Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

With Contract Negotiations at Impasse, Los Angeles Teachers Edge Closer to Strike
By Stephen Sawchuk on February 23, 2015, Education Week
The Los Angeles district and its teachers’ union have hit a formal impasse in contract negotiations, with pay and teacher evaluation among the top issues. The impasse means that the state’s Public Employment Relations Board will appoint a mediator, and then a fact-finder who can make recommendations on a resolution. But those recommendations aren’t binding, and United Teachers Los Angeles has warned that it won’t settle for an agreement that takes a piecemeal approach to the contract. All this means that the nation’s second-largest union affiliate has inched a bit closer towards a strike, and indeed, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has been making the case for a strike for months now. Los Angeles teachers have had a rough time of it in the Great Recession, with no salary increases for years and round after round of pink slips sent out and rescinded. Teachers also agreed to furloughs to stave off layoffs in the 2012-13 school year. But despite nearly 20 bargaining sessions over the past few months, the two parties remain far apart. Pay is the biggest sticking point. The union wants to see an 8.5 percent raise retroactive to July 2014, with the possibility of another raise in 2015-16, and wants to hire some 5,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes. (read article)

Los Angeles County Fire Department audit finds cheating in hiring, promotions
By Paul Pringle and Abby Sewell, February 24, 2015, Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles County Fire Department found itself Monday engulfed in a growing scandal after auditors uncovered evidence that the type of cheating that undermined the agency’s hiring process extended to promotional exams and other testing requirements, including for skills in emergency medical treatment. The review by the county Auditor-Controller Department audit was launched in response to a Los Angeles Times investigation last year that found that an unusually high number of family members of firefighters were recruited by the department and that insiders had access to the interview questions and answers for job candidates. Auditors largely confirmed The Times’ findings and turned up evidence of more widespread cheating, especially in the improper sharing of test materials by employees, among them a battalion chief and 10 captains. “Dissemination of examination content between fire personnel is not uncommon,” auditors said in their report to the county Board of Supervisors. (read article)

How 14,000 Workers Managed to Slow Down the Entire Economy
By Joe Pinsker, February 24, 2015, The Atlantic
“Sometimes on trains I play a numbers game,” writes Rose George in her perceptive 2013 book about cargo ships. “A woman listening to headphones: 8. A man reading a book: 15. The child in the stroller: at least 4 including the stroller.” George’s game was to take quick stock of a stranger’s visible possessions, and then estimate how many of those possessions had made their way from factory to consumer via container ships. In her game, it’s a good strategy to guess high: The title of her book, which refers to the proportion of consumer goods that are transported on ships, is Ninety Percent of Everything. Shipping has been in the news recently because of a protracted labor dispute affecting nearly 30 ports on the West Coast. An uneasy, nine-month-long negotiation—between the organizations representing 14,000 workers who unload containers from ships and the large companies who own those ships—has tentatively ended, and last Saturday, full port operations resumed. For the next few months, the industry will power through a backlog of ships in need of unloading, and then shipping—whose importance to the American economy too often goes unremarked—will become invisible again. (read article)

Dentists, doctors, unions pour money into East Bay Senate race
By Jim Miller, February 24, 2015, Sacramento Bee
Outside spending groups representing labor unions, dentists, charter school groups and others have injected nearly $1 million so far into a contentious East Bay state Senate election set for March 17. The 7th district race features a trio of high-profile Democratic candidates: Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla of Concord, former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo, and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer. More than $800,000 of the independent money has gone to support Bonilla or Glazer. Some of the spending is apparently taking an indirect approach to influence the May 19 top-two runoff. On Sunday, the Asian American Small Business Political Action Committee – which received money from labor unions, Comcast, AT&T and Realtors during the 2013-2014 election cycle – reported spending more than $46,000 to support Republican Michaela Hertle of Pleasanton. (read article)

Facebook bus drivers unanimously OK union contract
Kristen V. Brown Published 6:31 pm, Monday, February 23, 2015
The shuttle bus drivers who haul Facebook employees to and from Silicon Valley voted unanimously Saturday to approve their first union contract, promising high wages and improved working conditions. The contract awaits approval from the social network and Loop Transportation, the company which Facebook contracts to transport its employees. In November, 87 drivers voted to join the Teamsters, a powerful labor union, amid complaints that they are underpaid, overworked and unfairly compensated for time on the job. The new contract includes an increase in the average pay for workers at Loop Transportation, from $18 an hour to $24.50 an hour. The contract also address the grueling split shifts, which were a major sticking point for drivers, who were often forced to work in two shifts with as many as six unpaid hours between them. Some have questioned whether the driver’s lengthy unpaid gap between paid hours should legally be considered time off. The agreement outlines a minimum six-hour day for workers who can’t work split shifts and wage increases for workers who do work splits.
In a statement to The Chronicle, Loop CEO Jeff Leonoudakis cautioned that “the parameters of a deal are in place, but it still needs to be approved by a number of parties.” (read article)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Backs Anti-Union Bill In State Senate
By Cole Stangler, February 23, 2015, International Business Times
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is going after unions again. On Tuesday, his state’s Republican-majority Senate plans to take up a Walker-backed bill that would make the Badger State the 25th “right-to-work” state in the nation. The bill prohibits contracts between labor unions and employers that allow unions to collect fees from all workers they are legally obligated to represent. “There’s no doubt right-to-work is meant to have a devastating impact on private sector unions in Wisconsin,” said Paul Secunda, a labor law professor at Marquette University Law School. “And it would be very devastating.” Union density is low in states with such measures. With little incentive to pay for a bargaining service already provided to them, employees tend not to back whatever union may exist at their workplace. That, in turn, leads to a decline in organized labor’s bargaining power and political influence. The average worker in states with right-to-work laws earns about 12 percent less than workers in other states, according to the AFL-CIO. Senate Republicans are moving fast to minimize public backlash. After a committee hearing on Tuesday, floor debate is expected to begin Wednesday. Since Republicans also control the lower chamber, the legislation could reach Walker’s desk as early as next month. (read article)

Walker’s anti-union law has labor reeling in Wisconsin
By Robert Samuels, February 22, 2015, Washington Post
At the old union hall here on a recent afternoon, Terry Magnant sat at the head of a table surrounded by 18 empty chairs. A members meeting had been scheduled to start a half-hour earlier, but the small house, with its cracked walls and loose roof shingles, was lonely and desolate. “There used to be a lot more people coming,” said Magnant, a 51-year-old nursing assistant, sighing. The anti-union law passed here four years ago, which made Gov. Scott Walker a national Republican star and a possible presidential candidate, has turned out to be even more transformative than many had predicted. (read article)

Wisconsin Could Be Right-To-Work In A Matter Of Days
By Dave Jamieson, February 22, 2015, Huffington Post
It’s been more than two decades since Gov. Scott Walker (R) first pushed right-to-work legislation as a state lawmaker in Wisconsin. Now, all these years later, the famously anti-union governor may finally be getting his wish — whether he likes it or not. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin state Senate is slated to take up a right-to-work bill in what’s known as an extraordinary legislative session. (read article)

FairPoint Northern New England Labor Unions Ratify Collective Bargaining Agreements
February 22, 2015, PRNewswire
FairPoint Communications, Inc. (Nasdaq: FRP), a leading communications provider, announced that today, Sunday, February 22, 2015, the membership of the IBEW, T-9 Council and the Communications Workers of America, Local 1400 ratified the tentative collective bargaining agreements between FairPoint and the labor unions. (read article)

Scott Walker’s Anti-Union Frankenstein
By David Freedlander, February 21, 2015, The Daily Beast
Scott Walker opposed a push by state Republicans to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, even though he supports the policy. So has Walker just gone soft? Not likely. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been in New York City all week, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his all-but declared presidential campaign and trying to show the nation’s financial elite he is not some kind of wild-eyed conservative radical set to torch his political opponents. But back in Wisconsin, Walker’s fellow Republicans in the state legislature are pressing ahead without him. (read article)

West Coast ports, union reach tentative labor deal
February 21, 2015, Reuters
A group of shipping companies and a powerful dockworkers union clinched a tentative labor deal on Friday after nine months of negotiations, settling a dispute that disrupted the flow of cargo through 29 U.S. West Coast ports and snarled trans-Pacific maritime trade with Asia. The settlement, confirmed in a joint statement by the two sides, was reached three days after U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday to broker a deal with the help of a federal mediator who had joined in the talks six weeks earlier. (read article)

The Cost of a Decline in Unions
By Nicholas Kristof, February 19, 2015, New York Times
Like many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions. Full-time union stagehands at Carnegie Hall earning more than $400,000 a year? A union hailing its defense of a New York teacher who smelled of alcohol and passed out in class, with even the principal unable to rouse her? A police union in New York City that has a tantrum and goes on virtual strike? More broadly, I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong. (read article)

The Bizarre Idea That Union Membership Reduced Inequality
By Tim Worstall, February 19 2015, Forbes
I take it as a reasonable guide to reality that when a non-economist newspaper columnist decides to leap aboard a particular economic theory then we should take this as proof that that idea is actually incorrect as a piece of economic theory. This isn’t a hard and fast guide, of course, just a reasonable approach to take most of the time. And so it is with Nick Kristof deciding that he was wrong. Wrong in thinking that unions were a bad idea. So much so that Kristof has now come around to the idea that unions were the thing that reduced inequality in mid-20th century America. (read article)

Advocates for the undocumented say ruling will be overturned
By Mark Gruenberg, February 19, 2015, Press Associates Union News Service
Labor unions and other advocates for the nation’s 4.5 million undocumented adults hailed the Obama administration’s decision to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that has halted applications for residency and work permits. Advocates, including Service Employees International Union Assistant General Counsel Debbie Smith, told undocumented immigrants to keep compiling the information and readying themselves to apply for U.S. residence, despite the order by District Judge Andrew Hanen in Plano, Texas. That’s because the advocates expect an appeals court to overrule him. (read article)

Labor unions fund 22 of 23 Ohio Senate Republicans
By Jason Hart, February 19, 2015, Ohio Watchdog
State Sen. Kris Jordan is the only Republican member of the Ohio Senate who didn’t take donations from labor unions in 2014. Of the 22 other Republicans in the 33-seat Ohio Senate, 11 reported more than $25,000 in union campaign contributions, and five received more than $50,000 from labor unions. Excluding donations of $100 or less, unions gave Ohio Senate Republicans $697,647 last year. Each of the four members of Republican majority leadership accepted more than $20,000 in union campaign contributions. (read article)

Union rejects contract offer from oil cos in U.S. refinery strike
February 19 2015, Reuters
Union negotiators on Thursday rejected the latest contract offer from oil companies and said the largest U.S. refinery strike since 1980 may spread to more plants beyond the 11 where walkouts are underway. The United Steelworkers union (USW) said in a message to members and news media including Reuters that the latest proposal from lead oil company negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc failed to improve safety at refineries and chemical plants in an “enforceable way.” The union also told workers not on strike to be prepared to walk out in the coming days. (read article)

In union battle, Rauner looks to Supreme Court
By Lauraann Wood. February 18, 2015, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
In his bid to eliminate union fees for some state workers, Gov. Bruce Rauner cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent that’s less than a year old. In 2014’s Harris v. Quinn, the high court held that a narrow class of employees — Illinois home health-care workers — could not be forced to contribute to unions because they were only “semi-public” employees. Rauner touted the case last week as his justification for filing a lawsuit seeking for non-member union fees to be declared unconstitutional. But to understand the holding in Harris, which originated in Chicago, one must backtrack 37 years to a case from Michigan — 1978’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. (read article)

Can Labor Survive Nevada’s Republican Party?
By Alana Semuels, February 18, 2015, The Atlantic
Only a few short weeks after Republicans took control of both branches of the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion here for the first time since 1929, GOP leaders aimed their new strength at Nevada’s powerful labor unions. Republican legislators talked about wanting to end collective bargaining in the state, about wanting to force unions to re-sign members every year, about eliminating binding arbitration. Together, such measures would severely curtail unions’ ability to act as a political and pro-worker force there. (read article)

How Obama is allowing a union to hold the economy hostage
By Matt Patterson, February 18, 2015, FoxNews.com
If you hold a person hostage, you’re a kidnapper. But if you’re a labor union and you hold a company, or even a nation, hostage, your actions are sanctioned and protected by the United States government. Take, for example, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), currently sabotaging West Coast shipping operations. Last July, the ILWU’s contract with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) expired. Negotiations for a new contract have been ongoing. PMA claims it has offered to raise the dockworkers’ pay by about 3 percent annually over the next five years, from $35.68 to $40.68 per hour, among other concessions. (In fact, with overtime the workers already make an average of more than $50 per hour.)  (read article)

Union complaints shut down JBLM-Olympia project
By Drew Mikkelsen, February 18 2015, KING 5 News
A partnership between the city of Olympia and Joint Base Lewis-McChord was supposed to save taxpayer money while providing training for soldiers. It did both, but the project won’t be completed after complaints from unions. Members of the Army’s 555th Engineer Brigade worked for two weeks last December demolishing an abandoned building on city property. The site was supposed to be cleared by the end of January. As news of the agreement spread, two labor unions complained to the military about the project. (read article)

Union Membership in Alabama – 2014
February 18, 2015, Bureau Of Labor Statistics
In 2014, union members accounted for 10.8 percent of wage and salary workers in Alabama, compared with 10.7 percent in 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Regional Commissioner Janet S. Rankin noted that the union membership rate for the state was at its peak in 1993, when it averaged 14.7 percent, and at its low point in 2003 at 8.1 percent. (read article)

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