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.

Senate ready to confirm new NLRB members

By Alan Fram, July 30, 2013, Fresno Bee

The Senate on Tuesday moved a step closer to approving Democratic nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Following a script crafted by the two parties, the Senate voted 64-34 to cut off debate and move to a final confirmation vote for Kent Hirozawa. By the end of the day, the Senate could confirm five nominees waiting to join the independent labor agency. “I’m glad the Senate is moving forward as agreed to confirm five nominees to the NLRB, two Republicans and three Democrats,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said before the vote. “Once confirmed the NLRB will have five Senate-confirmed nominees for the first time in a decade.” Action on the NLRB nominees comes a day after the Senate took another step to break the logjam over presidential nominees by voting 93-1 to confirm James Comey to become FBI director. Comey gained attention in 2004 when, as second-ranking Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, he fought off efforts by White House officials to renew a warrantless eavesdropping program. (read article)

Vote ‘no’ on expanding ‘prevailing wage’ in San Diego

Editorial, July 29, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune

The federal government requires that “prevailing wages” — essentially meaning union-scale wage rates — be paid on its public works projects. So does California’s state government and many local governments. San Diego, too, requires prevailing wage rates on public works projects that receive any federal or state funding and on sewer or water projects of more than $10 million. So why shouldn’t it pay prevailing wages on all other public works projects? Simple. San Diego can’t afford it. The City Council’s independent budget analyst reports that the capital budget for the year that began July 1 includes 190 construction contracts totaling $331 million. Only 21 percent of those contracts, totaling about $70 million, now require the payment of prevailing wages. The analyst’s office estimated that if prevailing wages were to be required on the remaining contracts, it would cost taxpayers as much as $26 million more. (read article)

Wages and Suppress Workers’ Rights? You Guessed It: ALEC

By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce, July 10, 2013, In These Times

According to a new analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of ALECexposed.org, at least 117 bills introduced in 2013 fuel a “race to the bottom” in wages, benefits and worker rights—and resemble “model” bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). As working Americans speak out for higher wages, better benefits and respect in the workplace, a coordinated, nationwide campaign to silence them is mounting—and ALEC is at the heart of it. ALEC corporations, right-wing tink tanks, and monied interests like the Koch brothers are pushing legislation throughout the country designed to drive down wages; limit health care, pensions, and other benefits; and cripple working families’ participation in the political and legislative process. ALEC’s mallet of choice for private-sector workers is so-called “Right to Work” legislation. These laws were utilitized in Southern states before and after WWII to suppress wages and keep out unions like the CIO, which supported an end to Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. In the decades that followed, they made little headway in northern states. In 2012, however, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana rammed a “Right to Work” bill through the legislature. Next was the battle royale in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder pushed “Right to Work” through a lame duck session in December 2012 right before a new, more worker-friendly legislature was sworn in. As CMD reported, it contained verbatim language from the ALEC bill. In every instance, ALEC and the Kochs were there to cheer the radical policies on. (read article)

Fast Food Workers Plan Walkout Over Low Wages

July 29, 2013, KKTV

Fast-food workers in a number of locations across seven cities plan to walk off the job Monday in protests over low wages. The employees, many of whom are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, are demanding $15 an hour, while many say they also want union representation. The strikes, supported in part by existing labor unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are taking place in Chicago; Detroit; Flint, Mich.; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; New York; and St. Louis at various Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s franchises. Some data show that consumers are increasingly confident about the economy. Still, many workers are on the edge, receiving low pay and no benefits. Although the labor unrest has to date has remained fairly small in scale, some experts think it has the potential to grow much larger. When people become desperate, they may see little risk in taking action. For strikers, the goal is to pressure companies that have ridden low wages to new heights of profitability to reconsider their business models. Companies have two basic ways of increase their profits to shareholders: grow revenue or reduce costs. Keeping a tight control on costs has become an imperative in corporations since the 1980s, when companies and Wall Street started to realize how much profit was lost in waste. But aggressive cost control, coupled with productivity gains and egged on by public policy, has decoupled median household income from growth in productivity and per-capita GDP for more than 20 years. (read article)

Fast-food workers’ strike in Flint, Detroit put on hold;

By Jeremy Allen, July 29, 2013, Michigan Live

Flint and Detroit fast-food workers won’t strike today according to a representative from the organization who helped organize the May 10 fast-food walkouts in Detroit. Darci McConnell, a representative for Detroit-15 – a coalition of faith-based and labor organizations that fights for higher wages for employees – said that the proposed national day of fast-food worker strikes won’t take place today, but there are plans for action in Flint. “There is no strike planned for today. I will have (information) detailing what’s occurring in Flint” in the future,” McConnell said. The strike was to include Flint and Detroit fast-food workers, as well as workers from New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. (read article)

Hundreds of fast food workers strike in NYC

July 29, 2013, CBS News

Workers at McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s restaurants across New York walked out Monday in a one-day strike to demand better pay and the right to unionize, calling for minimum wage to more than double from $7.25 to $15 an hour and the end to what activists called “abusive labor practices.” “It’s noisy, it’s really hot, fast, they rush you. Sometimes you don’t even get breaks. All for $7.25? It’s crazy,” said Nathalia Sepulveda, who works at a McDonald’s opposite Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where one protest took place. Outside the McDonald’s as well as a Wendy’s in lower Manhattan, workers chanted “we can’t survive on $7.25” and “supersize our wages.” At the Wendy’s, the crowd shouted at customers not to go in and two police officers were stationed inside. They were among hundreds of people who took part at locations throughout New York, activists said. Similar strikes were planned across the country this week, organized by the national Fast Food Forward campaign, which was launched last year to tackle stagnating wages and the proliferation of low-wage jobs as the nation recovers from the recession, said campaign director Jonathan Westin. (read article)

BART Strike Part Two? Labor Leaders Pessimistic

By Bay City News, July 29, 2013, Bay City News

BART management is meeting with union leaders again today to try to reach an agreement before the union employees’ contract expires at midnight Sunday, a management spokesman said. Transit district spokesman Rick Rice said management is meeting with leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, this morning and with leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, this afternoon. The talks are being facilitated by two state mediators who sometimes meet with the parties separately and other times meet with all of them together in the same room. SEIU Local 1021 executive director Pete Castelli said negotiations have been ongoing but have been proceeding more slowly than they should because BART’s lead negotiator, Thomas Hock, has been on vacation for the past 10 days. (read article)

Long Beach and Teamsters in Labor Struggle

By Michael Gougis, July 30, 2013, Long Beach Business Journal

Having secured its first contract for truck drivers working at the Port of Los Angeles, local Teamsters organizers are stepping up their efforts to secure contracts for drivers who work for or with other short-haul drayage companies at the twin ports. But officials with the companies who employ or contract with truckers to move the goods that come through the nation’s busiest ports say that the campaign has involved smearing the reputations of company owners and their firms, and endangering the company owners personally. At stake is a fundamental change in the way the short-haul delivery system operates. And this conflict is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle over union representation of the truckers who serve the ports – a battle that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and overseas. “The Teamsters have really ramped up their efforts to organize truck drivers in Los Angeles and Long Beach,” says Alex Cherin, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association. “It seems more aggressive than in the past.” Cherin, who formerly served as executive officer and managing director of the Port of Long Beach, is now senior vice president for Englander Knabe & Allen, a high-profile public relations and lobbying firm. The harbor trucking association represents more than 100 firms that hire their own drivers or contract with independent owner-operators to move goods out of the port via semi tractor-trailer, Cherin says. (read article)

Education labor group: We have an alternative way

By Kirsten Adshead and Ryan Ekvall, July 29, 2013, Wisconsin Reporter

An organization billing itself as an alternative to teachers unions is trying to make headway in Wisconsin, and a familiar face is leading the push. This time around, Kristi Lacroix is happy to be making the news. The former Lakeview Technology Academy teacher was fiercely ridiculed when, during the height of the Recall Scott Walker effort, Lacroix appeared in an ad praising the governor and his controversial collective bargaining reforms. But about that same time, frustrated with union representation, she began researching alternatives. Lacroix left the classroom in June to take a job as membership director for the Wisconsin branch of the American Association of Educators, which provides liability insurance and professional resources for educators, without collective bargaining and without political lobbying. “We’re not another union,” she said. “We’re an alternative to the union.” (read article)

Barbara Buono introduces labor leader as running mate

By Angela Delli Santi, July 29, 2013, ABC New Jersey

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono introduced her running mate Monday, a labor organizer with a similar life story and policy positions that enable the campaign to shape a thematic attack on Gov. Chris Christie. The all-female ticket of Buono and Milly Silva is a first for New Jersey and the third nationwide. Silva, 43, is executive vice president of SEIU 1199, a private union representing 8,000 home health aides and nursing home workers. She wasted no time attacking her new opponent, claiming Christie’s policies favor the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working classes. It’s a theme Buono has hit repeatedly in her struggling campaign against the popular Republican. “We live in a New Jersey where whatever Chris Christie says goes,” Silva said in her first speech as lieutenant governor candidate. “That’s not a leader. That’s a bully.” Speaking at times in Spanish, Silva, who’s of Puerto Rican descent, laid out a litany of criticisms against Christie: veto of $7.5 million for women’s health care, failure to sign a Democratic-sponsored minimum-wage increase, cut of the earned income tax credit and more. “Here’s the bottom line,” she said. “When the people of New Jersey have needed him most, Chris Christie has failed.” Buono introduced Silva as a like-minded woman and said she has “supreme confidence” in her abilities to lead. (read article)

Court upholds Minnesota child care union election

July 29, 2013, Workday Minnesota

A federal judge ruled Sunday to dismiss two lawsuits that sought to stop a union election for state-subsidized child care providers in Minnesota. Roughly 12,700 child care providers are now eligible to vote in the union election – that includes licensed and unlicensed in-home providers who receive state subsidies from the Child Care Assistance Program. One of the suits filed against the state claimed the recently passed unionization measure violates federal labor law; the other claimed it infringes on First Amendment rights of free association. U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis said the plaintiffs’ claims are not “ripe.” He noted that no union election or collective bargaining has occurred and no injury is imminent. Judge Davis wrote: “At this time, the state statute does not require Plaintiffs to associate with a union, be represented by a union, engage in collective bargaining, or pay money to any union. Plaintiffs may never be required to do any of these things.” He added that “Plaintiffs request that the Court peer into a crystal ball, predict the future, and then opine on the constitutionality of a speculative scenario.” (read article)

The NLRB’s New Focus: Non-Union Employers

By Steven M. Bernstein, July 29 2013, Fisher & Phillips LLP

The figures on union membership have been crunched for decades now, yet the percentages have never been lower than they are right now. At 6.6% of the private sector workforce, organized labor is in the midst of its greatest down-turn since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. Any number of factors have contributed to this decline, and additional membership losses are projected over the coming years. To an agency tasked with overseeing representation elections and investigating unfair labor practices that typically flow from organizing campaigns, these figures paint a sobering picture for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the Board). Confronting a world in which unions wield diminishing influence, the Board is facing a decline in labor activity that threatens to drain its dockets — and ultimately its enforcement budgets. Within this changing landscape, the Board has revisited an age-old doctrine to define a new role for itself that will ensure continued viability outside the context of organized labor. That doctrine has long been referred to as “concerted protected activity,” a term that emanates from Section 7 of the NLRA. Encroachment upon an employee’s Section 7 rights constituted an independent violation of Section 8(a) (1) of the NLRA. To drive home the point, the Board recently launched a website in an effort to openly promote the doctrine. The vehicle employed by the Board to revive this doctrine — the employee handbook — is as common to the workplace as employees themselves. (read article)

Why Labor Unions And Silicon Valley Aren’t Friends, In 2 Charts

By Gregaory Ferenstein, July 29, 2013, TechCrunch

None of the Internet giants have unionized employees, which has made Silicon Valley a favorite target for civil libertarians. Earlier this month, after several prominent Bay Area technologists came out against the BART subway union strike, it provided a convenient excuse for haters to brand the tech community as greedy oligarchs. “There’s a reason why so many people are hating on the techies,” wrote Slate’s Andrew Leonard, after quoting one tech executive who wanted to automate BART employees out of existence — “Get ‘em back to work, pay them whatever they want, and then figure out how to automate their jobs so this doesn’t happen again.” There’s a very good reason why unions have never had a presence in Silicon Valley: they aren’t fans of technology. Labor unions have aggressively fought Uber and Lyft, which threaten taxi drivers with increased competition. They’ve effectively paralyzed a multi-billion-dollar sharing economy industry from spreading around the country. Not to be outdone, one of the largest labor unions in the country, AFL-CIO, is the leading opponent of more high-skilled immigrants, calling the tech community “greedy” for wanting to make it easier to hire foreign engineers. Technology is in the business of disrupting industries. Startups will tell you that it takes every ounce of brains and grit to get a product off the ground; they don’t just need an environment that acquiesces to technology, but fully embraces the chaos. (read article)

Groups That Are Often at Odds Join Forces to Oppose Spitzer’s Campaign

By David W. Chen, July 29, 2013, New York Times

Alarmed by Eliot Spitzer’s momentum in his unexpected bid to win citywide office, an unlikely coalition of business leaders, women’s groups and labor unions is vowing to finance an ambitious effort to thwart the former governor’s ambition. The interest groups, which often spar with one another over competing agendas and priorities, have found rare common cause in their antipathy toward Mr. Spitzer, who infuriated the business community with his aggressive posture toward Wall Street, who offended feminists by paying for sex with prostitutes and who alienated unions by taking on a labor-backed candidate. Now, they are pledging to raise and spend at least $1.5 million on advertising, direct mail and field work in an effort to persuade voters that Mr. Spitzer would be a poor choice for comptroller, New York City’s chief financial officer. That money may be dwarfed by the amount Mr. Spitzer, whose family has a real estate fortune, could spend on his own, but is enough to alter the contours of the campaign, particularly because the groups are likely to be more negative than Mr. Spitzer’s Democratic primary opponent, Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president. Taking a cue from the changing landscape of presidential politics, the groups are forming two “super PACs” that will be free to accept contributions of any size, unhindered by the restrictions that limit gifts to Mr. Stringer’s campaign. With just six weeks to go before the Sept. 10 primary, the creation of the two groups underscores the urgent trepidation with which these groups now regard Mr. Spitzer. (read article)

Fast Food Franchisees: Are You Ready for the Union Wave?

By Erik Sherman, July 29, 2013, Inc.

Coalitions are targeting fast food companies with walkouts and strikes to push for higher pay and union representation, but things will quickly spill onto franchise owners. Fast food franchise owners can make significant money, but they also know that success requires vigilance over costs, particular food and labor. And as chains have promoted low-cost menus, labor costs have proportionally risen because it takes more transactions and items, and more labor, to reach the same revenue levels as in the past. Those labor costs in major metropolitan areas may be on the rise if fast food workers have their way. In cities like New York and Detroit, employees are starting to push for higher pay and union representation — and using strikes as a tool. Although the efforts seem concentrated among some of the largest chains, any change there will likely permeate throughout the industry. Detroit workers staged a walkout in May, targeting one or two locations for each of six chains: Burger King, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, Popeye’s, and Subway. That followed similar actions in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. In Detroit, the demands were $15 an hour wages and union representation, with unions part of the coalition supporting the action. A similar organization in New York City is also pushing for $15 an hour, focusing on how workers often make minimum wage of $7.25, which they claim is only a quarter of what they need to live in the city. (read article)

The New Face of Big Labor

By F. Vincent Vernuccio, July 29, 2013, National Review

There is a new trend in union organizing. Big labor is setting its sights on “organizing” workers without necessarily making them members of a union. The strategy is not to organize these workers in order immediately to represent them in the workplace. The goals of these nonunion organizations boil down to intimidating job creators so as to get more money and manpower for political action. Nonunion groups, many of which are simply fronts for traditional unions, have adopted the old labor strategy of “corporate campaigns” as one of their main tactics. In a corporate campaign, the organization might urge a regulatory agency to investigate the target company, or use public-relations techniques to damage the company’s reputation, or join with a civil-rights group in a lawsuit claiming some form of discrimination — all in order to pressure the company into acceding to the organization’s demands. The principal demand is usually taking away the secret ballot from workers, thus paving the way for traditional unionization. Pro-union writer Josh Eidelson popularized the term “alt-labor” for these nonunion labor organizations in a January 2013 American Prospect article. Alt-labor groups are created to organize workers who cannot easily be unionized for various reasons. In some cases, it is because a majority of the employees at a company don’t want to join a union; in others, it is because the employees fall outside the scope of traditional labor law. (read article)

Judge to rule on pay for Phoenix officers’ union work

By JJ Hensley, July 27, 2013, Arizona Central

The long-running dispute about whether Phoenix police employees should be compensated for work they do on behalf of a labor union is finally in the hands of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. Those involved, including two competing conservative think tanks and one representing the police union and Phoenix, presented their final arguments Friday before Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, who cut off several of the attorneys during their presentations to ask the same question: Why should I rule in your clients’ favor? The city’s agreement with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, approved on a split council vote last year, authorizes the labor group to place six police officers in full-time roles with the union and allows a bank of hours those union officials can offer to other officers to perform union work. The bank of hours includes more than 1,800 for training and conferences, and the contract authorizes full-time union employees to receive straight-time pay when they work overtime. Estimates put the cost of the practice at about $850,000 each year. Cooper enjoined the practice before the union’s contract expired last year, following a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute, and she again halted “release time” after a new contract was approved in 2012 that reauthorized the practice. Goldwater sued the city and the union, arguing that the practice violated the state Constitution’s gift clause. The gift clause requires that public entities receive substantial benefit from any public money they spend. (read article)

Union ‘worker centers’: Another ploy

Editorial, July 27, 2013, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Desperate over their share of the private-sector workforce shrinking to 6.6 percent, labor unions increasingly are using an insidious organizing method that pushes the legal envelope under the guise of community organizing. The Wall Street Journal reports Big Labor is funding nonprofit community “worker centers” — whose true purpose is building support for union organizing, thereby laying groundwork for workplace unionization elections. Not “labor organizations” under national labor law because they don’t have ongoing bargaining relationships with employers, these centers have more latitude than unions in terms of picketing and other tactics. End runs around labor law, worker centers are the subject of an ad campaign by the Center for Union Facts. Sometimes offering language classes for immigrants, these centers are essentially union subsidiaries. They often are affiliated with — and paying membership fees to — the AFL-CIO. Worker centers’ funders include the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the United Steelworkers and the Service Employees International Union — which last year gave $2.5 million to a Brooklyn center formed by ex-leaders of defunct ACORN’s New York chapter. John Raudabaugh, a Republican former member of the National Labor Relations Board, expects an upswing in court challenges to worker centers’ operations. (read article)

Unions by another name? Lawmakers question rise of ‘worker centers’

By Mike Emanuel, July 27, 2013, FoxNews.com

Roughly 200 so-called “worker centers” across the country are representing employees who work in everything from the fast-food industry to the taxi business. But some key Republican lawmakers are asking if those centers are actually acting more like labor unions. The concern is that the rise of these groups has become a way around the rules that govern bona-fide unions — like requirements to submit financial filings to the feds every year. House education committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., sent a letter this week to newly confirmed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez requesting that he clarify the situation. “In the last decade, the line between so-called ‘worker centers’ and labor organizations has blurred. Today, many of these worker centers are dealing with employers directly on behalf of employees,” they wrote. (read article)

Riverside County, California: Sheriff’s union sues over retirement benefits

By Jeff Horseman, July 26, 2013, Press-Enterprise

The union representing Riverside County sheriff’s deputies is taking the county to court over what it contends is an improperly applied formula for determining retirement benefits. In a lawsuit filed in Riverside County Superior Court, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association contends the formula, which stems from a state law, should not supersede the contract it has with county government. The formula could force newly hired members to wait longer before they can retire with full pension benefits. The union is asking a judge to force county officials to calculate annual pensions for retirees using formulas spelled out in the contract. The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in closed session Tuesday, July 30, to discuss the lawsuit, which was filed in May. The lawsuit names the county, the board, County Executive Officer Jay Orr and the state as defendants. (read article)

Unions Press White House, Congress to Aid Detroit

By Melanie Trottman, July 26, 2013, Wall Street Journal

Organized labor, angry that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing could cause thousands of union members to lose their pensions, is turning to the White House and Congress for help. The AFL-CIO issued a statement Thursday night that called on President Barack Obama and Congress “to commit to an immediate infusion of federal assistance for Detroit, and to demand” it be matched by the state of Michigan. The group, which is the largest union federation in the nation, said retirees put in decades of service to earn “a modest pension of about $19,000? a year, and alleged ”it is not only illegal but morally wrong to attack Detroit’s seniors.” The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — an AFL-CIO member that represents thousands of public-sector workers and retirees in Detroit — has failed in court to stop the bankruptcy from proceeding by arguing the filing skirts state constitutional protection of public-employee pension benefits. And there is little appetite in Washington for a Detroit bailout. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr are going to make Detroit’s problems worse “and accelerate its race to the bottom,” the AFL-CIO said in its statement. (read article)

Portland Police Union Files Labor Complaint Over Public Contract Talks

By Andrea Damewood, July 26, 2013, Willamette Week

The Portland Police Association has filed an unfair labor complaint against the city of Portland, saying that Mayor Charlie Hales’ stance that some contract negotiations be made public is against labor rules. The complaint (PDF), hand-delivered to the city attorney this afternoon, says the city—which is holding out for at least some public meetings in the Portland Building—doesn’t have the legal authority to force negotiations out into the open. By insisting as such, it says Portland officials are bargaining in bad faith. This year’s bargaining has the added weight of a federal court case behind it—several of the changes Portland and the PPA remain divided on are tied directly to the U.S. Department of Justice settlement over its findings of the bureau’s use of excessive force. The issue of public negotiations isn’t new: the city and its police union haggled over public meetings during its last contract talks in 2010. PPA President Daryl Turner agreed to a few open meetings then. This time around, however, the union wants all talks to stay private. (read article)

Could the City of SeaTac become a labor union?

by Jack Mayne, July 26, 2013, Sea Tac Blog

While a minimum wage of $15 has caught wide media and public notice, the real devil is in the details and sub-paragraphs of the proposed ordinance that City of SeaTac voters will decide on Nov. 5. Those details and sub-paragraphs would, in effect, require the city government to act very much like the administrators of a private labor union. No one on the SeaTac city staff or among the measure’s supporters has apparently made any attempt to figure out how much administering this proposed city ordinance would cost taxpayers. If the ordinance were approved, the costs to administer it would have to come from current city operations, and staff would have to be hired or reassigned to ensure that private companies abide by the new law. Moreover, the proposed ordinance, backed by the Service Employees International Union, has been criticized for covering only some workers –that has generated support and criticism from a variety of sources. Unions and their members, along with private social agencies and individual low and minimum wage earners, strongly support the passage of the ordinance. Some city residents, many immigrants from east Africa and other workers in the airport area said they just could not support their families on the current $9.19 minimum wage without two or three jobs. On the other hand, business operators in SeaTac strongly oppose the proposal and will apparently provide financial support to promote its defeat. (read article)

Police, fire recruiting numbers rise after passage of new labor law

By Nathaniel Herz, July 26, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

After the Anchorage Assembly passed a sweeping rewrite of city labor law last spring, members of the local police and fire unions warned that there would be consequences: fewer people would apply for public safety jobs, leading to a less-qualified, understaffed workforce. The new law limited pay raises, banned strikes and restricted bonuses for most categories of city workers. Combined with earlier state cutbacks to retirement packages, union officials said, the less generous compensation would drive aspiring cops and firefighters to seek employment in other cities where their work was more highly valued. So far, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Figures released by the city this week show that applications to both departments’ academies this year are up since the last hiring period, in 2011. In both cases, the comparisons aren’t completely analogous. Police officials said the department left its hiring process open longer this year, ultimately netting 1,100 applicants versus 895 in 2011. It’s also not clear that 28 successful candidates will emerge to fill the police academy that begins in November. While the Fire Department had 533 applicants qualify to take its written test this year, those prospective employees were not required to hold an Alaska training certificate, as they did in 2011 when 457 applied. And of those 533, just 243 showed up to take the written test, versus 303 who did so in 2011. (read article)

A MAYOR DISOWNED! Dem Party, Unions Push Charter Change For Firefighters

By Tony West, July 25, 2013, Philadelphia Record

Not stated – but plain as day – is the fact this city’s Democratic leaders have, in effect, deposed the Mayor from any citywide leadership role in his own party. That change occurred Tuesday when a broad-based coalition of Philadelphia’s political and labor leaders formally launched a drive to change the City Charter so Mayor Michael Nutter would be subject to binding-arbitration awards to sharply limit his ability to constantly appeal them in court. Meeting at the Firefighters & Paramedics Union Local 22 hall in Northern Liberties were a phalanx of City Council Members from both parties, State Senators and Representatives, leaders of the city’s most-powerful public- and private-sector unions, and the Chair of Democratic City Committee, Congressman Bob Brady. The Mayor has been locked in bitter stalemates with city unions since he entered office. The city’s firefighters and paramedics have gone for more than four years without a contract; and they are not alone. Specifically, the proposed charter change would require the Mayor to obtain the approval of City Council before he could proceed with legal challenges to future binding-arbitration awards. Public-safety workers lack the right to strike. In compensation for that, their labor contracts are subject to binding arbitration in the event their union and the administration cannot sign an agreement. But Nutter has stalled implementation of the firefighters’ contracts by repeatedly appealing these awards. All administration appeals to date have been rejected by the courts, but Nutter has simply restarted the appeals process each time, leaving the firefighters in limbo. (read article)

BART, labor unions busy swaying public perception

Eric Young, July 25, San Francisco Business Times

Things don’t appear to be going well at the contract talks between BART and its unions. How do I know? Because both sides are sending out dueling press releases and informational items to reporters. When both sides are emailing vitriol, it’s generally a sign that they are not getting close to an agreement. In the last few days I have seen one of BART’s major unions, SEIU Local 1021, send out an email that claims BART’s lead negotiator, Thomas Hock, “has a history of inciting strikes and stalling negotiations.” A separate SEIU email said Hock “has a history of using scorched earth tactics, inciting strikes and unfair labor practice claims.” BART, for its part, sent out an email called “Just the Facts” that includes information about Hock. He he has had two unfair labor practice charges filed against him, BART said. One was withdrawn and in the other case there was no evidence of bad faith bargaining found, BART said. Yet another BART email reprinted a story that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News and other newspapers. The article describes how half of the $69 million in new revenue BART has taken in since 2010 has gone toward the rising cost of employee health care and pensions. (read article)

Holyoke Walmart plan bashed at rally

By Mike Plaisance, July 25, 2013, Massachusetts Live

About 100 neighbors, labor union members and politicians attended a rally Thursday to protest Walmart’s plan to open a supercenter on Whiting Farms Road. “Walmart, Holyoke isn’t for you. We don’t want it. Holyoke can do better,” said Jason Garand, business manager of Local 108, New England Regional Council of Carpenters. A 160,000-square-foot Walmart would clog already traffic-congested streets in the area near the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, especially at the holidays. It also would add light and noise pollution, said Gordon Drive resident Terri Laramee, of the anti-Walmart group Holyoke First. “This is all combined to be an increased environmental hazard on all levels,” Laramee said. Walmart deceives the community by promising jobs and tax revenue, said Ward 4 resident James Bickford, of the group Stop Walmart in Holyoke. The truth is, Bickford said, the low-waged workers must get government subsidies to survive and Walmart’s low prices hurt the economy by driving out existing businesses. “These are jobs that keep people in poverty,” Bickford said. (read article)

California Close to Granting Big Labor Protections from Disclosure

by Trey Kovacs, July 24, 2013, Workplace Choice

California is going where only two other progressive bastions—Maryland and Illinois—have gone before in terms of providing unions with special privileges. If Assembly Bill 729 passes the Senate, communications between union representatives and their members will receive the equivalent protected status as that of attorney-client, physician-patient, and psychotherapist-patient privileges. Specifically, the bill adds a “union agent-represented worker privilege,” which defines union agent as union officials and union employees involved in grievance representation or collective bargaining. Meaning neither can be compelled to disclose information pertinent to an employer’s investigation or grievance proceeding. Giving unions the right to refuse to disclose communications hampers the possibilities of employers and employees resolving disputes on their own – before costly and time-consuming litigation or arbitration. Initially, AB 729 would have allowed the union agent-represented worker privilege to stand even if withholding information would lead to individual being harmed or other crime. But in a compromise, the bill was amended to gain support by making a few exceptions to this government-granted union privilege. Unions and the represented employees lose their evidentiary privilege if the disclosure of confidential conversations is necessary to “prevent a criminal act that the union agent reasonably believes is likely to result in the death of, or substantial bodily harm to, an individual.” In addition, the privilege is lost when the confidential communication that is made would lead or aid an individual in committing a crime. Lastly, the evidentiary privilege between union officials and members ceases during criminal proceedings. However, these safeguards may not be as ironclad as they appear. Unfortunately, California state laws and court decisions enable unions to commit certain criminal offenses in the name of advancing “legitimate” union objectives without punishment. (read article)

The ACLU Is Going After Its Own Union Workers’ Contracts

By Raillan Brooks, July 24, 2013, The Village Voice

Try this for irony: The ACLU is taking a melon baller to its union workers’ contracts. The collective bargaining unit representing legal assistants, receptionists, bookkeepers, accounting assistants, mail clerks, and most of the rest of the ACLU’s support staff plans to picket the national headquarters today over the nonprofit’s aggressive rollbacks of contract provisions. Contract negotiations have been underway since late March, but due to the slow progress union organizers have decided to take it to the streets. Local 2110 UAW–the same local representing Village Voice–and its supporters will gather at 125 Broad Street at noon to put public pressure on the national civil rights organization. The scope of the concessions ACLU is asking for are unprecedented despite the union’s good faith effort to negotiate, says Eden Schulz, secretary-treasurer of Local 2110. “We came in with pretty modest proposals, but management came in with a mountain of givebacks,” says Schulz. “We’ve had very standard contract language for people’s rights on the job for more than 30 years.” Among the bigger concessions as a complete transformation of healthcare benefits. The ACLU is asking that union workers, the lowest-paid employees at the nonprofit, to contribute toward healthcare premiums, a system Schulz says has never existed at the ACLU. (read article)

New labor secretary expected to be ‘activist’ for unions

By Chris Woodward, July 24, 2013, One News Now

A workplace advocacy organization expects Thomas Perez to be a “very activist” labor secretary. President Obama’s controversial pick for labor secretary was approved July 17 by the U.S. Senate in a party line 54-46 vote. Fred Wszolek of the Workforce Fairness Institute says Thomas Perez has the credentials to be a labor secretary, but there are a lot of unanswered questions about Perez’s nomination. Wszolek, Fred (Workforce Fairness Institute)”It appears that he hasn’t really fully complied with congressional subpoenas about emails he sent from a private account while doing government business,” Wszolek tells OneNewsNow. The Washington Post cited GOP accusations that Perez, while at the Justice Department, acted improperly in a whistleblower case involving the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. “So, we expect him to be a very activist Labor Secretary and really try to push the envelope on how to benefit the union bosses,” says Wszolek. That’s not to say that the Workforce Fairness Institute is anti-union. “We just want to make sure that workers have a secret ballot vote on whether or not to join a union, so the union organizers can’t pressure them into a decision that they wouldn’t make if somebody wasn’t staring at them and demanding that they choose the union,” he says. WFI also advocates for unions to be held accountable to their members, and for there to be a “fair balance” between management and labor. When asked what he would like to see Thomas Perez do in his first actions as Labor Secretary, Wszolek said his organization would like to see Perez reinstate rules that require unions to be more transparent about how they spend their money. (read article)

Why NSA Surveillance Should Alarm Labor

By Sam Adler-Bell and David Segal, July 24, 2013, In These Times

Today’s ever-expanding surveillance state should strike fear into the heart of organized labor not only because there is opportunity for abuse, but because there is motive. Contrary to the arguments in Louis Nayman’s somewhat befuddling “In Defense of PRISM,” progressives who criticize the abuses and excesses of the National Security Agency are not “delegitimizing the government.” Rather, as Zaid Jilani rightly points out in his response to Nayman, almost the obverse is true: Indiscriminately defending the government’s actions—merely to avoid providing fodder for the Tea Party—threatens the legitimacy (not to mention the coherence) of the progressive movement. Nayman’s defense of the NSA is particularly disturbing coming from a self-identified labor organizer. It’s difficult to imagine a constituency that should have deeper qualms than organized labor about vesting so much surveillance and police power in the hands of the state at a time when the collusion of corporations and government has never been so intimate. Defending PRISM because it “keeps us safe” presumes that the government always operates to preserve the interests and safety of all, equally. But as labor activists know better than anyone, that isn’t true. Over just the past few years, we’ve seen the government undermine public employee benefits while cutting taxes for millionaires and allowing bailed-out bankers to take home multi-million dollar bonuses; rush to the aid of the financial institutions that sunk our economy while allowing millions of working-class homeowners to be foreclosed upon; and fiercely defend corporate “speech rights” while allowing the same corporations to undermine workers’ freedom to speak out and organize themselves for better conditions. (read article)

Are Shrinking Unions Making Workers Poorer?

By Emma Greenjul, July 24 2013, The Atlantic

Here’s what we know: Union membership has been nearly cut in half over the past thirty years. During that time, income inequality grew, with the top one percent of wealthiest Americans seeing especially big gains in their pre- and post-tax income. And although the economy has grown, wages have not: The portion of GDP going toward workers’ pay has shrunk by almost six percentage points over the last decade. The causal chain is so tempting: As unions get smaller, collective bargaining gets weaker, worker wages go down, and evil profiteers cackle. But is it clear that the decreasing power of unions has made it harder for employees to afford everyday life? This idea was discussed at a recent Atlantic working summit on “secure livelihoods,” which focused on systemic causes of persistent income inequality; what does the research say? As is so often true, it’s difficult to determine exactly how the decrease in union power has affected the income and quality of life of workers. In a 2011 article in The American Sociological Review, Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld argue that the decline of organized labor can account for about one-third of the rise in income inequality for men and one-fifth for women — even for people who never belonged to unions. In regions of the U.S. where more people belong to unions, they argue, there is a smaller difference between how much money high-paid and low-paid workers make. Over time, as union membership has dropped, the gap between rich and poor has grown for everyone, union and non-union alike. Western and Rosenfeld attribute this to the soft power of organized labor: If union strikes loom as a credible threat, all employers in an area are more likely to provide robust benefits and pay. The causal chain is so tempting: As unions get smaller, collective bargaining gets weaker, worker wages go down, and evil profiteers cackle. But other factors muddy the issue. Some experts argue that growing workforce automation, the global reach of the economy, and the need for high-skill labor has diminished the power of collective bargaining and cut into workers’ wages. (read article)

Labor vs. ObamaCare

By Alexander Kazam, July 23, 2013, Wall Street Journal

The labor union mutiny against the Affordable Care Act expanded Thursday with a letter to President Obama from the head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents more than 500,000 workers in construction and other industries. Echoing a similar appeal by three top union chiefs the previous week, union president Terry O’Sullivan wrote that ObamaCare will have “destructive consequences” for health plans that cover millions of workers and their families. Many construction workers and other unionized employees rely on multi-employer insurance plans to provide continuity of coverage in industries where job turnover is high and employment is often intermittent. Like other union leaders, Mr. O’Sullivan worries that ObamaCare will raise the relative cost of this type of insurance and lead businesses to offload workers onto subsidized government plans. These concerns come just a week after Teamsters boss James Hoffa and two other union leaders warned that the law will “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40-hour workweek.” On the heels of that announcement, another major union—the 750,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—joined the fray with a D.C.-area ad campaign calling on Mr. Obama to “repair and reform” the ACA. (read article)

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