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.

Thousands of LA County Workers Assemble in Walkout
By Renee Schiavone, October 1, 2013, Claremont-LaVerne Patch
Roughly 2,000 union members assembled on Grand Avenue Tuesday to push for what they say is a fair shake from Los Angeles County, while the county’s chief executive said it was offering a 6 percent wage increase over three years. Police officers along the march route said they expected 3,000-5,000 people to join the rally and march through downtown to the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. A band played Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the back of a truck as labor leaders prompted the purple- shirted crowd in a call and response: “They say cut back,” “We say fight back.” “We’ve brought thoughtful proposals that would benefit Angelenos of all stripes to the bargaining table,” said David Green, a children’s social worker and treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 721. “The county has been ignoring the needs of L.A. residents by dragging its heels and failing to negotiate seriously.” But a county spokesman said a proposal is already on the table offering a 2 percent wage increase this month, 2 percent next October and 2 percent in April 2015, a deal similar to one tentatively accepted by 21 of 28 non-public safety unions. “What we have on the table is a conservative, financially viable salary increase,” said county spokesman David Sommers. (read article)

Union calls for fed workers to ‘fight back’ against shutdown
By Joe Davidson, October 1, 2013, Washington Post
A labor leader representing federal employees is exhorting them to “take to the streets” to protest a partial government shutdown that began Tuesday. The inability of Congress to reach agreement on a temporary budget funding measure means some federal services will close and many federal employees will be sent home without pay. The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE) “urges all Federal workers to join with our Sisters and Brothers throughout the labor community in fighting back. Since the House of Representatives is kicking you out the door, you should take to the streets, let your voices be heard, and remind them that ultimately it is you who will decide their fate, not the other way around,” said Gregory Junemann, the union president.
Junemann placed the blame for the shutdown squarely on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his Republican caucus. Junemann said workers can “fight back by participating in informational pickets” at federal facilities. (read article)

Schauer endorsed by Michigan’s largest teachers union in governor race
By Chad Livengood, October 1, 2013, Detroit News
The state’s largest teachers union threw its support and political muscle Tuesdaybehind Mark Schauer’s campaign for governor. The Michigan Education Association’s backing of Schauer marks the first major labor union endorsement the Battle Creek Democrat has picked up in his race to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder next year. “We see him as somebody who will stand up not only for public education but the people who provide public education in a way that Gov. Snyder never has and probably never will,” MEA President Steve Cook said Monday in an interview. Schauer announced the endorsement Tuesday afternoon at an event with union leaders at a Lansing elementary school. The MEA, a 150,000-member labor union closely aligned with the Democratic Party, was widely expected to endorse the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate because of Snyder’s signature of laws reining in union power in the classroom and cuts to K-12 per-pupil funding implemented during his first year in office. (read article)

VW’s top labor leader to meet Tennessee workers, report says
Reuters, October 1, 2013, Automotive News
Volkswagen AG’s most influential labor leader will meet with workers at the German automaker’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of the UAW representing them, several sources told Reuters. Bernd Osterloh, head of the automaker’s global works council, will participate in a dialogue about the possible establishment of a German-styled works council at the plant, said the sources, who asked not to be identified. Volkswagen has said it is in talks with the UAW to establish a works council at the plant. U.S. labor law requires that any such works council be recognized through a U.S. trade union. Should the UAW prove successful in its effort to represent the VW workers, it would be a toehold in organizing foreign-owned automakers in the South. The sources said that there was no mention of the UAW being a part of the meeting with workers, but Volkswagen and IG Metall representatives will attend. (read article)

Congress Should End Big Labor’s Shell Game
By Ryan Williams, October 1, 2013, Roll Call
Several members of Congress have recently begun to shine a spotlight on an elaborate shell game — Big Labor’s deliberate avoidance of labor laws by leveraging non-profit community organizations, or so-called worker centers. This summer, House Republicans began raising questions about the practices of union-backed worker centers, which continue to maintain that they are not subject to the labor organizing and disclosure requirements that govern unions. Reps. John Kline, R-Minn. and Phil Roe, R-Tenn., asked Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez for an official determination as to why the groups that led the widely publicized strikes against retail and restaurant brands this summer aren’t subject to the same regulations as the unions that fund and guide them. Last week, Kline and Roe’s committee took the conversation a step further by holding a hearing on “The Future of Union Organizing,” but unfortunately no immediate outcomes or obligations on worker centers are likely to materialize. Meanwhile, labor activist groups will happily continue their attack campaigns against any business with the audacity to try to eke out a profit. In this day and age, creating jobs and opportunities for the Americans who need them most is an even higher risk venture as unions, and their worker center attack dogs, scout for their newest target. (read article)

ACORN Crooks on the March for Obamacare
By Matthew Vadum, October 1, 2013, Frontpage Magazine
A corrupt union ringleader who orchestrated massive campaigns involving identity fraud in furtherance of voter fraud and who covered up a million-dollar embezzlement involving pension funds will soon have unfettered access to confidential information on thousands of people seeking health insurance. The union thug is disgraced ACORN founder Wade Rathke whose shady union will soon be helping people enroll in Obamacare exchanges. Rathke’s labor vehicle, United Labor Unions (ULU) Local 100 in New Orleans, announced on its Facebook page Sept. 15 that it was gearing up “to do mass enrollment and help navigate people into the marketplaces in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas under the Affordable Care Act!” “Local 100′s role as a Navigator, suggest[s] the program is less about health care and more about building a new progressive infrastructure,” says longtime ACORN-watcher Mike Flynn of Breitbart.com. The fact that Wade Rathke, a disreputable, radical left-wing community organizer, is allowed anywhere near the enrollment process ought to give all Americans pause. The only reason Rathke hasn’t been federally investigated for racketeering is because his allies control the federal law enforcement apparatus. President Obama pretends he has no connection to ACORN and Attorney General Eric Holder doesn’t care what laws have been broken because he approves of ACORN’s goals. (read article)

Showing off union support, Christie rallies with the Laborers
By Matt Friedman, September 30, 2013, The New Jersey Star-Ledger
Gov. Chris Christie is known for fighting with the New Jersey’s public sector unions, but at a private sector union hall tonight, a top labor official said the governor was well-suited to be a leader in his movement. “This man, Chris Christie, who tells it like it is, makes the tough choices, never forgets where he comes from, loyal to his friends, a tireless worker, committed to public service. This man would make one hell of a union leader, don’t you think?” said Ray Pocino, vice president and eastern regional manager of the Laborers International Union of North America. Christie rallied with about 600 orange-shirted construction workers in the hot, humid headquarters of Local 472. Union officials promised a robust election effort for Christie, including walking door-to-door and working phone banks. The 20,000-member union endorsed Christie in December, and tonight the rank-and-file made no secret of why they support him: He gave them jobs. Pocino cited Christie’s reauthorization of the $5 billion Transportation Trust Fund, the Bayonne Bridge-raising project, his help getting the stalled Revel casino project up again in Atlantic City, a $750 million higher education bond issue and support for tax breaks that helped kick start major projects. (read article)

How Union Law Hurts a Nonunion Auto Plant
By James Sherk September 30, 2013, Bloomberg
Volkswagen Group of America’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has experienced something unusual: a union welcomed by management but faced with resistance from some workers. A combination of outdated labor laws and union intransigence has created this oddity.
German law requires “works councils” in which management and labor groups meet to collaboratively sort out workplace issues. Consequently, there is a works council at every Volkswagen plant — except the one in Chattanooga. Now, under pressure from IG Metall, the German union, Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s headquarters has decided it wants a works council in the U.S., too. But there’s a hitch. U.S. labor laws prohibit companies from discussing working conditions with employee representatives — unless they belong to outside unions. In the 1930s, Congress feared businesses would create bogus “company unions” to keep union organizers at bay, so it banned “management-dominated” labor organizations. This outlaws even innocuous employee-involvement programs. For example, Webcor Packaging Corp., based in Flint, Michigan, created a council of elected employees and appointed managers to suggest improvements to its work rules, wages and benefits. The company wanted their employees’ input, yet the government ordered the council disbanded. If American workers want a voice on the job, they must speak through a union. This restriction makes little sense today. Few businesses feel the need to ward off organizing drives with company unions. Even without them, private-sector union membership has fallen to below 7 percent. While many companies want their employees’ input in workplace decision-making, they can’t create works councils unless they also want all-out collective bargaining. (read article)

Union Rift Poses Test for UPS
By Betsy Morris, September 30, 2013, Wall Street Journal
United Parcel Service Inc. UPS +0.13% is caught in a rift between the leadership of the Teamsters union and its rank-and-file members over labor contracts, a development that could unnerve corporate shippers and hurt its holiday shipping business. UPS’s labor issues were supposed to be mostly settled in June, when the company’s domestic package-delivery employees—a majority of its U.S. workers— approved a new five-year national master contract that included wage increases as well as revised health and pension benefits. But UPS is still negotiating separately with many local bargaining units across the country—over issues like health-care benefits, wages for part-timers and restricting overtime. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents about 249,000 employees of UPS’s 323,000 full- and part-time domestic workers. About 235,000 of those are covered by the master contract. That contract cannot take effect until 16 supplemental agreements and riders are negotiated and approved. One of the dissatisfied groups is Teamsters Local 89, a critical part of UPS’s operation because of both its size and locale. Local 89 represents about 10,000 employees in Louisville, Ky., who work at or close to UPS’s Worldport, the giant automated package hub that sorts and processes 1.6 million packages daily. (read article)

Union Greed Threatens California’s Economy
By Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, September 30, 2013, Politix
As many Californians are grateful just to have a job in such a tumultuous economy, and pray for the retention of their jobs, the United Farm Workers (UFW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local (ATU) 1555 apparently don’t monitor reality that the economy hasn’t much improved. By shutting down the way many hard-working Californians get to work, the BART union threatened the livelihood of our economy in the Bay Area. Californians won’t stand for that. Occurring simultaneously, yet on separate fronts, there are two California labor debacles that include Gerawan Farms and the quasi-private business Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Both of these labor union-attempted takeovers, or greedy money grabs, are beyond troubling, and show a continuing pattern to dismantle what we know as the American way and the American dream. This is a planned, pre-conceived, brutal and reprehensible destruction of a proud, generous, caring Mom-and-Pop business, and a deliberate effort to ultimately increase BART ticket rates and destroy job-creation and job-retention at BART, which is historically known as the “peoples” lifeline to work and everyday actions that make the Bay Area flourish and function. In early September 2013, Allysia Finley authored a revealing column for the Wall Street Journal, “California’s Union-Sponsored War on Farmers,” in which she noted Gerawan Farms is under heavy siege by California’s stifling labor-regulatory complex. (read article)

A union, called by another name
By Sen. Jack Brandenburg, September 30, 2013, Detroit News
As Michigan continues to do anything and everything it can to grow business and create jobs for state residents, is it not senseless for anyone to advocate for policies that would have an adverse effect? Enter the SEIU and associated labor-backed groups, like Fast Food Forward, who are staging protests and employee “walk outs” in cities across the country, including Detroit and Flint, to advocate for doubling the existing federal minimum wage while also demanding mandatory paid leave. Proponents of such measures fail to see that policies like these would be absolute job killers for low-skill and entry-level employees in an already desperate Michigan workforce. To its credit, however, organized labor has advanced its cause through the pervasive establishment of entities known as “worker training centers.” What is a worker training center? It is code for a union that has no legal accountability to those it claims to represent. For example, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a self-proclaimed “leader” in the worker center movement, is putting down roots in Michigan, threatening local jobs and business growth. The ROC is even soliciting massive donations from some of Michigan’s most respected charitable foundations, such as the W.K. Kellogg and Ford Foundations, by carefully maintaining a “do-gooder” facade. ROC operates as a charity organization and was established in New York City to assist displaced workers in the wake of 9/11. Since then, its mission has evolved drastically; the group now seeks to unionize the 99 percent of restaurants nationwide that are currently not unionized. (read article)

BART meets with SEIU reps to discuss labor dispute
September 29, 2013, ABC KGO-TV San Francisco
BART met with one of two employee unions in their labor dispute on Sunday. Negotiations with SEIU representatives began Sunday morning in Oakland. BART tells ABC7 News the two sides discussed supplemental issues and talks are planned for Monday with both unions involved to discuss the major issues. On Saturday, representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union met with BART officials at the Caltrans building in Oakland. One of the reps told ABC7 News there’s nothing new to report. The transit agency says the two sides remain $112 million apart. Transportation officials are already planning ahead in case there is a strike. They released a $21 million strike plan this week. It includes free charter buses, extra carpool lanes, and limited transbay train service run by BART managers. The 60-day cooling off period ends on Oct. 11, which is the earliest a strike could happen. (read article)

L.A. County labor union plans protest as contract expires
By Seema Mehta, September 29, 2013, Los Angeles Times
SEIU 721, which represents 55,000 who’ve had no raise in five years, plans to protest county’s proposed 6%-raise-over-30-months offer. Hours after their labor contract with Los Angeles County expires at midnight Monday, thousands of social workers, janitors, librarians and other municipal employees are expected to take to the streets of downtown L.A. to rally for higher wages and the protection of their benefits. They say the county’s current contract offer — a 6% raise over 30 months — would effectively result in less money in their members’ pockets because of increasing health insurance premiums. “We want the county to come to the table and really negotiate with us,” said David Green, treasurer of SEIU 721, which represents 55,000 county employees. “The offer they put forward would essentially be a pay cut for our workers, who haven’t had any salary increase in more than five years.” County officials counter that the union is describing a “worst-case scenario,” saying that the county does not want to see employees’ pay cut and that the medical premium is one bargaining chip on the table. Tuesday morning, workers will be bused into downtown Los Angeles from workplaces throughout the county. Some have received permission for time off; others plan to walk off their jobs and could face discipline. Labor leaders project that 5,000 workers will kick off their “Day of Action” at California Plaza, then march to the Hall of Administration and hold a rally outside at about the time the county Board of Supervisors typically holds its weekly meeting. (read article)

Political Scene: Labor leaders, Republican group try some talk therapy
By Katherine Gregg, September 29, 2013, Providence Journal
Last week at a gathering that drew about 20 people, two of Rhode Island’s labor leaders sat down to speak to a group of avowed Republicans. Speaking to the Roosevelt Society on Thursday night was Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association’s Rhode Island chapter, and Richard Ferruccio, former president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers.
The encounter, at Providence’s Vanity restaurant, did not bridge the gulf between the two sides, but the tone was cordial and even hinted at ways the gulf could be bridged, while also providing insights into last year’s election and the one to come in 2014. Ferruccio spoke first, and he made it clear up front that he is no fan of the Republican Party, or “the enemy,” as he called it. Republicans “sometimes just drive us crazy,” he said. His biggest beef? Republicans who support making Rhode Island a “right-to-work” state, which would allow workers to decide whether to join a union that represents people in their job classification. “I can’t imagine what my job would be like without a union,” he said. “So what kills us is when I hear the talk radio and the pundits out there slamming labor unions. What it does is it makes us put up walls, and there’s no communication, and that’s not healthy.” But Ferruccio said the relationship can improve. Corrections officers, as a whole, are conservative, he said. In fact, he said he probably has “more in common with Doreen Costa” — a conservative Republican state representative from North Kingstown — than with most Democrats. (read article)

How Chris Christie Split the Labor Movement in New Jersey
By Steve Malanga, September 28, 2013, Wall Street Journal
Jersey Public unions loathe the GOP governor, but private unions like his spending reforms and support for job creation. New Jersey’s gubernatorial race this year has attracted national attention thanks to the rising profile of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Not as much attention has been paid to the rift between the Garden State’s private and public unions and what it could mean for the Democratic Party nationwide. One reason Mr. Christie is 34 points ahead of his Democratic opponent in the latest poll is support from several dozen private unions that are traditional stalwarts of New Jersey Democrats. Their backing has alienated the state’s powerful public unions, which adamantly oppose Mr. Christie. The key issue dividing the labor movement is government spending and taxes. Mr. Christie has secured labor support, especially among construction and trade unions, by emphasizing restraints on government spending, caps on tax increases, incentives for job creation, and vigorous rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Jobs are crucial in a state with an 8.5% unemployment rate. Mr. Christie’s message? “In four years, what I’ve really cared about is how to get you guys back to work,” he told the International Union of Operating Engineers in June. (read article)

Labor eyes minimum wage ballot measure
By Mark Walker, September 27, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune
Local labor officials say they may push a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in the city of San Diego and target it for the likely mayoral election runoff ballot in February. The idea has been broached with city officials but no firm plans have been presented. A minimum wage initiative could boost turnout among lower-income voters, potentially favoring a Democratic candidate. Richard Barrera, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said raising the minimum wage in San Diego faster than scheduled increases approved by the state is the goal. “We have identified this as a priority for the labor movement and for all working families,” he said Friday. “We believe the state law is a step in the right direction but we would like to see it get to $10 an hour faster than before January 2016.” (read article)

Big Labor’s Vegas gamble
By Fred Wszolek, September 26, 2013, Daily Caller
On the heels of the city of Detroit filing for bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Big Labor apparently has not learned its lesson. Union bosses played a pivotal role in Detroit’s demise making unreasonable salary and benefit demands that contributed to nearly $15 billion in unfunded liabilities. One would think labor bosses would have used the experience to guide their thinking on how they deal with issues related to workers and the economy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Unsatisfied with having taken down the Motor City, once the fourth-largest in the country, union bosses have set their sights on Las Vegas. Recently, Big Labor bosses in Vegas have made threats that unless they get their way on contract negotiations they will seek a city-wide strike. The Associated Press reported, “The Culinary Union has issued a written warning to Wall Street investors, saying a citywide strike by Las Vegas hotel workers is possible if contracts aren’t inked soon with two major companies. The union, which represents some 50,000 bartenders, maids and food servers, has been in negotiations with gambling giants MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp. It says union workers are preparing for a ‘major labor dispute,’ and a strike is imminent unless solid contracts result soon from the negotiations.” (read article)

Tennessee Voices: Low union membership helps Tennessee attract jobs
By William Ozier, September 26, 2013, The Tennessean
In the Labor Day edition of The Tennessean, Gary Moore, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, urged working people to “counter the power of big money” by demanding that our elected officials work not for “billionaires and corporate special interests” but for “the working people in Tennessee.” Moore apparently is unaware that, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, labor unions spent $1.5 billion in support of federal candidates through their political action committees from 2005 through 2011. Over that same period, reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department reflect an additional $3.3 billion that unions spent on political activity. When Moore refers to the “wealthy and well-connected,” maybe he is referring to his own siblings in the labor movement. Although some Tennessee manufacturing jobs have been lost to overseas employers in recent years, many of those jobs have been replaced with higher-paying jobs — many of which were created by foreign-owned companies investing in new manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. On the other hand, several hundred high-paying jobs at the Peterbilt plant in Madison were lost solely because of unreasonable demands by the union representing those employees and a succession of costly strikes that caused that company to relocate production to plants in other states. (read article)

UC imposes pension terms on employees; union protests
By Larry Gordon, September 25, 2013, Los Angeles Times
The already tense labor relations between the UC system and the union that represents about 8,300 custodians, gardeners and food service workers has taken a turn for the worse. After deadlocked negotiations, UC this week imposed terms that will require those workers to contribute 6.5% of their pay to retirement plans, up from the current 5%, while the university’s contribution jumps to 12% from 10%. UC says such changes are necessary to keep the pension system healthy and that most other UC employees already have agreed to the changes. In addition, newly hired workers will receive fewer benefits after retirement. Officials of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299 say that such an imposed hike amounts to a 1.5% pay cut for workers whose pay averages $35,000 a year. They say they would consider a contribution rate above 5% but only if it is part of a larger pension reform that caps the pensions of the most highly paid UC executives. The union also wants UC to boost the levels of staffing, which the labor leaders contend has dropped dangerously low in some campus functions. (read article)

Labor groups favor narrower review of Wash. coal export proposals
By Brad Shannon, September 25, 2013, The Olympian
Spokesmen for three national labor groups sounded off Wednesday against the state Department of Ecology’s plan to subject the Gateway Pacific coal-export proposal at Cherry Point to a more stringent environmental review than the Army Corps of Engineers plans. The Army Corpsannounced earlier this month it was doing a more site specific review after previously announcing in July it would work jointly with Ecology effort. Ecology announced its decision in late July after getting about 125,000 comments from the public over a 121-day period. The agency plans to look at the cumulative impacts of rail traffic bringing coal by rail from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming to serve the export docks proposed by SSA Marine. In a move that appears to be a first nationally, Ecology also is planning to consider the greenhouse gas effects of burning the coal in China, India and other potential markets. Labor prefers the Army Corps’ approach, which is more in line with past reviews, said John Risch, national legislative director for the transportation division of SMART. He told reporters in a Wednesday morning teleconference from Washington, D.C., that environmental review has become a way to thwart or delay projects. He suggested the state’s approach could slow the Cherry Point project and “would be a regulatory nightmare.’’ (read article)

Wisconsin unions file contempt motion against labor commission
Associated Press, September 25,2013, Politics in Minnesota
A group of unions asked a judge Tuesday to hold Wisconsin labor relations officials in contempt for continuing to enforce parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining restrictions despite a ruling that the provisions are unconstitutional. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas decided last year the restrictions were unconstitutional as applied to two unions, one representing Madison teachers and the other Milwaukee city workers. It’s unclear whether the ruling applies to all municipal workers in the state, though. The state Supreme Court has agreed to take the case, but it could be months before it rules. Meanwhile the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission has continued to prepare for certification elections for more than 400 teacher and school district employee unions in November, as per the restrictions. Six public employee unions, including the state’s largest teachers union, asked Colas in April to block WERC’s election preparations. Colas issued a ruling last week saying WERC can’t enforce the restrictions against… (read article)

Wisconsin labor panel won’t stop union restrictions
By Todd Richmond, September 23, 2013, Wisconsin Post-Crescent
Wisconsin labor relations officials refused a demand Monday to stop enforcing provisions of Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious public union restrictions against local government unions, brushing aside allegations they’re violating a court order. Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission Chairman James R. Scott said the panel is working to set up hundreds of union certification elections as prescribed in the restrictions and hasn’t defied any order. Union attorneys vowed to file a court motion on Tuesday asking a judge to hold the panel in contempt. The Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 passed a Walker proposal that stripped almost all public employees of nearly all their union rights. The plan also requires unions to hold annual elections to avoid decertification. A federal judge in Madison and a federal appeals court have upheld the restrictions in separate lawsuits. But Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled last year that the restrictions were unconstitutional as applied to two unions representing Madison teachers and Milwaukee public workers. (read article)

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