Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

California labor unions react to Supreme Court dues debate

By Jon Ortiz, January 12, 2016, The Sacramento Bee

State and local public union officials plowed through a 100-page U.S. Supreme Court transcript on Monday, trying to divine how the nine justices are leaning in a case with the potential to tie a knot in the pipeline of money that feeds their treasuries. While the outcome of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could end compulsory payments to government unions, maintain the status quo or fall somewhere in between, the labor leaders interviewed by The Sacramento Bee remained optimistic regardless of the outcome that their associations would adapt. “We’ll continue to exist,” said Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, “but it would weaken us.” Bruce Blanning, the long-time executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, said that the union for several years did not require a fair-share fee to non-members even though state law allows it. Eventually the union’s board decided to charge the fee because it thought that non-members who benefited from representation should pay their part, he said. If Friedrichs ends mandated payments to unions, Blanning said, it would merely turn back the clock on his association. (read article)

Big Labor Is Dropping Big Dollars on Luxury Goods

By Jillian Kay Melchior, January 12, 2016, National Review

Designer clothes and handbags, private jets, trips to Disney Worldland and casinos — all funded by union dues. A Pittsburgh union already facing federal scrutiny over its questionable spending dropped nearly $42,000 at the designer retailer Burberry in 2015, according to Department of Labor records. The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a probe into Boilermakers Local 154, which in recent years also reported spending $48,000 in member dues on Apple products, $19,000 on fancy luggage, $20,000 on Penguins tickets, and $5,600 on a steak dinner at Morton’s, a local news station reported. The union did not return repeated phone calls from National Review by deadline. While Boilermakers Local 154 may be especially extravagant, a National Review examination of unions’ annual filings revealed myriad examples of questionable use of member dues, spanning both private- and public-sector unions. In 2014, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 spent $11,803 at the Coach Store in Philadelphia for “holiday gifts.” On 2015 filings, six private-sector unions together reported that they had spent nearly $347,000 at Six Flags amusement parks. The expenditures covered member picnics, special events, and union administration, the unions reported. On its 2015 tax filing alone, the National Education Association Headquarters spent more than $347,000 at Disney’s Buena Vista Palace and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for membership recruiting and organizing, member and staff education, and policy development. By publication, NEA had not responded to National Review’s e-mailed inquiry. (read article)

Portland longshore workers paid $1.2 million to not work at Port of Portland

By Molly Harbarger, January 12, 2016, Oregon Live

You work, you get paid. You don’t work, you still get paid. It’s a deal that helped longshore union members at the Port of Portland collect more than a million dollars in salaries last year, even as cargo container traffic almost ground to a halt and workloads fell fast. The longshore union has reaped the benefits for decades of a port-supported fund that pays members whether or not they work. During a lockout at the Port of Portland’s grain terminal in 2013, the fund paid $1 million over the course of a year – while no work was going on at all. Terminal 6, Portland’s container port and the former lifeblood of the state’s small and medium-sized exporting industry, now receives a single ship per month. Between April and July, the container terminal had no work at all. Elvis Ganda, the head of terminal operator ICTSI Oregon, said the company hires for just 30 eight-hour shifts a month now – down from 500 jobs a week before February. That means longshore workers are doing 1 percent of the work they were doing before. But dock worker pay at the Port of Portland barely took a hit. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has a Pay Guarantee Plan that assures many longshore workers will be paid for nearly a full week of work at nearly four times minimum wage, regardless of how much work there is to do. (read article)

Supreme Court appears skeptical of union fees – a potentially major loss for labor groups

By David G. Savage, January 11, 2016, The Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court sounded ready Monday to deal a severe blow to public employee unions by striking down laws that require all workers to help pay for collective bargaining. In its tone and questioning, the argument resembled more of a congressional hearing at which Republicans took one position, Democrats argued the opposite, and there appeared little chance to sway either side. The court’s five Republican appointees strongly suggested they believe it is unconstitutional to force an objecting teacher from Orange County and millions like her to pay for union activities they do not support. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described the mandatory fees as “coerced speech” that violates the 1st Amendment. Under a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that may now be reversed, public employees can be required to pay a “fair share” fee to reflect the benefits all workers receive from collective bargaining. But at the same time, employees who object cannot be forced to pay for a union’s political activities. In California, for example, that means teachers are required to pay $650 a year for collective bargaining, but not the roughly $350 more that goes toward the union’s political spending and lobbying. The court’s conservative majority, which has long voiced skepticism about mandatory union fees, questioned whether such a distinction was relevant. “Everything that is collectively bargaining is within the political sphere,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. So the key question, according to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., is “whether or not individuals can be compelled to support political views that they disagree with.” Meanwhile, the four Democratic appointees, playing defense, said the court should not upset the 1977 ruling. (read article)

Teachers should have the right to opt out of union fees

By Jim Johnson, Rachel Damiano and Barbara Watson, January 11, 2016, The Seattle Times

In 25 states, teachers and public employees cannot be fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. Not so in Washington, where public employment is generally conditioned upon the payment dues or fees to a labor union. A case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, could change that. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of California public school teachers, public employees in all 50 states will be able to choose for themselves whether to pay dues to a labor union. As teachers and professionals with decades of cumulative experience in Washington’s public schools, we hope the court sides with the plaintiffs. Many of us have already exercised our limited ability under current law to cease supporting the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) explicitly political activity but are still required to pay about three-quarters of regular dues to support the union’s collective bargaining activity. The only problem is that public-sector collective bargaining is political by nature. Consequently, we believe any requirement for public employees to fund labor unions amounts to compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment. Collective bargaining directly affects the size, cost and nature of state and local government. Union contracts help shape the kinds of services families and students receive. These fundamentally political issues are the subject of significant disagreement both inside and outside the teaching profession. (read article)

Conservative justices skeptical of union position in big labor case

By Ariane de Vogue, January 11, 2016, CNN

In a case that could substantially weaken union coffers, the Supreme Court on Monday considered whether state government employees, who are not members of public sector unions, can be forced to pay certain fees to the union. Several conservative justices had skeptical questions for lawyers supporting the union position, while the liberal justices pushed back at the notion of the Court overturning long standing precedent. That precedent holds that public unions cannot charge nonmembers for ideological or political advocacy, but they can charge for collective bargaining that goes to such issues as wages and grievances. Supporters of public unions fear that the Court could wipe out that almost 40-year precedent and deal a blow to labor at a time when unions in general are in a decline. They see the case as an unfair attack from conservative legal advocacy groups seeking to weaken organized labor that largely, although not exclusively, supports Democrats. Thousands of contracts affecting potentially millions of people could be in play. The challenge is brought by a group of public school teachers in California — backed by the libertarian Center for Individual Rights — who are required by California law to contribute to fees germane to collective bargaining. They argue that the compelled fees violate their First Amendment rights, and in court, they seemed to attract the support of several of the conservative justices. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested more than once that in the public sector it is difficult to distinguish between union expenditures that are made for collective bargaining purposes and those what are made to achieve political ends. (read article)

State labor board to hear Chicago Teachers Union complaint

By Juan Perez Jr., January 8, 2016, Chicago Tribune

A state labor panel said last week that it will hold a hearing later this month on a complaint from the Chicago Teachers Union alleging Chicago Public Schools has failed to make good on salary increases mandated in a contract that expired June 30. A ruling against the cash-strapped school district could force CPS to pay union members about $26 million in back pay, CPS said in papers filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. The labor board said it will also hear the CTU’s allegation that the district has refused to enter into a final stage of contract talks known as fact-finding, which is required before a strike can take place. The CTU said the district’s stance violated state law and constituted an unfair labor practice. For its part, CPS in December asked the labor board to invalidate the union’s recent strike authorization vote. CTU said its members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a walkout if a new contract agreement couldn’t be reached. In a statement, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that “CPS continues to bargain with the CTU leadership in good faith on a contract proposal that would avert midyear layoffs and give teachers a raise over the life of the contract. (read article)

State of Job Creation is Key to State of the Union

By David French, January 8, 2016, National Retail Federation

When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, it’s a safe bet he will talk once again about the need to create jobs and grow the economy. Retailers agree that jobs and the economy are among the nation’s top priorities. What we disagree on is the approach. Despite calling for increased employment, the Obama Administration has created numerous roadblocks to job creation and career advancement. A string of recent rulings on ambush organizing elections, micro-unions and joint-employer status at the National Labor Relations Board would make it easier for Big Labor to strangle traditionally non-union industries like retail. The Labor Department’s radical proposal to expand overtime would not only sharply drive up labor costs but also curb millions of workers’ opportunity to advance into management. And Obama’s call for a higher minimum wage would limit the creation of entry-level positions and deny many would-be workers the first step onto the ladder of success. Those are all on top of the higher payroll costs and increased regulatory burdens that have come under Obamacare. (read article)

Rauner, union continue bickering over new contract

By Kim Geiger, January 8, 2016, Chicago Tribune

The posturing over a new contract continued Friday between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the largest state employee union, with the administration saying it would consider whether to refer the dispute to a labor panel but so far failing to do so. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 31 asserted that talks collapsed Friday because Rauner’s negotiators “said they would refuse to participate in any further bargaining sessions and claimed that negotiations are at an impasse.” AFSCME executive director Roberta Lynch said the union does not think impasse has been reached. Rauner spokesman Lance Trover disputed that, saying in a statement that the administration’s negotiators asked the union whether talks had reached impasse. Trover, however, did not say that the governor had declared impasse. Instead, Trover said the administration “will now decide if the previously agreed dispute resolution process should be considered.” The two sides signed a deal in September that says any disagreement over whether or not impasse has been reached would be reviewed by the Illinois Labor Relations Board. Rauner might have an advantage in that venue; he appointed the board members. As of Friday evening, however, neither side had asked the board to intervene, the labor board’s executive director said. Declaring impasse is a legal move that would set the stage for Rauner to try to impose his own terms without a contract deal in place. The union could resist those changes by going on strike. (read article)

Union Workers Backing Donald Trump? SEIU Head Says Republican Appeals To Working Class Members

By Cristina Silva, January 7, 2016, International Business Times

One of the nation’s most influential labor union says it revving up its fight against Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to keep him out of the White House. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said she has directed her 2.1 million members to help defeat the business mogul who has won over many working-class voters. In an interview with David Axelrod on his podcast “The Axe Files,” out Thursday, Henry said her organization is going into “hyperdrive” because Trump appeals to some of her members because of the “terrible anxiety” some people in the working class feel. “This is a very dangerous political moment in our country,” she said. “I think he’s touching this vein of the terrible anxiety that working-class people feel about their current status, but more importantly, how terrified they are for their kids not being able to do as well as they have, never mind doing better.” Henry said she was working to persuade union members that Trump would not represent their best interests. “We’re doing one-on-ones with every one of our members right now in this period, because 64 percent of our public members identify as conservative and are much more interested in the Republican debate than the Democratic debate at this moment,” she said, according to Politico. (read article)

Union Boss Explains What’s Killing The Labor Movement

By Connor D. Wolf, January 7, 2016, The Daily Caller

An influential union boss admitted Thursday that decades of union self-interest has led to the sharp decline in membership over recent years. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is one of the most powerful unions in the country, but it’s been losing influence as its membership roles decline. While speaking with David Axelrod on a podcast that aired Thursday, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry blamed the decline on unions becoming too self-interested and disregarding the interests of workers who aren’t members of a union. “We kind of peaked in 1974 in setting wages and conditions for the majority of people that work for a living,” Henry said. “We ceased to be relevant to ordinary people. We were no longer a catalyst for creating a better life for everybody.” Henry argued the main issue was a need to protect what unions had fought for. She notes in the decades to follow the 1960s, unions began caring exclusively about protecting the wage and benefits they managed to achieve for their members, rather than caring about the interests of all working Americans. “So the 35 million people that used to have collective organization is now down to 16 million,” Henry said. “By next summer we’re going to lose another two million because of a Supreme Court case.” (read article)

Former Labor Union Heads Helping Presidential Campaigns

By Tyrone Richardson, January 7, 2016, Bloomberg BNA

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are tapping into some labor union resources as part of their strategies to win the White House this year. The two presidential candidates are each enlisting a former president of a large national labor union to assist in their campaigns. The unpaid campaign liaisons add layers of organized labor know-how, and most importantly, the potential to rally scores of card-carrying union members to participate in campaign drives, union presidents and university professors told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 4-5. For candidates, “at this stage in the game it’s all about getting unions to support you,” said Richard Hurd, associate dean and professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Labor unions have a long history of providing support, especially at the grassroots level, for presidential candidates. The unions historically have backed Democratic candidates. There have also been instances where unions have supported Republican presidential candidates, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ endorsement of George H.W. Bush for president in 1988. That support followed the IBT endorsing Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. (read article)

Martinez revives right-to-work debate in New Mexico

By Susan Montoya Bryan, January 7, 2016, Albany Times Union

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is reviving the right-to-work debate in New Mexico, saying she’ll include the issue on the agenda for the upcoming legislative session. She made the announcement Thursday during a panel discussion before a crowded room of business leaders, elected officials, higher education representatives and others who gathered for an Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The governor called it a no-brainer, saying that adopting a right-to-work law would make the state more competitive when it comes to attracting businesses.

“That is what is going to make us competitive,” she said. “When we recruit that is one of the first questions: What does your labor force look like and are you a right-to-work state?” Business leaders at the luncheon argued many out-of-state companies don’t even consider New Mexico as a possible place to do business because it lacks such a law. Under the measure that failed to pass last year, nonunion employees — both in private and public sectors — would not have had to pay union fees as a condition of employment. The proposal ignited partisan fights and resulted in hours of testimony during the 2015 session. It also spurred criticism from labor unions that argued the measure would lower wages in New Mexico. (read article)

Why I don’t want to pay union dues

By Mark Janus, January 5, 2016, Chicago Tribune

As a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, my job is to fight for the little ones. Sometimes when parents aren’t together anymore, kids get caught in the crossfire. These scars can last well beyond childhood, and they often mean that kids don’t get the resources they need to live a decent life. So I advocate for these children, hoping that maybe if this process goes a little bit smoother, their futures will be just a little bit brighter. I went into this line of work because I care about kids. But just because I care about kids doesn’t mean I also want to support a government union. Unfortunately, I have no choice. To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, a public employee union that claims to “represent” me. The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight. But for the first time in my many years as a public employee, I have hope. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. “Friedrichs” in this case is Rebecca Friedrichs, an elementary school teacher who is the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit brought by a group of 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association. Friedrichs is a lot like me: someone who loves her job but is forced against her will to pay money to a union, just to stay in the classroom. (read article)

The State Worker: Union dollars, clout under fire

By Jon Ortiz, January 5, 2016, The Sacramento Bee

Here comes 2016, perhaps the most significant year for government workers in decades. The reason: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court returns to hear arguments over whether the union can require payment from teachers it represents in contract talks. The justices could support the status quo or issue a ruling that only changes payments to CTA. Union leaders everywhere fear, however, a broader decision that would squeeze their own treasuries and diminish public labor’s political clout at all levels of government. “Anything that threatens unions’ funding base is a big deal,” said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a labor law and history expert at UCLA. Friedrichs, he said, has potential to affect state and local labor unions and change “the broader politics of the state.” Since 1977, the courts have held that public-sector unions cannot require workers to pay for political activities, but can charge “fair share fees” (also known as “agency fees”) for collective bargaining and other nonpolitical services that benefit all represented employees. Friedrichs challenges precedent with a straightforward assertion: Everything that government-employee unions do is political. “Public-sector unions’ collective-bargaining efforts constitute political speech designed to influence governmental decision-making,” states the petition filed by 10 teachers who sued their union. “In this era of broken municipal budgets and a national crisis in public education, it is difficult to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money cash-strapped local governments should devote to public employees …” (read article)

PERB flouts voters’ will on pensions

By Orange County Register Editorial, January 5, 2016, OC Register

It was no surprise when the California Public Employment Relations Board overturned San Diego’s landmark 2012 pension reform initiative last week. After all, the board members and general counsel, who are appointed by the governor, are mostly former union leaders and union attorneys, including representatives of the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association, so it seems there is rarely a benefit to which public employees are not entitled in PERB’s eyes. But it was nonetheless a blow to democracy that will cost the city even more much-needed funds in a protracted legal battle. With San Diego facing a pension debt of more than $2 billion and retirement obligations eating up 20 percent of the city’s budget, pension reformers crafted Proposition B. The measure, which passed with an overwhelming 66 percent of the vote, replaced traditional, defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans for all new city employees except police officers; capped new police pensions at 80 percent of final salary; excluded supplemental and specialty pay from pension calculations; directed the city to negotiate with the unions to freeze employee salaries for several years; and required that city officers and employees convicted of a felony related to their positions lose their pension benefits. (read article)

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