Union Watch Highlights

BART needs a strike ban, negotiations transparent
Editorial, March 7, 2014, Oakland Tribune
BART directors have rejected a flawed proposal to ban strikes for the transit system’s workers in exchange for binding arbitration — but for the wrong reason. The proposal, by Director Joel Keller of Brentwood, didn’t go far enough. His inclusion of binding arbitration to try to make it politically acceptable to labor unions would actually make matters worse. But most BART directors dismissed the proposal because they think it goes too far. They won’t entertain the notion of any strike ban, with or without arbitration. They depend on labor unions for political support and remain unwilling to challenge them. What’s needed is a simple strike ban, full transparency of labor negotiations and election of BART directors who represent constituents rather than labor. A ban on strikes by essential transit workers would place them under the same restrictions as police and firefighters, who in most California cities do not enjoy binding arbitration. Adding binding arbitration would take decision-making away from voters’ elected representatives and turn it over to unaccountable attorneys or retired judges who make money trying to settle labor disputes. Arbitrators don’t want to alienate union leaders who could blackball them from hearing future disputes. Moreover, striving to find resolution, they often advocate short-term deals that irresponsibly push costs into the future. (read article)

Right-to-work laws good for unions, too
Editorial, March 7, 2014, The Knoxville Times-Tribune
Labor-union workers wearing ugly green t-shirts verbally accosted me at the end of last week’s news conference in the Capitol Annex promoting a right-to-work policy for Kentucky – something employees in 24 other states enjoy. They suggested that supporters, including myself, of allowing Kentucky workers the freedom to decide whether or not to join a labor union without it affecting their ability to get or keep a job are wrong on two fronts: (1) we don’t care about their jobs or futures, and (2) we overstate the positive economic impact that a right-to-work law would have in the Bluegrass State. I also wonder if rank-and-file union members – those actually doing the hard work on the floors and in the factories every day and not the bosses obsessed with left-wing political campaigns – might be missing a great opportunity by opposing a right-to-work policy in Kentucky. After all, membership in labor unions grew the most last year in right-to-work states. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Dave Adkisson noted at last week’s news conference that union membership grew faster in neighboring Tennessee in 2013 than any other state. Unions in the Volunteer State added 31,000 members and grew by a whopping 25 percent just last year. Union membership increased by more than 19 percent in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina and by more than 13 percent in Virginia – another of Kentucky’s neighbors. (read article)

Alabamians have little to gain from unions
By Gene Kamena, March 6, 2014, Montgomery Advertiser
Having destroyed its own ecosystem in Detroit, the United Auto Workers union must seek other worlds to ravish. It is the only way to ensure the continued survival of their species, the Laborsaurous Rex. This wounded animal, although a primitive creature, remains formidable and lethal, for it is inbred to devour workers, corporations, cities, politicians and economies. Survival, the ultimate instinct, is all that matters. Of course they want a do-over. No one should be surprised that the UAW appealed the recent loss in Chattanooga, Tenn., to the Nation Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, recently stacked with left-leaning members by the Obama administration, is, if not prejudiced, at least sympathetic to the plight of this endangered species. When learning of the defeat, UAW President Bob King was quick to espouse that workers have the “God-given right to organize.” The UAW will not go quietly into the night. (read article)

The Ideologue vs. the Children
By Peggy Noonan, March 6, 2014, Wall Street Journal
What a small and politically vicious man New York’s new mayor is. Bill de Blasio doesn’t like charter schools. They are too successful to be tolerated. Last week he announced he will drop the ax on three planned Success Academy schools. (You know Success Academy: It was chronicled in the film “Waiting for Superman.” It’s one of the charter schools the disadvantaged kids are desperate to get into.) Mr. de Blasio has also cut and redirected the entire allotment for charter facility funding from the city’s capital budget. An official associated with a small, independent charter school in the South Bronx told me the decision will siphon money from his school’s operations. He summed up his feelings with two words: “It’s dispiriting.” Some 70,000 of the city’s one million students, most black or Hispanic, attend charter schools, mostly in poorer neighborhoods. Charter schools are privately run but largely publicly financed. Their teachers are not unionized. Their students usually outscore their counterparts at conventional public schools on state tests. Success Academy does particularly well. Last year 82% of its students passed citywide math exams. Citywide the figure was 30%. (read article)

Philly union indictments rekindles debate over exemptions for stalking
By Eric Boehm, March 6, 2014, Pennsylvania Independent
The indictments of 10 union members in Philadelphia is prompting lawmakers in Harrisburg to take another look at a state law that can prevent prosecution of some crimes if they’re committed by individuals engaged in a labor dispute. Under the 2002 law that defined “stalking” as a crime, a specific exemption was made for labor union members and others who might be engaged in a labor dispute. Conservatives say that’s an unfair and arbitrary loophole carved out for one of the state’s most powerful special interests, but labor unions contend the measure is necessary to ensure a broad interpretation of the stalking law so union members engaged in organizing activities don’t get dragged into court. A bill to eliminate the exemption has been sitting in the House since last year, but has yet to receive a vote. In the wake of the indictments in Philadelphia, some lawmakers are hoping to make an issue of it next week when legislative session resumes. “It sets a tone and an atmosphere that is clearly wrong,” said state Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, the bill’s sponsor. “I don’t want to see anyone on the union side or the management side threatened, harassed or stalked.” (read article)

The elephant in the political spending room
By Richard Berman, March 6, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
With the 2014 elections just around the corner, opponents of political spending are kicking into high gear. The left blames industrialists like Charles and David Koch for degrading democracy. The right blames shadowy foundations and financiers like George Soros for the same. Still others rip the Supreme Court for allowing runaway political spending in the first place via its decision in Citizens United. But all of this fuss obscures one of the largest funders of American politics, one that — unlike the Kochs or Soros — can force people to contribute to candidates and causes with which they disagree. I’m talking about labor unions. While forcing people to contribute to political causes that run contrary to their beliefs may seem outrageous, it’s merely the status quo for millions of union members today. 2014 will be no different. Last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pledged that labor will spend a staggering $300 million to unseat just five Republican governors, including Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. Were all union members in these five states opposed to these governors, it would be one thing. But as recent data show, it’s quite another. (read article)

Some Unions Get Break From Health Law’s ‘Belly Button Tax’
By Louise Radnofsky, March 6, 2014, Wall Street Journal
The slew of regulations released by the Obama administration Wednesday to implement the federal health law included confirmation that some labor unions and businesses would get a break from the law’s so-called belly button tax. Federal officials signaled in November they were planning to let some organizations that offer health insurance off paying a reinsurance fee on each person they cover, which goes into a fund to compensate insurance carriers that end up paying big medical bills now they can no longer charge riskier people more. The fee was $63 for 2014, and applied to spouses and dependents as well as policyholders, which is where it earned the nickname “bellybutton tax.” Large employers and organized labor had campaigned against the fee because they said they were being asked to subsidize commercial insurance companies and could not afford it. For 2015, the fee has been set at $44 — but it won’t apply to any plan that is both “self-insured” and “self-administered,” the Wednesday rules say. Some union plans could fit that definition, though not all. Many bigger businesses and unions, which employ other companies to act as their plan administrators, have already said they don’t think this will go far enough to help them. (read article)

Labor Unions Fear Outcome Of Illinois Governors Race
By Sara Burnett, March 6, 2014, Huffington Post
When superrich Republican Bruce Rauner decided to run for governor of Illinois, it was clear this wouldn’t be the kind of race the state was accustomed to. Rauner, who made his fortune as a venture capitalist, was new to campaigning and bragged of being beholden to no one. He came out swinging at entrenched special interests and “government union bosses” with an intensity not seen before. Organized labor, which has long had cordial relations with state Republicans, went to full battle stations. Unions have pumped millions of dollars into a television advertising offensive to counter the new threat in advance of the March 18 primary. And Rauner has already committed more than $6 million from his own bank account to the battle. The furious pace and extraordinary cost of a race weeks before the general election field is even set demonstrates what can happen when a wealthy businessman decides he wants to run a state, and of how unions can react when they feel especially threatened. Both sides— having watched labor lose power under Republican governors in surrounding states — are fighting as though more than a single office is at stake. (read article)

House panel told of multiple problems with NLRB’s proposed ‘ambush rule’ for labor union elections
By Mark Tapscott, March 6, 2014, Washington Examiner
It’s baaack! Big Labor’s “ambush election” rule proposal from the Democratic majority that controls the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB majority approved the ambush rule — which dramatically shortens the time allowed for debate prior to a workplace representation election — last year, but it was struck down in court on a technicality. So now the NLRB’s pro-labor majority are giving it a second push, an issue examined in depth earlier this week in a hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. 30 days to seven. The proposal would compress the current 30-day period between a union filing a petition for an election and the election to one week. It also requires employers to provide private contact information of all employees to union organizers. During his opening statement, committee chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., pointed to a long-ago statement from a former Democratic president: “In 1959, then-Senator John F. Kennedy advocated for a 30-day period between the filing of a union election petition and the election. Was Senator Kennedy advocating delay for the sake of delay? Of course not. “Our 35th president stated that a waiting period is ‘an additional safeguard against rushing employees into an election where they are unfamiliar with the issues.'” (read article)

True bipartisanship: Unions jump into Illinois GOP gubernatorial race
By Benjamin Yount, March 6, 2014, Illinois Watchdog
Illinois’ largest public employee unions are making it clear to voters. They don’t care about Republican or Democrat. They only care about pensions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the latest labor union to illustrate that point. AFSCME on Wednesday announced its endorsement of Kirk Dillard in Illinois’ four-way Republican race for governor. “We believe that Kirk Dillard would be the best choice in the Republican primary,” an AFSCME statement reads. “He rejects the demonization of public employees … who provide the vital public services that Illinois citizens demand.” The statement then uses three paragraphs to blast the GOP primary frontrunner, Bruce Rauner. (read article)

Mississippi House passes bills to restrict labor unions
By Jeff Amy, March 5, 2014, Biloxi Sun Herald
Mississippi lawmakers are moving ahead with a package of bills to restrict some labor union organizing and picketing practices. The House passed a package of five bills Wednesday, four of which will return to the Senate for more work because they were amended by the House. The other, Senate Bill 2689, would stop local governments from restricting employer background checks. It will go to Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration if House members don’t reconsider it. Opponents of the bills question whether some are legal under federal law and whether others would have any practical effect. All are being supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They’re over there passing laws to keep people beat down when they make a pitiful wage,” said Robert Shaffer, president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO union federation. Senate Bill 2473 would make it illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or allowing workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. It’s not clear what would constitute coercion, but businesses could sue anyone they believed engaged in it. (read article)

NYC’s De Blasio to Seek Union Cost Savings, Official Says
By Henry Goldman, March 5, 2014, Bloomberg
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who got elected with labor support, may ask unions for concessions on health care if they want raises when negotiating to renew expired contracts, Budget Director Dean Fuleihan said. In testimony to city council’s Finance Committee today, Fuleihan said New York would collect at least $1.5 billion more revenue over the next 18 months than budget officials predicted in November. Labor negotiations may produce an agreement that exceeds that amount, he said. “The workforce will be treated with respect they very much deserve as we enter into discussions with the unions,” Fuleihan said. “At the same time, we have to be careful and we have to be considerate of the taxpayers and the affordability of this. And there have to be some offsetting costs.” De Blasio, 52, a former council member and the first Democrat to run the most-populous U.S. municipality in 20 years, won election by the largest margin by a non-incumbent in city history. He promised to reduce the gap between rich and poor and to resolve the longstanding contract disputes, which Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated last month could cost “multiple billions of dollars.” (read article)

What really caused the decline of American unions?
By Michael Hiltzik, March 5, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Evan Soltas, a Princeton student writing fluently from a platform at Bloomberg View, should be praised for touching off a vigorous debate among print journalists, bloggers and other commentators (including me) over the role of unions in the U.S. economy. As for the points he’s raised and on which he’s now doubling down in reaction to criticism he’s received, they’re still wrong. It’s proper to remember that what really set off this discussion was the United Auto Workers’ recent defeat in an organizing vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. In that vote the union wasn’t opposed by the company but by Republican political leaders across Tennessee, who threatened to destroy the plant by withdrawing public subsidies if the union won. The vote was close, 53% to 47%. If 44 workers out of the more than 1,300 had voted differently, today we’d be talking about a union breakthrough instead of the end of organized labor in America. The most penetrating and unsentimental analysis of the event comes from former union organizer Rich Yeselson, here and here. Among other things, he observes that union organizing is hard no matter where you are, and certainly no easier in a traditionally anti-union region, in a factory where the treatment of workers is pretty good, and by a union that has allowed itself to give too much back to management in other plants as part of its effort to preserve the domestic auto industry. (read article)

Indiana union petitions state Supreme Court to rule Right to Work unconstitutional
March 5, 2014, PR News Channel
IndianaAs Right to Work battles continue to wage across the country, labor supporters in Indiana are looking at a decisive victory if the state Supreme Court rules in their favor. Following the Sept. 5 ruling by Lake Superior Judge John Sedia that portions of the state’s 2012 Right to Work legislation was unconstitutional, the IUOE labor union’s Local 150 branch has submitted a 52-page written argument that urges the Indiana Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling. With the announcement, Right to Work opponents everywhere have shown their support for the Indiana union. In the written argument submitted earlier this month, the “NWI Times” reports the union claims that Judge Sedia’s ruling was correct and that the Supreme Court should restore their ability to charge “fair share” fees to nonmembers for their services. “Provided unions could collect fair share fees, the statute would not force unions to perform their particular services-representational services-entirely for free,” said union attorney, Dale Pierson. “If unions are not forced to perform services for free, then the statute would no longer violate…the Indiana Constitution.” The previous ruling that declared the Right to Work law unconstitutional is currently suspended while the decision is under appeal, however the high court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case later this year. While labor supporters await the decision, Ohio Right to Work supporters are being proactive in their approach. (read article)

With Ironworker indictments, unions reach a tipping point
By Lowman S. Henry, March 4, 2014, Pennsylvania Live
How would you like to be able to stalk someone? Or perhaps harass them? Maybe even threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction against them? And how would you like to do that legally? It’s simple. Just get involved in a labor dispute and all such actions are perfectly legal. In fact, those tactics have been used regularly by labor unions right here in Pennsylvania. It seems though that one union has been collared by the feds for going too far. Ten members of the Ironworkers Union Local 401 in Philadelphia were indicted recently for, among other things, allegedly vandalizing a Quaker meetinghouse that was under construction. Yes, those Quakers; the religion that preaches non-violence. Meanwhile, back in Harrisburg, legislation that would eliminate the so-called carve-outs in state law that permit stalking, harassment, and threats of mass destruction awaits action. It is queued up and ready for a vote in the state House, but for some reason has yet to hit the floor for a vote. This should be an easy vote for lawmakers. In the post-9/11 era who can justify allowing anyone to legally threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction? Well, aside from one prominent labor leader who appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to offer a half-hearted defense of the carve-outs. His justification was that business supports and uses the carve-outs as much as organized labor. However, a poll of business owners and chief executive officers conducted last fall by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found 84 percent opposed the carve-outs. Just 3 percent voiced approval. (read article)

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