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.

Labor Unions’ Latest Problem: Obamacare’s ‘Cadillac Tax’ Harms Their Gold-Plated Health Insurance Plans
By Avik Roy, August 6, 2013, Forbes
Last month, we discussed the stunning turnabout from leaders of prominent labor unions, who stated that “unintended consequences” from Obamacare were “causing nightmare scenarios” that would “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” But those were the complaints from private-sector unions. Now, we learn that public-sector unions, representing government employees, are hopping mad about a different aspect of our health law: its steep excise tax on costly health insurance plans, also known as the “Cadillac tax.” Economists of all stripes have long argued that the original sin of the U.S. health-care system was a World War II decision to exempt health benefits from wartime wage controls. That exemption was later incorporated into the tax code, whereby health benefits did not count as taxable income. A dollar in normal wages might turn into 50 cents after you take out federal income taxes, local income taxes, and payroll taxes. But a dollar in health benefits is still a dollar, giving workers a huge incentive to get health insurance from their employers, but making them insensitive to the cost of that coverage, since they don’t shop for it themselves. Obamacare’s Cadillac tax is a clumsy attempt to address this problem. And it’s clumsy for one principal reason: labor unions were adamantly hostile to it. (read article)

Citing Detroit, Bloomberg urges city to take action on pensions
By Anna Sanders, August 6, 2013, Metro New York
Citing Detroit’s filing for bankrupcy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned against the city’s rising pension and health care costs in a speech at a Brooklyn incubator Tuesday. “It would be easy to sit back and think that what happened in Detroit could not happen here in New York City,” Bloomberg said, adding, “we would be foolish to ignore the factors that drove Detroit to bankruptcy.” After touting New York’s economic growth in his administration—diversifying the economy has led to a 303 percent increase in jobs lost during the 2008 recession — Bloomberg said rising pension and health care costs are the biggest risks the city’s faces. In 2002, the city’s pension costs were $1.4 billion. But by 2009, they grew to $6.3 billion. Some 95 percent of city employees and retirees contribute nothing to basic health care premiums, Bloomberg said, according to prepared remarks. This year, the city’s pension costs are about $8 billion, in addition to $6.3 billion on health insurance. “The next mayor will have an unprecedented opportunity to win pension and health care changes from the city’s labor unions,” Bloomberg said, noting union leaders have gone about four years without new contracts. “The reality is, we may be a long way from Detroit,” Bloomberg said. “But we are only a short distance from relapsing into decline.” (read article)

After BART reprieve, Bay Area commuters brace for bus strike
By Jason Wells, August 6, 2013, Los Angeles Times
Fresh off a reprieve from Gov. Jerry Brown, who stepped in at the last minute to avert a BART strike, Bay Area commuters must now contend with the possibility of losing their bus service. Drivers and mechanics at a major East Bay bus district are threatening to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, shutting down all service and leaving 181,000 riders in the lurch. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 delivered its strike notification Monday to the AC Transit board of directors, less than 24 hours after Brown’s intercession kept Bay Area Rapid Transit District workers from striking for a second time. Both unions are pushing back over proposed employee contributions to healthcare plans and are demanding higher wages. AC Transit driver Kevin Reed told KPIX-TV in San Francisco that his coworkers hadn’t had a “decent” wage increase in more than eight years. “The last six years, it’s been ‘take take take’ from the district,” he said. AC Transit serves Alameda and Contra Costa counties and via the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. When BART workers went on a 4 1/2-day strike in July, AC Transit workers decided not to strike. Instead the district added more bus service to help ease the labor action’s effect on commuters. AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said the union’s strike announcement was a surprise considering the two sides are “very, very close now.” The district has proposed wage increases of 9% over three years, and is asking ATU members to pay 10% of their monthly healthcare premiums, which would be phased in over three years. ATU members currently do not contribute to their healthcare plans, according to Johnson. (read article)

Business Fears Of The New National Labor Relations Board Are Justified
Fred Wszolek, August 06, 2013, Townhall.com
There has been quite a lot of tumult associated with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under President Obama, and the past few weeks have been no different. Just this past week, before heading out for the August recess, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm five members to the Board, including four news ones. Chairman Mark Pearce was confirmed, as were Democratic nominees Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer. According to The Associated Press “both have long experience as labor lawyers,” with Schiffer last serving as associate general counsel to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The Senate also confirmed the two Republicans nominees, Philip A. Miscimarra and Harry I. Johnson III. Now, the Board moves forward. It has a variety of significant issues pending before it; some have lingered for quite some time. In addition, if the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in Noel Canning and declares that President Obama’s recess appointments to the Board were unlawful, the new Board will have its work cut out for it. Such a decision would invalidate as many as one thousand decisions and orders requiring the new Board to consider each one anew. But for most in the business community, the new Board looks like the previous Obama Labor Boards. Chairman Pearce, who has been on the Board since 2010, has supported sweeping changes in Board law and procedure for the sole purpose of making union organizing easier. Nancy Schiffer is the third appointment to the Board made by President Obama of a person who comes directly to the Board from working for Big Labor. Prior to this administration, a lawyer working for a union would first have to serve a period of time in a neutral capacity before they could sit on the Board. It will be difficult for Schiffer to be impartial and we do not anticipate she will be. During her career at the AFL-CIO she zealously argued in favor of card check and against continuation of the secret ballot. Her testimony on the issue turns a blind eye to the pressure employees would be under if they were required to cast a vote for or against the union on a card in public. (read article)

Chicago Sees Pension Crisis Drawing Near
By Monica Davey and Mary Williams Walsh, August 5, 2013, New York Times
Corporations are moving in, and housing prices are looking better across the region. There has been a slight uptick in population. But a crushing problem lurks beneath the signs of economic recovery in Chicago: one of the most poorly funded pension systems among the nation’s major cities. Its plight threatens to upend the finances of President Obama’s hometown, now run by his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year. “This is kind of the dark cloud that’s coming ever closer,” Mr. Emanuel said in a recent interview, adding that he had no intention of raising his city’s property taxes by as much as 150 percent — the price tag, he says, that it might take to pay such bills. “That’s unacceptable.” (read article)

It’s Official: Top Union Lawyer To Be National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel
By Gerald F. Lutkus, August 5, 20123, Barnes & Thornburg LLP
And you thought Lafe Solomon was anti-employer? Buckle your seat belts folks because the employer community is in for a rough ride. The White House has confirmed Board member Richard Griffin has been nominated to be the new General Counsel for the NLRB. Before joining the Board as a “recess” appointee, Griffin served as General Counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers. Griffin has served on the board of directors for the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee and has held various legal jobs with the IUOE. Griffin holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. With Griffin’s nomination, the President also withdrew the nomination of Lafe Solomon Jr. to be General Counsel. Solomon had been named Acting General Counsel on June 21, 2010. His nomination for that job went to the U.S. Senate on January 5, 2011 and again in May of this year, but the nomination was never voted upon. As we previously reported here and here, Griffin’s nomination for the GC job comes on the heels of the deal crafted in the Senate to allow the President’s nominations for the Board to come to the floor for an up or down vote. Republicans insisted that the President withdraw the nomination of Griffin and Sharon Block. He agreed and replaced their nominations with those of Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, both reportedly hand-picked by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (read article)

Governor faces rough ride in ending BART strife
John Coté, August 5, 2013, SF Gate
The person with perhaps the most influence over whether there will be a second BART strike hasn’t even been in the bargaining sessions – it’s Gov. Jerry Brown. BART management and union leaders, locked in a lengthy contract dispute that resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike in July, are set to present their cases Wednesday to a board of inquiry. The three-member board, appointed by the governor when he intervened at the request of BART management to avert a midnight strike deadline on Sunday, has one week to present him with a written report outlining the facts in the dispute, which has been characterized by heated accusations from both sides, including charges of foot-dragging and bargaining in bad faith. Under state law, the report will not contain recommendations on action but will include specifics about bargaining positions. “Really, the goal of the board of inquiry is to present the facts to the governor,” said Susan Gard, a spokeswoman for San Francisco’s Human Resources Department, whose director, Micki Callahan, was tapped for the new investigatory board. “It’s to clear through any rhetoric and get across to the governor in fact-based terms what the positions are, what the facts are and how far apart the parties are.” (read article)

William B. Gould: BART, other transit strikes should be prohibited by law
By William B. Gould, August 5, 2013, San Jose Mercury News
Gov. Jerry Brown must immediately call upon the Legislature to enact a statute providing for arbitration and the prohibition of strikes in public transit disputes. A renewed Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) strike would be excessively disruptive to the public and to our local economy. In a democratic society, the right to strike is all that most workers possess when they have economic differences with their employer. But, as with most matters in life, there are limits. Public transit strikes, prohibited in most states — though protected at the federal level for private sector workers — constitute a twilight zone of emergencies against which the state must take action. Ever since the 1966 New York City transit dispute, it has become clear that there must be another way to solve such difficulties. The next year saw the enactment of the Taylor Law. It was denounced by organized labor because it retained the strike prohibition that union defiance made unworkable in 1966, but it established a new neutrality mechanism wherein a third party could issue a public report with recommendations. The statute, and almost 30 in other jurisdictions enacted since, provided binding arbitration in police and fire cases where the parties could not agree. Iowa, Wisconsin, Connecticut and New York City have extended arbitration to other pubic workers. Brown is using the existing law to create an investigative panel that has seven days to report, and he should seek a 60-day injunction to prevent a strike at the end of it. This would be a stop-gap. Brown should use the cooling-off period to enact a new statutory answer, including arbitration, that safeguards the public interest in uninterrupted transit and simultaneously enhances the genuine give and take which should be present in collective bargaining and seems to have been lacking in this dispute. (read article)

Gov. action averts San Francisco transit strike
By Terence Chea, August 5, 2013, Associated Press
With an eleventh hour order, Gov. Jerry Brown averted a strike of San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system late Sunday night, easing the minds of hundreds of thousands of anxious commuters. In the order, Brown named a board of investigators for a seven-day inquiry into the contract dispute that threatened to shut down, beginning Monday, the nation ‘s fifth largest rail line. Brown’s order comes under a law that allows the state’s intervention if a strike will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger public health. “For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge — in the strongest terms possible — the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved,” Brown said in the order. In a statement, BART spokesman Rick Rice said the transit authority’s board president Tom Radulovich sent a letter to the governor requesting his intervention and a cooling off period of 60 days. The governor issued an order with considerably less time of a week. “The formal impartial fact-finding that accompanies the cooling-off period will help clarify the points of difference between the proposals,” the statement said. Union leaders issued a critical statement after the order, accusing BART management negotiators of stalling until only hours remained before the strike would have begun to provide counter proposals on core pay and benefits. (read article)

After Walker attack, a new labor movement in Wisconsin?
By Jack Craver, August 5, 2013, The Capital Times
For days, weeks, months, Wisconsin was the center of national attention as hundreds of thousands flocked to the Capitol to protest one of the most significant anti-labor laws of a generation. The buzz died down as the protests dwindled and Gov. Scott Walker won the recall election, but progressive activists and union leaders are still watching Wisconsin intently to see if the damage inflicted on unions by Gov. Scott Walker will spark a new form of labor advocacy. “Act 10 is forcing unions to reinvent themselves and build power at the base,” reports labor writer James Cersonsky in Salon. Indeed, when I interviewed former Wisconsin Education Association Council president Mary Bell last year, she emphasized how the elimination of automatic dues has forced union leadership to aggressively engage with members on a face-to-face level to explain the benefit of continuing to pay dues. But now that public sector unions have no meaningful bargaining power, it is tougher to convince employees to pay up. The Journal Sentinel reports that membership in public unions has indeed taken a steep drop since Act 10. If a union can’t bargain on your behalf, then what are you paying it to do? (read article)

The Day Ronald Reagan Disarmed the American Labor Movement
By Alex Planes, August 5, 2013, The Motley Fool
The modern labor community has its own method of dating history. There’s “Before Reagan,” which covers much of the history of labor rights in the 20th century, and then there’s “After Reagan,” which begins on Aug. 5, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan broke the strike of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO. The PATCO strike was, more than any other event of the last half-century, a turning point in the relationship between labor and government, as well as the relationship between labor and business interests. It set the tone for the Reagan presidency and set the stage for a shift in power from labor to capital. Let’s examine what happened so we can better understand its effect on the American economy. The story of the PATCO-Reagan showdown began during the 1980 presidential campaign, when Republican candidate Reagan courted PATCO’s endorsement. The administration of President Jimmy Carter had not helped the controllers as they had hoped, and a deteriorated relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (headed by Carter appointees) led PATCO to endorse Reagan toward the end of the 1980 campaign. It was one of only four AFL-CIO unions to do so. Shortly after Reagan’s inauguration in 1981, PATCO began to negotiate a new contract with a fresh, Reagan-appointed head of the FAA. Their demands were quite optimistic, to say the least: Controllers wanted a four-day, 32-hour work week and a $10,000 annual pay raise — equal to nearly $26,000 today, or roughly half of the current median U.S. wage. This $770 million package was countered with a $40 million FAA offer — far less than might content the controllers. At the same time that PATCO was starting its contract negotiations, the Reagan Department of Justice was working with the FAA to compile what a District Court Judge would later decry as a “hit list” — a list of PATCO members to arrest and prosecute should a strike occur. (read article)

Guards Allegedly Forced into Union Day Before Right to Work Implemented
By Bill McMorris, August 5, 2013, The Washington Free Beacon
The federal government is investigating a Michigan labor group and company for forcing three employees into the union on the eve of the state’s implementation of right-to-work laws. Three security guards with AlliedBarton Security Services filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the company signed an exclusive agreement with United Protective Workers of America (UPWA) Local 1. The workers, who guard a Dearborn-based Ford plant, alleged that the agreement forced all employees to pay full dues into union coffers and membership played a deciding role in bonuses and promotions. “These are bullying tactics unions have chosen to use and obviously an investigation should be launched,” said Annie Patnaude, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. “Unfortunately, a lot of this has been going on, explicit and implied threats if workers exercise the new freedom.” The deal came after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R.) made the state the nation’s 24th right-to-work state, but before the law actually went into effect. The law bars companies from requiring employees to join unions as a condition of employment and allows workers to choose whether they will join unions. Using membership to determine compensation, promotion, and hiring is a clear violation, according to supporters. UPWA’s strategy was common in the four months between the bill’s signing and its implementation. Unions scrambled to put in place lengthy contracts with employers in the public and private sector before March 28 because the law would not apply to any existing contracts. The Taylor School District, for example, signed a contract with a local teachers union that would force all teachers to pay dues to the union for the next 10 years, while guaranteeing pay and benefits for members for only five. (read article)

Foolish Fast-Food Strikes
By Jillian Kay Melchior, August 5, 2013, National Review
When wages increase, jobs decrease — is that what unions and restaurant workers really want? Thousands of urban fast-food workers across America walked off the job last week to stage protests for higher wages. They want a minimum of $15, or about twice the current minimum wage, and a whopping $6 higher than President Obama’s suggested $9. Unions and their allies are marketing their efforts as a grassroots push to secure a living wage, but such ongoing one-day strikes are backed by Big Labor, which has an ulterior motive. With union membership dramatically on the decline nationwide, labor leaders are seeking new members wherever they can. Fast-food workers aren’t unionized, partially because the high turnover rate makes unionization difficult. But Big Labor is getting desperate enough to make a serious effort to gain support among this group. The strike in Detroit was particularly notable. Late last year, Michigan, long a bastion of organized labor, became a right-to-work state, a development met with much rage from the unions. Michigan’s organized-labor movement is fighting for its life, and its influence in last Wednesday’s strike was obvious. Fast-food workers used well-worn union slogans — “hey, hey, ho, ho, [fill in the blank] has got to go” — and were joined in their picketing by members of Detroit unions. (read article)
Massachussetts pays for union clout
By Charles Chieppo, August 5, 2013, Boston Herald
Countless Massachusetts voters shake their heads at what they see on Beacon Hill. Those few masochistic souls interested in understanding the dysfunction should check out a recent report from the commonwealth’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance. According to “Campaign Activities by Political Action Committees in Massachusetts 2011 & 2012,” 18 of the 20 political action committees that gave the most to candidates for state and county offices during the last election cycle were labor organizations, up from 17 of 20 during the previous cycle. Their investment generates handsome returns. Gov. Deval Patrick put an end to the requirement that only off-duty police officers could serve as flaggers on road construction projects, but the savings have been minuscule. The reason is simple: In a bow to labor, the administration categorizes civilian flaggers as construction workers, which means they fall under prevailing wage laws that prevent cities and towns from paying flaggers the kind of wages they make in every other state. A recent Pioneer Institute study (full disclosure: I am affiliated with Pioneer as a senior fellow) by former Massachusetts Inspector General Greg Sullivan found that the MBTA pays more for bus maintenance than all but one of the nation’s 29 largest transit agencies. The T spends more than twice as much as Minnea-polis-St. Paul Metro Transit, a bus system with almost identical characteristics, but suffers three times more major mechanical system failures. (read article)

Why unions are turning on Obamacare
By Ned Resnikoff, August 5, 2013, MSNBC
“Repeal and replace” is the Grand Old Party’s oft-repeated mantra regarding Obamacare, which House Republicans voted to repeal for the 40th time on Friday. But in April, an organization in the president’s base echoed the refrain. On April 24, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers released a statement demanding “repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act.” While no other union has yet called for an outright repeal of the health care law, a growing number of them argue that serious reform is needed. “We continue to stand behind real health care reform, but the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions,” wrote the presidents of three major labor unions in a July letter to Congressional Democratic leadership. The subsequent three and a half weeks have not assuaged their fears. “There are members of Congress who have met with us who have been somewhat responsive and concerned about the situation,” said a spokesperson for the hospitality union UNITE HERE, whose president signed the letter. “But there’s been no action addressing our concerns from the administration.” So what has labor unions so worried about the Affordable Care Act? A few things: (1) The “Cadillac” tax. Obamacare includes a 40% tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans, meaning health insurance plans that cost more than $10,200 per year for individuals or $27,500 for families. Over the next few years, the price of many public employee health care plans could rise to meet that threshold, according to an article in Monday’s New York Times. The tax doesn’t kick in until 2018, but when it does, municipal governments and school districts across the country would have to foot the bill. As a result, many of them are already trying to negotiate significant employee health insurance cuts with their unions. (2) No subsidies for Taft-Hartley health insurance plans. About 20 million Americans are enrolled in health insurance plans known as “Taft-Hartley plans,” after the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. These plans, which are managed by both employers and employee unions, are not eligible for Obamacare subsidies. However, they will be taxed at the same rate as other insurance plans which do receive subsidies. (read article)

L.A. teachers union urged to improve training for bad teachers
By Teresa Watanabe, August 4, 2013, Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles teachers union must combat public perceptions that it protects bad teachers and should help them improve with better training, a city school board member told union activists in a wide-ranging speech Sunday. Monica Ratliff, a fifth-grade teacher who pulled off an upset win in May for the Los Angeles Board of Education, told more than 400 leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles that the public likes teachers but distrusts labor unions. “People have a fair amount of affection for teachers,” said Ratliff, who drew a standing ovation of cheers and chants. “People have a fair amount of distrust of labor. … If we don’t recognize it, it will be our undoing.” She also said union members should be more active in lobbying the state Legislature for such changes as keeping teacher performance ratings confidential — an L.A. Superior Court judge ruled last week that those ratings should be released to The Times. And Ratliff urged teachers to better spotlight their “wonderful work” by offering school visits to board members and others. Ratliff unexpectedly defeated Antonio Sanchez, a candidate with much more campaign funding and with backing from former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. But she also triumphed without financial assistance from UTLA, which endorsed both candidates. During the UTLA-hosted weekend of workshops, speakers and political campaigning for new union officers at a Los Angeles hotel, several teachers said their morale was low and anxieties high. The weekend’s events were attended by mostly activist teachers who represent the union on their school campuses. Despite some victories this year — passage of a state ballot measure for more school funding and a revamped L.A. school board that the union perceives as more “teacher-friendly” — many instructors said they felt beaten down by large classes, staff cutbacks, rising teacher dismissals and public disrespect. They also expressed frustration over escalating job demands to raise student test scores, serve breakfast in the classroom and submit to a new teacher evaluation system that many complained they had no voice in shaping. (read article)

Health Care Law Raises Pressure on Public Unions
By Kate Taylor, August 4, 2013, New York Times
Cities and towns across the country are pushing municipal unions to accept cheaper health benefits in anticipation of a component of the Affordable Care Act that will tax expensive plans starting in 2018. The so-called Cadillac tax was inserted into the Affordable Care Act at the advice of economists who argued that expensive health insurance with the employee bearing little cost made people insensitive to the cost of care. In public employment, though, where benefits are arrived at through bargaining with powerful unions, switching to cheaper plans will not be easy. Cities including New York and Boston, and school districts from Westchester County, N.Y., to Orange County, Calif., are warning unions that if they cannot figure out how to rein in health care costs now, the price when the tax goes into effect will be steep, threatening raises and even jobs. “Every municipality with a generous health care plan is doing the math on this,” said J. D. Piro, a health care lawyer at a human resources consultancy, Aon Hewitt. But some prominent liberals express frustration at seeing the tax used against unions in negotiations. “I think it was misguided all along,” Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary, said in an e-mail. When the law was being written, he said, he worried that the tax was “a blunt instrument that could too easily become a bargaining chit for cutting back benefits of workers.” (read article)

Campaign finance law may limit contributions from trade unions
By Chris Mckenna, August 3, 2013, Times Herald-Record
The campaign finance law awaiting action by the Orange County Legislature was written primarily to limit donations from companies seeking county contracts, but it also might restrict contributions from another deep-pocketed source: building trade unions. The proposal would let donors give no more than $250 a year to a county candidate if they later pursue a contract that person signs or enables by voting. Contributors who have given more would be ineligible to do business with the county unless the officeholder returns the excessive amount. Republican Legislator Mike Anagnostakis proposed the limit to stamp out real or perceived influence-buying by professional firms employed by the county, which make up six of County Executive Ed Diana’s 10 biggest campaign contributors since 2006, according to a Times Herald-Record analysis of campaign finance records.But since the law pertains to any contract holders, it also could rein in donations from trade unions that sign project-labor agreements for county construction projects. Collectively, those groups and their umbrella organization — the Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council — have given Diana $65,800 in the past seven years, far more than any single company. The limit also would bind the Civil Service Employees Association and other unions representing county employees, although those groups generally aren’t major contributors. Anagnostakis, whose proposal specified that unions were among the covered contributors, said Friday that capping donations from trade unions follows the same rationale as regulating contract-seeking businesses. (read article)

Labor continues to back Filner
By Mark Walker, August 3, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune
One day before Mayor Bob Filner begins a self-imposed, two-week behavioral rehab, his list of supporters has shrunk to just one major group — organized labor and its allies. Filner was swept into office last year largely thanks to efforts by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which contributed more than $2 million as well as shoe leather, phone banks and related efforts to get the city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades into office. Now, in the face near universal calls for his resignation after nine women have publicly accused him of unwanted sexual advances, the filing of a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by his former top communications aide and national ridicule directed at the 70-year-old mayor, labor is steadfastly refusing to call for him to leave. Tom Lemmon, head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, said labor stands by Filner’s plea to let “due process” play out. “It’s an awkward situation, but we have a lot invested in him,” said Lemmon, one of the few labor leaders who agreed to speak about the maelstrom confronting Filner. “We believe in due process, so let it take its course.” (read article)

New labor movement emerges in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin
By James Cersonsky, August 2, 2013, Salon
Two years ago, in one of the largest labor mobilizations in modern American history, as many as 100,000 Wisconsin residents surrounded and occupied the state capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights. The uprising reanimated the American labor movement and became the go-to image of domestic protest in the wake of the Great Recession — before Occupy Wall Street later that year. Shortly thereafter, of course, there would be a pretty big setback for the labor movement in Wisconsin. Walker would beat back a voter recall, and gain political strength within the national Republican Party for his efforts. Opponents of Walker’s move, called Act 10, had failed not only to out-maneuver the state’s Republican Legislature but also oust the governor. For organized labor, the effects were chilling. Act 10 requires public sector workers to vote whether to re-unionize every year, prevents unions from automatically collecting dues from members, and limits the scope of collective bargaining to wage increases. Most public sector unions lost between one-third and two-thirds of their members. The state’s largest unions, like the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the three councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, lost tens of thousands. Workers struggled to adapt to unilaterally imposed, constantly changing work rules. But now, two years later, resistance to the state’s crackdown on labor has spread beyond Madison. And once again, Wisconsin is ground zero for the future of the labor movement — the catalyst for a new, disassembled, fitting-and-starting labor movement. (read article)

How 40 Years of Union-Busting Has Failed America
By Matthew Yglesias, August 2, 2013, Slate
Henry Blodget says he hates labor unions, but unless companies start raising wages we’re going to need them. I would put this another way. If you turn back 30 or 40 years, the policy rationale for crushing labor union influence went something like this: In the short-term crushing private sector labor unions is going to lead to a surge in corporate profits, but profits are the fuel of investment and long-term economic growth. Companies with high profits have the capital necessary to invest. And the existence of large profit margins means there are profit opportunities to be exploited with new investment. It makes perfect sense. But it hasn’t happened, and profits have soared far in excess of investment. Which is to say that several decades into this experiment, we’re seeing much more of the “profits surge” than the “surging profits lead to an investment boom” dynamic. One explanation for this that’s growing in popularity on the right is that the rise of more capital-friendly politics in the mid-1970s coincidentally occurred at the exact same time as a structural slowdown in the rate of technological progress, so while it seems like anti-labor politics has failed to deliver the goods, it’s really all just a stroke of bad luck. (read article)

Labor union ‘raids’ on rise as rivals seek to boost membership, clout
By Alana Semuels, August 2, 2013, Los Angeles Times
In the face of a steadily declining labor movement, unions are increasingly battling one another, devoting resources to gaining members from rivals rather than focusing on the 88.2% of the workforce that is not unionized. Members are valuable to labor unions for the millions they pay in dues, as well as the clout that comes along with the potential votes members cast in U.S. elections. And right now, they may be especially vulnerable to promises from another union trying to win their allegiance. Union members are going to be angry at their leadership “in an environment in which there are givebacks, cutbacks, concessions in bargaining and the union movement is in retreat,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara. “And when that discontent happens, they may look around for another or a better union.” In the face of a steadily declining labor movement, unions are increasingly battling one another, devoting resources to gaining members from rivals rather than focusing on the 88.2% of the workforce that is not unionized. Recent “raids,” as they’re often called, have been especially big with tens of thousands of members at stake. They’ve become easier to carry off because many unions don’t just represent one profession anymore, and can rationalize expanding into rival turf. In California, 45,000 healthcare workers were recently wooed by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. They ultimately voted to stay with the Service Employees International Union. The Teamsters union is also going after US Airways mechanics who are members of the International Assn. of Machinists. In Vermont, home healthcare workers were going to choose in September between the SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees until the SEIU recently pulled out of the election. (read article)

Obamacare Opens For Business, Shuts Out Labor
Jenny Brown, August 1, 2013, Labor Notes
When the Obama administration announced July 2 that it would give a breather to employers affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), angry unionists noticed a pattern. Even before this delay, “every corporate interest that’s asked for regulatory relief has gotten it,” said Mark Dudzic, chair of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, “but the concerns of union plans have been overridden.” The requirement that employers provide health insurance or pay a fine will be postponed till January 2015 or later. “Looks like ordinary workers will be forced to pay for health insurance on the original schedule [starting January 2014], while big business is off the hook for at least a year,” said Chris Townsend, political director of the United Electrical Workers (UE). Justifying the delay, the Obama administration cited employers’ difficulties in reporting employee hours worked, pay, and their insurance offerings—all information needed to calculate whether a fine is due for not offering adequate insurance. The delay won’t be cheap. It means the government will forego $10 billion in employer payments for 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (read article)

Teamsters Ordered to Stop Picketing Funeral Homes
By Bill McMorris, August 1, 2013, FreeBeacon.com
A judge ordered one of Chicago’s most politically powerful labor unions to suspend picketing against 16 funeral homes last week after receiving reports that striking Teamsters had, among other things, disturbed a child’s funeral. SCI Illinois Services, Inc., one of the nation’s largest funeral home chains, asked a district court to intervene after striking funeral directors and drivers with Teamsters Local 727 allegedly harassed grieving families. “We are grateful that the court agreed to issue this temporary restraining order, and we are hopeful that it will help protect grieving families who are experiencing the most difficult times of their lives,” Larry Michael, managing director for SCI Illinois Services, Inc., said in a release. “While we recognize and respect the Teamsters’ right to lawfully picket, we have been shocked and saddened by their attempts to make grieving families the target of the cruel and outrageous attacks.” The company testified in its filing that union members blocked grieving family members from leaving its parking lot, used bullhorns to shout obscenities at workers and mourners, and unleashed a German Shepard on a dead woman’s daughter and husband. The funeral home was eventually forced to call the police when picketers allegedly disrupted a child’s funeral with laughter. The officer asked the Teamsters to leave, but protesters returned when he drove away. “We will be here for the visitation; we will be here for your funeral,” Teamster driver Lester Plewa allegedly shouted into a bullhorn as a funeral director met with a dying man planning his arrangements with family members. (read article)

Senate confirms all NLRB nominees
By Alan Fram, July 31, 2013, Albany Times-Union
The Senate voted Tuesday to fill all five seats on the National Labor Relations Board and prepared to consider President Barack Obama’s picks for top diplomatic and law enforcement posts as the chamber whittled down a pile of stalled nominations. Tuesday’s votes included the last of the seven nominees that were part of a bipartisan deal earlier this month in which some Republicans agreed to end stalling tactics. Democratic leaders hope to also push other nominations through the Senate before Congress begins its summer recess this weekend, but some face uncertain fates. Even so, that bipartisan agreement — which saw Democrats drop a threat to change Senate rules to weaken minority party clout — has let Obama fill some major gaps in his second-term administration. That deal and the momentum it has created has let him install leaders at agencies including the FBI, the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (read article)

Scott Walker: Wisconsin GOP Considering Expanding Anti-Union Restrictions To Police, Firefighters
By Ryan Rainey, July 31, 2013, The Huffington Post
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R ) said this week that state Republicans might expand the state’s controversial restrictions on collective bargaining to the two sectors spared from the new law more than two years ago. Wisconsin Public Radio reports that Walker commented during a town hall meeting Monday that Republicans in the state Legislature are open to expanding the restrictions to police officers and firefighters. He added that he had not made a proposal to further the restrictions. “There are some voices in the Legislature that talked about [expansion],” Walker said at the forum in Milwaukee, before defending his reforms. “Public employees across the state have seen that the fears that some of them projected just haven’t happened.” In 2011, Walker and Republicans in the Legislature made national headlines when they permanently eliminated collective bargaining rights — with an exception for wage inflation adjustments — for public-sector employees. Although first-responders were exempted from the law, they joined mass protests at the state Capitol in Madison in solidarity with other public employees. Mahlon Mitchell, the leader of the state’s firefighters union, ran for lieutenant governor against incumbent Rebecca Kleefisch in last year’s unsuccessful recall election. (read article)

Buono’s running mate comes out of powerhouse national union
By Mark J. Magyar, July 30, 2013, New Jersey Hills
Barbara Buono’s choice of Milly Silva to run for lieutenant governor adds a charismatic young Hispanic woman labor leader who shares her working class background to the Democratic ticket. And it potentially brings the nation’s fastest-growing and most politically aggressive union into the New Jersey race for governor. Silva serves as an executive vice president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, a 2.3-million-member union that pumped more than $100 million into Democratic campaigns in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. It played a major role in Barack Obama’s two presidential victories not only with its fundraising, but also by sending thousands of volunteers into key states. For Buono, who has struggled to raise the millions of dollars needed to cut into Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s substantial lead, SEIU’s political warchest and its proven ability to mobilize volunteers could potentially get the Democratic hopeful back in the game. That is, if the national union decides to make a major effort in what is one of only two governor’s races in the nation this year. But Silva’s union is also one of the most controversial in the country. SEIU President Andrew Stern split the labor movement in 2005 when he led seven large unions out of the national AFL-CIO to create the Change to Win coalition, arguing that the shrinking labor movement wasn’t putting enough money and effort into organizing low-wage service employees, especially women, minorities, and immigrants. (read article)

Federal Workers Got $155M in Tax Dollars to Work for Labor Unions
By Alissa Tabirian, July 30, 2013, CNS News
Federal employees were paid more than $155 million of taxpayer dollars in 2011 for spending more than 3.4 million hours of “official time” on labor union activities that fell outside their assigned government duties, according to a survey by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). “Voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents, to represent the union in representational matters such as collective bargaining and grievances,” the OPM stated. But these “volunteers” were doing their union work on government time. The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs “have hundreds of employees on their payroll that do nothing but full-time union work paid for by taxpayer dollars,” declared Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) after introducing The Federal Employee Accountability Act (S.1312) earlier this month to repeal most “official time off,” which Coburn called “a grievous violation of the public’s trust.” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) has introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 107) that would repeal “official time” provisions except in cases where an agreement is reached for “necessary activities.” (read article)

 

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