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Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

VW Plant’s Union Vote Could Be a Southern Labor Breakthrough
By Justin Bachman February 04, 2014, Businessweek
Workers at a Volkswagen AG (VOW:GR) auto plant in Tennessee will vote next week on union representation in an exercise being watched as a potential bellwether for labor organization efforts at other foreign-owned automakers in the South. The secret ballot, being held with the company’s cooperation from Feb. 12-14 at the Chattanooga sedan plant, would establish representation by the United Auto Workers and create a works council similar those used at every other VW plant, except for those in China. Works councils, common across German industry, are employee-elected bodies that help management resolve labor disputes and guide company decisions. “Some things under the traditional jurisdiction of the union would be overseen by the works council,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s regional president. “And until the workers actually sit down and negotiate that configuration, it’s hard to say what that would look like.” The vote comes after several months of negotiations between the union and Volkswagen officials in which the German company hasn’t moved to oppose labor organizers. Frank Fischer, chairman and chief executive officer of Volkswagen Chatttanooga, said in a statement that the company is “committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.” VW considers labor-management cooperation a competitive advantage, and the company has said it concluded that the creation of a works council in the U.S. would require union representation at the plant. (read article)

Tea Party teams with union leaders to fight Obama’s trade plan
By Alexander Bolton, February 4, 2014, The Hill
Normally the bitterest of enemies, labor unions and the Tea Party are reaching out to each other to defeat President Obama’s trade agenda. The groups are at separate poles when it comes to taxes, ObamaCare and who should be the next president, but they agree that making it easier for the administration to negotiate and win congressional approval of trade deals is a bad idea. “This is one of those issues that 90 percent of the left and 90 percent of the right agree on,” Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, said. Obama dismayed union allies last week when he called for Congress to pass trade promotion authority legislation in his State of the Union address. The authority, which was last given to former President George W. Bush, would prevent Congress from amending trade deals in exchange for the administration achieving specific negotiating objectives. It also would impose time limits on congressional consideration of trade agreements. The authority is thought to make it much easier to negotiate trade deals, because foreign partners have more certainty that the deals will become U.S. law. The AFL-CIO, Tea Party Nation and other groups privately acknowledged working together to stop a trade promotion authority law. Labor officials and Tea Party activists are working behind the scenes to build a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to block Obama’s priority. (read article)

Illinois union pension ‘victims’ double their money in four years
By Benjamin Yount, February 4, 2014, The Daily Journal
When Illinois’ coalition of labor unions sued over the state’s recent pension reforms, big public sector unions pointed to several current and retired workers as victims of the modest reforms. But a joint review by Illinois Watchdog and For the Good of Illinois of the salary and pensions shows these workers are anything but victims. “The people in the private sector just cannot match the salaries, the (perks) and the benefit packages offered by government,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois and its website OpenTheBooks.com. (read article)

Phoenix to halt all union ‘release time’
By Dustin Gardiner, February 4, 2014, The Arizona Republic
Phoenix employee-union leaders will no longer be allowed to engage in union activities on the taxpayers’ dime, city officials announced Monday in the wake of a court ruling that banned Phoenix police officers from doing union work while on duty. In a meeting with the city’s seven employee unions, acting City Manager Ed Zuercher said city attorneys had determined that the January ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper applies to all Phoenix labor groups, not just the police-officer union. Cooper’s ruling barred the heads of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association from holding permanent “release time” positions that allowed them to work full time on behalf of the union. She upheld an injunction that also prohibited rank-and-file members from using release-time hours for union activities, such as attending discipline hearings or lobbying on political issues. It’s the latest blow to employee groups fighting a 2011 lawsuit filed by the conservative Goldwater Institute to end release time. Attorneys for Goldwater say release time is a violation of the state Constitution’s gift clause, which requires the public benefit from any public money the government spends. Phoenix allowed the practice in its 2012-14 labor agreements. But Cooper ruled the city must ensure all its agreements with the unions don’t violate the gift clause or state law. (read article)

Missouri Legislative committee hears two more bills that could diminish unions
By Casey Bischel, February 3, 2014, Colombia Missourian
Almost like a drum beat, Missouri legislators heard the third bill in three weeks that could dampen labor unions’ power. On Monday afternoon, the Workforce Development and Workforce Safety Committee entertained House Bill 1617, which would require certain labor unions to ask members to collect dues and make political contributions, and HB 1594, which would allow volunteer labor on public works projects. Dubbed the “paycheck protection” bill by supporters, House Bill 1617 would make public employee union members to provide a yearly written authorization to continue their membership and require unions to ask for consent from its members to make political contributions. Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who sponsored the bill, left out “first responders,” including nurses, EMTs and law enforcement for simplicity, she said. Those in favor of the bill said the measure would make it easier for people to stop supporting union activities that they disagree with, such as political endorsements. (read article)

The Mayor and the Unions
Editorial, New York Times, February 3, 2014
For Mayor Bill de Blasio, this is the month that the civic conversation shifts from lofty goals and progressive agenda setting — and, let’s hope, snow plowing — to the gloomier and more combative subject of money. On Feb. 12, the mayor is scheduled to present his first budget, a preliminary document that will say a lot about his priorities for the coming fiscal year. Looming over it, a horizon’s worth of storm clouds ready to burst, is the challenge he warned of last week in Albany: negotiating new contracts with nearly all the city’s labor unions. Mr. de Blasio likes to talk about the city’s yawning “chasm” of social and economic inequality, which he has pledged his mayoralty to closing. But there is another chasm close at hand. In one of his last acts as mayor, Michael Bloomberg declared that he was leaving a balanced budget. That sketchy assertion relied heavily on one-shot revenues and overlooked uncertainty about cuts in federal aid, the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and, most of all, more than 150 bargaining units, representing about 300,000 city employees, that are working on expired contracts, some for five or six years. The unions have demanded retroactive pay totaling more than $7 billion. To pay even part of that, never mind raises going forward, could greatly strain financing for city services, not to mention Mr. de Blasio’s big ambitions in areas like affordable housing, health care and new initiatives for the poor and dispossessed. (read article)

Volkswagon Asks for Fast Vote on UAW Ties
By Neal Boudette, February 3, 2014, Wall Street Journal
Volkswagen AG is going to allow employees at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant to vote later this month on whether to unionize under an agreement it worked out with the United Auto Workers union. In an unusual move, the auto maker petitioned the U.S. National Labor Relations Board to conduct the vote. Balloting will take place between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14. The NLRB oversees private-sector labor elections and union decertifications. If workers vote to accept the UAW in Chattanooga, it would be a dramatic turn for the U.S. South, which has long resisted organized labor and has used its antiunion stance to attract several foreign-owned auto makers. Several auto makers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, have for years resisted organizing efforts by the UAW at U.S. auto plants and parts factories. The companies typically bar the UAW from campaigning inside their plants, and push for longer campaigning periods to give antiunion workers and groups more time to rally opposition. Volkswagen, which opened the $1 billion Chattanooga plant in 2011, has for months been in talks with the UAW aimed at establishing some kind of formal representation at the 3,200-worker facility. (read article)

Tennessee fastest growing state for union membership
February 3, 2014, KnoxvilleBiz.com
Tennessee may be the Volunteer State, but a growing share of its workers are organizing to get better pay and working conditions. Last year, Tennessee had the fastest rate of growth in union membership of any state, according to new government figures. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 31,000 more Tennesseans were members of labor unions in 2013 than in the previous year, swelling the ranks of organized labor in the state by 25 percent last year and boosting union rolls to the highest level in nearly a decade. Georgia and Alabama were close behind Tennessee in the growth rate for union membership with union rolls growing in each state by more than 22 percent last year. BLS estimates Georgia added 38,000 union members last year and Alabama added another 37,000 union members during 2013. (read article)

Labor unions finance GOP rift with tea party
February 2, 2014, Bloomberg
A Republican group promoting pro- business candidates as it battles the tea party in primary campaigns is being financed mostly by labor unions, one of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies.
Defending Main Street, a super-political action committee aligned with the Washington-based Republican Main Street Partnership, received more than 90 percent of its $845,000 in donations last year from labor groups, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The group is led by former Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican who had good relations with labor in Congress. He voted for a minimum wage increase, the 2009 auto bailout and a bill making it easier to organize a union. That record and LaTourette’s new alliance with labor though the super-PAC is drawing scoffs from leaders of the small- government tea party movement. (read article)

Obama’s NLRB Rattles Employers by Ordering Printer to Keep Union
By Jim Efstathiou Jr. January 31, 2014, Bloomberg
When a majority of its press operators decided to quit the Teamsters, Pacific Publishing Co. in Seattle immediately stopped negotiating with the union. The Teamsters complained to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, where the agency’s general counsel sided with the union. He asked the board to give the labor group more time to persuade the unhappy members to return to the fold. Employer groups say the decision shows the board, operating at full strength for the first time since President Barack Obama took office five years ago, is tilting toward unions. That matters because the board is likely to take up a series of issues with potentially far-reaching impact, from the status of collective bargaining agreements after a corporate takeover to whether union organizers can use a company’s e-mail. “The stars seem aligned in favor of labor organizations for really the first time in over a decade.” Steven Bernstein, a labor attorney in Tampa, Florida, who represents management, said in an interview. Employers “should be very anxious.” The board reached full strength last year after a two-year standoff with Republicans who blocked Obama nominees, threatening to leave the five-member panel with too few members for a quorum. (read article)

Labor union officials say Obama betrayed them in health-care rollout
By Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger, January 31, 2014, Washington Post
Labor leaders who have spent months lobbying unsuccessfully for special protections under the Affordable Care Act warned this week that the White House’s continued refusal to help is dampening union support for Democratic candidates in this year’s midterm elections. Leaders of two major unions, including the first to endorse Obama in 2008, said they have been betrayed by an administration that wooed their support for the 2009 legislation with promises to later address the peculiar needs of union-negotiated insurance plans that cover millions of workers. Their complaints reflect a broad sense of disappointment among many labor leaders, who say the Affordable Care Act has subjected union health plans to new taxes and mandates while not allowing them to share in the subsidies that have gone to private insurance companies competing on the newly created exchanges. After dozens of frustrating meetings with White House officials over the past year, including one with Obama, a number of angry labor officials say their members are far less likely to campaign and turn out for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. (read article)

Why Alt-Labor Groups Are Making Employers Mighty Nervous
By Lane Windham, January 30, 2014, The American Prospect
A growing minimum wage movement indicates that despite low union membership statistics, labor’s future isn’t as dire as some in the business world might hope. Union membership remained steady last year—steady at its near-hundred-year low. A mere 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are union members, as are 11.3 percent of U.S. workers overall, according to figures released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.) Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—“alt-labor” activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions? Consider those striking fast food workers you’ve been reading about, the ones calling for a $15 an hour wage. Their numbers are not counted in the union membership figures. How about those Wal-Mart workers who struck for Black Friday and just won a key court case? Uncounted. What about the day laborers who joined any one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide? You got it, not included. Neither are the restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers or domestic workers, all of whom are organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions. (read article)

Cuomo receives harsh criticism from legislators, labor union leaders during rally
By Kyle Hughes, January 29, 2014, Troy Record
A public employees union rally Wednesday opposing the closure of Mt. McGregor and other prisons unleashed a torrent of criticism and insults directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was called a dictator, a moron and a monkey. The rally, attended by both Republican and Democratic legislators, exposed the raw feelings toward Cuomo after three years of cuts and retrenchments in the state workforce, along with the efforts to hold down state spending and close underutilized state prisons and psychiatric hospitals. “Gov. Cuomo, can you hear us now?” PEF President Susan Kent told hundreds of cheering state workers. “And this is our message: Stop doing these drive-by breaks in service, diminishing services, dismantling services, not including the legislators. “This is an elected branch of government. This is not government by fiat,” Kent added. “You are not a sole dictator here and we will not stand for it.” (read article)

Statement From City Manager Bill Workman: Status of Labor Relations and Complaints Against the City Manager
Posted by Nicole Mooradian, January 28, 2014, Redondo Beach Patch
DATE: Jan. 14, 2014, TO: Mayor & Council Members, FROM: Bill Workman, City Manager, SUBJECT: Status of Labor Relations and Complaints Against the City Manager. The City of Redondo Beach maintains a healthy and safe workplace for its employees. Our employees are provided with the appropriate tools, training, equipment, vehicles, goals and leadership to do their jobs in serving the community. The City Council has done an excellent job making financial and policy decisions to create an enviable quality of life for residents. We are a high achieving organization delivering quality services to the citizenry everyday with integrity and ethics. Our organization is led by a terrific set of department heads working together as a management team. Redondo Beach is recognized as one of the best managed cities in Los Angeles County. Together, the City Council and your labor relations negotiation team have been actively involved for many months seeking wage and benefit agreements with the City’s five individual employee bargaining units. Each of the bargaining units rejected the 3% compensation Last-Best-Final offers. (read article)

Illinois labor unions sue over plan to cut pensions
By Doug Finke, January 28, 2014, State Journal-Register
A coalition of public employee unions Tuesday filed their long-awaited lawsuit seeking to overturn the pension reform measures passed late last year.We Are One Illinois, which has fought pension reform for months, charged in the lawsuit that the reforms are an unconstitutional diminishment of pension benefits. “The lawsuit makes clear that pension theft is not only unfair, but it’s clearly unconstitutional,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan in a statement. “The legislature and governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs.” The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Sangamon County, a day before Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to deliver his state of the state speech. In that speech, Quinn is expected to cite pension reform as a significant achievement in his administration. The lawsuit lists as plaintiffs 25 active and retired members of the Teachers Retirement System, State Universities Retirement System and State Employees Retirement System. Like other lawsuits that have been filed, the plaintiffs say the pension changes will harm them and are not allowed under the state constitution. However, unlike the other lawsuits, the union filing details just how much financial loss is faced by each of the plaintiffs and what parts of the pension reform plan are the cause. “Those plaintiffs who are current employees teach our children, care for the sick and disabled, protect us from harm and perform myriad other essential services for Illinois and its citizens,” the lawsuit says. “Those plaintiffs who already have retired similarly dedicated their careers to the men, woman and children of Illinois. And each faithfully has contributed to his or her respective pension system the substantial portion of their paychecks the pension code requires.” (read article)

Supreme Court Labor Decisions Could Shake NLRB To Its Core.
By Hector Barreto, January 28, 2014, Forbes
In the past few weeks, the United States Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in two major cases revolving around issues that are near and dear to Big Labor’s heart. It has been widely speculated by the media if the high court hands down unfavorable decisions for the unions it could hasten the decline they have been experiencing for years despite the favorable actions undertaken by the Obama Administration. Did Obama Sidestep The Constitution With Recess Appointments The The NLRB? The more prominent of the two cases is National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, in which a bottling company from Yakima, Washington is challenging an adverse decision made by the Obama Labor Board on the grounds that the so-called independent agency lacked a quorum because three of its members were unconstitutionally recess appointed. The lawsuit alleges that when President Obama made the appointments, the U.S. Senate was in session convening regularly in pro forma sessions. According to the plaintiffs, the appointments were not lawful because the President cannot determine for a co-equal branch of government when it is and is not in session. The President’s motive was to completely sidestep the Senate’s constitutional duty of advising and consenting on high-level nominations. To be clear, no other president in American history has taken this step. Only President Obama made the decision to unilaterally sideline the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of placing three individuals on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), two of whom are known as allies of organized labor, a special interest that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in his national campaigns. (read article)

Union group sues to overturn Illinois pension reform law
January 28, 2014, Reuters
A coalition of public worker labor unions filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to overturn a new Illinois law aimed at reducing a $100 billion unfunded pension liability. The class-action lawsuit, filed by the We Are One Illinois coalition in Sangamon County Circuit Court in the state capital of Springfield, claims the law violates the Illinois Constitution, which stipulates that public worker pensions are contracts that the state cannot diminish or impair. The law, which was enacted in December but does not take effect until June, reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions, raises retirement ages and limits the salaries on which pensions are based. The unions’ lawsuit comes a day before Democratic Governor Pat Quinn gives his state of the state address, in which he is expected to highlight progress on tackling a pension funding problem that helped drop Illinois’ credit ratings to the lowest levels among states. The litigation also comes ahead of a $1 billion general obligation bond sale the state has scheduled for Feb. 6. (read article)

New labor union courts college football players
By Amanda Becker, January 28, 2014, Reuters
A new labor union is being formed for U.S. college athletes, and football players at Northwestern University in Chicago are looking to get onboard, the College Athletes Players Association announced Tuesday. An “overwhelming majority” of Northwestern’s scholarship football players have notified the U.S. National Labor Relations Board that they are seeking representation with CAPA, the group said in a statement. The filing of the petitions is a preliminary step that could lead to the student athletes joining what is believed to be the first labor organization of its kind, with backing from the United Steelworkers union. CAPA’s founder and president is Ramogi Huma, a former University of California-Los Angeles football player who previously founded the National College Players Association to advocate for college athletes. The NCPA backed a first-of-its-kind law in California that required colleges in the state who get more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue to pay for athletes’ sports-related medical care, among other student protections. (read article)

Pennsylvania labor unions fill state Capitol Rotunda in defense of union rights
By Mark Pynes, January 28, 2014, Pennsylvania Live
After seeing labor union rights erode in Wisconsin and Michigan, labor union members from across Pennsylvania took over the state Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to say they will not let that happen here. More than a thousand firefighters, police officers, boilermakers, sheet metal workers, teachers, electrical workers and others came out in force to ward off what they see as the start of an all-out attack on workers’ rights. Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that would bar unions from being able to negotiate the collection of dues through payroll deduction. This would force unions to collect dues directly from members, which is anticipated would weaken union support. But the speeches made by various union members and labor supporters made it clear that they see these bills as part of a bigger movement to take away workers’ rights and silence labor’s voice in Pennsylvania. “They think we will sit back and watch as our brothers and sisters in employee unions are attacked. They think we will remain silent as they insult the entire labor movement in Pennsylvania,” said Danny Drumm, an Altoona firefighter to an at-times raucous crowd. “We won’t let that happen here.” (read article)

Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Northwestern football players seek to join labor union
By Teddy Greenstein and Chris Hine, January 28, 2014, Chicago Tribune
Kain Colter called Tuesday a “historic day,” one that began with a 7:45 a.m. meeting with Pat Fitzgerald in Evanston. Colter informed the Northwestern coach what lay ahead — a news conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago where Colter would become the face of a new movement. For the first time in the history of college sports, athletes are asking to be represented by a labor union. ESPN.com first reported the story Tuesday morning. Colter was joined by Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association. “Despite the progress NCPA has made, college athletes continue to be subject to unjust and unethical treatment in NCAA sports despite the extraordinary value they bring to their universities,” said Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA. “They’re too often left to pay for medical expenses during and after their college careers, they can be stripped of their scholarship for any reason, including injury.” Huma filed the petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board to recognize a new union, the College Athletes Players Association. (read article)

Illinois Labor Unions Sue Over Plan to Cut Pensions
By Kerry Lester, January 28, 2014, ABC News
Some of the largest public labor unions in Illinois filed a long-awaited lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new pension reform law, a move that could delay implementation of the landmark measure and have major ramifications in upcoming elections. On the eve of a State of the State address by Gov. Pat Quinn, who faces a tough re-election campaign, lawyers for the We Are One Illinois coalition of unions filed the lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court on behalf of two dozen retired employees. The lawsuit, which follows others already filed by retirees, argues the pension bill approved by the Legislature and Quinn signed more than a month ago violates a clause of the state constitution that says pension benefits may not be “diminished or impaired.” It also asks the court to stop the law from taking effect until the case is decided. Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the suit “makes it clear that pension theft is not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional.” “The Legislature and governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs,” Carrigan said.” Promises must be kept, and the rule of law must prevail over politics.” (read article)

Labor Unions Pack Pennsylvania Capital Over Paycheck Bill
By Marc Levy, January 28, 2014, Pottstown Mercury
Labor unions are widening their fight over legislation in Pennsylvania that aims to prevent the state and local governments from deducting union dues and union political action committee contributions from the paychecks of unionized workers. A raucous union rally packed the Capitol Rotunda so tightly Tuesday that police forced many more union demonstrators to wait outside in freezing cold. Members of private- and public-sector unions showed up to assail the legislation as an “attack on workers’ rights” led by out-of-state billionaires and conservative groups that don’t disclose their donors. No vote on identical House and Senate bills has been scheduled in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democrats are opposed to it. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says he’d sign it, while top House and Senate Republicans have been noncommittal. (read article)

De Blasio asks pols to approve pre-K plan, says $2.5B surplus is for unions
By Glenn Blain, January 27, 2014, New York Daily News
In his first appearance as mayor before an Albany committee, de Blasio admitted that the city’s $2.5 billion surplus is targeted to cover yet-to-be negotiated contracts with unions, and asked state legislators to instead approve his plan to fund pre-K with a tax on those earning $500,000 or more. Forget about using the city budget surplus to fund universal prekindergarten — it’s going to be needed for pay for deals with labor unions, Mayor de Blasio told legislators Monday. In his first direct admission that the $2.5 billion surplus is targeted to cover yet-to-be negotiated pacts with the unions, the mayor told state lawmakers that Albany should instead approve his plan to fund pre-K with a tax on the wealthy. De Blasio warned that having “300,000 employees without a contract — by definition that’s going to add additional fiscal stresses.” All the city unions, including cops and teachers, are working without a contract, most for at least four years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to negotiate any raises unless the unions made concessions such as employee contributions to health care costs. Settling the contracts could cost taxpayers as much as $7 billion if the unions get retroactive pay hikes. (read article)

Groups plan to form ballot campaign to raise Michigan’s minimum wage
By Chad Livengood, January 27, 2014, Detroit News
A coalition of workers’ groups plan to form a ballot campaign committee Monday to consider pursuing a statewide vote in November on raising Michigan’s minimum wage. The Raise Michigan ballot committee will be formed with the state Bureau of Elections and is still finalizing its proposed increase of the $7.40-an-hour minimum wage, said Frank Houston, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which is part of the coalition. The group will likely seek a new minimum wage ranging from $9 to $10.10 an hour, Houston said. To qualify for the Nov. 5 ballot, the group would need to gather a minimum of 258,088 valid voter signatures for an initiated law or more than 322,609 signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment. Houston said the group hasn’t decide which electoral path to pursue. The ballot campaign is being sparked by inaction in Congress and the state Legislature on proposals seeking a raise in the minimum wage, which last increased in Michigan in 2008. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer of Battle Creek has proposed a minimum wage hike to $9.25 an hour, making it a major part of his campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. (read article)

National Labor Relations Board targets Tennessee
By Matt Patterson, January 27, 2014, Fox News
The United Auto Workers (UAW) — having sucked Detroit dry — is looking South for fresh blood. The union lusts after Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, tucked like a gleaming jewel among the mountains and waterways of Southeastern Tennessee. And it’s getting more-than-a little help from friends in Washington in its push to organize the facility. Late last week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dismissed complaints from Chattanooga VW workers that the union had illegally used coercion and misrepresentation to gain signatures on union authorization cards. The UAW has been a left-wing ATM machine for decades. After the NLRB news broke, word spread like wildfire in the community that the long-threatened union election was imminent. Union officials would love for the process to unfold quickly — they don’t want pro-company employees to have the time to make their case to co-workers — and Obama’s NLRB is falling over itself to oblige. No wonder: The UAW has been a left-wing ATM machine for decades. In 2012 alone its political spending totaled $14.7 million, including $1.7 million on mostly liberal candidates, Barack Obama among them. (read article)

Conservative groups, unions battle over pay in Pennsylvania
By Marc Levy, January 26, 2014, Washington Times
The hottest political potato in Pennsylvania’s Capitol this month is a bill that has drawn a network of conservative groups and labor unions into a clash over how tens of millions of dollars in dues payments are collected from hundreds of thousand public-sector workers. The bitter confrontation comes before any vote is even scheduled. But it is an election year when Republicans are tasked with defending their control of the state government, and the bill’s passage could weaken labor unions’ ability to marshal campaign cash to unseat perhaps the most endangered Republican of all, Gov. Tom Corbett. Democrats are dead-set against it. Stuck in the middle could be moderate Republican lawmakers while there is still time for a more conservative challenger to get on the ballot for the May 20 primary election. To an extent, the battle in Pennsylvania is a proxy for a wider war playing out nationally as conservative groups that often do not disclose their donors target labor unions. On Wednesday, Corbett said he would sign the bill, and then put the onus on leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass it. (read article)

Labor Unions Financing Republican Rift With Tea Party
By Greg Giroux, January 26, 2014, Bloomberg
A Republican group promoting pro-business candidates as it battles the Tea Party in U.S. primary campaigns is being financed mostly by labor unions, one of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies. Defending Main Street, a super-political action committee aligned with the Washington-based Republican Main Street Partnership, received more than 90 percent of its $845,000 in donations last year from labor groups, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The group is led by former Ohio Representative Steve LaTourette, a Republican who had good relations with labor in Congress. He voted for a minimum wage increase, the 2009 auto bailout and a bill making it easier to organize a union. That record and LaTourette’s new alliance with labor though the super-PAC is drawing scoffs from leaders of the small-government Tea Party movement. “It’s not surprising that a liberal Republican who supported big labor’s agenda in Congress would raise money from his allies in big labor,” Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Washington-based Club for Growth, said in a telephone interview. “It ain’t exactly dogs and cats living together. It’s more like birds of a feather.” In an odd pairing, given its funding source, Main Street is working alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, to defend Republican candidates deemed more practical and economic-minded over the Tea Party recruits. (read article)

Big money from labor and corporate elite flood into Illinois governor’s race
Melissa Harris, January 26, 2014, Chicago Tribune
When Bruce Rauner contributed more than $250,000 of his own money to his campaign for governor, it eliminated restrictions on the amount of money people could donate to his campaign or the campaigns of his competitors. In other words, a fundraising free-for-all. And a Tribune review of donors who have given $100,000 or more shows that the money race thus far boils down to organized labor versus Chicago’s corporate elite. So far, only one person has donated $100,000 or more to Gov. Pat Quinn: William Brandt Jr., a bankruptcy expert and chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority. Brandt and Quinn have been friends since they were teenagers at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. (read article)

De Blasio pre-K tax called ‘charade’ for unions
By Aaron Short and Carl Campanile, January 25, 2014, New York Post
The clash between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over pre-K funding is turning into an all-out brawl, with allies of the governor claiming the mayor is pushing higher taxes to fund new contracts for his labor buddies, sources told The Post. “We’re hearing chatter from people that de Blasio wants to raise the income tax on the rich to use it any way he wants — including paying for labor contracts and raises,” said a Democratic Party insider close to Cuomo. “The people who are pushing this are from the Working Families Party. De Blasio is married to them.” The Cuomo ally noted the WFP is basically run by the most leftist leaders in the labor movement — the Transport Workers Union, the Communication Workers of America and United Federation of Teachers, among others. (read article)

Here’s what big labor got wrong about my union dues bill
By Rep. Bryan Cutler January 24, 2014, Pennsylvania Live
For a bill that has been around in some form for each of the last three terms, legislation I’m sponsoring that would bar state government from collecting union dues has attracted a great deal of interest from both supporters and those who oppose the bill. Earlier this month, Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AFL-CIO, described the bill in a piece that appeared on PennLive as the opening salvo on the “war on workers.” I thought it best to cut through much of the rhetoric coming from both sides and explain what the bill does and does not actually do. For me, the entire bill is about one fundamental question: Should government be in the business of collecting political money? I agree that the bill as drafted would prohibit the collection of all political contributions by government on behalf of public sector unions. In addition, it would prohibit the collection of dues money for all unions, except public safety employees, since a portion of that money can also be used in the political process. What the bill does not do is change the relationship or requirement between the individual union members and their union. Members would still be responsible for their dues or fair share fees, the Commonwealth would simply no longer collect and distribute them. (read article)

Union membership fell in Missouri, rose in Illinois in 2013
January 24, 2014, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The share of American workers belonging to labor unions held steady in 2013, remaining unchanged at 11.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. It was a different story in Missouri and Illinois, however. In Missouri, 8.6 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2013, down from 8.9 percent in 2012. By contrast, 15.8 percent of Illinois workers were union members last year, up from 14.6 percent in 2012. Overall, 14.5 million workers belong to unions. That’s down from 17.7 million in 1983, the year for which comparable data were first available, the agency said. American labor has seen a steep decline in its membership for years, and the report released Friday suggests that — at least for now — the diminishing membership has halted. The yearly report provided a snapshot of union membership by state as well as a count of public- and private-sector union membership. (read article)

Labor Union Membership Rate Stays Steady in 2013
By Melanie Trottman, January 24, 2014, Wall Street Journal
The percentage of public-sector workers who belong to unions fell last year but rose in the private sector, as unions scored gains in construction, manufacturing, health-care and food service industries. In a twist, the 7.3 million private-sector workers who belonged to a union in 2013 edged out those in the public sector—7.2 million—for the first time in several years, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Overall, union membership rates didn’t budge from the 11.3% level it was in 2012 when it took the biggest drop in six years. Job losses in the public sector, once a bright spot for union growth, have taken a toll on unions in recent years. Unions lost roughly 120,000 public-sector members in 2013, a 1.6% drop from 2012, the report said. “For years, the decline in private-sector membership has been covered over by the increase in the public-sector unionism,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “Now the labor movement cannot count on public employees to be the engine of union growth anymore” as cities and states continue to face budget constraints, he said. (read article)

Oceanside police union is out of touch
Editorial, January 23, 2014, San Diego Union-Tribune
The Oceanside Police Officers’ Association still doesn’t get it. Despite the obvious need for reform of a pension system that is clearly unsustainable, the union that represents the city’s nearly 200 rank-and-file officers refuses to accept a new contract from the city similar to agreements already approved by Oceanside firefighters and police management. Oceanside police officers, already the highest-paid in the county, are seeking a 3 percent pay hike, The city is rightly balking at that and also wants to cap health-care contributions at current levels. In addition, and most important, the city wants to stop paying a portion of the employees’ share of retirement contributions because that inflates pension payments even more. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System considers the 9 percent payment compensation and thus factors it in when calculating pensions. Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern says that could cost the city up to $320,000 per retiree in additional pension costs. (read article)

The State Worker: Case before high court could shake public unions
By Jon Ortiz, January 23, 2014, Sacramento Bee
Maybe you haven’t heard about Harris v. Quinn, but you will, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling dooms public-employee collective bargaining. The legal storm started a few years ago when Pamela Harris and eight other Illinois in-home care workers said they didn’t want SEIU’s representation and shouldn’t have to pay any money to the union. Their lawsuit against the state and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn challenged nearly 40 years of case law that says unions can’t compel payment for political activities but can charge for negotiating contracts, since all workers benefit from collective bargaining. Attorney William L. Messenger argued in court on Tuesday that even those payments violate First Amendment free-association rights because government unions exist to influence public policy. In Illinois for example, in-home care workers earned $7 per hour with no benefits before unionizing. They now earn $11.65 per hour with health and other benefits, compensation paid with public Medicaid dollars administered by the state according to a contract negotiated with SEIU. (read article)

Are Union-Free Strikes Protected?
January 23, 2014, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
In June 2013, we issued a client alert discussing the efforts of unions and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to target the primarily union-free big box retailer and fast food industries. After describing how Target had come under scrutiny from the NLRB, the client alert detailed how the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the UFCW-backed group “OUR Walmart” had been coordinating strikes and filing charges with the NLRB against Walmart. The client alert then foreshadowed: “[g]iven the Board’s recent penchant for union activism, do not be surprised if it takes a close look at Walmart’s policies and practices in the coming months.” As predicted, the Board filed a consolidated complaint against Walmart on January 14, 2014 alleging the union-free retailer violated workers’ rights in response to coordinated strikes across 13 states. The complaint alleges dozens of Walmart supervisors and one corporate executive threatened, disciplined, surveilled, and/or terminated more than 60 workers in response to the union-free strikes. The complaint is significant for two reasons: (1) the Board is taking the position that union-free workers have a protectable right to strike; and (2) the Board is testing its position against the nation’s largest employer. The Board views the union-free strikes as a form of protected concerted activity, and its press release states that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees employees the right to “act together to try to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union.” (read article)

Good for all workers? Justices debate union dues, bargaining and free speech
By Bill Mears, January 21, 2014, CNN
The Supreme Court appeared cautiously willing to uphold its decades-old precedent giving labor unions the power to collect dues for collective bargaining from public sector workers, even those who choose not to join the union. That could avoid a major political upheaval in the national labor movement. But a number of justices indicated Tuesday during oral arguments they may rule more narrowly on the case at hand — and exempt some home-care health providers from being designated “state employees” and forced under Illinois law to pay those fees. It is an economic and legal issue sharply dividing the business community and its allies on one side — with the unions, some states, and the Obama administration on the other.
At issue is whether the free speech and association rights of non-union personal assistants are being violated when Illinois negotiates exclusively with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) over wages, hours and working conditions. (read article)