Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

A Landmark Retail Workers ‘Bill of Rights’ Passes Unanimously In San Francisco
By Dave Jamieson, November 25, 2014, Huffington Post
Amid growing concern over erratic work schedules, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a first-of-its-kind law aimed at securing more stable hours for retail workers. Dubbed “the retail workers bill of rights,” the law, which passed the 11-member, all-Democratic board unanimously, requires the city’s large chain retailers to post workers’ schedules at least two weeks ahead of time. Workers will be owed supplemental pay if unexpected changes are made to their schedules, or if they’re required to be “on call” and their shifts are suddenly canceled. The law, championed by Supervisor David Chiu, also requires that the employers offer any extra hours they have to their current workforces, rather than bringing on more part-time or temporary workers. Passed as a set of two bills — the first sailed through last week, the second on Tuesday — the law marks a significant victory for labor groups and other advocates for retail and low-wage workers. At a time when minimum wage and sick leave proposals are proving extremely popular, backers of the San Francisco legislation hope similar measures will now pop up in other cities and perhaps even states. California and its cities often find themselves on the leading edge of progressive labor policies. (read article)

San Francisco passes first-in-nation limits on worker schedules
By Marianne Levine, November 25, 2014, Politico
San Francisco is now the country’s first jurisdiction to limit how chain stores can alter their employees’ schedules. Other states and cities are considering similar statutory restraints. Work scheduling rules are therefore poised to follow localized minimum wage increases and paid leave mandates as the newest instance of state and local government stepping in to fill the void left by the decades-long decline of private-sector labor unions. San Francisco’s new law, which its Board of Supervisors passed Tuesday by unanimous vote, will require any “formula retailer” (retail chain) with 20 or more locations worldwide that employs 20 or more people within the city to provide two weeks’ advance notice for any change in a worker’s schedule. An employer that alters working hours without two weeks’ notice — or fails to notify workers two weeks ahead of time that their schedules won’t change — will be required to provide additional “predictability pay.“ Property service contractors that provide janitorial or security services for these retailers will also need to abide by the new rule. “We know that while the economy is doing well for some, there are too many workers and families struggling in low-wage jobs with unpredictable shifts,” said Supervisor David Chiu, who in September introduced the predictable scheduling measure as part of a “Retail Workers Bill of Rights.” In addition to limiting schedule changes, the bill requires employers to pay part-time employees the same starting hourly wage as full-time employees in the same position. Employers must also give part-time employees the same access to time off enjoyed by full-time workers, and equal eligibility for promotion. (read article)

Los Angeles County supervisors end impasse on labor relations board
By Abby Sewell, November 25, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to appoint a new member to the employee relations commission, sidestepping a standoff between unions and management that had left the panel unable to make decisions on hundreds of labor issues. The three-member panel, which rules on labor disputes, has not had a quorum for more than a year, because unions and management were unable to agree on whom to appoint to a vacancy. The supervisors voted 4-0, with Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining, to appoint Pepperdine University law professor Anthony Miller, a specialist in employment and family law. With Miller’s appointment, two of three slots on the panel will be filled, allowing it to conduct business. In the past, labor and management had to agree on the appointment of all three commissioners. Last year, the supervisors voted to switch to a new system, under which labor and management each appointed one and only had to agree on the third. Unions objected to the change, which is expected to reduce their sway on the panel, and launched a bid to have the Legislature override it only to see the proposed law vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. (read article)

Union pushes for better treatment for Apple security guards
By Julia Love, November 25, 2014, San Jose Mercury News
As organized labor expands its efforts in Silicon Valley, a local union and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson are pushing for better working conditions for the security guards who work at Apple’s campus. United Service Workers West, a regional arm of the Service Employees International Union, hopes to unionize security guards who work on Apple’s campus, and in the short term is asking Apple to use a different security contractor. The campaign comes amid a growing debate about the valley’s sweeping use of contract workers, who do everything from driving shuttle buses to cooking in the cafeteria. But as the tech workers they serve are showered with eye-popping perks, service workers often struggle to make ends meet in the pricey Bay Area, advocates say. Though it hopes to unionize security guards across the valley, United Service Workers West has sharpened its focus on Apple, whose actions the group believes could set a standard for other tech companies to follow. Although unions must ultimately negotiate with contractors, clients such as Apple set the tone, said Samuel Kehinde, a former security guard who is now vice president of United Service Workers West. “Apple can be the leader,” he said. “They can decide how life should be for this class of workers in the valley.” (read article)

Palo Alto considers changing its policy for labor negotiations
By Gennady Sheyner, November 25, 2014, Palo Alto Weekly
When it comes to contract negotiations, Palo Alto’s managers and professionals have always stood apart from other labor groups. Because the roughly 200 employees who belong to this group don’t belong to a union, their compensation adjustments generally mirror those of the city’s unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union, Local 521. Yet in discussing new contracts for these employees, the City Council follows the same protocols as it does for SEIU and other unions — closed-session discussions, a vote and later a public announcement of the action taken. Closed-session negotiations for labor groups are currently the norm throughout the Bay Area, according to a report from the Human Resources department. San Jose is the only major city that includes public discussions of compensation for both represented and unrepresented. Now, Palo Alto is considering changing that. In a move championed by Councilman Greg Scharff, the council agreed earlier this month to reconsider its policies for discussing management compensation. (read article)

Federal Employees Do Union Work on Taxpayers’ Dime
By Eric Katz, November 24, 2014, The Fiscal Times
The Office of Personnel Management is not properly tracking the amount of time federal employees spend conducting union work on the taxpayers’ dime, which could mean the agency is significantly underreporting its use across government. OPM estimates the cost of “official time” – hours spent performing union business – by multiplying the average salary at a given agency by the number of official time hours reported. But that methodology does not provide the most accurate estimates, according to a new Government Accountability Office report initially made public Tuesday by congressional Republicans. When GAO compared OPM’s statistics against actual official time hours worked at six agencies, it found OPM underestimated the cost of employees conducting union work by 9 percent. The human resources agency said it does not prioritize collecting accurate official time data, as it is not statutorily required to collect it at all. It has released governmentwide figure since 2002, however. OPM asks agencies to fact check its information, GAO said, but does not account for any discrepancies that arise. Federal labor unions are entitled to official time under federal law, as a 1978 statute found it to be “in the public interest and contributes to effectively conducting public business.” Official time occurs when federal employees report to their normal offices and are paid their normal salaries, but perform union work “in lieu of their regularly assigned work.” (read article)

Politics, workers rights set bar high for union success
By Bill Virgin, November 23, 2014, Tacoma News Tribune
Union-represented employees at St. Joseph and St. Clare hospitals went on strike last week – sort of. The 1,100 workers were off the job in an announced 24-hour walkout that included informational picketing. Then they went back to work. Meanwhile, Longshore union members at West Coast ports, including Tacoma, aren’t on strike at all. Instead they’re engaging in a work slowdown, or at least that’s what the Pacific Maritime Association alleges. The ILWU says congestion, delays and productivity drops are the fault of management decisions and other factors. Also meanwhile, the unhappiness of the Machinists union with Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen over a vote on a revised contract with Boeing to secure the 777X project seemed to have minimal effect on the electoral fortunes of at least one of them. Larsen, whose 2nd Congressional District stretches from Lynnwood to Bellingham and out into the San Juan islands, collected a little more than 60 percent of the vote. If you’re a bit perplexed about the short-term accomplishments or long-term strategic objectives of these moves, at least from the objective of the workers and unions involved, you’re hardly alone. Many of the workers themselves, and officials of those unions, are trying to figure out whether there’s a net gain to these tactics. (read article)

Illinois Law to Fix $111 Billion Pension Deficit, Worst in U.S., Is Struck Down
By Andrew Harris, Tim Jones and Steven Church, November 22, 2014, Businessweek
Illinois will have to find a new way to fix the worst pension shortfall in the U.S. after a judge struck down a 2013 law that included raising the retirement age. Yesterday’s ruling that the pension changes would have violated the state’s constitution undoes a signature achievement of outgoing Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and hands responsibility for tackling the state’s $111 billion pension deficit to Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who defeated him in the Nov. 4 election. State constitutions have been invoked elsewhere to try to prevent cuts to public pensions. In Rhode Island, unions settled with the state over pension cuts before their constitutional challenge could be put to the test. In municipal bankruptcy cases in Detroit and California, judges ruled that federal law overrode state bans on cutting pensions. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, said she’ll appeal the ruling by Judge John Belz in Springfield and ask the state Supreme Court to fast-track the review. “Today’s ruling is the first step in a process that should ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court,” Rauner said yesterday. “It is my hope that the court will take up the case and rule as soon as possible. I look forward to working with the legislature to craft and implement effective, bipartisan pension reform.” (read article)

In the run-up to Black Friday, Walmart and strikers wage a war of words
By Lydia DePillis, November 22, 2014, Washington Post
Consider a box of donated food placed out for workers to help their colleagues put a festive meal on the table at Thanksgiving, which happened over the past few days at Wal-Marts in Frankfort, Ind., and Oklahoma City. Is that touching charity for the less fortunate? Or evidence of an employer so stingy that its employees don’t make enough to provide for themselves? It depends on whether you’re asking Walmart or the campaigners trying to raise awareness about the retailer’s low pay. In advance of coordinated strikes at Wal-Marts across the country on the day after Thanksgiving, a labor union-backed group is accusing the world’s biggest retailer of driving its associates into starvation — and Wal-Mart is fighting back harder than ever, saying it’s just providing low-cost groceries to the masses. Why is Wal-Mart specifically under seige, rather than Best Buy or Target? Other retailers pay low wages too, of course — recent research found that the average cashier at Starbucks makes $8.80 per hour, only a few nickles more than the average Wal-Mart cashier. Wal-Mart says it pays an average hourly wage, excluding managers, of $11.81 — slightly more than the mean for retail sales workers nationally, which is $11.39. (read article)

If Labor stayed home, then members reaped what they sowed
By Natasha Korecki, November 21, 2014, Chicago Sun-Times
The head of a prominent labor union last week calculated that a good percentage of the pro-labor vote stayed home Nov. 4. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, as a speaker on a labor panel at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, said that union members and nonunion “working people” typically make up 20-22 percent of the electorate. He estimated that this election, where Republicans swept nationally, the number was ground down to about 12 percent. Exit polls showed that those who did vote were primarily concerned about economic issues, he said. But Trumka blamed the candidates, saying Democrats failed to go beyond broad messages like raising the minimum wage. “People don’t want to hear messages. They want to hear an agenda. … They punished a lot of candidates who they thought were messaging and didn’t have an agenda. And many of those candidates were Democrats,” Trumka said. “A lot of working folks stayed home because they did not hear any kind of coherent economic message that addressed their individual needs of raising wages, because that was their top priority.” (read article)

Facebook shuttle drivers give unions toehold in Silicon Valley
Jessica Guynn, November 21, 2014, USA Today
Facebook shuttle bus drivers voted to join the Teamsters union on Wednesday night in a rare win for organized labor in Silicon Valley. The drivers who work for outside contractor Loop Transportation ferry Facebook workers to and from work in luxury shuttle buses. They say they voted 43-28 in favor of a union to improve working conditions and wages. “I hope going forward this will set a trend with other drivers in Silicon Valley and the tech industry so we can set a pattern to make the companies pay these drivers decent wages and benefits so they can live a decent life,” said Rome Aloise, international vice president and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 853. Facebook spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina declined to comment. Loop Transportation released a statement from CEO Jeff Leonoudakis. “Loop Transportation respects the election results and the decision of our drivers who service Facebook. Even though we don’t feel that our drivers’ interests are best served by union representation, our drivers have spoken and we will now begin the negotiation process,” Leonoudakis said. The vote could be a “game changer” in encouraging other low-wage workers in Silicon Valley to consider union representation, said Alan Hyde, a professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. (read article)

Police union, chiefs call for mandatory armor, seat belts
By Kevin Johnson, November 20, 2014, USA Today
The nation’s largest police unions and a national coalition of police chiefs agreed Thursday to mandatory use of body armor and seat belts for all law enforcement agencies. The accord, the first of its kind between labor and law enforcement leaders, comes amid persistent reports that large numbers of officers die in shootings and traffic accidents without the basic protection afforded by bulletproof vests and seat restraints. Although traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of officer deaths in 13 of the past 15 years, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which closely tracks police fatalities, about half of officers do not regularly wear seat belts. During the past three decades, 42% of police killed in auto accidents were not wearing seat belts, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration review. Law enforcement estimates of seat belt compliance hover around 50%, well below the 86% rate of compliance among the general public. In fatal shootings, 36% of officers killed from 2003 to 2012 were not wearing body armor, according to FBI statistics. “It is our responsibility to do everything we can to reduce officer fatalities and improve safety,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. (read article)

New mandatory labor union agreements at LAX challenged in federal lawsuit
By John Schreiber, November 20, 2014, My News LA
A federal lawsuit filed Thursday against the operator of Los Angeles International Airport alleges that a new requirement for airline service providers to reach agreements with labor unions is unconstitutional and a violation of federal law. The lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles World Airports and the city of Los Angeles by Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for various carriers, and the Airline Service Providers Association, which represents 17 businesses contracted by airlines at LAX to provide such services as baggage handling, ticketing, wheelchair assistance, security, and aircraft fueling and cleaning. Nancy Suey Castles, a LAWA spokeswoman, said the city agency had not yet seen the lawsuit, and no comment would be forthcoming until the document was reviewed. A representative for the city of Los Angeles did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit alleges that LAWA and the city are improperly infringing on the role of the federal government by requiring all airline service providers at LAX to reach a labor agreement with labor unions, even when employees have chosen not to be represented by a union. (read article)

A step closer to unions at Amazon
By Kim Peterson, November 20, 2014, MoneyWatch
Could Amazon (AMZN) workers finally be on a path to unionizing? A case settled this week with the National Labor Relations Board could pave the way for the company’s workers to organize. As part of the settlement, Amazon agreed to display signs at its fulfillment centers telling employees that they have the right to form unions. The company did not respond to a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch. Amazon has beaten back employee attempts to unionize for years. Earlier this year, a group of workers at a Delaware fulfillment center shot down a proposal to form the company’s first labor union. Labor leaders said Amazon aggressively lobbied to discourage the workers from unionizing. Amazon has been criticized for creating difficult working conditions for employees, particularly those in its fulfillment centers. In 2011, it parked ambulances outside a Pennsylvania warehouse for workers suffering from heat-related injuries. It later installed 40 roof-top air conditioners to alleviate the heat. The U.S. Department of Labor has investigated two deaths this year at Amazon centers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (read article)

Union Warns Anti-Keystone Democrats There Will Be Consequences
By Connor D. Wolf, November 19, 2014, Daily Caller
A prominent union boss warned on Wednesday that Democrats will pay for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. “For every action, there’s a reaction, and our members’ reaction will be felt in the next election,” Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), told PoliticoPro. LIUNA, like many unions, gave generously to the Democrats during the midterm elections. The union gave more than $2.3 million to Democratic candidates and $920,000 to the party’s main super PACs for 2014. O’Sullivan went on to say the Democrats who voted against the pipeline, “took food off the table of our members, and we don’t take that lightly.” He then vowed “to assess from top to bottom who we give to, what we give.” “Every president has to speak for their own membership,” O’Sullivan added. “Our membership is repulsed and disgusted.” Keystone XL has already divided labor unions from much of the rest of the Democratic Party. (read article)

The strange case of the anti-union union at Volkswagen’s plant in Tennessee
By Lydia DePillis, November 19, 2014, Washington Post
For someone who helped torpedo the United Auto Workers’ attempt to organize the Volkswagen plant here earlier this year, Sean Moss sounds an awful lot like someone who might have been on the UAW’s side. “It’s really to the benefit of everyone that everyone have a say,” says Moss, 46, who has worked in the plant’s assembly shop since the factory started in 2011. Workers need “the opportunity to step up and speak for themselves,” he says. Earlier this spring, Moss successfully fought the UAW when it seized on a rare opportunity in the anti-union South to organize the workforce at Volkswagen, a German company that views unions as partners, not foes. Moss opposed the move because he felt the UAW had been integrally involved in the bad fortunes of the big Detroit automakers during the recession. But since then, Moss has helped create a quasi-union of his own at the plant here, saying that he still believes that workers should come together to negotiate with their bosses. The American Council of Employees, as it’s called, was founded a few weeks ago to compete with the UAW for members. (read article)

More to Project Labor Agreement than Meets the Eye
By John B. Greet, November 18, 2014, Long Beach Post
As reported here, the Long Beach City Council recently and unanimously approved a recommendation from Council members Lena Gonzalez, Robert Uranga, and Al Austin to “direct (the) City Manager to negotiate a Citywide Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, and specified Craft Councils and Local Participants.” Our readers may review the specific Council Item, as well as the support documentation provided, by clicking here and I encourage them to do so. Although the Council Sponsors’ memo does not define exactly what a PLA is, one can find definitions from any number of sources. According to this source… “A project labor agreement or PLA is a pre-hire union labor agreement in which the contract terms and labor conditions are established in advance.” Sounds pretty straightforward. As the previous LB Post article states… “The goal of this PLA is to put together a workforce with at least 30 percent of workers residing in Long Beach zip codes.” That also sounds great. Considering Long Beach’s unemployment rate is currently and historically higher than the state or national averages, why would the Council not want to try to enact public policies that might improve that circumstance? Getting more of Long Beach’s residents back to work is not the only goal of this proposal, however. Another goal, implicit in the very nature of all PLA’s, is to increase the amount of jobs in an area which labor unions control. When unions control the jobs, they likewise control the wages. When they control the wages, they can drive the cost of construction projects up significantly. (read article)

VW policy opens door to anti-union group
By Brian Mahoney, November 18, 2014, Politico
Earlier this month, Volkswagen of America announced a new policy to allow worker organizations to participate in management, on the model of European works councils, in its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. The United Auto Workers sees this as a path to establishing its Local 42 as a collective bargaining agent at the plant. But first it will have to contend with its principal competitor, an anti-UAW group called the American Council of Employees (ACE). ACE is a worker group, but it isn’t a union. “I’m definitely not anti-union,” said ACE President Sean Moss. “But we call ourselves a council because that’s what we’re trying to work toward, and that’s getting a seat on the Volkswagen global works council. And we’re trying to build it that way because it’s more inclusive, tends to be less confrontational, more cooperation.” Moss said his group is “trying to break off from the failed UAW model that fled from Detroit.” ACE was incorporated as a 501(c)(5) about two months ago with considerable assistance from Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga attorney who typically represents employers in labor disputes. “I helped organize them,” Nicely said. “By ‘organize’ I mean help them file their articles of incorporation and all that stuff. We helped them to get legal.” ACE and its supporters hope to dilute support for Local 42, which claims to have won support from a majority of plant workers. (read article)

White House And Unions Divided On Keystone
By Connor D. Wolf, November 18, 2014, Daily Caller
While the Senate did not pass a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday night, Democrats were divided. Just as the issue splits Democratic senators — 14 voted to approve the pipeline — it splits Democratic constituencies. Labor unions are in favor, environmentalists against. President Barack Obama has consistently leaned in favor of the environmentalists on Keystone over concerns of its impact on the climate. However, many labor unions have been vocal in their support for the pipeline, seeing it as a possible job creator for their members. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has urged Republicans in Congress and the White House to get together and approve the pipeline. “There are a number of economic issues and job issues that we want them to get done. That happens to be one of them. So the answer is ‘yes.’ We want to get every jobs issue that we can out and as many jobs created as we can to get the economy going,” Trumka said in response to a question about the pipeline, according to the Washington Examiner. (read article)

Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions
By Thomas B. Edsall, November 18, 2014, New York Times
A paradox of American politics is that Republicans take organized labor more seriously than Democrats do. The right sees unions as a mainstay of the left, a crucial source of cash, campaign manpower and votes. “Unions are the largest player in American politics and they will be for some time,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, declared in March at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Fourteen million Americans have to pay union dues. If they average $500, and that is a low estimate, that’s a $7 billion slush fund for the left.” Democrats are happy to get labor’s votes and money, but they have done little to revitalize the besieged movement. “The unions basically have become an A.T.M. for Democrats,” Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., told me in a phone conversation. “There is a sense of taking unions for granted, no place else to go, don’t need to do much for them.” Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes. (read article)

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