Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Silicon Valley, Meet Organized Labor
By Kevin Roose, October 7, 2014, New York Magaizne
Tech companies and labor unions have never been friends. Whether union protectionism has made it tech’s enemy or, as historians have written, tech’s executive class was opposed to unions from the beginning, the fact remains that the Teamsters and other labor groups have never had much of a foothold in Silicon Valley. But that’s about to change. Silicon Valley’s newest labor challenge is coming from the tech underclass — the blue-collar workers who cook, drive, and clean for all those coddled engineers, and who are getting tired of watching the incredible spoils of the tech boom pass them by. This week, the Times reported that the Teamsters are attempting to organize bus drivers at Facebook. These drivers aren’t actually Facebook employees — they’re hired through an outside firm called Loop Transportation. But organizers are hoping that by appealing directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, they’ll convince Facebook to either use a unionized contractor instead of Loop, or pressure Loop to let its drivers organize. (read article)

Labor groups want L.A. city attorney to file complaint on bank deals
By Emily Alpert Reyes, October 7, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Labor unions and their allies in the Fix LA Coalition are urging Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer to pursue a regulatory complaint over borrowing deals they argue are costing the city. Eight years ago, the city entered into an interest rate swap deal with Bank of New York Mellon and Dexia for a wastewater system revenue bond, intending to take advantage of low interest rates. But when the economy crashed, rates dropped even lower — leaving the city paying more than the market rate. Earlier this year, the City Council voted to try to renegotiate the deals, making it the biggest city in the country to pursue such action. Now Fix LA is pressing for city officials to file a complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest independent securities regulator in the U.S., arguing that underwriters for the bond deal violated the principle of “fair dealing.” “There is significant reason to believe that the complexity of the potential risks incurred by Los Angeles in entering into these deals was not accurately or completely explained,” union leaders and community groups in the coalition wrote in a Monday letter to Feuer. (read article)

It’s time to protect workers from forced political contributions
Editorial, October 7, 2014, Washington Examiner
How would you react if your employer informed you he would be taking a modest cut from your paycheck each month for his political action committee? What if he told you that if you try to opt out of this arrangement he’d hassle you and might fight you all the way to the Supreme Court? Did you know that labor unions already do this? And for the most part, they have been getting away with it. That’s why it’s heartening to see a new report, from the Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins, that Republicans plan to take up federal labor law if they win the Senate in next month’s elections. Legal precedent has for three decades supposedly guaranteed the First Amendment rights of nonunion workers — who are nonetheless required to pay dues — to avoid subsidizing Big Labor’s political drives. But Knox v. SEIU, which ended in a 2012 Supreme Court decision, demonstrates how this guarantee often fails in practice. In 2005, SEIU abruptly raised its dues for the California public employees it represented for the explicit purpose of creating a $12 million campaign fund to defeat two state ballot measures. The union offered no opportunity for workers to opt out of contributing, unless they sought a refund the following year. (read article)

Union coalition AFL-CIO spends $30 million-plus on politics
By Jason Hart, October 7, 2014, Watchdog.org
Labor union coalition AFL-CIO spent more than $30 million on politics during the past year, shoveling money taken from workers to big-government groups across the country. AFL-CIO reported “Political Activities” totaling $28 million for its 2014 fiscal year, which ended on June 30. Another $4.8 million in AFL-CIO payments to political nonprofits were reported to the U.S. Department of Labor as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” or “Representational Activities.” AFL-CIO’s primary revenue stream is the per-capita tax member unions pay with money taken from workers. Private-sector workers in 26 states and public-sector workers in 23 states can be forced to pay union “agency fees” as a condition of employment. Although federal law restricts what unions can use mandatory fees for, AFL-CIO and its affiliates fund leftist political groups under the guise of representation. Agency fee payers can ask to have the “nonchargeable” portion of their fees refunded and may dispute the “chargeable” amount, but both processes are time-consuming and must be repeated annually. (read article)

Will Airport Workers Start the Port’s Next Big Labor War?
By Shelby Sebens, October 7, 2014, Go Local PDX
Workers at Portland International Airport, frustrated by low wages, are looking to form a union. The move threatens to open a second front in the Port of Portland’s years-long war with organized labor that occasionally has erupted into confrontations and threatened to destabilize the region’s economy. Union officials say they are in talks with some of the approximately 598 subcontractors at the airport and that the majority of the workers they have had conversations with are in favor of forming a union. “As a public institution, the port has a responsibility to make jobs at our airport good jobs,” said Jesse Stemmler, spokesman for Services Employees International Union (SEIU) 49. “We hope that the port works with workers to raise standards covering all contractors to ensure fair compensation, lower turnover, adequate equipment and training, safety, security and service quality.” A bitter dispute with longshoremen has destabilized shipping operations in the city’s ports for the last two years. Contentious contract negotiations between International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and grain elevator operators and a dispute between the ILWU and the Port of Portland have disrupted operations at Portland’s grain terminals and container shipping at Terminal 6. (read article)

UAW wants to unionize Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama
By Doron Levin, October 7, 2014, Fortune
The United Auto Workers union, smarting from a recent defeat trying to organize Volkswagen AG’s factory in Tennessee, has a new target, Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Alabama. Thus far the UAW’s strategy to organize auto plants in the southern half of the U.S. is struggling. The union also is girding for industry-wide contract talks with Detroit-based automakers this summer, perhaps providing clues as to the direction and militancy of the UAW’s new president. The UAW has created Local #112 in Tuscaloosa and asked Daimler AG, the German parent of Mercedes-Benz, to recognize it as the bargaining agent for workers, which number about 3,500. Dieter Zetsche, Daimler’s chief executive officer, has said it’s up to workers to decide, which suggests that a vote will be held. Dennis Williams, who was elected in June as UAW president, told the Wall Street Journal that “what happens here is important to the future of the labor movement.” Williams, 61, has said that the UAW is intent on bridging the gap between two tiers of auto workers already in the union, older workers who earn on a higher pay scale established before the industry’s downturn, and younger workers hired afterwards at a lower pay scale. So-called “tier two” workers also get less in the way of benefits, notably no defined benefit pension. (read article)

Taxpayers spend $157m for union work
By Sean Higgins, October 7, 2014, Washington Examiner
Taxpayers spent $157 million in fiscal 2012 for federal workers to not do their jobs. Instead, those federal employees spent a total of 3.4 million hours doing work for their labor unions. That’s up about 1 percent to $1.6 million and 44,000 hours from the previous year. That’s according to an annual report, released Tuesday, by the Office of Personnel Management that tracks the use of “official time” — bureaucrat-speak for work time given to federal workers who also hold union leadership positions so they can engage in contract negotiations, workplace grievances and any other labor-related activity. While on official time, those workers are still paid for their regular government jobs. So taxpayers are effectively paying them to work for their unions. The practice, first allowed under a 1979 civil service reform, is meant to compensate public employee unions for restrictions that most federal labor-management contracts put on labor activities, such as the ability to go on strike. About 60 percent of federal workers are represented by unions. (read article)

GOP sharpens knives to cut political spending by labor
By Sean Higgins, October 6, 2014, Washington Examiner
Federal labor law might be overhauled for the first time in 70 years if Republicans win control of the Senate in November, with key lawmakers planning to reintroduce legislation that would effectively cripple the ability of unions to raise political funds. The mechanism would be a simple tweak: Republicans would rewrite the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit unions from using an individual member’s dues for political activity unless that member explicitly grants permission to the union. GOP lawmakers proposed the measure in a bill dubbed the Employee Rights Act, which was introduced during the current Congress last November. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of its main co-sponsors, would be in line to be the next chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee under a GOP majority. The legislation would boost the rights of individual workers at the expense of union bosses. It includes several other provisions, such as making it illegal for a union leader to coerce or intimidate a member and requiring all workplace unionization votes to be federally monitored and have secret ballots. The measures all would strengthen the hand of workers who have disagreements with the unions that represent them. (read article)

Philadelphia Schools Cancel Teachers Union Contract
By Scott Calvert, October 6, 2014, Wall Street Journal
In a surprise move Monday, the commission that governs the financially troubled Philadelphia public-school system canceled the teachers union contract and decided educators must contribute to their health insurance for the first time to free up money for classrooms. “We can’t say to students, ‘We would like to give you millions of dollars to improve schools, but the PFT won’t let its members pay for some of its health insurance,’” School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green said, referring to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Governments nationwide have been seeking to rein in costs of health care and other benefits, but there appears to be little precedent for the five-member commission’s unanimous move, education experts said. “The unusual part is they unilaterally took away some of the key benefits from the union contract,” said Kenneth Wong, chairman of the Brown University education department. It isn’t clear if the commission even has the legal authority to void the contract under the state’s school takeover law. Its leaders quickly filed a lawsuit, joined by the state Department of Education, asking a judge to rule they have such power. The current teachers contract expired in August 2013, but staffers had been working under its terms during negotiations. Mr. Green said Monday’s move, coming after what he called 21 months of fruitless talks with the union, would save the district $54 million this year. He said $30 million of that would be quickly pumped into schools beset by large class sizes, reductions in arts and Advanced Placement classes, and cuts to guidance counselors. Some of the remaining $24 million would be used to ensure the district doesn’t face a deficit next year, he said. (read article)

Philadelphia ironworkers case details arsons, intimidation
Associated Press, October 5, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
After the economy tanked in 2008 and took construction work with it, a goon squad of ironworkers flexed its muscles at nonunion work sites in and around Philadelphia, threatening builders, smashing beams and even burning down a Quaker meeting house days before Christmas. They called themselves “The Helpful Union Guys,” or THUGS, for short. Eight of 12 ironworkers named in the February indictment have pleaded guilty, admitting to intimidation tactics that included slashing tires, grabbing rivals by the throat and blockading work sites as they targeted apartment buildings, an elementary school, a boutique coffeehouse and a gym. “The defendants relied on a reputation for violence and sabotage to force contractors to hire union members,” the FBI said in a statement after the latest guilty pleas last week. The 49-page indictment, which references Jimmy Hoffa and reads like a throwback to another era, illustrates the pressure union officials were under as they tried to secure work for their members in Philadelphia, a city with a long history of union power and regular bouts of labor strife. Complaints over labor rules — down to who can plug in a computer — at the new convention center are legend, and commuters regularly pass rowdy picket lines and giant inflatable rats along city highways. (read article)

‘Living Wage’ Laws Are Union Lifesavers
By Maxford Nelsen, October 2, 2014, Wall Street Journal
Labor activists across the country are pressing local jurisdictions to dramatically raise the minimum wage. They argue that this is necessary to help workers escape poverty. Often, however, so-called living-wage laws are really devices to revive unions. Los Angeles became the latest to join the movement when the city council approved a law on Sept. 24 requiring large hotels to pay employees at least $15.37 per hour and provide generous paid sick-leave benefits. But the ordinance includes a provision, increasingly common in similar ordinances, that permits unions to waive the requirements in collective bargaining. This waiver enables labor organizers to approach a nonunion employer struggling to pay the new minimum with the following offer: assist them in unionizing employees by signing a “neutrality agreement,” in return for which the union will use the collective-bargaining waiver to allow the employer to pay less than the new statutory minimum. (read article)

Brown vetoes effort to give unions greater say on labor-dispute boards
By David Zahniser and Abby Sewell, September 30, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have given public employee unions a greater say over who serves on the influential panels that issue decisions on labor-management disputes in L.A. city and county government. Brown said the measure, which would have restored the power of labor leaders to screen appointees to the city’s Employee Relations Board and the county’s Employee Relations Commission, would have resulted in “a significant override of local decision-making authority.” The two boards take positions on high-stakes labor-management fights over public employee salary agreements, work rules and retirement benefits. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti stopped allowing employee unions to sign off on the five nominees to the city commission. At the county, the Board of Supervisors voted last year to give unions a say on two out of three commission appointees instead of all three. The county’s employee relations panel has not had a quorum to meet in the wake of that vote. Management accused unions of refusing to pick an appointee. Union leaders accused management of blocking a proposed candidate. Brown said in his veto message that such disputes should be resolved at the local level. (read article)

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