Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Could Michigan’s right-to-work law cause bullying of union holdouts?

By Melissa Anders, April 23, 2013, Michigan Live

Michigan’s right-to-work law has raised concerns among some who fear workers could be bullied as they decide whether or not to pay union dues or fees. Right to work prohibits employers or labor unions from requiring workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of their employment. Though the controversial measure went into effect on March 28, unions that already had existing contracts in place are allowed to continue operating under those terms until the agreements expire. The state hired Travis Calderwood to deal with right-to-work issues as an administrative law specialist in the state Bureau of Employment Relations. Earlier this month MLive published Calderwood’s explanation of what representation or benefits workers would get from unions if they’re not paying members, as well as information on opting out of paying union dues and fees. One MLive reader asked how workers who don’t pay union dues or fees would be protected from any physical and emotional violence if unions post a list of the people who aren’t members. (read article)

Reeling elsewhere, labor poised for Minn. gains

Brian Bakst, April 23, 2013, Huffington Post

Sitting side by side before state lawmakers, Minnesota Orchestra horn player Brian Jensen and third-generation sugar worker Becki Jacobson couldn’t have come from much different worlds. But they had something in common: both had gone through lengthy labor lockouts, and both were asking the state to make unemployment benefits considerably more generous. In most states, where costs are still being cut, the proposal would be out of the question. But in Minnesota, it’s just one in a raft of union-friendly bills moving through the Legislature, giving union workers the prospect of big victories even as their brethren are reeling elsewhere. As economic changes batter organized labor nationwide, eroding its membership and political power, Minnesota has emerged as one of the few places where unions are faring well. Democrats hope they’re creating a bulwark in a more hostile world. “There’s been a general war on anyone who is working class and has a union by trying to take union rights away,” Democratic Rep. Michael Nelson. “Here in Minnesota maybe we’re ahead of the curve in pushing back.” But Republicans see dire consequences ahead, including a possible business backlash. “No state in the country is advancing more anti-business, anti-private sector legislation than the state of Minnesota,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, among the outnumbered House Republicans who can’t stop the onslaught. Most remarkable is that until recently, Minnesota was among the Midwestern states where labor was limping as manufacturing declined and the recession ratcheted up pressure to cut government spending. Republicans held the governorship or part of the Legislature since 1990. Union membership in the state dwindled to about 14 percent of the workforce over a decade. (read article)

Judge criticizes teachers union in lawsuit filed by Indiana

By Jeff Swiatek, Apr. 23, 2013, Indianapolis Star

A federal judge ripped the legal arguments of the National Education Association, one of the nation’s most influential labor unions, in a court order that keeps the NEA as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the State of Indiana. U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker called the NEA’s reasoning that she reconsider one of her previous rulings “both puzzling and preposterous.” The Washington, D.C.-based teachers union wanted the judge to reconsider her March denial of an NEA motion for summary judgment that would have dropped it as a defendant in the case. In her order from last week, the judge denied the reconsideration request in biting style. “A party who finds himself paddling upstream after a ruling adverse to his interests may not use a motion for reconsideration as a life raft — especially not when his own strategic choices engendered his dilemma,” the judge wrote in her eight-page order. (read article)

Lawrence teachers file labor complaint against state receiver

By Peter Schworm, April 23, 2013, Boston Globe

The teachers union in ­Lawrence has filed two labor complaints against the state-run city schools, contending that ­receiver Jeffrey Riley is violating Massachusetts law by refusing to negotiate the terms of a new contract. The state took control of the struggling public school system in 2012 and plans to implement wholesale reforms starting with the next school year, including a new performance-based salary structure and extended school days. Education officials say that under the state’s 2010 education ­reform bill, Riley is authorized to make the changes outside collective bargaining. But Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union, said Riley and the state are overstepping their bounds. “The receiver is giving himself absolute power to make all decisions regarding the state of education in Lawrence, power the law does not grant him,” said McLaughlin. The takeover followed years of poor academic performance and marked the first time the state had assumed full control over a local school district. Under the 2010 law, the education commissioner can alter contract provisions to “maximize the rapid academic achievement of students,” giving the receiver far more authority than superintendents. (read article)

Public can give feedback Tuesday on approach to Menlo Park labor talks

By Bonnie Eslinger, April 22, 2013, Menlo Park Daily News

If you’re a Menlo Park resident who has a thought or two about how the city and its employee unions should approach contract talks, today’s city council study session is expected to be a good sounding board. All union contracts are set to expire this year. Although actual negotiations will take place behind closed doors, the study session’s purpose is to “accept public input,” according to a memo from City Manager Alex McIntyre and Human Resources Director Gina Donnelly. The council adopted a policy in 2011 calling for such sessions after residents expressed frustration at rising employee costs. That frustration was underscored in November 2010 when 71 percent of voters approved a ballot initiative that reduced retirement benefits for future city workers. The average cost per employee increased in the last decade from $79,900 in the 2002-2003 fiscal year to $142,700 today, according to the staff memo. Contracts for the Menlo Park Police Officers Association and the Menlo Park Police Sergeants’ Association, whose members total 44 employees, expire at the end of June. Those negotiations should start this month, according to the memo. And at the end of October, contracts will expire for the 32 workers represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Local 829 and the 133 represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 521. The city intends to begin bargaining with both units by early September. According to salary schedules for Menlo Park employees, police officers start at an annual salary of $89,677 and can earn base pay of up to $126,185 per year. The annual salaries for police sergeants range from $108,146 to $139,452. For the Local 829 employees — mostly managers — the top annual pay scale includes $69,661 for a recreation program coordinator, $87,915 for a city arborist, $101,177 for a financial services manager, $94,407 for a branch library manager, and $116,638 for a senior civil engineer. Top-scale salaries for Service Employees International Union members include $34,799 for a recreation aide, $40,571 for a gymnastics instructor, $56,936 for a building custodian, $71,614 for an administrative assistant and $80,595 for an accountant. (read article)

Bakk throws cold water on some union initiatives

By Tom Scheck April 22, 2013, Minnesota Public Radio

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is throwing some cold water on some of the union-backed initiatives at the State Legislature. Bakk told a forum at the University of Minnesota’s s Humphrey School today that it will be difficult to pass legislation that would give a two-year unemployment extension for locked out workers, a minimum wage increase that tops $10 an hour and a measure that allows at-home child care workers to unionize. Bakk, a retired union carpenter, said some union leaders told him over the weekend that they’re not happy with him. “My union card is 37 years old,” Bakk said. “There are things you can do and things you can’t get done.” Bakk also said the Senate will not take up a bill that would require labor peace agreements between building developers and union groups that deal with buildings funded, in part, by taxpayer dollars. He said local governments, not the state, should decide the matter. On the minimum wage issue Bakk said he expects an increase will pass into law this session but it will not be as high as the labor backed $10.55 an hour (or even the House plan that increases the minimum wage to $9.85 an hour). (read article)

Fracking’s labor pains

Opinion, April 22, 2013, The New York Post

New Yorkers hoping one day to enjoy the promising financial rewards of fracking might not know whether to laugh or cry over a bill bouncing around the Legislature. “CJ’s Law” — named for CJ Bevins, a 23-year-old worker who died in a 2011 drilling-site accident — would set up a mountain of rules ostensibly meant to ensure safety at such sites. But it would also require drillers to use only unionized employees. “All applicants for a new drilling permit for an oil and gas drilling operation shall utilize union laborers,” says Section 928 of Senate bill S3466. The only exception: workers who complete a Department of Labor-approved training course. The bill’s emergence might be a sign that critics of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, expect Gov. Cuomo soon to give a long-delayed green light to the process. (After all, its Senate sponsor, Tony Avella of Queens, is an ardent fracking foe.) If so, New Yorkers — especially Upstaters desperate for an economic jolt — may be tempted to rejoice. But then, S3466’s requirements could prove so onerous that any financial benefits from fracking instantly vaporize. (read article)

San Diego sued over convention center labor pact

By Lori Weisberg, April 22, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune

A group of non-union contractors sued the city on Monday, demanding release of a labor-friendly pact governing hiring for the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The decision to sue follows repeated requests from the coalition, beginning in January, that the city release the document, which the contractors group believes violates a city proposition barring San Diego from requiring so-called project labor agreements on city construction projects. “We’re going to get that union project labor agreement, expose it to the public, and make every schemer involved with this union sweetheart deal accountable for breaking the law,” said Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. (read article)

Media Ignore Labor Union Calling for Repeal of ObamaCare

By Matt Vespa, April 22, 2013, NewsBusters.org

It’s no surprise that the liberal media are ignoring poll after poll showing widespread discontent, even among Democrats, with ObamaCare. But what’s utterly inexcusable is the man-bites-dog story coming out of a labor union this week, which is now calling for ObamaCare’s repeal. Janet Adamy of the Wall Street Journal noted on April 16 that the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers is the first union to call for the repeal of Obamacare. Why? Because it could lead to members losing their existing coverage: Like many unions, the roofers insure members through a so-called multiemployer health insurance plan that’s jointly managed by employers and the union. Mr. Robinson says the union’s concerns about the law began to pile up in recent months after speaking with employers. (read article)

Charter School Teachers Join the Union

By Samantha Winslow, April 22, 2013, Labor Notes

Teachers at Ivy Academia in L.A. signed cards—54 out of 56 eligible—to win union recognition. Photo: UTLA. Teachers at Ivy Academia in Los Angeles are the latest to join a wave of union organizing victories at charter schools. Fifty-six teachers and counselors joined the L.A. teachers’ union in February, following on the heels of schools in Michigan and New York. The American Federation of Teachers says its affiliates now represent 8,000 members at 191 charter schools. The National Education Association co-represents many charters with AFT and calculates there are about 625 unionized charters total. Ivy teachers make less than public school teachers and are given extra job duties outside the classroom, said Tom Kuhny, a middle school teacher at Ivy for seven years. “You come in at less salary. You work longer hours because you are at-will,” he said. Deb Schwartz, an 11th grade English teacher, said that in the 2012 school year, teachers were given 13 furlough days in anticipation of the state budget crisis. “We felt we did not have a voice in some of the decisions and changes,” Schwartz said. (read article)

Labor eyes big changes to jump-start growth

By Melissa Maynard, April 21, 2013, Bend Bulletin

Organized labor is no longer in denial about its dwindling numbers and diminished political power: Unions lost 400,000 members last year, and states like Indiana and Wisconsin have clipped the organizing rights of state employees and others. These changes are driving traditional unions toward innovative, but potentially risky, new approaches. The new ideas being explored are rooted in the belief that many more workers than the 14.4 million who currently belong to labor unions would organize in some way if they had the opportunity. Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said the fact that 60 million workers say they would join a labor union today if they could often gets lost in the public dialogue about labor’s future. “They write the obituary and they throw out these numbers as if this is really what the state of labor is,” he said. “But what they don’t say is how many people want one.” (read article)

Labor nominee Perez pledges open mind

By Sam Hananel, April 18, 2013, Albany Times-Union

Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez sought to assure senators Thursday that he would approach the job with an open mind and a willingness to work with business and labor groups alike to create new jobs. “You will always have a person who has an open and balanced approach,” Perez told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of his plan for leading the Labor Department. The comments at his confirmation hearing were aimed at diffusing Republican claims that Perez’s views are outside the mainstream and that his decisions as the government’s top civil rights enforcer were often guided by political ideology. (read article)

Union: Labor Dispute Ended With Signing of New Teacher Contract

By Nathan Eagle, April 18, 2013, Hawaii News

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he and Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe signed the “most progressive contract in the country” this morning at the Capitol. The union and state have been in a heated labor dispute for years, but they say all that is over now that teachers have a new four-year deal complete with better benefits, 3 percent annual raises and a performance-based evaluation system. Abercrombie said a “partnership in transforming education” has been forged with HSTA. Citing Shakespeare, the governor said it’s true that “all’s well that ends well.” But he said he sees this as the beginning of transforming the state’s beleaguered public education system. Okabe said the contract sends a strong message to the rest of the country that Hawaii will be a leader, particularly with the new teacher evaluation system based on multiple measures of effectiveness. Board of Education member Jim Williams, a critical player in the contract negotiations, said it’s been a difficult past four years — as difficult as any he’s experienced since the 1970s. Education Superintendent Katherine Matayoshi said the contract exemplifies a shared belief that when you invest in teachers, the public education system benefits as a whole. The governor didn’t take any questions at the press conference Thursday. He said he and Matayoshi had to take a call with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The feds have been hot on Hawaii’s case, putting them at “high risk” of losing what’s left of a $75 million Race to the Top grant. The state was given this status in part because of the absence of a contract. (read article)

Colorado House approves firefighter labor union bill that Hickenlooper has threatened to veto

Associated Press, April 18, 2013, The Denver Channel

The Colorado House of Representatives approved a firefighter labor bill that Gov. John Hickenlooper has threatened to veto. If the bill proceeds, the Democratic House could face an intra-party showdown with Hickenlooper. The bill approved Wednesday evening enhances the rights of professional firefighters to talk about working conditions, even if their communities have voted to ban their use of collective bargaining. The measure is s watered-down version of a proposal vetoed in 2009 by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. (read article)

AFL-CIO’s Non-Union Worker Group Headed Into Workplaces in Fifty States

By Josh Eidelson, April 17, 2013, The Nation

The country’s largest non-union workers’ group will soon announce plans to establish chapters in every state, achieve financial self-sufficiency and extend its organizing—so far focused on politics and policy—directly into the workplace. “This organization has done really what nobody else thought could be done,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told The Nation, “and that’s recruit more than three million people without a union to be part of the labor movement.” That organization is Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate for workers without a union on the job. Created ten years ago, it now claims 3.2 million members—more than any of the individual unions in the AFL-CIO, or any of the other “alt-labor” groups organizing and mobilizing non-union workers in the United States. “We’re taking the momentum that we’ve built organizing workers in communities,” said Working America Executive Director Karen Nussbaum, “and beginning to organize a community in the workplace.” As I reported in The Nation’s October 29, 2012, issue, Working America’s past efforts have taken place outside of work. Paid canvassers go door-to-door in what the group calls “working class moderate” neighborhoods, starting conversations about economic issues and asking people to join the organization (according to Trumka, two out of three people sign up by the end of the conversation). During election season, organizers come back to persuade and mobilize these members to vote for endorsed candidates, touting their stances on issues like outsourcing (they explicitly avoid discussing so-called “social issues”). Year-round, Working America supports union-backed campaigns on issues like supporting paid sick leave or opposing liquor store privatization; members write letters, lobby politicians and join rallies. (read article)

Will labor nominee enforce laws governing unions?

By Richard Berman, April 17, 2013, Politico

The Senate’s HELP Committee should have no shortage of questions Thursday for Thomas Perez, the president’s nominee for secretary of labor. They should start by asking him whether he plans to continue the Department of Labor’s increased pro-union activity — or perhaps “activism” — from the past four years. And depending on his answer to those questions, the Senate should be able to gauge whether it needs to pursue labor reform itself, rather than leave things in the hands of a federal agency with a poor track record of enforcing the law. The past four years have seen the Department of Labor systematically weaken the laws that regulate union activity, repeal the regulations that require unions to disclose certain information and forgo its duty to investigate unions for violations of the law. (read article)

Local labor unions explain possible effects of Right to Work legislation

By Kristin Schmitt, April 17, 2013, The Rapidian

On December 11, 2012, Michigan joined Indiana, Iowa and 21 other states by signing into law the new Right-To-Work (RtW) legislation. The new legislation mandates that employees are now allowed a new choice in labor contracts – the choice not to financially support affiliated unions. The measure officially took effect this past Wednesday, applying to extended or renewed labor contracts. Cole Dorsey, the Grand Rapids organizer of the Grand Rapids Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Joe Casalina, president of the Grand Rapids Employees Independent Union (GREIU) talk about how the new law may effect membership, non-paying employees and workers’ rights as a whole. “At this time, it is difficult to gauge on how the Right to Work legislation will affect the number of city employees that will remain dues paying members,” says Casalina, “Right to Work will have no affect at all so long that current and future Union members understand the benefits of a union.” (read article)

Christie vetoes union labor bill championed by Sweeney

By Matt Friedman, April 17, 2013The Star-Ledger

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a bill that would have allowed towns to hire all-union workers to rebuild key pieces of infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Sandy under project labor agreements. In his veto message, Christie said he would not sign the legislation (S2425) “because this bill would significantly alter public contracting in this State at a time when the swift reconstruction, rebuilding, and redevelopment of public infrastructure is a priority.” The bill, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), would expand the state’s 11-year-old project labor agreement law to include work on highways, bridges, pumping stations and water and sewage treatment plants. (read article)

With Big Changes, Can Labor Grow Again?

By Melissa Maynard, April 15, 2013, PewStates.org

Organized labor is no longer in denial about its dwindling numbers and diminished political power: Unions lost 400,000 members last year, and states like Indiana and Wisconsin have clipped the organizing rights of state employees and others. These changes are driving traditional unions toward innovative, but potentially risky, new approaches. The new ideas being explored are rooted in the belief that many more workers than the 14.4 million who currently belong to labor unions would organize in some way if they had the opportunity. Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said the fact that 60 million workers say they would join a labor union today if they could often gets lost in the public dialogue about labor’s future. “They write the obituary and they throw out these numbers as if this is really what the state of labor is,” he said. “But what they don’t say is how many people want one.” (read article)

City and business leaders call for reforming police and fire union labor law

By Steve Esack, April 16, 2013, Lehigh Valley Morning Call

The mayors of Allentown and Easton joined the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce in voicing support for a state Senate proposal that would limit the influence and power of independent arbitrators in settling contract disputes between municipalities and public safety unions. The proposal calls for amending the Police & Firefighter Collective Bargaining Law, known as Act 111. The law, enacted in 1968, uses independent arbitrators to settle impasses in contract talks because paid police and firefighters are not allowed to go on strike. The proposal by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, would not allow pension negotiations to be part of contract talks that could reach an independent arbitrator. It would require arbitration hearings to be open to the public under the state’s Open Meetings Law, known as the Sunshine Act. It would require unions to pay for some costs associated with paying for an independent arbitrator, who under the proposal would have to take into consideration municipalities’ finances before issuing a written verdict. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said no one is proposing to end collective bargaining rights of police and firefighters. But he said an arbitrator’s award in 2004 that gave his city police union an unsustainable pension under his predecessor proves Act 111 needs to be modified. The law needs to require arbitrators to take into account a municipality’s finances and its ability to pay for benefits awarded through the arbitration process, he said. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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