Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Regional labor groups will join CSU faculty in potential strike

By Alexei Koseff, January 19, 2016, The Sacramento Bee

Ratcheting up the pressure in an ongoing dispute over raises, the California State University faculty union announced Tuesday that it has secured the support of more than a dozen regional labor councils for a strike that it may call in the coming weeks. Should the California Faculty Association strike over what it says has been a persistent underfunding of teaching staff during the past decade, union umbrella groups for counties encompassing 19 of the 23 CSU campuses – including the Sacramento Central Labor Council – have promised their own sanctions on the university. “We are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with the tens of thousands of faculty across the state,” Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 800,000 unionized employees in an area covering five CSU campuses, said during a press conference. “That means the picket lines do not get crossed. The mail does not get dropped off. The trash doesn’t get picked up.” Arguing that their salaries have not kept up with inflation, and hiring has fallen behind enrollment growth, the faculty union – which represents approximately 25,000 CSU professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches – is seeking a 5 percent compensation hike for the 2015-16 academic year. (read article)

Labor’s fight-or-die moment

By Sherry Wolf, January 19, 2016, SocialistWorker

There can be no minimizing the threat to public-sector unions posed by Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association–the court case that the U.S. Supreme Court justices took up last week with oral arguments, and will rule on by the end of June. At its core, Friedrichs is about smashing the power of the last well-organized section of U.S. labor. The Court is almost certainly going to strike down or drastically alter the right of all public-sector unions to continue collecting “fair share” or agency fees from workers who are covered under union contracts, but have not formally joined the union. The plaintiffs in this case–a handful of California teachers, backed by billionaires and right-wing corporate concerns, led by the Center for Individual Rights–claim they are being forced to pay for political activities and speech with which they do not agree. None of them seem to have yet complained that the average annual earnings for a unionized worker in 2014 were $49,000 compared to $38,600 for a comparable non-union worker–a 27 percent difference on average that fattened the plaintiffs’ paychecks over the years. (read article)

The Labor Prospect: Unions in 2016

By Justin Miller, January 19, 2016, The American Prospect

Last week, the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, joining the other major unions (both teacher unions, AFSCME, and SEIU) that have cast their support for the Democratic heavyweight. (The only million-plus-member-union yet to endorse is the Teamsters.) Clinton has built an impressive stable of institutional support within the labor movement, earning endorsements from unions that represent the vast majority of union members in the country. Those endorsements could be key to defeating progressive challenger Bernie Sanders, who has struggled to get many union endorsements despite strong grassroots support within the labor rank-and-file. (The support for Sanders among many union activists and the kind of young progressives whom unions like to hire will mean the pro-Clinton unions aren’t likely to run anti-Bernie campaigns.) The one mega-union to endorse Sanders is the Communications Workers, which has roughly 600,000 members. As The New York Times reports, the Clinton campaign—despite claims of a massive national infrastructure—is targeting most of its resources at winning Iowa, and will be relying heavily on union volunteers to organize other states. Those volunteers could prove to be crucial in a race that the Clinton campaign is quickly realizing will likely last longer than anticipated. (read article)

Rauner asks his labor board to determine if union contract talks at impasse

Kim Geiger, Monique Garcia and Celeste Bott, January 19, 2016, Chicago Tribune

As he courted voters in central Illinois nearly two years ago, candidate Bruce Rauner took the microphone at a Lincoln Day dinner and warned that he might “take a strike and shut down the government for a few weeks” to win new contracts with unionized state workers. On Friday, the Republican governor moved a step closer to that prediction when he referred his dispute with the largest state employee union to a labor panel whose members he appoints. Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine whether his administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 have reached a stage in negotiations that would allow him to bypass further talks and impose his own terms on the roughly 38,000 state workers the union represents. The review process could take months, and Rauner and the union have a deal to keep workers on the job in the meantime. But if Rauner ultimately succeeds in putting a stop to the talks, the union will have to decide whether to go on strike for the first time ever. (read article)

Workers rally, deliver petitions to boost minimum wage

By George Lurie, January 19, 2016, Fresno Business Journal

With the support of labor union organizers, dozens of Valley health care workers, fast food restaurant employees and other low-wage laborers held a press conference and rally in Downtown Fresno Tuesday morning and then delivered boxes of petitions containing more than 15,000 signatures to Fresno County’s Registrar of Voters. Dressed in bright blue T-shirts sporting the motto “Lift up California wages,” the workers gathered in support of the so-called Fair Wage Act of 2016, which, if approved by voters, would raise California’s minimum wage to $17 in 2017, and then increase it a dollar each year until it reaches $15 in 2021. The SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West labor union is sponsoring the ballot initiative. Similar efforts by the union to deliver petitions were also scheduled to take place today and tomorrow in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco. According to the California Employment Development Department, an estimated 117,300 workers in Fresno County would benefit by the higher minimum wage. Across the state, some 3.3 million workers would be positively impacted by a boost in California’s minimum wage. Union organizers said today that they have gathered a total of 620,000 petition signatures, more than enough to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.(read article)

Case Could Widen Free-Speech Gap Between Unions and Corporations

By Adam Liptak, January 18, 2016, The New York Times

The Citizens United decision, which amplified the role of money in American politics, also promised something like a level playing field. Both corporations and unions, it said, could spend what they liked to support their favored candidates. But last week’s arguments in a major challenge to public unions illuminated a gap in the Supreme Court’s treatment of capital and labor. The court has long allowed workers to refuse to finance unions’ political activities. But shareholders have no comparable right to refuse to pay for corporate political speech. At the arguments in the case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, the justices seemed poised to widen that gap by allowing government workers to refuse to support unions’ collective bargaining activities, too. The case should prompt a new look at whether the differing treatment of unions and corporations is justified, said Benjamin I. Sachs, a law professor at Harvard.“If we’re going to make this opt-out right for workers more and more muscular, which is what is going to happen with Friedrichs,” he said, “the question of symmetrical treatment of shareholders just becomes that much more important.” (read article)

Loss of Union Power Is No Reason for Supreme Court to Compel Union Dues

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth, January 17, 2016, Economics21

Greenhouse estimates that a win for Rebecca Friedrichs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case heard by the Supreme Court on January 11, could cost public sector unions $500 to $1 billion annually. The use of that political influence is precisely why Friedrichs wants to opt out of the union. She believes that compulsory union membership violates principles of free speech and association. The case will be decided by June, 2016. Greenhouse implicitly wants the Supreme Court to require that teachers pay $600 to $1,000 out of their paychecks annually so that unions can continue to wield political power. He quotes Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, who said, “If this ruling goes against labor, it potentially means a lot less money available to unions to spend on things like politics. Labor is a big part of Democratic fundraising.” That’s the point: Friedrichs and other teachers do not want their money spent on politics. If the Supreme Court rules for Friedrichs, Greenhouse explains that “teachers unions might be forced to devote fewer resources to keeping state legislatures from banning tenure or ‘last in, first out’ layoff protections.” But these measures that Greenhouse advocates as essential keep poor teachers in place and reduce the quality of teaching for children. (read article)

Achilles Heel: Labor union leaders may have met their match

By Journal News Team, January 16, 2016, Martinsburg Journal

Labor union leaders may have had their fingers crossed, hoping no one would spot the Achilles heel in the self-preservation argument they have used so successfully for many years. Now it has been called to the attention of U.S. Supreme Court justices. Government employees have been one of the few bright spots for labor bosses at a time when just 12 percent of workers belong to unions. Given the choice, most people prefer not to pay union dues. But big labor insists government officials who mandate public employees pay union dues, whether they want to belong or not, are right. Why, where there are public-sector unions, workers who do not pay dues get a free ride at the expense of others, the bosses say. They do that by enjoying the benefits of collective bargaining funded by dues-paying union members. Or so goes the claim. Precisely, a group of California public school teachers have pointed out in a lawsuit asking that they not be compelled to pay union dues. It is their suit Supreme Court justices are deliberating. Not all teachers forced by California to support the state teachers’ union agree with that organization’s collective bargaining goals, the disgruntled educators point out. That means the state is violating their First Amendment rights by forcing them to support causes with which they disagree. (read article)

Labor experts call for major reform to union election law

By Ned Resnikoff, January 15, 2016, Aljazeera America

When a manager wants to quash a union drive, one of the most effective tools to do that is the “captive audience” meeting — that is, a meeting held on company property during regular working hours, with compulsory attendance by all employees. A captive audience meeting can be an opportunity for management or anti-union consultants to cajole, persuade and sometimes subtly threaten workers into rejecting unionization. Without the ability to call their own staff-wide meetings on company property, unions have little to counter the captive audience tactic. But that may soon change if some of America’s leading labor law experts have their way. On Friday, 106 labor scholars — including law professors, historians and industrial relations experts from universities across the country — filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) asking the administrative body to reform regulations around captive audience meetings. Under their proposed rule, employers would be penalized if they held captive audience meetings without giving the union “an equivalent opportunity to address employees,” according to the petition. If an employer fails to provide equal time to the union during an organizing drive, and the union subsequently failed to secure a majority vote, the NLRB would have grounds to invalidate the results and call for a new election. (read article)

SCOTUS looks at labor unions. Unions are worried. Here’s why

By John Ahlquist, January 14, 2016, The Washington Post

On Monday the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case widely watched by both conservative and labor activists. The case asks whether public sector workers (in this case a teacher) who choose not to join their local unions — but who are still protected by the union-negotiated contract, grievance machinery, and so on — can be obliged to pay union fees. These fees, like union dues, are often deducted directly from paychecks. Unions and employers can legally agree to collect such representation fees in private industry, at least in the 25 states that have not passed so-called “right to work” laws. But public sector unions are regulated differently. The plaintiffs argue that collective bargaining with a government agency is fundamentally different from bargaining with a firm. They claim that any money—even representation fees—given to public sector unions is political (and therefore protected) “speech” under the First Amendment. In other words, union representation fees are equivalent to forcing someone to “say” something particular to the government and this is unconstitutional. (read article)

Northeastern University, adjuncts reach labor deal

By Peter Schworm, January 14, 2016, Boston Globe

Days before a threatened walkout, adjunct faculty members at Northeastern University reached a tentative contract settlement with campus administrators Thursday, a three-year agreement that would provide double-digit raises for most instructors. The adjunct faculty union had been negotiating with the university for more than 15 months, and last month said its members would stage a one-day strike if they did not have a labor contract by Jan. 19. In a message sent to faculty and staff Thursday, administrators said the agreement was reached after the university told union representatives the proposed work stoppage would have no impact on the university’s final offer. The union said the agreement “makes significant progress in compensation and course stability, professional development, and the faculty role in decisions that affect their work.” Adjunct professors do not have long-term contracts with the school and are hired on a per-class basis. Many colleges rely heavily on them to teach courses, and the Northeastern union represents some 900 instructors. (read article)

CTU, CPS agree to begin final stage of labor talks in February

By Juan Perez Jr., January 14, 2016, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Teachers Union and the city’s school board have agreed to launch a final stage of contract negotiations Feb. 1 if they continue to be unable to reach a deal to replace a contract that expired June 30. Under state law, the two sides must engage in a “fact finding” stage for up to 120 days before a strike could take place. Assuming the process gets underway Feb. 1, that would extend to May 30, Memorial Day, with the final day of classes set for June 21. Fact finding involves a three-member panel, made up of a representative from each side and an impartial third person. The two sides have squabbled over when fact finding should begin after the school board rejected a union demand to move to that stage late last year. On Wednesday, both sides wrote a joint letter to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board saying they “continue their efforts to settle their disputes” and asking the board to withdraw a recent charge by the CTU that accused the board of refusing to proceed to fact finding. That union also has complained to the board that CPS has failed to make good on salary increases still due to teachers after its last contract expired. That matter remains unresolved. (read article)

Boeing, Union Reach Tentative Agreement on Contract Extension

By Jon Ostrower, January 13, 2016, The Wall Street Journal

Boeing Co. and its white-collar engineers’ union said Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement on a six-year contract extension, avoiding a potentially bruising fight that would’ve renewed long-standing tensions between employees and management. The existing four-year contract was set to expire in October, and, if renewed, would provide Boeing with labor stability into the 2020s and shift the last large group of its unionized employees away from a defined benefit pension program. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents more than 20,000 of the aerospace giant’s engineers and technical workers in Washington state, Oregon, Utah, California and Florida, has a rocky and acrimonious history with Boeing. However, the union’s leadership struck a rare conciliatory tone in announcing the new deal. “These negotiations were possible because Speea and Boeing decided not to let our areas of disagreement prevent us from making progress on items where we do agree,” Ray Goforth, Speea’s executive director, said in a statement. “These contract extensions are the result of a lot of hard work and good will. Hopefully, this gives us a template for the future.” (read article)

VA Labor Contract Favors Union Bureaucrats Over Vets For Jobs

By Luke Rosiak, January 13, 2016, The Daily Caller

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) union contract requires the agency hire bureaucrats over veterans for most jobs, despite federal laws and regulations that give vets hiring preference in the civil service. The Master Agreement between the VA and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) states, “Prior to considering candidates from outside the bargaining unit, the department agrees to first consider internal candidates for selection … in all cases … first and full consideration shall be given to any best qualified candidates within the facility.” Veterans are supposed to get “preference points” against other applicants under federal civil service hiring rules. At the VA, such points are apparently negated by a hard-and-fast rule that a job can’t go to anyone unless no qualified union member wants it. The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) also allows vets to apply for jobs that are otherwise only open to current employees. Thanks to the union contract, it is futile for them to apply — at least for plum positions — because the VA must consider union members first. Both situations leave veterans largely relegated to bottom-of-the-barrel positions like scrubbing the bathrooms of administrators. (read article)

Catholic Teaching Says Support Unions. Catholic Colleges Are Fighting Them.

By Dave Jamieson, January 13, 2016, Huffington Post

Joseph Fahey cherishes the Catholic Church’s teachings on worker rights. “It’s really beautiful teaching — rock-bottom core, Matthew 25 stuff,” says Fahey, a Catholic theologian. “A lot of Catholics would tell you that’s why they’re Catholic.” So Fahey took it as an insult to his faith when the Catholic school where he’s taught for 50 years, Manhattan College, tried to prevent adjunct professors from unionizing. He was particularly galled because part-time adjuncts are among “the poorest and weakest people on campus,” he says. In September, he dashed off a public letter on the matter, saying the school’s trustees should be ashamed of themselves. “This falls into the context of grave sin. This is serious stuff,” Fahey, 76, told The Huffington Post. “They’re violating their own mission statement that says the school is supposed to stand up for social justice. If they violate this , they may as well not call themselves a Catholic school.” Manhattan is one of a gaggle of Catholic colleges now holding up their spiritual mission as a shield against collective bargaining. At least four other schools — Seattle University; Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh; Saint Xavier University, in Chicago; and Loyola University Chicago — have recently sought religious exemptions from labor law that would scuttle faculty organizing campaigns. (read article)


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