, the rain came down, as a tornado watch was put in effect for parts of the state. “I’ll make this short and simple,” he said. “Since I’ve been in office, I’ve been thinking every day on how to get you men and women back to work.” Christie said he knows how hard they work. “You know you have a partner in the governor’s office who understands what is needed to rebuild our state,” he said. “Together, we’ve cut taxes to grow our businesses, created over 145,000 private sector jobs, and made investments to put our tradesmen back on the job and create opportunities for all of our families. Our strong leadership and your partnership will allow us to keep moving New Jersey forward for another four years.” The organizations, which collectively represent thousands of tradesmen across New Jersey, include United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA International); New Jersey Statewide Pipe Trades; New Jersey Statewide Operating Engineers; New Jersey Statewide Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Locals 102 and 164; and Elevator Constructors Local 1. The leaders said Christie brings them hope. (read article)

Police Union Files Grievance, Says Chief Mike Reese Took Labor Patrol Shifts
By Andrea Damewood, July 3, 2013, Willamette Week
Reese picked up shifts to cut overtime; union says he took away work When Portland Police Chief Mike Reese hopped behind the wheel of a Crown Victoria to take over a few patrol shifts in May, it was a double win. One was his stated reason: Reese was pounding the pavement like a regular beat cop to cut down on overtime costs while officers got enhanced crisis intervention training. The second: Some good PR. The Oregonian, KOIN and other media outlets picked up the story and captured B roll of the city’s top cop doing patrol work. But that good PR didn’t go unpunished, or unnoticed, by the Portland Police Association. The rank-and-file union filed a grievance May 23, saying that Reese took shifts that should have been filled by union members. (read article)

LePage, workers’ union strike 2-year labor deal
Associated Press, July 3, 2013, Maine Online Sentinel
Gov. Paul LePage and the union representing about 8,000 state workers reached a tentative contract agreement Wednesday after more than 2 years of negotiations. The Maine State Employees Association said the 2-year agreement is fair and provides both sides with something they wanted. Union general counsel Timothy Belcher said the deal includes modest raises but declined to discuss the particulars before providing details to the union rank-and-file. “We would have liked to have had more, but it allows us to get a contract moved forward,” Belcher said. In a statement, LePage’s office said the agreement eliminates excessive provisions that cost taxpayers money and includes job security provisions for workers who don’t want to pay union fees. (read article)

Prison guards’ union accuses Florida of unfair labor practice
By Marc Caputo, July 3, 2013, Miami Herald
The Teamsters Union on Wednesday filed a new complaint against the state Department of Corrections, challenging time-off restrictions instituted by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration dealing with earned time off for more than 20,000 correctional officers. In a news release, the Tampa-based Teamsters Joint Council 75 accuses the state of an unfair labor practice “by enforcing illegal working conditions against the officers … which have prevented officers from taking earned time off.” Under the policy, the Teamsters said, officers are required to work holidays, for which they are given what is known as special compensatory time. But the policy requires officers to use the special comp time within six months or they lose it, and the Teamsters say officers are not being allowed to take the time due to critical staffing shortages at many prisons. The Teamsters said they tried to get the Legislature to revise the policy in the 2013 session but lawmakers declined to intervene (state law requires legislators to resolve bargaining impasses between the state and labor unions). The union filed its complaint with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) in Tallahassee. (read article)

Less white and less male: Labor movement finds new support
By Ned Resnikoff, July 3, 2013, MSNBC
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) union workers with SEIU Local 1021 hold signs as they picket in front of the Lake Merritt station on July 2, 2013 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A new survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press undermines the popular image of unionists as burly, white, middle-aged men. In fact, Pew found that labor unions had the highest approval ratings among women, people of color, and young people between the ages of 18 and 29. Whites and retirees held a majority unfavorable opinion of organized labor, while approval among men was just one percentage higher than disapproval. Higher support among women and people of color should come as no surprise, said City University of New York sociologist Penny Lewis. “African-Americans are now disproportionately unionized,” she told MSNBC. “It is expected that there’s going to be broad support among African-Americans, just as there’s much broader support among union households.” A 2012 white paper [PDF] from University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education found that 13.1% of all working African-Americans were union members, compared to 11% of all non-black workers. Women don’t make up a majority of the unionized workforce, but they’ve been narrowing the gap for years. They make up about 45% of the unionized workforce according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—and they’re gaining. “They’re pretty much unionized at the same rate they’re working, which has to do with high density in the public sector,” said Lewis. More than one-third of public sector workers remain in unions, compared to 6.6% of those employed in the private sector. The predominance of women and people of color in the labor movement is a relatively recent phenomenon. Lewis traced it back to the Vietnam War era, when unions “started organizing within health care and you started to have organizing within the public sector.” At the same time, traditionally unionized sectors of the workforce, such as manufacturing, came under attack from employers looking to cut slash labor costs. (read article)

Coburn: Hundreds of IRS employees work full-time on labor union business
By David Sherfinski, July 2, 2013, Washington Times
The Internal Revenue Service spends millions of dollars a year for 200 employees who actually work full-time on labor-union business even as it furloughs employees and cuts taxpayer advice services under the budget sequester, Congress‘ chief waste watcher said in a new letter to the tax agency. Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, joined Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, in a letter asking the IRS to stop paying those employees for work that doesn’t benefit the taxpayer. “While the IRS continues to request more funding to further close the more than 14.5 percent tax gap, especially under the current budget crunch and sequestration, it makes little sense to use taxpayer resources to pay for union work,” the two lawmakers wrote in the letter dated June 27. “This kind of practice takes place only in the government — in the private sector, union work and staff are paid for by union dues.” Known as “official time,” the arrangement allows federal employees to get paid by taxpayers even as they perform their union duties. (read article)

Labor union protests wages at five construction sites
By Adam Widener, July 2, 2013, Wane.com
A labor union is protesting some Fort Wayne businesses and construction companies that it said aren’t paying workers the area standard wages and benefits. Hired hands hold signs in front of five different locations across Allen County, shaming the businesses that chose the contractors. Starting June 24, drivers on E. Dupont Road may have seen a big yellow sign saying, “Shame on you Fort Financial.” During the morning hours, two men hired by the union (who aren’t members), hold the sign in front of the new credit union’s construction site. The Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters is shaming Fort Financial because it contracted the building to Schenkel Construction. The union said Schenkel Construction doesn’t pay its workers enough, which undercuts union carpenters who are then left without work. “We would hope that these contractors would stop taking advantage of the workers by paying them a lesser scale than what the area standard wage would be in this area,” said Tom Case, a representative with the Council of Carpenters. (read article)

Big labor is a big bully
by Lynn Westmoreland, June 30, 2013, Thomaston Times
Georgia is a Right-to-Work state, and that’s something I’m proud of. We’ve taken care of our workers, ensuring equal opportunity, all without forcing them to join and pay for unions they don’t want. Unfortunately, as the digital world is changing, not every state and its employees are as lucky. It’s recently come to light that union officials have resorted to stalking, cyber stalking, and identity theft to intimidate workers into joining the unions. The worst part is that their criminal actions have been upheld in at least one state court as exempt because they are “preempted” by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This is absolutely unacceptable. Every state in America sees stalking as a criminal act, generally defined as unwanted and repeated contact with another individual with the purpose of causing mental or emotional distress. To gain better control over workers, labor unions have resorted to outrageous intimidation tactics, such as publically posting – or otherwise threatening to disclose – employees’ private, personal and financial information. Union officials are showing up at worker’s homes, their children’s schools, posting their social security numbers in public – all to pressure workers into joining their union. If every state has a general consensus on what stalking is, what makes union officials so special that they are exempt? Well, it’s states like Illinois, California, Nevada and Pennsylvania which offer broad exemptions for union officials, including stalking and identity theft, and leave the door open for harassment. This exemption of unions from these crimes paves the way for personal intrusion. (read article)

Christie picks up more labor union support, puts off labor council
By Jenna Portnoy, June 27, 2013, The Star-Ledger
Gov. Chris Christie today basked in the support of multiple building trades unions — a feat for any Republican running statewide — but the biggest labor prize may go unclaimed this year. Standing in driving rain in front of two sky-high cranes suspending a sign that read “Local 825 supports Governor Christie,” the governor thanked hundreds of construction workers at the Operating Engineers Local 825 training facility in South Brunswick. Christie was joined by workers from a half-dozen unions that previously endorsed him, as well as the newest groups to join his re-election effort: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 and the Elevator Constructors Local 1. It remains unclear whether the Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella organization representing 15 affiliated labor unions, will stake a claim in this year’s gubernatorial race on Nov. 5. Council President Bill Mullen said yesterday that Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, took Christie out of the running for the council’s endorsement altogether. “He told me the governor does not want and does not need the building trades’ endorsement for governor,” Mullen said in a phone interview after the rally. Four of the 15 unions represented by the Council have already come out in favor of Christie. A fifth pledged to remain neutral. The Council endorsed former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat in 2009. Though Christie never mentioned his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), at the rally, one labor leader took aim at her Sierra Club and Environmental Federation support. “They are the two biggest enemies of any construction worker not only in the state of New Jersey, but in the entire United States of America,” said Mike Mulvaney, of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry. (read article)

 

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