Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Raising minimum wage will only be beneficial to Big Labor interests
By Fred Wszolek, September 2, 2014, San Francisco Examiner
This November, San Francisco could become the next city on the West Coast to enact a dramatic hike in its minimum wage, despite a report by the city controller that states that the proposal would cut more than 15,000 jobs. In local elections, San Franciscans will vote on a measure that would increase the city’s minimum wage from $10.74 per hour to $12.25 in May, then incrementally higher until it reaches $15 per hour in 2018. The minimum-wage cause has been taken up with varying degrees of success in a number of cities since President Barack Obama’s push to get Congress to raise the federal minimum wage spluttered earlier this year. Seattle’s City Council recently approved a wage increase, which was immediately challenged in federal court. Efforts to raise the minimum wage are active in other California cities as well. The San Diego City Council passed a measure to increase its wage, but faces a veto threat from the mayor. A similar campaign is underway in Los Angeles. A common denominator in these efforts across the country: Big Labor bosses. Whether they’re on the front lines or working through shadowy front groups, union bosses are some of the loudest voices demanding minimum wage hikes. And their reasons for doing so are as cynical as they are self-serving. At the root of it, of course, is the almighty dollar. (read article)

Fast food protest could escalate past civil disobedience
By David Cornell, September 2, 2014, Inquisitr
A fast food protest could escalate beyond civil disobedience soon. As labor union workers fight for the right of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other similar restaurant employees to become unionized and paid better, we could see riots. Fast Food Forward organizing director Kendall Fells says that employees have been trained to engage peacefully in civil disobedience, and it remains to be seen how this will work. Normally when people get upset, they don’t always stay peaceful. The riots in Ferguson, Missouri have shown just how far people will go when they’re upset enough. However, this protest isn’t about police brutality or injustice. It’s about fast food employees earning a decent wage and receiving legal representation when there is a dispute. Employees in approximately 150 cities across the United States have been performing “sit-ins,” among other forms of nonviolent and non-disruptive forms of fast food protest. So far these activities have not caused many disruptions to regular customer service in these restaurants. People don’t always follow the rules, however, and as the movement for higher pay and unionized labor goes into action this week, we may see the situation rise beyond mere disturbances and civil disobedience. (read article)

Scandinavia’s ‘Right-to-Work’ Unionism
By Reihan Salam, September 1, 2014, National Review
Though I often disagree with Justin Fox, I’m a fan of his writing. And so I was surprised by his recent discussion of Jake Rosenfeld’s new lament for organized labor’s decline, What Unions No Longer Do. I have yet to read Rosenfeld’s book, and it’s possible that there is a great deal that’s been lost in the translation from the book to Fox’s discussion of it. Just to be clear, I’m reacting to Fox’s brief remarks and not to the book itself. The decline of unions in the U.S. has often been painted as inevitable, or at least necessary for American businesses to remain internationally competitive. There are definitely industries where this account seems accurate. Globally, though, the link between unionization and competitiveness is actually pretty tenuous. The most heavily unionized countries in the developed world — Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, where more than 65% of the population belongs to unions — also perennially score high on global competiveness rankings. The U.S. does, too. But France, where only 7.9% of workers now belong to unions (yes, France is less unionized than the U.S.), is a perennial competitiveness laggard. This is weak tea. While it is true that France is less unionized than the U.S., it is also true, as Richard Yeselson observes in his conversation with Jonathan Cohn in the The New Republic, that “France actually has smaller percentage of union members than the US, but union contracts cover almost the entire workforce.” Given that the critique of unions tends to center on the rigidities associated with union contracts, Fox’s example does not suit his purpose. (read article)

It’s ‘Labor’ Day, Not ‘Union’ Day
By Mark Mix, September 1, 2014, Charleston Daily Mail
Most Americans realize that Labor Day is about celebrating workers and their contribution to our free society, but that won’t stop union bosses from stealing the spotlight to push their own agenda. Despite this, there is still much to celebrate this Labor Day. Workers from across the country have made substantial gains for workplace freedom. In America’s newest Right to Work state, a growing number of workers from across Michigan are joining the fight to protect their Right to Work from union bosses. In Wisconsin, the state supreme court upheld in entirety Governor Scott Walker’s public-sector unionism reforms, commonly known as “Act 10,” which grants Right to Work protections to most Wisconsin government employees. Meanwhile, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee staved off unwanted United Auto Workers (UAW) unionization via a backroom deal between company and union officials that featured a coercive card check campaign. And in Illinois, a mother named Pam Harris, joined by other parents and family members who provide home-based personal care to special needs individuals, took a corrupt quid pro quo government unionization scheme all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, now-imprisoned former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich and current Governor Pat Quinn issued executive orders designed to force home-based personal care providers into SEIU ranks. The Court struck down the scheme, ruling that individuals who indirectly receive state subsidies based on their clientele cannot be forced to pay compulsory union fees. The Court’s ruling renders unconstitutional similar homecare unionization schemes in effect in at least 13 other states. (read article)

California a testing ground for new labor organizing strategies
By Kitty Felde, September 1, 2014, KPCC
California is seen as fertile ground for a new labor movement. The state is home to the largest number of union members in the nation – some 2.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union organizers have used the state to test new recruiting strategies; but success has been limited. That high number of union members can be deceptive. Part of the reason is simply that California is the most populous state in the country. The actual percentage of Californians who are union members actually dropped between 2012-2013 by nearly one percent. Still, Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, says there are more organizing campaigns here than anywhere else in the country. LA’s successful organizing of the car wash industry is being tried in Chicago and New York. The organization of a quarter million home care workers is also being duplicated elsewhere. The United Auto Workers’ largest group of union members west of Mississippi consists of University of California grad students. But Wong says nationwide, it’s more of a mixed bag. “On the one hand,” he says, California has a “very healthy, robust labor movement that still has significant political power.” He says in the rest of the country, “the scenario is much more bleak.” (read article)

When Labor Day Meant Something
By Chad Broughton, September 1 2014, The Atlantic
Labor Day online specials at Walmart this year “celebrate hard work with big savings.” For brick-and-mortar shoppers near my home in Chicago, several Walmart stores are open all 24 hours of Labor Day. Remember, this is a company so famously anti-union that it shut down a Canadian store rather than countenance the union its workers had just voted in. The fact that Walmart “celebrates” Labor Day should draw laughter, derision, or at least a few eye-rolls. But it doesn’t—or at least not many. Somewhere along the line, Labor Day lost its meaning. Today the holiday stands for little more than the end of summer and the start of school, weekend-long sales, and maybe a barbecue or parade. It is no longer political. Many politicians and commentators do their best to avoid any mention of organized labor when observing the holiday, maybe giving an obligatory nod to that abstract entity, “the American Worker.” Labor Day, though, was meant to honor not just the individual worker, but what workers accomplish together through activism and organizing. Indeed, Labor Day in the 1880s, its first decade, was in many cities more like a general strike—often with the waving red flag of socialism and radical speakers critiquing capitalism—than a leisurely day off. So to really talk about this holiday, we have to talk about those-which-must-not-be-named: unions and the labor movement. (read article)

Why Labor Day Still Matters: Unions and the Future of American Democracy
By Jim Miller, September 1, 2014, San Diego Free Press
Over the last year, the subject of economic inequality has been in the news quite a bit with the release of Robert Reich’s spectacular documentary Inequality for All and economist Thomas Piketty’s seminal work, Capital in the Twentieth Century. The picture they paint is a grim one and new bad numbers just keep rolling in. For instance, a few weeks ago a Russell Sage Foundation study revealed that the wealth of the typical American household has dropped nearly 20 percent since 1984 and yet another study notes that private sector wages measured in real terms have dipped 16.2 percent since their 1972 high point. In the wake of that news, another US Census Bureau report came out showing that middle class household wealth fell by 35 percent between 2005 and 2011. Thus while the last few years in particular have been incredibly beneficial for the ultra affluent, most of the rest of us have struggled to hold ground or not lose more. Some economists are even calling this phenomenon “the new normal.” As Doug Henwood notes in his review of Piketty’s book: “The core message of this enormous and enormously important book can be delivered in a few lines: Left to its own devices, wealth inevitably tends to concentrate in capitalist economies. There is no ‘natural’ mechanism inherent in the structure of such economies for inhibiting, much less reversing, that tendency. (read article)

On Labor Day in 2014 future for unions looks hazy
Editorial, September 1, 2014, Massachusetts Live
“Big labor has big problems.” “The union movement is moving in reverse.” “Organized labor is awfully disorganized.” It’s easy, on Labor Day 2014, to imagine a host of wiseacre bumper stickers that might be offered for sale at some sort of conservative convention. There might even be a few pro-big management attendees who’d consider slapping one of them on the back of the Lexus. The sentiments would be true. Sad, but true. Back in the 1950s, when labor unions in America were at their peak, one out of every three workers was a union member. Today, the number is barely more than one in 10. The rise and fall of labor unions in America can be traced to our nation’s manufacturing industry. When we were building things – all manner of things such as cars and radios, clothes and shoes and home appliances, televisions and furniture and scientific equipment — so many of the people who held those manufacturing jobs were in unions. But over the years, as we began to make less and less, as the manufacturing jobs moved overseas, the ranks of union membership fell in proportion. The jobs in today’s service-based economy are not, by and large, union jobs. This is not, of course, to absolve unions of any blame. The big unions often got bloated and complacent. The cartoon image of the union boss as a fellow separate from the workers he is supposed to represent – a big man in an ill-fitting suit, chomping on a cigar and sporting a fancy watch – this didn’t come out of nowhere. (read article)

Labor Day brings focus to economy, declining union membership
September 01, 2014, FoxNews.com
With Labor Day marking the traditional time for Americans to take stock in the successes and failures of the country’s centuries-long labor movement, union membership remains steady but only a fraction of what it was during its peak in the 1950s. The number of U.S. wage-earners also belonging to a union in 2012 and 2013 is 14.5 million, or 11 percent of the workforce, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to roughly 30 percent 64 years ago. Union membership for public-sector unions — whose rolls include such government employees as teachers, police officers and firefighters — remains relatively high at 35 percent. However, the number of private-sector employees enrolling in unions, now at 6.7 percent, has resulted in the overall decline in membership. Much of the private-sector drop can be attributed to the steady decline in U.S. manufacturing, with many goods and products now being built by overseas workers at a lesser cost. Meanwhile, public sector unions are facing increasing pressure in the United States from conservative lawmakers who have argued that their collective-bargaining agreements are hurting the economy. (read article)

VW union could signal change for Tennessee labor fight
By Dave Flessner, September 1, 2014, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Eric DeLacy takes pride in his job in the paint shop at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant. But after nearly four years on the job, DeLacy says he also wants to have a bigger say in how the plant runs, and thinks a labor union could provide that voice. He is among more than 700 workers who have joined a new local union started in March by the United Auto Workers. “I want to work with management in the plant to be a force to improve the life of the workers in the plant and the UAW is the best way to achieve that,” he said. DeLacy is among a growing, but still relatively small, share of Tennesseans belonging to labor unions. Last year, Tennessee recorded the fastest rate of growth in union membership of any state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But with only 6.1 percent of all workers in the Volunteer State belonging to a labor union, membership in unions last year in Tennessee was still only about half the national rate of 11.2 percent. (read article)

Ten things Philly’s top labor leader wants you to know about unions
By Jane M. Von Bergen, September 1, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer
1. Employers and union members both have the same aim, Patrick J. Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, told me in our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. They like to make money. That’s a general truism, but In this case, Eiding is talking about union apprentices. “The employer is in business to make money. And the apprentice, he’s there to make money. He’s not there just because he wants a [union] shield on his shirt. He wants to make so much an hour.” 2. Just because you are in a union doesn’t mean you can be a slacker and still get paid. “Once you are in the union, whether you work or not, is completely up to you,” said Eiding, who came up through Local 14 of the Insulators and Asbestos Workers. “If you take the insulators, you can keep yourself working or you can keep yourself out of work, by your attitude, lack of work, missing time, those kinds of things.” (read article)

Volkswagen tries to bring Germany’s worker-friendly policies to U.S.
By Patrice Hill, August 31, 2014, Washington Times
German manufacturers are trying to bring worker-friendly policies, which have helped make Germany into an export powerhouse and could help the U.S. solve its youth joblessness problem, to their U.S. operations, but so far few American businesses have seized on the tips they are offering. Volkswagen, Germany’s largest automaker and the second-largest car manufacturer worldwide behind Toyota, just started an innovative program to train workers with the exacting and advanced skills needed to make the Passats assembled in the company’s massive, state-of-the-art plant here, eliminating a problem with scarce skilled labor that many American manufacturers say plagues their factories and keeps them from expanding. But despite the success experienced by VW, BMW and other German businesses with such apprenticeship programs both here and abroad, U.S. businesses have done little to replicate the worker-friendly programs. A few American businesses, like Caterpillar, are setting up programs to train and funnel idled workers into their factories, but for the most part, the U.S. business strategy has been to complain a lot and lobby for aid from Washington and state legislatures to “do something” about the estimated 600,000 to 3 million skilled manufacturing and technology positions that currently go begging. (read article)

Minnesota union victory reflects the sorry state of organized labor in America
Editorial, August 31, 2014, Washington Examiner
Members of the Service Employees International Union (AP/Seth Perlman)
Only 13 percent of Minnesota’s 27,000 subsidized home caregivers voted to be represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 113. Thanks to low turnout, the state announced Aug. 26 that this was enough to produce what is being called a major union victory. And it is a win, just in time for Labor Day, but the situation in Minnesota reflects the sorry state of organized labor in America as a whole. Unions have been cornered by a combination of their own irrelevance to most workers and a judiciary that increasingly prioritizes individual workers’ rights over unions’ ability to control them. This is why so many union locals have turned to schemes such as this one in Minnesota, the sole purpose of which is to skim money from benefit programs intended to help the poor and the sick. Government employee unions have tried in many states to establish similar rackets. They have lobbied friendly state governments to let them impose themselves as the representatives of caregivers who are not really state employees at all. Various Democratic governors have thus allowed unions in recent years to make revenue generators out of unsuspecting home health care workers whose sick children or elderly or invalid family members receive state subsidies through Medicaid. (read article)

Five Things Labor Unions Do To Celebrate Labor Day
By Connor D. Wolf, August 31, 2014, Daily Caller
For many Americans, Labor Day means one last long weekend to end the summer. But the U.S. Department of Labor describes the holiday as “a creation of the labor movement,” meaning labor unions. So how would organized labor celebrate? 1. Make union organizing a civil right. Democrats Georgia Rep. John Lewis and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison have introduced a bill that would that would do just that. The congressmen argue that the current National Labor Relations Board process is too slow. Dealing with labor issues as expeditiously as discrimination is one way they would resolve that. Lewis and Ellison propose letting anyone who claims they are fired because of union advocacy sue under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This would make them eligible not only for back pay and reinstatement to their jobs, as under the current process, but also the kinds of compensatory and punitive damages allowed under the civil rights laws. Critics charge that this would open the door to abusive litigation by people who wrongly claim they were fired because their bosses were anti-union, which would damage businesses. 2. Advocate that taxpayers cover surgery and other “transition-related” treatment for transgender public employees. Right before Labor Day weekend, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees celebrated gains made this summer in health coverage for transgender state workers in Washington. (read article)

At this Labor Day, are unions still crucial in America?
Editorial, August 29, 2014, Los Angeles Daily News
Here at Labor Day, as with Veteran’s and Memorial, Americans tend to turn toward bratwurst and brews and the beach more than toward any deep holiday thinking. That’s OK. Holidays aren’t necessarily about deep thoughts. But we as a nation today have an especially ambivalent attitude toward the public celebration of our hard work in the marketplace. Unlike in Europe and South America, we’ve never been much for May Day parades of solidarity, much less of mass sing-alongs of “The Internationale.” That kind of class consciousness is so distinct from our nominally mostly middle-class world. But there was a time in the 19th century, as the labor movement worked so hard and against such long odds to better conditions in the factories and sweatshops, to get benefits and time off, to establish the traditions of the five-day and 40-hour work week, that labor unions were a central part of American life. A hundred years ago, chances are you’d be going to a union picnic this week, not staying home with the family. Nowadays, with dramatically lowered union membership, most Americans would at least acknowledge the important historical gains unions garnered for working people. But what is the proper role for labor unions in today’s world and in America’s future? Will union membership continue to decline or should it grow? Is union influence on politics too strong or not strong enough? What of unions whose membership includes skilled labor and managers making salaries well into the six figures? Is it too easy for bosses to keep unions out of the workplace or too easy for unions to organize even if all workers don’t believe they are needed? (read article)

Best state in America: New York, for its labor unions
By Reid Wilson, August 29, 2014, Washington Post
For more than a century, labor unions have been a critical constituency for the Democratic Party, while Republicans have tried to curb unions’ influence. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, if you have Monday off, you can thank those unions. Labor Day began in New York City — a “workingmen’s holiday,” first celebrated by the Central Labor Union in 1882; in 1894, it became a national holiday. Since then, unions’ influence has ebbed. But in New York, labor unions maintain more power, and more membership, than they do in any other state. More than a quarter of all workers in New York are represented by unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest rate in America. Alaska and Hawaii are the only other states where more than 20 percent of the workforce is represented by unions. (read article)

Poll says Americans split on value of labor unions
By Natasha Lindstrom, August 29, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
One-third of Americans dismiss unions as “a thing of the past” while nearly as many still value the importance of organized labor, a poll shows. The remaining one-third either have no opinion or say they’re unsure how to view unions in today’s economy, according to results Friday from the Robert Morris University Polling Institute, which Trib Total Media sponsors. Indeed, union membership has plummeted from its peak in the mid-1950s, when manufacturing was booming and 35 percent of the workforce carried a union card. Today about 11 percent of Americans are union members. “I think we might have hit the low in union membership,” said Karl Petrick, economics professor at Western New England University, who was not associated with the poll. “I’m cautiously optimistic that it will go up because of the push into some new areas such as part-time service, fast food and also with the possible resurgence of some of the unions in the construction industry.” Rather than viewing unions as fading entities, organizers say unionism has shifted to reflect the service-based industries dominating the modern economy. (read article)

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