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.

The next, next Citizens United
By Reid Wilson, October 15, 2013, Washington Post
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case many — including my GovBeat colleague Niraj — have dubbed the next Citizens United. McCutcheon challenges the government-set aggregate limits on how much an individual can contribute to federal candidates. It’s the latest salvo in a coordinated drive by conservative lawyers to undermine campaign finance reforms. And those conservative lawyers aren’t waiting for McCutcheon to be decided before they tee up their next assault — this time on rules against corporations contributing to candidates. Last week, Indiana attorney Jim Bopp Jr., on behalf of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review Iowa’s ban on political contributions by corporations. Bopp says Iowa’s rules, which allow labor unions to give but prohibit corporations from donating to candidates, violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, along with the right to free speech. “There’s a really important fairness issue here,” Bopp said in an interview. “Targeting corporations and permitting unions betrays a real partisan agenda, and if we’re going to have these kinds of laws, they’re going to have to, in my view, treat corporations and unions similarly.” (read article)

California construction unions get two big wins
By Dan Walters, October 15, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Union membership among California’s private employers has been on a downward slide for decades – with two notable exceptions. As health care, already California’s largest economic sector, continues to grow, unions of hospital and other medical workers continue to expand. Union membership also remains strong in the “building trades,” particularly among companies that bid on public works projects, thanks to an 82-year-old state law called “prevailing wage.” In essence, it requires contractors on such projects to pay union wages to carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other tradesmen. And it is the core of a perpetual political struggle in the Capitol as the State Building & Construction Trades Council defends it and attempts to expand its reach, doing battle with local governments, nonunion contractors and other foes. With a new president, Robbie Hunter, at the helm, a Democratic governor and big Democratic majorities in the Legislature, the construction union organization made a high-octane push in the Capitol this year. And when Gov. Jerry Brown had finished passing judgment, it had scored two big wins and one relatively small loss. Brown signed a bill (Senate Bill 7) that circumvents a state Supreme Court decision and punishes cities with independent governing charters that exempt themselves from prevailing wage laws by denying them state public works funds. It was, interestingly, a significant departure from Brown’s oft-voiced support of “subsidiarity,” the principle that locally elected officials should have maximum discretion to make decisions for their constituents. Brown also signed a bill (SB 54) that will extend prevailing wage requirements to private refinery construction, and also give union tradesmen first dibs on refinery jobs, elbowing aside members of the refinery workers union. And it represents a new front in the prevailing wage issue – whether it should be extended to private, as well as public, projects. (read article)

BART strike: Trains running today as talks continue
By Mike Rosenberg, October 15, 2013, San Jose Mercury News
BART trains are running this morning after the transit system’s unions and management negotiated through the night, averting a strike. Negotiations continued past the 11:59 p.m. strike deadline, though no deal is in place. At about 5:30 this morning, federal mediator George Cohen said both sides were taking a break and will be returning to the bargaining table this afternoon. At about 1 a.m. Cohen said both sides had made “substantial progress” but declined to elaborate. It was unclear whether another strike would be threatened for Wednesday or later. “We apologize (that) the Bay Area continues to have to wait until the middle of the night to find out if union leadership will allow the trains to run each morning,” BART said in a statement early Tuesday. “We hope we can get this situation resolved quickly so the uncertainty can come to an end.” At 5:35 a.m., Cohen announced both sides were taking a break for a few hours. Management and BART’s two large labor unions faced an 11:59 p.m. deadline that came and went. An hour later, Cohen emerged from the closed-door talks with the good news for hundreds of thousands of sleepy commuters who had stayed up awaiting word of a possible strike. Unions had continued to threaten a strike throughout the day. Later in the night, however, the unions had presented a last-second counter-offer that management was reviewing. Details of the proposal were kept under wraps, but Pete Castelli, executive director of the local Service Employees International Union, said: “We did make movement.” (read article)

Union voter effort in full swing in Boston mayor’s race
By Beth Healy, October 15, 2013, Boston Globe
Few in Boston were thinking about the mayor’s race on a sun-streaked afternoon in mid-August. But that did not stop 300 union workers from taking to the streets of Hyde Park, carrying campaign signs and knocking on doors until dark. They were hotel workers, nurses, and builders — not natural allies in terms of income, neighborhood, or line of work. But they showed up en masse that day for Martin Walsh, a state representative and former union construction worker who would come from behind and win more votes than any of his 11 rivals in the preliminary election. That was only a taste of what labor leaders hope to deliver by Nov. 5. With the race now in full swing, and narrowed to Walsh and Councilor John Connolly, efforts to get out the union vote are ramping up. At least 40,000 union workers are registered to vote, from home health care aides to teachers, labor organizers estimate. That’s about 11 percent of total voters in Boston. “We fought a really great fight, but we didn’t have everybody yet,’’ said Richard Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council. “We’re going to really focus on union members that stayed home in the first round.’’ (read article)

VW eyes German answer to UAW fight
Omaha World-Herald, October 15, 2013
The faceoff between Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers over organizing the company’s new plant in Tennessee is rapidly becoming a global clash of cultures. For months, the UAW has been trying hard to get recognition by Volkswagen to represent workers at its prized assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The effort has unleashed a groundswell of pro- and anti- union sentiment. While some workers are eager for the UAW to come in, state officials and right-to-work groups are just as determined to stop Detroit’s brand of unionism. Now Volkswagen and its German labor leaders are proposing a solution that is commonplace in Europe but has yet to be tried in the U.S. auto industry. The senior labor representative at Volkswagen in Germany, Bernd Osterloh, is planning a trip to the United States to suggest a compromise in what has become a heated battle over the UAW’s relentless drive to organize a foreign-owned auto plant in the American South. He is expected to push for a German-style works council in the plant — a committee of hourly and salaried employees that gives labor a voice at the management table. A works council is not like an U.S. union, which can negotiate contracts and authorize strikes. But it does have the advantage of being a familiar form of labor relations for a German car company like VW. The larger question is whether a works council can satisfy employees and politicians in Tennessee — and give the UAW a foothold in the growing Southern auto industry. (read article)

UAW battles Nissan over union at Mississippi plant
G. Chambers Williams, October 14, 2013, The Tennessean
The United Auto Workers union has taken a page from its organizing efforts at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant in its ongoing campaign to unionize Nissan’s Canton, Miss., workers, turning to the automaker’s international unions to help put pressure on the company. To support the UAW’s efforts, Nissan’s unions in such places as Brazil and South Africa will be picketing the automaker’s dealerships in those nations to inform consumers of the UAW’s charges that Nissan isn’t playing fair in the Mississippi drive. “This is not the same kind of campaign we’ve done in the past,” said Gary Casteel, district director of the UAW’s District 8, based in Lebanon. “After we approached Nissan about giving us a fair election, which they didn’t do, we told them we would pursue this on a global level, and that’s what we’ve slowly been doing. “They play in other world markets where they interact with unions and act like they’re a fair company,” he said. “But here they don’t want to give employees a fair election.” Although the UAW also is getting union support from outside the United States in its efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant, there is a key difference: Volkswagen has largely cooperated with the American union and has even hosted talks with UAW officials at its Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters. Where Volkswagen has been neutral, or even helpful, in the UAW’s Chattanooga campaign, the union says Nissan has been the opposite, actively opposing union representation in Canton and warning workers there of “dire consequences” if they choose to affiliate with the UAW, Casteel said. (read article)

Prevailing wage law could raise costs
By Michael Gardner, October 14, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune
Some charter cities in San Diego County and across California will have to either pay generally higher wages for public works projects or forego state grants that help cover construction costs for everything from new roads to water mains. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation pushed by labor unions that puts charter cities in the position of having to make that call when signing contracts after Jan. 1, 2015. Brown’s signature may foreshadow yet another legal battle with Vista and other cities over the constitutional rights of those municipalities that have more independence from the state’s reach than other general-law cities. The new law will affect seven charter cities in San Diego County: Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos, Chula Vista, Carlsbad, Santee and El Cajon. San Diego is a charter city but is exempt after adopting in July a prevailing wage ordinance to pay rates generally in line with union scale. (read article)

Party for sale? California’s Republicans bailed out by unions
By Shirley Husar, October 14, 2013, Washington Times
California’s unions have positioned themselves for a perpetual power grab against the political parties. To this end, they are attempting to achieve a stranglehold on political contributions, making their money the most important money that either party can receive. The dead hand of government dependency weighs heavy on California’s politics. California’s Democrats have nearly obliterated the Republicans on their triumphant march to a welfare state. This is dangerous for the unions, whose support of Democrats is unnecessary if Democrats face no organized opposition. They are therefore uniting to prop up the GOP and keep the war going. Giving money to the GOP helps prevent a Democratic political monopoly, holding the Republicans up as a threat to Democratic power that will never actually materialize. So why would the California GOP sell out to the Service Employees International Union – the SEIU? On October 4-6, 2013, the California Republican Party (CRP or CAGOP) held its Fall Convention at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel. This year’s theme, under the direction of newly elected Chairman Jim Brulte, was “Building from the ground up.” For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This year, the CRP Fall Convention set the tone for big changes in the Party. But do these changes include partnership with the SEIU? Has California’s GOP sold itself by taking money from SEIU? (read article)

Unions poised to win delay of ObamaCare tax in budget deal (Video)
By Elise Viebeck, October 14, 2013, The Hill
Labor unions are poised to score the delay of an ObamaCare tax in the bipartisan budget deal emerging in the Senate. The bargain under negotiation would make small adjustments to the healthcare law, including delaying the law’s reinsurance fee for one year. The three-year tax is meant to generate revenue that will stabilize premiums on the individual market as sick patients enter the risk pool. The tax applies to all group health plans, but unions argue it will raise their healthcare costs while providing them no benefit. The reinsurance tax figured prominently in discussions at a recent AFL-CIO convention, where workers passed a resolution demanding changes to ObamaCare. The White House recently denied labor’s top priority on ObamaCare, ruling that union health plans are not eligible for the new subsidies because they are already helped by the tax code. Democrats could be pushing to delay the reinsurance fee for one year as an olive branch after that apparent slight, though it could also create trouble for insurers on the marketplaces. The possible Senate deal would raise the nation’s debt ceiling until mid-February, immediately reopen the government and provide funding until Jan. 15. It remains to be seen if House Republicans will accept a package that does little to thwart ObamaCare. The emerging Senate deal defies several expectations when it comes to the healthcare law. It does nothing to delay or end a new tax on medical devices, for example — a move that appeared to be gaining momentum earlier in the week. The 2.3 percent tax, which has opposition in both parties, is expected to generate about $30 billion in revenue for ObamaCare over the next 10 years. (read article)

BART, unions still can’t agree on labor contract; strike averted one more day
October 14, 2013, Progressive Railroading
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) services will remain operational today after the agency’s two largest unions announced last night that they would not launch a strike while contract negotiations continued on Monday. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 late last week issued a 72-hour notice that indicated if weekend talks didn’t result in a new contract by midnight Sunday, they would go on strike starting on Monday. Although union officials are disappointed and frustrated with the lack of an agreement after “marathon negotiations” this weekend, a strike will not be launched while talks continue for one more day, said SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli in a prepared statement. A media gag order issued by a mediator wouldn’t allow him to reveal specifics on the issues dividing the two sides, Castelli said. BART, unions still can’t agree on labor contract; strike averted one more day. (read article)

Worker Centers: A Backdoor for Unions
By Richard Berman, October 14, 2013, US News and World Report
The way the country’s labor officials tell it, federal labor laws are insufficient for the 21st century. They’re absolutely right – but not for the reasons they claim. Labor leaders were actually for the country’s labor laws before they were against them. That was when the labor movement boasted 35 percent of the private sector workforce in the 1950s. It’s only since then that they’ve turned on the same laws, which were unable to prevent them from sliding to their current near-century low of 6.6 percent of the workforce. That decline can’t be blamed on labor laws, however. Rather, it’s the labor movement itself that no longer appeals to the American employee. Nobody’s buying what unions are selling. Unions have effectively undercut their own brand. What once made them so appealing was their promise of a better workplace. Fast forward to today, when much of what unions once fought for is now regulated by the federal government. From workplace safety to anti-discrimination and health care, the wrongs against which labor has historically fought have almost all been righted. As a result, unions now have little to offer their members. Their dues are still high, but their value is low. Yet labor leaders are desperate to hang on to power and a well-paying job and to protect their own $24 billion industry. That’s why they’re trying to hijack employee rights by circumventing labor laws. Unions have recently exploited a legal loophole in federal law by establishing so-called “worker centers.” These are unregulated union front groups that avoid federal labor laws by registering as nonprofits and charities. The most prominent groups are the “Fight for $15,” backed by the Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide strikes at fast-food restaurants, and “OUR Walmart,” which is a thinly-veiled attempt by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to unionize retailers. (read article)

Barnidge: Tired of BART labor unrest? Here’s a new problem to take its place
By Tom Barnidge, October 14, 2013, Contra Costa Times
If you’re tired of reading about unhappy BART employees and contentious labor negotiations, you’ve come to the right place. Today’s subject is unhappy Contra Costa County employees and contentious labor negotiations. You can thank Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21, representing more than 800 midlevel county managers, for bringing this matter to our attention in a succinctly worded news release: “Contra Costa Employees May Strike over Unaffordable Healthcare Plans.” The timing of the threat is curious — perhaps the union envied the attention lavished on BART — because negotiations began more than a year ago, and employees have worked without a contract for three months. The issue is easier to grasp: The county’s contribution toward health care premiums has been capped by contractual agreement since 2009, even as inflation has sent costs skyward. The union reports that employees’ outlay for a Kaiser Family Plan has increased from $246 to $607 per month. (“Contra Costa has the most expensive health care plan in the Bay Area offered by public employers,” said union spokesman Sean Alten.) Public Employees Union Local 1, representing 2,000 rank-and-file county employees, doubtless would agree. It’s been operating under the same terms and also seeks a new deal. “The problem,” said Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, “is we don’t have the money.” The reason health care contributions were capped — and many salaries cut or frozen — is the county has fought for years to keep from drowning in red ink. Only recently have property tax revenues nudged upward. “We’re now at a point where we’re structurally sound,” Mitchoff said, “but we don’t have anything extra to give. I get the feeling that employees are saying, ‘We’re not as bad off as we were, so give us everything.'” (read article)

Jerry Brown vetoes bill to give Medi-Cal interpreters union rights
By David Siders, October 13, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have given thousands of Medi-Cal interpreters the right to join a public employee union and bargain collectively with the state. Assembly Bill 1263, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, would have established a certification process and registry of medical interpreters, a measure proponents said would better regulate a service that is critical to patients who do not speak English. But the bill was also significant to labor unions that believe implementation of the federal healthcare overhaul will result in a wave of new patients and medical professionals they hoped to add to their union ranks. The Democratic governor avoided the matter of collective bargaining in his veto message, focusing only on the bureaucracy a new certification process would require. “California has embarked on an unprecedented expansion to add more than a million people to our Medi-Cal program,” he wrote. “Given the challenges and the many unknowns the state faces in this endeavor, I don’t believe it would be wise to introduce yet another complex element.” The legislation was backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and opposed by the National Right to Work Committee. (read article)

Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber eyes divisive ballot measures
By Hannah Hoffman, Oct. 13, 2013, Statesman Journal
Gov. John Kitzhaber is negotiating to keep two sets of inflammatory initiatives from becoming ballot measures in 2014 so they don’t threaten his plans to reform the state’s tax system in 2015. “The governor has been working to get all the divisive measures off the ballot in 2014 and is working to get business and labor collaborating on a set of issues in the broader interest of the state,” said Kitzhaber’s spokesman Tim Raphael. One set of three initiatives would effectively turn Oregon into a “right to work” state. They would apply only to public employment, but public unions are larger and more well organized in Oregon than private sector unions. One of the ballot initiatives, called the “Public Employees Choice Act,” would allow public employees to work in union-represented positions without joining the union. They would receive all the benefits and representation the union provides but would not have to pay dues. The other two would forbid the state from collecting union dues or political donations through members’ paychecks, which would make it hard to collect dues at all. Similar laws have been passed across the country in recent years, most notably in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Democrats almost universally oppose these laws, as they say “right to work” laws erode unions’ power and workers’ protections. The other set of initiatives would raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. They were all filed by Patrick Green, long-time executive director of Our Oregon, a coalition of left-leaning groups, including nearly all Oregon’s prominent unions. Raphael said Kitzhaber is working to keep all of these off the ballot because he wants both sides working together by the time 2015 rolls around, not torn apart by a nasty campaign over union funding or substantial tax increases. (read article)

Police union leader says deficit was much lower
By Ignazio Messina, October 13, 2013, Toledo Blade
The president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association said on Saturday that he still doesn’t buy what Mayor Mike Bell is selling regarding the 2010 budget crisis. In short, Dan Wagner said he doesn’t really believe there was a $48 million deficit in 2010 that required his and other city labor unions to take wage and benefit cuts as dictated by Mayor Bell then. Mayor Bell has said repeatedly that he faced a $48 million deficit when he took office in January, 2010, thanks to more than $8 million in red ink left over from 2009 and another $40 million in overestimated and nonexistent revenue proposed in the 2010 budget that former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner left him. D. Michael Collins, a city councilman and mayoral challenger this year has repeatedly contested Mayor Bell’s number, claiming that he and his staff are grossly exaggerating the deficit he had to deal with in 2010 and that he is taking too much credit for putting the city’s financial house in order. Mr. Wagner, president of the TPPA, which is one of many unions that have endorsed Mr. Collins, said the debate is a matter of semantics. “Obviously, we understood there was a carryover deficit,” Mr. Wagner said. “When we sat down with Bell, when he asked us for a figure [in concessions], it was consistent with about a $9 million deficit.” Mayor Bell, a former unionized city firefighter, was not able to convince city labor unions in 2010 —except his former union, Local 92 Firefighters — to agree to wage and benefit concessions to help him balance the budget and avoid police and fire layoffs. (read article)

Obamacare Complicates UFCW Talks; Seattle Workers on Brink of Strike
By Bruce Vail, October 11, 2013, In These Times
With hundreds of federal government offices closed down in a Republican Party bid to eliminate or scale back the Affordable Care Act, more than 40,000 grocery union members in the states of Washington and New York are facing Obamacare crises of their own. Labor contracts covering members of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in both the Seattle and New York City areas are set to expire in a matter of days, but talks to renew the agreements appear deadlocked over the issue of healthcare costs, union representatives say. In both cases, labor and management have been locked in difficult negotiations for months with Obamacare-related health insurance issues said to be the primary issue. “We are preparing for a strike” unless Seattle supermarket operators come forward with an acceptable contract offer by the end of this week, UFCW Local 21 spokesperson Tom Geiger tells Working In These Times. A total of 30,000 grocery workers across the Seattle metropolitan area stand ready to hit the picket lines at four separate supermarket chains that are united in demanding health care cuts, wage freezes and other give backs, Geiger says. Last week rank-and-file members voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike, he reports. The grocery chains Safeway and Albertsons, along with Fred Meyer and QFC (subsidiaries of Kroger Co., the largest supermarket owner in the country), are seeking to eliminate healthcare coverage for a total of 8,000 union members who work 30 hours or less per week, citing the Obamacare provision that says employers are not required to cover part-timers, according to Geiger. (read article)

Shutdown Ad Campaign By Union Targets Republicans
By Sam Stein, October 11, 2013, Huffington Post
Upping the stakes of the government shutdown, one of the largest U.S. labor unions is unveiling a six-figure ad campaign on Friday that accuses Tea Party members of Congress of facilitating the breakdown of government. The campaign, spearheaded by the National Education Association, will include television and online ads that will air in Washington and other markets. The targets, according to a union release, include Reps. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). The ad wars over the shutdown have so far been somewhat muted, likely because it was impossible to predict how long it would last. But with the standoff now well into its second week and likely heading towards its third — and with polls showing Republican lawmakers vulnerable — it appears that interest groups like NEA are ready to pounce. (read article)

Rhode Island labor board schedules childcare union vote
By Katherine Gregg, October 11, 2013, Providence Journal
The State Labor Relations Board has scheduled a vote on the bid by the Service Employees International Union to represent upwards of 540 childcare providers, working out of their homes, in first-ever negotiations with the state over reimbursement rates and benefits.
In mailings that went out late Thursday, the labor board put the providers on notice — in English and Spanish — of the dates, times and locations where they can vote on the SEIU union drive between Saturday, Oct. 26, and Wednesday, Oct. 30. The labor board also promises to have a Spanish interpreter at all election sites. The ballot count will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31, at the labor board’s office at 1511 Pontiac Avenue, Building 73, in the state office complex in Cranston. There was some back-and-forth with the two state agencies that administer the childcare subsidy program over the number eligible to vote. But in the end, the number was narrowed to the 542 childcare providers receiving state subsidies between March 1 and Aug. 30, 2013. The official “notice of election” puts the providers on notice they will have to show a picture identification card in order to vote. It also assures them that: “Voters shall be allowed to vote without interference or coercion … [and] electioneering will not be permitted at or near the voting places.” (read article)

Anchorage assemblyman seeks repeal of labor law
By Nathaniel Herz, October 10, 2013, Anchorage Daily News
The municipal assembly could give a second look to an Anchorage labor law that stirred unions into collecting signatures to repeal it. Assemblyman Dick Traini on Wednesday introduced a measure to have the assembly repeal the law that limits raises for municipal workers and standardizes benefits across unions. The law introduced by Mayor Dan Sullivan and two assembly members was approved 6-5 in March but could have a different fate if reconsidered. Assemblyman Bill Starr, a supporter eight months ago, asked to be a co-sponsor of the repeal. Another supporter, Assemblyman Evan Trombley, said he could “potentially get behind” a repeal, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The mayor could not be reached for comment Thursday. City unions collected more than 22,000 signatures in support of the referendum to repeal the measure. The city is challenging a judge’s ruling that the referendum is legal. (read article)

Washington unions pushing $15-an-hour wage don’t practice what they preach
By Shelby Sebens, October 10, 2013, Northwest Watchdog
Unions in Washington state backing a $15-an-hour minimum wage ordinance in SeaTac don’t pay their own employees as well the law would require, a study by the Freedom Foundation finds. The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Washington, released the study Thursday, claiming that seven state unions fail to live up to the standards set in a ballot measure that will ask SeaTac residents in November if employers in and around the SeaTac airport should be forced to pay employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour. (read article)

Labor disputes land like 1-2 punch in Boston mayor’s race
By Andrew Ryan, October 10, 2013, Boston Globe
First, it was an arbitrator’s finding that the police patrol union deserved a pay hike that the city says amounts to 25 percent. Then, the union representing Boston’s school bus drivers walked out for a day, stranding thousands of children. The two simmering labor disputes, erupting in the middle of a heated race for mayor, cast a spotlight on state Representative Martin J. Walsh, the longtime union leader turned mayoral candidate. Walsh’s union ties have caused some political foes to question whether he can stand up to labor. But Walsh and his supporters see the unanticipated events of the past two weeks as a prime opportunity to demonstrate his ability to lead Boston’s workforce as mayor. For voters, the emergence of the labor issues provides a chance to compare and contrast Walsh with his opponent, Councilor John R. Connolly. The next mayor will inherit a $2.6 billion budget that dedicates two-thirds of spending to wages, pensions, and health insurance. (read article)

Volkswagen German Labor Leader Says Tennessee Workers Should Vote on UAW
By Neal E. Boudette and Christine Tierney, October 9, 2013, Wall Street Journal
A German union leader on Volkswagen AG VOW3.XE +0.14% ‘s supervisory board says union representation at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant shouldn’t come without a vote—a position that could complicate the United Auto Workers’ effort to gain a foothold at the factory. The UAW, as part of a broader effort to organize nonunion auto factories in the southern U.S., says it has collected signed union cards from more than half of the 2,000 production workers at the VW plant. The UAW has signaled it would prefer Volkswagen management to accept the union as its bargaining partner without a secret ballot election by workers, a path allowed under U.S. labor law. Wednesday, a senior UAW official said the union is open to working with Volkswagen to form a new, less confrontational labor-management relationship than it has with Detroit’s unionized auto makers. “This is a new model of representation,” said Gary Casteel, an organizer spearheading the UAW’s drive to organize the Chattanooga plant. He also said any decision on UAW representation at the plant could require approval of staffers in a secret-ballot vote, but any decision about a vote would come in the future. Bernd Osterloh , an employee representative on Volkswagen’s supervisory board, which is the equivalent of a board of directors at a U.S. company, said it supports creation of a “works council” to negotiate workplace conditions with management at the Tennessee factory, but he also appears to call for a vote on the issue. “Democracy does not end at the plant gates,” Mr. Osterloh said in the statement. “This principle is not negotiable.” Mr. Osterloh’s statement, released last Friday in Germany, marked one of the few times he has offered extensive comments on the UAW’s effort to unionize the Chattanooga plant, which Volkswagen opened in 2011. (read article)

Beware the ‘Worker Centers’
By Richard Berman, October 10, 2013, The Hill
The AFL-CIO left its quadrennial convention a different organization than when it entered. During the confab, the federation voted near unanimously to offer membership to non-union organizations known as “worker centers”—a move ostensibly meant to show that the labor movement has finally joined the 21st century.
Not so fast. Worker centers are actually nothing more than labor unions by a different name—and thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, they’re able to employ old strategies using new tactics that would otherwise be illegal. Worker centers are nothing new; some have been around for decades. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), for example, has been pestering high-profile restaurants in New York City since 2002, while the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been making demands on restaurants and grocery stores since 2005. But where worker centers like ROC and CIW were once oddities, they are now becoming commonplace. Overall, the number of worker centers in the United States has skyrocketed from five in the early 1990s to over 230 today. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka has singled them out for praise, saying they “open up union membership and make the benefits of representation available to all workers.” What makes worker centers so attractive to union leaders like Trumka is that they don’t fall under the purview of either the National Labor Relations Act or the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the two laws designed to balance the competing interests of unions, employees, and businesses. (read article)

UAW seeks Mississippi pawns in global effort to slow union’s decline
By Sid Salter, October 9, 2013, Hattiesburg American
As noted in prior columns on this topic, the United Auto Workers is digging in for a global battle for the survival of the declining union and the epicenter of the fight is Canton, Mississippi’s Nissan plant. The New York Times this week produced a sweeping account of the UAW’s strategies in Mississippi and linked those strategies to a global effort to force Nissan to knuckle under to union organizers. The Times outlined an unprecedented union organization push that will attempt to rely on global leverage against Nissan as well as the interjection of “civil rights” into the debate. “The union has also helped create a group of students and community and religious leaders, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, which includes the NAACP,” according to the newspaper. “The alliance often uses the slogan, ‘Labor Rights Are Civil Rights.’” In addition, the newspaper reported that the UAW “has sent a team of Mississippi ministers and workers to South Africa, where Nissan has an assembly plant, to try to embarrass the company with accusations that it violates workers’ rights at the Canton plant.” If a labor union is looking for a backdrop from which to try to establish linkage between civil rights and union rights, Mississippi’s history offers optics. But the less than subtle attempt to interject racial overtones into a unionization fight is reprehensible. (read article)

Postal Workers Elect New Leaders Who Pledge to Build a Movement
By Alexandra Bradbury, October 9, 2013, Labor Notes
A diverse slate of local leaders pledging to take a firmer hand with management, increase transparency about contract details, collaborate with other postal unions and community groups, and mobilize members has just won national leadership of the American Postal Workers Union. The Members First Team, headed by now President-Elect Mark Dimondstein, won seven of the nine seats it contested, the APWU announced last night. The stakes couldn’t be higher for postal workers, who are battling wave after wave of attacks—post offices and sorting plants closing, work privatizing, delivery standards eroding. The latest nasty bill pending in Congress would kill Saturday letter delivery, replace door-to-door with curbside and neighborhood “cluster box” service, and ban workers’ time-honored no-layoff clause from future contracts. “We’re at a crossroads,” said Dimondstein before the election. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.” (read article)

California labor union feud lands on Brown’s desk
By Dan Walters, October 9, 2013, Sacramento Bee
It’s certainly not unusual for conflicts between business and labor to be played out in the Capitol. It is, however, very unusual for conflicts between two labor unions to reach the Capitol. And one such duel now presents Gov. Jerry Brown with a dilemma. The state’s building trades unions – carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. – sponsored legislation that would require construction work on oil refineries to be done by a “skilled and trained workforce.” Coming in the wake of a disastrous fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, that requirement doesn’t sound unreasonable from the standpoint of public safety. Public safety, in fact, is the official rationale for Senate Bill 54 from its author, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and its sponsors. But, as with all such bills, the devil is in the details, and in this case, the definition of a “skilled and trained workforce” involves very detailed specifications of apprenticeship programs. And those specifications, not surprisingly, exactly mirror the programs operated by State Building and Construction Trades Council’s member unions. The effect of the legislation, which gained heavy support from the Legislature’s majority Democrats, apparently would be to exclude members of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 5,000 refinery workers in the state. The USW has, therefore, mounted a campaign to persuade Brown to veto the bill. (read article)

How the NAACP Got Involved in Nissan’s Mississippi Union Battle
By Christina Rogers and Neal E. Boudette, October 8, 2013, Wall Street Journal
For years, the United Auto Workers union has largely struck out on its own in trying to organize the South’s foreign-owned car plants, but with no success. Now, it’s enlisting some help from the outside. The latest case in point came Tuesday when the NAACP weighed in to lend support in the UAW’s push to unionize a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. The civil rights organization issued a 47-page report that alleged Nissan is obstructing efforts by Canton employees to build support for the union. Specifically, the report, which was funded by the UAW, claims that Nissan managers pressure workers not to side with the union, routinely suggest the plant could close or cut production if the work force unionizes and prevents UAW organizers from meeting workers inside the factory. Nissan denied the charges, saying in a statement that its managers routinely meet with employees to discuss “matters pertinent to our business.” It added that the report “is neither objective nor credible” and that Nissan has never violated labor standards” and “continue to abide by U.S. labor laws and support the rights of employees to decide whether they wish to be represented by a union.” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP’s Mississippi branch, said the organization got involved because it got calls from workers at the Canton, Miss. plant expressing concerns about Nissan’s management practices. He also added that historically the right to organize and the civil rights movement have been intertwined. “For anyone who questions whether or not it is the role of the NAACP to do what we’re doing today, I say yes it is,” Mr. Johnson said during a press conference in Washington. But the involvement of the NAACP reflects the new reality for the UAW: in its drive to unionize foreign-owned auto plants in the South, it needs help to press its case, which is becoming an increasingly international one. (read article)

 

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