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’s anti-Snyder campaign makes case for right to work
By Henry Payne, August 20, 2013, Detroit News
Last week, the AFL-CIO announced that it was targeting the re-election of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (and five other Republican governors) because of his support of allegedly anti-worker initiatives, such as right-to-work legislation. But in its partisan broadside, the Big Labor lobby only proved why right to work — which allows employees in a union shop the choice of whether to pay dues — benefits Michigan workers who are opposed to their paychecks being diverted to partisan electioneering. “Many AFL-CIO rank and file members in those six states approve of the job being done by those governors, yet their union will use those workers’ dues to engage in an extremely partisan fight not supported by those workers,” says Terry Bowman, a United Autoworkers Union member and founder of Union Conservatives, a non-profit organization opposed to Big Labor’s one-party agenda. The political record of Big Labor indicates that union leadership is more concerned with Democratic Party politics than with the needs of its rank and file. (read article)

EDITORIAL: Doubling the minimum wage makes an unhappy meal
Editorial, August 20, 2013, Washington Times
It’s an idea that’s a few onion rings short of a happy meal, but it’s a whopper of a scheme from organized labor in its latest attempt to iron out the kinks in the union label. The Service Employees International Union has joined the usual coterie of community agitators to unionize employees of fast-food restaurants. For the past few months, union-backed fast-food workers have been staging what they call “impromptu” (albeit highly orchestrated) wildcat strikes for higher wages, mostly in New York and other big cities. The same labor chiefs who have been dismissive of the fast-food sector as “burger-flipping jobs” now want to organize what the Labor Union Report blog calls the “french-frying proletariat.” Big Labor is looking to the lowly burger bourgeoisie to reverse a decades-long slide in union membership to just 7 million members, or 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce, according to 2012 Labor Department figures. (read article)

Standing Up to Anti-Union Democrats
By Shamus Cooke, August 20, 2013, CounterPunch
After years of painful backsliding, the state workers of Oregon’s largest union, SEIU 503, recently stood firm and scored a big win in their contract negotiations against the state’s anti-union Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber. After again demanding many anti-union concessions, Oregon’s Democratic governor backed down when the union proved organized and ready to wage a statewide strike, which would have shut down many state-run agencies, including highway repair, Department of Motor Vehicles, Parks and Recreation, food stamps, the Employment Department, Child Welfare, Department of Revenue, and others. SEIU 503 is a union of 50,000 plus members, the core of which consists of Oregon public employees. On paper the union looked impressive after having expanded its membership in mostly non-public areas, including private home-health care. But the union’s power had been hollowed out in preceding years, due to successive Democratic governors demanding concessionary contracts from the state workers, who pay most of the union’s dues while having the most cohesive work units and political power. SEIU 503 had suffered from a disease that— if left untreated— was potentially fatal: concessionary bargaining. (read article)

DWP pay loaded with bonuses, premiums
By Rick Orlov, August 19. Los Angeles Daily News
Department of Water and Power workers are paid bonuses for being part of car pools, riding a bicycle to work and for operating the heavy-duty equipment for which they were hired, according to a review of reports released recently by City Controller Ron Galperin. Those are among the more than 600 work rules that govern the DWP and add to its costs of operations now subject to review. Mayor Eric Garcetti is holding up a proposed DWP four-year contract in part to scale back some of those extra pay perks. Other premiums are offered for working odd shifts, using specialized equipment or working in difficult locations such as tunnels. Other costs such as sick time and the way the department contracts out some work are being scaled back in the proposed contract, where workers will need a doctor’s note after three days of illness and reducing the amounts paid to bring in private workers. In releasing the information, Galperin did not make any recommendations for change. (read article)

Detroit union files challenge to city’s bankruptcy petition
By Joseph Lichterman and Bernie Woodall, August 19, 2013, Reuters
One of Detroit’s biggest public labor unions on Monday became the first major party to file an objection to the city’s bankruptcy filing ahead of a midnight deadline for challenges. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 said Detroit, which last month filed for what would be the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy, has not proven it is insolvent and has not negotiated in good faith with its creditors. In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit, the union said it was also challenging the constitutionality of Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, which governs municipal bankruptcies, arguing that it encroaches on states’ rights. The union also said Michigan’s emergency manager law, which enabled Detroit to file for bankruptcy on July 18, violates the state constitution because the law does not explicitly protect retirement benefits for public workers. With the clock ticking toward the deadline set by U.S. Judge Steven Rhodes, who is overseeing Detroit’s case, objections were expected to be filed by a range of creditors, including the city’s public-employee pension funds, bondholders, bond insurers, vendors, retirees and possibly hundreds of smaller parties. For Detroit’s Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy to proceed, Rhodes must first find that the city has proven it is insolvent and negotiated in good faith with its creditors, or that there were too many creditors to make negotiations feasible. In a court filing earlier this month, Detroit released a list of creditors, including current, former and retired workers, that filled 3,504 pages. (read article)

Fast-food workers call for a nationwide strike before Labor Day
By Erica Pearson, August 19, 2013, New York Daily News
Employees in eight cities, including New York, are planning a major walkout of restaurants like KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s on Thursday, August 29th. As Labor Day approaches, fast-food workers are stepping up their demands for better wages and calling for a nationwide strike next week. Workers in eight cities, including New York, are planning a major walkout on Thursday, Aug. 29. The move is part of a growing campaign by disgruntled employees from companies including KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union. The movement is backed by the Service Employees International Union and other labor and religious groups. (read article)

Union leaders’ salaries stay high even in hard times
By Andrew Doughman, August 19, 2013, Las Vegas Sun
Las Vegas labor union leaders can tell you the past few years have been pretty lean. It’s no secret that workers haven’t fared well in the milieu of foreclosures, layoffs and wage stagnation associated with the unemployment capital of America. So when union members gather this week for the annual state AFL-CIO convention at the Excalibur, many will arrive representing institutions that have lost money during the past few years. But while it might not be great to be a union laborer, it’s still good to represent union laborers. Many local union executives have gotten pay raises and others have maintained six-figure salaries as membership dues collections have either stalled or declined among local union chapters, according to local unions’ annual public tax documents filed between 2009 and 2012. Most local union executives in the building trades — a hard-hit sector of the economy — make more than $100,000 a year representing member workers. Masons, carpenters, glaziers, painters, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians and other skilled laborers earn in the range of $40,000 to $60,000 a year, according to state wage data. (read article)

Jerry Brown, California state doctors’ union reach labor pact
By Jon Ortiz, August 19, 2013, Sacramento Bee
The Union of American Physicians and Dentists has come to tentative terms on a labor contract that includes raises ranging between 4 percent and 8 percent within three years. The agreement negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Human Resources covers roughly 1,500 employees. Like contracts other unions have bargained in the last several weeks, the timing of the pay increases depends on state revenue projections. If the numbers look good, the raises will be spread over the the last two years of the deal, 2014-15 and 2015-16. If the administration anticipates revenues will slump next year, the pay increases will be delayed and lumped together in 2015-16. The administration estimates that the agreement adds a total $28.9 million in salary expenses. Some medical consultants and public health medical officers are in line to receive a total 5 percent raise, and a few subsets of doctors and surgeons will receive a total 8 percent hike. All other UAPD-covered employees will get a total 4 percent raise within three years. (read article)

Labor Department Meddles in California Transit Dispute
by Ivan Osorio, August 19, 2013, Open Market
California public transit unions seem to have found a new, powerful bargaining tactic: If you don’t get your way in the legislature, threaten your state’s transportation funding. And it helps to have the administration in Washington on your side. California’s government and unions representing the state’s public transit workers are still negotiating, past the August 16 deadline imposed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for the state to give in to the unions’ demand to exempt transit workers from the state’s 2012 pension reform law or lose up to $1.6 billion in federal transportation funding. After Governor Jerry Brown signed the pension reform into law last fall, the Teamsters and Amalgamated Transit Union filed complaints with the Labor Department, citing a provision in the Federal Transit Act that allows DOL to hold up federal transportation funds if states interfere with public transit workers’ ability to bargain collectively with their employers (transit authorities). California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern defended the state’s pension reform law in February, saying that it doesn’t weaken collective bargaining and “merely modifies” the retirement plans that public employers can offer. (read article)

Union Leaders Not Taking Pay Cuts Even in Hard Times
August 19, 2013, Hispanic Business
Las Vegas labor union leaders can tell you the past few years have been pretty lean. It’s no secret that workers haven’t fared well in the milieu of foreclosures, layoffs and wage stagnation associated with the unemployment capital of America. So when union members gather this week for the annual state AFL-CIO convention at the Excalibur, many will arrive representing institutions that have lost money during the past few years. But while it might not be great to be a union laborer, it’s still good to represent union laborers. Many local union executives have gotten pay raises and others have maintained six-figure salaries as membership dues collections have either stalled or declined among local union chapters, according to local unions’ annual public tax documents filed between 2009 and 2012. Most local union executives in the building trades — a hard-hit sector of the economy — make more than $100,000 a year representing member workers. Masons, carpenters, glaziers, painters, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians and other skilled laborers earn in the range of $40,000 to $60,000 a year, according to state wage data. Meanwhile, real earnings have stagnated, economic projections remain flat and unemployment remains high. But economists say the six-figure salaries aren’t out of place, even in a hard-hit city like Las Vegas. “It’s not unusual to see six-figure salaries for union executives,” said Stephen Brown, a professor of economics and director at UNLV’s Lee Business School Center for Business and Economic Research. (read article)

Bus drivers reject labor deal that averted San Francisco-area strike
By Jonathan Kaminsky, August 18, 2013, Reuters
Bus drivers who threatened to strike a key San Francisco-area transit system earlier this month have voted to reject a tentative contract deal and to send labor negotiators back to the bargaining table, their union said on Sunday. The tentative accord had been reached on August 6, averting a walkout planned for the next day by 1,800 drivers and other workers against the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Agency, which serves Oakland and Berkeley and links those areas with downtown San Francisco. But rank-and-file members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 voted overwhelmingly on Saturday, 576-257, against ratification of the settlement, the union said in a statement. “Our members spoke out, loud and clear,” said Yvonne Williams, union local president and business agent. (read article)

Wisconsin labor leader Marty Beil calls on union members to join Solidarity Sing Along
By Judith Davidoff, August 18, 2013, The Daily Page
Attendance has grown at the Solidarity Sing Along due to the recent Capitol Police crackdown on protesters. But the crowds are still small compared to those that swelled downtown in spring 2011 after Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to eliminate collective bargaining for most public workers. That might be about to change. Marty Beil, who leads the largest public employee union in Wisconsin, has issued a call to union members to attend the noontime sing-alongs, which are held weekdays at the Capitol. “Over the last three weeks the Capitol Police have arrested over 200 singers… but the noon-hour protest continues,” Beil wrote on his Facebook page. “These brave women and men sing songs of solidarity and collective action. Songs of unions and protest. They have become part of our history. They have assembled every day since March of 2011. It’s time for union members and leaders, public and private sector, to join in and vocally and visibly speak out. It’s time for union shirts and union songs.” Beil, executive director of AFSCME 24, wrote the post after returning from the Thursday sing-along in the Capitol Rotunda, where Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, Madison Ald. Mark Clear, a 14-year-old girl and three members of the Raging Grannies were arrested. Beil noted how the sing-along has endured even as the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker has office has been able to systematically dominate policy-making. “This daily reminder to Walker is the only thing he and his right-wing cronies have not been able to crush,” Beil wrote. (read article)

With contract expired, Sacramento County, labor union still talking
By Brad Branan, August 17, 2013, Sacramento Bee
About 70 percent of Sacramento County’s 10,000 employees have been working without a labor agreement for almost seven weeks. The county and labor unions are discussing salary increases sought by employees, as well as who should pay for rising health care costs, according to leaders involved in contract talks. County negotiators started meeting with representatives of 23 unions and other employee associations in April and May. They were not able to reach agreements before their contracts expired on June 30. The county has been forced to make budget cuts the last five fiscal years and expects an essentially flat budget this year. Union representatives say they understand the county continues to face tight budgets, but contend that the administration’s bargaining tactics have made matters worse. Specifically, they blame Robert Bonner, who in February became the county’s labor relations manager. Bonner replaced Steve Keil. (read article)

Unions, federal labor board winners in court ruling on ‘micro’ bargaining units
August 17, 2013, FoxNews.com
A court ruling this week allowing unions to continue to form “micro” unions within a company is considered a win for organized labor and the Obama administration. The ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upholds a 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that states unions can choose to organize workers into smaller bargaining units, according The Wall Street Journal. In that particular case — known as Specialty Healthcare – the labor board sided with a union that wanted to organize a group of nursing assistants, despite the employer arguing that other nonprofessional employees should be included. The board stated the onus is on employers who think workers have been improperly excluded from the micro bargaining unit to prove those workers share an “overwhelming community of interest” with the included workers. Several labor experts called the ruling a big win for the NLRB and for unions and suggested the trend could continue. The board now has three Democratic members and two Republicans, after a long battle in Washington that ended last month over Senate Republicans holding up administration appointees to the board. The labor experts argue the board will be making similar rulings, which could give unions an unfair advantage by allowing them to create “micro units” of workers that would be easier to organize. (read article)

Unions Can Organize ‘Micro Units,’ Court Affirms
By Kris Maher and Melanie Trottman, August 16, 2013, Washington Wire
Organized labor scored a win this week, as an appeals court reaffirmed that unions can choose to organize smaller units of workers at an employer. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. In that case, known as Specialty Healthcare, the NLRB sided with a union that wanted to try to organize a group of nursing assistants, despite the employer’s argument that other nonprofessional employees should be included. The board said that if an employer thinks workers have been improperly excluded from a union-proposed bargaining unit, the onus is on the employer to show that those workers share an “overwhelming community of interest” with the included workers. The Sixth Circuit concluded the NLRB has “wide discretion” in determining which workers should be included in a bargaining unit. The court said it must uphold the board’s decision “unless the employer establishes that it is arbitrary, unreasonable or an abuse of discretion.” Several labor experts called the ruling a big win for the NLRB and for unions. Now that the board has three Democratic members and two Republicans, many employers expect it to issue similar rulings, which they argue could give unions an unfair advantage by allowing them to create “micro units” of workers it would be easier to organize. (read article)

Pension reform threatened by federal law
By Daniel Borenstein, August 16, 2013, Woodland Daily Democrat
Siding with transit worker unions, the Obama administration is threatening to derail Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempts to reform California’s public employee retirement systems. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez warned in a letter to Brown earlier this month that pension changes state lawmakers approved last year make California transit districts ineligible for federal transportation funds. Although the changes were designed to strengthen the state’s financially strapped retirement systems, Perez says they violate federal transportation funding requirements by hurting transit workers’ collective bargaining protections. It’s a mind-boggling misapplication of a law Congress passed in 1964 to ensure public transit agencies didn’t bust unions as they acquired financially troubled private transportation companies. Now, unless California lawmakers exempt transit workers from the pension changes, the feds could cut off up to $4.3 billion of transportation funding, according to an estimate by the California Transit Association. (read article)

Union Dispute Costing California Hundreds of Millions
By Bill McMorris, August 16, 2013, Washington Free Beacon
The federal government has withheld more than $500 million in funding to local California transportation agencies since January and could withhold $1.6 billion for the year as the result of a complaint filed by transit union members, losses that could cost the state tens of thousands of jobs. The U.S. Labor Department has forced the state to sit down with transit unions several times since California Gov. Jerry Brown passed modest retirement reforms in October 2012 to address a dire pension shortfall. California has less than half the money needed to cover the $520 billion retirement costs, according to some estimates. The $290 billion pension deficit is triple the $96 billion general fund budget passed this year. The governor’s office said that neither labor groups, nor the federal government has budged on the issue. “Thus far, California’s efforts to resolve this issue with the federal government have proved fruitless,” Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in a statement. “We are actively working on solutions to ensure the state’s economy isn’t damaged by this dispute.” (read article)

Military Managers and Federal Unions: Ten Things to Keep in Mind
by Bob Gilson, August 15, 2013, Fed Smith
So you’re a military manager responsible for supervising Federal civil service employees directly or indirectly. Let’s assume these employees are represented by a Federal sector union. This article will take you through the top ten concepts to consider in any dealings you have with these union representatives. (read article)

Big Labor’s Taxpayer-Funded Occupy Restaurant Squad
By John Hayward, August 14, 2013
Organized labor has been on a steep decline over the past few years, so they’ve hit on a new tactic for flexing union power: a group called the Restaurant Opportunity Center that uses Big Labor and Occupy Wall Street tactics to pressure restaurants into paying high wages. And guess what? You fund them. You don’t have a choice. Watchdog.org has a report on this new leftist parasite: Using a combination of federal grants and grants from left-leaning organizations, the Restaurant Opportunity Center, or ROC, is technically a charitable nonprofit and not a union. But their pro-worker messages, anti-employer protests and self-proclaimed goal of organizing service sector employees for the purposes of negotiating higher wages make ROC look and sound much like a labor union. Some see their tactics as a deliberate attempt to skirt the nation’s labor laws. Only unions elected by a majority of a workplace can negotiate with employers on workers’ behalf, though ROC seems to be doing so in the absence of any election. But others, including the head of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for dozens of labor unions, see ROC and groups like them as the new face of labor organizing in America. Who needs elections? You’ll be told what you want, and then professionally-organized agitators will demand it for you, funded by a raid on the taxpayers. According to Watchdog.org, the ROC sucked down $240,000 in federal grants in 2010 and 2011. That’s only about 5 percent of their funding; the rest comes from lefty think-tanks like the Tides Foundation. Which also get federal taxpayer subsidies. (read article)

Boston electrical union demanding Obama agree to exclusively use organized labor to build new FBI facility in Chelsea
By Robert Rizzuto, August 14, 2013, Massachusetts Live
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 based in Dorchester are planning on using President Barack Obama’s family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard as an opportunity to get the commander in chief’s attention about a local labor issue. The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that union members want Obama to enter an agreement that the new 220,000 square feet FBI facility expected to open in Chelsea by 2015 be built entirely by organized labor members in exchange for their promise not to disrupt construction of the facility. The relocation efforts are expected to bring hundreds of new, permanent jobs to the Boston suburb. “We just can’t seem to get anybody’s attention over this massive FBI building that’s being proposed in Chelsea. [Obama] has people who can deal with this,” Michael Monahan, the union’s business manager told the Boston Globe. (read article)

New face of labor organizing, using tax dollars
by Eric Boehm, August 13, 2013, Watchdog.org
Labor activists using tactics adopted from the Occupy Wall Street movement are crashing restaurants across the nation in an effort to raise wages for workers – and they’re getting taxpayer money to fund the effort. Using a combination of federal grants and grants from left-leaning organizations, the Restaurant Opportunity Center, or ROC, is technically a charitable nonprofit and not a union. But their pro-worker messages, anti-employer protests and self-proclaimed goal of organizing service sector employees for the purposes of negotiating higher wages make ROC look and sound much like a labor union. Some see their tactics as a deliberate attempt to skirt the nation’s labor laws. Only unions elected by a majority of a workplace can negotiate with employers on workers’ behalf, though ROC seems to be doing so in the absence of any election. But others, including the head of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for dozens of labor unions, see ROC and groups like them as the new face of labor organizing in America. While the Restaurant Opportunity Center is working to increase wages for some workers, they are getting paid, in part, with federal tax dollars. According to tax filings for ROC United, the parent organization that has launched the smaller chapters operating in many cities, the group got $180,000 in government grants during 2010 and another $60,000 in similar grants during 2011. The organization’s budget was about $1.72 million in 2010 and $2.65 million in 2011 – meaning taxpayer dollars accounted for a little more than 5 percent of their operating costs. (read article)

 

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