Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Orange County Sheriff Union Protests County Secrecy on Billing Records
By Norberto Santana Jr., June 24, 2014, Voice of OC
Just as county supervisors prepare Tuesday to consider a measure seeking to make labor negotiations more transparent, Sheriff union officials are protesting efforts to keep county legal bills on negotiations secret. Under the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, also known as COIN, county supervisors would be required to publicly report any offers and counteroffers discussed in closed session. Supervisors and their staff would also have to report any communication with employee representatives. When a labor contract is proposed, the county Auditor-Controller would estimate the financial impact of its terms as well as the current contract’s terms, which would then be open to comment from labor groups and the public. (read article)

A Union Ruse to Organize Mom-and-Pop Stores
By Steve Caldeira, June 24, 2014, Wall Street Journal
City councils across America are considering raising the minimum wage. But the fine print in many of their proposals, including one recently signed into law in Seattle, has a provision that increases the wage floor faster for certain small businesses simply because they’re affiliated with national chains. The provision is a cynical ploy by its author, the Service Employees International Union, to organize workers more easily. In the guise of trying to help the working poor, the SEIU is trying to help itself. Most people may not realize it, but the neighborhood Subway sandwich shop or Sir Speedy print center is owned and operated by a local family that pays an initial franchise fee and ongoing royalty payments to use the trademark. These franchisees aren’t big companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. They’re mom-and-pop shops. This is a problem for a union such as the SEIU. Trying to organize thousands of individual, small businesses that have mere handfuls of employees is difficult. A union would prefer to deal with large entities that have lots of workers. It would only need to unionize a few of them to fill its coffers. The SEIU has launched a multicity campaign to increase the minimum wage and redefine franchisees as big businesses, not small ones. (read article)

Labor union pushing for Tulare County worker raises
David Castellon, June 24, 2014, Visalia Times-Delta
Representatives for the union representing about three quarters of Tulare County employees said they’ll continue pressing the county leaders to authorize raises for them. Plans are to hold an “informational rally” today in front of the board’s chambers in Visalia prior to the start of the supervisors’ special night meeting. This is the latest in a series of small protests members of Service Employees International Union, Local 521, have held in recent weeks at the supervisors’ office and in front of other county buildings urging the supervisors to authorize to authorize pay raises for the more than 3,000 union members. “What we’re seeing is there is a lack of investment in the workforce. We’re attempting to have the board respond to the lack of investment,” said JoAnn Juarez-Salazar, chief negotiator for the Tulare County SEIU local. (read article)

Union group hits $10B goal, has money to lend on U.S. infrastructure
By Kristen Leigh Painter, June 24, 2014, The Denver Post
One of the nation’s largest trade union federations announced Tuesday at The Clinton Global Initiative in Denver it has raised $10 billion for investment in America’s built infrastructure that it pledged in 2011. The Clinton Global Initiative America conference brings together thought leaders from around the country with the goal of receiving monetary or organization pledges from businesses and groups to address a variety of socioeconomic and educational issues. AFL-CIO’s original goal in 2011 was to raise the funds in five years. But former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced Tuesday afternoon that the largest commitment ever made at the conference reached its goal early, reaching $10.2 million in just three years. “The labor movement committed to respond to two great crises facing America: the job crisis and the infrastructure crisis,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said. The concept relies on AFL-CIO’s workers’ retirement funds as investments with a return on investment. (read article)

California Grad Employee Contract Shows Reform Works
By Katy Fox-Hodess, June 24, 2014, Labor Notes
This week 13,000 teaching assistants, readers, and tutors at the University of California ratified a new four-year contract. We made big gains on both bread-and-butter and social justice issues, with a 17 percent wage increase over four years, new language on class size, longer paid parental leaves, a larger child care subsidy with expanded coverage, a new committee to equalize opportunities for undocumented students, and a mandate to create lactation stations and all-gender bathrooms. It’s a good moment to look back on how we got here. This is the first contract since our reform caucus, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, took the helm of our union, UAW Local 2865, in the spring of 2011. (read article)

Which Side Are You On? Inequality and the Case for Unions
By Tim Koechlin, June 24, 2014, Huffington Post
Across the country, Republican legislatures — encouraged and financed, as usual, by corporate money and right wing think tanks — have undertaken a stunning array of initiatives designed to weaken unions and otherwise undermine American workers. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, along with several other Republican governors, has moved aggressively and conspicuously to disempower public sector unions. Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, recently declared that unionized businesses are not welcome in South Carolina. Republicans tell a tired, cynical story about all of this, insisting that union busting is, somehow, good for the economy and good for workers. It’s the same old trickle down nonsense. Democrats, on the other hand, have done too little to defend unions and worker rights. (read article)

Eight big cases await Supreme Court rulings
Richard Wolf, June 23, 2014, USA Today
The Supreme Court will issue decisions on three days this week as it seeks to conclude its 2013 term a week from today. Labor unions: This case is crucial for the nation’s public employee labor unions, which could lose the right to represent workers who don’t want to pay union dues. For decades, the law has allowed unions to collect dues from all private or public employees they are required to represent. Eight home-care workers in Illinois are challenging that law, arguing they should not be required to join, even though the union is required to represent them. (read article)

Labor Update: Harris v. Quinn
By Paul Deaton, June 23, 2014, Blog for Iowa
Organized labor has a voice in Iowa politics, but not the power it once had to move its agenda. Looking back at Nate Willems’ March 30, 2007 article from Prairie Progressive, and the Iowa Fair Share debate, he wrote, “the battle for Fair Share in Iowa is the front line of not just the fight for better paying jobs, or for a stronger Democratic Party. It is the fight to rekindle a progressive brand of politics that has been missing for far too long.” That fight was lost and it changed how labor union leadership viewed their relationship with the Iowa Democratic Party. It is exactly the type of political advocacy Willems wrote about in 2007 that may be at stake in Harris v. Quinn, a U.S. Supreme Court case expected to be decided before the court ends their current session later this month. (read article)

Union dues deduction bill advances in Pennsylvania
Associated Press, June 23, 2014, ABC27 WHTM
Business-backed legislation that would restrict labor union deductions from the paychecks of unionized public employees is advancing in the Pennsylvania state Legislature. The bill passed the House State Government Committee, 14-9. It passed along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposed. Under the bill, state and local governments would be allowed to continue the practice of deducting a “fair share” amount that is supposed to pay just for the cost of representing employees. But it would stop the practice of deducting other voluntary amounts, including union dues that pay for issues advocacy and political action committee contributions. Unions have labeled it an “attack on workers’ rights.” Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says he’d sign it, while leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have been noncommittal. Democratic leaders oppose it. (read article)

Tipping your waitress is the latest sacrilege against union power
By John Hayward, June 20, 2014, Breitbart.com
Writing at the Washington Times, Mike Paranzino chronicles the latest Big Labor crusade, this time against tipping. When I first saw the headline, I spent a few moments frowning and trying to remember what arcane business or high-finance practice might have become known by the nickname “tipping.” I even briefly considered the possibility that unionized agricultural workers were going after the old drunken prank of cow-tipping. But no, Paranzino is talking about the simple and time-honored practice of tipping waiters and waitresses, not some Wall Street maneuver. Here’s a fun little exercise: take a moment before reading on, and try to guess why labor unions would have a problem with tipping – a major source of income for hard-working people, including a lot of young people trying to pay their way through college. Ready for the answer? Leading the charge against tipping is Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor union front group known for its raucous protests of restaurants and aggressive lobbying for the labor agenda.
While tips are one of the very features that make restaurant jobs attractive to workers, Ms. Jayaraman has no time for anything that suggests pay for performance — a big union no-no. As she recently told the University of California, Berkeley’s alumni magazine: “Ultimately, this system of tipping needs to go.” (read article)

8 arrested during labor union protest over wages at LAX
June 19, 2014, The Daily Breeze
Eight people were arrested Friday as part of a planned act of civil disobedience while hundreds of union members marched and rallied in the Central Terminal Area of Los Angeles International Airport amid contract negotiations between airlines and airport service employees. The almost two-hour demonstration caused some traffic delays in the terminal area, but things returned to normal after the protesters boarded buses and left the airport just after 1:35 p.m., LAX officials said. The eight people were arrested for blocking one of the main roadway exits out of the airport. Police worked with SEIU-United Service Workers West to make sure the arrests were peaceful, according to LAX Airport police Sgt. Belinda Nettles. (read article)

Union Leaders Ignore Labor History, Double Down on Partisan Politics
By Alex Bolt, June 19, 2014, WorkplaceChoice.org
Samuel Gompers was the first president of the American Federation of Labor and thus one of the most important labor leaders in American history. On his watch, the American Federation of Labor became the largest and most powerful labor union in the country during a time in American history when labor unions were hardly popular. Gompers’s success should prompt more labor leaders to follow his example if their goal is to shore up declining union membership. But, unfortunately for them, modern labor unions are hopelessly entrenched in political partisanship and therefore unwilling to follow Gompers’ strategy of “political nonpartisanship.” Instead, the radical leftist leaders of today’s unions insist that they must shore up their membership decline by focusing more on politics. (read article)

Supreme Court could gut workers’ unions
By Bill Knight, June 19, 2014, Pekin Times
When Anchorage, Alaska, Mayor Dan Sullivan last month called union dues “slavery,” he was echoing not just the familiar, wrong-headed claims of so-called Right To Work types and extremist Republicans. He also may have foreshadowed a pending decision by a conservative Court that in recent years has seemed too willing to make decisions to benefit corporations at the expense of everyday Americans and their labor unions. The U.S. Supreme Court this month is expected to rule on a case from Illinois that could damage the labor movement as much as the “Citizens United” and “McCutcheon” rulings hurt democracy. At a May forum for GOP candidates for Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor, Sullivan was asked about Right To Work laws, which prohibit clauses in labor agreements that provide for the collection of union dues from workers benefiting from the contracts. Such laws are a favorite right wing cause, because they deprive unions of funds to function, which decreases workers’ power to raise living standards through collective bargaining. (read article)

Labor unions question lobbying of Tennessee Charter School Center
By Joey Garrison, June 19, 2014, The Tennessean
Nashville-area labor unions are taking aim at the state’s leading advocacy group for charter schools, arguing that as a nonprofit, the Tennessee Charter School Center may be engaged in lobbying at the Tennessee General Assembly above the level allowed. In a letter sent to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen this week, four labor unions requested the IRS “examine the lobbying activities of the Tennessee Charter School Center” to determine whether the organization’s tax status should be placed under review. The letter is signed by the Central Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 205, Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice and Urban Epicenter. The Tennessee Charter School Center is a 501(c)(3) formed last year as the merged group of the Tennessee Charter School Incubator and the Tennessee Charter Schools Association — the latter of which was the traditional lobbying arm on behalf of charters for the past decade. (read article)

Employee union concessions help balance San Bernardino County budget
By Joe Nelson, June 18, 2014, The Sun
The $4.8 billion budget passed by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday closes a $21 million gap caused mainly by state and federal takeaways, including $9.7 million for prison realignment. The shortfall was filled mainly through concessions with some of its labor unions that included members picking up 7 percent of their retirement previously paid by the county, as well as up to a 50 percent reduction in annual step increases. “Our employee groups to date, other than one exception, have all have ceded to that request and have entered into contracts,” county Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux said during his budget presentation on Tuesday. “They helped maintain the services levels in this county from dropping to the point where we thought they would have jeopardized our underlying economy.” The San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents nearly 12,000 county employees, has been the only holdout. (read article)

What if We Treated Labor Like a Startup?
By David Rolf, June 18, 2014, The Nation
In 2011, the Occupy movement transformed the national discourse concerning inequality and corporate power. This year, a historic $15 minimum wage was passed in Seattle, and similar increases are on the legislative docket in Chicago and San Francisco. Fast-food workers have been striking nationwide for better pay. And a progressive mayor now leads the largest city in the United States. Yet the past few years have also seen collective bargaining eviscerated in the Rust Belt, the failure of a major union organizing drive at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant with pro-union management, and Boeing employees’ pensions gutted despite their powerful machinists union. Collective bargaining can no longer achieve large-scale wins for the vast majority of workers. And as evidence accumulates that capitalism has no inherent mechanism to check the upward aggregation of wealth, we urgently need to find new ways to build power for workers. Organized labor, even in its current weakened state, remains one of the few progressive institutions with independent resources. American labor unions hold a combined $34 billion in assets, boast an organized and disproportionately progressive membership, and wield significant political power in left-leaning areas. The labor movement should stop investing the bulk of its funds in an infrastructure that has failed us and take a cue from an unlikely place: Silicon Valley. Allocating even a small portion of labor’s assets to experimental initiatives could produce massive results. (read article)

DWP union, labor groups protest to keep DWP institute funds
By Mike Reicher, June 17, 2014, Los Angeles Daily News
Prominent labor leaders led a protest at the Department of Water and Power’s downtown headquarters on Tuesday, in an effort to preserve funding for two controversial workers institutes. Speakers from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other groups warned City Hall of retribution for withholding payments. City officials, led by Mayor Eric Garcetti, have been trying to determine for months how the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute have spent much of the $40 million provided by the public utility. “They’re looking for trouble, and I know you can give it to them,” Brian D’Arcy, business manager of IBEW Local 18, told the cheering crowd. One civil rights leader suggested the union could shut off the city’s water and power. After the IBEW refused to detail the institutes’ finances, the DWP Board of Commissioners voted to cut off funding in November, pending an audit. So far, the union has blocked a city controller’s audit in court. Commissioners would have to vote again to withhold the roughly $4 million annual July payment, and IBEW Local 18 is now enlisting the broader labor base to pressure officials. (read article)

Unions Push Legislatures For Labor History Courses
By Stephen Singer, June 17, 2014, Associated Press
Unions and their allies are trying to flex their muscle in state legislatures, pushing for labor history to be included in social studies curriculum and hoping a new generation of high school students will one day be well-educated union members. But the results are instead shaping up as a reminder of the tough political landscape faced by organized labor. In six states, opponents have pushed back against demands that teachers offer lessons about the first craft unions in the 19th century, the large-scale organizing drives that powered the growth of industrial unions in the 1930s, the rise of organized labor as a political machine and other highlights of America’s union movement. California and Delaware are the only states with laws that encourage schools to teach labor history. Kevin Dayton, a policy consultant to non-union construction companies in California, said the legislation was pushed by unions to boost their ranks. “They believe that one of the reasons young people are not organizing in unions is because they’re not taught in schools the benefits of being in a collective workforce,” he said. (read article)

The Audacious New Proposal To Save The Labor Movement
By Josh Israel, June 17, 2014, Think Progress
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As president of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), Dave Regan is well aware that over the past several decades, the number of American workers who are part of a labor union has declined fairly steadily — and the scales of power have continued to tip from workers to corporations. “For most Americans we’re looked at as, at best, a mystery,” he acknowledges, “and, at worst, a problem and completely irrelevant.” To change that, he is calling for a major shift in the labor movement. Regan’s new plan to help unions “regain their relevance” is a reversal of what he argues has been happening for years: Unions have played defense, as politicians and business have worked to weaken them — and focused heavily on policies and rules that help their own members. Instead, he believes, it is time for the labor movement to “play offense” and focus on large scale action to help not just union members but working people across the country. And he proposes to do this by using the ballot initiative process available in 24 states. We know that there are dozens of ideas that are supported by more than 70 percent of voters, but have no chance of getting through legislatures because of the power of money of corporate and anti-progressive interests in America. In an audacious maneuver, Regan’s union successfully used the threat of a direct appeal to the voters to force industry to make some key concessions and to change the entire dynamic of the business-labor relationship. (read article)

NLRB: Starbucks can’t fire cursing, pro-union worker
By Aubrey Cohen, June 17, 2014, Seattle PI
Starbucks cannot fire a union activist employee who cursed at a manager in front of customers, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled for the second time. Joseph Agins was active in trying to unionize four Manhattan Starbucks coffee shops between 2004 and 2007. According to the NLRB ruling, he twice cursed during arguments with managers. The first time, on May 14, 2005, Agins was angry that an assistant manager did not come to help him right away when the shop got busy. When the manager did come to help, Agins said it was “about damn time,” noisily shoved a blender in the sink, said “this is (BS)” and told the manager to “do everything your damn self.” Agins was suspended for several days and Starbucks wrote a warning, which Agins said he never received. (read article)

Tax-Funded Union Work
By Jillian Kay Melchior, June 16, 2014, National Review Online
Phoenix police officers threatened to illegally strike, said they would “torch this place” during contract negotiations, and discussed “break[ing] it off in [the police chief’s] ass,” according to a brief filed by the Goldwater Institute in an Arizona appeals court. These and other salacious allegations about the union’s aggressive tactics emerged during a court case challenging an obscure portion of Phoenix’s labor contracts, which allows police officers and other city employees to work on union business while drawing a public salary. On Tuesday, the Arizona Court of Appeals will consider the constitutionality of such so-called “release time” or “official time” contractual provisions. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is appealing a permanent injunction against the practice, a ruling that occurred after the Goldwater Institute led a challenge against Phoenix’s release time in Maricopa County Superior Court. Phoenix has some of the most generous release-time policies in the nation: Six police officers are allowed to work full-time on union business, receiving full pay, benefits, and 960 hours of guaranteed overtime, courtesy of the Phoenix taxpayers, and the union is also granted 2,000 work-hours from other cops. (read article)

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