Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Senate passes minimum wage boost for California
By Alexei Koseff, June 1, 2015, Sacramento Bee
As labor unions lead a nationwide push for a higher minimum wage, the California Senate on Monday approved raising the state’s required hourly rate to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017. Under Senate Bill 3, which passed by a vote of 23-15, California’s minimum wage would also begin increasing annually in 2019 based on inflation. The measure heads next to the Assembly. “The president of the United States has defined income inequality as the defining challenge of our time,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who authored the measure. “Wages are growing at the slowest rate relative to corporate profits in the history of the United States of America. “We must do more to address this, and we can.” Leno pursued a similar minimum wage increase last year that passed the Senate but failed in an Assembly committee. (read article)

California lawmakers advance ‘wage theft’ bill for workers
Associated Press, June 1st, 2015, Sacramento Bee
California lawmakers have advanced a “wage theft” bill in an effort to crack down on employers that shortchange workers. The state Senate on Monday approved the proposal on a 24-12 vote. SB588 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon would make it easier for the state labor commissioner to collect unpaid wages on behalf of workers. The proposal by the Los Angeles Democrat allows the labor commissioner to file a lien on an employer’s property. Advocates say the problem disproportionately affects low-wage workers, immigrants and women because some employers pay less than the minimum wage or skirt overtime pay. An analysis by the National Employment Law Center and UCLA Labor Center found eight in 10 workers with unpaid wage claims were never paid. The bill heads to the Assembly. (read article)

Minorities Will Be Hardest Hit By Franchising Crackdown
By Bill McMorris, June 1, 2015, Washington Free Beacon
Minority small business owners have the most to lose if the Obama administration’s labor regulators do away with the franchise business model, according to a new report. The franchise model allows individuals to open their own businesses under larger corporate brands, such as McDonald’s, in exchange for an annual fee. Those franchisees handle the day-to-day business operations with the national brand handling marketing and, in some cases, supply. An analysis of the nation’s franchisees conducted by Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, found that the business model has been a boon to immigrants and minority entrepreneurs. “Minority owned franchise businesses succeed at a rate 46 percent higher than that for minority-owned non-franchise businesses,” the report says. The federal government’s top labor arbiter, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), is expected to issue a ruling on the joint employer standard in the Browning-Ferris case. It could determine whether franchisors are joint employers and, therefore, liable for the actions of its franchisees. (read article)

Can Gov. Rauner Put Illinois Pension Funds in the Black?
By Carl Horowitz, June 1, 2015, National Legal and Policy Center
If any one state stands out in the race to the bottom of public employee pension insolvency, Illinois would be it. And GOP Governor Bruce Rauner is steeling himself to prevent a collapse. Rauner, a former private equity fund manager, was elected last November over Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn. He faces $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, or over $8,500 per resident. The years of greed, corruption and bad luck having taken a toll, the governor and his top fiscal policy adviser, Donna Arduin, have proposed tough measures to reverse course. (read article)

Do Unions Represent The American Worker?
By Lloyd Billingsley, June 1, 2015, The Independent Institute
Democrats are divided over President Obama’s new Trans-Pacific trade deal, but AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka doesn’t like it at all. “This agreement is not worthy of the American people and the American worker,” Trumka recently told Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour. For their part, the American people and the American worker might question Mr. Trumka’s presumption to speak for them. A full 93.4 percent of American workers in the private sector are not union members, according to the latest figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, the overwhelming majority of American workers in the private sector, nearly all of them, are not union members. According to the BLS, only 6.6 percent of workers in the private sector are members of unions, a small minority that is getting smaller. (read article)

General Assembly approves union-backed strike/lockout bill
By Kurt Erickson, May 31, 2015, Illinois Herald-Review
Big Labor’s latest answer to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tough talk about unions breezed through the Illinois Senate Saturday. Under legislation approved on a partisan 38-17 vote, state workers would be prohibited from going on strike or being locked out of their jobs if negotiations on a new contract reach an impasse. The proposal would allow either side in labor talks to declare an impasse, starting a process in which the contract would be sent to binding arbitration. Democrats who backed the measure said the proposed law comes in response to the Republican governor’s public stance on ongoing talks with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. Rauner is seeking a wage freeze, higher health insurance payments and changes in overtime and seniority in connection with a new contract covering 38,000 unionized workers. “From all published reports, the negotiations aren’t going well,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. “This provides an alternative method for resolving a budget impasse.” (read article)

Minimum wage hypocrisy: A union busts itself
Editorial, May 30, 2015, New Hampshire UnionLeader
Minimum wages are and always have been tools used by labor unions to benefit themselves at the expense of people willing to start working at a lower wage. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor helpfully illustrated this truth last week. The union was a leader in the Raise the Wage movement that pressured Los Angeles to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, which the city council approved the week before last. Immediately, Rusty Hicks, head of the county Federation of Labor, asked for a labor union exemption. “With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them,” the Los Angeles Times reported Hicks saying in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.” There you have it. The freedom to choose other benefits over a higher wage “is a good thing” – but only for union members. (read article)

Pension battle stalling contracts between Christie, public worker unions
By Samantha Marcus, May 30, 2015, New Jersey Online
Contracts with more than 50,000 state workers are set to expire at the end of next month, but several union leaders say they haven’t even begun negotiating with the Christie administration. The reason: New Jersey’s fierce battle over public employee pensions. The union leaders say they are holding off on negotiations until the state’s highest court weighs in on a multi-billion dollar pension dispute between the unions and Gov. Chris Christie. If the court doesn’t rule in the workers’ favor, “I don’t think negotiations are going to go well,” said Ron McMullen, president of AFSCME Council 1. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers hasn’t reached out to kick off negotiations, said Local 195 Vice President Gerald Newsome. “Quite frankly, we’re not in any hurry to get to the table at this point,” he said. “Right now we are seeing how to court case plays out.” (read article)

Union Busting
Editorial, May 30, 2015, The Toledo Blade
Gov. John Kasich this month quietly stripped 10,000 Ohio in-home health-care workers of their right to belong to unions. That move marks the latest offensive in the governor’s troubling campaign against labor rights. In 2007, former Gov. Ted Strickland granted independent home health-care workers the right to bargain collectively with state government. He extended the right to home child-care providers the following year. The policy applied to workers who are reimbursed for care through state programs such as Medicaid. Such employees contract with Ohio agencies to provide care. But because they are not considered direct employees of the state, they aren’t eligible for the same benefits and bargaining rights as public employees. Mr. Kasich vowed to rescind Mr. Strickland’s policy during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. He claimed that independent care providers have no right to collective bargaining with the state because they aren’t state employees. (read article)

L.A. labor leaders’ hypocrisy on minimum wage hike
Editorial, May 29, 2015, Los Angeles Times
No, employers with a unionized workforce should not be allowed to pay less than Los Angeles’ proposed minimum wage. It’s stunning that after leading the fight for a $15 citywide minimum wage and vehemently opposing efforts to exempt restaurant workers, nonprofits and small businesses from the full wage hike, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is now lobbying for an exemption for employers with union contracts. That’s right — labor leaders are advocating that an employer should have the right to pay union members less than the minimum wage. This is hypocrisy at its worst, and it plays into the cynical view that the federation is more interested in unionizing companies and boosting its rolls of dues-paying members than in helping poor workers. (read article)

Los Angeles Labor Group Backs Minimum Wage Increase, Then Seeks Exemption
By Jennifer Medina, May 29, 2015, New York Times
Labor unions across the country have been among the most vocal and important backers of the nationwide fight to increase the minimum wage to $15. At the same time, some labor leaders — including one here who helped lead the successful effort to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles — have encouraged cities to adopt provisions that would allow employers with unions to pay below that level. Last week, when the City Council here voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $9 an hour by 2020, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an umbrella group of local unions, brought hundreds of workers to voice their support for the proposal. But this week, the same group was back before the Council asking that union workers be exempted from the higher wage requirement, saying that such a provision would give business owners flexibility to offer more generous health insurance packages, for example, and to make sure there was no conflict between federal labor laws and local minimum wage ordinances. (read article)

Legislation to prohibit union strike, Rauner lockout gets House approval
By Doug Finke, May 29, 2015, State Journal-Register
The Illinois House approved legislation Friday prohibiting state workers from going on strike or being locked out of their jobs if negotiations on a new labor agreement stall. The House voted 67-25 to approve the measure, which now goes to the Senate for approval. Under the bill, either side in labor talks could declare an impasse, starting a process in which the contract would be sent to binding arbitration. Sponsoring Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said he is trying to ensure that state government doesn’t get shut down. “I’m trying to ensure the state keeps running until such time as they have an agreement in place,” Smiddy said. He then read an old quote from Gov. Bruce Rauner in which he said he might have to shut down government to get concessions from unionized workers. The state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 38,000 state workers, have been negotiating for months on a new contract that would take effect July 1. The administration said it is negotiating in good faith to secure a fair contract. AFSCME said the administration is demanding significant concessions from workers and will not soften those demands. (read article)

An American workplace war that’s reached a tipping point
By Scott Cohn, May 29, 2015, CNBC
The debate has America split—literally. With Wisconsin’s adoption of so-called right-to-work legislation earlier this year, 25 states now prohibit mandatory union dues, and with legislation being pushed in several more states, the right-to-work movement is talking about a national “tipping point.” Under right-to-work legislation, no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join a labor union or pay dues. Republican legislators in Missouri passed a right-to-work measure this month, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has said he will veto the bill. A bill almost passed in New Mexico, and backers are pushing similar legislation in Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania and Ohio. There are even growing calls, at least in Republican circles, for a national right-to-work law. (read article)

Unions divide labor movement over LA minimum wage exemptions
By Ned Resnikoff, May 29, 2015, Al Jazeera America
Unions fought for the recently passed $15 minimum wage in Los Angeles. Now they’re asking that it not apply to their members, exposing a fault line in the labor movement. The executive secretary-treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor — a local affiliate of the AFL-CIO, America’s biggest labor federation — said Tuesday that the new minimum wage law should not pertain to workers covered by a union collective bargaining agreement.  (read article)

Health care ripe target for labor unions
By Kent Hoover, May 28, 2015, The Business Journals
The health care industry will be a ripe target for union organizing efforts, especially now that the National Labor Relations Board has streamlined procedures for representation elections. That’s the takeaway from a new report by the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration and IRI Consultants. Hospitals are a particularly attractive target for unions because of the pressures for cost reduction due to health care reform and the uncertainty facing employees created by mergers and acquisitions, said IRI Consultants President James Trivisonno, co-author of the report. In these situations, workers may be feel a union could provide them with more job protection. Plus, hospitals often employ thousands of workers in jobs that can’t be offshored, Trivisonno said. In addition, the health care sector is adding more jobs than most other sectors of the sector of the economy. (read article)

Labor Pains: San Francisco Unions Still Divided
By Julia Carrie Wong, May 27, 2015, San Francisco Weekly
For years, San Francisco has been the petri dish for the on-demand economy’s remaking of the American labor force. Now, San Francisco’s labor movement is getting a facelift as well. Two of the city’s main unions, Unite Here Local 2, which represents hotel and restaurant workers, and the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), which represents public school teachers and paraprofessionals, elected new presidents this month — in very different fashion. Local 2 saw an orderly succession: Mike Casey, who has been president for 21 years, chose to step down and endorsed his replacement, staff member Anand Singh, who ran practically unopposed. Casey plans to remain on staff at the union and says he will serve out his term as president of the SF Labor Council. (read article)

Los Angeles labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers
By Peter Jamison, David Zahniser, and Emily Alpert Reyes, May 27, 2015, Los Angeles Times
Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces. The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. (read article)

San Diego teachers union votes to approve contract agreement
By Moureen Magee, May 26, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune
Days after teachers voted to approve a new contract with San Diego Unified, the school board today will formally consider the pact, along with similar labor agreements for other employee groups. The three-year tentative agreement gives teachers – and all employees – a 1 percent raise, retroactive to July 1, 2014, and a 4 percent increase effective July 1, 2015, with provisions for a reopener in the third year. The San Diego Education Association reached a tentative settlement with the district last month, which put an end to an official labor impasse a year after the negotiations started. The vast majority of the district’s 6,000 teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses voted to accept the agreement, with 86.7 percent in favor and 13.3 percent opposed, labor officials said. (read article)

Old Unions Can’t Cope With the New World
By John Burnett, May 26, 2015, U.S. News
The decline of organized labor in the United States has been attributed to a number of factors, from the erosion of the nation’s manufacturing base to an increasingly global workforce and new business practices that have altered the employee-employer relationship. But there is one factor that rarely gets discussed despite its enormous role in the waning of organized labor over the last 30 years: organized labor itself. As the American workplace continues to undergo dramatic changes, labor leaders appear as disconnected as ever from the needs and demands of American workers and even the businesses that employ them. Big labor stubbornly clings to organizing principles, policy objectives and labor-relations tactics that were far more suited to the bygone industrial era that gave birth to the labor movement and provided it with clear purpose and even legitimacy. (read article)

NLRB Divides on Union’s Choice of Words; Majority Sees Bid to Bargain, Not Protest
By Lawrence E. Dubé, May 22, 2015, Bloomberg News
A union official’s angry response to a utility company’s plan to change an employee benefit was a request for bargaining, not merely a protest, the National Labor Relations Board held 2-1 on May 21. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local president immediately said “no you don’t,” threatened to file an unfair labor practice charge with NLRB, and vowed to visit the corporation’s headquarters when an official told him the company intended to change a service recognition policy. NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and Member Kent Y. Hirozawa said the union official’s comments “constituted a bargaining request,” but the employer proceeded to implement the change without negotiating with the union. The board ordered the employer to rescind its action and compensate employees who lost service awards. (read article)

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