Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

City Can Change Retiree Health Benefits: CA Supreme Court
By Andie Adams, May 6, 2014, NBC San Diego
The California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal over the city of San Diego’s ability to change retiree health benefits. The high court’s denial leaves in place a Court of Appeal ruling that states the benefits may be changed like any other term or condition of employment and are not “vested,” according to San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Court documents show that plaintiff Denise Dailey brought the case against the city four years ago, claiming that her retiree health benefits were improperly capped at $8,880 per year — $600 less than the cost of her premiums, she says. Dailey and her attorney alleged that that all members of the city’s pension system would have to vote to enact such a change because the benefits fall under the city’s retirement system. However, the Court of Appeal found the retiree health benefit does not fall under the retirement system because it is not a mandated benefit and is not funded by any assets of the pension plan. The court also looked to a precedent that said the health benefits are an employee benefit, not a vested contractual right. That means moving forward, health benefits won’t be completely guaranteed for city employees headed toward retirement.
Goldsmith said this Supreme Court action has statewide significance. Other cities and the state of California itself can take this ruling as guidance on how to handle the health benefit unfunded liability, which the state controller determined was $42.1 billion. That figure that does not include the unfunded liability of local governments. (read article)

This Is What Happens When You Leave Behind an Important Document From a Secretive Meeting of Progressive Donors
By Becket Adams, May. 6, 2014, The Blaze
Democracy Alliance, a secretive organization that directs millions of dollars to progressive causes, tries its best to keep its members list and activities a secret. But a document left behind after the group’s recent gathering at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago may have undone years of discreet activity. The confidential document, which was first retrieved and published by the Washington Free Beacon, contains a list of the group’s newest “partners” — members who must pay approximately $30,000 in annual dues. Members must also donate at least $200,000 to approved progressive groups. Democracy Alliance, which was founded in 2005 by Democratic strategist Rob Stein, does not publicly disclose details regarding its support for progressive organizations and its members are instructed to never speak about the group or its activities. But the confidential document retrieved by the Beacon gives an inside look at some of the group’s newest “advisers” and “foundation participants,” a “who’s who” of labor bosses and top Democratic donors and business leaders. (read article)

Labor organizers say fast-food protests planned for more than 30 countries on May 15
By Candice Choi, May 6, 2014, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Labor organizers say they’re planning another day of fast-food protests next week, with coordinated actions expected in more than 30 countries this time around. Union representatives from countries including Argentina, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand and Panama gathered in New York this week to share tips and strategize for the demonstrations slated to take place on May 15. Organizers plan to announce the global actions at a press conference outside a McDonald’s in New York on Wednesday afternoon. The protests calling for pay of $15 an hour in the U.S. have gained national media attention since they began in New York in late 2012. The push is getting financial and organizational support from the Service Employees International Union and has served as an important backdrop as President Obama and Democratic lawmakers seek to raise the federal minimum wage in an election year. Although the effort to raise the federal minimum wage in Congress seems highly unlikely to succeed, several states and localities have raised their minimum wages over the past year or so. (read article)

Waterfront Height Limit Spurned by San Francisco Labor
By Joe Eskenazi, May 6, 2014, San Francisco Weekly
Never underestimate the politics of the small room. In San Francisco, small rooms add up big. We’ve written before about the “odd amalgamation of student council politics and Stalinism” it takes to win political endorsements, and a bit of that appears to have went down last night at the Labor Council’s monthly meeting. These are fraught times in San Francisco’s labor community. Members of the Building and Construction Trades Council have been talking openly about secessionism. They claim the Labor Council, the umbrella organization for all San Francisco unions, doesn’t represent them politically and doesn’t want to build anything. Builders have broached the possibility of leaving it altogether. Last month, builders picketed the Labor Council’s annual fund-raising dinner. So Monday night’s rapid and discussion-free vote by the Labor Council to oppose Proposition B, which would subject waterfront development to voter control, is an intriguing development. (read article)

4 unions sign Pennsylvania Convention Center labor deal
By Emily Babay, May 6, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer
Four unions have signed a new labor agreement with the Pennsylvania Convention Center. A spokesman for the Convention Center said this morning that the riggers, electricians, stagehands and laborers unions signed the “customer satisfaction agreement.” The center’s board then approved the agreement at a morning meeting, according to spokesman Pete Peterson. The labor groups that signed the deal agreed to new rules that will allow exhibitors to do more of their own work, instead of using union workers. Center officials had given the unions a midnight deadline to sign on. Two unions, the teamsters and carpenters, had not signed the agreement as of this morning. (read article)

Read the Confidential Document Left Behind at the Democracy Alliance Meeting
By Lachlan Markay, May 5, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
The Democracy Alliance takes pains to ensure that its work disbursing millions of dollars to top left-wing organizations remains secretive and free from public scrutiny. But a document left on the floor of the group’s recent gathering reveals for the first time the names of a number of individuals involved in the effort. It lists new Democracy Alliance “partners,” individuals who every year must pay $30,000 in dues and contribute at least $200,000 to the groups that DA supports. It also reveals names of DA “advisers,” foundation participants, and individuals getting a “sneak peek” at the group’s activities. Among its new partners are top labor union bosses, financial and business leaders, and heirs to billion-dollar fortunes who have made names for themselves as high-dollar Democratic donors. Security was tight at the Democracy Alliance conference last week at the chic Ritz Carlton in Chicago. Politico reporter Ken Vogel was manhandled by security when he tried to interview an attendee. Other conference-goers ripped off their nametags when a Washington Free Beacon reporter approached. The Democracy Alliance does not actually accept donations. Instead, it solicits contributions from left-wing millionaires and billionaires, and serves as a “pass through” between those donors and top liberal advocacy groups, including the Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, and Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA. The group emphasizes secrecy in all of its operations, even as its members and the DA “favored organizations” to which they donate decry the role of “dark money” in American politics. DA does not disclose details of any of the transactions it facilitates, and its members and donation recipients are prohibited from speaking publicly about the organization and its operations. (read article)

California Unions Target $13 Minimum Wage as Brown Runs Again
May 5, 2014, Newsmax
Hundreds of union leaders and Democratic lawmakers listened as Governor Jerry Brown took the stage at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, which overlooks California’s domed capitol. He thanked them for supporting his voter-approved tax increase in 2012 and a bill that improved benefits for injured worker. And even though he had signed almost 40 union-supported bills in four years, he knew they wanted more. “If you didn’t get your bill signed in the first term, don’t worry, I’m going to be around for the next five years,” said the 76-year-old Democrat, who is running for re-election and leading his nearest Republican rival by 40 points in polls. Organized labor has given at least $60 million to Brown’s causes since 2010, according to the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics. Brown signed laws boosting the minimum wage, negotiated raises for state employees and allowed domestic workers to collect overtime pay. Labor leaders are now readying efforts to raise the minimum wage for a second consecutive year, increase paid family leave and institute better pay and benefits for retail and service workers. (read article)

Alternative ballot measure considered as labor union pushes effort to raise SF minimum wage
By Joshua Sabatini, May 5, 2014, San Francisco Examiner
With the deadline looming to submit a November ballot measure to increase San Francisco’s minimum wage, tensions are mounting in the debate to develop an alternative to a proposal by labor leaders that would boost the wage to $15 by 2017. Mayor Ed Lee and business leaders have voiced support for raising The City’s minimum wage, although some businesses are calling for a less aggressive approach, such as $15 an hour by 2020. The Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and supporters moved forward with their own wage effort by filing paperwork for a ballot measure last month. If the measure is approved by a simple majority, businesses with 100 or more employees would have to pay workers no less than $13 per hour by 2015 and $15 in 2016. For businesses with less than 100 employees, the minimum wage would be $13 an hour by next year, $14 in 2016 and $15 in 2017. (read article)

Pennsylvania Convention Center tells labor unions to sign new deal or leave
Brian McCrone, May 5, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Pennsylvania Convention Center is drawing its sturdiest line in the sand yet to force Philadelphia labor unions to ease their expensive hold on exhibition activities – mandating that the unions either agree to less stringent work rules or lose their access to any work at all. Center officials have told the six unions that provide manpower at the center to sign a “customer satisfaction agreement” by midnight today. The center’s board will ratify that agreement 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. If any of the unions don’t sign on, they will lose their “jurisdiction” for work at the convention center, according to a source with knowledge of the agreement. The official said four of the six unions appear very likely to sign by the deadline, but one union, Carpenters’ Local 8, remains a wild card. The carpenters struck briefly late last week, but it reportedly had little effect on activity at the center. (read article)

House committee to examine ruling on Northwestern union proposal
By Steve Berkowitz, May 2, 2014, USA TODAY
Congressional interest in the current state of college athletics will take another step forward Thursday when a House committee conducts a hearing to examine the recent decision by a regional chairman of the National Labor Relations Board to allow college football players at Northwestern University to unionize. The Education and Workforce Committee will conduct a hearing titled “Big Labor on College Campuses: Examining the Consequences of Unionizing Student Athletes,” the committee said in a release. “The NLRB’s decision represents a radical departure from longstanding federal labor policies,” committee chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said in the release. “Classifying student athletes as employees threatens to fundamentally alter college sports, as well as reduce education access and opportunity. The committee has a responsibility to thoroughly examine how the NLRB’s decision will affect students and their ability to receive a quality education.” (read article)

Big Labor turns left even as workers, lawmakers form new union models for the future
By Sean Higgins, May 2, 2014, Washington Examiner
For nearly two years after the 2008 election, an entire side of the AFL-CIO’s Washington headquarters sported a banner calling for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act — the “Card Check” bill. The banner faced the White House, which is just opposite the headquarters. Card check is still Big Labor’s vision for the future of the American workplace. Under Card Check, federal law on workplace organizing would be almost entirely on Big Labor’s side. Any time labor organizers claimed to have gotten more than half of a company’s workers to sign cards backing them, the employees would be unionized. Management and workers would have no further say. (read article)

Labor unions spend the most lobbying state lawmakers, study finds
May 1, 2014, Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle
Three of the five highest-spending lobbying groups in Olympia during the first quarter of 2014 were labor unions, including three that represent employees paid with tax dollars. According to a study released Tuesday by Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based think tank, the Washington Education Association spent $160,201 on lobbying activities during the first three months of the year, trailing only the Washington Health Care Association, which spent $213,986 representing nursing homes and assisted living facilities. – The Washington Federation of State Employees ranked third, with total lobbying expenditures of $151,457. – Service Employees International Union Local 775 finished in fifth place, spending $122,442. – “There’s nothing wrong with union lobbying per se, if lobbying funds come from voluntary member contributions,” noted Freedom Foundation Labor Policy Analyst Max Nelsen. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of union political funds come from fees forcibly collected from union workers as a condition of employment. – “Individual union workers deserve the ability to make their own decisions about union representation, and should not be forced to fund union lobbying against their interests.” Other key findings in the study: If affiliate unions were counted together, SEIU would be the largest lobbying spender with lobbying expenditures totaling $272,535, the WEA would rank second with $203,826 and AFSCME would come in fourth with $164,209 spent. (read article)

Former labor secretary decries US wealth gap
By Ben Wentz, May 1, 2014, Walla Walla Union Bulletin
The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the majority — income inequality — is threatening our democracy, and we all must do something about it. So went former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s message to a receptive Walla Walla audience Wednesday at Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall. His message was both stern and tinged with hope as he spoke with the practiced, easy delivery of a stand-up comedian, drawing raucous applause at moments from an audience that stretched all the way into Cordiner’s upper deck. But Reich, who served in the Clinton administration and is now professor of public policy at U.C. Berkeley argued not that income inequality is unfair — although he didn’t deny that it was — but that it threatens our economy by removing the average person’s disposable income and it threatens our form of government by creating greater divisiveness and unrest. “Widening inequality of the degree we’re seeing it,” Reich said, “with so much of the resources — income and wealth — going to the very top, is making so many people so angry, and so cynical, and so anxious, that they are falling for easy explanations by demagogues on the right and also on the left. “We cannot allow this to go on,” Reich said. “This is dangerous for our democracy.” (read article)

May Day Activists Rally In Union Square For Workers’ Rights
May 1, 2014, CBS New York
About 100 labor activists, students and Occupy Wall Street protesters rallied in Union Square on Thursday in honor of International Workers’ Day. The rally focused on issues including rights for undocumented immigrants and raising the minimum wage. There were several May Day protests scattered throughout the city, including a march to Wall Street and a gathering in Zuccotti Park, the site of the original Occupy encampment. Bea Sabino, 23, a nurse who came to the U.S. as a teenager from the Philippines, told the crowd that her story reflects those of hundreds of thousands of immigrants. “My story is our immigration story because we all trace our roots to the socio-economic conditions in our home countries that push us to come here,” said Sabino. “We’re calling for legalization, but we need to address the root causes of emigration. We all work under the same labor laws, but they’re not enforced.” Sabino was speaking on behalf of the International Alliance for Filipino Concerns. She was among dozens of others who had scribbled on their arms the number for the National Lawyers Guild in case they got arrested. Some protesters hoisted cutouts of butterflies in celebration of the sunny spring day. Others held protest signs with slogans including “Abolish Wage Slavery.” (read article)

New York Said to Be on Verge of 9-Year Deal With Teachers’ Union
By Steven Greenhouse, April 30, 2014, New York Times
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York’s main teachers’ union are on the verge of announcing a deal to settle a nearly five-year labor dispute in which the union has sought more than $3 billion in back pay from the city. The agreement would include retroactive pay equivalent to roughly 8 percent of salaries, annual raises of up to 2 percent a year and substantial savings for the city on health coverage, according to one official involved in the talks. Three officials who insisted on anonymity because the deal had not been made final or announced said it could be disclosed at City Hall on Thursday; one official said the two sides would announce a nine-year contract. Mr. de Blasio has cleared his schedule for the day, a mayoral spokesman said, postponing a long-planned major announcement about his affordable-housing plan. One teachers’ union official said: “We’re just finalizing the language. It could be very soon.” But officials warned that there could be last-minute snags because other municipal unions were weighing in with complaints that the raises given the teachers — which will probably set a pattern for the other unions — were too small and should be higher. (read article)

Turmoil over labor contracts looms for Phoenix
Dustin Gardiner, April 29, 2014, Arizona Republic
The fight over pay and benefits for Phoenix’s workforce of nearly 14,000 civil servants is expected to hit a boiling point this week, with dozens of union members planning to fill a City Council meeting on Wednesday to protest proposed cuts. Union leaders say the city is attempting to balance its projected $37.7 million deficit on the backs of employees who’ve already been strained by compensation cuts and hiring freezes stretching back to the Great Recession. City Manager Ed Zuercher has proposed the unions take a 1.6 percent across-the-board pay and benefit cut in the upcoming fiscal year, saving an estimated $16 million. Some city leaders say the proposed reductions are a pittance considering many of the so-called cuts for some union members are merely the suspension of merit pay raises as well as a freeze in increases to the longevity bonuses seasoned employees receive every year. Other unions would take a cut in base pay or benefits at the same time their members would continue to receive raises or bonuses. (read article)

Scott Walker has already won — on labor union reform
By Philip Klein, April 29, 2014, Washington Examiner
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will have to wait until November to find out if he’ll be elected to a second term in office. But in an important respect, Walker has already won. However long he governs, Walker’s time as governor will be known for the union reforms he put in place. That’s what caused pro-union protesters to swarm Madison, made Democratic legislators flee the state in a failed effort to stop him, and triggered ill-fated recall efforts against him and other Republican lawmakers. Yet as the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, the issue is not a defining one in his re-election battle. As the Journal explained, Walker’s expected Democratic challenger Mary Burke “largely steers clear of the 2011 law championed by Mr. Walker.” The article noted that, “As Democrats see it, there is no realistic path to victory over Mr. Walker in November by building a campaign around restoring Wisconsin’s public-employee unions to their former status. That fight has been fought — and lost, many Democrats said. Mr. Walker won a recall election in 2012 that was largely a referendum on his tussles with the unions.” (read article)

Detroit reaches deal with unions on 5-year labor contracts
April 29, 2014, Crain’s Detroit Business
Detroit reached agreements with unions representing more than a third of the city’s employees on new five-year labor contracts, according to federal mediators overseeing bankruptcy negotiations. The announcement came as the judge handling the $18 billion bankruptcy case urged Detroit to resolve disputes with suburbs that rely on it for water and sewer services. The city and surrounding communities are split over whether Detroit’s water and sewage department should be turned into a regional authority that makes annual payments to the city. “It is everyone’s best interest” to resolve the disputes, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said today in Detroit. “Nothing is impossible. The word doesn’t exist in this case.” Detroit is building support for a debt-adjustment plan ahead of a creditor vote that may begin next month. In the past month, the city reached deals with retired public workers and its two pension systems on cuts in retirement benefits. The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Detroit is leading a group of mediators trying to help the city resolve differences with other creditors. “The mediators hope that this settlement will encourage all of the remaining parties to the bankruptcy to redouble their mediation efforts to reach meaningful agreements,” according to a statement released by the district court. The new contracts cover more than 3,500 of the city’s 9,600 employees. (read article)

MMFA Employees Cry Foul
By Bill McMorris, April 29, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
Media Matters employees say their leaders betrayed them by failing to recognize their attempts to unionize. SEIU Local 500, the Maryland union that claims to have obtained the necessary signatures to organize the liberal giant, released a statement from the Media Matters Organizing Committee on Monday about employee frustration. “Many Media Matters employees feel betrayed by the unexpected and unexplained path our leadership has taken in response to our efforts to unionize. Our desire to organize should be not a controversial or surprising turn of events at a progressive organization like Media Matters for America,” the statement says. SEIU blasted the hypocrisy of MMFA, which has often lauded card check campaigns, while claiming that secret ballot elections disadvantage unions. Not only did MMFA maven David Brock hire elite management-side labor attorneys, the organization failed to even respond when SEIU informed them of the card check results. (read article)

 

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