Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

California court rules teacher tenure creates unequal conditions
By Lyndsey Layton, June 10, 2014, Washington Post
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that tenure, seniority and other job protections for teachers have created unequal conditions in public schools and deprive poor children of the best teachers. In a case that could have national implications for the future of teacher tenure, Judge Rolf Treu sided with a Silicon Valley mogul against some of the most powerful labor unions in the country. In a 16-page ruling, in the case of Vergara v. California, Treu struck down three state laws as unconstitutional. The laws grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call for a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired. (read article)

California Teacher Tenure Laws Ruled Unconstitutional
By Erica E. Phillips, June 10, 2014, Wall Street Journal
In a closely watched court case that challenged California’s strong teacher employment protections, a group of nine students have prevailed against the state and its two largest teachers unions. A Superior Court here on Tuesday found that all the state laws challenged in the case were unconstitutional. The verdict could fuel similar lawsuits in other states where legislative efforts have failed to ease rules for the dismissal of teachers considered ineffective. The student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the statutes protecting teachers’ jobs serve more often to keep poor instructors in the schools—hurting students’ chances to succeed. Citing the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education “separate but equal” ruling, Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in his decision that the laws in the case “impose a real and appreciable impact on the students’ fundamental right to equality of education.” The decision also agreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments that the poorest teachers tend to end up in economically underprivileged schools and “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.” The teachers’ unions said they planned to appeal the ruling. (read article)

California Teacher Tenure Found to Violate Student Rights
By Edvard Pettersson, June 10, 2014, Bloomberg
California’s teacher tenure statutes are unconstitutional and shouldn’t be enforced, a judge said in handing a victory to a group of students in the broadest legal challenge to date against laws that guarantee public school teachers’ jobs. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who heard two months of evidence, agreed in a tentative ruling today with the nine students who brought the lawsuit that the statutes violate their right to equal educational opportunity under the California constitution. The ruling, when final, will prohibit the state from enforcing a law that gives teachers permanent employment after less than two years on the job, as well as laws that the students say make it too expensive and too time-consuming to dismiss ineffective teachers. Treu put the order on hold until any possible appeals are resolved. (read article)

Mayor Ed Lee proposes $15 minimum wage in S.F. by 2018
Chris Rauber, June 10, 2014, San Francisco Business Times
Mayor Ed Lee is proposing a $15 per hour minimum wage measure for the November ballot, which would place San Francisco in the stratosphere with its Pacific Northwest rival Seattle, where the city council got the nation’s attention last week by boosting the minimum to $15. Lee’s proposal would rachet the minimum wage to $15 from its current $10.74 by July 1, 2018. In between, it would bump up to $12.25 by next May 1, $13 by July 1, 2016, and $14 by July 1, 2017. The full rate would kick in on July 1, 2018, according to the Mayor’s press office. Ten members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chimed in with support for the so-called “consensus measure,” which is intended to preclude a ballot battle between competing proposals to get San Francisco back to the top of the minimum wage pyramid. Until Seattle made its move last week, the ultra-blue city of San Francisco boasted the nation’s highest minimum wage. (read article)

Labor Unions Plan To File Lawsuit Against City Pension Reform Law
June 10, 2014, CBS Chicago
Labor leaders were planning to go to court to block legislation cutting pension benefits and raising the retirement ages for many city workers, and opening the door for a property tax hike to help pay the city’s share of employee pension costs. WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME 31, which represents thousands of city employees, said a coalition of labor groups was preparing a lawsuit to challenge the city’s pension reform plan. He said the measure proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday, would reduce the value of earned pensions by one-third within 20 years of retirement, and that’s a violation of the Illinois Constitution. “The problem in the retirement systems is not the cost of the benefit. The problem is the city’s failure over decades to pay a responsible actuarially-based share of the contributions,” he said. Under the mayor’s plan, city workers’ annual cost-of-living adjustments on their pensions would fall from 3 percent a year, compounded, to a straight benefit of half the rate of inflation, or 3 percent, whichever is less. (read article)

New Jersey unions sue to stop Chris Christie from reducing pension payments
By Sean Higgins, June 10, 2014, Washington Examiner
At least 12 labor unions have sued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over his plan to reduce payments into the state public pension system, arguing it is in direct violation of earlier pension reform legislation he signed. Christie says the state just doesn’t have the money. What’s interesting here is that there doesn’t appear to be any real dispute over the underlying facts. Christie concedes he was supposed to make the payments under 2011 legislation but says the legislation was signed when state expected to have higher tax revenues. “This is not something I want to do, but when revenues fall as far short as they have, you have little or no choice,” Christie told reporters Monday. The state faces a $2.7 billion budget gap through next June. Christie’s plan involves cutting planned pension payments from $3.8 billion to $1.4 billion over two years. State union leaders aren’t disputing the sad state of the pension. In a Monday op-ed for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer conceded: “We all agree New Jersey’s public employee pension funds are terribly underfunded” — a result of years of neglect under previous Republican and Democratic governors. Overall, it is underfunded by $52 billion. (read article)

Will Supreme Court protect workers’ rights against union-government collusion?
By Ilya Shapiro, June 9, 2014, The Hill
Those who support the power of unions and governments over the rights of workers are scared of the Supreme Court’s imminent ruling in Harris v. Quinn, in which a group of home health aides challenge an Illinois law that compels them to join a union and pay dues. For example, Prof. John Logan in The Hill’s Contributors blog on May 29 began his analysis of Harris by attacking the workers’ lawyers as “extremist” and warned that “a sweeping ruling against agency fee agreements in the public sector in Harris v. Quinn would be an extreme and blatantly political act.” What’s going on here? Are these personal-care assistants, most of whom tend to their own disabled family members, possessed of a false consciousness, selling out their comrades on behalf of some corporate exploiter? Not quite. All they want is to be free from having to subsidize the speech and activities of the Service Employees International Union. Indeed, there’s no business or corporate interest here at all: The workers who brought the lawsuit are independent contractors whose “boss” is the person they’re caring for. But don’t take my word for it; under Illinois law, the disability program participant, or “customer,” is “the employer of the PA [personal assistant]” and “is responsible for controlling all aspects of the employment relationship between the customer and the PA, including, without limitation, locating and hiring the PA, training the PA, directing, evaluating and otherwise supervising the work performed by the PA, imposing . . . disciplinary action against the PA, and terminating the employment relationship between the customer and the PA.” (read article)

Labor union knocks Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s NYC trip
By Jon Campbell, June 9, 2014, Politics on the Hudson
The head of the state AFL-CIO is criticizing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s trip to New York City, which will include an appearance at a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino tonight. Walker attracted union scourge in 2011 when he led an effort to curtail collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, which led to major protests staged in the state’s Capitol and an unsuccessful attempt to recall him. This afternoon, New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said Walkers “extremist attacks” are “an affront to all hardworking men and women.” “New York’s public sector, private sector and building trades unions have a clear and unified message for Governor Walker – your divisive and failed policies are simply not welcome here in our state,” Cilento said in a statement. (read article)

National Labor Relations Board Decision Limits Employer’s Off-Duty Policy
Brittany Blackburn Koch, June 9, 2014, National Law Review
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a decision in Piedmont Gardens, 260 NLRB NO. 100 (2014) regarding the legality of an employer’s off-duty access policy. Piedmont Gardens is a nursing home. Many employers, especially those in health care or other highly-regulated industries, have policies that prohibit against employees lingering around the job site when not working. Off-duty employees can not only be a disruption to the business and create security risks, but can also increase an employer’s liability. After the newest NLRB decision on the issue, however, employers should review their policies to ensure that they do not run afoul of federal law. The NLRB first dealt with off-duty access in 1976, in the case of Tri-County Medical Center, 222 NLRB 1089 (1976). It was decided then that policies limiting after-hours access to the workplace are lawful, provided they: Limit access solely to the interior of the facility and working areas (parking lots or other areas that are outside the building cannot be restricted); Are clearly disseminated to all employees; and, Apply to off-duty employees seeking access to the facility for any purpose, and not just to those engaging in union activities. It is critical to note that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows all employees (even those in non-unionized workplaces) to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection and to form, join, assist organize or communicate about matters relating to labor unions or working conditions. (read article)

Federal legislation would make unions more democratic
By Richard Berman, June 8, 2014, Oregon Live
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently advocated on Oregonlive for a return to the ideals of a “capitalist democracy.” Mr. Trumka should take his own advice, because the modern labor movement has failed to lead by example. Whereas in a capitalist economy businesses constantly adapt to the demands of consumers, organized labor has evolved into a static institution disinterested in the concerns of its members. This ignorance helps explain Big Labor’s plummeting numbers: In the early 1960s, roughly 30 percent of American employees belonged to a union; today, that number stands at just 11.3 percent. Even in a forced unionization state like Oregon (where union membership is for many job seekers a condition of employment), only 13.9 percent of employees belonged to a union in 2013. That’s down from nearly 40 percent in 1964. Simply put, employees aren’t buying what unions are selling. The reason such an outdated model is still able to exist is that unions have leveraged a similarly outdated National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to assert iron fist control. This is accomplished through the subversion of democratic tenets, including even the most basic – majority rule. (read article)

Watch What You Say, The New Liberal Power Elite Won’t Tolerate Dissent
By Joel Kotkin, June 7, 2014, The Daily Beast
The new liberal ruling elite, a mix of academics and cultural powerbrokers, is like the old clerical orders—wielding it’s wealth and power to enforce “truths” and punish dissenters. In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science. An alliance of upper level bureaucrats and cultural elites, the Clerisy, for for all their concerns about inequality, have thrived, unlike most Americans, in recent years. They also enjoy strong relations with the power structure in Washington, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Wall Street. As the modern clerisy has seen its own power grow, even while the middle class shrinks, it has used its influence to enforce a prescribed set of acceptable ideas. On everything from gender and sexual preference to climate change, those who dissent from the official pieties risk punishment. (read article)

Employers involved in union campaigns must remain vigilant to avoid rerun elections
Matthew J. Kelley, June 6, 2014, Lexology.com
Employer conduct during a union organizing drive is intensely scrutinized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Decisions issued by the current NLRB make clear that even minor violations occurring during the post-petition period may result in the nullification of an employer election victory. A recent case, Intertape Polymer Corp., 360 NLRB 114 (May 23, 2014), demonstrates that seemingly innocuous campaign conduct can have huge implications, even when employees vote overwhelmingly against union representation. Intertape Polymer operates a duct and masking tape manufacturing facility in Columbia, South Carolina with about 320 workers. In 2012, the United Steelworkers (USW) filed a representation petition. After losing the election 97 to 142, the union sought to overturn the results by filing objections to the election as well as unfair labor practice charges. The charges alleged that Intertape Polymer violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The union alleged Intertape Polymer violated the Act by, among other things, (1) interrogating an employee regarding his union sentiments; (2) confiscating union literature from the employees’ break room; (3) engaging in surveillance of employees’ union activities by leafleting at the plant gate while union supporters were simultaneously handing out leaflets there; (4) threatening employees that it would be futile to select the union as their collective-bargaining representative; and (5) discharging a union supporter. A panel of the National Labor Relations Board (with Member Miscimarra dissenting) agreed with the first three of the union’s assertions. As a result, the Board ordered a new election. (read article)

Sen. Scott Wagner apologizes for ‘unfortunate analogy’ in his attack on unions
By Jan Murphy, June 06, 2014, Pennsylvania Live
After being berated for the past two days by union officials and his Democratic opponent for his inflammatory comments about unions in a Senate floor speech on Wednesday, Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, has issued an apology to labor union leaders. His apology, though, only covered “an unfortunate analogy” he used in comparing unions’ power and control to that of Adolph Hitler and Vladimir Putin, not for the anger he feels about the practice of deducting union dues from government employee paychecks. He said he considers that practice unethical. Pennsylvania State Education Association President Mike Crossey on Wednesday called Wagner’s comments shocking and offensive. He said, “What a terrible example this sets for our children.” Wagner’s opponent in this year’s election, Linda Small, called on Wagner to apologize in a statement issued earlier today. She said instead of attacking unions, he should “start working with unions to find solutions that work for Pennsylvania.” In a letter to the editor submitted to PennLive, Wagner explained the various reasons why this issue makes him angry and why ending this practice is his number one priority. The contents of his letter follows: “I’m angry because public sector unions are using tax money to advance political causes that many of my constituents disagree with. I’m angry because my constituents are having their hard-earned tax dollars used to collect campaign contributions. I’m angry because I want to see real property tax reform and real pension reform here in Pennsylvania, and so do my constituents, but the public sector unions are taking money from my constituents to oppose these important issues. (read article)

California schools superintendent race heads to runoff
By Alexei Koseff, June 4, 2014, Sacramento Bee
The costly and ideologically charged race for state superintendent of public instruction will continue to November. Despite a big push of support by the California Teachers Association in the final weeks of the campaign, incumbent Tom Torlakson fell short of clinching re-election for the nonpartisan office in Tuesday’s primary. While election officials still must count tens of thousands of ballots, Torlakson had 46.9 percent of the vote, well below the simple majority needed to avoid a top two runoff. He will face former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck in the general election. Tuck received 28.6 percent of the vote, edging out schoolteacher Lydia Gutierrez, who received 24.4 percent. With multiple challengers in the race, Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner said his campaign had anticipated a runoff. But Torlakson’s commanding lead over opponents bodes well for November, he added. “We view last night as a real vote of confidence for Tom and the work he’s doing,” Hefner said. The state schools chief race was one of the most expensive of the primary, attracting more outside spending than any other so far this year. (read article)

S.F. city attorney files legal charges to halt Muni sickout
Michael Cabanatuan, June 4, 2014, SF Gate
As Muni limped through the third day of an apparent operator sickout Wednesday, city officials moved to snuff out the protest by filing legal charges against the operators’ union and vowing to seek financial damages. The transit system remained hobbled by the drivers’ action, but managed to roll out far more buses and trains than on Monday and Tuesday. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed legal charges Wednesday with the state Public Employment Relations Board. He alleged that Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, despite taking a neutral position on a proposed contract vote, privately urged its members to defeat the tentative agreement, then “fomented and supported” an illegal work stoppage by encouraging operators to call in sick. “This is an unfortunate attempt by the union to get around a law and contract provisions they don’t like,” Herrera said. “The (City) Charter is clear that an impasse such as this one is resolved with neutral arbitration. Let’s do what the law says, begin the arbitration process and get San Francisco moving again as soon as humanly possible.” (read article)

Reno City Councilman Dwight Dortch is continuing to speak out against one of Reno’s fire unions
By Terri Hendry, June 4, 2014, MyNews4.com
While appearing on Nevada Newsmakers, Dwight said he worries greatly about the city being able to move forward, due to “the unsustainability of these contracts.” The city is in negotiations with its labor unions, including the Reno Fire Fighters Association, I.A.F.F, Local 731, as preparations are made to layoff up to 33 firefighters on July 1 after losing a federal grant. Dortch said the union should be making concessions to save jobs, but is instead asking for raises. “They’ve come back and now they’ve asked for an 8-percent raise. So they’ve come to the table, instead of going in the other direction saying, ‘hey, we want to save firefighters,’ they’ve come back to us and said, ‘no, I want an 8-percent raise,’ which is going to cost us another 15 firefighters.” Dortch told viewers most of the city’s budget is comprised of labor costs. “Eighty-five percent of our budget is people, so the money’s got to come from somewhere.” (read article)

Chance for union-backed mayor to tackle labor costs
By Shirley Leung, June 4, 2014, Boston Globe
The whisper campaign about the high cost of union labor in this town is deafening. Developers, contractors, and real estate executives will tell you there’s a big reason why Boston can’t build more middle-class housing: construction workers’ fat paychecks. It’s a front-burner issue because Mayor Marty Walsh has been on his own campaign to solve Boston’s housing crisis. The middle class can no longer afford to live here, with the average price of a downtown condo approaching $1 million. The Walsh administration is considering several ways to boost production, including making city-owned land available for development and handing out tax breaks. But curiously missing from the Walsh agenda is how, and if, our labor-backed mayor — who was once the head of the Boston building trades — would ask his brethren to budge on wages. Would he? The answer is yes. “Let’s put all the problems on the table — cost of construction, cost of land, cost of labor,” Walsh told me during an interview last week in his fifth-floor office in City Hall. (read article)

Union Minimum Wage Push is Anti-Business, Not Pro-Worker
Fred Wszolek, June 04, 2014, Town Hall
Union protestors are descending on Walmart stores across the country this week as the company’s shareholders meet at their Arkansas headquarters. The protestors have issued their typical calls for higher wages and other standard demands, but their main motive appears to be the disruption of Walmart’s business and the continuation of a smear campaign against America’s top private sector employer. Unfortunately, this is typical union boss behavior. Similar antics were on display last month in the run-up to the McDonald’s shareholders’ meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois, when more than 130 demonstrators – very few of whom were actually employees – were arrested after refusing to vacate the driveway of the McDonald’s corporate offices. Protest activity forced McDonald’s to close their main headquarters building and some 2,000 of their employees were told to stay home from work. It’s no coincidence that the actions against McDonald’s and Walmart seem similar. Both are textbook cases of top-down, nationally-coordinated disruption strategies orchestrated by labor front groups for some of the country’s biggest unions. In Illinois, demonstrations were led by a group called Fast Food Forward, while the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) provided bodies and financed the picket lines by the busload. (read article)

California state workers’ union rejects contract offer from Jerry Brown, OKs strike
By Jon Ortiz, June 3, 2014, Sacramento Bee
California’s state building-machinery operators have rejected a contract offer from Gov. Jerry Brown and authorized a strike against the state, according to the union’s top representative. The government’s offer was “soundly rejected,” said Steve Crouch, who represents about 850 members of the International Operating Engineers Union Local 39 (Bargaining Unit 13). He would not disclose how many members voted or the percentage of ballots that turned down the tentative agreement. “No” votes were also counted as support for authorizing a strike. The operating engineers, who manage vast heating, cooling, water and other systems for prisons, office buildings and other state facilities, had sought more than the phased-in 4.5-percent across-the-board pay raise that Brown offered, arguing that their salaries are well below those of counterparts in other government agencies and the private sector. Pat McConahay, spokeswoman for the governor’s Human Resources Department, declined to comment. The strike authorization vote doesn’t mean that workers will walk out, but it gives the union’s board authority to call a strike. (read article)

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