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.

IRS Actions Taken Against Americans Parallel Obama Labor Board’s Agenda

Fred Wszolek, May 28, 2013, TownHall.com

In recent days, Americans have been taken aback by the actions of taxpayer-funded, government bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who have targeted individuals and groups with whom they disagree with politically. It’s the sort of conduct one would expect to read about in other countries, but certainly not the United States. Whether it’s requiring individuals and groups to provide unnecessary or proprietary information or how that information was used, the rights of Americans and their privacy were violated. To hear the Obama Administration, one would think this is an isolated event which is not at all reflective of their values or conduct. Unfortunately, this is simply inconsistent with the facts. In fact, the IRS is even facing a class action lawsuit which alleges more than 60 million personal medical records were improperly seized by representatives of the federal agency. If there’s one thing we know, Americans value their privacy and the confidential nature of information related to their lives and that of their families. But that same concern has not been exhibited by the Obama Administration. Along with the reckless actions of the IRS, another example is presented in the track record of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). (read article) 

Gonzalez takes California Assembly post

By Michael Gardner, May 28, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune

Longtime San Diego labor activist Lorena Gonzalez was sworn in as the newest member of the state Assembly in a noon ceremony Tuesday, a week after her convincing special election victory over a fellow Democrat. Ahead is the challenging task of becoming quickly versed on some tough and complicated measures that will be up for votes in the next few weeks — not the least of which is the state budget and its accompanying controversies. “I feel a responsibility to just dive in and figure out what I will be voting on,” said Gonzalez, whose election solidifies a huge Democratic majority in the Assembly. Gonzalez said she has not set her own bill priorities. “I will probably be voting on 430 bills in the coming weeks that have gone through the process. Right now I am thinking about nothing but trying to understand those bills,” she said. Critics are convinced Gonzalez will be a loyal vote for Democrat priorities, from taxes to business regulations to worker protections. (read article) 

Unions having second thoughts about Obamacare

By Sean Higgins, May 28, 2013, The Washington Examiner

Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, begged President Obama in an op-ed last week to save his union from the ravages of the Affordable Care Act. Or, as it is more commonly known, Obamacare. The problem is the law will make his members’ health care unaffordable. This is only the latest example of Big Labor’s Obamacare angst. Union leaders are finding out that the law many of them championed undermines their own members’ plans. “s currently interpreted, the ACA would block these plans from the law’s benefits (such as the subsidy for lower-income individuals and families) while subjecting them to the law’s penalties (like the $63 per insured person to subsidize Big Insurance),” Hansen wrote in the Hill. Hansen’s plea came one month after the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers called for the plan’s full repeal. It warned the law would result in “unstoppable incentives” for managers to give their members fewer hours and poorer-quality insurance. (read article) 

White-collar workers increasingly look to unions for help

By Alana Semuels, May 28, 2013, Los Angeles Times

The next wave of union protesters isn’t blue collar. It’s lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, helicopter pilots, judges, insurance agents and podiatrists. These white-collar workers are not exactly the picture of the labor movement, but they are becoming a more essential part of it as they turn to unions for help in a tough economy as bosses try to squeeze out more profits. “Employers have been downsizing, asking employees to take on larger roles, making them work more hours,” said Nicole Korkolis, spokeswoman for the Office and Professional Employees International Union. “People are feeling like they need an advocate.” Members of UAW Local 2320 in New York, nearly half of whom are lawyers, voted to strike this month, after their employer, Legal Services NYC, pushed for cuts to benefits in a recent contract negotiation. Many of them had never been involved with labor unions before, but they said decisions by management led them to take the drastic action of voting to strike. “They’re pushing a lot of changes that are making it a less pleasant place to work,” said Logan Schiff, 30, who recently left his job in the corporate world to become a lawyer helping clients facing foreclosures on Staten Island. (read article) 

Minneapolis Schools, teachers union embark on high stakes hearts-and-minds campaigns

By Beth Hawkins, May 28, 2013, Minneapolis Post

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and its teachers union have been campaigning to win the hearts and minds of the city’s residents for weeks. Contract negotiations between Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and its teachers union have yet to start, but the campaign to win the hearts and minds of the city’s residents has been in full swing for weeks. For both sides, the stakes could not be higher. Over the last decade negotiations between the district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) have become increasingly fraught. So much so that the current contract, which expires June 30, was a year overdue in the negotiating. The last two rounds of talks in particular have attracted an unusual amount of attention from both policymakers and the general public. In addition to changes sought by MPS brass, state and federal officials have demanded reforms the district can’t enact without union cooperation. And citizen groups have begun pushing for an end to the impasse. Looming in the background is the specter of last fall’s strike by Chicago’s teachers, during which both sides scrambled to win the public’s support. Neither emerged a clear winner, nor was the settlement that ended the strike widely applauded. Indeed, elected officials and labor leaders are engaged in similar debates in New York, Los Angeles and many more cities where education reform is a red-hot topic. (read article) 

Seven Reasons Why the Labor Movement Has Stalled

by David Macaray, May 28th, 2013, Dissident Voice

A self-described “McGovern Democrat” whom I shall call “Fay” told me that, alas, she could no longer support organized labor because, in her own, stunning words, “unions have become too powerful.” A UCLA honors grad and longtime political activist, Fay is probably the most “left-wing” person I’ve ever personally known. She dropped this bombshell on me despite the undeniable fact that (1) labor is clearly outmanned and outgunned, (2) private sector membership is less than 7-percent, (3) the middle-class, which was “invented” by organized labor, is shrinking faster than the glaciers, and (4) without institutional resistance, businesses will run wild on us. My initial thought? If we lose the support of smart people like Fay, we’re sunk. There’s no denying the labor movement has stalled. While there still seems to be strong and genuine “pro-worker” sentiment throughout the country, there’s precious little codified social/political activism to go along with it. In a recent edition of CounterPunch, Jeffrey St. Clair provocatively questions the very existence of a “leftist movement.” (read article) 

Next NYC Mayor facing $7.8B fiscal cliff from unions who haven’t received a raise in years

By Rich Schapiro, May 27, 2013, New York Daily News

Be warned, New York: The next mayor will face an epic challenge in protecting you from paying a whole lot more to get a whole lot less. On Inauguration Day, Jan. 1, Michael Bloomberg’s successor will confront huge unpaid bills whose payment would require dramatically raising taxes, slashing spending, or both. Failure to avert them would mean everything from fewer cops on the street to fewer teachers in classrooms — and a New York that is even less affordable for the middle and working classes. Simply put, New York’s quality of life is hanging in the balance. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the mayoral campaign. None of the candidates, neither Democratic nor Republican, has alerted New Yorkers to the crisis bearing down on the city — or presented plans to overcome it. Fiscal experts are unanimous that New York is marching toward a cliff, with the sole question being how sharp the plunge will be. The most dire projection foresees a sudden hit of $7.8 billion in new costs a single year, equivalent to 11% of the budget. For perspective, when the city suffered a hole of a similar proportion after 9/11, the climb out required special state permission to borrow to pay bills, along with an 18.5% hike in the property tax. “Disaster looms if we continue down the road we’re going,” said James Parrott, chief economist at the liberal-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute. If elected as NYC Mayor, Anthony Weiner will confront huge unpaid bills whose payment requires dramatically raising taxes, slashing spending or both. The fear is shared by New York’s business leaders. “They don’t want to see a repeat of the 1970s in terms of the deterioration of the city and the exodus of the middle class,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an association of executives. New Yorkers approach a reckoning because most of the city’s nearly 300,000 unionized employees have been working without a contract for as long as four years. Unable to strike deals with Bloomberg, the union chiefs will push the next mayor to settle up, including payment of retroactive raises. (read article) 

Except as donors, unions all but irrelevant in Mississippi politics

By Sid Salter, May 27, 2013, Hattiesburg American

Combative emails and phone calls trailed — as they almost always do when I write on that topic — my most recent column on the pursuit of a union vote at Nissan’s auto manufacturing plant by the United Auto Workers. Pro-union critics made their usual protestations about the historic good the unions did in getting rid of child labor sweat shops, unsafe working conditions, and winning the 40-hour work week. But in point of fact, those are not serious issues in the current dispute over the UAW’s attempt to infiltrate foreign-owned auto plants in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only some 48,000 Mississippians or 4.3 percent of Mississippi workers are members of labor unions with another 64,000 or 5.7 percent of the state’s workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee association contract. That dwindling union membership in Mississippi means that there are over a million more non-union workers in this state than there are union members and non-joining but union-represented workers combined. (read article) 

Labor unions split on mayoral endorsements

By Jonathan Lemire, May 25, 2013, New York Daily News

The executive board of the Central Labor Council, a coalition representing 650,000 trade unionists from more than 400 affiliated organizations, urged its members to delay handing out their endorsements, but some of its affiliates have already backed various candidates in the race for mayor. Membership organizations within the Central Labor Council are backing different mayoral candidates in this fall’s election. New York City voters split on whether Anthony Weiner should jump into mayor’s race In this year’s mayoral race, the labor movement is a house divided. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, boasting 45,000 members in the city, has endorsed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The city’s largest union, SEIU Local 1199, which represents 200,000 health care workers, just backed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. A day later, Local 1180 of the Communication Workers of America came out swinging for city Controller John Liu. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Organized labor hoped to rally behind one Democratic candidate, maximizing its clout — and their chances of having a sympathetic ear in City Hall. Instead, the labor movement is hopelessly splintered, as unions one by one peel away to make endorsements on their own. (read article) 

Unions, the reliable Democratic supporters, split from president on ObamaCare

Associated Press, May 25, 2013, FoxNews.com

Labor unions that have solidly backed President Obama are splitting with him over ObamaCare — with one calling for the “repeal or complete reform” of the president’s signature health-care law. Union leaders argue insurance costs for millions of workers will increase under the president’s health-care plan so they might have to drop their existing plan, despite Obama promising the opposite. Their primary concern is the multi-employer or so-called Taft-Hartley plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries that frequently use seasonal and temporary employment. The union leaders say the roughly 20 million people covered by the plans will likely have higher premiums because the Affordable Care Act does not include tax subsidies for them. However, workers seeking coverage in the upcoming, state-based marketplaces for insurance, known as exchanges, can qualify for subsidies. (read article) 

Second federal labor union cries foul over immigration bill

By Chad Groening, May 24, 2013, OneNewsNow.com

Ira Mehlman, an immigration border enforcement advocate, says the U.S. Senate immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called “Gang of Eight” is so bad, even government unions are opposed to it. Mehlman is a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He says the American Federation of Government Employees Council 119 is the second key Homeland Security Department labor organization opposed to the bill. Council 119 represents 12,000 officers and staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Recently union president Kenneth Palinkas said the immigration bill will raise national security risks as the Obama administration will do little more than “rubber-stamp” illegal immigrants into the program, endangering Americans. Palinkas also said the culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper checks into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications “Chris Crane, who is the president of the union representing the enforcement side, has been saying for a long time that the administration has been tying the hands of his officers,” Mehlman explains. “They can’t do their job; they’re told not to enforce the law.” “Now you have the president of the service industry USCIS coming out and saying We’re not allowed to do our job,” Mehlman adds. (read article) 

Historical tidbit: Scott Walker went after unions way before he was governor

By Jack Craver, May 24, 2013, The Capital Times

Jack Craver joined The Capital Times in January 2012 to write about state and local politics. As a UW-Madison student, he founded a local political blog, The Sconz, which became a popular source of news and commentary on campus, city and state issues. Early on in his political career, Scott Walker had his sights on labor unions. In fact, his first major bill as a legislator sought to limit the ability of labor groups to raise money for political activity. Shortly after being named chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Constitutional Law in 1995, Walker began crafting a campaign finance bill that, among other things, would have forced unions to get permission from members before using their dues for political contributions. Ever since a 1988 Supreme Court decision, Beck v. Communications Workers, unions have been required to offer members a way to prevent their dues from being used for political campaigns. For many unions, however, this meant they simply had to set up an “opt-out” system. What the young Walker proposed was that union members would have to “opt in” to have their union dues used for political purposes. In fact, the legislation he authored would have required each union member to provide written authorization for the union to transfer his or her dues to a political committee. Furthermore, that authorization would have only been good for one year. (read article) 

Are unions losing influence in L.A. politics?

LA Live, May 23, 2013, Los Angeles Times

The largest and the most free-spending labor organizations in Los Angeles placed a large bet on mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel and rolled snake eyes. The county Federation of Labor and IBEW Local 18 also wagered on newcomer candidates for City Council and school board in Tuesday’s election and went bust. Wins in two other City Council races and the city attorney’s contest prevented the two powerhouse union organizations from going home winless in Tuesday’s municipal elections. But labor’s losses were so pronounced that they had critics suggesting that public employee unions might, just might, lose a degree of their vaunted clout at Los Angeles City Hall. That remains to be seen, however, as a majority of the 15-member City Council still came to office with substantial union support. To thwart employee wages and benefit demands could be to invite a reelection challenge. (read article) 

Union pressure leads to labor agreements

By Kevin Dayton, May 23, 2013, Napa Register

California union leaders regard the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as an essential tool to “greenmail” public and private project owners into signing union Project Labor Agreements (PLA). That’s why unions oppose any reasonable changes to CEQA at the state legislature. The Napa Pipe mixed-use riverfront neighborhood is now a target of union CEQA actions. The law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo is representing construction trade unions as it submits environmental objections to the Napa Pipe project. If unions suddenly stop objecting to the Napa Pipe neighborhood on environmental grounds, look for the Project Labor Agreement. (read article) 

A wolf at the door: could a labor union encourage your employees to ask OSHA to inspect your non-union facilities – then participate in the inspection?

By Miller & Martin LLP, May 23 2013, Lexology.com

Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), absent a few highly unusual situations, a non-employee union representative can be denied access to an employer’s property at any time. Workplace inspections conducted by OSHA have always allowed for employees to participate in onsite inspections. OSHA regulations also permit employees to designate a third party (who is not an employee) to participate. The new OSHA interpretation letter makes it clear that union officials can “override” the NLRA general “employer denial of access right” referenced above during an OSHA inspection. Such presence during the inspection, at worst, gives employees the impression that the union possesses some kind of authority or control over the employer, and, at best, introduces the idea of a union into a workplace the employer has worked very hard to keep union-free. There are some proactive steps non-union employers can take to try to foreclose a union’s ability to access their workplace and potentially their employees in this manner. Ask employees to choose their own “safety representative” well in advance of any OSHA inspection. For instance, if your company already has a lawful safety committee, employees could be asked to choose a member of that committee as their designated “safety representative” — or at least to commit that “a member of this committee” will be so designated – “in the event of an internal or external safety inspection.” (read article) 

Labor unions the big loser in mayor’s race

By Steve Lopez, May 22, 2013, Los Angeles Times

Labor gambled and lost. Wendy Greuel drove away much of her own base. And it’s done. After two years of campaigning and more than $30 million of spinning, the next mayor of Los Angeles will be Eric Garcetti, who doesn’t exactly have what you’d call a mandate. Though he won by several percentage points despite predictions of a tighter race, it looks like about four out of five registered voters blew off this election. Live video analysis: Wednesday, noon to 2 p.m. The question is whether Garcetti won the election or Greuel lost it, despite several million more dollars being spent on her behalf by independent expenditure campaigns, and you could argue it either way. But as a San Fernando Valley resident, Greuel did herself no favors by identifying herself with the most hated city agency, the L.A. Department of Water and Power. Garcetti and Greuel appeared to have basically split the Valley vote, which Greuel needed to dominate. Why is DWP hated? It’s simple. In the Valley, where you’ve got to water your lawn and turn on the air conditioning, nothing makes you angrier than rising DWP rates, even if other utilities in California charge even more. And it didn’t help that the public employee union that represents DWP workers laid it all on the line, spending millions on Greuel while the union boss — Brian D’Arcy — told me he was expecting raises from the new mayor. “From what I was hearing from my neighbors, the DWP backing was a major factor in their decision” to vote for Garcetti, said Don Schultz, a Van Nuys resident and community activist. Schultz voted for Greuel in the primary but switched to Garcetti on Tuesday for several reasons, including Greuel’s primary attack on candidate Jan Perry. (read article) 

‘Obamacare’ Costs Would Rise Even Higher With Labor Union ‘Fix’

By Napp Nazworth, May 22, 2013, Christian Post Reporter

Labor union leaders are complaining they are getting shortchanged by the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” They are asking the White House to allow the health care exchange subsidies to be used for their worker’s health care plans, which could dramatically increase the cost of the ACA. In an op-ed for The Hill, Joseph Hansen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, claims that, unlike what President Barack Obama promised labor leaders during his 2008 campaign, many workers now represented by a labor union will lose their current health insurance when the new law goes into effect. The problem, Hansen says, is the ACA will pass higher costs, without additional cost-saving benefits, onto the non-profit health care plans that their members have negotiated with their employers, thus encouraging the employers to drop the health coverage altogether. Their workers would then get health insurance through the health care exchanges, or through Medicaid, if they are eligible. For labor unions to be treated fairly, he argues, they should get the same subsidies as those who get their health care in the new law’s health care exchanges that will be set up in each state. (read article) 

Bills Seek To Limit NLRB, Union Authority

By Ilyse W. Schuman, May 22 2013, Littler Employment Law

Before adjourning for a week-long recess, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced several bills addressing labor union and National Labor Relations Board activity. The first bill reintroduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to allow employers to refuse to hire undercover union organizers, commonly known as “salts.” The Truth in Employment Act (H.R. 1746) would add the following provision to Section 8(a) of the NLRA: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as requiring an employer to employ any person who seeks or has sought employment with the employer in furtherance of other employment or agency status.” In a press release, Rep. King said that his bill: Would help restore the balance of rights between employers, employees, and labor unions by ensuring that employers are not forced to hire individuals who only want to damage their company. These ‘salting’ activities should not be confused with legitimate union organizing, and companies should not be forced to ‘play dumb’ and hire people working on behalf of their competitors. The Truth in Employment Act will go a long way towards protecting small businesses from sabotage, extortion, and frivolous lawsuits, and it should be enacted immediately as a common-sense clarification to federal labor law. Under current law, an employer cannot discriminate against a “salt” simply because of an alleged conflict of interest or due to “potential” violation of company policies. The employer does have the right to require the salt to perform work in the normally expected manner. (read article) 

Three Labor Unions, Including Teamsters, Want ObamaCare Repealed; When Will Media Report?

By Matt Vespa, May 21, 2013, NewsBusters.org

As the media, by and large, ignores the train wreck that is on the horizon with ObamaCare, yet another union has jumped ship on the president’s health care overhaul. Back in April, you may recall, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers officially said thanks but no thanks to the president’s plan. Well, now, a major labor union in the grocery industry is balking at the policy. According to The Hill: The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) — a 1.3 million-member labor group that twice endorsed Obama for president — is very worried about how the reform law will affect its members’ healthcare plans. Last month, the president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers released a statement calling “for repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act.” UNITE HERE, a prominent hotel workers’ union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are also pushing for changes. In a May 21 post, Sean Hackbarth at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Free Enterprise blog cited Joseph Hansen, President of the UFCW, saying that the Affordable Care Act actually harms unions by jeopardizing the way labor and management negotiate their health care plans: s currently interpreted, the ACA would block these plans from the law’s benefits (such as the subsidy for lower-income individuals and families) while subjecting them to the law’s penalties (like the $63 per insured person to subsidize Big Insurance). This creates unstoppable incentives for employers to reduce weekly hours for workers currently on our plans and push them onto the exchanges where many will pay higher costs for poorer insurance with a more limited network of providers. (read article) 

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