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. 

Why do public workers get a better deal?
By Dick Conklin, December 17, Galesburg.com
I am not a public employee nor am I related to one. From that standpoint, I have a few observations and questions on the recently passed pension reform bill. First, the positions of those for and those opposed to the pension reform bill both fail the test of common sense. Both sides hold their positions because of fear of violating the constitutional guarantees of public employee negotiated benefits. The first logical common sense question that appears to a non-public employee is, why? “Why do you the public employees receive a constitutional Guarantee of benefit, benefits in excess of those in private sector? Why are union public employees held to be sacrosanct, deserving of constitutional guarantees, while private employees have no such guarantees? Why do we put public employees on a higher platform than private employees?” Secondly, rather than small steps to delay early retirement, why aren’t the retirement dates for public employees tied to those of Social Security, i.e., 62½ for early retirement and 66 years and over for full retirement? Where’s the equity in two different scales? Thirdly, why do public employees get a guaranteed 3 percent compound cost of living increase whereas Social Security benefits increase in step with the actual cost of living, i.e., 1.5 and 1.7 percent the last two years. Zero percent in 2009 and 2010. Should not public employees retirement COLAS equal those of Social Security? Most defined benefit plans in the private sector don’t have COLAS. So again a logical question is why do public employees get such preferential treatment? Their positions are no more valuable to society than those in the private sector. Further, there is nary a public employee position that can’t be privatized. Fourth, how does lowering the public employees contribution by 1 percent of their salary under this bill increase solvency and reduce the burden on the taxpayer? Shouldn’t we see an increase in the rate of contribution? Fifth question, what is the reason for subsidizing health insurance costs for early retirees? Most in the private sector don’t enjoy this benefit. (read article)

UAW official: ‘We hate’ two-tier wage system
By Ben Klayman, December 17, 2013, Chicago Tribune
A top official with the United Auto Workers said the American labor union wants to eliminate the two-tier wage system that pays new automotive workers at a lower rate than veterans. Norwood Jewell, nominated to serve as one of three vice presidents when the union meets next June to ratify its new leaders, said on Monday that the UAW wants to dump the two-tier scale that pays entry-level hires at slightly more than half the rate of veteran workers. “The international executive board hates two-tiers,” he told reporters at a General Motors Co. plant in Flint, Mich. Jewell is currently director of the region that includes the GM plant. “We didn’t do two tiers because it’s a wonderful thing,” he added, saying they were a “financial unfortunate” caused by the weak industry in 2007. “We hate them. We intend to eliminate them over time.” The UAW will negotiate its next labor contract with the U.S. automakers, GM, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group, which is controlled by Italy’s Fiat, in 2015. Strong profits at the U.S. automakers, combined with the UAW’s distaste for two-tier wages and the fact that veteran workers have not received a pay raise in a decade, point to difficult labor talks. Jewell said key to eliminating the second-tier wages will be the UAW successfully organizing non-union plants in the U.S. South. (read article)

Poll: 47% of local government leaders support right to work
By Paul Egan, December 17, 2013, Battle Creek Inquirer
Just under half of local government leaders in Michigan support the state’s year-old right-to-work law, but they don’t approve of an exemption the Legislature gave to police officers and firefighters, according to a University of Michigan survey to be released today. Of local government leaders surveyed by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, 47 percent said they support the right-to-work law, while 22 percent oppose it. Only 26 percent support the law’s exemptions for police and fire unions, while 33 percent oppose the exemptions, the survey found. Opposition to the exemptions is even stronger among local governments that have employee unions. For that group, which makes up about a quarter of all local governments in Michigan, 16 percent support the exemptions and 53 percent oppose them, the survey found. Right-to-work legislation, which was passed last year, makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. (read article)

California Union Pays Only 1.7% of Income in Taxes, Yet Demands Corporations “Pay Their Fair Share”
Kyle Olson, December 17, 2013, Town Hall
Are government employee unions any less of a leech on society than corporations? The malcontents with the California Federation of Teachers apparently think so. As a part of the recent public school “Day of Action” – a milder, more geriatric version of the 1960s “Days of Rage” – unionists in San Francisco staged a shouting protest in front of the Westfield Mall. The chanters demanded the corporations headquartered inside the mall “pay their fair share.” The hypocrisy comes with the fact that they want others to pay more taxes, while they themselves pay so little. The CFT’s 2013 LM-2 financial report reveals the union received $21,866,549 in “total receipts.” That type of annual revenue is probably on par with a lot of big corporations. And the union certainly acts like a corporation in the manner in which it compensates top employees, yet the union only paid $371,150 in “direct taxes.” Labor unions are categorized as non-profits by IRS rules and therefore are immune from income taxes. (read article)

Workers rally against Amazon in Seattle, Germany
By Manuel Valdes, December 17, 2013, Associated Press
On the same day more than 1,000 workers at Amazon.com in Germany walked off the job in a labor dispute, a few dozen people rallied in solidarity Monday outside the online retailer’s Seattle headquarters. “I’m here to support our American brothers and sisters … and to show the German workers that they’re not alone in their strike,” said Nancy Becker, a German worker who flew in Sunday for the rally. She works at the company’s Bad Hersfeld logistics center. The one-day strike comes during the busy Christmas season for the online retailer. The German union Ver.di said Monday that workers were staging one-day warning strikes at Amazon logistics centers in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld and Graben. (read article)

Right to work survey: Local government leaders anticipate moderate impacts from law
By Melissa Anders, December 17, 2013, Michigan Live
Michigan’s local government officials expect the right-to-work law will have a fairly limited effect on their municipality’s fiscal health, ability to attract and retain workers and businesses, and their relationship with unions, according to a new report. Just 26 percent of Michigan’s local governments have unionized workers, and many of those are police and fire department employees who are exempt from the law. Those with unionized workers appeared to have a slightly more negative outlook on the law’s effect on labor relations, while expectations for municipal finances and business and worker attraction skewed more positive, according to a report released Tuesday by The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan. For example, 20 percent expect it to have a negative impact on their relationship with unions, while 9 percent expect a positive impact. Most anticipate mixed or no results. Thirty-one percent expect right to work to help business attraction and retention, while just 7 percent think it will hurt. (read article)

Could New York casino union offer a glimpse of the future for Wisconsin gaming?
By Jack Craver, December 17, 2013, The Capital Times
There is one obvious reason the Potawatomi and Ho Chunk Indian tribes are pushing Gov. Scott Walker to reject a proposal by the Menonminee Tribe to build a casino in Kenosha. As the two biggest casino operators in the state — as well as the only two operators in southern Wisconsin — the two tribes stand to lose the most by allowing a third competitor to operate in southeastern Wisconsin. But as I’ve reported before, there is another, less-publicized reason the Ho Chunk and Potawatomi are agitated by the Menominee’s proposal: Unions. They don’t want organized labor anywhere near their casinos. The problem, as they see it, is a memorandum of understanding the Menominee signed with a group of Kenosha labor groups years ago that signaled the tribe’s willingness to allow unions into the casino to organize workers without interference. That means the casino would not discourage workers from signing union authorization cards and would begin to bargain with the union as soon as a majority of the workers signed them. That is in contrast to the practice of most employers, who would likely exercise their right to force an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. (read article)

Boeing Waves a Red Flag at a Union Bull
By Tom Gara, December 16, 2013, Wall Street Journal
Here’s a quick lesson in how to enrage your adversaries, courtesy of America’s leading airplane manufacturer. Boeing has had a famously rocky relationship with its biggest union in recent years, and it got even more strained last month when the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted to reject an offer that would extend their existing contract from 2016 to 2024. The union is pushing back hard against Boeing’s insistence on changes to the pension plan and pay scale, with the company saying the changes are needed to keep the unionized workforce in Washington state competitive with other potential manufacturing locations. Boeing has relented on the wage structure, but the union’s leadership wasn’t swayed. So amid tricky negotiations to convince its union of the need for cutbacks in labor costs, how to send the right corporate message? As the WSJ reports today: Boeing’s board authorized a 50% increase in its dividend and $10 billion to repurchase its shares over the next several years, efforts to satisfy shareholders who have pushed for the company return some of its soaring earnings to investors. To make the symbolism even more potent, Boeing’s buyback numbers line up well with the amount of investment it will likely need to built its next big plane, the 777X. (read article)

Liberal hypocrisy over out-of-state cash
By Christian Schneider, December 16, 2013, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
In Journal Sentinel reporter Bill Glauber’s profile of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke over the weekend, Burke unveiled what is certain to be one of the primary talking points of her campaign: that Gov. Scott Walker gets too much of his money from out of state. Says Burke: “When Scott Walker raises nearly 70% of his money from out of state, that’s going to be hard to beat. But what I feel is I’ll be able to raise what I need to get the message out. My money is going to come largely from the people of Wisconsin.” First, I’ll dispense with the easiest point: Burke is only a plausible candidate because she’s a millionaire. She’s going to spend millions of dollars of her own money to buy credibility during this race. That doesn’t exactly signal that she has the support of the people of Wisconsin. But it’s Walker’s fundraising that Burke is criticizing. As those who closely followed the 2012 recall election remember, anti-Walker groups such as One Wisconsin Now, whose goal it is to spread misinformation where actual knowledge might otherwise blossom, ripped Walker for taking too much out-of-state cash. On Dec. 16, 2011, OWN issued a press release called “Walker’s Unprecedented Out-of-State Contributions Alarming,” which bemoaned Walker’s “massive amounts of out of state money”: “Walker not only took nearly 50% of his individual money from out of state, his top four donors totaling $550,000 came from outside of Wisconsin. Of Walker’s largest 655 contributions of $1,000 and above, 53% of the money from these contributions, or $1,196,600 is from outside of Wisconsin.” Wow — that sounds pretty bad. Except that, as Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein noted after the election, Walker’s opponent, Tom Barrett, reported raising 48% of his money from out-of-state in the months leading up to the June 5 election. During the same period, Walker raised about 72% from out-of-state (presumably the number Burke is citing), although the number drops to 62% if the entire election cycle is considered. But if you’re scoring at home, for the folks at OWN: 50%: “Massive amounts of out of state money.” 48%: “Is this thing on?” (read article)

UC reaches tentative labor deal with staff workers
By John King, December 15, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle
The University of California has reached a tentative labor agreement with the union that represents more than 12,000 technical employees, researchers and health care professionals. The agreement, reached Friday, will be voted on this week by employees who will be asked to contribute extra money into their pension fund while receiving cumulative raises of up to 13 percent between now and 2017. Longtime employees will continue to be able to retire with full pension benefits when they turn 60, rather than at 65 as the university originally had sought. “We wanted to keep everyone on a single pension platform,” said Jelger Kalmijn, president of the University Professional & Technical Employees union, which negotiated the agreement. “That’s why we agreed to put more money into the system.” (read article)

Supreme Court Union Intrigue
Editorial, December 15, 2013, Wall Street Journal
The Supreme Court doesn’t usually make news when it fails to decide a case, but this week it did on a major labor relations question. Rarely has the lack of a ruling been so intriguing. The Justices dismissed as “improvidently granted” Unite Here v. Mulhall , which asked if so-called neutrality agreements between labor and management infringe on employee rights. In a Nov. 14 editorial we urged the Justices to side with Martin Mulhall, a groundskeeper at a Florida racetrack who objected to being forced into a union by a union-management quid pro quo. A majority of the Court instead dismissed the case on grounds that it may have become moot and that Mr. Mulhall may lack standing to sue. But what was fascinating is that liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the Court should have heard new arguments on those two matters. Such a dissent is rare, and Justice Breyer’s dissent noted that the dismissal means that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the labor-management deal will stand (in Florida, Alabama and Georgia). He added that had Mr. Mulhall lacked standing, then the Eleventh Circuit ruling would have been vacated. To put it another way, Justice Breyer thinks the union would have won the case without the Justices having to address the merits. But this also means that had the case been decided on the merits, a majority of the Supreme Court might have ruled for Mr. Mulhall. This has large potential implications for Big Labor, which has increasingly sought these neutrality agreements to make it easier to organize a work site. The rights of workers get washed out in such bargains that violate the Taft-Hartley Act’s ban on giving a “thing of value” to help organizing. Let’s hope the Justices find another case soon to make clear that such sweetheart deals are illegal. (read article)

Boston Mayor-elect suggests hard line in union talks
By Richard Weir, December 13, 2013, Boston Herald
Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh assured Boston business leaders yesterday he will not be a handmaiden for the city’s public safety unions, suggesting he will take a hard but fair line when negotiating pending contracts with police and fire unions. Walsh, the former head of one of the largest building trade unions in Boston, responded, “Absolutely not,” when asked during a luncheon at the Boston Harbor Hotel whether he would feel obligated to give Boston’s firefighters and three other police unions with expired contracts the same 25.4 percent raise the city’s patrolmen just received. “The contracts are getting to such a point you can’t come to compromise because it costs too much in a tough economy, even in good economic times. …We’ve got to be very careful,” he said. The firefighters’ last contract expired in June 2011, and their union, Local 718, is in negotiations with the city, which has offered the jakes the same 12.3 percent increase over six years it offered 30 other city unions. The city is also in talks with the three unions representing Boston police detectives and superior officers, who historically get a similar pay hike as the patrolmen. Walsh acknowledged he will be dealing with the contracts “right out of the box” and doesn’t want them “to linger on.” As a mayoral candidate, he vowed to seek to avoid arbitration. (read article)
Boeing’s 777X Contract: Union Rejects Counterproposal To Build Jet In Washington State
By Amrutha Gayathri, December 13 2013, International Business Times
Dealing a fresh blow to Washington state’s aerospace industry, talks between The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and its main workers’ union, to build key parts of its new jet, the 777X, in the Seattle area, collapsed on Thursday after the union rejected a new proposal, which Boeing termed as its “best and final” offer. The breakdown in talks came a month after the union, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, rejected a contract due to disagreements over retirement benefits. Boeing said its revised eight-year contract offered a $10,000 signing bonus and a lump sum bonus of $5,000 along with “dental benefits.” However, the new proposal retained the changes proposed to the retirement benefits plan in the original offer. “We entered these discussions to address the concerns we were hearing from our employees,” Boeing President and CEO Ray Conner said, in a statement. “We’ve listened to the union leadership and had an open dialogue in hopes of moving toward each other. Unfortunately the offer, which would have ensured this great airplane for the Puget Sound region, was immediately rejected by the union leadership.” (read article)

Labor faces backlash over BART strikes
By Joe Garofoli, December 13, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle
The two strikes that BART workers staged this year damaged the image of labor unions in California, particularly among middle-of-the-road voters, according to a new Field Poll. The survey found that 45 percent of respondents said unions do more harm than good, while 40 percent felt they do more good. That’s a large shift from when the Field Poll asked the question in March 2011, when 46 percent said unions do more good and 35 percent felt they do more harm. Among those who described their political ideology as “middle-of-the-road,” 47 percent in the new survey said unions do more harm and 36 percent believed the opposite. Two years ago, the numbers were reversed: 45 percent believed unions are generally a force for good, and 34 percent said they aren’t. The latest poll’s findings are a warning to unions, said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, heading into a year in which voters statewide could be considering a ballot measure that would increase public employees’ pension contributions. “A lot of this is due to the BART strikes,” DiCamillo said. “It may have only affected Bay Area commuters, but it was watched around the state.” (read article)

Californians’ negative view of organized labor grows, Field Poll says
By Ricardo Lopez, December 13, 2013, Los Angeles Times
Californians’ view of organized labor has soured over the past two and a half years: 45% of those surveyed in a poll released Friday said unions do more harm than good, up from 35% in a March 2011 reading. The results of the independent Field Poll showed a stark shift in public opinion in California, long a labor union stronghold. Even those who identify as Democrats or have union affiliations reported their views on labor unions taking a turn for the worse. The poll of 1,002 registered voters was conducted between Nov. 14 and Dec. 5 and also found that recent public transit worker strikes in the Bay Area, which disrupted commuters’ workdays, affected the public’s opinion. Statewide, 47% of voters said public transit workers should be allowed to strike versus 44% who said they should not. “Voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area… are more likely than voters elsewhere to oppose public transit workers having the right to strike,” pollster Mark DiCamillo said. Friday’s poll results come as labor groups nationwide are fighting dwindling union membership and are forming coalitions with non-labor groups to reverse their declining political clout. Ties with progressive groups such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza were formalized at the AFL-CIO’s recent September convention. (read article)

Union for L.A. County social workers reaches tentative labor deal with county
By City News Service, December 13, 2013, Daily News
The union representing Los Angeles County social workers, who took part in a six-day strike before returning to work this week, announced Friday it has reached a tentative labor deal with the county. Details of the agreement were expected to be announced an at afternoon news conference, but union officials said the deal will result in reduced workloads for social workers. “It wasn’t easy but we made history,” according to Chychy Ekeochah, head of the social workers’ union bargaining team. “Because we put it on the line, the county accepted our proposals to protect children. That’s a big victory for us and the children we serve.” David Sommers, spokesman for the county, confirmed that a tentative deal had been reached “after very difficult negotiations.” “This agreement provides for a way forward in providing the best services to the children and families of this county,” he said. Social workers walked off the job Dec. 5. The strike came to a head Tuesday, when seven people were arrested during a protest outside the county Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles. At the urging of a mediator brought in by the county, the workers went back to work Wednesday and contract negotiations resumed. (read article)

MSNBC Host Ed Schultz Took $250,000 From Unions
By Cathy Burke, December 12, 2013, Newsmax.com
Liberal radio and MSNBC TV talk show host Ed Schultz, an ardent supporter of workers’ rights who frequently invites labor leaders onto his programs, was paid $252,000 by union groups between 2012 and 2013, reports said Thursday. Citing Department of Labor Statistics, Politico and Truth Revolt reported Schultz – who proclaims himself as “America’s most listened-to Progressive radio talk show host” on his Twitter account – took in $177,000 from labor unions in 2012. This year, he raked in $75,000 from the AFL-CIO, the reports said. Politico broke down the big money as coming from union groups including AFL-CIO electrical workers and postal workers – including $72,000 auto workers forked over in 2012. The Department of Labor figures also noted a $10,000 lump sum from a state, county and municipal workers union in Fargo, N.D., given in 2009. Ed Schultz Broadcasting LLC was the recipient of all the money, Politico noted. MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski told Politico the money paid for advertisements on Schultz’s radio show and website, and for speaking gigs. She said all the speaking engagement money got donated to charity in accordance with company policy. “Independent from MSNBC, Ed’s radio show and website sell advertising to a variety of clients – both union and non-union,” Skowronski told Politico. (read article)

AC Transit labor dispute heats up as cooling-off period nears end
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, December 12, 2013, Contra Costa Times
Starting Sunday, AC Transit will launch revamped routes and restore some of the service hours the giant East Bay bus agency was forced to cut when it ran short on cash several years ago. But behind the celebratory service rollout, acrimonious labor negotiations between AC Transit and the union representing 1,600 drivers and mechanics are again approaching a boiling point. Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, who are nearing the end of a court-ordered, 60-day cooling-off period that averted a strike, have boycotted driver sign-ups for both the new and existing bus routes. The unions argue the changes violate the terms of the cooling-off period. Earlier this week, they asked an Alameda County judge to slap AC Transit with fines and an injunction. Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo denied the union’s request on Wednesday, and AC Transit management has assigned drivers to operate the revised routes and schedule beginning Sunday. The question is, will drivers show up? (read article)

BART and its unions go back to the table in family leave dispute
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, December 12, 2013, Contra Costa Times
In a sign of a possible warming trend in the icy relations between BART and its two biggest unions, the parties will sit down with a federal mediator starting Thursday. Both sides are looking to end the latest dispute in a protracted labor conflict that twice has shut down the Bay Area train agency, stranded tens of thousands of commuters and inspired support for a ban on transit worker strikes. In dispute is a costly paid family leave provision BART management contends was mistakenly included in the final package that unions ratified Nov. 1. The error led the nine-member elected BART board last month to authorize approval of the contract only if the unions agree to remove the contested clause. Agency leaders say they never agreed to the costly perk, which staff estimates could cost millions of dollars depending on how many take it. The Amalgamated Transit and Service Employees International unions refused and last week expanded their unfair labor practices lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court to include BART’s refusal to honor the benefit. “A deal is a deal,” said several of their representatives who scoffed at the agency’s characterization of the clause as a mistake. (read article)

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