Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Congestion at West Coast ports is getting even worse
By Andrew S. Ross, January 13, 2015, SF Gate
The seasonal rush is over and federal mediators are in San Francisco to help settle a contract dispute between shippers and longshoremen. The conditions at the congested Port of Oakland and other West Coast ports should be improving then, right? Actually, it’s getting worse. There are more container ships sitting in the bay, more trucks waiting in line outside terminal gates, and more local businesses losing customer orders. And the two sides are taking potshots at each other. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing 20,000 dockworkers at those ports, “has crippled what were fully productive terminals” at Oakland and other West Coast ports, the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, said Monday. The maritime association responded that the ILWU is “making nonsensical moves … creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against workers.” Maybe it’s part of a kabuki dance prior to an agreement being announced. Or maybe those federal mediators, “prepared and ready to render prompt assistance” to end a seven-month standoff, are ready to tear their hair out. (read article)

The rise of New York’s police unions
By David Firestone, January 15, 2015, The Guardian
Many cities have experienced occasional outbreaks of the “blue flu”. Police officers get angry over a contract dispute or an argument with the mayor, and for a few days, refuse to report for work or write fewer tickets. But only New York City has ever experienced decades of sustained militancy by its police unions – from repeated work slowdowns like the one now taking place, to riotous mass rallies and public denunciations, political campaigns, and well-funded legislative pressure. “The unions are completely unlike those in any city I’m familiar with,” said Samuel Walker, author of The Police in America, and a longtime criminal justice professor. “Typically, the worst you get is a union vote of no confidence in the police chief. But in New York, the kind of attitude you get from the police unions, it’s completely over the top.” New York’s uniformed force is nearly three times as large as the next biggest force (in Chicago), giving its five police unions a far stronger voice than elsewhere. But sheer size cannot explain the outsize role the unions have long played in the police policies of the city, one almost equal to that of the police brass and city hall. (read article)

Labor Unions Intensify Opposition To Emerging Free-Trade Pact
By Tom Raum, January 13, 2015, Manufacturing.net
Just over two decades after lobbying unsuccessfully against the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. labor unions are again voicing strong reservations to a proposed major trade-liberalization deal. At issue now is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a measure expected to call for lowering or eliminating most trade barriers among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. The pact is still being hammered out in closed-door negotiations. Union leaders and other critics say that the proposed pact would prompt U.S. companies to funnel manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries. Environmental and human rights groups also are voicing strong opposition. It’s a familiar theme. After all, former presidential candidate Ross Perot warned NAFTA would create “a giant sucking sound” as jobs left the United States for Mexico. So far, the economic consequences of NAFTA have seemed mixed — not as dire as Perot predicted nor as positive as former President Bill Clinton once forecast. The current Pacific Rim free-trade debate pits many fellow Democrats against President Barack Obama. (read article)

Big Labor’s Crusade Against Franchise Businesses
By John Burnett, January 13, 2015, US News
Does anyone remember a time when franchises were not a vibrant part of the American business landscape? For decades, tens of thousands of individually owned businesses with iconic names such as Burger King, IHOP, Jiffy Lube and Howard Johnson’s have channeled the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women, provided jobs to millions of people and contributed to economic life in communities in every corner of the country. Now, however, the franchise business model that has flourished for over two generations is under attack. The Service Employees International Union, as part of a national campaign to bolster its membership and finances, is leading an assault on franchise businesses. If the unions prevail, nearly 800,000 small business owners who employ more than 8 million workers could face economic uncertainty, even bankruptcy, and thousands of other would-be entrepreneurs could be deterred from pursuing their dreams and creating additional jobs, according to a recent industry report; meanwhile, franchisees are expected to create nearly a quarter million new jobs in 2015 alone. In addition, the franchise model, which involves less risk than that typically associated with a small business startup, has been especially attractive to aspiring women and minority entrepreneurs. Around 20 percent of franchises were owned by minorities in 2007, compared to 14.2 percent of non-franchised businesses. (read article)

Poll finds strong support for right-to-work, and unions, in Wisconsin
By Matthew DeFour, January 13, 2015, Wisconsin State Journal
A solid majority of Wisconsinites support passage of a right-to-work law, according to a survey released Tuesday by a conservative think tank. The survey results are sure to provide ammunition for supporters of right-to-work, which typically prohibits private employers and unions from adopting contracts that require all workers to pay union dues. Many conservatives and the state’s largest business lobby are pushing for Wisconsin to become the 25th right-to-work state, but Gov. Scott Walker has called the matter a “distraction.” Democrats, unions and a coalition of businesses have come out opposed to the measure, which has yet to be introduced in the Legislature. The survey, conducted by University of Chicago political science professor William Howell on behalf of the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, found 62 percent of respondents would vote for a right-to-work law. (read article)

Want to Be Happy? Join a Union
By John Guida, January 13, 2015, New York Times
Fewer and fewer Americans belong to a union. Membership is down to a historic low of 11.2 percent of the work force, and only 6.7 percent of workers in the private sector. And if the nation’s confidence in the institution is any measure, not many people are mourning its diminishment. According to a Gallup poll, organized labor inspires less confidence than banks. But a recent study may give some workers reason to reconsider. For those who belong to a union, membership seems to bring a benefit that perhaps surpasses better wages or generous health insurance: higher life satisfaction. The study authors, Patrick Flavin, an assistant professor at Baylor University, and Gregory Shufeldt, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, used data from five different years between the early 1980s and mid-2000s, conducted in the United States, of the World Values Survey, a research project focusing on people’s beliefs. As they write in the report, they found that “union members are more satisfied with their lives than those who are not members and that the substantive effect of union membership on life satisfaction is large and rivals other common predictors of quality of life.” (read article)

Here’s the real reason police unions protect the worst cops
By Steven Rosenfeld, January 12, 2015
There is no greater symbol for excesses in American policing than the unending tirades by Patrick Lynch, New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, accompanied by his war of words, work slowdowns, displays of disrespect, insubordination and complaints lapped up by right-wing media about NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. But there might be a cynical method behind the madness of Lynch’s ever-escalating feud that has not been widely covered. The loudmouth union leader may be trying to bully his way into a better deal for his 24,000 members after not having a contract for four years. Amid his tirades about City Hall not showing sufficient respect, he has said that raises recently accepted by eight other city uniformed officer unions were not good enough for him. “Compared to our fellow police officers, we are the lowest paid,” Lynch said last month, frowning on the announcement that eight other New York City unions—including police detectives, lieutenants, captains and wardens—accepted an 11 percent raise over seven years. He’s recently added that the city has a “moral obligation” to correct pension “injustice.” (read article)

As White House defends unions, states go on the attack
By Ned Resnikoff, January 12, 2015, Al Jazeera America
When the Kentucky Legislature returned to work after winter recess, its first order of business was to mull legislation that is anathema to the state’s labor movement. Senate Bill 1 would make Kentucky a right-to-work state, where unions are forbidden to automatically charge representation fees to workers in unionized shops. Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws on the books. Kentucky probably won’t become the 25th, since S.B. 1 is expected to die in the state house. But labor unions in other states might not be so lucky. In state legislatures around the country, newly strengthened Republican majorities are expected to push right-to-work legislation and other policy initiatives feared by the labor movement. Wisconsin, long considered a union stronghold, will also consider right-to-work legislation this year. So might New Mexico, West Virginia and Missouri, among others. Organized labor tends to fear right-to-work laws because of what it calls the free rider problem. The union in a unionized workplace is obliged to represent the entire bargaining unit. But under right-to-work laws, individual employees in that unit are under no obligation to pay dues in exchange for that representation. (read article)

New Year, New Rules, New Union-Avoidance Strategies
By Joel Barras, January 12, 2015, Forbes
The National Labor Relations Board topped off 2014 with several jabs to employers, including its recent decision in Purple Communications, where the Board held that employees have a presumptive right to use email for non-work-related messages. The Board’s final blow to employers came December 15, with the issuance of new Quickie Election Rules for union representation cases. The new Rules, discussed in detail here, (1) dramatically shrink the period of time between the filing of a representation and the union election date, (2) require employers to give petitioners more information about their employees, and (3) severely limit the legal issues management can raise before an election. In the wake of the new Rules, employers should re-think their union-avoidance strategies in 2015. Because union elections will occur quickly, gone are the days of relying on post-petition, anti-union campaigns. With the expedited election process, it is imperative that employers develop and maintain “perpetual” anti-union campaigns. First, develop and maintain ongoing positive relationships between employees and management. Communication is key. Employees must feel as if they are in the loop and that their concerns are respected by the company. For example: (read article)

Labor-Management Partnerships Will Not Revive the Union Movement
By Chris Maisano, January 12, 2015, In These Times
As late as 2008, it was not unreasonable to think that the stars were aligning for a long-awaited revitalization of the U.S. labor movement. The financial crisis focused popular anger on the Wall Street financiers whose speculative activities brought the global economy to the brink of collapse. The election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress raised labor’s hopes for the passage of an economic recovery program and long-sought labor law reforms. And it seemed as if workers themselves were finally willing to take action against the decades-long trend of increasing corporate power and inequality. The occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago by a militant United Electrical Workers local—an action that drew approving notice from the president-elect and much of the public—electrified labor’s ranks and seemed to echo President Franklin Roosevelt’s support for unionization and collective bargaining during the New Deal. This appeared to be the most favorable set of circumstances for the U.S. labor movement in decades, and the first significant hope for revitalization since the successful Teamsters strike against UPS in 1997. (read article)

De Blasio Still Facing Union Hostility as NYPD Returns to Work
By Henry Goldman, January 12, 2015, Bloomberg
The hostility toward New York Mayor Bill de Blasio that led police officers to stop enforcing laws on minor crimes and traffic violations will continue even after arrests and summonses start to climb, union leaders said. Although labor leaders denied that police had stopped working, criminal summonses fell to 347 for the week ending Jan. 4, compared with 4,077 in the same week last year. In Manhattan, police and traffic agents issued just 104 parking tickets. In the same period a year ago, they handed out more than 4,200. What Police Commissioner Bill Bratton described as “a pretty widespread stoppage” appeared to be ending after more than two weeks, he said Jan. 9. Statistics for the week ending today are due today. (read article)

Why Professional Government Doesn’t Stand a Chance
By Richard Clay Wilson, Jr. January 12, 2015, Governing
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan famously fired 11,000 air traffic controllers who went on strike. Looking back on it, one has to credit those controllers for having the courage to go on strike in the face of pay and working conditions they regarded as unacceptable. In contrast, the police in New York City, who are unhappy that Mayor Bill de Blasio has not paid them the deference they demand, are on strike while at work! That is, they are reporting for duty, so as to get paid, but by making few arrests are refusing to engage in their duties. The police characterize their exercise in insubordination as an act of protest against the mayor. In fact, of course, it is an act of defiance against the people of New York City, who tax themselves to pay their police force for its services. What is striking (no pun intended) about the New York City situation is the nature of the battle, with the mayor and the police commissioner on one side and the police on the other. Surely this can’t be right. The police, after all, are at work, where supervisors and managers ought to be found. Why is it that we have only the mayor and the commissioner on the side of a day’s work for a day’s pay? Is there no management in the police department with the responsibility and the authority to obtain work? The answer is, of course, that there is management, but it is dispiritingly weak. It may even be participating in the debacle. (read article)

More Silicon Valley shuttle drivers look to unionize
By Mike Snider, January 12, 2015, USA Today
The move to unionize Silicon Valley shuttle bus drivers is spreading. The Teamsters have contacted the CEOs of six Silicon Valley-area companies — Amtrak, Apple, eBay, Genentech, Yahoo and Zynga — to tell them that its drivers want to join a union. A majority of the 120 full-time and part-time drivers who transport those companies’ employees have signed authorization cards with the union, said Rome Aloise, International vice president and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 853. The drivers are employed by South San Francisco-based Compass Transportation, which is owned by Transdev and has contracts with Apple and the other firms to transport its workers to and from work. Teamsters Local 853 is the union that in November unionized Facebook shuttle bus drivers. “The drivers at Facebook by voting for the union sparked the interest of the drivers from the other companies for sure,” Aloise said. The Facebook drivers, who work for Loop Transportation, told USA TODAY about unfair compensation — $18 to $20 an hour — for marathon workdays ferrying six-figure-earning technology workers to and from work. The Teamsters organized Facebook shuttle bus drivers after extensive coverage from USA TODAY brought to light tough working conditions. (read article)

Just Why Are The Unions Supporting A Rise In The Minimum Wage?
By Tim Worstall, January 12, 2015, Forbes
The standard economic analysis of unions states they they do exactly what they say on the tin. They work for the benefit of unions members and that’s it. Unions do not work for the greater good of the country, for the working man in general but solely for those who pay their union dues. Just as with corporations we see them as being entirely self-interested organisations. Which leads us into something of a problem for the current fights and campaigns to secure a substantial rise in the minimum wage seem to be largely union backed. The Fight for $15 for example seems to be largely backed by the SEIU. And yet there’s almost no SEIU members in the fast food industry (given the industry structure of being largely run at ground level by franchisees, there wouldn’t be) and it’s most unlikely that, given that industry structure, there ever would be. My colleague Jeffrey Dorfman hints at an answer here: The minimum wage is an incredibly inefficient way to help the poor because many of the gains go to households that are not in or even near poverty and because the increases in labor costs lead to price increases that must be paid by customers who are often the same low-wage workers supposedly being helped. Still, President Obama has backed that option rather than the seemingly superior policy of increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. Many, including me, suspect his preference for a minimum wage increase has more to do with the many union contracts that include automatic raises or renegotiations tied to the minimum wage. (read article)

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize?
By Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit, January 12, 2015, American Prospect
rganized labor, which represents only 1 in 15 private sector workers, is on its deathbed. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which was supposed to allow workers to choose to organize, “is dead and not coming back,” Harold Meyerson reports. The NLRA was designed to protect worker rights in part by prohibiting employers from exerting the power to fire union organizers, but the penalties for violating the law are so weak that employees routinely do so, making it exceedingly difficult to organize. Worse, efforts to strengthen the NLRA under Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have all failed. As a result, Meyerson notes in “The Seeds of a New Labor Movement,” several creative and impressive alternative ideas have surfaced. David Rolf recently headed a campaign that won a $15 minimum wage for workers in Seattle. In 2010, Ai-jen Poo worked in New York to pass a state-level Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that protects them from harassment and guarantees paid sick days. Karen Nussbaum, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, has organized 3.3 million members of Working America to bring about larger progressive political change. All of these efforts represent important innovations that should be replicated but, as Meyerson notes, they are no substitute for a strong labor movement. It is a big step forward to increase the minimum wage to bring the working poor into the working class, for example, but we also need organized labor to move working-class Americans into the middle class. Winning legislation for domestic workers produces important gains but does not create a financially self-sustaining model akin to that provided by dues-paying union members. (read article)

Entrepreneurs Land in the Unions’ Cross Hairs
By Jonathan Segal, January 9, 2015, Entrepreneur
This year April 15 is not necessarily the worst day for entrepreneurs. It might be April 14, the day the new rules on union elections published by the National Labor Relations Board go into effect. The purpose of these rules is to shorten the period of time between when a union’s files a petition for an election with the NLRB and the election date. Under the new rules, elections will take place probably from two to three weeks after a petition is filed instead of four to six weeks, which is now the case, as the NLRB explains on its site. The new rules let unions campaign against an employer furtively for an extended period of time but the employer will have only a small window of opportunity after a petition’s been filed to listen to employees’ concerns, debunk misinformation and explain the potential risks and realities of unionization. I have had many clients win union elections after five or six weeks, and I’m not sure they would have won with only two or three weeks under these new “ambush” election rules. (read article)

Police Unions Don’t Serve the People. Can the Labor Movement Force Them To?
By Michelle Chen, January 9, 2015, The Nation
Gotham’s thin blue wall is fracturing from all sides. In recent months, New York City has been rocked first by protests over police brutality, then by harsh tensions in the wake of two police slayings, and now an apparent unofficial “job action” by the police. Despite denial from union brass, there has been a steep drop in police activity, summonses down roughly 90 percent and more serious arrests declining by over 50 percent, compared to the previous year. If this is indeed a coordinated rulebook labor action, it may prove oddly popular with the public: as long as their everyday lives aren’t too disrupted, some people may feel relieved by fewer encounters with law enforcement and “quality of life” penalties (though if we aren’t missing their presence, the defiant cops may fail to make us value them more by withholding their labor). And the inflammatory speechifying of Pat Lynch, head of the NYPD’s largest union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), hasn’t quite charmed the masses into rallying around the cops. Whether the police slowdown marks an organized insurgency or just individual expressions of frustration, the “depolicing” phenomenon raises tricky questions about the role of the police in society and in the labor movement. (read article)

New Mexico Governor: Right to work ‘common sense’
By Dan Boyd, January 8, 2015, Albuquerque Journal
Gov. Susana Martinez said she will push for so-called “right-to-work” legislation during the upcoming legislative session, calling a change to the state’s labor laws “common sense” and long overdue. The comments, made before about 500 business leaders and legislators at a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon, were Martinez’s strongest to date on the subject of right-to-work legislation. Currently, 24 states have right-to-work laws, which generally bar requirements that employees pay union fees as a condition of employment. Such fees are only mandated in workplaces covered by a collective bargaining agreement. “It is fundamentally wrong to require membership (in a union) in order to get a job … or take money from the paychecks of our workers by force,” Martinez said. The Republican governor, who began her second term in office last week, did not make right to work a major part of her first term legislative agenda. But debate on the subject — long stifled by a Democrat-controlled Legislature — has reignited since Republicans seized control of the New Mexico House in the November elections. Democrats still control the Senate, and some top-ranking Democratic senators have said they will fight the right-to-work push. Labor union leaders also oppose the legislation, which they claim leads to lower worker pay and is aimed at weakening unions. (read article)

Labor Unions Take On El Super Grocery Chain
By Subrina Hudson, January 8, 2015, Los Angeles Business Journal
Labor unions in Los Angeles are going head to head with Paramount-based grocery chain El Super, again. The unions announced a boycott of the chain Thursday, making it the first major grocery boycott by L.A. workers since a supermarket strike in 2003. One-fifth of El Super’s 35 Southern California stores are unionized, and it and the Union Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW, have had ongoing disputes over labor issues. Community organizers and El Super workers had called for a boycott of the company last month over allegations of health code violations by El Super. El Super issued a statement to the Journal saying it implemented a plan to UFCW last year, following “protracted and deadlocked negotiations,” offering wage increases over the next five years, up to four days of additional paid time off and guaranteed weekends off for tenured employees. (read article)

To Restore Marriage, Restore Labor Unions?
By Anna Sutherland, January 8, 2015, Family Studies
As we often note on this blog, one factor behind the decline of marriage is the declining availability of stable, well-paying work for men who have not graduated from college. For instance, citing Andrew Cherlin’s book Labor’s Love Lost in a post last month, W. Bradford Wilcox wrote that ”without access to decent-paying, stable jobs since the 1970s, working-class men are much less likely to be seen as attractive candidates for marriage, to act in ways that make them attractive candidates for marriage, and to stay married.” A study recently published in Social Problems provides one more piece of evidence for that well-supported statement: using data on thousands of Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979, Daniel Schneider and Adam Reich find that for men, “controlling for many factors, union membership”—which boosts workers’ incomes, benefits, and job security—”is positively and significantly associated with marriage.” (read article)

The NYPD–de Blasio grudge match shows how police unions are different from other public-sector unions
By Peter Weber, January 8, 2015, The Week
Law enforcement officers are public servants. Taxpayers foot the bill for their salaries, equipment, and sometimes their peccadilloes (or at least legal settlements). Police officers belong to public-sector unions, like other public servants. But police unions are not like those other unions, just as police are different from the often faceless bureaucrats who keep state and local governments running. These differences are starkly illustrated in the grudge match between the New York Police Department and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The fight is national news: Egged on by their unions — and especially Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch — NYPD cops have been turning their backs on de Blasio at funerals and other public events since the cold-blooded murder of two uniformed officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. More significantly, they have sharply curtailed their enforcement of the law in the past two weeks. Politically, the standoff has created an interesting but predictable dynamic: Republicans, generally foes of public-sector unions, are mostly siding with the police unions against de Blasio; Democrats, defenders of public-sector unions and other organized labor, are accusing the NYPD and its unions of thuggery and insubordination. (read article)

Showdown looming between White House and business over labor rules
By Ned Resnikoff, January 7, 2015, Al Jazeera America
With the White House taking a more aggressive role in setting labor standards, industry groups are beginning to fight back — lashing out at the executive branch for pursuing “a partisan agenda.” A coalition of five national industry groups — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — filed a complaint in federal court earlier this week to block a change to the way the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administers unionization elections. The new regulatory framework, which the Chamber and other industry groups derisively refer to as the “ambush election” rule, makes it easier for workers to quickly call an ballot by allowing for electronic filing of documents and preventing employers from slowing the process through pre-election litigation. In a statement announcing the complaint, the industry groups behind the challenge accused the NLRB of being a partisan, activist institution. “The NLRB has thrown objectivity and fairness out the window in its single-minded pursuit of Big Labor’s union-organizing goals,” said David French, senior vice president of the National Retail Federation, one of the groups behind the suit. Linda Kelly, general counsel and senior vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers, said that with the introduction of the new NLRB rule, the Obama administration “has made it clear that it plans to pursue a partisan agenda to overturn longstanding and effective labor policy.” (read article)

Seven union front groups fighting labor reform this year
By Jason Hart, January 7, 2015, Watchdog.org
Watch for union bosses to fight state labor reforms using pseudo-grassroots front groups this year, though the tactic has seen mixed results. Right-to-work, loathed by labor bosses because it enables workers to choose whether to pay a union, is seen as a possibility in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Missouri and West Virginia in 2015. Several states are considering paycheck protection, which prevents using taxpayer resources to collect union dues. In 2011, government unions created We Are Wisconsin and We Are Ohio to spin government union reforms as attacks on workers. Unions failed to block Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 but successfully overturned Ohio Senate Bill 5 in a referendum against the law limiting public union power. Act 10 did not apply to public safety workers, so Wisconsin remains one of 23 states where some or all government workers can be forced to pay a union as a condition of employment. Workers in the private sector can be forced to pay unions in 26 states. In addition to We Are Wisconsin, leftist groups including Service Employees International Union front Wisconsin Jobs Now are helping union coalition AFL-CIO in its Badger State campaign against right-to-work. (read article)

 

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