Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

L.A. city panel delivers victory to municipal labor unions
By David Zahniser, May 20, 2013, Los Angeles Times
A Los Angeles City Hall panel on Monday delivered a significant victory to municipal labor unions, breathing new life into a legal challenge to pension benefit reductions being counted on to save billions of dollars over the next 30 years. On a 3-2 vote, the Employee Relations Board sided with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions on a key procedural question: whether the group met a deadline to challenge a hike in the retirement age and a reduction in benefits approved in 2012 for new employees. The board’s decision sets the stage for a full hearing on union claims that the pension changes were improperly imposed without required bargaining. City officials are relying on the pension savings to help eliminate a chronic budget deficit by 2018. If the pension plan is invalidated, “the city’s ability to eliminate the deficit and continue to provide services to Angelenos — and benefits to its employees — would be seriously hampered,” said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, a top budget official. (read article)

Home Health Unions, Advocates Fight Proposed Limit on Hours
May 20, 2014, California Healthline
Home health care advocates and unions in California are pushing back against a provision in Gov. Jerry Brown (D)’s revised fiscal year 2014-2015 budget that would limit the number of hours such providers can work to 40 hours per week, the Sacramento Bee reports. The proposal would affect California’s In-Home Supportive Services, which consists of about 360,000 home health care employees who work with hundreds of thousands of individuals with physical and mental health issues, according to the Bee. About 83,000 of those employees currently work more than 40 hours per week. A recent federal order requires in-home supportive services workers to receive overtime pay.
However, Brown’s revised budget specifically exempts IHSS from that rule. Brown noted that the cost of IHSS increased by nearly $250 million between January and May and that the monthly caseload has increased from 317,000 in 2003 to 453,000 in the current fiscal year. As a result, Brown said federal overtime rules could cost the state an additional $186 million annually. Under Brown’s proposal, individuals who need home care services could obtain more than 40 hours of care weekly by using conglomerates of backup providers who would be available on short notice. Patient advocates and labor unions said that not permitting overtime would put financial strain on home health workers and could harm patients, the Bee reports. (read article)

Virgin America flight attendants seek unionization vote
By Alwyn Scott, May 20, 2014, Chicago Tribune
Flight attendants at Virgin America airlines are seeking a vote on whether to unionize, according to an official at the Transport Workers Union (TWU), in a move that could pave the way for organized labor’s latest victory in the airline industry. If the 850 flight attendants at Virgin America vote to form a union, it would be the first at the airline, and would further narrow the ranks of non-union U.S. carriers, after JetBlue pilots voted last month to organize. The union has received signature cards from a majority of workers after a drive to organize was kicked off last July, said Thom McDaniel, a TWU international vice president. He declined to say how many. Under labor rules, employees need to show support from 50 percent of their ranks, plus one, to file for an election. “We have an overwhelming majority,” McDaniel said. “It’s not at 50 percent, it’s way over that. We’ve got well more than we need.” (read article)

Teachers Look to Supreme Court in Union Challenge
By Andrea Billups, May 19, 2014, Newsmax
Rebecca Friedrichs says she is not anti-union but rather is focused on protecting her own freedoms as she awaits a review from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in her lawsuit against the California Teachers Association. The veteran Orange County educator is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit representing 10 teachers who argue that being forced to pay teacher union dues violates their right to free speech and freedom of association, because those funds are often used to lobby for causes they oppose and to support political agendas in direct conflict with their own beliefs. “Most teachers aren’t aware that our unions are so heavily involved in politics. They just don’t know,” Friedrichs told Newsmax. “They don’t have time to keep up with what the union is doing with our money.” Once teachers learn that the dues they are required to pay as a condition of employment are used for lobbying and activism, they often become “very disheartened and demoralized because they feel powerless to act. If you speak out against the unions, even at the school level, you are bullied. And most teachers just want peace, to be left alone to do their jobs,” she said. Her high-profile case has broad implications for public-sector unions, not only those representing teachers. If Friedrichs prevails, labor unions in 26 states will be affected, forcing unions to work to gain members and to collect dues rather than compelling members by law to pay in a longstanding tradition known as an “agency shop.” (read article)

N.C. union votes to accept college athletes as members
By Aaron Beard, May 19, 2014, Nevada Review-Journal
North Carolina union for public workers will allow scholarship student-athletes at public universities to join as state employees. The State Employees Association of North Carolina’s governing board voted Friday to open the group’s membership to athletes at the state’s 17 public campuses, which would include Atlantic Coast Conference members North Carolina and North Carolina State. The union decision comes two months after a federal labor official ruled that football players at Northwestern could create the nation’s first union of college athletes. That ruling is being appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, and some Northwestern players say they voted against forming the union in an election. The results have not been released. The North Carolina union’s decision would not require a team vote and is based on an individual athlete’s choice on whether to join. It is unclear if the union’s invitation would be open to just scholarship athletes, or walk-ons — or whether there are NCAA rules preventing the athletes to be classified as state employees. There is no minimum number of athletes needed to join before SEANC can represent them in negotiations. “What the group has definitively decided is to change our own membership rules to allow them to join,” SEANC spokeswoman Toni Davis said Monday. “And everything beyond that is really in a planning and development stage.” (read article)

Labor union committing $5M to grand bargain for Detroit retirees’ health care
Chad Livengood, May 19, 2014, Detroit News
The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council is committing up to $5 million toward the health care of Detroit retirees in a bid to meet political demands for organized labor to contribute financially to a bankruptcy settlement fund, a union official said Monday. Pat Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the construction trades union, said the council is pledging $3 million to $5 million — and possibly more — toward bolstering retiree health insurance, which is being slashed deeply in the city’s debt-cutting plan. “It’s going to be around that, if not more,” Devlin told The Detroit News. “… We’re just trying to plug the holes right now and stepping up to the plate where we can to resolve some of the issues.” Devlin said the union, which represents city building trades and maintenance workers, is trying to keep intact the so-called “grand bargain” fund to aid pensioners by meeting House Speaker Jase Bolger’s demand for unions to contribute financially. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that this does resolve that part,” Devlin said late Monday. (read article)

NLRB Finds Hospital Must Bargain with Union on Changes to Dress Code Policy
By Keahn N. Morris, May 19, 2014, National Law Review
A hospital’s newly implemented dress code policy was a material, substantial, and significant change to union employees’ terms and conditions of employment that required bargaining with the union, the NLRB has ruled. Salem Hospital Corp., 360 NLRB No. 95 (Apr. 30, 2014). The hospital maintained a dress code policy, which allowed employees wide latitude to determine the color and type of scrubs they wear. Employees also were permitted to wear hoodies, sweatshirts, and fleece jackets. Wanting to improve the professional image of its employees, the hospital decided to revamp its dress code policy. Included in the revisions was a color-coded uniform system designed to help staff, patients, and visitors more easily identify and distinguish employees. The hospital did not inform the union about the revisions to the policy. Once it found out about the changes, the union sent a letter to the hospital demanding bargaining over changes to the dress code policy. The union did not receive a response. It filed a charge against the hospital for unilaterally implementing the new dress code policy. (read article)

Petition demands Media Matters stop opposition to staff unionizing
By Sean Higgins, May 19, 2014, Washington Examiner
Service Employees International Union Local 500 has created a petition urging management at the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America to “walk the walk” on progressive values and stop opposing the unionization of its staff. It is the latest salvo in Local 500’s nearly two-month-long effort to get MMFA to back collective bargaining. “Employees at Media Matters have been organizing to form a union and join SEIU Local 500, but Media Matters executives have been fighting it every step of the way — even though they claim to pro-union!” the petition reads. The petition was announced by Local 500 on Thursday. The sign-up list itself is on Moveon.org. By Monday, it had 148 signatures with a modest goal of just 200. Local 500 first approached Media Matters in early April, hoping to get management to accept the union’s claim that it had already gotten the support of majority of the nonprofit’s staff through a card check election. MMFA refused, so the union filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board on April 10. The nonprofit then lawyered up, hiring attorneys with the firm of Perkins Coie, which specializes in representing management in labor disputes. (read article)

Downtown union workers continue rumblings of strike
By David Ferrara, May 19, 2014, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Thousands of Culinary and Bartenders union workers are continuing their threats of a possible strike at downtown Las Vegas casinos. The unions authorized the strike and signed up for strike benefits two months ago, then formed an informational picket on Fremont Street last month, before reaching an agreement with Golden Nugget. But negotiations with nine other casinos are still ongoing. Those properties: The D, Four Queens, Fremont, Main Street Station, El Cortez, Binion’s, Golden Gate, The Plaza, and Las Vegas Club. The negotiations have been ongoing for nearly a year since contracts with the downtown casinos expired, but no date has been set for a strike, said Local Culinary 226 spokeswoman Bethany Khan. “Every day we’ve been doing more and more preparation,” Khan said. In a statement issued Monday, the union advised tourists and meeting planners of the labor disputes and the “risk of a strike.” “The union can now call for a strike at any time against these properties until they have new contracts,” the statement read. (read article)

Jocks on strike? Congress looks at unions organizing athletes
By Eric Schulzke, May 19, 2014, Deseret News
With the National Labor Relations Board deliberating whether to clear the way for Northwestern’s football team to unionize, a congressional panel met last week to debate how to respond to charges that college atheletes are exploited labor. Whatever comes of the current dispute at Northwestern, the controversy puts pressure on the NCAA to change how it treats atheletes. Some changes appear to be in the likely result, whichever way the unionization fight goes. “For its part,” the Chronicle of Higher Education notes, “the NCAA has stepped up efforts to help athletes. Last month its Division I Board of Directors approved a measure allowing colleges to provide more meals for players. The board also endorsed changes in the Division I governance structure that are expected to provide wealthy colleges with more autonomy, setting the stage for big-time athletics programs to increase the value of scholarships and to provide new health and welfare benefits.” Many of the lawmakers at the hearing doubted that unionization was a real answer. (read article)

New effort to repeal Anchorage labor law comes from a Sullivan ally
By Nathaniel Herz, May 18, 2014, Anchorage Daily News
There’s a new effort to repeal Mayor Dan Sullivan’s controversial labor law, and this time it comes from Jennifer Johnston, one of Sullivan’s traditional allies on the Anchorage Assembly. Johnston says she wants to avoid the $400,000-plus expense of a scheduled November referendum law — and she acknowledged she’s also concerned about the potential for the public to overturn the measure, which has been fiercely opposed by unions. If voters repeal the law, the Assembly would be barred from re-enacting the measure for two years under city code. At a Friday meeting of a new Assembly subcommittee on labor issues, Johnston unveiled a proposal that would repeal the labor law, known as AO-37, and replace it with a watered-down substitute that includes some, but not all, of the original changes. Johnston’s version removes prohibitions on striking, provisions that allowed the city to outsource union work, and language that eliminated binding arbitration. Gerard Asselin, the president of the Anchorage Coalition of Municipal Unions, called Johnston’s proposal “AO-37 lite.” (read article)

Boeing loses unfair labor case: NLRB rules in favor of union
By Ben Miller, May 16, 2014, Puget Sound Business Journal
Boeing Co. shouldn’t have videotaped peaceful union marchers in 2012, a National Labor Relations Board administrative judge decided Thursday. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) brought the case against Boeing, claiming its members were illegally videotaped while participating in peaceful marches at its plants in Renton, Everett and Portland, Oregon. An NLRB administrative judge agreed, and ruled that Boeing (NYSE: BA) should cease and desist videotaping “employees engaged in workplace marches and rallies and/or near its property.” “This ruling is a searing indictment of the illegal intimidation tactics Boeing uses against its own employees” said Ray Goforth, SPEEA executive director, in a statement. Boeing told Reuters it didn’t know yet if it would appeal the decision. (read article)

Giant inflatable rat causes conflict between labor union, city officials
By Jim Collar, May 16, 2014, Gannett Wisconsin Media
A labor union claims Grand Chute officials took the air out of recent protests by threatening fines for the use of two large, inflatable characters while members were picketing on a public median. Town officials said traffic safety was at issue. Union leaders say it was a violation of their free speech rights. The Menasha-based Construction and General Laborer’s Union No. 330 filed a lawsuit in Green Bay’s U.S. District Court last month against the Town of Grand Chute. It stemmed from a town ordinance prohibiting free-standing, non-traffic signage on public rights-of-way. The town filed its response to the complaint on Wednesday. Protesters tethered down a rat balloon and one of a fat cat strangling a construction worker while picketing near a West College Avenue construction site in late March and early April. The picketers were protesting wages and benefits offered by the contractor working on the site of a future car dealership. (read article)

Obama NLRB Unconcerned by Threats of Violence During Union Elections
By Bill McMorris, May 15, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
The National Labor Relations Board has overturned a local NLRB ruling that called for a new unionization election after it was revealed that a pro-union employee had threatened to “start punching people in the face” if the union lost. Manorcare, a Pennsylvania rehabilitative facility, challenged a September unionization vote after discovering that several pro-union workers had threatened to assault co-workers and vandalize cars during a contentious campaign. The Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) won the election 34-32. The ruling came down in a 2-1 vote on April 29. An NLRB investigation confirmed that pro-union employee Lucy Keating did in fact tell her co-worker, Harriet Robinson, “if the union did not get in and employees started complaining about their working conditions, she was going to start punching people in the face.” The investigation also revealed that union supporter Juanita Davis told three co-workers that “if the union did not get in, she would do damage to people’s cars and cause bodily harm to employees who voted against the union.” While a local NLRB official found that the threats were grounds for a new election, the Obama-appointed board members ruled 2-1 that the threats did not amount to intimidation because Keating is short and Davis was “light-hearted.” (read article)

Auburn councilors, firefighters union to vote on new labor contract
By Greg Mason, May 15, 2014, Auburn Citizen
After more than a year of negotiations, Auburn officials and the city’s firefighters union may reach an agreement on a new labor contract. Councilors will vote on the terms and agreements of the contract during Thursday’s Auburn City Council meeting. Members of the Auburn Professional Firefighters 1446 will also vote that same day, said City Manager Doug Selby. Should both sides approve the contract, it would take effect retroactively on July 1, 2013 — the date the previous agreement expired — and continue for four years until 2017, according to the city manager. Selby could not disclose the exact terms of the new agreement Wednesday, saying a tentative agreement has yet to be signed between the two parties. In a budget proposal he submitted to Auburn councilors on May 1, the city manager assumed 0 percent raises for expired or expiring labor contracts. (read article)

Labor Union Bosses Call for Massive Layoffs
By Brett Healy, May 15, 2014, MacIver Institute
Once again, labor union bosses have organized fast food strikes all across the country, claiming they want workers to make $15 an hour and have the right to form a union. But, what do the union bosses really want? They want more of your hard-earned money for their unions from compulsory dues – no matter how many lose their jobs. I bet during all that organizing, union bosses forgot to tell workers about all the research that shows raising the minimum wage is a bad idea. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is trusted by Democrats and Republicans when it comes to fiscal policy analysis, released a report in February that shows 500,000 people would likely lose their jobs if the minimum wage was raised to $10.10 an hour. The CBO said it could be as high as one million jobs lost. If one million jobs could be lost under an increase to $10.10 an hour, just imagine how many hard-working parents, college students and teenagers would be fired if the minimum wage was hiked to $15 an hour. (read article)

The ugly civil war between two quasi-union workers centers gets uglier
By Eric Boehm, May 14, 2014, Watchdog.org
Like all good political theater does sooner or later, this fight could end up in court. The Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York, a workers’ center fighting for better wages and working condition in restaurants in the Big Apple, says they have been subject to a hostile takeover from by the Restaurant Opportunity Center United, a similar labor-organizing nonprofit that operates at the national level, which is seeking to take over the New York organization and force a merger against the wishes of ROC-NY leadership. (read article)

Fast Food Protests Spread Overseas
By Steven Greenhouse, May 14, 2014, New York Times
Even though fast food workers have staged several one-day strikes in the last 18 months, the protests have not swayed McDonald’s or other major restaurant chains to significantly raise their employees’ pay. So on Thursday, the fast food workers’ movement wants to broaden its reach as it pushes for a $15-an-hour wage that restaurant companies say is unrealistic. In addition to one-day strikes in 150 cities across the country, the movement’s leaders hope to take their cause global. They say support protests will take place in 80 cities in more than 30 countries, from Dublin to Venice to Casablanca to Seoul to Panama City. Over the last decade as American labor unions have declined in membership and power, they have increasingly turned to unions in Europe and Asia to help pressure companies overseas to stop battling organizing drives at their United States units. And now the fast food movement, underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, is embracing a similar strategy as it struggles to gain influence with the fast food giants. (read article)

Convention Center’s union tensions erupt
By Chris Hepp, May 14, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer
Labor turned on itself Monday, as the dispute over work rules at the Convention Center resulted in rival union leaders deriding one another. John Dougherty, leader of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, accused the Teamsters and Carpenters of failing the city and their members. William Hamilton, leader of Teamsters Local 107, called Dougherty “an embarrassment.” A spokesman for Local 8 of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters dismissed Dougherty as a union leader who crossed a picket line. The remarkable display of bitterness was triggered when leaders of three of the four unions still employed at the Convention Center personally shepherded their members across a picket line early Monday as the facility reopened under new work rules. The picketing unions, representing the Carpenters and Teamsters, later filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Convention Center management with the National Labor Relations Board. About 7:30 a.m., Dougherty of the IBEW, Sam Staten Jr. and Ryan Boyer of Laborers Local 332, and Michael Barnes of Stagehands Local 8 joined about 30 members of their unions going into the hall to begin work on exhibits for the 2014 BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology. They were jeered by about 30 Teamsters, who, along with the Carpenters, had been displaced from the center because their leaders did not sign new work rules by last week’s deadline. Monday was the first day of work with the Teamsters and Carpenters forced to the sidelines. Later, in interviews, Dougherty and Hamilton blamed each other for the clash among unions. (read article)

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