Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Here Are 4 Lawsuits That Could Inflict More Damage on Unions After Harris v. Quinn
By Andy Kroll, July 1, 2014, Mother Jones
On Monday, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices on Monday defied some expectations by not decimating public-employee labor unions via their ruling in Harris v. Quinn. Given the opportunity to issue a sprawling decision that would overturn decades of precedent, and in the process kneecap the basic model of public-employee unionism, the five justices, led by Samuel Alito, instead issued a narrower decision. They ruled that home health care workers in Illinois are not full-fledged public workers and thus cannot be required to pay so-called fair-share fees to unions—money that goes toward the cost of union representation for all workers in a particular workplace. But we may be back in this same situation a year from now, with the Supreme Court holding the fate of public-employee unions in its hands. That’s because there are a handful of ongoing lawsuits in courts around the country that pose similar challenges to unions as Harris did and that could end up before the Supreme Court. It’s possible that one of these cases could do further damage to the labor movement—with the potential to wipe out the precedent set in 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. (In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public-employee unions collecting fair-share fees from nonmembers to pay the costs of collective bargaining.) Here’s a snapshot of four cases that could be the next Harris: (1) D’Agostino v. Patrick, (2) Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, (3) Parrish v. Dayton, (4) Hamidi v. SEIU Local 1000. (read article)

L.A. violated labor law in rolling back pension benefits, report finds
By David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes, July 1, 2014, Los Angeles Times
An independent hearing officer Monday dealt a major setback to Los Angeles’ effort to rein in public employee pension costs, concluding that elected officials violated labor law when they voted to roll back retirement benefits for new civilian workers without negotiating with labor leaders. In a 28-page report, hearing officer Luella Nelson said the city’s Employee Relations Board should order the City Council to rescind its 2012 law, which scaled back pensions and hiked the retirement age of workers hired after July 1, 2013, creating a second tier of employees. The changes in benefits, proposed by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and later backed by the council, were supposed to have saved the city up to $4.9 billion over 30 years. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents an estimated 20,000 employees, filed an unfair labor practices challenge, arguing that the change could not be imposed unilaterally. The five-member Employee Relations Board takes up Nelson’s recommendation July 28. If it sides with the coalition, the pension reductions will be null and void for workers hired over the last year, union representatives said. (read article)

Big Labor opposes Uber, Lyft — except when it can get drivers to unionize
By Matthew Hurtt, July 1, 2014, UnitedLiberty.org
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” goes the old saying, and Big Labor may be taking that advice to heart. Last week, taxicab drivers in Washington, D.C. decided to tie up traffic in the nation’s capital at the encouragement of International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the U.S. Hundreds of drivers took to the streets, refusing to pick up would-be customers, and causing a massive headache for lunch hour travelers throughout downtown. One could understand how this tactic might backfire in the most congested metropolitan area in the country, so Big Labor is trying a different tactic in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s very clear ride-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are here to stay, despite what government regulators may try to do to stamp them out. So labor unions like the Teamsters and AFL-CIO want their piece of the pie. (read article)

Muni tentative labor contract details disclosed, up for union vote
By Jessica Kwong, July 1, 2014, San Francisco Examiner
The union representing Muni operators and fare inspectors appears to have received what it demanded at the labor negotiations table, as members are set to consider a tentative contract agreement after overwhelmingly rejecting the initial proposal in late May. The new agreement the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board voted to sunshine Monday and released to the public in the late afternoon is a proposed three-year term as opposed to two years. Transport Workers Union Local 250-A members rejected the original plan with a 1,198-47 vote on May 30. The contract dispute led to a three-day sickout by Muni employees last month. Under the revised memorandum of understanding reached Thursday, Muni operators and fare inspectors are being offered a 14.25 percent wage increase over three years, rather than a raise between 10.3 and 11.3 percent over two years that would make them the second-highest-paid transit workers in the country. The 14.25 percent increase includes an up to 9.5 percent wage increase, depending on an employee’s seniority, as well as a cost-of-living increase. The raise is intended to offset a 7.5 percent contribution in worker pensions, which was previously paid by the SFMTA under the contract that expired Monday. (read article)

Supreme Court rules on union dues: what it means for organized labor
By Mark Trumbull, June 30, 2014, Christian Science Monitor
A Supreme Court ruling Monday erodes the strength of organized labor in representing workers whose jobs put them on a blurry boundary line between the public and private sector. The ruling says that home health-care aides in Illinois, although they receive their paychecks from the state through Medicaid, are not full-fledged state employees and therefore cannot be required to pay union dues. The court’s decision could affect 500,000 US workers in 10 states and hurt the labor unions that seek to bargain on their behalf. It’s a setback for organized labor at a time when unions are struggling to gain new momentum. But unions might have dodged a worse potential outcome. The court’s conservative justices, who were the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, stopped short of overturning mandatory union dues for government workers across the board, though they referred to the 1977 ruling that enshrined the “union shop” concept in the public sector as having “questionable” foundations. (read article)

Time will tell whether unions recover from the Supreme Court’s decision
By Mark Brown, July 1, 2014, Chicago Sun-Times
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delivered a punch to the solar plexus of what’s left of the American labor movement, although happily not the knockout blow conservatives were seeking. Only time will tell whether labor unions will recover from the blow or whether the high court will follow up with another more crippling shot as soon as it gets the right case. Make no mistake: the end goal of those who successfully sought to halt the practice of requiring thousands of home health care workers in Illinois to pay union dues was to smash public sector unions for good. The Supreme Court didn’t go that far Monday, but the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, left several clues that some members of the court would prefer to go further in that direction by barring all government unions from collecting forced dues — if given the opportunity. Such a ruling would throw those unions into the “right to work” netherworld that could eventually destroy whatever influence labor has left. (read article)

U.S. Supreme Court’s Illinois union dues ruling could impact California
By Rick Orlov, June 30, 2014, Los Angeles Daily News
Union officials and home health care workers in California said Monday they are examining a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Illinois case that affects the dues paid to unions. Gary Passmore, vice president and lead advocate for the Congress of California Seniors, said it will take several weeks of review before officials are able to determine the impact in California and if any changes will be needed to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. In Harris v. Quinn, the court issued a limited ruling that Illinois home health care workers hired by individuals but paid in part through Medicaid were considered “partial” public employees and thus didn’t have the same union obligations as a “full-fledged” public employee. It was a distinction that harkened to a 1977 Supreme Court ruling in a separate case that said even if government employees objected to a union’s views, they could be forced to pay dues to finance its contracting costs. Labor groups feared the court might use the current case to overturn that precedent, which would have had far-reaching effects. In Monday’s ruling, the court said the home health care workers are not full public employees because they can be hired and fired by individual patients, even though part of their pay comes from the state. Passmore estimated there are more than 450,000 people with disabilities or seniors who receive assistance from the state’s 330,000 home health care workers who help individuals with chores and services that allow them to live at home rather than in an institutional setting. (read article)

Ruling Against Union Fees Contains Damage to Labor
By Steven Greenhouse, June 30, 2014, New York Times
The Supreme Court dealt a limited blow to organized labor on Monday by ruling that some government employees did not have to pay any fees to the unions representing them. But the court declined to strike down a decades-old precedent that required many public sector workers to pay union fees. Writing for the 5-to-4 majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concluded that there was a category of government employees — a partial public employee — who can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute union fees. Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who typically work for an ill or disabled person, with Medicaid paying their wages, should be classified as partial public employees and should not be treated the same way as public schoolteachers or police officers who work directly for the government. The court’s decision, on behalf of the five most-conservative justices, was a partial, but not total win, for labor’s critics. And while labor sustained a defeat in this ruling, it did not amount to a crippling loss that unions had feared. If the court had overturned the precedent requiring many government workers to pay union fees, it could have greatly reduced the membership and treasuries of public-employee unions. (read article)

Supreme Court deals setback to unions in Illinois case
June 30, 2014, Chicago Tribune
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a setback to unions by ruling that in-home care workers in Illinois who are paid by the state are not similar enough to full-fledged government employees to be compelled to pay union dues. The case gathered national attention because it questioned the ability of unions to collect dues from public sector workers. The court said in-home care workers are not full-fledged public employees, thus narrowing the decision to these particular workers. The question stems from Harris v. Quinn, an Illinois case involving in-home care workers. Illinois and other states have long used Medicaid funds to pay their salaries to assist disabled adults who otherwise might have to be placed in state institutions. The jobs were poorly paid, and turnover was high. A Chicago chapter for the Service Employees International Union began organizing the workers and pushing the state for higher wages. In 2003, an executive order by then. Gov. Rod Blagojevich designated them as “public employees,” allowing the union to collectively bargain with the state over their benefits and wages. Gov. Pat Quinn later expanded the designation to include personal assistants in the state’s disabilities program. In 2010, the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group, sued Quinn and the union, accusing the state and union of conspiring to relabel private care providers so the union could collect union fees. Today, SEIU Healthcare is one of the largest in the Midwest with more than 93,000 members, more than a quarter of those members are in-home care workers from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. Each year, in-home care workers in Illinois pay the union more than $3.6 million in dues, according to court documents. (read article)

Supreme Court issues narrow ruling against unions
By Richard Wolf, June 30, 2014, USA TODAY
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along ideological lines Monday that home-care workers in Illinois do not have to pay dues to public employee unions. The opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was a narrow loss for organized labor. It did not overrule the court’s “agency shop” precedent applying to most public employee unions. The challenge to the mandatory union dues, brought by eight home-care workers in Illinois, represented the biggest labor case to come before the court this term — putting at potential risk the future viability of public employee unions. For decades, the law has allowed unions to collect dues from all private or public employees they are required to represent. Those who object don’t have to contribute to political or lobbying activities, but they must chip in for the unions’ efforts in fighting for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The home-care workers in Harris v. Quinn served individuals with disabilities through the federal-state Medicaid program. They argued they should not have to pay dues for the state’s contract with the Service Employees International Union, even though the union is required to represent them and they benefit from its services. (read article)

Harris v. Quinn ruling: Unions hit, but not fatally, by SCOTUS
By Stephanie Simon, June 30, 2014, Politico
The conservative majority on the Supreme Court on Monday signaled its distaste for state laws requiring public-sector workers to pay union dues — but stopped short of sweeping them away, handing organized labor a partial victory in a contentious case. By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers in Illinois cannot be compelled to financially support a union they don’t wish to join. Illinois is one of 26 states that require public-sector workers — such as firefighters, police officers and teachers — to pay partial dues, often known as “agency fees,” to the unions that negotiate their contracts and represent them in grievances, even if the employees find the union’s advocacy work distasteful. Union leaders had feared that the justices might strike down those state laws as unconstitutional. The justices did not go that far. They issued a more narrow ruling that the home health care workers at issue in the case are not “full-fledged public employees” because they are hired and fired by individual patients and work in private homes, though they are paid in part by the state, via Medicaid. Because they’re not truly state employees, the justices decided these workers did not have to pay union dues. Even the fairly narrow ruling is a blow to the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers and other unions that have organized hundreds of thousands of home health workers in states including Illinois, California and Connecticut. Those workers can now decide whether they want to support the union financially. (read article)

Supreme Court Deals Public Unions a Blow
By Haley Sweetland Edwards, June 30, 2014, Time
The Supreme Court decided Monday that public sector unions cannot collect “fair share” fees from non-union-members, in a 5-4 decision that dealt unions a sharp blow. The much-awaited decision limits, but does not reverse, the court’s well-trodden ruling from 1977, known as Abood. In that case, the court found that requiring non-union-members to pay “fair share” fees did not violate workers’ First Amendment rights, so long as those fees do not go to advancing specifically “political or ideological” ends. The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, marks a loss for public sector unions, which may see their coffers and power depleted in coming years, although it’s not the worst-case scenario that many labor activists feared. The ruling stopped short of finding all “fair share” dues unconstitutional. It also does not affect all full-time public employees, but only a category called “partial public employees,” which includes a growing sector of home heath care workers. (read article)

Supreme Court ruling dents public sector labor unions
By Stephen Dinan, June 30, 2014, Washington Times
The Supreme Court dealt a blow to public employee unions Monday, ruling that at least in some cases, they cannot compel workers to pay dues because it violates their freedom of political speech. The decision is expected to dent some of the income of labor unions that represent government workers, which could in turn hurt Democrats who rely on public employee unions for political organizing.
In the majority opinion of the 5-4 ruling, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said public unions can be different than private unions because when they lobby for better working conditions or for the government to pay more, they are inherently engaged in political speech — and compelling non-members to pay dues means forcing those people to be part of speech they may not agree with. “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union,” Justice Alito wrote. But the majority avoided going further and ruling that no public employee unions could charge dues from non-members — a decision that would have been devastating to the unions. (read article)

Detroit’s largest public worker union ratifies contract
By Joe Guillen, June 26, 2014, Detroit Free Press
Members of Detroit’s largest public worker union, AFSCME Council 25, ratified a new contract Wednesday night, the union announced Thursday. Details of the contract’s terms have not been released, but the union’s president said the deal provides workers with the protections of a collective bargaining agreement — security that was uncertain with the appointment of emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who has the authority to reject or modify labor contracts. “Despite the challenges associated with the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, labor and management have forged a path forward that secures the future for working people and the citizens they serve,” AFSCME Council 25 president Al Garrett said in a statement. Other city unions within a labor coalition that includes AFSCME also ratified agreements on Wednesday, according to the union’s statement. AFSMCE officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the voting. The union is recommending its workers to vote “yes” on the city’s restructuring plan in an election among Detroit workers and retirees. (read article)

Bill de Blasio Strikes Tentative Labor Deal With Nurses and 1199 Members
By Jillian Jorgensen, June 25, 2014, New York Observer
The city has reached a tentative agreement with the members of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and New York State Nurses Association employed by the city – akin to the deal the city brokered with the teachers’ union, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday. The contracts – which cover nine years, including retroactive pay – weigh in at a gross cost of $879.3 million, though it will be offset by money in the city’s stabilization fund and through the healthcare savings required of the teachers union and approved by the Municipal Labor Council. The price is within the pattern set by the UFT deal, so it won’t require any additional expenditures beyond what the city has already budgeted for labor contract settlements, according to the mayor’s office. It’s the first tentative agreement since the deal with the United Federation of Teachers, which struck a contract Mr. de Blasio promised would set a pattern for the rest of the city’s workers. (read article)

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