Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Court Agrees With Labor Unions: Giant Inflatable Rats Are Protected Speech
By Elizabeth Nolan Brown, November 17, 2014, Reason
In case you were wondering, displaying giant inflateable rats is protected by the First Amendment. Apparently a balloon rodent known as Scabby the Rat has been a labor union protest symbol since the ’90s. But New York-based Microtech Contracting felt the display of Scabby by unions representing some of its workers was a violation of the pair’s collective bargaining agreement. Microtech challenged the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and the Asbestos, Lead, and Hazardous Waste Laborers’ Local 78 over the rat in federal court. District Judge Joseph Bianco sided with the unions—the latest in a series of legal victories for the protected speech status of giant inflatable rats. From the National Constitution Center’s blog: Since Scabby’s humble birth in Chicago years ago in 1990, the rat with the union label has become a symbol of protest at different locations across America. Anyone can buy a rat, ranging from 6 feet to 25 feet tall, from Plainfield, Illinois-based Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights. The typical rat runs from $2,000 to $8,000. (read article)

LAUSD and teachers union remain divided
By Thomas Himes, November 16, 2014, Los Angeles Daily News
A two-year pay hike totaling 6.64 percent and a controversial teacher evaluation system are major points of contention that continue to prevent the Los Angeles Unified School District and representatives of its 35,000-member teachers union from reaching a new contract. The two sides remain divided by more than $200 million per year in pay alone. After meeting Friday, the parties were no closer to agreement, prompting the union to announce it will hold rallies this week, its “first major action” as part of organizing in case of a strike. LAUSD, under the leadership of new Superintendent Ramon Cortines, on Friday offered to make its proposed 6.64 percent in pay raises over the next two years binding and not subject to available funding, a clause in recently negotiated deals with other LAUSD unions. “Obviously the district would have to read through the budget in many different ways in order to follow through with a commitment,” said Vivian Ekchian, LAUSD’s chief labor negotiator. “Should an agreement be made, then accordingly the district would have to make budgetary decisions that would allow this to happen.” But the pay offer, along with district efforts to find union support for a teacher evaluation system called Educator Growth and Development Cycle that in part relies on student test scores, was not well-received by leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles. After walking away from the bargaining table, UTLA released a statement promoting “escalating actions” and five regional rallies to be held Thursday, as talk of a strike continues. UTLA last manned picket lines in 1989 with a strike that lasted nine days. (read article)

Labor pacts could test Detroit’s new financial review panel
By Chad Halcom, November 16, 2014, Crain’s Detroit Business
The newly formed Detroit Financial Review Commission may not have quite as much power as the New York oversight board that was its inspiration — especially once a few bankruptcy-era union contracts are up for renegotiation in the coming years. The commission members, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder last week to serve along with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, will meet again Nov. 21 and Dec. 5. The commission will begin likely monthly and as-needed meetings to supervise Detroit’s post-bankruptcy financial plans. Under Public Act 181 of 2014, the state law signed by Snyder in July to authorize the commission, the panel will review and approve a four-year financial plan for the city and its operating budgets. It also has final approval of any labor contracts with Detroit’s more than 40 employee unions. The remaining commission members appointed were Lorron James, vice president of business affairs at James Group International; Darrell Burks, former senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP; Tony Saunders, former director of Conway MacKenzie Inc.; Bill Martin, real estate developer and former University of Michigan athletic director; and Stacy Fox, founder and principal of The Roxbury Group, and a former deputy emergency manager of Detroit. (read article)

San Jose councilman to become city’s next mayor
Associated Press, November 15, 2014, Fresno Bee
California’s third most-populous city finally knows who its next mayor will be now that Santa Clara County election officials have decided against recounting ballots in the close San Jose mayoral election. The winner, San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, had 51 percent of the vote as of Friday night, when only about 1,000 main-in ballots returned at polling places on Election Day remained uncounted, the San Jose Mercury News reported (http://bit.ly/1Bxcdl4). Liccardo’s opponent, Santa Clara County Supervisor and fellow Democrat Dave Cortese, actually conceded the race on Monday, but its outcome remained in doubt the rest of the week as county election officials sought to address concerns that all their Election Day tallies might have been tainted by an information technology manager’s abrupt resignation the day before. At the request of Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey, the secretary of state’s office agreed to offer its guidance and initially suggested a partial recount in the mayor’s race, the Mercury News said. But state election officials withdrew the informal recommendation on Friday, saying the county could instead follow its usual postelection procedure of performing a manual recount of 1 percent of the ballots cast in all races, the newspaper said. (read article)

Why public-sector unions lost big in Illinois
By Lydia DePillis, November 14, 2014, Washington Post
A week after the midterm election, Gregg Johnson heaved himself into a chair around a rickety table in a shopfront union hall here and lamented the state of public-sector unions in America. “Tough week,” said Johnson, who had just retired from three decades working in the supply room of a local prison, where he serves as president of the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees local chapter. His state, after all, had just elected Bruce Rauner –a multimillionaire investor who campaigned on the idea that “government union bosses” were sucking the state dry with their salaries and pensions –as its next governor. “I just left the facility today, and they’re all worried we’re going to close within the next few months,” said Johnson. His $60,000-per-year pension seems safe, but he doesn’t feel he can assure the next generation of workers anything close to that level of security. “I can’t really put their minds at ease.” Public-sector unions this fall pulled out all the stops to defeat Rauner in his race against incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D), with hopes of avoiding life under a Republican who questioned whether they should have collective bargaining rights at all. But they failed in Illinois, and four of the other five states where they waged a battle to defeat GOP gubernatorial candidates hostile to their cause. (read article)

NLRB Complaint: Fed Employees Union Violates Worker Rights
By Bill McMorris, November 14, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
A former local union leader is accusing the country’s largest federal workers union of failing to inform workers of their constitutional rights to opt out of the union. Kimsha Rosensteel, an 11-year food service worker for a military contractor at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, said that her local chapter of the SEIU-affiliated National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) “kept employees in the dark about their rights” regarding union membership. “I was told that we’re supposed to keep workers uneducated. The more uneducated, the better because it would cost the union money if workers found out” about alternatives to membership, she said. Rosensteel served as president of NAGE Local R15-139 for 18 months before being driven from office in 2013. When she assumed office in 2012, she began studying federal labor law and discovered that workers had the right to opt out of full union dues through agency fees and break ties with NAGE as religious objectors. “I did not know these laws even existed. I was told I had to join the union just to work. If I knew I never would have joined,” she said. (read article)

Calif. port labor dispute could derail Santa
November 13, 2014, CBS News
There are growing concerns that a slowdown at the country’s busiest ports could hit holiday shipments. Because of a dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association, which runs the twin shipping ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and its workers, businesses could come to a halt on the West Coast, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy. Off the coast of California, giant cargo ships line up waiting to drop off their goods — ships that are the lifeline for Pacific Play Tents executive vice president Brian Jablon. He said it typically takes three days for the camping supplies and kid’s tents he sells from China to get from the port to his warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. Now, it suddenly takes two weeks. His customers, including Walmart and Amazon, are not happy. And now, he’s worried about losing his business. “Yeah, absolutely,” Jablon said. “Not only losing business but it’s killing our profit.” And he blames the union. “The unions are trying to strong-arm whoever they’re negotiating with, so they slow down emptying off the containers, they’ve held up the truckers at the port,” Jablon said. (read article)

Scott Walker is Not Big Labor’s Nemesis
Shikha Dalmia, November 13, 2014, Reason
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) pulled off a stunner of a solid victory last week. And after his very public fights with Wisconsin’s public sector unions, the governor’s re-election is being billed as a major blow to Big Labor. In the long run, that is no doubt true. But unions might not have that much to worry about in the foreseeable future. That’s because there just aren’t many governors, including Walker himself, who are going to have the appetite or the need to push anti-union measures until the economy tanks again. It’s easy to see why Walker’s win is seen as terrible for Big Labor. Unions had put a bull’s eye on Walker ever since he signed the union-deflating Public Act 10 into law in 2011. Walker’s law went well beyond eliminating compulsory payment of union dues as a condition of employment in union shops, as right-to-work laws (including one signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder) do. Although, unlike right-to-work, it applies only to public sector unions, it: bars employers from withholding dues from employee paychecks and tells union bosses to make their own collection arrangements; requires unions to be recertified every year; mandates government employees to contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits; and restricts collective bargaining to base wages — making benefits, workplace arrangements, and staffing levels off limits. These restrictions were crucial in freeing local budgets from the chokehold of unions, saving state taxpayers $2 billion in just its first year. (read article)

VW to Allow Labor Groups to Represent Workers at Chattanooga Plant
By Steven Greenhouse, November 12, 2014, New York Times
Volkswagen announced a new policy on Wednesday that was likely to allow several labor groups, including the United Automobile Workers, to represent employees at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. The U.A.W. applauded the move because it would mean partial recognition of the union and regular discussions between management and the U.A.W., and perhaps other labor groups as well. For years, the union has been straining to get a foothold in any of the foreign-owned auto plants in the South. But VW’s new policy stops short of the U.A.W.’s ultimate goal of being the exclusive union and bargaining agent for the plant’s workers. Volkswagen has been under intense pressure from its powerful labor union in Germany, IG Metall, to grant recognition to the U.A.W. in Chattanooga. The union’s push for recognition was hurt when the plant’s workers voted 712-626 in February against U.A.W. representation. A majority of the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted in February against joining the United Automobile Workers. Under VW’s new policy, employee groups will be able to use company space for meetings, post information and announcements, and have regular meetings with representatives of Volkswagen’s management. Groups that have the support of more than 15 percent of members can meet monthly with VW’s human resource officials, while those with more than 45 percent support can meet once every two weeks with Volkswagen Chattanooga’s executive committee. (read article)

Nurses strike is part of larger labor push
By Hudson Sangree, November 12, 2014, Sacramento Bee
A strike during the past two days by 18,000 nurses at Kaiser Permanente facilities in northern and central California, including three major Sacramento-area hospitals, was the latest salvo by a powerful union that says it is intent on improving the lot of nurses nationwide. Strikes and protests took place in 16 states and Washington, D.C., where nurses held a vigil outside the White House on Wednesday. The centerpiece of the action was the California strike against 86 Kaiser facilities in nearly two dozen cities including, Fresno, Stockton and Oakland, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The California Nurses Association has used such mass walkouts in recent years to pressure Kaiser and other hospitals on a variety of work issues. This week, the group and its umbrella organization, National Nurses United, said they called the strike to bring attention to the dangers nurses face dealing with Ebola cases – and what union leaders say is an erosion of patient care under large health organizations. Even after two nurses in Dallas were infected by an Ebola patient, many hospitals still lack full-body protective suits and sufficient training to deal with potential Ebola cases, said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. (read article)

Nurses’ Union Set to Strike Nationwide
By Jennifer Kerns, November 12, 2014, The Blaze
The nation’s largest nurses’ union is set to strike on Wednesday, as the labor union seeks to politicize the Ebola crisis and selfishly put Americans’ health care at risk. National Nurses United has announced their nurses will walk out of nearly 100 facilities in 16 states across the U.S. and in Washington, D.C. The two-day strike will include nearly 20,000 nurses and nurse practitioners at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics. In addition 600 nurses have already begun striking at California hospitals on Tuesday, and another 400 will walk off the job in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. In addition, other health care professionals will begin picketing hospitals in an attempt to disrupt patient care, and they will also protest and hold rallies at Federal buildings and other high-profile facilities. Actions are also planned for cities such as Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Miami, Las Vegas and Kansas City as well as a number of California locations, although National Nurses United declined to release specific details. Their accusations include an alleged failure to protect nurses; however, the evidence is incontrovertibly to the contrary. Since the first U.S. case of Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control have updated their personal protection guidelines for healthcare workers, and protocols have been strengthened successfully at our nation’s hospitals. (read article)

Scott Walker, Unions Continue Feud
By Connor D. Wolf, November 12, 2014, Daily Caller
More than a week after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s reelection, the feud between organized labor and the governor still goes strong. On Wednesday, Walker talked to NBC News about a range of topics, including labor unions. Walker noted that the AFL-CIO and other major unions “all said I was their number one target in the country” during the midterms. “Because we took their power away,” Walker stated. “We took the power away from the big government special interests in Washington and we put it in the hands of the taxpayers right here in our state and in the end the taxpayers decided they wanted the power to stay with them and not these big government special interests.” Walker first became a major union target because of his labor reforms, known as Act 10, which significantly changed the collective bargaining process for most public employees within the state. However, Walker explains that Act 10 has many benefits, including saving the “state and local taxpayers over $3 billion.” (read article)

Unions wasted millions in Wisconsin, Michigan governor races
By Jason Hart, November 11, 2014, Watchdog.org
Union bosses dumped more than $7.5 million into the Wisconsin and Michigan governor races only to see both states’ labor-reforming incumbents re-elected. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, both Republicans, were two of the five governors publicly targeted by union coalition AFL-CIO in February. Last Tuesday, Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke 52-47, and Snyder defeated Democrat Mark Schauer 51-47. Big labor hates — and in 2012 tried to recall — Walker because of 2011’s Act 10, a centerpiece of his agenda limiting the power of public-sector unions. Snyder signed two right-to-work laws in 2012, empowering most Michigan workers to opt out of paying labor union bosses and launching himself near the top of the union enemies list. Without accounting for union contributions to Democratic Party committees or any of a laundry list of politically active “progressive” nonprofits, unions this year spent at least $4,387,631 against Walker and at least $3,276,973 against Snyder. These figures likely far understate unions’ staff and monetary investments in both races. Based on campaign finance reports filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Burke’s failed campaign received more than $650,000 of cash and in-kind support from labor unions. (read article)

The ever-expanding reach of the NLRB and why non-union employers should care
By Tina A. Syring, November 11, 2014, Inside Counsel
In the past, non-union employers paid very little attention to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as those companies rarely had their employment policies and practices scrutinized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Instead, the non-union employers had a false sense of security in believing the NLRB would leave them alone because they had no unionized employees. It often felt as though non-union employers only took notice of the NLRA or NLRB when a threat of unionization appeared or when it appeared the Employee Free Choice Act would pass in 2009. However, as non-employers have learned over the past few years, times have changed. Despite the failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act or the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous rebuke of President Obama’s recess appointments in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the Board appears relatively unfazed. Instead, the NLRB has continued its activist role in supporting labor unions’ organizing efforts. In this two-part series, we will examine various activities by the NLRB and why non-union employers should take notice. (read article)

UAW says union close to claiming victory at Tennessee VW plant
By Erik Schelzig, November 11, 2014, Daily Herald
The United Auto Workers union is hailing a new Volkswagen policy as a vehicle to soon gain representation of workers at its first foreign auto plant in the South. Not so fast, says a group of workers who orchestrated a narrow defeat of the UAW in a union vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant earlier this year. The details of the new policy have yet to be released, but both the UAW and the rival American Council of Employees expect it to outline the company’s plans to interact with community and labor groups at the plant. The UAW expects the policy change to lead to the union being recognized by the company to bargain on behalf of all workers at the plant, the UAW said in a letter to members of Local 42 in Chattanooga on Monday. Volkswagen and the union reached an agreement last spring, according to the letter obtained Associated Press. The UAW said it would cooperate with efforts to win production of a new SUV in Chattanooga, and that it would drop its National Labor Relations Board challenge of the February union vote. In return, Volkswagen committed to recognizing the UAW, which would give it the authority to bargain on behalf of both members and nonmembers, according to the letter signed by Mike Cantrell and Steve Cochran, the president and vice president of Local 42. (read article)

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