Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

California Supreme Court Rejects Anti “Citizens United” Ballot Measure
By William Bigelow, August 12, 2014, Breitbart California
On Monday, the California Supreme Court blocked an “advisory” ballot measure that Democrats had hoped to include on the November ballot, with a view to increasing turnout among apathetic voters. The non-binding measure, Proposition 49, asked voters if they felt the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling should be reversed. The Sacramento Bee notes that at the time the state legislature approved the measure, Governor Jerry Brown had released a statement condemning the measure while tacitly allowing it to proceed by not vetoing it. Brown’s statement read, “We should not make it a habit to clutter our ballots with nonbinding measures as citizens rightfully assume that their votes are meant to have legal effect. Nevertheless, given the Legislature’s commitment on this issue, even to the point of calling for an unprecedented Article V Constitutional Convention, I am willing to allow this question to be placed before the voters,” he had said. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, calling the proposition an “illegitimate exercise of legislative power,” fought the measure in the courts, and the state’s Supreme Court ruled 5-1 in favor of barring the measure from the ballot. The Association’s president, Jon Coupal, reacted:, “This is a very significant win. The court is stepping up and doing what it needs to do to protect the integrity of the ballot.” (read article)

LAUSD Goes ‘Back To School’, Teachers Union Still Negotiating
By Jeffrey DeSocio, August 12, 2014, Fox Los Angeles
Students in the nation’s second-largest school district will return to school today as the Los Angeles Unified School District begins its 2014-2015 school year despite lingering labor negotiations with the teachers union. The school district and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents the district’s teachers, have failed to settle on issues such as salary, staffing and class size reduction, UTLA representatives said after an Aug. 6 bargaining session. UTLA is requesting a 17.6 percent raise for teachers while the district is offering a 2 percent one-time bonus for the completed 2013-2014 school year and a 2 percent raise for the current school year. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Aug. 21, nine days after classes begin. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy plans to mark the new school year by visiting 11 campuses over the next two days to welcome new principals, greet students and tour school construction sites, according to LAUSD. School board members Monica Ratliff and Bennett Kayser, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino are also scheduled to visit various schools in the district. (read article)

Big Labor, Big Government Team Up To Oppress Farm Workers
By Matt Patterson, August 12, 2014, Forbes
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, part of a package of amendments designed to secure civil liberties for all Americans. Unfortunately, farm workers in California’s Central Valley are finding their civil liberties stripped from them today — by a government agency. Silvia Lopez is a single mother who has worked the orchards of Fresno for more than fifteen years alongside her daughters and friends at Gerawan Farming, Inc., one of the largest producers of tree fruits in the world. At Gerawan, Silvia and her co-workers enjoyed wages above the industry average and excellent relationships with management. In fact, multiple generations of workers have returned to Gerawan year after year because of the excellent pay and fair treatment they receive from the family-owned farm. Last November, Silvia, along with thousands of her coworkers, voted in a decertification election to rid their workplace of the United Farm Workers (UFW), a union that had done nothing for them; the UFW had bargained no wages or conditions for the Gerawan employees, but still wanted three percent of their wages in dues. For Silvia, that three percent is a significant sum. She saw no reason to surrender the money she earned with her own hands to union bosses, so last autumn she collected enough signatures from co-workers (3,000 to be exact) to trigger a decertification election. In November, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) supervised the voting. Unfortunately, the ALRB is refusing to count those votes. (read article)

Santa Rosa holds last-ditch session with employees’ union
By Kevin McCallum, August 11, 2014, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Santa Rosa hopes to head off another expensive and protracted fight with an employee union with a last-ditch negotiating session Tuesday aimed at resolving what one council member says has become a “huge mess.” The city’s labor relations manager is set to meet Tuesday with Teamsters officials representing the 410-member Santa Rosa City Employees Association for a bargaining session both sides hope can avoid a fact-finding process scheduled to begin Wednesday. The meeting follows a spirited debate last week by the City Council about whether to authorize paying another $250,000 to a Los Angeles-based law firm to help the city negotiate new labor agreements with city employees. By a 4-1 vote, the City Council approved a contract extension with Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP through the end of 2015 despite a union official’s warning that doing so would amount to “declaring war” on city employees. The additional funds, if all expended, would bring to $500,000 the total tab spent on the law firm, a sum that appalled at least one council member. “We could have a whole other city manager for what we’re talking about spending right now, or the parks and recreation staff we so desperately need,” Erin Carlstrom said. (read article)

New York Unions Fight Over Hotel Workers
By Connor D. Wolf, August 12, 2014, Daily Caller
Two major unions have begun fighting over who should represent New York hotel workers that provide laundry services, the New York Post reported. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local chapter in New York, known as Workers United, is attempting to represent 300 hotel workers even though they are already represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association. This has caused a dispute between the two prominent unions. Bryan McCarthy, a lawyer for the local division of the Longshoremen, criticized the SEIU’s move to the New York Post: “It’s avarice. It’s greed. It’s very un-labor-like. It’s easier to steal workers who already organized than to organize the unorganized.” Workers United lead organizer Megan Chambers fired back to the Post that the Longshoremen have been “helping an abusive employer run a sweatshop and negotiate poverty-wages and lousy benefits and workers have reached out to us for real representation. We are proud to have these industrial laundry workers fight for the higher pay, better benefits and respect they deserve.” (read article)

Open state negotiations with unions to public view
Editorial, August 11, 2014, Seattle Times
State Senator Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, has one of the easiest committee assignments in Olympia. For 10 years he has served on the Joint Select Committee on Employment Relations, the panel of legislators that is supposed to advise the governor in negotiations with public employee unions. Every couple of years, members get a memo saying a deal has been reached. Never has the committee met, Honeyford says. “Actually, I’d forgotten about it.” Business as usual, in other words. Washington is negotiating behind closed doors with unions representing some 50,000 state employees, and the process is as dim as ever. By Oct. 1, state officials will arrive at a deal without public scrutiny. Then lawmakers will be expected to ratify it without debate or even a separate vote, as part of their budget bill next year. Criticism has been constant since a Democratic Legislature approved this dubious arrangement in 2002. Now reform is more urgent than at any time since the Wall Street collapse because a rebounding economy once again gives the state money to spend. (read article)

Democrats, Liberals Reap Massive Cash Advantage from Top Political Spenders
By William Patrick, August 11, 2014, Florida Watchdog
With less than 100 days until the November midterm elections, updated federal campaign finance records show Democrats and liberals are way ahead of their Republican counterparts in receiving donations from large organizations. That’s thanks in part to Citizens United, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that many on the political left say undermines democracy. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 16 of the top 20 contributors thus far in the 2013-14 election cycle gave almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and to liberal groups that support them. The three Republican-leaning organizations landing in the top 20 amounted to less than half of the overall top ranked donor, ActBlue. ActBlue, a political action committee, gave more than $30 million to left-of-center politicos at various levels of government. Founded in 2004, ActBlue has the distinction of being the largest single source of political funding in the United States. Since 2013, all but $33,175 went to Democrats and liberals groups. Second on the list is Fahr LLC, a global investment firm founded by billionaire hedge fund manager and “eco-activist” Tom Steyer. (read article)

Coalition Tells Union Members How to Drop Out
By Melanie Trottman, August 11, 2014, Wall Street Journal
While organized labor explores new ways to get workers into unions, a coalition that includes some well-known conservative groups is telling union members how get out. The coalition, which has grown to 79 groups in 44 states from 60 groups in 35 states over the past year, kicked off its second annual National Employee Freedom Week. “I think there is great value in raising the awareness,” said Victor Joecks, executive vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank behind the campaign. The institute began running its own campaign in 2012 informing teachers in Las Vegas how to leave their union, and expanded the effort last year to include other Nevada cities. In Nevada, “We’ve helped 1,450 teachers leave their union in the last two years,” said Mr. Joecks, who said this reduced the amount of union dues collected by more than $1.1 million a year. Unions typically specify a particular way and time of year for workers to drop their membership, such as requiring a written notice to the union during a one- or two-week period. Unions say this information is clearly displayed in places such as membership forms and union websites. But coalition leaders say union members often don’t leave because they either don’t know they can or forget when and how to do it–especially since requirements can vary. (read article)

Torrance City Council may award $261,000 payout to union
By Nick Green, August 10, 2014, Daily Breeze
The revamped City Council could approve a one-time, $261,000 payout Tuesday to a public employee union as part of a new labor agreement that critics contend is a sign of organized labor’s increased power in Mayor Pat Furey’s administration. Details of the proposed deal won’t be publicly available until the day of the meeting, creating some suspicion of a behind-the-scenes pact. But the brief description of the City Council agenda item notes that the money will be split between members of AFSCME — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the city’s largest bargaining unit — and two smaller unions representing library workers and crossing guards. The rest of the terms of the proposed labor agreement is identical to those received by all other bargaining units: an 8.1 percent wage increase in three stages over 42 months. “They wanted to wait until the changing of the council to have different people on there so that they can receive a signing bonus or back pay — it equates to the same thing — of approximately $700 an employee,” former Mayor Frank Scotto said. “I believe all of the other employees in the city should have the right to the exact same amount of money, not just AFSCME. The other (labor) associations and unions are very upset. “This is an indication of who is going to be running the show,” Scotto added. “The unions are going to be running the show.” (read article)

What Lamar Alexander’s primary win means for labor politics
By Sean Higgins, August 10, 2014, Washington Examiner
Sen. Lamar Alexander won Tennessee’s Republican primary Thursday, effectively ensuring he will get a third term in office and a chance to set the Senate’s agenda on labor issues if the GOP wins control of the chamber this fall. Alexander has a shot at becoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as polls show Republicans have a better than even chance of taking back the Senate in November. That is likely to be a big frustration for Big Labor, since Alexander has consistently voted against its agenda. The 74-year-old Alexander is an old-school lawmaker noted for his collegiality. He’s a conservative but a relatively moderate one, and he has shown a willingness to work with the other side and even cut deals on issues. That sparked a Tea Party primary challenge against Alexander. It ultimately failed but held him to about 50 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in 2008. Alexander’s record on labor issues is conservative, but with caveats. He has a lifetime rating of 18 percent from the AFL-CIO. He has voted against most of President Obama’s Democratic nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and opposed confirming Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Alexander has also opposed expanding the Davis-Bacon wage law, which gives unions a leg up in federal contracting, and opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have largely replaced federally monitored union organizing elections with so-called “Card Check” elections. He also voted to strip the NLRB of its power to impose speedy union elections on businesses. He is the lead Senate sponsor of the Employee Rights Act, which would require federally monitored elections before any union is recognized and make it easier for unionized workers to object to their dues being used for political purposes. Late last month, he called for repealing Davis-Bacon. (read article)

Oregonians support choice on forced union dues
By Steve Buckstein, August 10, 2014, Oregonian
Because of a deal struck by Gov. John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year. However, a just-released public opinion poll makes it clear that if the Public Employee Choice Act had been on this November’s ballot most voters would have likely supported it. The poll, conducted for National Employee Freedom Week (Aug. 10 – 16), asked adults across America, “Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?” Nationwide, 82.9 percent of respondents answered yes. Of the 500 respondents in Oregon, a resounding 84 percent answered yes. These results are significant because Oregon and 25 other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal right-to-work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces, yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in right to work states who voluntary choose to join. (read article)

Met’s Labor Woes Divide Opera Fans as Well as Participants
By Michael Cooper, August 10, 2014, New York Times
The labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera has inflamed the passions of opera lovers, stoking debate in a world that relishes rivalries even in happier times: Wagnerites versus Verdians, Callas worshipers versus Tebaldi-ites, modernists versus those who think opera ended with Puccini. The conflict, which threatens to silence the Met before its new season gets underway next month, is reverberating far beyond the travertine walls of the opera house. Opera buffs across America and the world, who have become part of the Met’s extended family through its Saturday radio broadcasts and live cinema transmissions, are watching closely and weighing in. Some are siding with the unions as they resist pay cuts, while others are sympathetic to management’s attempts to rein in costs. But a couple of common refrains emerged in interviews with die-hard opera fans: Many fear that the simmering dispute could endanger the coming season, and several expressed dismay that opera, which at its best offers not just escapism but also catharsis, is becoming mired in a polarizing, all-too-real postdownturn conflict. (read article)

Union model is just as outdated as our labor laws
By Megan McArdle, August 9, 2014, Bloomberg News
our labor laws were written in the 1930s, when there were a lot more jobs in heavy manufacturing. They need to be updated for the franchise era. But how? I’ve heard this argument before, and the implication is usually that we need to change the law to make it easier for unions to organize franchise employees. But if the labor law is outdated in an era of mass franchising, surely it’s possible that the union model is also outdated. One way to think about unions is that they take a lot of negotiated “soft” processes and make them explicit and rule-bound. For example, salaries used to be determined by what you were willing to take for doing the job and what the employer was willing to pay; now they are set by a scale. Putting that scale in place requires laying out a lot of specifications, such as exact job descriptions for every wage class and precise conditions for getting raises. This is inherently reductive: It necessarily reduces flexibility and de-emphasizes intangible qualities that are easy to see but hard to describe, such as “they’re a pleasure to be around” or “the line seems to move slower when they’re on the shift.” On an assembly line, where the object is already to reduce jobs into discrete, repetitive actions, this may not be so costly. As the scale of the organization shrinks and the nature of the work changes, it becomes more problematic. Smaller businesses don’t have room for 97 different neatly-spelled-out job descriptions and no overlap, thank you very much — I’d-better-not-see-that-mechanic-changing-a-lightbulb! They can’t so easily afford to carry unproductive workers who are in the middle of a lengthy grievance and disciplinary process. They don’t have extra money for labor-law experts to help make sure they’re in compliance with a contract that runs into the hundreds of pages. When discussing unionization, people tend to focus on wage and benefit costs. But when you talk to small-business owners, they’re just as apt to talk about the problem of onerous work rules and the ponderousness of adding a third party to any problem they have with a worker. (read article)

Obama’s Make-Work Order
Editorial, August 8, 2014, Wall Street Journal
August is a month of political vacations, so naturally the Obama Administration is using the free time to push through more policies that do an end run around Congress. The latest dash is an executive order from President Obama that would unilaterally reshape federal employment policy, create negotiating leverage for labor unions and open new platforms for the plaintiffs bar. How’s your summer going? Under the order signed last week, contractors and subcontractors who receive more than $500,000 in federal money will be obliged to report to government agencies any labor-law violations going back three years. The order covers violations of everything from family and medical leave to federal wage and hour laws in the three years before applying for a contract. That’s not all. There will now be a labor contract adviser at every federal agency handling contracts. They’ll be busy. The Executive Order fact sheet notes that the new reporting rules will sweep in some 24,000 businesses with federal contracts, employing about 28 million workers, according to Labor Department estimates. For organized labor, this is political leverage from heaven. When unions are in a collective bargaining fight with a company, they typically file complaints with the likes of OSHA, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Under the new executive order, the government will have the ability to revoke the contracts of those with violations. That’s punishment above and beyond any remedies meted out by the NLRB. (read article)

Dems, Unions, Hollywood Stars Bankroll Network of Minnesota PACs
By Lachlan Markay, August 7, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
The Democratic Party, labor unions, and Hollywood stars Bette Midler, Michael Douglas, and Larry David are pouring money into state and federal races in Minnesota by way of a network of political groups helmed by a Twin Cities legislator, public records show. That legislator was appointed to his current post by a governor elected with the aid of millions in expenditures by that same network of groups, which is now working to secure him a second term. A group called the Alliance for a Better Minnesota (ABM) paid $30,000 for online media buys this week attacking Michael McFadden, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. It was the latest in a string of independent expenditures by ABM’s federal super PAC targeting GOP candidates for the seat. According to Federal Election Commission records, the group was formed on May 29. The following day, it received a $20,000 contribution from another group called WIN Minnesota. (read article)

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