Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Union In The News – Weekly Highlights

Is Right-To-Work Key To Job Growth? West Virginia, Other States Tackle A Heated Question

By Cole Stangler, January 26, 2016, International Business Times

West Virginia — a former union bastion whose embattled coal mines once hosted some of the most fabled labor battles in American history — could soon become the latest state in the nation to pass a so-called right-to-work law. On Thursday, the state’s Senate approved such a measure, officially kicking off a legislative fight that is expected to come down to the wire. It’s one of a handful of states expected to closely consider right-to-work bills this year. The laws have implications that extend well beyond the declining share of the unionized workforce. Critics say the laws, which prevent unions from charging fees to non-members, depress wages and hurt workers’ bargaining power. Backers say they’re the key to much-needed investment and job growth. At any rate, the stakes are especially high in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation grappling with the painful decline of the coal industry. “Business and industries where unions are more prevalent prefer to locate in states with right-to-work laws,” said James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In high-paying industries that don’t tend to attract unions in the first place — say, tech companies like Google or Facebook — it may not matter. “But in something like manufacturing, it does have a large effect,” Sherk said. (read article)

Ex-labor leader gets 4 months for funneling funds to girlfriend

By Ted Sherman, January 26, 2016, NJ.com

Former labor leader Richard “Buzzy” Dressel, whose embezzlement conviction was reinstated by an appellate court last year after the judge in the case threw out the jury’s verdict, was sentenced Monday by the same judge to four months in prison. Dressel, 66, was also ordered to pay back $37,778 to his union. The one-time business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 in Paramus, Dressel had been charged by federal prosecutors with funneling thousands in union funds into his girlfriend’s catering business. In a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark, prosecutors had asked for a far lengthier prison term of 21 to 27 months, under federal sentencing guidelines. Dressel’s attorney sought probation. The judge said Dressel was not a union boss “out to rape the union solely for his own benefit,” but rather “lost his way.” Once a major force in state Democratic politics, Dressel helped raise funds for candidates and marshaled his union to get out the vote on election night. He had also been a member of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Federal prosecutors charged him with embezzlement after investigators said he used union funds to award a $60,000-a-year, no-bid contract to his then-girlfriend—caterer Kathleen Libonati, who later became his wife. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Dressel had started up what he called a “Captive Lunch Program” for the union’s apprentice training program. (read article)

Endorsements tightening city attorney race

By David Garrick, January 26, 2016, The San Diego Union Tribune

Candidates in the race to succeed Jan Goldsmith as city attorney are continuing to land key endorsements. In recent days, Mara Elliott has been endorsed by Southern California’s largest building trades union, Robert Hickey has been endorsed by a San Diego Latino group and Gil Cabrera has been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters. The splitting of key endorsements, including among city officials, underscores how competitive the race has become. Hickey, a local prosecutor and the only Republican in the race, has been endorsed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council’s four Republican members. Meanwhile, Cabrera, former chairman of the San Diego Ethics Commission, was endorsed by Democratic Councilman Todd Gloria, and Elliott, a deputy city attorney, is backed by Democratic Councilwoman Marti Emerald. A fourth candidate, Port Commission board member Rafael Castellanos, is backed by Democratic council members David Alvarez and Myrtle Cole. (read article)

How Unions Hope to Win a $15 Minimum Wage in California

By Leah Jessen, January 26, 2016, The Daily Signal

Labor unions are pushing to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour with two initiatives competing for voters’ approval. Two different unions are trying to get questions on the ballot for Californians to have a say on a $15 minimum wage. “One in four Californians is living in poverty because wages are too low to feed a family. We have to do better by our kids,” Assembly member Roger Hernández, a Democrat, said in a statement. The state’s minimum wage rose from $9 to $10 at the beginning of the year. The unions competing to raise it are Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) and Service Employees International Union California (SEIU California). “No state or industrialized democracy has ever raised its real minimum wage to the level unions propose taking California to,” James Sherk, The Heritage Foundation’s research fellow in labor economics, told The Daily Signal. “If passed,” Sherk said, “this initiative would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs in California.” SEIU California, which represents 15 local unions, proposes that the minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020—with an exception that small businesses would have until 2021. The union is in the process of collecting signatures to get the Raise California’s Wage and Paid Sick Days Act of 2016 to the ballot box. (read article)

As Supreme Court weighs unions, middle class hangs in the balance

By Ron Grossman, January 25, 2016, Chicago Tribune

I don’t belong to a union. I didn’t have to because my maternal grandfather was a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. His brother was, too, and their sister belonged to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Another brother drove a taxi, a union button pinned to his cap. They were part of a labor movement that was midwife to the American middle class. Unions never enrolled a majority of workers. At their high point in the 1950s, they counted a third of American workers as members. But their impact was far greater. Where unions are strong, nonunion workers benefit because employers offer competitive wages to keep their workforce from defecting. That’s how I got to wear a white shirt and tie, the dress uniform of the middle class. I was a child during the Great Depression, when my father sometimes drove a cab. Other times he was a furniture mover, and most often he was out of work. Then defense production for World War II kicked off an economic boom, and my father became a department store salesman. There was no union, as many white-collar workers disdained the labor movement as beneath their newfound dignity. But salaries were decent, buoyed by the general rise in pay as unions got members a bigger slice of the pie. My father could afford for me to stay in school and go to college. So here I am. And not just me. Such was the experience of myriad families. Think about that as the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with the issues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. (read article)

SCOTUS May Undermine Labor Unions Based on a Profound Misconception

By Steven Mazie, January 24, 2016, Big Think

It’s another very big year at the Supreme Court. After saving Obamacare and opening marriage laws to same-sex couples last June, the justices are set to resolve questions involving affirmative action, abortion, religious liberty, immigration, and voting rights over the next five months. But the most transformative decision may well come in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, a case that threatens to unravel the way that public-sector unions in half of the country do business. Twenty-some states have “agency shop” laws for their public employees whereby the government negotiates contracts with police officers, teachers, and firefighters via unions that represent all workers in these sectors. To make this situation viable, these states permit unions to charge “fair share fees” to workers who opt not to join their ranks. These fees support the collective bargaining unions undertake on behalf of union members and non-members alike. A 1977 Supreme Court decision blessed this arrangement, but allowed unions to collect fees from non-members only to support negotiations over wages, benefits, and workplace rules; any political campaigning or lobbying the union wishes to undertake, the Court held, may not be charged to non-members lest workers are compelled to pay for the dissemination of positions they reject. (read article)

UAW Union Hopes for ‘Reset’ on Volkswagen Labor Relations

By Erik Schelzig, January 22, 2016, ABC News

The United Auto Workers union is hoping a management overhaul at Volkswagen in the aftermath of its diesel emissions cheating scandal will help ease an impasse over collective bargaining at the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant. But on a visit to Chattanooga last week, new Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller said he hasn’t yet made up his mind about politically sensitive labor issues at the factory. “My agenda of course has been heavily dominated by the diesel issue so far,” Mueller told The Associated Press after a speech to workers on the factory floor. “Surely we must take a few weeks to understand and relate to this very complex topic,” he said about the unsettled union issues at the plant. Volkswagen was forced to admit last year that about 600,000 diesel vehicles — including 90,000 Passat sedans made at the Chattanooga plant — were sold with illegal software designed to trick government emissions tests. Efforts to find a fix have failed so far. Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and head of the union’s efforts to organize foreign automakers, acknowledged that “Volkswagen is under new management and that company officials have a lot on their plate right now.” Casteel nevertheless expressed hope that the new leadership “will provide an opportunity, soon, to reset the dialogue.” (read article)

In Wisconsin, Civil Service Change Is Another Labor Setback

By Todd Richmond, January 22, 2016, ABC News

Gov. Scott Walker made a national name for himself among conservatives by redefining Wisconsin’s labor landscape, eliminating public unions, wiping out closed shops and erasing local prevailing wages. Now, coming off a short-lived presidential bid, he’s poised to deal state workers another blow by revamping the state’s 110-year-old civil service system. A handful of states have recently rolled back civil service protections. The rules are designed to keep officials from handing out government jobs as rewards to their political allies. But some officials say they lead to inefficiencies, offer little incentive for hard work and unfairly protect employees who behave badly. Just days after Walker dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination in September, Republican legislators introduced a bill to revamp Wisconsin’s civil service system. Walker is poised to sign the measure within the next two weeks despite Democrats’ complaints that the changes will open the door to cronyism. The bill marks another in a string of labor policy victories for Walker, who has made rewriting employment law his claim to fame. In 2011 he authored a bill that all but eliminated public workers’ union rights, becoming a national GOP star in the process. Last year he signed a bill making Wisconsin a so-called right-to-work state where private workers can’t be forced to join a union. (read article)

Labor judge: Wal-Mart strikes protected under law

By Jeff Chiu, January 22, 2016, Albany Times Union

A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unlawfully disciplined workers who staged protests in May and June of 2013 and ordered the retailer to reinstate 16 former employees, as well as give them back pay. Judge Geoffrey Carter ruled that the employee actions were protected under the National Labor Relations Act and that Wal-Mart violated labor laws by “disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike.” The judge also ordered Wal-Mart to hold a meeting in 29 stores throughout the country to inform employees of their right to strike, and to promise not to threaten or discipline employees for doing so. The complaint was filed on behalf of the labor-backed group “Our Walmart,” which called it a huge victory. The decision, posted on the labor board’s website late Thursday, arrived one day after the nation’s largest private employer announced raises for more than 1.2 million U.S. hourly workers, which is most of them. The Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer said in October that it would invest $2.7 billion in its workforce over two years.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said that it disagreed with the judge’s findings and that it will pursue all of its options to defend the company. It called its actions “legal and justified.” (read article)

Do you want the choice to support a labor union, or not?

By Alan C. Brownfeld, January 21, 2016, Communities Digital News

Our society holds freedom of speech and freedom of association dear, except in cases when we don’t. One such case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Friedrichs v. California pits 10 California teachers against the Teachers Association. They are challenging a rule that says non-members must pay “fair share fees” to the union to cover the costs of collective bargaining. According to the plaintiffs, the rule violates their First Amendment right to free speech; they are forced to subsidize an organization whose politics they reject. One of the plaintiffs is Harlan Elrich, who pays $970 a year to the labor union. He teaches high school math and says that the system doesn’t add up. “I get to choose what movie I want to go to. I get to choose what gym I want to join,” he says. Why, he asks, should he not have the same right about whether to support a union? Under California law, which is similar to laws in more than 20 other states, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a “fair-share service fee,” also known as an “agency fee,” which is typically equivalent to members’ dues. The fees are meant to pay for collective bargaining activities, including “the cost of lobbying activities.” (read article)

Union offers strike aid to Cal State University faculty

By Janet Zimmerman, January 20, 2016, OCRegister

California State University faculty who are threatening to strike over a salary dispute received a boost Tuesday from an 800,000-member labor union in Los Angeles County, which pledged not to cross picket lines. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO joins 14 other unions in support of teachers at the 23 CSU campuses. The 289,000-member Central Labor Council AFL-CIO of San Bernardino and Riverside counties and the Orange County Labor Federation also have granted strike sanctions. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the tens of thousands of faculty all across the state,” Rusty Hicks, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County union, said at a news conference at Cal State Los Angeles. “When we grant strike sanction it means … that the mail doesn’t get delivered, the trash doesn’t get picked up and construction on these campuses ceases,” he said. The AFL-CIO represents bus drivers, postal workers, heavy-equipment operators and steel and electrical workers. The California Faculty Association, which represents 25,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches, has been in salary negotiations with CSU management since May. (read article)

Can Labor Support Both Black Lives Matter And Police Unions?

By Cora Lewis, January 20, 2016, BuzzFeed News

As union members gathered in the nation’s capital over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, some of the country’s top labor leaders faced tough questions about how the movement can reconcile its support for racial justice with its embrace of police unions. Over the last year, the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of unions, has faced calls from some in its membership to end its affiliation with the International Union of Police Associations. At a union conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren interviewed AFL-CIO President Trumka, as well as some younger activists, including Bree Newsome, the woman who scaled the statehouse flagpole in South Carolina to take down the Confederate Flag. Warren specifically pressed Trumka on labor’s position regarding police unions and communities of color, quoting a speech the union leader gave in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown. “Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother who works in a grocery store, is our sister, an AFL-CIO union member, and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, is a union member, too, and he is our brother,” Trumka said at the time. “Our brother killed our sister’s son and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is.” (read article)

The Bleak Future of Unions

By Nat Malkus, January 20, 2016, US News

Two rallies were held outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 11, the day justices heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. On one side, hundreds of union supporters rallied to maintain mandatory agency fees, a testament to their powerful political machine. Nearby, dozens rallied in support of California teacher and plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs and against agency fees. So what are agency fees, and why are they so important for teachers unions? California Teachers Association members pay about $1,000 in annual dues, while nonmembers must pay roughly $650 in agency fees for representation in collective bargaining. The $350 difference is refunded to nonmembers because it is spent on political activities and not on bargaining. Friedrichs complaint is that the $650 agency fee violates nonmembers’ First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. The California Teachers Association maintains the fees are reasonable payments for representation in labor negotiations, and that fees prevent nonmembers from free-riding and secure the state’s interest in stable labor relations.The justices’ questioning during oral arguments suggests the unions should prepare for defeat. If that is in fact the verdict, what would happen to the unions in the 23 states that currently have agency fees? The immediate impact would be that unions forego the agency fees and lose revenue. However, that would be just the tip of the iceberg. (read article)

Professors Raise Hands for Unions

By Douglas Belkin, January 19, 2016, The Wall Street Journal

Labor organizers at the University of Minnesota say they have collected enough signatures to force a unionization vote for both tenured and adjunct faculty—a potential coup for unions at a time of heightened concerns about rising costs and growing student debt at the nation’s institutions of higher learning. If faculty vote to join the Service Employees International Union, they would potentially establish the largest bargaining unit of any school in the nation since at least January 2013 when new organizing activity in higher education began to rise, said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York. In the past three years, faculty and graduate students at about 65 schools have voted to join a union—a clip of nearly one school every two weeks. Michael Poliakoff, a vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization focused on accountability in higher education, said unionization could come at a cost elsewhere. “Academic excellence thrives on being able to differentiate performance and when you move to things like a single salary pay scale according to things like years and rank you jeopardize that unremitting pursuit of excellence,” Mr. Poliakoff said. (read article)

Bernie Sanders and Unions’ Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

By David Moberg, January 19, 2016, In These Times

In the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for labor union support for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton has a strong and growing lead in official endorsements, but Sanders may have the lead in member support—as well as in the passion of his supporters. One signal of his appeal to union members is the respect and fondness many union leaders, even those supporting Clinton, feel toward Sanders. Often Clinton backers favor her for a variety of seemingly pragmatic, if debatable, reasons—her likelihood of defeating the Republican candidate or union leaders’ desire for inclusion in the Democratic Party establishment that she represents (even though that party leadership often slights the needs of working people and unions). Many union leaders also seem reluctant to adopt a serious campaign to win more public support for Sanders and his ideas—even though he more consistently and vigorously advocates labor’s agenda than Clinton does. But many union members, both Democrats and many independents, believe in the policies and the overall vision of an expanded New Deal that both the labor movement and Sanders have long promoted. Yet Sanders appears to have more confidence that the broad American public will back those ideas and reject likely Republican and media attacks on his proposals, or on his self-described “democratic socialism,” than do many top union officials who often complain about Democrats who will not support labor and its agenda. (read article)


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