Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

San Francisco could have competing minimum wage hikes on November ballot
By Chris Roberts, April 8, 2014, San Francisco Examiner
Labor groups, led by San Francisco’s largest public employee union, took the first step Monday toward raising The City’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. But by filing paperwork to put the wage increase in front of voters in November, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and others bypassed the Mayor’s Office and Chamber of Commerce, which said they would push forward with their own plan for a wage hike. San Francisco currently has one of the highest minimum wages in any American city at $10.73 an hour, thanks to a ballot initiative passed in 2003. SeaTac, Wash., home of Seattle’s airport, has a rate of $15 an hour. That’s the minimum wage sought by fast-food employees and other low-level workers nationwide. With San Francisco’s cost of living higher than ever, raising the minimum wage and doing so quickly is necessary to relieve the “affordability crisis,” said Alex Tom, an organizer with San Francisco Rising, one of the labor groups behind the Minimum Wage Act of 2014. (read article)

Unions mobilize against ‘wayward’ Democrat
By Gloria Romero, April 7, 2014, Orange County Register
The ink was hardly dry on my column last week about campaign money and secret pledges when the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees union – focused on preserving pensions for its public sector members – contributed $50,000 of its members’ dues to defeat Mayor Steve Glazer of Orinda in Contra Costa County in his bid for the state Assembly’s 16th District. Glazer has challenged candidates to renounce secrecy by publicly posting any private commitments made in responses to union questionnaires… (read article – subscription required)

Rhode Island police reject pension settlement, trial date stays in place
By Hilary Russ, April 7, 2014, Reuters
A Sept. 15 trial date for litigation over Rhode Island’s 2011 pension reforms remains in place if the state and public labor unions cannot settle their dispute, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter said on Monday. The judge, who is overseeing the case, ordered the parties back to mediation. A settlement to end the litigation was voted down by police union members, the Associated Press reported. The state’s overhaul of its public pension system has been used by other state and local governments across the United States as a model to rein in the ballooning cost of retirement benefits for public sector workers. But public labor unions sued over the changes. Retirees, firefighters and teachers have all signed off on the agreement already, the AP reported. A representative for the police union could not immediately be reached on Monday. (read article)

Crime and poverty will grow if Detroit pensions are slashed, union argues
Robert Snell, April 7, 2014, The Detroit News
The city’s largest labor union predicted Monday that Detroit would be beset with more crime, poverty and further social decay if the city is allowed to slash pensions for nearly 34,000 retirees and municipal workers. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25’s dire warning was among a new round of objections filed by creditors Monday to the debt-cutting reorganization plan Detroit intends to send to creditors for a vote by month’s end. Monday was the deadline for creditors to object to the contents of a 602-page Disclosure Statement that details how the city proposes cutting debt, improving city services and reorganizing City Hall in the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said Monday the city’s legal team is working to fulfill U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ demand that the document spell out cuts to pensions and other debts in “plain English.” (read article)

San Francisco Labor Activists Seek $15/Hour Minimum Wage By 2017
April 7, 2014, CBS San Francisco
A coalition of community and labor advocates on Monday planned to submit a proposed ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in San Francisco to $15 an hour. The group planned to submit the so-called “Minimum Wage Act of 2014” to the city’s Department of Elections at City Hall around 4:30 p.m. as a first step to get the measure on the November ballot. The group, Coalition for a Fair Economy, includes members from Progressive Workers Alliance, SF Rising, the San Francisco chapter of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Unite Here Local 2 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021. SEIU Local 1021 represents 13,000 city workers in San Francisco. Under the proposed initiative, which will need thousands of signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the minimum wage at businesses with fewer than 100 employees would increase to $13 an hour in 2015; $14 by 2016 and $15 by 2017. The measure would cover all part-time, temporary and contract employees. (read article)

GOP aims to keep Ohio college athletes from unionizing
By Chrissie Thompson, April 7, 2014, Cincinnati.com
Ohio law would specify college athletes are not employees under a provision introduced by General Assembly Republicans acting “proactively” after a national labor director granted Northwestern University football players the right to unionize. Republicans added the provision Monday to a massive budget-like bill mostly made up of appropriation changes requested by Gov. John Kasich’s office. “I think we’re proactively restating that college athletes are not employees,” said Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, sponsor of the big bill. “If it ever comes up, it will be in the law.” A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that football players at Northwestern could be considered as “employees” of the university, allowing them to seek to organize a labor union to address grievances through collective bargaining. The university may appeal the decision. Passing a law that student athletes aren’t employees likely won’t matter if any student athletes at Ohio’s public universities seek to unionize, said Eric Combs, a Cincinnati attorney who teaches sports law at the University of Cincinnati. State law clarifies which classes of people are not considered public employees, therefore prohibiting them from collective bargaining, Combs said. (read article)

Labor’s lackeys stack the deck but workers keep leaving unions
Editorial, April 7, 2014, Washington Examiner
An unprecedented trend is reshaping the contemporary American workplace: U.S. workers are headed in one direction even as union leaders and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are going full-gallop in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, this development is rarely if ever mentioned in the news pages of the liberal precincts of the mainstream media. That absence is especially unfortunate because the way Americans work is undergoing fundamental change. For their part, workers are leaving traditional labor unions and have been doing so for years. Union membership in private sector companies was 6.7 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private sector union membership peaked at nearly 36 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s. It’s been downhill ever since. Government workers remain by far the most unionized, at 35.3 percent. Together, the overall percentage of the nation’s workforce that is unionized was only 11.3 percent, representing 14.5 million employees. (read article)

Sierra Club’s confidential guide for wooing union workers
By Sarah Hurtubise, April 7, 2014, Daily Caller
The Sierra Club has a helpful list of “dos and don’ts” for activists trying to convince union workers to support ending the mining and production of coal. The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained an internal memo from Margrete Strand, the director of Sierra Club’s Labor and Trade Program from 2004 to 2012, providing this advice. “Don’t use technical financial language,” the memo warns, “It can sound confusing and elitist.” The terms that are banned? Such complicated words as “markets” and “capital.” “Don’t overly emphasize lofty, potential new green jobs,” another point reads, admitting that highly-publicized green jobs aren’t the guarantee they’re often presented as. And make sure to ingratiate yourself by helping the union out in other ways. “Do be prepared to integrate and strongly advocate for demands related to the workers and the community in your negotiation with a company, utility or elected officials. Think about participating in local labor social events such as May Day,” the memo suggests. Most of all, “Don’t ever use the phrase ‘killing’ to refer to jobs, businesses, or the coal industry,” employees were warned. “Talk about transitions, phases, and gradual changes in the way we create and distribute energy.” “Don’t allow Sierra Club to be branded as simply an environmental interest group juxtaposed to the interests of workers and communities,” the memo directs. “We can play an important role in helping facilitate a process or dialogue among constituencies to create a just transition plan.” (read article)

Super PACs Supersize Union Political Spending
By Nathan A. Benefield, April 7, 2014, Forbes
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that government couldn’t limit “independent expenditures” in elections, we’ve seen a rise of deep-pocketed political organizations called “Super PACs.” Now, these Super PACs are elbowing into state elections, promising to supersize the already dominating role unions play in electoral politics. Effectively, Super PACs can collect and spend an unlimited amount of money to influence elections. They can also, unlike candidates or traditional PACs, accept funding from union dues and corporate accounts. They can’t give directly to candidates or directly coordinate their efforts with political campaigns, but they can run TV spots, radio ads, and mailers supporting or attacking candidates. We’ve already seen the impact on state elections: Last year, a Super PAC called Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security spent $8 million in New Jersey. More than $6 million of that total came from unions—nearly $1.2 million from union members’ dues. Another $4.85 million came from another Super PAC called “Garden State Forward,” an arm of the New Jersey Education Association which is the state’s largest teachers’ union. This group, now called General Majority, is spreading to the rest of the country. A federal judge recently allowed General Majority to operate in my home state of Pennsylvania where they can collect an unlimited amount of union dues to influence state elections. General Majority isn’t shy about what they intend to do with this money. Their website proudly states they are “focused on electing Democratic state legislators” in states that “have been overrun by Republicans.” This should sound an alarm. Union leaders have already declared their plans to spend an unprecedented amount of money in state races in 2014. The AFL-CIO alone is committing $300 million to defeating Republicans. Further, the New York Times reports that unions are drumming up wedge issues like a minimum wage increase solely to win elections and flip five states from red to blue: A.F.L.-C.I.O. leaders said they would focus this fall on four industrial battlegrounds — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, traditional union strongholds — and Florida. Their hope is to not only oust the Republican governors of those states, but also to flip several of the legislative chambers. Nationally, unions were quick to learn to play the Super PAC game. (read article)

Biden outlines new apprenticeship plan for students
By Homa Bash, April 7, 2014, USA Today
Vice President Biden outlined Monday the Obama administration’s plan to boost community college graduation rates by giving college credit for job-training apprenticeships. Biden announced the launch of the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention. The consortium will act as a way to bridge the gap for students coming from low- and middle-class families who have to decide whether to go straight to work or continue their education. The goal, Biden said, is to let students learn while they earn. Biden said the new consortium includes community colleges, businesses, labor unions and industry organizations, all committed to creating paid apprenticeships that would qualify for academic credit. “Unless we have the most skilled workforce in the world, we will not be able to lead the world,” Biden said, citing statistic after statistic that point to the United States’ need to train more workers and the growing necessity of holding a degree or certificate in the job market. (read article)

Pennsylvania Senate passes bill to end union exemption from harassment laws
By Jeff Blumenthal, April 7, 2014, Philadelphia Business Journal
A bill designed to close a loophole in Pennsylvania’s criminal code that exempts those involved in labor disputes from being charged with harassment, stalking and related offenses took another step closer to becoming law Monday. The state Senate approved the measure unanimously (48-0) a month after passing through the state House of Representatives Wednesday by a 115-74 vote. The legislation, House Bill 1154, introduced last April by Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), now will go to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett to be signed into law. The Senate only made minor tweaks to the House bill. Specifically, it wanted to make clear that the bill would not trump federal labor law. (read article)

Minnesota union drive moves ahead in shadow of Supreme Court case
By Tom Steward, April 7, 2014, Town Hall
The future of public employee labor unions for state-paid personal care attendants remains up in the air as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs an Illinois case, but you’d never know it by the organizing drive under way to from a sister union in Minnesota. The Service Employees International Union claims the campaign to unionize about 16,000 attendants who care for disabled and elderly individuals at home constitutes the biggest union election in Minnesota history. “These organizers will knock on doors and talk to Home Care workers, supporting them in taking collective action and building their Union,” states an SEIU online job description offering $600 a week for temporary organizers. “When they win their election, Homecare Workers will have the power to pull themselves out of poverty, and to make real improvements not just in their own lives but in the lives of the thousands of seniors and people with disabilities they serve.” (read article)

Pensions Pose Latest Challenge For Chicago Mayor
April 07, 2014, NPR
Rahm Emanuel has been a force in politics — the mastermind behind a Democratic takeover of Congress, dealmaker in two White Houses and now the hard-charging mayor intent on fixing what ails the nation’s third-largest city, no matter whom he ticks off in the process. But less than a year before asking voters to give him a second four-year term, the man once nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his fierce political maneuvering has now come face to face with a mess that could undermine Chicago’s reputation as an efficient metropolis and derail its ambitions to become a high-tech business mecca: the worst public pension crisis of any major U.S. city. Emanuel last week announced his first concrete proposal to bail out the city’s drastically underfunded employee retirement systems, a festering problem inherited from his predecessor, Richard M. Daley. The plan, designed to cut Chicago’s nearly $20 billion shortfall in half by reducing worker benefits and raising property taxes, would address only half the problem, but even this first attempt was met with fierce resistance from unions and taxpayer groups — and little enthusiasm from fellow Democrats he needs to get it approved. (read article)

FreedomWorks targets wary Republicans in lead-up to ‘right-to-work’ vote
by Eli Yokley, April 7, 2014, PoliticMO
The national conservative activism group FreedomWorks issued a call to action on Monday, asking its members in Missouri to call a list of wary Republicans and urge them to support ‘right-to-work.’ FreedomWorks, which claims 6 million online members, is the latest national conservative group to join the ‘right-to-work’ fight in Missouri, as a potential vote pends in the Missouri House later this week. “Obama’s Big Labor allies want to force workers across Missouri to pay dues, and then use that money to support Big Government politicians,” wrote Matt Kibbe, president & CEO of the organization, in an email to supporters. “With your help, we can stop them. If Missouri passes a Right-to-Work law we can stop Obama’s Big Labor cronies in Missouri once and for all.” The bill, a chief priority of House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eurekea, would aim to restrict labor unions from collecting representation dues from non-union members in closed shops. Kibbe’s group went further than many others organizations in touting the potential political benefits of ‘right-to-work’ for Missouri and national Republicans. “It’s time to make Missouri the 25th Right-to-Work state and stop Barack Obama and his Big Labor allies,” he wrote. (read article)

Not your grandpa’s labor union
By Leon Neyfakh, April 06, 2014, Boston Globe
Last month, when the college football players of Northwestern University tentatively won the right to unionize, the ruling by the regional National Labor Relations Board asserted that even though these young men were students at their school, they were also its employees. The decision—which could still be reversed—promised to make union men out of a group that looked quite different, at least on the surface, from the blue-collar factory workers who have traditionally been the face of American labor. But to look around the modern landscape of American employment is to see a number of equally surprising organizing efforts. Music video dancers recently unionized. Adjunct professors on some college campuses have, too. In New York, jazz musicians have been pressuring nonunion nightclubs for pensions and other benefits, and on the Internet, video game designers have discussed the possibility of unionizing as a means of protecting themselves against game companies. Meanwhile, fast-food workers all over the country have been organizing with the help of the Service Employees International Union. These people might seem like they have nothing particular in common. But behind their disparate organizing efforts, which come amid plummeting private-sector union membership overall, is a profound shift affecting nearly every industry in the American economy. More and more working people, at all levels of income, are operating in a gray area in terms of their employment status. (read article)

Former labor secretary backs UAW, blasts state officials for interference
By Dave Flessner, April 5, 2014, Times Free Press
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich chided Tennessee political leaders Friday for trying to influence workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant to reject representation by the United Auto Workers union. “I just don’t think that any political leaders should do anything to influence a union vote,” Reich said during a video chat Friday night with more than 100 labor, church and community leaders gathered at the IBEW labor hall. “I think that violates the spirit of what is fair.” Reich, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and an outspoken proponent of organized labor, said unions are key to limiting the growing income inequality in America and ensuring the success of democracy in America. The former labor secretary and long-time friend of former President Bill Clinton said the U.S. economy did far better through the 1950s and 1960s when more workers belonged to labor unions, and workers today in countries like Germany and Denmark and doing better than most Americans, in part, because of stronger labor unions in those countries. (read article)

Voices Emerging Against a College Football Players Union
By Ben Strauss, April 5, 2014, New York Times
Northwestern’s football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, has urged players to vote no in a secret ballot union election scheduled for later this month, he said Saturday. The election, the first of its kind in college sports, was ordered last month by Peter Ohr, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, when he ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players were employees and eligible to collectively bargain with the university over issues like expanded medical care and practice schedules. “I believe it’s in their best interest to vote no,” Fitzgerald said after practice. Fitzgerald first addressed Northwestern players about the decision in a team meeting Wednesday. He also sent a letter to their parents detailing his position. He spoke about the N.L.R.B. ruling publicly for the first time Saturday. “I just do not believe we need a third party between our players and our coaches, staff and administrators,” said Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern linebacker now in his eighth year as the coach. “Whatever they need, we’ll get them.” (read article)

Teachers union strong-arms the financial community
Editorial, April 4, 2014, Washington Examiner
Randi Weingarten says she just wants to help the financial community. To that end, the president of the American Federation of Teachers has compiled a document called “Ranking Asset Managers.” The purpose of the pamphlet, released last month, is to promote “transparency and disclosure” among investment managers so that “trustees can make informed decisions about the risks their plans face.” AFT calls on pension fund trustees to drop any investment managers that are tainted by connection to free-market nonprofits. They also want those same trustees to force any potential new managers to have to disclose any donations they may have made to the groups on AFT’s blacklist. What risks, you say? Well, hiring asset managers who have ties of any sort to free-market nonprofit groups like the Manhattan Institute. Which is to say, groups that have raised alarms about public-sector union pensions and proposed serious reforms. Why should anybody in the financial community worry about that? Well, such hires could result in a sustained public relations attack from AFT, an organization with an annual budget of $320 million and very few scruples in the political arena. In other words, “Nice asset management company you got here. Be a real shame if something happened to it. Want to participate in our transparency and disclosure effort?” (read article)

Wisconsin labor unions announce endorsement of Burke for governor
by Nyal Mueenuddin, April 3, 2014, Wisconsin Badger Herald
As the race for governor draws closer, three of Wisconsin’s top public employee labor unions endorsed Democrat Mary Burke in her challenge against Gov. Scott Walker. Shortly after the unions’ announcement, the Republican Party of Wisconsin pointed out the unions now endorsing the candidate, which include the Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFL-CIO and Madison Teachers Inc., have criticized Burke in the past. Burke’s stance differed from the unions in their total opposition to Act 10, a controversial law Walker enacted that all but eliminated many unions’ collective bargaining powers. But the unions said Burke is the candidate that best represents unions members and that she supports collective bargaining. Wisconsin AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale said Burke has made it clear she believes in the right for labor groups to bargain collectively for their interests. (read article)

What The Northwestern Football Union Means For College Sports
By Sean Gregory, April 2, 2014, Time
On the surface, a union for football players at Northwestern seems like a limited development. But thanks to new precedent, and some union-friendly state laws, college athletes could start banding nationwide. A collection of college football players at Nothwestern University and other high-profile schools, fed up with a system that enriches people involved with the game but not the actual talent on the field, started a solidarity movement last September. They wrote the initials APU — All Players United — on their wristbands during that week’s games. Just six months later, that seemingly quaint gesture could go down as a milestone in the escalating fight over how to define and compensate big-time college athletes. On March 26, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees of the university and thus have a right to unionize and fight for better health care coverage, larger scholarship funds and other benefits (Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback leading the school’s union charge, says ”pay-for-play” salaries are not on the agenda). “The players now have moral high ground, and momentum,” says Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “This was a landmark decision for the future of college athletics.” (read article)

UPS refuses to back down from firing 250 union workers for walkout
By Ginger Adams Otis, April 2, 2014, New York Daily News
The Atlanta-based company said the union that represents the drivers at a Maspeth depot knew it was violating its labor contract with the company by calling for a 90-minute walkout Feb. 26 — and did it anyway. The company fired 20 workers Monday night and said it won’t back down from its plan to fire the remaining 230 as soon as new drivers are trained. “They are being removed from payroll due to their participation in the walkout. The company is taking justifiable action to address the local union’s and the employees’ misconduct,” said Steve Gaut, a UPS spokesman. The Feb. 26 walkout — sparked by the dismissal of a longtime union activist, Jairo Reyes — had serious consequences for the company’s bottom line, the spokesman noted. The company maintains that under its agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 804, it has the right to fire employees who take part in an illegal job action. (read article)

A Union Aims at Pittsburgh’s Biggest Employer
By Steven Greenhouse, April 2, 2014, New York Times
For decades, United States Steel was this city’s dominant employer, but now the biggest employer is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with its 22 hospitals and 62,000 workers. As if to highlight how the service sector has supplanted manufacturing, UPMC’s letters are emblazoned 20 feet high atop the city’s tallest building, the U.S. Steel Center Tower. And just as labor unions famously clashed with Andrew Carnegie, UPMC faces its own labor showdown. The Service Employees International Union is seeking to organize more than 10,000 of UPMC’s service workers, and demanding that the hospital system be a leader, much like U.S. Steel once was, in raising wages. The union is expert at making life unpleasant for employers, and it has not spared UPMC. The union staged a traffic-clogging protest outside UPMC’s headquarters and helped create community groups that accuse UPMC of paying poverty-level wages. (read article)

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