Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Rauner says state must curb union powers, lower salaries
February 3, 2015, Chicago Tribune
Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday that Illinois must curb government union powers and reduce spending on state employees’ salaries and benefits, stepping up what labor leaders said is an attempt to “vilify” workers ahead of the Republican’s first major policy speech. In a memo to legislators, Rauner pointed to rules for federal employees as the kind of “common-sense bipartisan reform” he’d like to see in Illinois, and asked lawmakers to review them in advance of his Wednesday State of the State speech. Those rules say employees may collectively bargain over work conditions such as hours and assignments, but not over wages, benefits and pensions. They also say workers can’t be forced to participate in a union and are prohibited from strikes or work slowdowns. While he said he doesn’t plan to propose salary cuts for government employees, Rauner also repeated claims that state workers are paid more than their peers in the private sector and said lawmakers must “prevent any future imbalances and unfair practices.” (read article)

New tech companies say freelancing is the future of work. But there’s a downside for workers.
By Lydia DePillis, February 3 2015, The Washington Post
Now that he works for himself as a network technician, Robert Wooldridge is sometimes able to bring his 8-year-old daughter to work with him, as he hops to job sites all around the Washington area. She particularly enjoyed playing in a nearby mall, drawing pictures as he hooked up the monitors for an e-cigarette kiosk. She’s pretty impressed with her dad, who gets to be his own boss rather than working 9 to 5 in some corporate machine. “She keeps saying stuff like, she imagines that I’m going to grow this huge business, have a private jet,” Wooldridge says. “I’m falling a little short of that.” (read article)

Labor Unions Speak Out Against Latest “Right-to-Work” Push
By Nick Thompson, February 2, 2015, OzarksFirst.com
Missouri’s labor union leaders packed into the capitol in Jefferson City Monday to speak out against efforts to pass a so-called “right-to-work” law. The legislation bars employees from having to pay union dues as a condition of their employment. Currently, Missouri workers are not required to join a labor union, but non-union members still have to pay fees in cases where unions represent their interests. Labor unions, which were once a huge part of the American workforce, now represent fewer than 10 percent of Missouri’s workers. The unions left say they are fighting for people like Missouri’s autoworkers and construction workers.”Union dues help pay for the collective bargaining process to keep the decent wage but it also goes to pay for the skill training,” said Mark Dalton, Political Director for the St. Louis area carpenters union. Rep Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said when employers have to keep negotiating with unions, it hurts Missouri’s competitiveness.”If you need to add a second shift or a third shift to your operations, or you need to pull out this line and move in another, right now companies have got to be very quick and nimble to change,” Burlison said. (read article)

Ohioans oppose using taxpayer money to collect union dues
By Jason Hart, February 2, 2015, Ohio Watchdog
A large majority of Ohioans are against using taxpayer resources to collect union dues, a new poll from free-market think tank Opportunity Ohio finds. Asked whether “labor unions representing government workers should be permitted to use taxpayer-funded resources to collect union dues,” 75 percent of Ohioans polled said they should not. This sentiment was strong across all demographics, with 75 percent of men and 75 percent of women against using taxpayer resources to collect union dues. Opposition polled at 72 percent or higher in every age bracket. Of the respondents identifying as white, 78 percent were opposed; 78 percent of Hispanic respondents, 58 percent of African-American respondents and 74 percent of other respondents were opposed. Opposition to using taxpayer resources to collect union dues wasn’t limited to a specific political party, with 89 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents and 62 percent of Democrats opposed. Across Ohio, public school districts and other government bodies use staff and payroll systems to collect dues for affiliates of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, National Education Association and other powerful public-sector unions. Because Ohio is not a right-to-work state, in many cases public employees are forced to pay unions as a condition of employment — and union dues or fees are taken from their paychecks at taxpayer expense. (read article)

Why conservatives should embrace labor unions
By Jeff Spross, February 2, 2015, The Week
Republicans want Americans to know that they think inequality is a problem, and they want to do something about it. And if they were smart, what they would do is embrace labor unions. In recent weeks, GOP presidential hopefuls and congressional Republicans have shifted their rhetoric to focus on stagnating middle-class wages and the rising gap between America’s rich and everyone else. Even their efforts to blame President Obama’s policies for rising inequality are weirdly encouraging: It means they think the inequality issue has legs. (read article)

Refinery Shuts as U.S. Oil Workers Strike Reaches Second Day
By Lynn Doan and Harry Weber, February 2, 2015, Bloomberg
One U.S. refinery is shutting while management takes control of operations at six others after union workers walked out of the plants in the biggest strike since 1980. The United Steelworkers union that represents employees at more than 200 refineries, terminals, pipelines and chemical plants stopped work Sunday at nine sites, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s refining capacity, after contract negotiations fell apart. The union rejected five offers made by Royal Dutch Shell Plc on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. since talks began Jan. 21. Tesoro Corp. is shutting half of its 166,000-barrel-a-day Martinez plant in California that wasn’t already idled for maintenance. Union leaders haven’t called a strike nationally since 1980, when a stoppage lasted three months. While only one of the nine plants has curbed production amid the stoppage, a full walkout of USW workers would threaten to disrupt as much as 64 percent of U.S. fuel output. Shell and union officials began negotiations amid the biggest collapse in oil prices since 2008. (read article)

Informal Labor Activism Picks Up Union Slack in NC
By Rebecca Martinez, February 2, 2015, WUNC
A report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks North Carolina at the bottom nationally for labor union membership. 1.9 percent of workers in the state were in unions last year. That’s down from 3 percent. That doesn’t surprise James Andrews, the president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Andrews says North Carolina is a “right to work” state which doesn’t give unions much clout, so they don’t invest much organizing energy or money here. (read article)

Fighting to Protect Pensions in Indiana
By Carl Stevenson, February 2, 2015, Afscme.org
AFSCME members in Indiana are at the forefront of the effort to protect public employee pensions from being converted to a 401(k)-style savings plan. More than 30 members from the Indianapolis Department of Public Works Local 725 attended the first hearing of the House version of the legislation. Then, 231 public service workers – bus drivers, library workers, health care workers and others — attended a Lobby Day at the Statehouse to talk to their legislators about the bills affecting their retirements….While the proposed change to the retirement system may seem small, pension funds rely on continuous new contributions as older employees retire. The new contributions are invested to yield returns that then pay the benefits of the current workers. The lack of new participants could destabilize the whole fund, putting retirees’ financial security in jeopardy and costing Hoosier taxpayers millions of dollars. (read article)

Labor strength: Union share of workforce declines but organized labor works for turnaround
By Dave Flessner, February 1, 2015, TimesFreePress.com
The share of American workers belonging to a labor union fell last year to an all-time low with some of the biggest declines for organized labor coming across the traditionally nonunion South. Despite an increase in union strength the previous two years and ongoing organizing campaigns in the South by the United Auto Workers and other labor unions, the number of workers in Tennessee and Georgia saying they are part of a labor union fell by 67,000 people during 2014, according to a new government estimate. Both states are among those with the lowest share of workers belonging to a union….But like most states, Tennessee unions have their biggest share of the workforce among government employers. (read article)

Rauner: Public union donations a conflict, labor funding same officials who pay them
By Scott Reeder and Mark Fitton, January 29, 2015, Illinois News Network
Government worker unions should be prohibited from giving money to candidates for state office because it poses a conflict of interest for them to later negotiate labor agreements with those individuals. At least that is the contention of Gov. Bruce Rauner who spoke Thursday before the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce. The statement from the GOP governor, who entered office this month, added fire to an already contentious week with organized labor. On Tuesday, Rauner announced he wanted to allow the creation of “right-to-work zones” across Illinois where local governments can decide whether workers can be forced to pay money to union. At the I Hotel and Conference Center, where Rauner delivered his speech on Thursday, more than 100 union members were demonstrating outside. If they were hoping for a more conciliatory tone, they were disappointed. A public sector union, said the governor, can and has given candidates millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours, essentially saying, ‘After you win, let’s negotiate our pension and work rules and healthcare.’ “Come on,” the governor said. “If that went on in business all the time, somebody would be out of job, at a minimum, and somebody probably would be going to jail.” (read article)

Boom! National Right to Work Act Introduced to End Forced Union Dues
By Editor, January 29, 2015, LaborUnionReport.com
Today, Congressman Steve King (Republican-Iowa) along with 76 cosponsors introduced the National Right to Work Act (H.R. 612) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The one page bill would end Big Labor’s federally-authorized power to force workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Committee, issued the following statement praising the introduction of the bill: “We’re extremely pleased that Congressman King has introduced the National Right to Work Act, intensifying a growing debate about labor law and worker freedom in our country. This legislation would enshrine the common-sense principle – already enforced in nearly half of U.S. states – that no worker should be compelled to join or pay dues to a union just to get or keep a job. (read article)

Education, labor unions among top spenders in 2014 NM races
By Vik Jolly, January 29, 2015, Associated Press
A new analysis by a watchdog group shows education and labor unions were among the top spenders in New Mexico state races during the 2014 election cycle. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent more than $790,000, while the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico combined to spend more than $1 million. The figures were released Wednesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity. The group tabulated the spending based on disclosures by candidates and state political parties. (read article)

Unions Keep Losing Members — Can They Reinvent Themselves?
By George Leef, January 29, 2015, Forbes
The latest figures on union membership from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the long decline has continued to the point where the percentage of Americans in unions is lower now than at any point in the last century. That decline has not been arrested even by the extraordinarily pro-union actions of the National Labor Relations Board (such as this Arkansas case where two-third of the workers have petitioned for an election to decertify an unwanted union, but the NLRB has gone to court to block that) and union efforts at greasing the rails for election victories, as occurred with Volkswagen management in Chattanooga. Big Labor is obviously addicted to the old-fashioned tactics of dragooning workers into their ranks by hook or by crook, then relying on coercion to keep them there. Whereas the prospect of union representation seemed very alluring to many workers back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, the promises of union organizers today largely fall on deaf ears. The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk was correct in saying, “They’re selling a product that hasn’t changed that much since the 1930s when America’s labor laws were founded. Today’s workers simply aren’t that interested in purchasing what unions have to sell.” One big reason why many don’t want unionization is that they know much of the money they’ll have to pay in will go to support political candidates and causes they oppose. (read article)

California’s union-represented workforce grew slightly in 2014
By Jon Ortiz, January 28, 2015, The Sacramento Bee
California’s unionized workforce grew 3 percent last year, according to new federal labor data that also show more employees in both the government and private sectors nationwide worked under labor-negotiated terms. Of California’s 15.13 million workers, 2.65 million were represented by a labor union in 2014, about 73,000 more than the year before. The figures include dues-paying union members and non-members whose jobs were covered by a labor agreement. California was among half of the states that saw its unionized workforce grow last year. Arkansas led with a 36 percent jump, but the number of workers there was less than one-tenth of California’s. At the other end of the spectrum, labor representation plummeted by one-third in North Carolina despite a slight gain in the size of its 4 million-employee workforce. The state does not require union membership as a condition of employment and just 1.9 percent of employees there are covered by a labor contract. (read article)

City teachers union holding ’emergency meetings’ in response to Cuomo’s State of the State address
By Ben Chapman, January 28, 2015, New York Daily News
The city teachers union is holding a series of “emergency meetings” for educators, parents and clergy Thursday in response to Gov. Cuomo’s fiery declaration of war on the union in the aftermath of his State of the State speech. “United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew is hosting an emergency meeting with parents and clergy to respond to Gov. Cuomo’s attack,” reads an email sent to parent leaders and clergy Monday…..Cuomo threw down the gauntlet in his State of the State address on Jan. 21. He outlined plans to push for more charter schools, test-based teacher evaluations and bonuses for high-performing instructors. (read article)

Rauner blasts labor unions for state’s woes
By Tom Kacich, January 27, 2015, The News-Gazette
In what was billed as a preview of next week’s State of the State address, Gov. Bruce Rauner spent more than one-third of a 36-minute speech Tuesday blaming labor unions for many of Illinois’ collective ills. The newly inaugurated Republican said that government agreements with unions were responsible for high property taxes, increased costs for construction projects and Illinois’ lack of competitiveness compared with other states. (read article)

Labor at a Crossroads: How Unions Can Thrive in the 21st Century
By Lance Compa, January 27, 2015, The American Prospect
Labor advocates and scholars often feel like we won’t be taken seriously unless we say how awful things are. The more dire our analysis, the more listeners will nod and say it must be right, with labor insiders so self-critical. But our critical thinking shouldn’t devolve into despair. Workers won’t join a movement that constantly proclaims it is going down the tubes and is going to disappear in ten years. Legislators won’t pass pro-labor laws because they feel sorry for unions. Workers want to see power, and legislators need to feel power. Unions won’t regain it by complaining. We can’t deny or minimize problems and challenges. But we often go too far in decrying unions’ fate. Get a grip; the labor movement is stronger than it looks. A lot of good organizing is going on, and most unions are doing an effective job at the bargaining table. Unions are a force in important regions and industrial sectors, still politically potent, and still bringing new groups of workers into their ranks. Most headlines cite national “union density” figures—the percentage of union members in the labor force—as evidence of labor’s decline. Latest figures show it at 11.1 percent, down from a high of 30 percent in the 1950s. But the United States is a big country. Union density is in many ways a regional phenomenon with big variations, from 25 percent in New York to 2 percent in North Carolina. In New England, around the Great Lakes, on the West Coast, and other states, union density is substantially higher than the national average. California has seen a big increase in unions, led largely by health-care employees and Latino workers. As in many areas of American life, California is a harbinger for labor. As the health-care sector continues to grow and policy changes increasingly squeeze health-care workers, the organizing option will grow in importance. As the Latino population grows, so will union membership. And immigration policy shifts that bring millions of undocumented workers out of legal shadows could lead to solid union growth. (read article)

Unions Charge Higher Dues and Pay Their Officers Larger Salaries in Non–Right-to-Work States
By James Sherk, January 26, 2015, Heritage.org
In the absence of competition, businesses charge their customers higher prices and care less about controlling costs. Labor unions do the same. Half of U.S. states allow unions to force workers to pay dues as a condition of employment. In these states unions charge 10 percent higher dues and pay their top officers $20,000 more a year. The remaining states have right-to-work laws that make union dues voluntary. These laws prevent unions from exploiting their monopoly and reduce the cost of union representation for workers. Businesses with monopolies charge higher prices and operate less efficiently than they would facing competition. Labor unions operate no differently. Unions charge workers more and spend their money less carefully in states where they can compel workers to purchase their services. Union financial reports reveal that they charge workers roughly 10 percent higher dues and pay their full-time top officers $20,000 more annually in states with compulsory dues. Several states and local governments are considering right-to-work laws to make paying union dues voluntary. Such laws would prevent unions from charging their members monopoly prices. (read article)

 

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