Union Watch Highlights

Union sues Indiana, says right-to-work law is slavery
By Michael P. Tremoglie, May 1, 2012, Legal Newsline
The International Union of Operating Engineers on April 18 amended the complaint of their previously filed lawsuit that asks a court to invalidate Indiana’s newly enacted right-to-work law. The amended complaint now alleges that the law violates the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment provisions against slavery. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. The union’s amended action was reported by David Martosko of The Daily Caller in its April 22 edition. He wrote, “The new lawsuit suggests that when nonunion employees earn higher salaries and better benefits because of the union’s negotiation on behalf of its members, the union has been forced to work for those nonunion employees for free.” (read article)

Grocery workers stunned by fat-cat union boss’ salary: $528,000
By Sarah Ryley, April 30, 2012, The Daily
With no uniform bylaws governing unions, they say, local unions lack stopgaps common in other nonprofits that prevent things like exorbitant salaries, family dynasties and cronyism. The nation’s highest-paid local union boss rakes in $528,000 a year representing East Coast grocery store workers who scrape by on minimum wage. John T. Niccollai Jr. is the middle link of a three-generation family dynasty at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464A, where three of the nation’s four highest-paid local union officials earned salaries in excess of $350,000 last year, according to filings with the Department of Labor. Niccollai’s father, now deceased, was indicted at least three times for embezzling money from the union as its secretary-treasurer when it had ties to the Genovese crime family and was implicated in schemes to strong-arm supermarkets into selling mob-linked products, one of which ended in murder and arson. And Niccollai’s son pulls a $225,000 salary as the local’s director of business operations. Niccollai and an unnamed trustee decide compensation, rather than putting the matter to vote by the local’s 17,000 members, according to the union’s tax documents. Union reform advocates point to Local 464A and other unions that pay outsized salaries to top execs as examples of how corruption can flourish when employees are forced to pay union dues as a condition of holding their jobs yet have little say in how that money is spent. (read article)

Occupy Wall Street Plans Global Protests in May Day Resurgence
By Henry Goldman and Esmé E. Deprez, April 30, 2012, Bloomberg
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, whose anti-greed message spread worldwide during an eight-week encampment in Lower Manhattan last year, plan marches across the globe today calling attention to what they say are abuses of power and wealth. Organizers say they hope the coordinated events will mark a spring resurgence of the movement after a quiet winter. Calls for a general strike with no work, no school, no banking and no shopping have sprung up on websites in Toronto, Barcelona, London, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, among hundreds of cities in North America, Europe and Asia. In New York, Occupy Wall Street will join scores of labor organizations observing May 1, traditionally recognized as International Workers’ Day. They plan marches from Union Square to Lower Manhattan and a “pop-up occupation” of Bryant Park on Sixth Avenue, across the street from Bank of America’s Corp.’s 55-story tower. “We call upon people to refrain from shopping, walk out of class, take the day off of work and other creative forms of resistance disrupting the status quo,” organizers said in an April 26 e-mail. (read article)

Is Illinois still a ‘union-friendly’ state?
By Michael Puente, April 30, 2012, WBEZ Chicago Public Media
Organized labor in Illinois are protesting more and more proposed cuts to pensions, Medicaid and workforce called for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Headlines coming out of Wisconsin and Indiana about the politics of organized labor are nothing new. Both states have Republican governors who’ve taken on union power – over wages, benefits and organizing rights. And it’s easy to see how organized labor reacts when either Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels visit Illinois, as they did in recent weeks. When Daniels visited Champaign, Ill., on April 19, he was greeted by union members protesting his push and support for right to work legislation in his state. Meanwhile, when Walker visited Springfield earlier that week, union organizers chanted “Scott Walker go home” because of his efforts to take away bargaining rights for Wisconsin state employees. But while Illinois is considered a union-friendly state, unions have been taking it to the chin lately, sometimes from the very Democrats who they helped get elected. Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposing cuts to state pensions and thousands of unionized state workers could lose their jobs at prisons and state mental health facilities. That’s leaving some to wonder whether the tight relationship between unions and Illinois is hurting. (read article)

The Last Thing Unions Are Concerned About Is Free Choice For Workers
By Thomas Sowell, April 30, 2012, Investors Business Daily
Labor unions, like the United Nations, are all too often judged by what they are envisioned as being — not by what they actually are or what they actually do. Many people, who do not look beyond the vision or the rhetoric to the reality, still think of labor unions as protectors of working people from their employers. And union bosses still employ that kind of rhetoric. However, someone once said, “When I speak I put on a mask, but when I act I must take it off.” That mask has been coming off, more and more, especially during the Obama administration, and what is revealed underneath is very ugly, very cynical and very dangerous. First there was the grossly misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act” that the administration tried to push through Congress. What it would have destroyed was precisely what it claimed to be promoting — a free choice by workers as to whether or not they wanted to join a labor union. (read article)

Occupy movement prepares for nationwide general strike
By Annie Gowen, April 30, 2012, Washington Post
Occupy Wall Street organizers plan hundreds of marches, strikes and teach-ins in 120 cities around the country on Tuesday for what they call a “general strike” for economic justice. May Day protesters from New York labor unions, immigrants groups and others are expected to march from Union Square to Wall Street on Tuesday for “A Day without the 99 Percent.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that law enforcement is ready to manage what is expected to be a day of wide-ranging demonstrations throughout the city, including possible bridge and tunnel blockades, dozens of smaller pickets and a “pop-up” occupation of Bryant Park across the street from the headquarters of Bank of America. Officials in other cities, such as Seattle, have warned of the possibility of vandalism and violence. Other big actions are planned for the West Coast, including a large march in the San Francisco Bay area. (read article)

Occupy Wall Street May Day ‘General Strike’ Planned With Unions, Immigrant Groups
By Saki Knafo and D.M. Levine, April 30, 2012, Huffington Post
Occupy Wall Street activists are planning for a nationwide series of demonstrations billed as a “general strike” on Tuesday in what could be the biggest test of the movement’s organizing muscle since the winter. Touted as a “day without the 99 percent,” and modeled in part on massive immigration reform protests in 2006, Occupy groups in New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago and more than 100 other cities will join forces with immigrant rights groups and labor unions. Organizers expect tens of thousands of supporters to swarm the streets in those cities on the anniversary of the traditional labor movement holiday. “No work, no school … don’t bank, don’t buy,” posters for the day that have been circulating around New York say. But activists are mixed on whether they expect the day of action to result in large-scale walk-offs from work, and one of the most controversial actions, a proposal to block traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge, was called off over the weekend. (read article)

Keystone aside, labor shows Obama love
By Stephanie Condon, April 30, 2012, CBS News
Whatever tension may exist between President Obama and organized labor was set aside Monday, when the president spoke to union workers about the need to invest in infrastructure, casting Republicans as the main obstacle in the way of his plans. “Four more years!” union members chanted when the president took the stage at the legislative conference of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department. One man yelled out, “You’re doing a great job, Mr. President.” “It is good to be back among friends,” Mr. Obama said. Indeed, unions spent about $400 million to help elect Mr. Obama in 2008, and the AFL-CIO last month officially endorsed his re-election, putting its significant resources behind the president. Unions have backed the president for, among other things, his stimulus measures aimed at creating more construction work and his support for collective bargaining rights, which have come under attack at the state level in recent years. (read article)

US labor union, Mexican lawyers file complaint against Alabama immigration law
By Vicki Needham, April 30, 2012, The Hill
A U.S. union and a group of Mexican labor lawyers are teaming up to challenge what they are calling a “discriminatory” immigration law in Alabama. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a Mexican lawyers group on Monday filed a complaint with Mexico’s Department of Labor under the supplemental labor agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) arguing that Alabama’s immigration law is “abusive” toward all workers. “We are going to fight HB 56 with everything we can bring to bear under U.S. law,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU’s international secretary-treasurer. “But we’re not going to stop at our borders, we are bringing the fight to a global stage and putting HB 56 under international scrutiny.” The complaint states that the law “contradicts key provisions of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and has devastating consequences for migrant and immigrant workers in Alabama, as well as for all workers in the state.” (read article)

Labor unions throw more muscle into elections
By Jim Rutenberg and Steven Greenhouse, April 29, 2012, The New York Times
“Recall Walker” bumper stickers dotted the workers’ parking lot at the Georgia Pacific paper mill on Day Street one recent afternoon, proof of their union’s role in the effort to oust Gov. Scott Walker from office early for his legislation limiting public employees’ bargaining rights. But among the largest donors to Walker and his cause are the plant’s owners, billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the latter of whom has said of the recall election to be held in June, “If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” The recall vote has been billed as a critical test of labor muscle versus corporate money. But it is only a warm-up for a confrontation that will play out on a much larger scale during the presidential election, which both sides view as the biggest political showdown in at least 30 years between pro- and anti-union forces. The same national groups flooding the streets and the airwaves in Wisconsin — the Koch-supported group Americans for Prosperity on the right, the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers union on the left — are emerging as important outside supporters of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, each side empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (read article)

After legislative failure, NLRB critics look to courts to end union election rule
By Kevin Bogardus, April 28, 2012, The Hill
Failure on Capitol Hill to overturn the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) union election rule has given greater weight to litigation challenging the agency. Business groups mounted an extensive lobbying effort geared toward the Senate this week to void a NLRB rule that would speed up union elections. That campaign fell short in a 45-54 vote Tuesday where Republican senators sought to void the regulation under the Congressional Review Act. With the rule is set to go in effect on Monday, April 30, business lobbyists told The Hill that congressional action to overturn the regulation has been only part of a multi-pronged strategy to challenge the NLRB. “That was one front we had to pursue and we did,” said Joe Trauger, National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) vice president of human resources policy. “That has run its course now so the court challenge becomes the central front.” (read article)

Does organized labor have a future?
By David Lazarus, April 27, 2012, Los Angeles Times
The push by bankrupt American Airlines to cancel labor contracts and impose cost-cutting terms on employees is the latest sign of troubles facing unions. American Airlines has spent the week trying to persuade a bankruptcy judge to allow it to chuck all its labor contracts and put the squeeze on thousands of union employees. If things go as expected — that is, a victory for management and not for rank-and-file workers — it will be the latest blow to organized labor and yet another indication that, in the workplace of the future, most of us will be fending for ourselves. “Workers in the United States are facing a number of difficulties,” said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a professor emeritus of public policy at UCLA. “Job security, healthcare, retirement funds — we haven’t seen such levels of uncertainty since the Great Depression.” (read article)

Pro-Falk labor group announces $1 million ad buy
By Dinesh Ramde and Scott Bauer, April 26, 2012, Wisconsin State Journal
Labor unions exerted some muscle Thursday in the Democratic primary race for Wisconsin governor, announcing a $1 million advertising blitz and rallying around their endorsed candidate, Kathleen Falk. A group supported by the statewide teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, as well as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced it was buying $1 million of television, cable and online advertising time beginning Friday and running through May 7, the day before the primary. The group, Wisconsin for Falk, has already spent about $3 million. But its ads had been off the air for more than a week, bolstering the belief that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had established himself as the clear front-runner in the Democratic race. Polls also show him ahead and other attack ads from Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters are focused only on Barrett. (read article)

KC fire union approves labor pact aimed at avoiding layoffs
By Lynn Horsley, April 26, 2012, The Kansas City Star
Kansas City’s firefighters union on Thursday ratified a three-year agreement with the city that factors in a $7.6 million cut to the Fire Department but strives to avoid layoffs. Union officials could not be reached for comment, but city officials confirmed the agreement had been overwhelmingly ratified by members of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The City Council still must approve the contract after a public hearing next week. But the council voted Thursday for a resolution pledging to give the agreement fair and good faith consideration, and it’s ultimately expected to pass. The union vote comes four weeks after the City Council approved a budget that cuts $7.6 million from the fire department beginning May 1. City Manager Troy Schulte had suggested in January that the city could realize those savings by laying off 105 firefighters and reducing the crew on each pumper from four to three people. But Fire Chief Smokey Dyer argued that would seriously compromise public safety. The new union agreement is intended to accomplish the savings without involuntary layoffs, Schulte said Thursday. Instead, it calls for the retirement or attrition of about 33 of the most senior firefighters, and taking two of the most underused fire companies out of service. It also calls for firefighters to work 53 hours per week before they accrue overtime, instead of 49½ hours per week. (read article)

Union Leaders Decrying CEO Pay Also in Top 1%
By William McQuillen, April 26, 2012, Bloomberg
Some leaders of U.S. labor unions, who decry the widening differences between the salaries of corporate chief executive officers and their workers, earn compensation that also places them in the top 1 percent. The BGOV Barometer shows the heads of the top 10 U.S. labor unions took home average salary and other compensation of $394,925 last year, according to union reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department. Taxpayers in the top 1 percent had adjusted gross income higher than $343,927, according to IRS statistics published in 2011. Union leaders’ pay is a far cry from the average compensation of CEOs of S&P 500 companies, which the AFL-CIO calculated at $12.9 million, a figure President Richard Trumka described as “astronomical” last week. While Trumka’s own 2011 compensation of $293,750 puts him with the 99 percent, leaders of several unions under his organization’s umbrella earned much more, led by Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers’ International Union of America, at $589,124. “It’s tremendously embarrassing for the union officers,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It distances them from the rank and file. How can you represent workers and their problems when you’re in the 1 percent?” (read article)

Big Labor’s big moment
By Jonathan Allen, April 25, 2012, Politico
For years Big Labor has been looking small, but it doesn’t feel that way now. Unions won an Ohio referendum overturning Gov. John Kasich’s effort to restrict collective bargaining for government employees. They built a recall campaign that could still knock Republican Scott Walker out of the governor’s mansion in Maple Bluff, Wis. And on Tuesday night, they kneecapped Rep. Jason Altmire in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary — getting payback for his vote against the president’s health care law. Not bad for a movement that had been read its last rites. “The labor movement has huge momentum in terms of electoral politics,” said Robert Reich, former Clinton administration labor secretary. “Many union members have been stirred up by the anti-union animus of the Republicans.” (read article)

Senate upholds labor rules
By Sam Hananel, April 25, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Senate rejected a Republican attempt Tuesday to overturn new regulations designed to give unions quicker representation elections in their effort to organize more workplaces. The new regulations are designed to give unions speedier elections for representing workers. The 54-45, largely party line vote against a resolution of disapproval leaves intact National Labor Relations Board rules that are scheduled to take effect April 30. Among Philadelphia-area senators, only Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) supported the resolution. Unions had sought the rules changes while business groups opposed them. Senate Democrats unanimously supported the new rules. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican supporting them. Under the existing regulations, workers typically vote within 45-60 days after a union gathers enough signatures from workers saying they want to hold an election. The new rules could cut that time by days or even weeks by simplifying procedures and putting off some challenges until after the election is held, reducing legal delays. Unions call the changes a modest fix to prevent companies from using stalling tactics to delay a vote while workers can be subject to harassment and even illegal firing. Republicans argue the new rules will lead to “ambush” elections that barely leave managers enough time to respond or counsel against forming a union. (read article)

Bob Lutz: Labor Rules Are Payback for Unions
By Bruno J. Navarro, April 24, 2012, NBC News  
A federal rule that fast-tracks elections to unionize workers is nothing more than a political payback to organized labor, former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said Tuesday. “I think, look, the whole thing was voted in by a Democratic-controlled Senate. This is the Democratic Party paying back the unions for their support,” he said on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.” Lutz said it wasn’t a surprise. “Do we like it? No. Do we think it’s a good thing? No,” he said. “Will it make America more competitive? No.” Earlier, the U.S. Senate rejected a move to overturn the new rules set by the National Labor Relations Board. The measure, proposed by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., would have thrown out rules to make it easier to unionize – and tougher for companies to dissuade workers from doing so. (read article)

Labor Board Meets Rising Resistance
By Melanie Trottman, April 24, 2012, Wall Street Journal
Resistance to new National Labor Relations Board regulations and to the legitimacy of some NLRB members could make it harder for the Obama administration to change federal labor policies. In recent weeks, a federal appeals court halted a new NLRB requirement that employers hang a poster informing workers of their right to join a union, and a soda bottler the board ruled against in a union dispute brought a lawsuit saying the ruling is moot. On Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected a measure to overturn a new NLRB regulation that would speed union-organizing elections by preventing employers from completing legal challenges until after the voting.
The measure, advanced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) and defeated largely on party lines, underscores how the Obama administration’s labor policies are becoming fodder for a battle over jobs and the economy that is shaping November’s elections. The administration Monday had warned that the president’s senior advisers would recommend he veto the Senate measure to “ensure that workers deciding if they wish to be represented by a union have a fair vote in a reasonable amount of time.” The regulatory changes to elections are effective Monday but could still be reversed by courts. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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