Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Illinois Governor Acts to Curb Power of Public Sector Unions
By Monica Davey and Mitch Smith, February 9, 2015, The New York Times
Gov. Bruce Rauner, the newly elected Republican who has often criticized public sector unions, took his first step toward curbing their power on Monday by announcing an executive order that would bar unions from requiring all state workers to pay the equivalent of dues. Mr. Rauner, who faces a Democratic-controlled legislature with strong ties to labor, took the unilateral step saying that he believed those fees violate the United States Constitution. “Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers,” Mr. Rauner said.“ (read article)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Blocks Unions From Collecting ‘Fair Share’ Fees
By Sam Levine, February 10, 2015, Huffington Post
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) continued his campaign against labor unions on Monday, using executive authority to block public employee unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers. Rauner told The Chicago Sun-Times that unions violate the First Amendment by using the funds to make contributions to political candidates. More than 6,500 employees in Illinois are required to pay “fair share fees,” Rauner told the Chicago Tribune. Non-union workers in Illinois must pay fair share fees in lieu of union dues to cover costs of negotiating a contract that benefits them. Public employee unions in the state are required to represent all workers in a collective bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are members of the labor organization. “Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers. (read article)

Postal Union Opposes Staples Takeover of Office Depot
By Neal Tepel, February 10, 2015, LaborPress
The American Postal Workers Union have announced that the 200,000–member organization will “vigorously oppose” the merger between Staples and Office Depot…In the past year, Staples has begun offering mail services at its retail stores. replacing highly-trained USPS workers with its own unskilled, low-wage employees. As a result USPS has reduced hours in many post offices and encouraged customers to use Staples stores instead. (read article)

Angry over trade, labor gets union-friendly pitch from Obama
By Jim Kuhnhenn, February 9, 2015, Associated Press
On a cold overcast morning in January, President Barack Obama briefly delayed his departure for an Iowa day-trip to huddle in the Oval Office with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams. The topic was Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address. A week earlier, Obama had invited Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, and Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers, to fly with him to Michigan aboard Air Force One. It was VIP treatment for leaders of a labor movement whose relationship with Obama had never been close and at times had been downright chilly. Obama was stepping up his call for new trade deals with Asia and Europe and his fight with some labor unions promised to be as bitter as President Bill Clinton’s during debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. (read article)

Child miners? More union propaganda against right-to-work
By Jason Hart, February 9, 2015, Watchdog.org
Union coalition AFL-CIO is framing labor reforms in West Virginia and Missouri as attacks on workers’ rights that would undo a century of safety laws. Legislators in both states are considering right-to-work laws, which prevents unions from taking mandatory fees from nonmembers. Missouri lawmakers are also considering paycheck protection, which requires unions to get a member’s consent before deducting dues from their pay. AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., receives forced dues money by way of its private-sector affiliates in both states, and is hammering reform bills as “controversial” while attempting to create controversy around them. On Tuesday, AFL-CIO shared a warning against right-to-work on its Facebook page, using a grim photo of child miners as a plea not to let legislators “turn back the clock.” (read article)

This study explains why American labor unions are even more doomed than they look
By Matthew Yglesias, February 9, 2015, Vox.com
Labor union membership in the United States keeps dropping as older unionized firms shed jobs over time, while newer firms tend to be non-unionized and extremely difficult to organize given the prevailing legal framework in the United States. Lydia DePillis’s story on the (lack of) union organizing at digital native media outlets is emblematic of the trend. But a question that doesn’t get asked enough is what would happen if you saw more successful organizing drives. A recent paper by Brigham Frandsen asks the question and delivers a pretty depressing answer for anyone hoping more vigorous organizing efforts will transform the fate of the American middle class. (read article)

Poll: Most West Virginians support right to work
By Shauna Johnson, February 9, 2015, MetroNews
More than 66 percent of West Virginia’s registered voters support the creation of a right to work law in West Virginia, according to a new poll from Mark Blankenship Enterprises conducted on behalf of Americans For Prosperity – West Virginia. “It tells me people are ready for change,” said Wendy McCuskey, state director for AFP West Virginia, of the poll’s results. “People want jobs in West Virginia and I think right to work is the jobs bill.” (read article)

Contractors: Unions cost rural taxpayers and intimidate non union shops
By Gregg Bishop, February 9, 2015, Illinois News Network
From asbestos abatement to the elevator and roof, there’s a long list of repairs needed at the Governor’s Mansion, and some of that work could cost more because of prevailing wage laws. As recently reported by Illinois News Network bids for repairs on the executive residence ranged from one-point-five-million dollars in competitive bidding to nearly two-million dollars which includes the prevailing wage increases. The Associated Press recently reported estimates are upwards to three-million dollars. Pat Newman, a general contractor that submitted a proposed plan for repairs to the Governor’s mansion, says increased costs from prevailing wage really hurts small towns and small school districts. (read article)

Four Officials of Independent Southern California Union Indicted for $900K in Thefts
By Carl Horowitz, February 9, 2015, National Legal and Policy Center
At United Industrial and Service Workers of America, stealing apparently was a family affair – a Romero family affair. On January 21, husband and wife John S. and Evelyn Romero, and their two adult children, John J. and Danae Romero – each a former union official – were indicted by a federal grand jury on 40 counts related mainly to their looting of about $900,000 from the Colton (San Bernardino County), Calif. union. (read article)

Missouri unions prepare for another right-to-work fight
February 9, 2015, Associated Press
A new fight over right-to-work may take place this year as Republicans enjoy a larger majority. A Missouri House committee approved right-to-work bills this week, setting the stage for a potential vote on an issue that drew national attention last year when the measure failed to get the constitutional majority needed in the House. Freshmen Republicans elected in competitive districts, some with a strong union presence, may hold the key to whether right-to-work moves this year. (read article)

Chicago Teachers Take On Rahm Democrats
By Samantha Winslow, February 9, 2015, LaborNotes.org
The Chicago Teachers Union and its allies are making a bid to channel the spirit and unity of the teachers’ 2012 strike into unseating “Mayor 1%” and his city council allies. It’s been a grueling four years under Rahm Emanuel. CTU beat back some of the worst concessions the mayor’s school board pushed, but the union was hit hard by a record 47 school closings in a single year. Broader attacks hit public sector workers and their pensions. The new, independent political organization United Working Families—formed by CTU and SEIU Healthcare Illinois along with community groups such as Action Now—isn’t just out to oust the mayor. It’s trying to create a progressive, pro-labor political infrastructure to challenge the mayor’s pro-business agenda. (read article)

LABOR DEPT: 235 UNION PENSION FUNDS ‘ENDANGERED’
By Chriss W. Street, February 8, 2015, Breitbart.com
The Labor Department announced that 235 union multi-employer-multi-employee pension funds are “endangered,” meaning they lack the assets to pay 80 percent of their promised benefits. About 150 of those insolvent union pension plans are now in “critical status,” since they lack the assets to pay even 65 percent of their promised benefits. Every state has endangered funds, but 29 are in California. Norman Stein, Drexel University Law School Professor and Senior Policy Adviser to the Pension Rights Center told the Washington Examiner, “These are lists of plans whose own funding [levels] puts the plan at risk.” Under U.S. law, the “critical” insolvency status now obligates trustees to consider the option of cutting some benefits as part of a rehabilitation plan to restore solvency. (read article)

Labor issues divide Legislature
By Ben Fields, February 8, 2015, The Herald Dispatch
The new Republican majority in the West Virginia Legislature has a strategy for state labor laws, and the beginning of what will likely be some of the most heated debates in the 2015 session are about to unfold, many lawmakers believe. Democrats in the House of Delegates have said the battle began last Wednesday, when a vote to change the job qualification for the state Commissioner of Labor from someone who is identified with “the labor interests of the state” to “has knowledge and experience in employee issues and interests including employee-employer relationships in this state” passed 64-35 with one absent. uring a lengthy and at times heated back-and-forth on the House floor before the vote, Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said “bad things come in threes,” and implicated the bill was one part of a trio of “bad bills” meant to undermine the power of the state’s labor unions. Republicans argued it was not a union issue, but a move to modernize an antiquated job description and give the governor’s office more options for selecting an appointee for the position. (read article)

Why right-to-work is wrong for New Mexico
By Sen. William “Bill” Soules, February 8, 2015, Las Cruces Sun-News
When I ran for public office, I made a commitment to make decisions based on facts, accurate information and data, and not on emotions, word-spin and marketing. The so-called “right-to-work” bills moving through the New Mexico Legislature are perfect examples of laws where spin and marketing are used to obfuscate, obscure, and confuse people about the real effects and purposes of the legislation. The very name, “right-to-work,” was carefully chosen to affect public opinion when, in fact, the legislation has nothing to do with the rights of workers and everything to do with limiting the ability of workers to bargain on an equal basis with employers. The first such bill heard during this legislative session, House Bill 75, is titled “The Employee Preference Act,” and purports to protect workers from being required to join a union and to pay union dues. Federal law already provides those protections. Those sponsoring the bill claim to be protecting employees from a practice already prohibited. This is nonsense. (read article)

The Shrinking American Labor Union
February 7, 2015, New York Times
4.2%: private sector union membership rate, 1973 6.6%: private sector union membership rate, 2014. A generation ago labor unions were often a familiar feature of the American workplace, but in private businesses across the country, unions have been shrinking. Today fewer than one in 15 private sector workers belongs to a union, compared with almost one in four back in 1973. But dwindling union participation in the private sector stands in stark contrast with union membership among public sector workers, which rose sharply in the 1970s and has been relatively steady since 1980 at around 35 percent. (read article)

Contract talks may be a crossroads in Garcetti’s relationship with labor
By Peter Jamison, February 7, 2015, Los Angeles Times
As behind-the-scenes contract talks with the unions representing more than half the city’s civilian workforce grind to a standstill, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is facing the first meaningful test of his proclaimed resolve to curb organized labor’s sway at City Hall. Sources familiar with the city’s position in the ongoing talks — normally kept confidential — say Garcetti’s administration is holding to an aggressive bargaining stance, demanding a three-year freeze on raises for roughly 20,000 city workers and greater contributions to employees’ healthcare and retirement costs, among other cost-saving concessions. After nearly a year of negotiating, union leaders haven’t budged and are planning a brief work stoppage Tuesday morning to put pressure on elected leaders. (read article)

Steelworkers union broadens strike
By L. M. Sixel, February 7, 2015, Houston Chronicle
The United Steelworkers union is broadening its nationwide walkout to include two more refineries. The union planned to strike against two BP facilities in the Midwest early Sunday, union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock confirmed. The latest work stoppages were scheduled to begin 12:01 a.m. at BP’s refineries in Toledo, Ohio and Whiting, Ind., Hancock said. That brings the number of plants on strike to 11, including five in the Houston area, since the walk-out began a week ago. About 30,000 workers at refineries, chemical plants, pipelines and oil terminals nationwide, including 5,000 in the Houston area, are represented by the union. (read article)

Right to Work is right for Wisconsin
By Scott Manely, February 6, 2015, Superior Telegram
As a country built on the principles of liberty and individual freedom, it’s common sense that workers should have the right to choose whether to join a labor union and pay dues. But that’s not always the case in Wisconsin. Right to Work laws give employees freedom in the workplace by protecting them from being forced to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of hiring or continued employment. Twenty-four states guarantee workers this freedom, and Wisconsin should become the 25th state if we want to remain economically competitive. Beyond the free choice argument, there are compelling economic reasons why the Wisconsin Legislature should enact Right to Work. (read article)

Shipping Suspended At West Coast Ports Due To Ongoing Labor Dispute
February 6, 2015, KCBS
Some port operations on the West Coast–including at the Port of Oakland–will be temporarily suspended this weekend because of the on-going labor dispute between port operators and union workers. The Pacific Maritime Association said in emailstatement that they will stop loading and unloading ships because of what they call ongoing union slowdowns. “After three months of union slowdowns, it makes no sense to pay extra for less work,” said PMA spokesman Wade Gates, “especially if there is no end in sight to the union’s actions which needlessly brought West Coast ports to the brink of gridlock.” (read article)

Public advocate urges JDS, PMG to use union labor
February 6, 2015, TheRealDeal.com
Public Advocate Letitia James approached developers JDS Development and Property Market Group, tacitly urging them to reconsider their plan to build their super skinny, 80-story tower on “Billionaire’s Row” sans union labor. James, a known ally of the unions, wrote the letter to JDS’ Michael Stern and PMG’s Kevin Maloney on Jan. 28, according to the New York Daily News, but didn’t explicitly mention the words “union” or “non-union.” “Given the immense height of the structure, its proportions, the challenging nature of the site and the densely populated nature of the surrounding blocks, I am concerned that any incident at the site could potentially cause outsized harm,” she wrote in the letter, cited by the newspaper. “I would urge you to consider an organized workforce that is adequately trained and fairly compensated.” (read article)

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner Proposes Local Right-to-Work Zones, Ban On Political Spending By Public Sector Unions
By Cole Stangler, February 5, 2015, International Business Times
Illinois’ new Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and organized labor have never gotten along. Now the relationship is souring even more. In his first State of the State address since taking office in January, Rauner voiced support for two proposals that are anathema to U.S. organized labor: so-called right-to-work zones and a ban on political spending by public sector unions. Under Illinois law, unions are permitted to collect dues from all the workers they are legally certified to represent in a given workplace. The idea is to prevent nonmembers from “free-riding,” that is, receiving the benefits of a union contract without paying for the costs of negotiation and administration. “Right-to-work” laws prevent unions from making membership automatic and collecting fees from nonmembers. In his speech to the legislature Wednesday afternoon, Rauner argued in favor of local-level right-to-work laws — which he termed “employee empowerment zones” — as a form of economic stimulus. “[These] zones will increase jobs for residents, increase economic activity for local businesses and generate more tax dollars for local governments,” Rauner said. (read article)

Workers Try to Boot Union for Fourth Time After ‘Rigged’ Election
By Bill McMorris, February 4, 2015, FreeBeacon.com
Workers in Alabama are staging a fourth attempt to kick the United Auto Workers (UAW) out of their plant following claims that stuffed ballot boxes derailed their last vote. Employees at the NTN-Bower Corporation, a ball bearings manufacturer, have unsuccessfully tried to boot the labor giant out of their factory for two years. Workers voted to decertify the UAW in an earlier election, but an Obama-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) panel threw out the election. Another election was held in January of this year. The UAW prevailed, but it was later revealed that 148 ballots were cast—eight more than the entire workforce. Employees convinced the NLRB to throw out those results with the help of the National Right to Work Foundation. (read article)

Worker files federal charge to challenge illegal union dues payment
February 4, 2015, NRTW.org
A former seasonal United Parcel Service (UPS) employee has filed a federal charge against the company after it illegally confiscated Teamster union dues from his salary, leaving him with a paycheck of $0. With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, Santiago Olmos filed the unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Shortly after Olmos was hired as a seasonal employee for the Christmas delivery rush, he attended UPS training on December 8, 2014. At the meeting, a UPS manager told all of the employees in attendance that they were required to join the Teamster Local 439 union and pay union dues. Under federal labor law, workers have the right to refrain from formal union membership and full union dues payments. Because California does not have Right to Work protections for workers, nonmember workers can be forced to pay a part of union dues and fees or be fired from their job. (read article)

Lawmakers focus on 2 ‘Right to Work’ bills to limit unions
By Eli Yokley, February 4, 2015, KY3
Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, presented his bill to a House committee this week. It would disallow labor unions from charging non-union members fees for representing them when workers collectively bargain. On Wednesday, a Democrat from St. Louis presented a similar measure that is limited to the construction trade. “As Democrats, we fight for equality,” said Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-St. Louis. “I’d argue that the building trades have experienced the most systematic inequality.” Curtis said construction unions, particularly those in St. Louis County, are discriminating against minority contractors when it comes to placing them on jobs. (read article)

Rauner Attacks Unions In First State Address
By Conner D. Wolf, February 4, 2015, The Daily Caller
During his first State of the State address Wednesday, newly elected Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner attacked the idea of mandatory union membership. “Empowerment means giving local government employees the ability to decide for themselves whether they want to join a union,” Rauner declared. “Empowerment means giving governments the ability to lower costs by reforming project labor agreements and prevailing wage requirements that block true competitive bidding.” Since taking office in January, Rauner has already taken numerous opportunities to express his opposition to union power within the state. Prior to his latest speech, Rauner pointed towards Prevailing Wage Laws and Project Labor Agreements as some of the few examples of how labor unions are hurting the state through unfair laws. (read article)

Union loses case against 2 Must give back dues, plus interest
By Paul Wyche, February 3, 2015, Journal Gazette
Two Kroger Co. employees aren’t required to pay union dues after all. Eleanor Haynes and Barbara Peter won a decision against the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700, officials announced Monday. The amount doesn’t appear much – about $377, plus interest, between both women. But the charge against the union had more to do with violation of their rights, said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free legal help and represented the employees. (read article)

Number Of Union Jobs Varies In Recent Right-to-Work States
By Andy Szal, February 3, 2015, Manufacturing.net
Michigan and Indiana each passed so-called “right-to-work” laws in 2012, prohibiting mandatory union membership and collection of dues as conditions of employment. But although the legislative efforts to pass the laws drew fierce protests and dire forecasts for organized labor in eachstate, the two neighbors — each of whom rely heavily on manufacturing — have reacted very differently in the second full years following their enactment. In Michigan, the number of employees represented by unions fell by 25,000 last year, dropping from 656,000 in 2013 down to 631,000 according to recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of union members, meanwhile, fell by a larger number, from 633,000 to 585,000 over that span. (read article)

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