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.

Political targeting of Walker supporters proves it can happen here
By Rick Manning, February 11, 2014, 2014
It can’t happen here. Government targeting and intimidation against political opponents is something found in North Korea or Iran, not in the United States of America. Tell that to conservative groups in the state of Wisconsin whose leaders have had their private homes raided by local police due to their attempts to support Gov. Scott Walker (R) during the labor unions’ failed attempt at recalling him from office. After losing at the ballot box, Big Labor allies in the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office have conducted a secret witch hunt of their opponents’ activities that is specifically designed to intimidate and discourage their future political participation. Using leaks to the media to question credibility, coupled with kicking in a few doors to make a dramatic statement, the Milwaukee district attorney has proven that it can, in fact, happen here. Now, one of those groups has had enough and has filed a federal lawsuit against the high-profile Walker opponent. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, names four Milwaukee prosecutors including special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and District Attorney John Chisholm. The lawsuit’s description is eerily reminiscent of the actions of the IRS in targeting conservative groups. It charges that the defendants have spent four years using their official offices attempting to harass and silence political opponents. (read article)

The Democrat Fighting Labor Unions to Save Taxpayers Money
By Adam Shapiro, February 11, 2014, FOXBusiness
Mayor Chuck Reed’s 18th floor office high above San Jose California offers a down to earth view of the public pension crisis. “We have less police officers in the city of San Jose than we had ten years ago even though we increased the budget in the police department by nearly 100 million dollars.” Most of that money, says Reed, went towards paying retirement benefits. Reed is leading the charge to amend California’s constitution to help cities reform their public pension plans. In 2012, 69% of San Jose voters approved Reed’s pension reform referendum Measure B. It placed new city employees in a lower cost retirement plan and gave current employees an option. They could either pay more out of their own pockets to keep their current retirement plan or opt in to the new less expensive one at no additional cost. It also eliminated the 13th check, a bonus check sometimes issued to retirees. (read article)

How ObamaCare might undermine labor unions
By Peter Weber, February 11, 2014, The Week
The Affordable Care Act makes it easier for workers to leave lousy jobs. That’s great for workers but could spell trouble for unions. here are a lot of ways to explain the long decline in organized labor in the U.S. Surely a major factor is the expansion of the labor force to include countries where labor is much cheaper, a shift fueled by advances in transportation and communication (i.e., globalization). A more optimistic way of looking at Big Labor’s decline, though, is that unions have bargained away their influence. The 40-hour work week, employee-provided health care, work safety rules, paid vacation and sick leave, and other hard-fought, union-won benefits have become commonplace in the U.S. workforce — even at some low-wage, non-union jobs. It’s harder for unions to organize Walmart and Starbucks employees, for example, because both companies offer their full-time hourly employees health insurance and other benefits. Do union workers get better benefits? Yes, but Starbucks baristas are in much better shape than, say, 1910s garment-factory workers. The Affordable Care Act — or at least the promise of the ACA — changes the U.S. labor equation in lots of interesting ways. Most of the changes are beneficial to individuals and families but of mixed value to employers and government tax coffers. (read article)

Coalition of unions, advocacy groups to push for city minimum wage
By Kenneth Lovett, February 11, 2014, New York Daily News
A powerful coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups has Mayor de Blasio’s back in his push to create a city minimum wage. Members are set to announce Tuesday an ‘aggressive’ statewide campaign for a law allowing municipalities to set their own minimum wage above the New York’s current rate, an idea Mayor de Blasio touched on during his State of the City address. The coalition plans to hold town hall meetings, canvass and lobby lawmakers in Albany. Members on Tuesday will announce an “aggressive” statewide campaign for a law to allow municipalities to set their own minimum wage rates above the state’s current rate of $8 an hour. The plan recognizes that what might be a more livable wage in New York City could be too high for struggling areas like Buffalo and Binghamton, advocates say. “It takes the pressure off the state Legislature having to look for a minimum wage increase statewide,” said Hector Figueroa, president of service-workers union SEIU Local 32BJ. (read article)

Labor Union Talks Shouldn’t Be Hidden from Public, Idaho Lawmaker Says
By Kimberlee Kruesi, February 11, 2014, Magic Valley Times
Negotiations with labor unions should no longer be hidden from the public, one lawmaker told the House State Affairs Committee on Monday. Idaho’s Open Meeting Law allows cities and counties to conduct labor negotiations in closed executive sessions, except for teacher contracts, which were made public with the approval of Students Come First laws. State Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said the Legislature should strike the exemption for all labor negotiations from the open meeting law, allowing closed sessions only “to consider labor contract offers and counteroffers.” “This is the people’s business,” Harris said. “This should be a transparent process.” State Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said he worries that conversations would be stifled if the public were allowed in. “The policy has been that we keep the public out for various reasons,” Barbieri said. “It’s so we allow frank and open discussions between parties. How is this going to facilitate open and frank discussions?” Harris said he feels the exemption goes against the spirit of the law. (read article)

Big Labor’s Quickie Election Gambit
Editorial, February 10, 2014, Wall Street Journal
The National Labor Relations Board has been one of the most active outposts of the Obama “unilateral presidency.” It returned to the news last week with a proposal to speed up union elections. The board floated this rule once before. It failed. Take two is no better. The idea first surfaced in 2011, after “card check” legislation to steamroll elections failed in Congress. The NLRB then went looking for other ways to make it easier for unions to organize work sites. They landed on a new rule, which would get unions in the door fast with speeded-up certification votes. In that spirit, the NLRB jammed the rule through with the votes of only two members, both Democrats. An official quorum required three members, and on that ground the U.S. District Court in Washington declared the vote invalid, in response to a lawsuit by the Chamber of Commerce. (read article)

UAW vote at VW plant has high stakes for industry, labor
Gabe Nelson, February 10, 2014, Automotive News
The ballot Volkswagen workers will see this week poses a simple yes-or-no question: “Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the UAW?” The answer rendered by the 1,500 workers eligible to vote could have profound implications for the future of the U.S. auto industry and organized labor. No one is more aware of this than the UAW, which hopes a victory in Chattanooga will finally give it a foothold for expansion in the South’s foreign-owned auto plants after three decades of struggles to organize their workers. A loss, however, would be devastating, given that VW has all but invited the UAW into the Chattanooga plant to help create a German-style labor council that would give workers a say in corporate decisions about new products and manufacturing sites. “If they don’t get this one, then there’s no hope for them anytime soon to have any success with BMW or Daimler,” says Steve Silvia, a professor at American University who recently wrote a book on German labor relations. “And the Japanese and Korean plants are reaches even beyond the German plants.” (read article)

Tennessee legislators threaten to withhold incentives if VW workers choose UAW
By Brent Snavely, February 10, 2014, Detroit Free Press
The crusade by anti-union forces in Tennessee, including the state’s governor and senior senator, is now as much a fight with Volkswagen management as with the UAW. Volkswagen’s neutrality has been challenged by opposition groups who charge that the German automaker is, in fact, engaged in a carefully orchestrated plan by the automaker to help the UAW win the election. On Monday, state Republican leaders accused Volkswagen of supporting the UAW and they threatened to withhold any tax incentives for future expansion of the three-year-old assembly plant in Chattanooga if workers vote later this week to join the UAW. For Tennessee, that could mean forgoing a potential $1 billion investment. “It has been widely reported that Volkswagen has promoted a campaign that has been unfair, unbalanced, and, quite frankly, un-American in the traditions of American labor campaigns,” State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said in a statement sent to the Free Press. (read article)

Union members allege coercion by University of California as strike vote looms
By Daniel Tutt, February 10, 2014, The Daily Californian
As the threat of a strike loomed on the horizon, the University of California and the union representing its patient-care and service workers entered their last scheduled day of bargaining Friday prior to a strike authorization vote planned for Tuesday. The university has said it will rescind its current offer to the patient-care workers — which includes a 2 percent total additional increase in wages for workers over the contract’s four-year term — if a strike is authorized, a move the union has alleged is unlawful. The union’s attorney sent a letter Tuesday to the university demanding it “immediately withdraw the offending threat” and reasserting allegations that the university has coerced union members. UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the university was prepared to negotiate into the night. Still, the union considers the university’s offer “second class” compared to offers made with its other unions, while Klein calls the offer “a very fair deal.” The legal issue stems from the separation between the service workers and the patient-care workers, all of whom are bargaining independently with the university yet are represented under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. The union alleges that, because the service workers are the primary strikers, for the university to withdraw its offer of wage increases for the patient-care workers would be a violation of fair labor practices. (read article)

De Blasio’s 1st NYC Budget Get Surplus Before Labor Talks
By Henry Goldman February 9, 2014, Bloomberg
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio presents his first budget this week, and unions that backed his election will be watching to see how he intends to deal with expired contracts for almost 300,000 workers. An unexpected surplus as big as $4 billion may make his job more difficult. The surprise bonanza will come from unanticipated revenue and unspent expenses accumulated in 2013 and expected this year, according to budget documents and independent economists. While good news for the biggest U.S. city, it may complicate de Blasio’s fiscal plans if unions insist on retroactive raises and refuse to make concessions. “You could easily create a scenario where settling with the unions depletes whatever additional funds he has,” said Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that monitors city finances. “I have to assume he won’t let that happen because then he won’t have the money to fund the priorities he does have.” (read article)

Unions don’t belong in government, Part II
By Lorne Dewitt, February 6, 2014, Tampa Tribune
We all know about the “Evil Democrats” and their designs to destroy capitalism, liberty, and growing the size of government. Why is it that Republicans have sat silently by and allowed it to happen? Here’s how and why. The Republican Party often attacks and blames Democrats for supporting unions that have contributed to the economic mess we are now experiencing, but fiscal conservatives know better. Republicans are every bit as guilty as Democrats for accepting payoffs from public sector union lobbyists for supporting union expansion into government. For example, The Teamsters broke with traditional support for Democratic nominees and the AFL-CIO when Nixon accepted the Teamsters offer from imprisoned union president James “Jimmy” Hoffa to use their infrastructure and chain of command to organize his reelection campaign. As well as deploy their muscle, aka union thugs and striker teams, to put down anti-war protesters. They even roughed-up Abbie Hoffman at Nixon’s request. In 1959, the first government employees were allowed collective bargaining in New York. Then, in 1963, they were allowed to do so nationally, but only in areas that were not considered too sensitive to allow union activities that could compromise the public’s interests and the people’s trust in government. (read article)

Labor Board Tries Again on Unions’ Voting Rules
February 5, 2014, New York Times
Labor regulators are trying once again to streamline the process workers go through when deciding whether to join labor unions, a move sure to reignite the bitter debate between union supporters and employers that seek to discourage workers from unionizing. The National Labor Relations Board proposed rules on Wednesday that would allow unions to hold workplace elections more quickly by simplifying procedures, setting shorter deadlines and requiring businesses to hand over lists of employee phone numbers and emails to union leaders before a vote. That could make it easier for unions to organize, and reverse decades of steep membership declines. The board approved similar rules more than two years ago, but business groups challenged the rules in court. A federal judge ruled in 2012 that the N.L.R.B. failed to follow proper voting procedures, but left the door open for the board to try again. (read article)

Businesses Say NLRB Tilting Union Election Procedure to Benefit Big Labor
By Bill McMorris, February 5, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
Businesses are criticizing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for tilting union election procedure to benefit organized labor. The National Retail Federation, the largest industry association in the country, blasted the majority-Democrat board for rushing union elections. They say that “ambush elections” in which votes are held quickly following the union signature gathering, do not afford employers enough time to educate their workers about the impact of unionization. “The National Labor Relations Board has issued its ‘new’ ambush election rule that seeks to limit employees and employers’ participation in union elections by reducing the timeframe between the filing of union petitions and the actual election,” NRF senior vice president for Government Relations David French. “What’s not new is the NLRB’s desire to support union activism over sound public policy.” (read article)

Labor Board Moves to Expedite Union Votes
By Melanie Trottman, February 5, 2014, Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday revived a sweeping proposal to streamline and speed union-organizing elections at companies, positioning the agency for a fight with business groups, which stymied the original 2011 measure in court on a technicality. The NLRB said the proposed rule is aimed at updating the election process, increasing transparency and efficiency, and reducing unnecessary litigation and delay. The rule would usher in some of the biggest procedural changes for union-organizing elections in decades, and would mark a major victory for unions that often complain it takes too long to schedule a vote. The changes would delay employers’ legal challenges, including whether certain workers are eligible to vote, until after the election occurs. Unions say that would eliminate litigation used to stall elections, but business groups say it would limit employers’ ability to launch timely challenges and counter union-organizing campaigns. The NLRB says many challenges become moot when unions lose elections. Employers would also be required to give the union email addresses of employees eligible to vote, and the proposal would allow for electronic filing of election documents. The proposal drew quick criticism from business groups and praise from unions. (read article)

Feds Ready To Make It Easier For Workers To Unionize
By Dave Jamieson, February 5, 2014, Huffington Post
After a judge struck down an earlier version in 2012, federal officials announced Wednesday that they will re-introduce a set of rules that streamline the labor union election process, likely making it easier for U.S. workers to join a union or decertify one. While applauded by unions, the original proposal drew harsh criticism and a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s foremost business lobby. The rules would essentially cut back the administrative delays that hold up union votes before and after they happen. Anti-union groups and many Republican members of Congress claimed the rules would let unions spring “ambush” or “quickie” votes. The proposal faltered in federal court. In 2012, a judge ruled that the National Labor Relations Board, the independent agency that enforces labor law, had issued the rules without a quorum. But since that decision did not challenge the content of the rules themselves, the three left-leaning members of the now-full five-member board have decided to reintroduce them. The two right-leaning board members dissented. Despite that split, Mark Gaston Pearce, the board’s chairman, said in a statement Wednesday that all five members agreed the election process needed to be modernized. “Unnecessary delay and inefficiencies hurt both employees and employers,” Pearce said. “These proposals are intended to improve the process for all parties, in all cases, whether non-union employees are seeking a union to represent them or unionized employees are seeking to decertify a union.” (read article)

Portland Public Schools tries to recruit substitutes for a strike
By Nicole Dungca, February 04, 2014, the Oregonian
Portland Public Schools is trying to recruit substitutes outside the district to serve if teachers go on a strike, offering them five days worth of pay even if a walkout does not last that long. As teachers prepare to take a strike vote on Wednesday, the union is also accusing Portland Public Schools officials of bullying its own substitute teachers to cross the picket line in an unfair labor practice complaint. Jon Isaacs, the senior policy adviser to Superintendent Carole Smith, said Portland schools officials needed to have a plan in place should the teachers vote to walk out. “Recruiting substitutes is a process and it’s our responsibility to kids in our schools and community to recruit replacement substitutes in the case of a strike,” he said. “We couldn’t wait.” The threat of a strike has become more real than ever, with union officials calling together members to vote on a walkout. District officials have said they would try to keep the doors open should teachers strike, calling upon their own substitutes and others to work. (read article)

 

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