Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

State of the (Labor) Union: movement still counts on the White House
By Jana Kasperkevic, January 20, 2015, The Guardian  
In his state of the union address tonight, President Obama is likely to talk about working families and their financial struggles. That means he is sure to give a nod to the nation’s labor unions, whose influence is still strong with the White House – if not with as many American workers as in the past.The giants of organized labor, including the United Auto Workers, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, AFSCME and others, have long owned the political interests of working families, from minimum wage to better jobs to immigration. Bolstering their standing in politics, the unions are the largest political contributors in America. The SEIU is the largest all-time political contributor in the US
– more so than even the banking or pharmaceutical industries – with over $209m in donations to political candidates between 1989 and 2014, according to Open Secrets. (read article)

Right-to-Work Momentum Appears to Be Slowing in Wisconsin
By Marge Pitrof, January 20, 2015, WUVM.com
Right-to-work laws ban mandatory union dues in the private sector workplace. Several supporters of right-to-work wanted the Legislature to pass a measure in early 2015. Now, state Senate leadership appears to be eyeing spring, at the earliest, after voters in one district elect a new senator – ostensibly a conservative one. While Gov. Walker promoted right-to-work when he served in the Legislature, he now says it would be a distraction. GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he understands the governor’s concerns. “He doesn’t want the ruckus and all of the things that came with Act 10. I don’t think anybody wants that. But I also think that it’s a major public policy
decision that once again, may jumpstart the economy and create jobs, so it’s complex,” Fitzgerald says. Fitzgerald says lawmakers need more time to gain a better understanding of the impacts of right-to-work and of how certain industries here operate. In December, a new business group formed to oppose right-to-work – the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition. Spokesman Steve Lyons says it now has 350 members, most of them businesses that have a working relationship with unions. He says they basically serve as a job placement agency for contractors. (read article)

Thanks to Unions, ‘American Sniper’ Faced Big Overtime Costs
By Chriss W. Street, January 19, 2015, Breitbart.com
With the release of the new Clint Eastwood movie American Sniper, which just beat James Cameron’s Avatar box office release by $28 million, many Californians are recognizing a number of shooting sites in Orange County and wondering why the studios don’t use more Southern California locations outside of Los Angeles. Despite living in a globalized economy, unions film crews charge a “distant location” surcharge for filming outside of the so-called 30-Mile Zone (TMZ) compared to places closer to Hollywood. (read article)

Report finds ‘dark money’ scolder CMD doesn’t disclose union donations
By M.D. Kittle, January 19 2015, Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – The Center for Media and Democracy likes to position itself as a crusader against anonymous contributions in the political realm. But despite CMD’s self-righteous fight against so-called “dark money” in politics, the left-wing propaganda machine apparently doesn’t mind keeping the public in the dark about some big labor union checks it has cashed. In fact, mega labor donors make up a pretty sizable share of CMD’s revenue, according to a new review of the organization’s latest tax records by the Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that “fights for
transparency and accountability in America’s labor movement.” Madison-based CMD, a “critical cog in the Wisconsin liberal-progressive infrastructure network, has taken significant funding from major labor unions in recent years,” Union Facts states. (read article)

Labor Dispute at West Coast Sea Ports Doesn’t Take a Holiday
By JUSTIN PRITCHARD, January 19, 2015, Associated Press
A labor dispute between dockworkers at the West Coast’s sea ports and their employers didn’t take a day off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. On Monday, ports where longshoremen typically would be busy loading and unloading containers from massive ocean-going ships were unusually quiet. Operators of terminals at ports including at the massive Los Angeles-Long Beach complex ordered crews that were far smaller than normal, saying they needed to organize dockside yards already congested with containers of goods — not work at normal capacity to add more containers. As a result, cranes sat idle and companies that want their ships unloaded and released back onto the
ocean had to wait. The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and ocean-going shipping lines, accuses members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of purposely slowing work to create a crisis and gain bargaining leverage in negotiations over a new contract that began in May. The union blames the maritime association for the backlog. (read article)

Teachers Union Contributed $4.7M to Political Activities Last Year
By Carl Campanile, January 19, 2015, New York Post
The city teachers union poured $4.7 million into political activities and lobbying last year — nearly $1 million more than in fiscal year 2013, according to its new annual spending report. Much of the spending was used to support Mayor de Blasio’s agenda — including the successful campaign to expand pre-K and the losing effort to knock Republicans out of power in the state Senate. The union also successfully fought back a plan to provide tax benefits to aid parochial schools. The United Federation of Teachers now has a record 185,622 members, up 2,000 from 2013, according to the report. Some 30 union staffers are pulling in more than $150,000 — exceeding the maximum pay for teachers and nearly double the average. Over 100 union officials cleared $100,000 in pay. UFT boss Mike Mulgrew received more than $280,000 in compensation, including a base salary of $250,000. And the union generously bankrolls groups that support its agenda, including fighting the expansion of charter schools. The rebranded ACORN — the anti-charter New York Communities for Change — received $236,440 from the UFT. The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network received a $25,000 donation, while Working Families Party founder and former ACORN honcho Bertha Lewis’ The Black Institute got a $30,000 “charitable” gift, and the anti-charter NAACP received $12,800. (read article)

Logan May Join Others In Right-to-Work
By Chris Cooper, January 19, 2015, NewsDemocraticLeader.com
A great deal of states surrounding Kentucky, and now some of its counties, have felt it necessary to become part of the growing Right-to-Work initiative that is sweeping the south. Logan may soon join neighboring Warren, Todd and Simpson to become a handful of counties in the state to step up for economic growth. A Right-to-Work law is a statute in the United States that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers, that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. Right-to-Work laws do not aim to provide general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather are a government regulation of the contractual agreements between employers and labor unions that prevents them from excluding non-union workers, or requiring employees to pay a fee to unions that have negotiated the labor contract all the employees work under. There is some controversy surrounding the rights of counties to pass the law, however, which might land those decisions in an appellate court. (read article)

Right-to-work votes protect choice
Op Ed, January 18, 2015, Park City Daily News
Individuals in this country enjoy the privilege under federal law to choose to belong to a labor union.
They rightly cherish this freedom to choose, which makes it difficult to understand why they want to deny other individuals who prefer not to be part of their union the same freedom of choice.To protect freedom of choice, 24 states have passed right-to-work laws, including Indiana and union-friendly Michigan. Right-to-work laws simply mean that employees aren’t required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. What unions conveniently don’t tell people when they argue against right-to-work laws is that people can still join a union in a right-to-work state.Kentucky is the only Southern state that isn’t a right-to-work state. The reason behind this is quite simple. We have a Democratic-controlled House that is in lockstep with the unions. These legislators provide cover for unions that represent less than 8 percent of Kentucky’s workforce. (read article)

Lawsuits flying as NLRB pushes ahead with new union elections rules
By Eric Boehm, January 16, 2015, Watchdog.org
A federal judge will settle the question of how fast is too fast when it comes to workplace labor union elections – again. Lawsuits were filed this week by several business groups challenging a recently announced rule from the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, that allows for union elections to proceed more quickly. Employers worry the speedier timeframe will not give them the opportunity to counter unionization pushes and say the NLRB has issued the new rules in order to help unions bolster their numbers after years of decline. “We are proud to join the legal fight against the ambush rule, which is designed to deprive employers, particularly small businesses who typically do not employ legal counsel, of the opportunity to tell their side of the story during organizing campaigns,” Josh Tompkins, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors’ central Texas chapter, said in a statement. Unions say the shorter pre-election period will prevent employers from using a variety of stall tactics as a way to keep their workers from organizing. Under the new rules, elections could take place as soon as 10 days after they are called — far quicker than the average of 38 days. The new rules also require employers to provide union organizers with their employees’ personal information — including phone numbers and email addresses — to help organizing efforts. (read article)

Transit labor union: Congress should raise gasoline tax, spend money on us
By Eric Boehm, January 15, 2015, Watchdog.org
Low gas prices mean more cash in all consumers’ pockets. But some members of Congress are talking about using the low gas prices as an opportunity to increase gasoline taxes, and at least one public-sector labor union boss thinks the extra cash should be in his members’ pockets instead. “Given the recent dramatic drop in gas prices, now is the best time to eliminate the funding shortfalls that have plagued the federal transportation fund for years with an increase in the gas tax,” said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents about 190,000 public transit workers in the U.S. and Canada. A one-penny increase to the federal gasoline tax — 14.8 cents per gallon, where it has been since 1993 — would give the government to spend $1.5 billion on transportation infrastructure projects. Hanley said that money should be used to increase mass transit options in cities across the country. Of course, more spending on mass transit means more members for labor unions like Hanley’s. (read article)

Opting Out of Unions Gets Boost in States
By Mark Peters,  January 15, 2015, The Wall Street Journal
A new wave of bills that would allow workers to opt out of joining unions is expected from Maine to New Mexico as Republicans look to capitalize on statehouse gains to put new limits on organized labor. Nearly half of U.S. states already have such laws—called “right to work” measures by backers—which allow employees in unionized workplaces to refrain from joining a union and paying dues. But only three states have become part of those ranks in the past two decades: Oklahoma in 2001 and Michigan and Indiana in 2012. Supporters of such laws say November’s election could provide new momentum as legislatures reconvene and Republicans have the largest number of state lawmakers since 1920. But such bills would face opposition from labor leaders and Democrats, while some Republicans see the often divisive issue as a distraction. Backers say workers should be able to choose whether to join a union, and they say the laws can make their states more attractive to employers. Opponents say the measures effectively depress wages and benefits for everyone, as well as undercut labor’s political power, by reducing union membership rolls. New Mexico, Maine, Wisconsin and Missouri, among other states, are expected to take up bills that would forbid union-membership requirements. Even with the GOP electoral gains, many of the states debating the issue still have split party control in their capitols. (read article)

Union Exemptions from Criminal Law Must End
By Trey Kovacs, January 15, 2015, Workplacechoice.org
In 2012, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report compiled a list of states that grant labor unions exemptions from criminal laws such as stalking, trespassing, and issuing threats. Unfortunately, in the subsequent years, the states in question have not been able to close the loopholes. One state in particular, Pennsylvania, has several laws on the books that grant unions exemptions from its criminal code. While the Keystone State law makes stalking a crime with a punishment of up to five years in prison, a section specifically notes that the ban on stalking “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.” Similarly, Pennsylvania law prohibits harassment and threat to use weapons of mass destruction, but it does not apply to unions. In addition, as the Chamber study notes: For more than 75 years, Pennsylvania has had some unusual provisions in state law protecting questionable behavior in the course of a labor dispute. The state’s The Labor Anti-Injunction Act, which was passed in 1937, imposes a number of restrictions on state courts and generally prevents them from issuing injunctions in a labor dispute. Notably, the Act strips from courts the power to issue an injunction in most cases, even when those participating in the labor dispute are engaged in an unlawful conspiracy. Moreover, it prevents judges from granting injunctions when illegal acts have been committed or threatened and when the ends sought in the labor dispute are illegal. Proponents of the exemptions claim that they protect unions’ right to strike and picket. Yet, one would hope that a union should be able to exercise its right to strike and picket without using threats, harassment, stalking, or other criminal activity. (read article)

Michels Corp. Construction Worker Wins Settlement from Company and Union After Illegal Firing
January 14, 2015, National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation
A former Michels Corporation construction worker in Colorado has won a settlement from a Brownsville, Wisconsin-based company and a Colorado-based union for violating his rights and illegally firing him. The settlement comes after Paul Castle of Fountain filed federal unfair labor practice charges with free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys. Shortly after Michels hired Castle in August, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 578 officials demanded he become a full dues-paying union member. Because Colorado does not have Right to Work protections for workers, workers can be forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Foundation-won Communication Workers v. Beck case that nonmember workers cannot be compelled to pay the portion of union dues used for the union’s political and member-only activities. Union officials are also legally obligated to inform workers of these rights and to provide workers with an independently-verified audit of chargeable and non-chargeable expenses. (read article)

Unions seek to find common ground with Rauner
By Kurt Erickson, January 13, 2015, The Southern
The head of Illinois’ largest union organization is hopeful Big Labor and the state’s new governor can find a way to work together. After a campaign season in which unions spent millions of dollars trying to beat Bruce Rauner, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan acknowledged Monday the Republican businessman’s victory put the unions on the outs when it comes to having influence in the Executive Mansion. But, said Carrigan, “Sometimes its best if relationships start at ground zero because then they can only go up.” On a day dedicated to Rauner’s swearing in as Illinois’ 42nd governor, Carrigan said his organization will look to mend fences by backing a statewide construction plan designed to upgrade roads, bridges and schools. “There are a lot of issues we can work on together — a transportation bill is an example,” said Carrigan, a resident of Decatur. “There are no Democratic or Republican roads. New schools are needed. These are things that serve the best interests of the state,” he added. The AFL-CIO and other unions backed former state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale over Rauner in the Republican primary and then got behind former Gov. Pat Quinn in the general election after Rauner made bashing “government union bosses” part of his campaign. (read article)

Poll shows support for unions, right to work
By Bill Glauber, January 13, 2015, Journal Sentinel
A poll conducted for a conservative think tank showed a majority of Wisconsinites approve of labor unions but also would vote for a right-to-work law. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute released results Tuesday before Gov. Scott Walker’s “state of the state” address. Fifty-eight percent of 600 adults surveyed said they approved of labor unions in Wisconsin, while 34% disapproved. Sixty-two percent said they would vote for a right-to-work law, while 32% would vote against such a law. The poll found 63% of Republicans opposed unions, while 85% of Democrats and 67% of independents approved of unions. Poll participants were then asked, “Some states have passed right-to-work or open shop laws that say each worker has the right to hold his job in a company, no matter whether he joins a labor union, or not. If you were asked to vote on such a law, would you vote for it or against it?” There was an interesting political twist in the responses. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans said they would vote for right to work, and so did 54% of Democrats and 64% of independents. “Republicans in Wisconsin are completely consistent on these issues,” said University of Chicago political science professor William Howell, who oversaw the poll. “They overwhelmingly don’t approve of unions and when you ask them if they support right-to-work legislation, they overwhelmingly say yes. They line up in ways that make sense.” Howell said, “Democrats are really conflicted on this issue.” Right-to-work laws bar employers and unions from including provisions in labor contracts that require workers to pay union fees. Such laws are in place in 24 states, with Republican legislatures and governors in Indiana and Michigan approving them in recent years. (read article)

Justices drill UAW attorney in right-to-work case
By Chad Livengood, January 13, 2015, The Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Republican-backed Supreme Court justices drilled a labor union attorney during a hearing Tuesday over whether Michigan’s two-year-old right-to-work law applies to state workers. In challenging the landmark labor law, an attorney for the United Auto Workers argued before the high court Tuesday that the Michigan Civil Service Commission should still have the power to force state employees to pay a union a fee to maintain collective bargaining agreements. “It’s pretty clear that the framers … thought that the commission would regulate collective bargaining,” UAW attorney Bill Wertheimer said. Shortly before the right-to-work law took effect in March 2013, the UAW sued to challenge whether the law applies to some 35,000 state workers whose wages and working conditions are set by the constitutionally autonomous Civil Service Commission. But justices on the high court’s 5-2 conservative majority questioned whether the commission ever had authority under the 1963 state constitution to regulate collective bargaining and conditions of employment, such as compulsory union fees. Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justice Brian Zahra both noted there were not established public-sector unions representing state employees in 1963. Unions did not take root in state government until the 1980s, according to an attorney for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “They certainly didn’t envision public unions and they didn’t envision agency fees,” Zahra said of the 1963 constitutional framers. (read article)

Unions intensifying attacks on new emerging free-trade pact
By Tom Raum, January 13, 2015, Associated Press
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. Some Democratic critics have depicted the Pacific free-trade deal, and a companion trans-Atlantic one expected to follow, as “NAFTA on steroids.” (read article)

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