Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street
By Conor Friedersdorf, December 2, 2014, The Atlantic
When Frank Serpico, the most famous police whistleblower of his generation, reflected on years of law-enforcement corruption in the New York Police Department, he assigned substantial blame to a commissioner who failed to hold rank-and-file cops accountable. That’s the classic template for police abuse: misbehaving cops are spared punishment by colleagues and bosses who cover for them. There are, of course, police officers who are fired for egregious misbehavior by commanding officers who decide that a given abuse makes them unfit for a badge and gun. Yet all over the U.S., police unions help many of those cops to get their jobs back, often via secretive appeals geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety. Cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets. Their colleagues get the message that police all but impervious to termination. That isn’t to say that every officer who is fired deserves it, or that every reinstated cop represents a miscarriage of justice. In theory, due process before a neutral arbiter could even protect blue whistleblowers from wrongful termination. But in practice, too many cops who needlessly kill people, use excessive force, or otherwise abuse their authority are getting reprieves from termination. (read article)

Labor’s new reality — it’s easier to raise wages for 100,000 than to unionize 4,000
By Harold Meyerson, December 7, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven’t done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will. Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members. Some of these campaigns seek to organize workers who, rightly or wrongly, aren’t even designated as employees or lack a common employer, such as domestic workers and cab drivers. The decision of Seattle’s government to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 resulted from just such a campaign. (read article)

A bill to loosen police discipline
By E.J. McMahon, December 7, 2014, New York Post
Who should ultimately control police discipline in New York: elected officials through their appointed police commissioners, or unelected labor arbitrators chosen in part by labor unions?
The question has plainly picked up added resonance in recent days. Gov. Cuomo will soon have a chance to answer it. Sometime before year’s end, the state Legislature must send Cuomo a bill it passed just weeks before Eric Garner’s fatal July 17 confrontation in Staten Island. The measure would allow unions representing police and other civil-service employees across the state to insist on collective bargaining of disciplinary procedures affecting their members. The bill represents the latest in a series of attempts by police unions to nullify a unanimous 2006 state Court of Appeals decision, which affirmed the New York City police commissioner’s disciplinary authority. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association had sued then-Commissioner Ray Kelly for overriding disciplinary provisions in the police contract — including a rule requiring NYPD superiors to wait at least 48 hours before questioning police officers accused of misconduct. (read article)

Walker following in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s footsteps on ‘right-to-work’ law
By Scott Bauer, December 7, 2014, Wisconsin Gazzette
Gov. Scott Walker’s reluctance to take a firm stand on a new push by Republican legislators to act quickly on right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin mirrors how Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder dodged the issue in 2012 before he signed that state’s bill into law. Walker sponsored a right-to-work bill as a freshman Assembly member in 1993, but he didn’t go after private-sector unions once elected governor in 2011. Instead, the changes in the law known as Act 10 only pertained to public-sector workers, and excluded police and firefighters. But now Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wants to move forward a right-to-work proposal that would bar private-sector unions from charging dues to the people they represent. Walker, who is preparing to begin his second term and is actively considering a run for president in 2016, reiterated Friday that he would prefer lawmakers would focus on his priorities and not take up the issue, but he refused to say whether he would sign or veto a right-to-work bill. “My position is right now … it would be a distraction,” Walker said. Walker also said his position on right-to-work hadn’t changed since 1993 when he sponsored the bill. (read article)

UAW, Detroit Prep for Talks
By John D. Stoll, December 7, 2014, Wall Street Journal
Workers at U.S. assembly plants for General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are likely to get 2014 bonuses exceeding $6,000 each, capping a four-year labor contract under which profit-sharing checks have gone to factory employees in record amounts. But the United Auto Workers union, gearing up for negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three next summer, is prepared to argue that isn’t good enough. After 10 years without hourly wage increases as well as an agreement by the union to accept lower pay for new hires, compensation is increasingly tied to the auto makers’ performance, which has been in a boom-or-bust cycle for decades. “Workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler have made painful sacrifices,” UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said in an interview. “Now it’s time for workers to share in the success, too.” (read article)

A Q&A With Steven Greenhouse, One of America’s Last Labor Reporters
By Hamilton Nolan, December 5, 2014, Gawker
The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse has spent nearly two decades as a reporter covering labor in America. This week, he announced he’s taking a buyout. He talked to us about the labor beat, unions, and the future of the American worker. Gawker: With your departure, the number of big papers with full time labor reporters is down to one. How do you see the future of labor reporting? Do you see encouraging stuff elsewhere, or do you think a lot of stories are just going to disappear? Steven Greenhouse: The NYT has a long and distinguished history of covering issues involving workers and labor unions, and I am confident that the Times will continue to give serious attention to these issues, whether it is stagnating wages or the protests of the Fight for 15 fast-food movement. An example, though not on the labor, the NYT’s investigative reporter, David Barstow, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of egregious workplace safety violations. Nationwide, the number of full-time reporters who covered labor fell sharply over the past 7 to 10 years as newspapers downsized. But labor coverage – by full-time and part-time reporters – has rebounded recently, at least somewhat, in response to the battles over collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio, the right-to-work fight in Michigan in response to the rise of the fast-food workers’ movement as well as growing concerns about income inequality and declining living standards for the nation’s middle class. Gawker: What are the biggest changes in labor that you’ve seen over the course of your years on the beat? (read article)

Leaders in 5 states eye right-to-work laws to weaken labor unions
By The Washington Post, December 5, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune
A month after voters handed Republicans control of an unprecedented number of state legislative chambers across the country, party leaders in key states are preparing a raft of proposals that would severely weaken the power of labor unions. The most immediate threat comes from so-called right-to-work legislation, which allows employees to opt out of joining a labor union. States without right-to-work laws allow unions to require employees to pay dues, even if they decline to join because those unions negotiate with businesses on behalf of all workers. Republicans in at least five states — Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio and Missouri — have introduced or plan to introduce versions of the law in legislative sessions that will begin in January. Legislators in Colorado, Kentucky, Montana and Pennsylvania are all likely to push similar laws, though union-friendly Democratic governors in each state will act as firewalls. Wisconsin appears to be the most likely battleground between business interests and labor unions. Republican state Rep. Chris Kapenga said this week that he will introduce a right-to-work measure. Republican leaders, including Gov. Scott Walker, have said such legislation is not a top priority, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said they are open to bringing the issue up. “The benefits to Wisconsin are pretty simple, and the statistics are very clear: If we pass legislation like Right to Work, we’re going to see an increase in the number of jobs available, and I fully expect to see an increase in incomes,” Kapenga said. “From a broad philosophical standpoint, this fits very well with what we’re doing.” (read article)

How to Free U.S. Ports From Chronic Union Problems
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin, December 5, 2014, Wall Street Journal
Once again, ports on the West Coast are being held hostage by union longshoremen, with potential to harm average Americans, the U.S. economy and U.S. military personnel overseas who may not receive needed supplies in time. After decades of union work slowdowns and other disruptions, Congress has a chance to limit future damage by bringing longshoremen under the same law that protects the rights of many workers and employers in transportation industries. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has been working the West Coast ports without a contract since July 1, while negotiations continued with the management group, the Pacific Maritime Association. ILWU members can make upward of $200,000 annually, with generous benefits; the union wants to preserve their compensation packages while fighting automation at the ports. The Pacific Maritime Association counters that the lack of automation makes the ports uncompetitive. Recently, the association accused the union of deliberately slowing work at the critical California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as at other ports up and down the coast. Retailers face delays getting inventories for holiday shopping, crops are rotting while waiting for export, and no relief is in sight. (read article)

Wisconsin Radio ad debuts calling for union limits
By Jason Stein, December 5, 2014, Madison Journal Sentinel
A conservative group Friday launched a statewide radio ad pushing for new limits on private sector unions. Wisconsin Right to Work launched a radio ad campaign seeking changes in state law to prohibit businesses and unions from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The ads will air in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau. Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers already banned such requirements for most public employees in Wisconsin, but their 2011 law known as Act 10 didn’t affect private-sector unions or police and firefighters. Advocates say that prohibiting employers and labor groups from making these agreements would give workers more freedom. Opponents of the measure say it dramatically weakens union finances and clout by allowing workers to get any potential benefits from a labor group in their workplace without having to provide anything in return. It will be some time before Wisconsin Right to Work, as a nonprofit, needs to file disclosure reports with federal tax officials. But its nonprofit status would allow it to advocate for legislation with the public as well as lobby lawmakers. (read article)

A Pioneering Union at Columbia
By Vauhini Vara, December 5, 2014, The New Yorker
In December of 2013, students at New York University created the only union of graduate teaching and research assistants that is recognized by a private university in the United States. Six miles uptown, Lindsey Dayton, a doctoral student in Columbia University’s history department, heard the news and got excited. Dayton had spent time working as a labor organizer with hotel and restaurant workers before enrolling at Columbia. If N.Y.U. students could win unionization, she thought, maybe student workers at Columbia, who were worried about issues like job security and benefits, could do the same. Quietly, Dayton began talking to likeminded Columbia students, and they eventually decided to try to follow N.Y.U.’s lead. Their campaign culminates on Friday, when dozens of students plan to enter the university’s administrative offices and deliver a letter to the university president, Lee Bollinger, seeking support for a union of student workers that would be affiliated with the United Automobile Workers. If they are successful in their larger campaign, Columbia could become the second private university in the U.S. whose student workers belong to a recognized union. (read article)

Rookie NYPD officer who shot Akai Gurley in Brooklyn stairwell was texting union rep as victim lay dying
By Rocco Parascandola, December 5, 2014, New York Daily News
While Akai Gurley was dying in a darkened stairwell at a Brooklyn housing development, the cop who fired the fatal bullet was texting his union representative, sources told the Daily News. Right after rookie cop Peter Liang discharged a single bullet that struck Gurley, 28, he and his partner Shaun Landau were incommunicado for more than six and a half minutes, sources said Thursday. In the critical moments after the Nov. 20 shooting, the cops’ commanding officer and an emergency operator — responding to a 911 call from a neighbor and knowing the duo was in the area — tried to reach them in vain, sources said. “That’s showing negligence,” said a law enforcement source of the pair’s decision to text their union rep before making a radio call for help. “The guy is dying and you still haven’t called it in?” To make things even worse, the officers were uncertain of the exact address of the building in the Pink Houses they were in, according to their text messages, the sources said. Blood is seen on the stairwell the day after the shooting. Sources say Liang texted his union representative instead of calling for help as Gurley lay dying. The explosive details of the immediate aftermath following the shooting of Gurley are at the center of an investigation by Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson — who is poised to present evidence to a grand jury as early as the end of this month. (read article)

4 things Chicago can learn from Detroit about dealing with unions
By Claire Bushey, December 4, 2014, Crain’s Chicago Business
With many of the city of Chicago’s 32,000 employees represented by a constellation of unions, and with 10 local public-employee pension funds underfunded by a combined $37 billion, Easley talks about what Chicago can learn from the Motor City when it comes to dealing with labor unions. (1) Build trust through transparency and accessibility. Labor relations (in Detroit) were really not good due to years of political patronage, and with money troubles the city was having, people weren’t always paid on time. There was lots of distrust between the city and the unions. The two sides didn’t communicate that well. We were very transparent in what we were doing and what the city’s objectives were. The city was not particularly forthcoming with information before the bankruptcy. But after the bankruptcy, the unions knew what we were telling them was true because it was all public. We didn’t come to the table with any preconceived notions or history. We treated these folks with respect, and I don’t think that was always the case. We came in with a very lawyerly approach, and we were very accessible. Phone calls, text messages, emails. There was a lot more communication than was typical between the city and the unions. Face to face was always the best way to communicate. It was still a process. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s not like we were holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” at the first meeting. But over time they knew we’d listen and treat proposals with respect, even if we couldn’t always agree… (read article)

How the labor and civil rights movements found solidarity
By Alia Malek, December 3, 2014, Al Jazeera America
Labor and civil rights organizations in the United States often stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a range of issues, but that solidarity has not always been the norm. The first national labor federation in the U.S., the National Labor Union, was founded a year after the abolition of slavery in 1865, when millions of newly freed black people to were effectively allowed to enter the broad labor force. African-American leaders recognized that their new political rights would not mean much without jobs and economic stability. But although these two nascent communities — labor unions and newly freed former slaves — would seem to be natural allies, they weren’t. “The assumption of black inferiority was not quite ubiquitous but pretty extensive,” said Eric Arnesen, a professor of history at George Washington University whose work focuses on race, labor, politics and civil rights. “White organized labor shared the view of African-Americans held by most other white Americans, and that shouldn’t be surprising at all.” Many unions excluded blacks from key sectors of the labor market or restricted them to the least-desirable jobs, fearing they would undercut wages and working conditions. “With few exceptions, there was no solidarity across racial lines,” Arnesen said. “The relationship to African-American workers was at best indifferent and more often hostile.” (read article)

The Pros and Cons of Unions Today
Beth Taylor, December 03, 2014, PayScale Human Capital
The labor movement has given the American worker benefits that today are often taken for granted, such as overtime laws, child labor laws, and minimum wages. The right to bargain collectively gives employees the power to demand reasonable treatment without the threat of being replaced by somebody less noisy. However, unions are far from perfect. The labor movement in the United States had its humble beginnings in 1768, when journeymen tailors in New York City struck to protest a wage reduction. Since then, the fight for fair wages and decent working conditions has resulted in significant successes, while being fraught with terrible suffering and loss. The Homestead Strike by steelworkers in the summer of 1892 lasted one week and resulted in a private police force killing not only the striking men, but their wives and children. With the painful history of the labor movement and the incredible gains it has earned for the American worker, it may feel like a betrayal to discuss problems with unions. However, such problems do exist. (read article)

Koch-Tied Group Pushes New Union-Busting Bill in Wisconsin
By Mary Bottari and Brendan Fischer, December 3, 2014, Huffington Post
Just weeks after Wisconsin’s controversial Governor Scott Walker was elected to a second term, a group with ties to the billionaire Koch brothers has launched a new effort to destroy unions. In 2011, Wisconsin passed Act 10, a complex bill that forced public sector unions to re-certify annually, made it harder for unions to collect dues, and eliminated the incentive of people to join unions by severely limiting issues on the bargaining table. The bill was designed to destroy public sector unions, a powerful force in Democratic politics in the state, and subsequently union membership dropped dramatically. Now out-of-state special interests and the Wisconsin GOP will use that drop in membership to argue that private sector workers deserve the same “choice.” The poison pill for private sector unions is likely be a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with the Orwellian name of “right to work.” So-called “right to work” laws allow non-union members to enjoy the benefits of union representation, like higher wages, improved working conditions and a voice in the workplace, but without paying the costs of that representation. Supporters of the measures say they want to give workers the “freedom” not to join a union, but studies have shown that wages are lower for both union and non-union members in states with right to work laws, workers are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to have dangerous work places. (read article)

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