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.

White House Considers Awarding Obamacare Subsidies, Intended For The Uninsured, To Labor Unions
By Avik Roy, September 2, 2013, Forbes
Now, according to Rachana Dixit of InsideHealthPolicy, the administration is “working on regulations to address the issue” that people covered under Taft-Hartley plans aren’t eligible for subsidies. But it’s not an “issue” in the sense of being a glitch or a mistake; union leaders are seeking special treatment, and additional taxpayer subsidies, that other participants in employer-sponsored coverage don’t get. If, suddenly, the 20 million people on Taft-Hartley plans were eligible for subsidies, Obamacare’s costs would skyrocket. If half of those Taft-Hartley enrollees gained $5,000 per year in tax credits along with their tax-free health benefits, we’re talking $50 billion a year in additional insurance subsidies for those individuals. That’s more than half a trillion dollars over ten years, accounting for health inflation. (read article)

Oregon unions address challenges on Labor Day
September 2, 2013, KGW Oregon
Union members from around Oregon attended a special Labor Day event at Oaks Park Monday to show thanks and let everyone know why unions matter. Oregon is a very strong union state. Last year union membership accounted for nearly 16 percent of workers in Oregon, or about 240,000 people. Across the nation, union memberships account for 11.3 percent of workers. Oregon union leaders said their members face major challenges in fighting for higher wages and benefits in a recovering economy. “For the first time in six years because I got a great contract, I am going to be brought up to a living wage,” said Laurann Kealiher, with Local 503, SEIU. “It’s about jobs, it’s about competition of low wage workers overseas, it’s about bringing jobs back, it’s about training,” said Tom Leedham, Sec. Treasurer for Teamsters 206. Union leaders said a big focus now has been working to bring back the middle class and showing strength in numbers. (read article)

New York’s Next Mayor Faces Union Showdown
By Andrew Grossman, September 2, 2013, Wall Street Journal
The city’s next mayor will face the biggest showdown with labor unions since New York’s brush with bankruptcy in the 1970s, giving voters this fall a chance to shape the city’s financial health for years to come. New York’s 152 employee-bargaining units—representing the equivalent of almost 300,000 full-time workers—have been working under expired contracts for up to six years, unable to reach agreements with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his negotiators. The unions, whose members include teachers, firefighters and police, among others, hope the next mayor will offer a deal more to their liking. The lack of progress on contracts is a significant piece of unfinished business left by Mr. Bloomberg, whose reshaping of New York during his 12 years in City Hall is evident everywhere from the retooling of city streets to add bike lanes and seating areas to the banning of cigarettes in bars and restaurants. Just as some of the initiatives of the billionaire Republican-turned-independent leader were copied elsewhere, how the new mayor navigates the complex union negotiations has implications not only for the nation’s most populous city, but for state and local governments around the country. (read article)

The state of the union is weak: Young Americans are not joining unions anymore
By Vickie Elmer, September 1, 2013, Quartz
Overall union membership is declining, too. The number of young Americans in unions is declining at twice the rate of all other workers. Union members ages 16 to 24 fell 26% from 2002 to 2012, compared to an 11% overall decline in union membership, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data. How to reconcile these statistics with the seemingly youthful look of protest movements, such as the recent fast-food strikes and Occupy Wall Street? One reason, of course, has been the tough economy, which forced younger workers to take jobs as baristas or go to graduate school or leap into self-employment and startups. “Unfortunately young people have been hit really hard by the struggling economy and are still unemployed in large numbers and creating good jobs for them is a key part of the strategy,” says Amaya Tune-Smith, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the US. Indeed, the federation has been trying to recruit younger workers, such as targeting younger workers who work as teaching assistants or for retailers including H&M. Plus the organization is working with worker groups to raise the minimum wage for servers and bartenders, Tune-Smith said. But the sectors that are most likely to be unionized—government workers, teachers and library jobs—may not appeal to 20-somethings. Young workers are more likely to land a job in technology or with a smaller company or in retail and restaurants, none of which has many unions, says Michelle Kaminski, an associate professor at Michigan State University who teaches labor courses. (read article)

New economy, new labor movement: Declining wages, benefits stir dismantled unions
By Dustin Walsh, September 1, 2013, Crain’s Detroit Business
In Southeast Michigan, big labor isn’t so big anymore. Membership is down and Michigan’s recent right-to-work law may challenge those numbers further. However, with Michigan’s hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, at the lowest rate in more than 30 years, a new labor movement is afoot. Local experts say there is an increase in protests and litigation — the unintended consequences of a dismantled union workforce. And it’s going to get worse. Nationally, unions lost nearly 400,000 members in 2012 alone, down to 11.3 percent of the workforce, or 6.6 percent of private-sector workers. In Michigan, union members accounted for 16.6 percent of workers, compared with 17.5 percent in 2011 and more than 25 percent in the 1980s and 1990s. David Hecker, executive vice president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan union, said Michigan is a war zone for worker’s rights, and it’s beyond just unionization. “We’ve lost some major battles, but the commitment that we’re going to win this war is so rock solid; more and more people are saying, ‘We’re not going to let them take away our voice at the workplace,’ ” Hecker said. “The system of fighting back is pervasive; it’s well beyond just the ranks of unionized labor.” Activism transformed? Roland Zullo, research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy, said Michigan, along with the rest of the country, is on the precipice of an unorganized, more activist workforce similar to that of the Great Depression. (read article)

San Diego Labor leaders vow to push forward post-Filner
By Aaron Burgin, September 2, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego’s labor leaders gathered at a Labor Day rally in Escondido Monday to say they will continue to push forward with reform efforts — including raising the state’s minimum wage — in the wake of resignation of Bob Filner, a longtime champion of their cause. The rally drew a number of the region’s pro-labor advocates including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the former secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council; her successor, Richard Barrera, who also serves on the San Diego Unified school board; and Escondido Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz, who is running for city mayor in 2014. While the focus of the rally was to praise labor unions for championing worker’s rights and supporting the city’s living wage ordinance, leaders said they didn’t want to see labor’s perceived momentum in San Diego halt with Filner’s fall from office. (read article)

Labor Day marchers rally for higher pay, cheer living-wage proposal
By Ashley Luthern, September 2, 2013, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The Milwaukee County Board will take up a living-wage ordinance this fall, a supervisor announced Monday to cheering crowds during a Labor Day rally in the city. Hundreds of people had marched to Zeidler Union Square to mark the holiday by advocating higher wages, comprehensive immigration reform and the right to unionize. At the rally that awaited them, Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen told the demonstrators that the living-wage ordinance to be considered by the board will be similar to one approved in Dane County. The proposal would apply to companies contracted by the county to employ service workers, including janitors and security staff, and would require those companies to meet a new wage standard based on federal poverty guidelines, Bowen said. Bowen was joined at the rally by Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and Supervisors Theodore Lipscomb Sr., Khalif Rainey and John Weishan Jr. “If you use public money, you should invest back into the community,” Bowen said. This summer, the county board tried to create a living-wage requirement for a proposed $18 million hotel at Wauwatosa’s Innovation Campus development — calling on the hotel to provide sick pay and wages of at least 125% of the poverty-level wage. (read article)

Big Labor, big spender
By Mark Mix, September 2, 2013, USA Today
$1.7 billion. That’s how much labor unions spent on the 2011-2012 election cycle, according to a new analysis from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research that tallies Federal Election Commission, IRS and state campaign finance reports and self-reported union disclosure forms from the Department of Labor. To put that in context: If Big Labor was running as a presidential candidate, he or she would have outspent the Obama campaign (the most expensive in history) more than two to one. In fact, the unions’ $1.7 billion political blitz is roughly equal to the combined spending of the Obama and Romney campaigns ($1.17 billion) and both national parties ($678 million) for the 2012 elections. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Labor unions have long been influential players in national politics, but over the past few years, their political spending has reached astronomical proportions. According to the Wall Street Journal, three of the five biggest spending groups in the 2010 midterms were labor unions. From 2005 to 2011, unions are estimated to have spent $4.4 billion on electioneering. (read article)

Among the poorest paid, a new labor revival
Ned Resnikoff, September 2, 2013, MSNBC
Movements don’t hold still; they either keep pushing forward or they decline. American labor has been doing the latter for the better part of a century. When organized labor peaked in the mid-fifties, roughly one-third of all American workers were union members. Now only 11.3% are enrolled in unions, including 6.6% of private sector employees. Should the trend of de-unionization continue, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether there will be any American labor movement to speak of in twenty years or so. But that may change. Over the past several months, a new kind of labor activism has emerged from some of America’s poorest-paying and least-unionized industries. Fast food workers have stood near the forefront of the movement, waging a nationwide strike campaign which began in December with about 200 New York-based fast food employees and now encompasses thousands of workers spread across 58 cities. The affected cities range from New York to Seattle, and from Detroit to Memphis. The strikers come from a variety of different backgrounds, but the majority of them are poor people of color, forced to scrape by on what they can earn from one or two low-wage jobs and a bit of public assistance. (read article)

NLRB fends for Big Labor, not the little guy
By Mark Mix, September 2, 2013, Washington Times
This Labor Day, Americans are starting to pay more attention to the National Labor Relations Board, the five member quasi-judicial agency that administers federal labor law — and for good reason. In recent years, President Obama’s nominees to the board have quietly but systematically reshaped American labor law with little accountability. Once Mr. Obama installed union lawyers to the NLRB via recess appointments, the board’s disregard for the rule of law and its agenda of putting union-boss priorities ahead of the rights of individual employees was soon apparent. One of those appointments was former Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO union lawyer Craig Becker, who received a recess-appointment despite a bipartisan Senate vote against moving his nomination forward. Mr. Becker had publicly stated that secret-ballot elections are “profoundly undemocratic.” With Mr. Becker on the board, the panel quickly went to work rolling back worker protections against coercive union organizing. The board overturned protections won by the National Right to Work Foundation in a case involving the Dana Corp., which gave workers subjected to a coercive union “card-check” organizing campaign a right to a secret-ballot election. As Mr. Becker’s term expired and the board lost its three-member quorum to operate, the panel pushed through new election rules without allowing one member to participate in the process. These new rules forced employers to hand over workers’ contact information to aggressive union organizers and dramatically reduced workers’ chances to learn about the pros and cons of unionization before they are required to vote. (read article)

Unions look to legal loopholes this Labor Day
By Richard Berman, September 2, 2013, Northwest Indiana Times
Organized labor kicked off its Labor Day festivities early this year, with a nationwide series of strikes at fast food outlets and retail stores on Thursday, including one in Chicago. But while these pickets and protests are being funded by labor unions and led by union organizers, the organizations taking credit for the strikes aren’t technically labor unions at all — they’re actually labor union front groups that are exempt from federal labor law. Welcome to the “worker center.” These clever organizations are the labor movement’s desperate attempt to stave off irrelevancy following decades of shriveling membership rolls, including last year’s loss of nearly 400,000 workers. Labor leaders have succeeded in portraying worker centers as non-union community groups that advocate for low-wage workers. Many of them are registered as charities, non-profits, and other tax-exempt entities. This legal loophole is the key to their existence: It frees them from many of the regulations established in both the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. But you wouldn’t know worker centers weren’t unions by looking at what they do. In practice, they organize paid pickets who protest and advocate in lockstep with their labor union parents for policies like living wage laws, mandatory paid leave, and more. In fact, the only major practical difference between worker centers and actual labor unions is that worker centers don’t “deal with” the employer through negotiations. Instead, they use professional union organizers to single out a select group of employees with grievances — sometimes no more than a few dozen — and then engage in nuisance “strikes” and make demands of the employer that would apply to the entire workforce. (read article)

The World’s Most Powerful Labor Unions
By Elias Groll, September 2, 2013, Foreign Policy
This Labor Day, America’s labor leaders find themselves in an unenviable position, with union membership plummeting to a 97-year low in 2012. Greater labor mobility, the flight of manufacturing jobs from the United States, and new state laws restricting the power of unions, among other factors, have combined to make the country’s labor movement a shadow of its former self. While recent actions such as coordinated strikes by fast-food workers have some analysts talking about labor staging a comeback, the numbers tell a different story. Elsewhere in the world, however, organized labor has managed to retain at least some of its clout. Here’s a tour of some of the world’s most powerful — though often embattled and controversial — labor unions. All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) Until it encountered the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, Walmart had a nearly unbroken record of killing worker unionization efforts. By 2006, however, Walmart gave in and permitted unions at all of its Chinese branches, which totaled 66 outlets (the big-box behemoth now has approximately 390 outlets in the country). With over 200 million members, the ACFTU is the world’s largest labor group, and its showdown with Walmart marked a watershed moment in the Chinese government’s relationship with foreign investors. (read article)

Labor Day parade brings out thousands of union workers
By Zlati Meyer, September 2, 2013, Detroit Free Press
Downtown Detroit was alive with swirling colors Monday morning — the purple of SEIU, the royal blue of the American Federation of Teachers, the pastel yellow of UAW Local 600, the light gray of Pipefitters Local 636, the red of the Michigan Letter Carriers, the orange of UAW Local 900. Thousands of people, most in matching union T-shirts, marched to the UAW-Ford National Programs Center on Jefferson Avenue in the annual Labor Day parade — this year tinged by the fact that less than a year ago, Michigan became a right-to-work state and that Detroit’s city unions and pensioners feel under attack in bankruptcy talks. Last year’s procession featured Vice President Joe Biden, and 2011 saw President Barack Obama join the festivities. This year’s national celebrity was Teamsters President James P. Hoffa; other speakers included UAW President Bob King; U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat; Democratic congressmen John Dingell of Dearborn and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township; Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mark Schauer and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, a Democratic candidate for Detroit mayor. “Labor Day in Detroit, is anything better than that?” Hoffa said. “We’re the conscience of America.” (read article)

Labor union frustration boils over with president on ObamaCare
By Kevin Bogardus, September 2, 2013, The Hill
Unions are frustrated the Obama administration hasn’t responded to their calls for changes to ObamaCare. Labor has watched with growing annoyance as the White House has backed ObamaCare changes in response to concerns from business groups, religious organizations and even lawmakers and their staffs. They say they don’t understand why their concerns so far have fallen of deaf ears. “We are disappointed that the nonprofit health plans offered by unions have not been given the same consideration as the Catholic Church, big business and Capitol Hill staffers,” Unite Here President D. Taylor told The Hill. It’s an issue that Obama may have to face when he speaks to the AFL-CIO convention a week after Labor Day. Most unions backed ObamaCare’s passage, but labor argues provisions in the law could cut employee hours, unfairly tax their plans and force workers off their union health plans into the law’s potentially more costly insurance exchanges. The central issue is union members, who are among the roughly 20 million people who use nonprofit multi-employer “Taft-Hartley” health plans. Unions want the administration to change ObamaCare so that those plans are treated as qualified health plans that can earn tax subsidies. (read article)

Embattled Utah labor unions score recent organizing successes
By Steven Oberbeck, September 2, 2013, The Salt Lake Tribune
Trent Webb has never been a member of a labor union, but when the six employees of his newly formed asphalt recycling company approached him earlier this year about organizing under the banner of the International Union of Operating Engineers, he didn’t stand in their way. For a small company such as Road Recycling, there are benefits to having a unionized workforce, he said. “A lot of people have told me I’m stupid,” Webb said. “But when I looked at the numbers, the cost differential [between operating with a union versus a nonunion workforce] wasn’t that much. And it is a way to provide my employees with health insurance and pension benefits — issues the union has to deal with now and I don’t.” Although the organizing effort at the Utah-based Road Recycling was amicable, it was the exception rather than the rule in the state. Labor unions in Utah have been under siege for years with business owners and corporate operators often resisting efforts by their employees to form unions, fearing that an organized labor force will cut into their profits and give the workers too much say in their operations. The result: Utah workers covered by collective bargaining agreements steadily eroded from 6.2 percent a little more than a decade ago to just 5.2 percent today. (read article)

Labor Union Membership Still Down on Another Labor Day
By Dave Franzman, September 2, 2013, KCRG Iowa
Labor unions across Iowa celebrated the holiday created to honor workers on Labor Day. But another Labor Day in Iowa also brought more statistics showing unions are still losing members. U.S. Labor Department statistics show 11.2% percent of U.S. workers belonged to unions in 2012. That figure was 20% just 30 years ago. In Iowa, the numbers are a bit lower. One in ten Iowa workers belongs to a union in the most recent year compared to one in six in 1983. It was hard to see specific evidence of the decline at the Hawkeye Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Picnic at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Monday. The turnout, 1,500 to 1,700 union members, retirees and families, was about the same as past years. Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Labor Council, said part of the continuing decline in membership may be simply unions are a victim of their own success. Many original union issues like the eight hour day, 40-hour workweek and overtime pay are the norm for all workers, unionized or not. “That’s what really brought on the labor movement when labor was at its peak. And we think some of those kinds of issues will come back. We’re seeing a lot of those things happening all over the United States again,” Moyle said. (read article)

San Joaquin Valley union members celebrate victories on Labor Day
By Barbara Anderson, September 2, 2013, The Fresno Bee
Union members were in a spirited mood as they sat down Monday for pancakes and sausage on Labor Day at the Fresno Fairgrounds. They had reason for celebration — the June defeat of Measure G to outsource garbage collection in Fresno remained fresh on many minds, and on many backs of people wearing “No on G” T-shirts. The outsourcing fight “ignited the passions in people and showed if we work together that we can be successful,” said Randy Ghan, executive secretary-treasurer of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council. Proposition 30 approved by voters in November to put tax hikes on the wealthy, also gave rise to the upbeat mood at the annual breakfast sponsored by the Labor Council. Ghan estimated between 600 and 700 people in attendance, about the same as last year. Union members and their families came with appetites. By 8:30 a.m., almost half of the 30 gallons of pancake batter was gone. This year’s breakfast had a family focus, Ghan said. “We’re trying make it fun for families and heighten the awareness about the larger union family.” (read article)

Martin J. Walsh basks in union support at Labor Day breakfast
By Max Stout, September 2, 2013, Boston Herald
The city’s annual Labor Day breakfast— which for years has drawn senators and congressmen to address the union workers who helped put them in office — doubled today as a campaign rally for mayoral candidate Martin J. Walsh, a self-proclaimed “son of labor” who headlined the event and drew standing ovations from the crowd. Even with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey rallying the scores of supporters with separate speeches, Walsh — a state rep — owned the Park Plaza Boston ballroom, whose walls and stage were plastered with campaign signs touting the Dorchester Democrat as the Greater Boston Labor Council’s pick for City Hall. The crowd welcomed him with chants of “Mart-y! Mart-y!” and twice stood to cheer for him — even as some of his mayoral race rivals worked the room or made brief appearances, including Felix Arroyo, Charlotte Golar Richie, Rob Consalvo, Michael Ross, John Barros and Charles Yancey. “I am running for mayor because my life is a story made possible by this city,” Walsh told the crowd, later adding that while he embraces union support, he isn’t beholden to it. “I can and I will represent all the people of this city to the utmost of my ability, with fear or favor for none and with fairness for all,” Walsh said. “I am a son of labor, but I am a man of principle and courage, ready to work with anybody who wants to move our city forward and willing to stand up to anyone who gets in the way.” (read article)

Why Organized Labor Is Organizing Against Obamacare
By Eric Pianin, August 30, 2013, The Fiscal Times
Now look who’s making a fuss about Obamacare. President Obama has had his hands full fending off Republican assaults against Obamacare. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and a handful of other GOP lawmakers even favor shutting down the government, if necessary, to prevent the new law from fully taking effect. But Obama is also getting blasted these days from an unexpected quarter: Major labor groups instrumental in helping the president win a critical second term are charging that Obamacare is undercutting existing union-sponsored health insurance programs and even encouraging employers to cut workers’ hours. This is the latest bizarre wrinkle in the unfolding political drama over Obama’s signature program for extending health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. Last month, leaders of three of the largest labor unions sent a scathing letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), warning that if the problems with the insurance program are not addressed, the new health care law will “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.” (read article)

 

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