Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

SEIU puts $3M into ballot fight with California hospitals

By Kathy Robertson, December 22, 2015, Sacramento Business Journal

In another sign that a 2014 truce is in danger, a powerful union for health care workers has launched a $3 million fund that could fund a new ballot battle with hospitals. Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West says it still has an agreement with the California Hospital Association to work on issues like Medi-Cal financing. “We are just preparing for all potential situations,” spokesman Sean Wherley said in an email. One of those options apparently includes moving ahead with a proposed November ballot initiative that would limit CEO pay, regulate charity care and cap hospital prices. The union dropped a similar effort in 2014 when it announced a “visionary agreement” with hospitals to jointly address issues of cost, efficiency and quality of care. A decision to turn up the heat with initiatives suggests the partnership is on the ropes or worse. The political fund is dedicated to making sure hospitals meet their responsibility to provide the best and most efficient care to patients and meet their responsibility to the health of the community, SEIU says. (read article)

Missouri legislature to push union pension transparency, labor regulations

By Travis Zimpfer, December 22, 2015, Missouri Times

Three state representatives met with union representatives to discuss a bill that would allow union members who pay into union pension funds to have access to the financial standing of those funds. Reps. Bill Lant, Holly Rehder and Rob Vescovo believe HB 1540, filed by Vescovo, will allow greater transparency for union members paying into pension funds. “This is a strong step in the right direction as we look for common ground where we can stand together to protect workers from bankrupt pension funds that will jeopardize their financial security during their retirement years,” Vescovo, R-Arnold, said. According to the Department of Labor, over 200 unions are currently in critical condition, meaning they have significant funding or liquidity issues. Unions in critical condition may not award lump sum distributions out of their pension and must create plans to rectify their financial problems.Vescovo added that the union leaders were receptive to this possible change. (read article)

U.S. labor board to challenge ATI lockout

By Rachel Fuerschbach, December 22, 2015, Union-Sun & Journal

Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s four-month long lockout of 2,200 workers at 12 plants across the United States, including the Allvac plant in Lockport, faces a legal challenge. The National Labor Relations Board’s regional director in Pittsburgh informed ATI and the United Steelworkers union on Dec. 18 that it will issue a complaint alleging that the four-month-long lockout, in the absence of a contract settlement, is illegal. The lockout began Aug. 15. The NLRB communications office said the agency is unsure when, exactly, the complaint will be issued, but once it is, it will be heard by an administrative law judge. “The regional director agreed with us on every major point that we made,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway said in a written statement. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from locking out workers over collective bargaining demands that do not relate to terms and conditions of employment. In the midst of negotiations on a contract to replace the one that expired in June, United Steelworkers says ATI quit bargaining on Aug. 6, presented the union with a “last, best and final” contract offer and demanded that the union accept it by Aug. 10. When USW did not recommend it to members, the company locked them out. (read article)

Report details abuses and resistance to reform at California prison

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga, December 21, 2015, Daily Kos

A recent report by California’s Inspector General details a culture of racism, abuse, and silence at one of the state’s maximum security prisons. According to the report, the most vulnerable inmates—primarily those with disabilities and those imprisoned for sex-related crimes—receive the brunt of violence and abuse at the High Desert State Prison in northeastern California, not far from Reno, Nevada. The report also notes that the violence meted out to inmates by correctional officers also occasionally touches fellow corrections officers. The culture of silence that exists among the officers is due to fear of retaliation for reporting misconduct. As horrible as the abuses are at the prison, equally as horrible is the finding by the Inspector General that “a labor organization opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could in any way adversely affect another officer.” That labor organization would be the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). (read article)

Fairbanks tussles with police union over labor contract

By Robert Hannon, December 21, 2015, Alaska Public Media

At its meeting last Monday, the Fairbanks City Council voted to challenge a recent ruling by the Alaska Labor Relations Agency. The agency says the city inappropriately reversed its approval of labor contract. The Fairbanks City Council originally ratified a contract with the Public Safety Employees Association. Then later suspended its rules to reject the contract. The Alaska Labor Relations Agency said that was unfair labor practice. City Attorney Paul Ewers filed an appeal in superior court two weeks ago. Last night the council said told Ewers to proceed with the appeal. The council clearly felt the contract’s 10 percent pay hike and cut in hours was too pricey. Councilman and former city mayor Jerry Cleworth also warned there are hidden costs associated with the contract, costs the General Fund couldn’t support. “If we start relying on those funds to fund day-to-day costs of the city, then we’re going to start spiraling down very rapidly because those funds will be exhausted.” Mayor Eberhart told the council going to court would hike the costs further if the city lost. He says the litigation further degrades morale in the ranks of city police. (read article)

United Auto Workers brings charges against Volkswagen at labor board over refusal to bargain

By Erik Schelzig, December 21, 2015, Star Tribune

The United Auto Workers is bringing charges against Volkswagen for refusing to bargain with a group of skilled workers who won a union vote at the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant in Tennessee earlier this month. The UAW’s Local 42 says in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board that a Volkswagen representative on Monday declined to recognize or bargain with the union. The federal labor panel last week certified the maintenance workers’ 108-44 vote in favor of being represented by the UAW. It was the first time the union had won a vote among workers at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South. Volkswagen opposed the creation of a bargaining unit for the group of workers who are responsible for repairing and maintaining machinery and robots at the Chattanooga plant. The company has announced plans to appeal the decision to allow the skilled tradesmen to create their own bargaining unit apart from the remaining 1,250 hourly production workers at the plant. (read article)

Tough Labor Talks at Steel Firms

By John W. Miller, December 20, 2015, The Wall Street Journal

The push by U.S. manufacturers to cut labor costs, especially for health care, is deepening the divide between three of the biggest U.S. steel companies and their main union. Contract talks, which are usually resolved by November, have dragged on months after their summer deadlines. Premium-free health-care packages are one of the last big perks awarded by the top tier of American manufacturers, including auto and steelmakers. But now, slowing demand for base materials, along with the rising cost of health care, is weeding out these packages for all but a few companies. Autoworkers in negotiations that concluded last month successfully held on to their labor-friendly deals. But steelworkers, whose industry is suffering as demand from China slows, are negotiating from a weaker position. (read article)

Ohio teachers union officials are paid twice as much as teachers

By Jason Hart, December 18, 2015, Watchdog

Ohio’s largest labor union is in the business of selling worker “solidarity,” and for union bosses, business is good. Ohio Education Association president Becky Higgins was paid $209,039 to preside over a union that took member dues and mandatory fees from 121,625 teachers during the fiscal year ending Aug. 31. Regular OEA dues for full-time teachers are $504 — $42 a month — in addition to local OEA chapter dues and $183 in National Education Association dues sent to NEA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Union staff and officers working for OEA’s Columbus headquarters were paid an average of $109,789 with money taken from teachers’ paychecks; Ohio teachers were paid an average of $55,916 during the 2013-14 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The average chief executive officer in Ohio is paid $183,640 — less than Higgins, whose job is to agitate for higher taxes to fund the public education system from which her living is siphoned. (read article)

Why The Uber, Lyft Driver Union Push Could Disrupt The Gig Economy

By Cole Stangler, December 18, 2015, International Business Times

A revolution is brewing in the so-called gig economy: As independent contractors, most workers for apps like Uber and Lyft lack the sorts of basic rights afforded to much of the American labor force. That’s going to change if a growing pack of legislators gets their way. Earlier this week, the Seattle City Council voted to extend collective bargaining rights to drivers for the popular ride-hailing companies. Now, a California lawmaker is preparing to introduce a similar bill covering an even larger group of independent contractors — not just those at Uber and Lyft, but workers for other popular on-demand platforms like TaskRabbit and Postmates. “If you look at the foundations of minimum wage and the eight-hour day, if you look at the foundations of retirement security, a lot of it came later through legislation, but it started through collective action in the workplace,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who plans to introduce her legislation in January. “I’m a believer.” (read article)

Time to evaluate and renovate American labor law

By John Raudabaugh, December 18, 2015, The Hill

Labor unions rose to prominence during the industrial age of the 1930s, a time when workplace safety was widely deemed secondary to economic output. It’s no coincidence then that American labor law is a relic of the New Deal era—when roughly one-third of the private sector was unionized. First came the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935, which clearly defined the right to unionize and recognized unfair labor practices on the part of employers. Then came the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which acknowledged that unions are responsible for many unfair practices of their own. Yet nearing the end of 2015—the 80th anniversary of the NLRA’s passage—national labor law is very much the same. Any attempt to update it has run aground, rendering the need for substantive reform more urgent than ever before. To fill the legislative void, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—first established by the NLRA—has become a pseudo-legislature of its own, issuing decisions and rules which not so much achieve viable reforms as they reflect the majority’s political bias.In recent years, the now Democrat-controlled NLRB has become a pro-union agency subjecting employers to crippling labor restrictions. (read article)

When a town stands up to unions

By Kristen McQueary, December 17, 2015, Chicago Tribune

Trustees in Lincolnshire, a small affluent suburb tucked along the Des Plaines River, voted this week to make their town a right-to-work zone — the first in Illinois. The new ordinance allows employees of private companies to opt out of unionization and forced paying of union dues. When labor contracts expire, the employees will be able to make a choice on rejoining the union. Or not. Think of the employee at a private nursing home who would rather pocket his dues money than forcibly give it to the union. Think of the driver for a delivery company who would rather cash her full paycheck than hand some of it over to the Teamsters. And remember this: It’s voluntary. Many employees will proudly stick with the union and continue paying dues. The difference is, it’s their choice. It’s fascinating how unions talk about empowering workers, but don’t want them to have the power to join or not. Unions obviously oppose right-to-work flexibility. They prefer the simpler route of mandatory dues-paying. They don’t want to address the possibility of a shrinking membership base. (read article)

2016 Ballot Effort to Privatize California Public Employee Pensions Faces Rocky Start, New Poll Finds

By Steven Rosenfeld, December 17, 2015, Alternet

The conservative obsession to cut public employee pensions is facing an uphill climb in California, according to a newly released poll that found ambivalent support for a pair of 2016 ballot measures pushed by former San Jose and San Diego officials. According to a Capital & Main-David Binder statewide poll of 500 likely voters, there’s roughly a 40-40 split, with the rest undecided, for both measures. The first would move newly hired state and local government employees from traditional pensions to 401(k)-style plans. The second would impose a cap on how much government could pay for retirement benefits for new hires, where the most paid would be 13 percent of wages. The measures are the latest efforts by former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, to significantly cut taxpayer obligations for public employee retirement benefits, which have become a big burden for many local and state governments because they have not set aside sufficient funds. (read article)

Giant labor union CWA backs Bernie Sanders for president

By Ben Brody, December 17, 2015, The Seattle Times

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Thursday received his biggest labor endorsement yet — from the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America (CWA). The Vermont senator, a self-described Democratic socialist who has been lagging Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in union endorsements despite his populist campaign platform, said he “would have won a lot more national union support” if other national unions followed the same process as the CWA. “What we are seeing is a lot of grass-roots support in union after union in this country, but that support has not necessarily trickled up to the leadership,” he said. At an event where Sanders appeared with members of the union’s executive board, CWA President Chris Shelton said the decision to back Sanders was a reflection of strong support for him by the rank and file, expressed in a survey of the members. (read article)

Union bosses say right-to-work will kill West Virginians

By Jason Hart, December 16, 2015, Watchdog

Threatening workers with death may not be the best message for West Virginia AFL-CIO bosses to broadcast, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Following the lead of the national AFL-CIO, the state union coalition is trying to block right-to-work — which lets workers opt out of paying unions — by calling the policy a deadly corporate plot. Warning that right-to-work has “been shown to increase workplace injuries and deaths by as much as 54 percent,” a West Virginia AFL-CIO radio ad asks, “doesn’t that make it a ‘right to die on the job’ law?” Republicans plan to introduce a right-to-work bill in the West Virginia Legislature in January, and think they have enough votes to override Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s likely veto. Polling shows most voters in the state support right-to-work. (read article)

Vote Planned on Tentative Agreement with Largest Labor Union

By mrrubio, December 16, VoiceOfOC

Orange County Supervisors have scheduled a special meeting for Friday, December 18, at 8:30 a.m. to allow for public comment on details of a proposed tentative agreement with the membership of the Orange County Employees Association for a new contract that would extend to June 30, 2018. The proposed tentative agreement is posted for public review on the County webpage at http://ocgov.com/gov/bos/agenda. If ratified by OCEA, the County’s largest employee union, the agreement would be presented for approval and adoption at a second special Board meeting on Wednesday, December 23, 2015. OCEA represents about 10,871 employees in 453 different job classifications within the County of Orange. The previous contract ran through June 25, 2015. The proposed tentative agreement reflects the Board’s continued focus on working in partnership with its employees to enhance health and wellness in ways that are both cost effective and promote improved health, and on compensation that rewards the County’s hard-working employees while maintaining fiscal prudence. (read article)

Congress to Strip Protections for Low Wage American Workers

By Adam Kredo, December 16, 2015, The Washington Free Beacon 

Congress could strip traditional protections for low-wage workers, including those on temporary visas, in its yearly spending bill, and that critics say it “will result in pink slips for U.S. workers and exploitation for foreign workers,” according to a labor advocacy group. The House version of a massive yearly spending bill known as the Omnibus revives once-failed legislation that would increase the number of foreign workers granted entrance to the United States to fill low-wage jobs, such as those in the construction and food service industries. The number of H-2B visas, which are doled out to unskilled immigrant workers, could increase by as much as 250,000, according to the provision, which was spearheaded by Sens. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) and Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.). A leading labor union has condemned the legislation as “shameful” and warned that it would lead to firing of many low-wage American workers. (read article)

Unions Mean Less Worker Freedom

By Richard Ebeling, December 16, 2015, The Heartland Institute

Personal choice and freedom of association are two fundamental and essential principles of any truly free society, and this includes a free market workplace. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is spending taxpayer dollars to undermine those principles in other countries around the world. The Washington Times reported on December 11, 2015 that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has organized a grant-giving contest for foreign labor union associations or other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to “promote workers’ representation in policy processes; improve access to justice; advance the effective worldwide application of core international labor standards; and improve the welfare and livelihood opportunities of workers and their families and communities.” The initial award (or “prize”) would be as much as $37.5 million, with possible additional funding of $32.5 million, for a total sum of $70 million for the best proposal to expand trade union power and influence over the labor market in a foreign country. (read article)

Feds: Union chief extorted funds, financed a wedding

By Brent Snavely, December 16, 2015, Detroit Free Press

The former top official of the Operating Engineers Local 324 in Detroit was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday on accusations of forcing employees to pay $5,000 per year into an election fund and spending the money for his daughter’s wedding, expensive auto rims and to boost his own salary. John Hamilton, 61, of Riviera Beach, Fla., was indicted on nine separate charges of extortion, embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy. He is accused of forcing business agents and employees of Local 324 to contribute annually to the “Team Hamilton Slate Fund,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. Hamilton threatened to fire employees who complained and did fire one employee and orchestrated the termination of a former president, authorities said. The funds were supposed to be used for union election campaign expenses. However, Hamilton used the money for meals, liquor and his daughter’s wedding and a set of rims for his Cadillac DTS that cost $50,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. (read article)

Union to sue over Chicago suburb’s right-to-work ordinance

By Ivan Moreno, December 15, 2015, Lexington Herald Leader

The AFL-CIO of Illinois will go to court over a Chicago suburb’s new ordinance that would bar private employers from requiring workers to join unions or pay dues, setting up a challenge to a key aspect of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s business-friendly agenda. The Lincolnshire board approved the right-to-work measure Monday after listening to an hour of public comments. More than 100 people attended the meeting, including many wearing shirts or jackets with union logos, The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reported. Others listened from the hallway and a second room set up for the occasion. With Democrats in control of the Legislature, Rauner has encouraged municipalities to pass local right-to-work ordinances as part of his “turnaround agenda,” which includes efforts to curb the power of unions. Rauner’s office said several dozen local governments have approved resolutions supporting his overall agenda. But union officials say they believe Lincolnshire is the first to actually enact a right-to-work ordinance. Labor leaders have warned that they would challenge any such measure. (read article)


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