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.

Missouri legislation could weaken public labor unions

By Elizabeth Crisp, May 14, 2013, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Missouri Legislature is sending a bill to Gov. Jay Nixon that would make public employee unions ask their members each year if they want to continue being members. With the legislative session entering its final days, the legislation doesn’t go as far as some lawmakers had hoped toward restricting labor groups. An effort to make Missouri the latest right-to-work state this session appears to have stalled, and the bill that did pass was amended by Democrats. But the legislation, which earned final approval at the Capitol on Monday, would require public employee unions to get consent every year from members before deducting fees from their paychecks. Additionally, the bill also would require such unions to get annual written permission from members before using those fees for political purposes. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, repeatedly has said he sees the so-called “paycheck protection” legislation as a step toward right-to-work. On Monday, after the bill passed his chamber, Jones tweeted that the House had “moved one step closer to complete worker freedom.” (read article) 

Eric Garcetti criticizes union mailers promising wage hike if Wendy Greuel is elected L.A. mayor

By Dakota Smith, May 13, 2013, Los Angeles Daily News

This is one of the Wendy Greuel-supporting mailers that says she will raise the minimumw wage to $15 if she is elected mayor of Los Angeles. The text says it was paid for by “Coalition for Better Schools and Communities to Support Cedillo, Price and Choi for Council and Greuel for Mayor 2013, Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.” Campaign mailers sent to Latino voters promising a hike in the $8 minimum wage if Wendy Greuel is elected are sparking controversy in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. Two mailers, sent by an outside committee supported by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor that represents 600,000 union workers and supports Greuel, were sent in Spanish and English last week. The mailers suggest the minimum wage, currently $8 an hour, will be hiked under a Greuel administration. Voters go to the polls in one week. “On May 21, our votes will elect la Wendy and raise the minimum wage for housekeepers and cooks and dishwashers to $15 per hour,” reads one mailer. Another mailer that says a vote for Wendy Greuel for mayor of Los Angeles will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Maria Elena Durazo, the powerful head of the County Fed, appears in the mailer wearing two buttons: One reads La Wendy, the other $15. Workers are seen in the background, holding digitally altered signs that read: $15. (read article) 

Contra Ezra Klein, Unions Spend Plenty on Politics

By James Sherk, May 13, 2013, National Review

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein recently lamented that America has “a deeply unbalanced political system.” He highlighted a chart showing that business owners and employees donate billions to politicians, while unions give only a few tens of millions. True enough, but this does not make labor “totally outgunned,” as he claims. Unions give little directly to politicians because they run their own political machines. Businessmen who support politicians give them money, and the candidates use that money to run their campaigns. Unions instead prefer to run their own campaigns. This gives them a machine they can turn against politicians who do not toe the line. Unions conduct polling, develop and run TV ads, and conduct massive get-out-the-vote operations themselves. Such activities made unions the top outside spenders in the 2010 election cycle. But because unions never relinquish their money to a candidate, none of this gets reported to the FEC, so it can look like they have little clout. Fortunately, the Department of Labor requires private-sector unions to file detailed financial-disclosure reports to their members. These reports show unions spend far more on politics than they report to the FEC. Over the past four election cycles, unions spent more than $4 billion on political activities and lobbying. In the 2012 election cycle alone, they spent $1.4 billion. Moreover, these reports understate total union spending. A majority of union members work in government, but federal transparency regulations only cover unions with at least one private-sector or federal employee as a member. Consequently most government union locals do not have to file. (read article)

Labor, Environmental, Public Interest Groups Protest Koch Takeover of LA Times

Press Release, May 13, 2013, AFL-CIO

Tomorrow, Tuesday, May 14, labor unions, environmentalists and public interest advocates will rally against David and Charles Koch’s takeover of the Los Angeles Times. The action will take place outside the offices of Oaktree Capital, principal owner of the Tribune Company, LA Times’ parent. Featured speakers at the rally will include the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, Maria Elena Durazo; Common Cause’s Kathay Feng; and statewide Head of the Wisconsin Firefighters, Mahlon Mitchell. Mitchell was a central leader in the fight against the Koch brothers backed effort to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. That effort sparked massive protests and an attempted recall of Wisconsin’s governor. “The news media is extremely influential in shaping public opinion. A Koch Brothers’ owned Los Angeles Times would mean the spreading of hateful ideology that has no place in public discourse in LA,” says Maria Elena Durazo. (read article)

Obama’s Rogue Union Board Dealt Major Setbacks

By Warner Todd Huston, May 13, 2013, Wizbang

Upon coming to office, President Obama began using the obscure National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to give big payoffs to unions at the expense of business and to the detriment of our economic recovery but at last his incredible abuse of this agency is under scrutiny. By and large, NLRB is not one of those Washington agencies that get much notice. In normal times, that wouldn’t be a big deal. The NLRB is a federal agency controlled from the White House that is supposed to act as an unbiased arbiter between the business sector and labor unions, its chief job to write rules to govern how business and labor relate to each other. But since President Obama took office he’s thrown out any pretense of his board being an unbiased arbiter and used this obscure agency to implement all sorts of illicit, union-favoring rules at the expense of business and economic recovery and often in direct violation of what the courts have ruled. At long last, though, Obama’s NLRB is seeing its assumed powers questioned. The most recent reversal of fortunes occurred on April 7 when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the NLRB’s poster rule with U.S. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph ruing that the NLRB had exceeded its legal authority to force over 6 million employers to post signs advertising unions to employees. (read article) 

How Labor Learned to Love Immigration

By Michael Kazin, May 13, 2013, New Republic

No group in America, aside from Latino activists, is a more steadfast champion of generous immigration reform than organized labor. That stance, declares the AFL-CIO, is “based on the simple idea that working people are strongest when we work together and the labor movement is strongest when we are open to all workers, regardless of where they come from.” In recent months, union members have flocked to support rallies, while their leaders have lobbied Congress to allow the undocumented to become citizens and made an unprecedented deal with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to allow thousands of guest workers into the country. In a poll taken last December, nearly two-thirds of AFL-CIO members favored a law that would offer illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. This is a rather stunning reversal from the policy the labor movement clung to tenaciously throughout its long history. (read article) 

Throwing Open the Doors to Unions

By Bill McMorris, May 10, 2013, The Washington Free Beacon

A new interpretation of OSHA regulation could allow unions easier access to non-union shops, The Department of Labor’s workplace safety watchdog has quietly crafted a legal interpretation of a longstanding rule that will allow labors representatives into non-union shops. The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a February guidance letter made public in April saying that labor union officials could participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee even if the employer is non-union. “A person affiliated with a union without a collective bargaining agreement or with a community representative can act on behalf of employees as a walkaround representative so long as the individual has been authorized by the employees to serve as their representative,” wrote OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax. (read article) 

Fight over labor laws headed to court

May 10, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

A rewrite of Anchorage’s labor laws that stripped many of the unions representing thousands of city employees of their powers is headed to civil court in an attempt to repeal it. The Anchorage Daily News ) says the move comes after city attorney Dennis Wheeler rejected a proposed referendum that would have put the question of the rewrite to voters. Wheeler determined that the new law is administrative rather than legislative in nature, and therefore exempt from repeal by voters. The law has a list of amendments that are specific about how to administer policies, which are narrow enough to qualify as administrative matters, Wheeler said. He compared the changes in the new law to things like setting work rules and conditions, benefit and insurance programs, and performance reviews. (read article) 

With big changes, can labor grow again?

By Melissa Maynard, May 10, 2013, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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) 

The case of the missing union blog on Koch Industries

By Daniel McCoy, May 9, 2013, Wichita Business Journal

Koch Industries says about 30 percent of its work force is unionized. Early today, we told you about union opposition to the rumored potential sale of the Tribune Co. to Charles and David Koch of Wichita’s Koch Industries. It’s important to note, again, that the Kochs have not confirmed they’ve made a bid for the newspaper company, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. But the rumors of such a deal have been enough for a group of California legislators and 10 California public employee unions to send a letter to Tribune voicing opposition to such a deal. Among the many things the group accuses the Kochs of being in the letter is “anti-union.” But that is an interesting assertion given how much of Koch’s work force — 15,000 people, about 30 percent of its total — is unionized. That fact, Koch spokesperson Missy Cohlmia says, is indicative of the positive relationship the company has with organized labor. “We have good relationships with those unions,” Cohlmia told me. “We work with them in good faith and we honor their collective bargaining agreements.” Indeed, even union leaders seem to have touted that good relationship in the past. (read article) 

Unions to Banks: Pay Up

Sarah Jaffe, May 9, 2013, The American Prospect

Instead of raising taxes, labor leaders in collective-bargaining talks have a new proposal for closing state budget gaps: Go after the financial institutions that ripped off governments. Rebecca Sandoval hasn’t had a raise for six years. She and other home-care workers who work for the state of Oregon and are represented by Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) make $10.20 an hour to assist people with disabilities and senior citizens, like the 99-year-old woman Sandoval cares for. The state froze wages at 2007 levels to help offset a yawning $855 million budget shortfall caused by the financial crisis. Almost every year since then, Sandoval says, it has further cut back hours, leaving workers with the choice to leave some of their clients’ needs unmet or to work for free. “You can’t rush a 99-year-old woman with any aspect of her daily living,” she says. Members of Local 503 in different professions have seen similar wage freezes and cutbacks. James Jacobson got a layoff notice after 16 years as an office worker at the University of Oregon’s college of education; budget cuts, it explained. He’s one of the lucky ones—because he had seniority, he was able to get another position, this one in the campus maintenance operations office. Others haven’t been so lucky.“It’s been affecting a lot of people, these budget cuts, and of course I know students that are really suffering because education isn’t being funded.” (read article) 

Fresno County farmer challenges state’s mandatory labor mediation

By Robert Rodriguez, May 9, 2013, The Fresno Bee

A Fresno County farming company is suing the state, saying it unfairly imposed a requirement to negotiate with a labor union on behalf of thousands of its workers. Gerawan Farming Company, one of the largest tree fruit growers in the state, is suing the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and the United Farm Workers union, alleging the state failed to meet the requirements for imposing mandatory mediation against the company. The 42-page lawsuit, filed Monday in Fresno County Superior Court, also claims the process is unconstitutional. Company officials are hoping a judge will order the board to reverse its decision for mediation. The lawsuit stems from a recent push by the union to represent more than 3,700 Gerawan workers, 22 years after it won the right to do so. Although the company was shocked that the union resurfaced after a two-decade lapse, it agreed to negotiate a contract. The two sides met in 10 bargaining sessions and company officials were pleased with the progress, according to the lawsuit. But on March 29, the union filed a demand with the ALRB to force Gerawan into mandatory mediation. (read article) 

Labor rallies at University of Oregon

By Diane Dietz, May 8, 2013, The Eugene Register-Guard

University of Oregon professors and instructors and their supporters got feisty Tuesday at a noontime demonstration in front of the Knight Library. “We are the university. We are the university. We are the university,” they chanted while rattling metal water bottles containing dried pinto beans. The crowd of about 100 gathered to support a nine-member faculty bargaining team that spent the morning across the table from three UO administrators, offering up counterproposals on salary, health insurance, retirement and other fringe benefits. The parties have met every other week since late last year, trying to reach the first collective bargaining agreement for the newly formed, 1,800-member United Academics of the University of Oregon. The sides remain far apart on faculty pay, even though university administrators have talked for at least a quarter century about boosting academic pay levels to those enjoyed by faculty at comparative universities. (read article)

Employers can’t be forced to display pro-union posters, court rules

By Warren Richey, May 7, 2013, Christian Science Monitor

A federal appeals court in Washington has struck down an Obama administration rule that required nearly 6 million businesses to display posters announcing that their employees have rights to organize or join a labor union. The rule, enacted in 2011 by the National Labor Relations Board, said failure to display the notice in the workplace and on a company’s website would be deemed an unfair labor practice. The three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted unanimously on Tuesday to invalidate the measure. Labor leaders said the decision was a setback that would undermine workers’ rights. Business groups hailed the opinion as an important victory. “The poster rule is a prime example of a government agency that seeks to fundamentally change the way employers and employees communicate. The ultimate result of the NLRB’s intrusion would be to create a hostile work environment where none exists,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, which challenged the rule in court. (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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