Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

San Jose City Council to consider labor deal with firefighters union
June 23, 2015, Silicon Valley News
A new labor deal with the San Jose firefighters union highlights a packed city council agenda today. After the firefighters union approved the new labor deal by a 95 to 5 percent vote, the contract will go to the city council. It’s a 3 year contract that includes a 15 percent hike in compensation and protections for minimum staffing levels. Also on the agenda is a motion that would allow ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up fares at Mineta San Jose International Airport. City taxi companies staunchly oppose the idea. (read article)

Portland terminal operator seeks tighter labor slowdown rules
By Andy Giegerich, June 23, 2015, Portland Business Journal
The group that operates the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 says it helped bring a bill to Congress that would address maritime labor slowdowns. The Senate will consider the Preventing Labor Union Slowdowns Act of 2015 that ICTSI Oregon Inc. worked on. The measure would amend the National Labor Relations Act so that intentional slowdowns by maritime unions would be considered unfair labor practices. Those violating the rules would face federal court injunctions against slowdowns as well as damage claims to injured parties. ICTSI Oregon CEO Elvis Ganda said the measure would “help ensure that a small number of workers cannot engage in unfair labor practices that threaten our nation’s economic prosperity and hold our economy hostage.” (read article)

Emanuel asks state lawmakers to delay CPS teacher pension payment
By Monique Garcia and Hal Dardick, June 23, 2015, Chicago Tribune
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seeking to put off a massive teacher pension payment that’s due at the end of the month until Aug. 10 under a measure that surfaced Tuesday and is speeding through the legislature. The request for a delay comes after a series of internal Chicago Public Schools reports indicated that even if the school district drained its checking account, maxed out its credit card and burned cash set aside for other debts, it still would not be able to make the pension payment of more than $600 million, cover payroll and pay all the other due bills. The measure was approved 8-2 by a House panel Tuesday, and is expected to clear the full chamber and also be heard in the Senate by the end of the day. (read article)

N.J. Supreme Court Says ‘No’ to Unions; Allows Gov. Christie to Delay Pension Payments
By Carl Horowitz, June 23, 2013, National Legal and Policy Center
Whether one sees New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as confronting or punting, it’s hard to deny he knows a crisis when he sees one. The New Jersey Supreme Court sees one as well. On June 9, the Court ruled 5-2 that Christie was within bounds in delaying a large portion of contributions to the state’s severely underfunded public-employee pension system. The ruling, a clear blow to the unions who brought forth the suit, for now averts a potential fiscal collapse. Critics claim Christie, who is expected shortly to enter the Republican presidential race, broke a law he signed in 2011, effectively passing the buck to his successors. Supporters counter the ruling gives the legislature breathing room to fix a system whose condition has resulted from years of excessive union contract demands. It’s a familiar story in other states, too. (read article)

Organizers Say New Rule Speeding Up Elections Gives Bosses Less Time To Crush Union Drives
By Dan DiMaggio, June 22, 2015, In These Times
The National Labor Relations Board’s new election rule—aimed at reining in employers’ power to stall union drives—went into effect April 14. Organizers say the rule has immediately shortened the wait between filing a representation petition and voting. Bill Zoda, for one, is impressed. Per diem nurses at Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital filed on May 20 to join the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. Ballots hit the mail June 9. In the past, “you don’t get an election that fast,” said Zoda, an organizer with PASNAP. “In a week we had a hearing.” In theory, elections can now happen as fast as two weeks from filing. In practice, so far under the new rule, the median wait between petition and election is 24 days, according to an analysis covering April 14-June 5 by the National Law Review. Compare that to 38 days in 2014. A shorter wait helps workers hold out against management’s anti-union tactics. (read article)

How Unions Improve the Lives of Every Worker
By Laura Reyes, June 23, 2015, Huffington Post
It’s well established that union members earn substantially more than nonunion workers ($207 more a week), and are more likely to have health care coverage and solid pensions. What is less well known are the advantages that unions provide for all workers, not just those who belong to unions. It’s a fact: We’ve been creating pathways to the middle class for American workers for more than a century. Not only in the higher pay that all workers get – whether they’re union or not – in areas where unions are strong. But also in rights and protections that we fought to have enshrined in law. On June 25, we celebrate the 77th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a landmark law signed by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. It introduced the eight-hour day, the 40-hour week, and time-and-a-half payment for overtime work beyond 40 hours. It also established a national minimum wage and outlawed oppressive child labor. Roosevelt and his Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, didn’t just pull these labor standards out of thin air. Unions fought for every one of them, going back to the 19th century. And they didn’t come easily, as the corporate class kicked and screamed about the adverse impact of providing protections for the nation’s workers. (read article)

State takes aim at Uber’s business model
By Steven Greenhut, June 22, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune
A few months ago, my wife and I wanted to build a small office addition to our house. Because of the nature of the project, we decided to skip the handyman and do it “right” — i.e., hire a licensed contractor who pays workers’ compensation, follows state labor rules and files all the necessary permits. Suffice it to say, I’m still sharing the garage office with my cat given the cost of the estimates. This experience jumped to mind after a California labor commission ruled this month on the unrelated topic of Uber — the “ride-sharing” company that has become a bogeyman to some folks in the Capitol and the bureaucracy. (read article)

Construction labor union group opposes Mission District housing project
Jahna Berry, June 22, 2015, San Francisco Business Times
An alliance that represents more than 20 San Francisco’s construction industry unions is opposing a major housing project at 2000 Bryant St. It’s the first time the group has taken such a stance in 10 years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Building Trades Council submitted a resolution to the city Planning Commission that said the 274-unit Mission District apartment project was “inadequately affordable and exploitative housing.” The council also criticized 2000 Bryant St.’s developer for not agreeing to a 100 percent union project. Developer Nick Podell told the newspaper the majority of the trades on the job will be union. (read article)

The House stood up to the NLRB, the Senate should too
by Hector Barreto, June 22, 2015, Fox
Using the power of the purse, Congress has taken yet another positive step to push back on the anti-business policies of the union-backed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The House Appropriations Subcommittee last week took a stand against NLRB’s newly-enacted ambush election rule, which took effect on April 14, by slashing funding for the rule’s implementation. The subcommittee also took steps to ensure that the rights of workers to make informed, non-coerced decisions in union elections remain intact and that the overall privacy of employees is protected. The ambush election rule was enacted by the NRLB in order to coerce employees to unionize in a short window of time, springing elections on unsuspecting employers in a little over a week. Previously, the window was, on average, 38 days between when a petition was filed to the election. Under the new ruling, however, the window is as few as 11 days. (read article)

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions
By Thomas C. Frohlich, Michael B. Sauter and Sam Stebbins June 22, 2015, Wallst.com
In 1973, 24% of all U.S. wage and salary workers were members of unions. Since then, organized labor participation has steadily declined. Over the past decade, nationwide union membership declined 7.1%. Despite the decline, some states remain union strongholds. Nearly one-quarter of New York’s employed population was a member of a union, the highest proportion in the nation. In North Carolina, on the other hand, less than 2% of workers participated in labor organizations, the lowest share in the country. (read article)

Public-sector unions, left unchecked, cloud our financial future
By Tom Patterson, June 20, 2015, East Valley Tribune
Even Americans traditionally sympathetic with labor unions are beginning to realize that, left unchecked, public-sector unions are clouding our financial future. Unlike private sector unions, government unions don’t have to deal with the hazard of pushing their employers too far. Government is not profit-oriented and has theoretically limitless ability to tax. Even better, public-sector unions get to participate in the selection of the bosses with whom they negotiate. Which they do, heavily. Government unions have become a go-to funder of the Democratic Party. Labor “negotiations” commonly have the same interests on both sides of the table. As a consequence, while private sector unions have steadily declined since the ’50s to less than 7 percent participation, public-sector unions have flourished. Compensation for government employees grew 21 percent since 2000, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, only 9 percent in the private economy. (read article)

San Jose police union urges city leaders to act before July recess
By Ramona Giwargis, June 19, 2015, San Jose Mercury
With the mending economy bringing more revenue for raises, city officials have reached agreements with employee unions representing most of San Jose’s 5,200 workers that will restore some of the pay that was cut during the recession. But one big deal remains elusive: a labor agreement with the city’s 1,000 police officers. Though talks continue, and the officers, unlike other workers, have six months before their contract expires, San Jose’s police union said more resignations will come from the depleted force that once numbered 1,400 cops if city leaders don’t reach a deal on pay and benefits before the City Council’s July break. “If they leave without addressing the wage agreements,” said Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, “it will be a catastrophe. They will be sending a message that sun-tanning and water sports are more important than fixing the mess that many of them created.” (read article)

California Uber Ruling Is A Huge Win For Unions
By Connor D. Wolf, June 18, 2015, Daily Caller
In a decision made public Tuesday, California labor officials found that a San Francisco-based Uber driver is an employee, not a contractor, in a case that could become a huge win for unions.What do you think? In the decision, the California Labor Commission awarded Barbara Ann Berwick, an Uber driver, a large sum of employee expenses she was not previously afforded by the company because she was classified as a contractor. The expenses included mileage reimbursements, toll charges and interest totaling $4,152.20. Though the decision pertained just to Berwick, it and future cases set a precedent that could make it much easier for unions to organize drivers working for companies like Uber.1 The driver, according to The Associate Press, filed a claim last year against the ridesharing company over what she claimed was unpaid wages. Uber, however, argued that it is a technological platform used by independent drivers and their passengers.What do you think? (read article)

What 4 key industries are unions targeting under the NLRB’s new election rules?
By William J. Kishman, June 17, 2015, Lexology
For non-union employers who are working to remain non-union, it is critical to know where unions are focusing their organizing efforts. By the time an employer learns that a union is targeting its employees, the union already has a significant advantage under the National Labor Relations Board’s new organizing rules. The new rules have allowed unions to obtain elections in an average of just 23 days after they formally announced their intentions by filing election petitions. Additionally, the NLRB recently gave unions far more flexibility to “pick and choose” which employees vote in elections. Given that unions won more than two-thirds of elections even before these new rules, it is more important than ever for employers to prepare in advance to defend against union organizing campaigns. (read article)

Why Unions Win When They Win
By Michael Kazin, June 17, 2015, Slate
Last week, newspapers and news sites splashed headlines announcing labor’s big victory blocking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama’s trade deal. It has been quite a while since words like win and labor appeared in the same headline. A few weeks back, even AFL-CIO leaders didn’t expect they and their progressive allies could derail the fast-track trade authority that the Democratic president, most Republicans in Congress, and nearly every big corporation in the land urgently sought. But what did labor actually win? (read article)

Labor unions and minimum wage
Editorial, June 16, 2015, San Mateo Daily Journal
Labor unions have pressed for minimum-wage hikes in cities across America. In places where they have been successful — including most recently in Los Angeles, where they just secured $15 an hour by 2020 — unions have followed up with requests to exempt their member workers from the higher wage requirements. Good for everyone else, but not for unions? Like Big Labor requesting immunity from Obamacare mandates? Exempting union-controlled businesses from economically distorted minimum-wage laws sounds too much like an organized-labor protection racket … The result: Workers get a small raise, businesses avert large-scale layoffs or shutdowns, and Big Labor gets new people paying union dues. This minimum-wage hike-and-exempt racket has played out in cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago and Milwaukee, according to Manhattan Institute senior fellow and economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth. The results have been predictable: Businesses unionize, non-union businesses hire fewer workers and unemployment rises. (read article)

The new labor movement and the transient advantage economy
By Rita Gunther McGrath, June 16, 2015, Fortune
Big Labor was very much in the news this weekend as it presented a united front to “just say no” to greater freedom of global trade. It’s taken some time, but union leaders seem to have finally learned a few things. If a policy is bad for one group of middle-income people (think steelworkers) it is eventually bad for another group (think firefighters). As a recent article in the New York Times makes clear, public-sector union members, who once thought they were relatively immune from the problems afflicting their private-sector brethren, have finally connected the dots. When jobs are lost to globalization, the hollowed-out communities left behind still need services but don’t have the money to pay for them. Even worse, empty government coffers have been blamed for a steady contraction of employment in the public sector—those very same firefighters, policemen, and teachers who were supportive of the efforts made by their private-sector brethren, but who basically sat on the sidelines until now. (read article)

Senate panel OKs pay, benefit limits for union leaders
By Gary Heinlein, June 16, 2015, Detroit News
Republican senators want to ban agreements under which local schools or governments pay the salaries of public employee union officers engaged in collective bargaining issues during work hours. A committee voted 4-1 along party lines Tuesday to send the full Senate bills to prevent taxpayer dollars from going toward salaries or pensions of public employee union officials. So-called leave time, for union business, no longer would count toward retirement benefits either. “All we’re saying is that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for that,” said Sen. Marty Knollenberg, the sponsor of the two bills. The Troy Republican said he’s also trying to close a “loophole” that allows union leaders to spike their payouts from the state retirement system. Knollenberg argued the money saved could and should be spent in classrooms. (read article)

Contract talks break down between NJ Transit, labor unions
By Christopher Maag, June 16, 2015, NorthJersey.com
The latest round of talks between NJ Transit and its labor unions has broken down, signaling increased tensions between the two sides over pay and benefits. Union members have been working without a new contract for four years, union leaders said. The next step in the process requires intervention from President Obama, who must create a three-member Presidential Emergency Board to keep the sides negotiating and prevent a strike or labor lockout that could cripple the region’s economy. Nearly 955,000 people ride NJ Transit buses, trains and light rail every workday. NJ Transit and its unions started negotiating through the National Mediation Board in 2011, soon after the old contract expired. As the process dragged on, more unions joined in, eventually creating a coalition that includes all 17 of NJ Transit’s unions, together representing 4,263 workers, said Thomas Roth, a labor consultant hired to represent the unions in the next round of negotiations. The final union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, joined the coalition last week, Roth said. (read article)

Farm Workers, Union Settle Suit With California Over Heat-Related Deaths
By Daniel Nussbaum, June 15, 2015, Breitbart.com
The lawsuits, filed by the families and the labor union United Farm Workers in 2009 and 2012, accused California of failing to provide farm workers with adequate access to both water and shade during workers’ shifts in state fields. According to the Associated Press, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) must step up its enforcement of agriculture safety regulations as part of the settlement. In 2008, 17-year-old undocumented worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was reportedly hospitalized after pruning grapes for nine hours in near 100-degree heat at a Farmington vineyard. Jimenez, who was two months pregnant, died two days later at a local hospital. Jimenez’s two farm supervisors were charged with involuntary manslaughter, but took a plea deal that gave them community service and probation and allowed them to avoid jail time, according to the AP. (read article)

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