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.

Hayward, California: City workers begin three-day strike

By Rebecca Parr, August 13, 2013, The Daily Review

More than 200 municipal workers began a three-day strike Tuesday morning, demanding the city continue contract talks. Workers will continue to provide essential city services, said Anna Bakalis, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1021, which represents 280 city workers. “We don’t want to take away emergency vital services or possibly endanger lives, so we do have essential workers at animal control, the wastewater treatment plant and 911 dispatch,” she said. Pickets went up at six sites throughout Hayward: City Hall, both libraries, the police department, the maintenance corporation yard and animal control. City negotiators had declared an impasse July 26 in its contract talks with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, and broke off talks. Seeking a new contract are the city’s library assistants, water treatment workers, animal control officers, street maintenance crews, dispatchers, administrative staff members and others. Their contract expired in April, and union members authorized a strike in June. (read article)

Emanuel Takes on Powerful Teacher’s Union as Chicago’s Woes Deepen

By Andrea Billups, August 13, 2013, Newsmax

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing back against the city’s powerful teacher’s union as Chicago’s budget crisis deepens — something that most Democratic mayors have avoided as to not upset their labor supporters. After facing off against a historic teachers’ strike last August, Emanuel and the city’s appointed board of education in May made the biggest teacher cuts in school district history, laying off some 3,000 school workers — about 7 percent of the total teacher workforce — and closing 50 mostly elementary schools, about 10 percent of the citywide total. Emanuel’s tough predicament comes from budget woes dropped on his plate from the previous administration of longtime Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, which left him little choice but to make drastic changes. Shaving Chicago’s mounting deficit was crucial, says Heartland Institute economic analyst Steve Stanek, who said that Emanuel — a former White House chief of staff under Barack Obama and former Democratic congressman — has been firm against pressure from the unions. “I’m sure the mayor doesn’t want to do a lot of these things but he’s had to face reality,” Stanek told Newsmax. “He has taken stands against these unions and dealt with budget problems in a more honest way than Mayor Daley did… I think he came to the city as mayor, took a look at his budget and thought, ‘Holy smokes, this is a giant mess.'” (read article)

August Is ‘Get Out of the Union Month’ For Teachers

By Jack Spencer, August 13, 2013, Michigan Capitol Confidential

MEA says it’s dedicated to enforcing the one-month only window for teachers to exercise their rights. For eligible Michigan teachers, August provides a narrow window of opportunity to drop their union membership and escape the requirement of paying union dues or fees. August currently is the only month in which teachers can exercise their rights granted under the state’s right-to-work law. Unlike other union workers, who can leave the forced payment of dues or fees at any time of the year when their contracts expire, teachers don’t have complete access to the same worker freedom rights as do other workers in the state. Teachers who are satisfied with their current union are free to keep their membership and continue supporting it financially. The issue has had the Michigan Education Association concerned for months. In January, MEA President Steve Cook said the union would use “any legal means at our disposal” to work against teachers who want to leave the union outside of the August window. (read article)

Big Minnesota state workers union ratifies contract

Associated Press, August 13, 2013, Grand Forks Herald

Two labor unions representing thousands of Minnesota state employees have ratified new contracts that include across-the-board raises but higher health insurance contributions from workers. The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees announced Monday that 97 percent of members who voted wanted the deal ratified. MAPE represents nearly 13,000 workers. A spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 says its members have ratified a contract with similar terms. That deal covers more than 17,000 employees. Details of the vote weren’t released. The agreements call for 3 percent raises in each year of the two-year contract. Employees will have to contribute more toward their insurance depending on their policies. The deals must still get legislative signoff, with initial action expected within the next month. (read article)

BART workers’ goals shaped by gamed system

Chip Johnson, August 12, 2013, SF Gate

If a Chronicle manager told me I could retire right now, at age 55, with nearly three-quarters of my salary as a pension benefit, this would be my last column. If the newspaper had picked up the tab for all of my pension and most of my health care costs for the last 17 years, and offered me even half my annual salary, it would be the best deal any of my employers has ever offered. I’ve worked in four cities over 27 years and veteran BART operators make as much as I do, so I think their requests in ongoing labor talks are over the top. I’m guessing most people feel that way. I’m a union member, and I understand, value and cherish the right of workers to organize, the strength of collective bargaining and the reason labor unions exist, but this state’s public pay and pension system has thrown things out of whack. Consider the pay and retirement package of Susan Muranishi, the chief administrator for Alameda County. Earlier this year, the county agreed to pay her $432,000 a year – for life. When former Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly left the city’s employ in 2008, her 18 years on the job qualified her for a pension estimated at $148,000 a year – for life. That’s not only extravagant, it’s one of the reasons municipal labor unions offer as proof positive that they are being short-changed on compensation and benefits. (read article)

Stringer Goes After Spitzer During a Blistering Debate

Jabin Botsford, August 12, 2013, New York Times

In a blistering hourlong debate, Scott M. Stringer, the typically mild-mannered Manhattan borough president, leveled a series of attacks that seemed to catch Eliot Spitzer, the former governor, onetime prosecutor and self-described “steamroller,” off balance. Early in the debate, after Mr. Spitzer said that the middle class trusted him because, as attorney general, he had stood up to Wall Street and investigated the lending practices that led to the financial crisis, Mr. Stringer responded with a stinging rebuke. “They don’t trust you, because you let them down,” he said. “Even if what you’re saying is true — that somehow you could foresee the financial calamity, which is, I would say, a stretch at best — when you became governor, you didn’t protect the people from the calamity. You resigned in disgrace.” Mr. Spitzer in turn noted that business groups and labor unions had pledged to spend at least $1.5 million against him, because, he said, they “don’t want an independent voice.” “You say repeatedly I’m trying to buy this election, Scott,” Mr. Spitzer said. “I’m just trying to keep up with you, keep up with the money you’re going to spend, and all the millions of dollars that your allies on Wall Street and the political plutocracy have said they’re going to spend.” (read article)

Labor lifts Martin Walsh’s mayoral campaign

By Andrew Ryan, August 12, 2013, Boston Globe

State Representative Martin J. Walsh resigned as head of the Boston Building Trades to run for mayor, but his clout as a labor leader endures, helping him forge a formidable campaign with six weeks left until voters head to the polls. Dozens of labor groups — Teamsters, painters, pipe fitters, firefighters — have endorsed Walsh, providing an army of volunteers to hold signs and to slip brochures under the doors of voters. Walsh’s campaign coffers have been inflated by large checks from unions using membership dues to donate more than $170,000 —an amount that eclipses the total that sits in the individual campaign accounts of half of the 12 candidates in the race. And the support isn’t only local: A group closely linked to the national AFL-CIO has already spent more than $10,000 paying canvassers to go door to door for Walsh. But labor’s steadfast support of Walsh could be a liability if he wins one of the two spots in November’s final election, political observers said. As mayor, Walsh would negotiate contracts with municipal unions and wield significant influence over construction and development. (read article)

Reinventing workers’ unions

By Sam Hananel, August 12, 2013, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

With union membership on the decline, labor leaders are getting more creative – and some say more desperate – to boost sagging numbers and rebuild their waning clout. Unions are helping non-union fast-food workers around the country hold strikes to protest low wages and poor working conditions. They are trying to organize home day-care workers, university graduate students and even newly legalized marijuana dealers. Members of a “shadow union” at Wal-Mart hold regular protests at the giant retailer, which long has been resistant to organizing. Labor leaders say unions must create new models and new ways to represent workers to reverse a steady slide in the union ranks. Those efforts have taken on greater urgency since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this year that union membership had declined to just 11.3 percent of the workforce – its lowest point in nearly a century. (read article)

Back in the Big Labor Fold

By Harold Meyerson, August 12, 2013, American Prospect

ast Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—the 1.3 million-member union of retail workers, chiefly supermarket employees—announced that it was leaving the breakaway mini-labor federation, Change To Win, and rejoining the AFL-CIO. Of the six unions that left the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form Change To Win—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, the UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers, and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—only SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Farm Workers (the last with probably fewer than 10,000 members) remain. At its outset, Change To Win proclaimed a distinct strategic purpose. Though its seven initial members (for a brief time, it included the Carpenters) represented diverse sectors of the workforce—truckers, nurses, janitors, hotel workers, supermarket employees, and construction workers—almost all of them held jobs that couldn’t be offshored or easily digitized. At its founding convention in St. Louis in September of 2005, SEIU Vice-President Tom Woodruff told delegates that there were 44 million non-union workers in the non-offshorable sectors that Change To Win unions represented, and that the new federation would wage massive organizing campaigns to unionize them. (read article)

Union-like labor groups use taxpayer funds to target restaurants over low wages

August 12, 2013, watchdog.org

Labor activists using tactics adopted from the Occupy Wall Street movement are crashing restaurants across the nation in an effort to raise wages for workers — and they’re getting taxpayer money to fund the effort. Using a combination of federal grants and grants from left-leaning organizations, the Restaurant Opportunity Center, or ROC, is technically a charitable nonprofit and not a union. But their pro-worker messages, anti-employer protests and self-proclaimed goal of organizing service sector employees for the purposes of negotiating higher wages make ROC look and sound much like a labor union. Some see their tactics as a deliberate attempt to skirt the nation’s labor laws. Only unions elected by a majority of a workplace can negotiate with employers on workers’ behalf, though ROC seems to be doing so in the absence of any election. But others, including the head of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for dozens of labor unions, see ROC and groups like them as the new face of labor organizing in America. (read article)

VW union, yea or nay? Ex-NLRB member says UAW not needed in Chattanooga for works council

By Mike Pare, August 11, 2013, Times Free Press

A former National Labor Relations Board member says Volkswagen’s Chattanooga employees can achieve all that a German-style labor board is set up to do without having to join a union. “Discussions over productivity, workplace safety, working conditions, we can have those discussions,” said John Raudabaugh, who is now a labor law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla. Raudabaugh, an NLRB member from 1990 to 1993 who later practiced in the Washington, D.C., office of the Nixon Peabody law firm, said VW employees and the company can “reach a win-win outcome without having to pay a third party” such as the United Auto Workers. However, a UAW official took issue with Raudabaugh, saying it is “universally recognized that you can’t have a German-style effective works council system without a union to negotiate it.” Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director in Lebanon, Tenn., said there is “no way under U.S. labor law” to set up such a labor board that could deal with substantive matters or have authority such as a union with the power to negotiate. A works council, which could represent blue- and white-collar employees of a plant over issues such as hours or working conditions, is envisioned by the UAW in Chattanooga. VW’s Chattanooga plant could become the first auto factory in the U.S. to have such a German-style works council arrangement. (read article)

The Workers Defense Project – A Union in Spirit

By Steven Greenhouse, August 10, 2013, New York Times

Like most construction workers who come to see Patricia Zavala, the two dozen men who crowded into her office in Austin, Tex., one afternoon in March had a complaint. The workers, most of them Honduran immigrants, had jobs applying stucco to the exterior of a 17-story luxury student residence. It was difficult, dangerous work, but that was to be expected. What upset them was that for the previous two weeks their crew leader had not paid them; each was owed about $1,000. Ms. Zavala, the workplace justice coordinator at the Workers Defense Project, listened to their stories and then spent a month failing to persuade the contractors to pay the back wages. So Ms. Zavala, 27, a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant, turned to what she calls the nuclear option: the workers filed a lien on the building site. That legal maneuver snarls any effort to make transactions on the property and sometimes causes banks and investors to freeze financing. (read article)

BART, unions vow to try to settle labor dispute this weekend

By Rebecca Parr, August 10, 2013, San Jose Mercury

BART and its unions continued talking Saturday as both sides vowed to work through the weekend to reach a settlement, even though Gov. Jerry Brown has all but removed the threat of a strike Monday morning. Brown on Friday said he would ask a judge on Sunday to order a 60-day “cooling off” period, during which workers for the commuter rail line would not be allowed to walk out. BART lead negotiator Thomas Hock on Saturday said the governor’s move did not change the fact that the two sides were committed to settling the dispute as quickly as possible. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we could make progress,” he said. “All of us want to get this done now.” Similarly, Antonette Bryant, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, said the unions were committed to a marathon negotiating session this weekend to reach a settlement. “I have a suitcase packed in my office just in case I need it,” she said. Both sides said progress was being made, though the chief negotiator for the local Service Employees International Union, Josie Mooney, called it “incremental.” (read article)

Chicago Teachers Union headed to Washington to fight for Trayvon, against foreclosures

By Eric Owens, August 9, 2013, Daily Caller

The Chicago Teachers Union has announced that it will send a bus to the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, a full week of events to be hosted by the four children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several organizations including Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. The march will celebrate The Great March on Washington, which took place 50 years ago in the summer of 1963 and culminated with King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. It set to occur Aug. 21 through Aug. 28. The Chicago Labor Freedom Riders bus trip is slated for Aug. 23 to 25. The first day of school for students in Chicago Public Schools is Monday, August 26. However, Aug. 23 is scheduled as an official Teacher Institute Day. Any teacher taking the bus to the march will be absent that day. The actual march will occur on August 28. A mass email sent out to the Chicago entire Teachers Union’s mailing list urges union members to attend the march to protest foreclosures, the Second City’s recent rash of school closings and, of course, the verdict in favor of George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who shot a black teenager during an altercation. (read article)

Donor funds anti-Cuccinelli ad as McAuliffe gets union cash

By Julian Walker, August 7, 2013, The Virginian-Pilot

It’s not quite Labor Day, the traditional turning point for the fall campaign season, and already high-dollar donations and expenditures on advertising in support of Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli are steadily flowing to the candidates for governor. McAuliffe is the latest beneficiary of deep-pocketed donors — he recently received six figure sums from a major labor union and a wealthy environmentalist sponsoring a new televised ad against Cuccinelli. The spot that began airing this week recalls Attorney General Cuccinelli’s 2010 fraud investigation into a former University of Virginia climate change researcher, an inquisition later thwarted in court, though not before the university incurred $570,000 in legal costs. Funding for the ad comes from a political group backed by billionaire Tom Steyer, who’s reportedly pledged $400,000 to the effort. According to media buyers, the initial two-week buy in the Norfolk and Richmond markets is more than $382,000, a figure just supplemented with another $63,00 to also broadcast it in Charlottesville. McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the new ad “is part of a broad bipartisan coalition that is concerned about Cuccinelli’s misuse of his office to target the University of Virginia because their scientific research offended his rigid ideology.” (The ad’s message is similar to one McAuliffe released last week that’s posted below.) Meanwhile, the Democrat this week also received another $100,000 contribution from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. So far this year, the labor group has given McAuliffe more than $240,000. (read article)

Brown to win first labor endorsement in 2014 race for Maryland governor

By John Wagner, August 7, 2013, Washington Post

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) is slated to pick up the first endorsement from a labor union in Maryland’s 2014 gubernatorial race. The Laborers’ International Union of North America Mid-Atlantic Region plans to offer Brown a tour of its Baltimore training center on Thursday and then offer its endorsement. The organization’s members are engaged in building construction, environmental remediation, highway construction and other service work. “We have no doubt that Anthony Brown is absolutely the best choice to serve as governor, and we wholeheartedly throw our support behind his campaign,” said Dennis L. Martire, the union’s vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager. (read article)

AFL-CIO leader seeks to expand membership beyond unions

By Susan Page, August 7, 2013, USA Today

Calling the labor movement in crisis, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he will push far-reaching changes at the federation’s convention next month, including forging closer partnerships and even accepting as members such outside groups as the Sierra Club and the NAACP. The changes, some of which will require amending the AFL-CIO’s bylaws, are part of a strategy aimed at reviving the labor movement’s falling clout and recasting it as a champion for American workers generally, not just for the declining ranks of dues-paying union members. In an interview Wednesday with USA TODAY, Trumka acknowledged resistance within his organization and the possibility of conflicts ahead. “I think any time you do new things and you have change, people are concerned about what it means,” he said on the weekly video newsmaker series, Capital Download. “Will it dilute us? Look, here’s the way I look at it: What we’ve been doing the last 30 years hasn’t worked real well. We need to do things differently.” Last year, just 11.3% of American wage and salary workers were unionized, the lowest percentage in nearly a century. Thirty years ago, 20.1% were, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We are in crisis,” Trumka said. (read article)

Unions and Environmentalists: A Match Made with Difficulty

By Madeline Ostrander, August 7, 2013, The Nation

For many years, the labor movement and environmentalists have tried to maintain a tense affiliation over the issue of climate change. The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of greens and labor, was launched in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks with a vision for creating jobs and ending dependence on oil through nationwide investments in clean energy. By 2008 and 2009, green hard hats seemed to be an obligatory fashion accessory at environmental demonstrations, and there was great hope that President Obama would usher in a green jobs revolution. Since then, economic growth in the green jobs sector has been strong (faster than the economy overall) but, so far, not as large-scale and far-reaching as the vision originally articulated by Apollo. And in a tough economy, any promise of jobs can be more compelling for some unions than seemingly abstract questions about climate change. Last year, some labor unions stood conspicuously on the opposite side of the Keystone XL debate from environmental groups, aligning themselves instead with groups with a reputation for union-busting (like the National Association of Manufacturers). (For more, see Sarah Laskow’s analysis in The American Prospect.) In early 2012, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) walked indignantly away from the BlueGreen Alliance (which is now merged with the Apollo Alliance). “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan in a press statement. (read article)

Labor union to protest for immigration reform at offices of Republican congressmen

By Brendan Kuty, August 7, 2013, NewJersey.com

Protests aimed at garnering support for immigration reform are planned outside the offices of three Republican congressmen Wednesday and Thursday. They hope to convince the congressmen to vote for a landmark immigration reform bill that passed in the U.S. Senate, said Kevin Brown, vice president and New Jersey director for 32BJ of the Service Employee International Union, a labor union representing about 10,000 property service workers throughout New Jersey. The bill would open the door to citizenship to millions while pouring billions of dollars into security the border with Mexico. (read article)

Classing worker centers like unions is wrongheaded

By Kim Bobo and Jacob Swenson, August 6, 2013, The Hill

Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) wrote Labor Secretary Thomas Perez this week, as reported in the Wall Street Journal on July 25, asking for an “official determination” on the question of whether worker centers should be subject to the same filing requirements as labor unions. Their letter should be rejected as a baldly partisan attempt to restrict the valuable work performed by these non-profit organizations. Indeed, treating worker centers like labor unions would constrain the rights of both vulnerable workers and community members to assemble and demand accountability from corporations that violate labor laws, mistreat workers, or pay poverty wages. Kline and Roe, citing an argument in an article published in the Federalist Society’s Engage, argue worker centers should be subject to increased scrutiny because they “deal with” employers in a manner covered by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Namely, since at least part of their work involves advocating for improved wages and benefits in their interactions with employers, they must be acting, or intending to act, as labor unions according to the LMRDA. This interpretation of the LMRDA, along with the interpretation found in the original article on which they base their case, would make the definition of a “labor organization” so broad as to be absurd. (read article)

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