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.

Kansas Law Lets Teachers Choose Political Donations

By Ben DeGrow, April 30, 2013, Heartland News

A labor expert says a new Kansas law adopted this month promotes teachers’ freedom to make informed political choices. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2022 into law on April 1, enacting a policy often referred to as “paycheck protection” for all Kansas employees. “It could have been stronger,” said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Illinois Policy Institute. “But with Kansas already having a right-to-work law, I think it’s a good step.” Employees in right-to-work states cannot be forced to join or financially support a labor organization. Under the new law, Kansas unions also must obtain funds designated for political activities by asking members directly. “Union dues collected by governments can’t be used for electioneering,” Kersey said. “It gives government employees one more choice.” (read article)

NRCC & GOP About to Give Labor Unions a Huge Win

By Erick Erickson, April 30, 2013, RedState.com

It is an amazing testament to how bad the other candidates were that Mark Sanford ran away with the race in South Carolina’s first congressional district. A deeply flawed man, he was the one guy the primary voters knew wouldn’t go wobbly in Washington. But they, and I, presumed he was over the issues with his ex-wife. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago we learned things were not settled. The NRCC and GOP abandoned Mark Sanford as a result. In a race the GOP could still — even now — win, the GOP decided it would rather lose than win. Unfortunately for the GOP, losing South Carolina’s Republican first congressional district will give labor unions a massive win. The unions, which passionately hate Boeing producing the 787 in Charleston, have poured money in to help Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Right now, thanks to the NRCC pulling out of the race, the Democrats are outspending Mark Sanford three to one. (read article)

Unions That Built Germany Eroded by Rules Buoying Economy

By Jana Randow, April 30, 2013, Bloomberg

Germany’s top trade unionist, Michael Sommer, looked out on a May Day crowd of workers and told them that a proposed labor flexibility plan wouldn’t create a single job. Ten years later, the plan is law. Joblessness is close to a two-decade low and employment has increased by more than 3 million. It’s unions whose numbers are diminishing. As more and more employees work for temporary agencies or on project-driven contracts, the jobs being created are mostly non-union, in a country whose modern form was built by organized labor. Founded in the mid-19th century, German unions rose to power in the 1950s, when they were crucial in turning an economy shattered by World War II into an economic miracle. Their impact is waning at a time when Germany is being held up as a model for debt-stricken Europe. “The influence of labor unions has diminished significantly as a result of those reforms,” said Thomas Harjes, senior European economist at Barclays Bank Plc in Frankfurt. “They’re fighting hard to win back some sway.” Labor’s latest woes are being heard by Germany’s leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s running for re- election this year from the Christian Democratic Union, said in January after meeting with the DGB union federation’s Sommer that Germany needed to “keep an eye” on contract work. It “can increasingly turn into circumvention of sensible union agreements,” she said. Unions represented 25 percent of the German workforce in 2000, three years before then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder started implementing a program for labor-market flexibility. That number dropped to 18 percent in 2011, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as less generous jobless benefits and easier rules on firing pushed workers into lower-paid temporary jobs. The absolute number of union members fell by 21 percent. At the same time, the new flexibility helped the German economy, Europe’s largest, contain unemployment during the 2009 crisis and emerge faster and stronger from the recession than most of its euro-region peers. (read article)

Powerful Union, Upstart Battle Over Shrinking Pie

By Kris Maher, April 29, 2013, Wall Street Journal

The Service Employees International Union is locked in battle here with an unusual opponent: another union. SEIU has enjoyed years of rapid growth even as organized labor has withered in the U.S. Now, it is competing with the National Union of Healthcare Workers to represent 45,000 nursing aides, pharmacy technicians and janitors at health-care giant Kaiser Permanente. The fight is playing out in cafeterias and break rooms, where NUHW supporters and organizers in bright red T-shirts have clashed in recent weeks with purple-clad SEIU backers. The National Labor Relations Board will begin counting ballots of Kaiser Permanente workers on Wednesday. The board threw out the results of a previous election in 2010, which the SEIU won, after finding that the SEIU had threatened members who backed the NUHW. The SEIU has earned a reputation in recent years as a potent political player. In the 2012 election, it emerged as the top outside spender on Democratic campaigns. As of last fall, the union had funded roughly $70 million in campaign donations, television ads and voter mobilization efforts, according to Federal Election Commission filings. It is currently helping lead organized labor’s campaign to persuade Congress to pass an immigration bill that would ease the path to citizenship for immigrant workers. (read article)

4 proposed labor deals deflate Milwaukee County Board’s no-talks claim

By Daniel Bice, April 29, 2013, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is running out of explanations. Less than a month ago, the freshman County Board leader told an Assembly committee that she was unaware of any contract negotiations going on with local labor groups. “I don’t believe that’s the case,” Dimitrijevic said in response to a question. Dimitrijevic later denied that the county was negotiating with a decertified union, saying these were just informal discussions. Email records proved otherwise. Then on Monday, the chairwoman blocked County Board-authorized contract deals tentatively reached with four more labor groups – just as the proposals became public and County Executive Chris Abele questioned their legality. “Based on attorney’s advice, I do not believe the county should be bargaining and negotiating with any non-public safety unions on anything other than base wages,” Abele said via email. “The terms of these agreements appear to violate Act 10.” (read article)

How labor unions impact non-union workers

By Kevin Mooney, April 29, 2013, WatchDog.org

If you’re like most Americans, and prefer not to be part of a labor union, you should know that organized labor still impacts your compensation and standard of living. This much is made apparent by a just released u-tube video compliments of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Entitled “Life of Julius -How Unions Hurt Workers” – follows the life of an average American who initially cannot find entry level work thanks to a higher minimum wage. The opening narration is as follows: “Labor Unions: They claim to fight for the working man, but in reality unions distort the labor market, shrink the labor pool, and hurt workers, even if those workers aren’t members of a labor union.” (read article)

Will Millennials Come Back to Labor?

By Carmen Berkley, April 29, 2013, Huffington Post

As we approach International Workers Day, also known as May Day, it’s hard not to wonder about the future of the labor movement, and whether or not young people in the United States will wake up and see that joining labor unions could be a part of the solution to the nation’s 22.9 percent youth unemployment rate. Somewhere between the hate propaganda promoting the “dangers” of joining labor unions (including bringing us a weekend and the 40-hour work week), and outsourcing millions of jobs overseas, the millennial generation has been raised to turn our backs on labor, and pray for a job at Google where we might be able to get fair working standards like a free bowl of Cap’n Crunch or a bike share program. Lets face it. The average millennial will have seven jobs before they turn 26, if they can find a job at all. Perhaps that reason why millennials switch jobs so frequently is because we are unhappy with the benefits, treatment and lack of respect due to our age in the workplace. Something needs to change, and it could start with a massive movement of currently employed young people joining labor unions. (read article)

New Twinkies Will Have a Missing Ingredient: Union Labor

By Bruce Vail, April 29, 2013, In These Times

The new owners of Twinkies snack cakes announced last week they will re-open four shuttered production plants in the coming months, but have no intention of doing business with the labor unions that have represented the workers at those bakeries for generations. When Hostess went bankrupt in November, prompting headlines like “Who Killed the Twinkie?”, management blamed labor for the snack cake’s demise, while unions predicted that the company would be chopped up and sold at a profit to speculators who would speedily put the lucrative Twinkie brand back on the shelves. That’s just what has happened. An executive of the new ownership group—private equity firms Metropolous & Co. and Apollo Global Management—announced that production will resume at four, or possibly five, plants purchased from Hostess Brands as part of a $410 million bankruptcy sale earlier this year. The new company intends to hire about 1,500 workers at sites in Indianapolis, Emporia, Kan., Schiller Park, Ill., and Columbus, Ga., and may reopen a fifth bakery in Los Angeles, according to executive C. Dean Metropolous. Former unionized workers at the bakeries may apply for their old jobs, but no union contracts are in place, nor are any expected to be signed in the foreseeable future, he indicated. (read article)

Labor, reeling elsewhere, poised for gains in Minn.

By Brian Bakst, April 28, 2013, Minnesota Public Radio

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. (read article)

Senate Republicans quiz Labor Department on purported payments for labor unions worldwide

April 28, 2013, FoxNews.com

Senate Republicans say the Labor Department appears to be spending millions in taxpayer dollars to establish labor unions and promote collective bargaining in foreign countries and are asking top Obama administration officials for a full audit. The request was sent by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the leading Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “At a time when our federal budget is deteriorating rapidly … it is troubling to us that the department appears to be spending millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to establish labor unions and promote collective bargaining in foreign countries,” they said in a letter to acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris. The purported activities were conducted by the agency’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs. The bureau for the past several years has purportedly made numerous awards — worth millions of dollars — to the United Nations, the Solidarity Center and other similar groups, “whose stated objective is to help establish labor unions in foreign countries,” the senators said. (read article)

Minnesota lawmakers should reject day care union

Editorial, April 27, 2013, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Before Minnesota lawmakers vote on controversial legislation that would allow thousands of day-care providers to collectively bargain with the state for higher child-care subsidies, here’s a key question to answer: Exactly how would sending about a third of monthly dues to be collected to the national organization of a powerful, affiliated labor union help Minnesota families and improve day-care quality in the state? If the legislation passes and if providers vote to unionize, $8 of every $25 collected in monthly dues would go to the national union, according to a Minnesota office of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). While the union contends this money would be well-spent on advocacy for providers and that some of it would flow back here for training, Minnesota’s interests are best-served by making sure that dollars from the publicly funded Child Care Assistance Program stay in the state and directly support families and hardworking providers. That’s one of a number of reasons that Minnesota’s DFL legislative majorities need to stand up to the legislation’s union supporters and vote no on divisive child-care unionization legislation that could significantly increase the cost of CCAP, a $207 million-a-year program. The legislation also appears to stack the odds in favor of a pro-union vote by child-care providers by unfairly excluding potentially thousands of licensed child-care providers from the election process. (read article)

Have Twinkies Killed the Union Movement?

By Mark Koba, April 26, 2013, CNBC

Original Twinkies are coming back—but under new management—and with a vow to use nonunion workers. Some five months after Hostess shut down over a standoff with its unions, the restructured company is expecting to put its snacks back on store shelves in the coming months. The Hostess closing left more than 18,000 people out of work across the country—with the vast majority belonging to the Teamsters and the Bakery Union. With Hostess back in business, labor analysts say the union movement may have taken a major hit just when it seemed to be gaining lost energy with recent walkouts or job actions. “The Hostess strike will be a lasting image and not for the good of unions,” said Marc Bloch, a labor and employment lawyer at Walter & Haverfield. “I think any management team will hold up a photo to its workers of Hostess strikers and say, ‘What’s a union going to do for you?”’ Bloch said. “The case can be made that they did nothing.” (read article)

Even Big Labor Unions Drop Support For Obamacare

Editorial, April 26, 2013, Investors Business Daily

Health Care Politics: As ObamaCare rolls out, some of its biggest backers from labor to D.C. lawmakers are having second thoughts. It’s a sign that the idea of ending this national nightmare isn’t about to go away. Late last week, the 22,000-member United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers dropped a bombshell on the Obama administration, not only withdrawing its support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but also demanding its repeal. The reason: ObamaCare subsidizes low-paid non-union workers in small companies that don’t insure their employees, while leaving union shops with ObamaCare’s higher health care costs and a 40% tax on Cadillac plans by 2018. That’s a “death warrant” for unions, as the Atlantic’s Megan McArdle noted. “These provisions jeopardize our multiemployer health plans, have the potential to cause a loss of work for our members, create an unfair bidding advantage for those contractors who do not provide health coverage to their workers and, in the worst case, may cause our members and their families to lose the benefits they currently enjoy as participants in multiemployer health plans,” said union President Kinsey Robinson. (read article)

How Unions Are Getting Their Groove Back

Harold Meyerson, April 25, 2013, American Prospect

In Chicago’s streets, in New Mexico, and at Wal-Marts around the nation yesterday, workers demanded a better deal—but not (for now) through contracts. April 24th—was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage. The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and more than half of the city’s low-wage workers are older than 30. The demonstration was organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which formed to demand a living wage for the city’s retail and fast-food workers. (read article)

Can Co-ops Save Unions?

By Rebecca Burns, April 25, 2013, In These Times

What has 18 owners, no bosses and high hopes for fostering workplace democracy in America? New Era Windows LLC, a worker-owned cooperative formed last year by members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110. After occupying their factory to save their jobs—twice—workers at a closing Chicago windows plant decided last year to try a new tack: running the business themselves. They purchased equipment from their former bosses and are now setting up a new factory they believe will create good jobs in the city’s depressed economy. New Era is one of a growing number of union-backed cooperatives nationwide that could herald a new strategy for labor. In his survey of existing cooperatives, economist Gar Alperovitz has calculated that the number of workers in partly or wholly employee-owned companies now exceeds those who belong to private-sector unions—a statistic that speaks both to the perilous state of the labor movement and the promise of reviving it through new structures. In the case of New Era, the decision to form a cooperative was the result of a long battle with management. In 2008, upon being told that their factory would be closed and they would be fired immediately without severance pay, workers staged a six-day occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory and emerged victorious. Their stand, coming at the height of the financial crisis, was celebrated nationwide. It also emboldened them to occupy once again in February 2012, when new owner Serious Energy announced that it, too, would be closing the plant. The workers’ journey from occupiers to owners was paved in part by UE’s tradition of militancy, which some progressives hoped would inspire other unions fighting mass layoffs. (read article)

Michigan GOP, organized labor at odds over prevailing wage law

By Melissa Anders, April 24, 2013, Michigan Live

The battle over the prevailing wage law in Michigan continues as Republican leaders push for a repeal and labor unions fight to keep the law. Several dozen union members held a protest Wednesday morning outside of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Lansing, where the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan kicked off its legislative day. ABC is a trade group that represents non-unionized builders and contractors. Members want to eliminate the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires union wages and benefits for workers on state-funded or state-sponsored construction projects. They contend repealing the law would save state government and schools $250 million a year. “Why pay unnecessarily escalated wages when you can get the same quality, the same safety?” said Randy Sherman of Three Rivers Corp., a general contractor in Midland Township and member of ABC. Republicans have introduced legislation in the House and Senate to eliminate prevailing wage. The issue is a priority in the 2013 House Republican Action Plan. “Like project labor agreements, (prevailing wages) are special carve outs, special deals, for special interests, instead of allowing Michigan residents, Michigan citizens to openly compete for that work and compete for those jobs,” House Speaker Jase Bolger told members of ABC on Wednesday. (read article)

City Hall labor dispute goes public

By Craig Gustafson, April 24, 2013, Union-Tribune San Diego

There’s a deep divide between city leaders and employee unions over what it will take to reach a five-year labor pact that nearly everyone at City Hall calls a top fiscal priority. The two sides last met two weeks ago and talks have stalled. Unions want a 14.5 percent across-the-board salary increase for all workers spread over five years while the city is offering 6 percent. Frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations, five of the city’s six employee unions gathered outside City Hall Wednesday to make their case for their version of a deal that they say would free up $82 million for services in the city budget during a five-year period. Brian Marvel, president of the Police Officers Association, said the different labor groups have often been at odds with each other in seeking terms with the city but have come together for this year’s negotiations. “Today for the first time, I’m happy to report, we’ve set aside our differences in order to take advantage of a unique opportunity to enhance city services while providing stability for city employees,” Marvel said. “We hope that ability to collaborate and unite will act as an example to our elected officials at City Hall to follow and embrace.” He added, “It’s time to put politics aside and do what is best for the city’s long-term fiscal health.” At issue is whether the city will solidify the five-year freeze on workers’ pensionable pay that was called for in Proposition B, an initiative to overhaul the pension system that two-thirds of voters approved last June. The measure faces a legal challenge and could be overturned so Mayor Bob Filner and the City Council want to negotiate a freeze to generate the projected $1 billion in long-term savings it would bring in the form of lower annual pension payments. (read article)

New Twinkie Maker Shuns Union Labor

By Rachel Feintzeig, April 24, 2013, Wall Street Journal

The company that bought the Twinkie, HoHo and Ding Dong brands out of bankruptcy is gearing up to reopen plants and hire workers, but it won’t be using union labor. Hostess Brands LLC—Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management LLC’s new incarnation of the baking company that liquidated in Chapter 11—is reopening four bakeries in the next eight to 10 weeks, aiming to get Twinkie-deprived consumers the classic snack cake starting in July. Chief Executive C. Dean Metropoulos said the company will pump $60 million in capital investments into the plants between now and September and aims to hire at least 1,500 workers. But they won’t be represented by unions, including the one whose nationwide strike sparked the 86-year-old company’s decision to shut down in November. “We do not expect to be involved in the union going forward,” Mr. Metropoulos said in an interview Wednesday. (read article)

Convention center labor pact made public

By Lori Weisberg, April 23, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune

A labor-friendly pact governing hiring for the planned expansion of the San Diego convention center was released on Tuesday by the City Attorney’s office, a day after critics of the agreement sued the city demanding that it be made public. The agreement, which was negotiated last year between local labor unions and the project contractor, Clark/Hunt, allows for the hiring of both union and non-union workers but guarantees union-level wages and benefits for all those working on the $550 million project. The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, representing non-union contractors, has been threatening legal action over the agreement for months, arguing that it represents an end-run around a city proposition approved last year barring San Diego from requiring such labor agreements on city construction projects. Because the city of San Diego was not a party to the privately negotiated labor agreement, it does not technically violate the ballot proposition. (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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