Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

US Supreme Court Deals Devastating Blow In Public Union Pension Case

By Connor D. Wolf, March 1, 2016, Daily Caller

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to New Jersey labor unions Monday by declining to hear their case against Gov. Chris Christie for cutting state pensions. The former Republican presidential candidate cut state pensions in 2014 as part of a reform bill designed to address budget problems in the state. A group of public-sector unions, however, were quick to file a lawsuit to stop the reforms. They argued the cuts violated a contractual agreement the state had to fund retirement. The highest court declined to hear the case after a nearly two-year legal fight. “Now it’s time to return to the hard work of coming together to find a real, long-term solution to make our pension system and public employee health benefit costs affordable and sustainable,” Christie spokeswoman Joelle Farrell told The Associated Press. “All parties need to come back to the table and work on the governor’s plan to find a solution that is fair for all taxpayers.” (read article)

The Labor Prospect: Can Unions Sell Buyer’s Remorse in 2016?

By Justin Miller, March 1, 2016, American Prospect

Can labor unions withstand huge losses of membership and money and retain political relevance? That’s the multimillion-dollar question that organized labor is currently grappling with in several states as they try channel Republicans’ recent crippling legislative attacks into a political opportunity to elect Democrats in 2016’s state legislative races. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has unleashed a devastatingly effective anti-union offensive since he was first elected in 2010, beginning with his gutting of public-sector collective bargaining rights and ending (so far) with his passage of a right-to-work law. Union membership rates have fallen drastically, most noticeable among public-sector unions. With less dues money and lowered membership, Wisconsin unions’ political power has diminished. As The New York Times reports, “the shift has shaken the order of election-year politics.” (read article)

Union president claims Stop & Shop management stormed out of negotiations

By Jim Kinney, February 29, 2016, Mass Live

The contract between Stop & Shop supermarkets and its unionized workers expired this weekend without a new pact in place. Daniel P. Clifford, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 in Springfield, told his members that supermarket management “stormed out” of a negotiating session after rejecting a union pay proposal. But negotiations continue in Rhode Island, Clifford wrote. Unlike the Boston-area local, Clifford didn’t have a strike vote this weekend for Western Massachusetts Stop & Shop workers saying a such a move creates unnecessary fear this early in the process. But he said the union will strike if necessary. Earlier in February, Stop & Shop advertised for replacement workers. It does so every three years as the contract comes up for renegotiation without ever having to use them, according to Clifford. The union represents 35,000 Stop & Shop workers across Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, he said. (read article)

Obama’s Pro-Union Labor Board Trampled Union Members’ Rights

By Bill McMorris, February 29, 2016, Washington Free Beacon

President Obama’s pro-union labor board has been sanctioned for bargaining in bad faith with its own union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal government’s top labor arbiter, was sanctioned by the Federal Labor Relations Authority for refusing to include its union in discussions about an office relocation. The union called for two days of bargaining over potential locations and office furniture, but labor officials found themselves ambushed with denials and counterproposals from the agency’s negotiating team. The union alleged that “the Agency unilaterally made decisions about the design and layout of the new headquarters” and refused to continue negotiations after the two-day session. Administrative law Judge Richard Pearson ruled that the agency used “arbitrary” deadlines to bypass union input and refused mediation in bad faith. “There was a strong potential for further and productive bargaining, if only the Agency had the patience to persist beyond its arbitrary deadline,” the ruling, which was first obtained by Politico, said. (read article)

Teachers could strike April 1 if pension pickup taken away

By Lauren Fitzpatrick, February 29, 2016, Chicago Sun Times

The Chicago Teachers Union will gear up to strike as soon as April 1, if Chicago Public Schools follows through on its threat to unilaterally cancel the 7 percent pension pickup it has made for decades, a top union official said Monday. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey made the comment just hours after 62 members of his union were laid off, a fraction of the number the union had feared. As the school district has ramped up pressure on the union — via layoffs — to sign off on a contract proposal to replace the one that expired last June, the CTU countered with its own threat of withholding labor in the middle of the second semester, earlier than previous predictions when parents might still support a teacher walkout. Sharkey said CPS gave 30-day notice of potential plans to stop making a 7 percent pension contribution for union members — in effect, a 7 percent pay cut — about 28 days ago. (read article)

Harvard Files Amicus Brief in Graduate Student Unionization Case

By Marina Bolotnikova, February 29, 2016, Harvard Magazine

Harvard and eight peer universities filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday urging the board not to require private universities to recognize graduate-student labor unions. The brief argues that the relationship between graduate students and universities should remain academic, not managerial, and that requiring universities to recognize student labor unions “would significantly damage private sector graduate education in this country.” Harvard joined Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth College, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale on the brief. Columbia University, the only Ivy League school that did not participate, is directly involved with a case now before the NLRB that could overturn existing precedent and force private universities to recognize labor unions formed by graduate students. The National Right to Work and Legal Defense Foundation, a conservative organization that opposes mandatory union membership, also filed a brief against student unionization in the case. (read article)

With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions

By Monica Davey, February 27, 2016, New York Times 

Gov. Scott Walker’s foray into the Republican presidential field ended months ago, but he may yet have sway over the outcome. Mr. Walker led a push five years ago to cut collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers, saying he needed to solve a state budget gap. Since then, union membership has dropped precipitously. Long a labor stronghold, the state has lost tens of thousands of union members, leaving Wisconsin with a smaller percentage of union members than the national average, new federal figures show. The drop is most pronounced in the public sector: More than half of Wisconsin’s public workers were in unions before Mr. Walker’s cuts took effect. A little more than a quarter of them remain. The shift has shaken the order of election-year politics. Democrats, who most often have been the beneficiaries of money and ground-level help from the unions, said they were uncertain about what the coming elections would look like, and what forces could take the place of depleted labor groups. (read article)

Right-to-Work amendment would protect Alabama jobs from union coercion

By William Canary, February 25, 2016, Yellowhammer News

Article I of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution guarantees certain unique rights to our citizens. In addition to mirroring constitutional guarantees in the U.S. Bill of Rights, Alabama’s governing document bestows the right to have civil disputes heard in a court of law, the right to avoid imprisonment because of outstanding debts, and even the right to freely navigate public streams and waters. Missing among these, however, is one of the most important and fundamental rights for most of us – the right to work and provide for our families. The Alabama Legislature is currently working to correct that oversight. During a high-water mark of labor union activity more than 60 years ago, legislators in Montgomery noticed some disturbing trends. Non-union workers in certain plants, factories, and industries were being intimidated or pushed out by union members who wanted a “closed shop” workplace, and potential industrial prospects were reluctant to locate here in order to avoid the sometimes outrageous demands of organized labor. To combat these threats to our economic development progress, in 1953 the Legislature passed a right-to-work statute. (read article)

California State University faculty headed into confrontation with Democrats

By Guillaume Garnier, February 24, 2016, World Socialist Web

Tens of thousands of workers at the California State University system (CSU), who have faced years of declining real wages, are heading towards a confrontation with state officials and the Democratic Party. In October, 94.4 percent of the 23,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches authorized the California Faculty Association union (CFA) to call a strike at 23 CSU campuses. On February 8 the CFA said it would call limited work stoppages on April 13-15 and April 18-19. While faculty are concerned with high executive compensation, the growth of the administrative bureaucracy, and ever-rising fees for students, the crux of the struggle stems from workers’ demands for higher wages. The CSU Board of Trustees has rejected CFA proposals for a five percent general salary increase and instead has offered a derisory two percent raise, leading to a deadlock in negotiations. (read article)

California teacher tenure case going to appellate court

By Judy Lin, February 24, 2016, Fresno Bee

This week, a state appellate court will be asked to overturn a closely watched legal decision that said poor and minority school students in California have been denied their right to a proper education because of laws that prevent the dismissal of bad teachers. The case, Vergara v. California, was filed on behalf of nine students in 2012 by Students Matter, a nonprofit organization founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. The defendants include Gov. Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The state’s two largest teacher unions – the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – intervened with the defendants. In 2014, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed with Students Matter and struck down five state laws regarding teacher tenure, dismissal and layoffs. He wrote in his decision that “grossly ineffective teachers” cause a significant harm to students. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” he wrote. (read article)

How the birthplace of the U.S. labor movement just turned on its unions

By Lydia DePillis, February 24, 2016, Napa Valley Register

A dozen or so speeches into the debate over whether to pass a right-to-work law in West Virginia, with union members glaring their reproach from the galleries, Del. Lynwood Ireland stared at the red and the green buttons at the front of his broad, wooden desk. Ireland had spent the past few days listening intensely to businesses, unions, advocacy groups, and other delegates on the merits of making West Virginia the nation’s 26th right-to-work state — a stunning change of fortunes in a state that essentially gave birth to the modern labor movement. By releasing workers from the obligation to pay for the cost of negotiating and administering the union contracts that cover them, such laws have hastened the decline of organized labor elsewhere. Of the Republican’s constituents, about half told him to vote yes, and half to vote no. (read article)

The Impact Of Justice Scalia’s Passing On Pending Supreme Court Cases

By Tamar N. Dolcourt, February 24, 2016, Mondaq News Alerts

The country was shocked to hear of the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Legal scholars and political commentators have since written extensively on Justice Scalia’s contributions to the legal world and his sometimes polarizing opinions. Justice Scalia’s passing will doubtlessly have a significant impact on the Supreme Court, as will the eventual appointment of his replacement. Aside from the historical and political ramifications of Justice Scalia’s passing, there are also practical implications to consider on labor and employment issues. Several key labor and employment cases are scheduled to be heard this term, while others have been argued but the decisions have not yet been issued. What will happen to those cases? The Supreme Court can operate with eight justices. Sometimes, a justice must recuse him or herself for various reasons. (read article)

Unions pulling support from pro-TPP Democratic lawmakers

By John Wojcik, February 24, 2016, People’s World News

One of the many things union leaders discussed here Tuesday at a closed session of the AFL-CIO’s executive council was a decision to pull labor support from Democratic lawmakers who double-cross labor on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) international trade agreement. “It’s a question of, ‘do you have a Democrat who votes like a Republican or a Republican who votes like a Republican,” retired International Association of Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger told the People’s World during a break in the session yesterday. Union leaders reportedly discussed how lawmakers from coast to coast are already feeling the heat for voting the wrong way on trade. At least three unions–the Communications Workers, the Painters and the Machinists–said they have already totally cut support for the errant Dems who voted for passage of presidential fast track authority, paving the way for congressional consideration of what labor considers the job-killing TPP. (read article)

Pro-Clinton Union Pressured Labor Official To Back Out Of Sanders Event

By Dave Jamieson, February 23, 2016, Huffington Post

Supporters of Bernie Sanders gathered at a union hall in Seattle for a “Labor for Bernie” rally Sunday. Early in the event, attendees were told that one speaker wouldn’t be taking the podium as planned. Jeff Johnson, the head of the Washington State Labor Council, had been pressured not to speak at the Democratic presidential candidate’s event, an emcee told the crowd. A major international labor union had threatened to pull funding from Johnson’s group if he did, the emcee said. Johnson’s group is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the premiere labor federation in the U.S. The AFL-CIO has not yet endorsed anyone for president, and until it does so, state councils like Johnson’s are expected to stay in line and not publicly back any particular candidates. Johnson easily could have rankled some unions — ones backing Hillary Clinton, anyway — by appearing at a Sanders powwow. The union that allegedly pressured Johnson went unnamed at the rally. (read article)

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