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.

BART, unions meet at negotiation table

By Heather Ishimaru, September 17, 2013, ABC San Francisco

Both sides in the BART dispute said on Monday evening they are focused on trying to get a settlement, but BART is urging Bay Area commuters to prepare for a strike now and say it could last for a month. And there’s not much time to reach a deal. According to BART, only three days of talks are scheduled this week and there’s only one session scheduled for all of next week. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sessions are on the calendar for each of the two weeks after that, but BART points out that one of the two big unions isn’t available on October 9th — the day before a 60-day cooling off period ends. At the eleventh hour on Monday the unions came out and said they have made a counter proposal that is 10 million less expensive than previous proposals. Among other things the unions are reducing their request for a wage increase from 21.5 percent over three years to 13.5 percent over three years. (read article)

Big Labor’s Greed Threatens Cincinnati as Union-Produced Crisis Expands

Katie Gage, September 17, 2013, Townhall.com

Aptly nicknamed the Motor City, Detroit was once a driving force behind American economic growth. In the first half of the 20th Century, the city had a thriving economy and burgeoning population, largely a function of its powerful automobile manufacturing industry. But after decades of corruption and fiscal irresponsibility, the city is today a shadow of its former self. So much so that the nickname Motor City has become a misnomer. Today, Detroit is predominantly characterized by its high crime rate and distinction of being the largest American city to go bankrupt. With numerous municipalities teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, some are asking which U.S. city will be the next Detroit, but they need not look too far. Cincinnati, Ohio, located a mere 250 miles away from Detroit, is presently facing many of the same fiscal issues that brought Detroit to its knees. Like the Motor City, Cincinnati is saddled with woefully underfunded pension funds. The problem has become so severe that Moody’s Investor Services downgraded Cincinnati’s credit rating in July, revising its outlook to negative. (read article)

California passes ‘job killer’ increase in minimum wage to $10

By Cheryl Carpenter Klimek, September 17, 2013, BizPac Review

The California legislature approved an increase in the minimum wage from $8 to $10 an hour late last week. The hike will be phased in over the next three years adding $1 in 2014 and another in 2016, according to Raw Story. Minimum wage pizza makerWhile the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the wage increase will affect more than 2.3 million California workers, groups like the California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, calling it a “job killer” that will drive up business costs “worse than any predicted rate of inflation increase.” Gov. Jerry Brown called the bill, passed largely along partisan lines, an overdue measure that would help working-class families. He is expected to sign it, according to ABC News. “It means that single moms will have a little extra to support their families,” Steve Smith, communications director of the California Labor Federation, said on the AFL-CIO website. “It means seniors who’ve been forced to re-enter the workforce will have a little more to help pay for prescription drugs. And it means that all low-wage workers have received validation that their work is worthy of dignity and respect.” The California Restaurant Association called the measure a “blow to small businesses” saying it was a reaction to fast-food demonstrations that occurred across the country last month. (read article)

U.S. Circuit Court Upholds Michigan Ban on Project Labor Agreements

By Carl Horowitz, September 16, 2013, National Legal and Policy Center

For some two decades, Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, have enabled unions in various states to dictate hiring for large-scale, taxpayer-funded construction projects. In Michigan, at least, this labor monopoly has been thwarted. On September 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a Michigan law, Public Act 238, enacted last year to bar the use of government-mandated PLAs. The legislation was a response to a lower court ruling in favor of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The latest ruling marks a second major victory this year for the open shop; New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie in April vetoed a bill that would have mandated PLAs for coastal-area reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (read article)

Organized labor’s unorganized future

By Richard Berman, September 16, 2013, Pittsburgh Tribune

The AFL-CIO, by its own admission, entered its annual September convention in a state of crisis. Union membership has been declining for decades, and not even the pro-labor policies of the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor and the current administration have been able to save it. But that doesn’t mean that labor leaders are giving up. On Sept. 9, the labor federation approved its last-ditch plan to stave off irrelevancy: incorporate into the movement labor-union front groups that are exempt from federal labor law, otherwise known as “worker centers.” Labor leaders have succeeded in portraying worker centers as nonunion community groups that advocate for low-wage workers. Many of them are registered as charities, nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities. This legal loophole is the key to their existence: It frees them from many of the employee protections established by the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. But you wouldn’t know worker centers weren’t unions by looking at what they do. In practice, they organize paid pickets who protest and advocate in lockstep with their labor union parents for policies like living-wage laws, mandatory paid leave and more. In fact, the only major practical difference between worker centers and actual labor unions is that worker centers don’t “deal with” the employer through negotiations. Instead, they use professional union organizers to single out a select group of employees with grievances — sometimes no more than a few dozen — and then engage in nuisance “strikes” and make demands of the employer that would apply to the entire workforce. (read article)

Wisconsin teachers union decertified in latest blow to labor under Walker law

By Barnini Chakraborty, September 15, 2013, FoxNews.com

Teachers from one of Wisconsin’s largest unions have jumped ship — voting overwhelmingly to abandon the group in the latest in a string of setbacks for the struggling labor movement following Gov. Scott Walker’s union overhaul two years ago. The decision this week to disband by members of the Kenosha Education Association came after the organization was stripped of its certification and told it had lost its power to bargain for base wages with the district. The group was decertified after missing a key deadline in the annual reapplication process.

When the group might actually disband was not clear and calls to the organization were not returned. The development is in keeping with an overall downward spiral for Wisconsin’s public worker unions. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported earlier this year that tens of thousands of teachers and other government workers have left their unions since the Walker-backed law took effect. Known as Act 10, the set of reforms includes a provision that says unions won’t be recognized by the state unless 51 percent of all potential members support them in annual elections. These elections have contributed to their decline. According to Reuters, elections in 2011 and 2012 — in which 207 school districts, 39 municipal and six state units participated — resulted in 32 unions and their affiliates, or about 13 percent, being decertified. (read article)

Wisconsin Labor Union Law Upheld In Federal Court

September 15, 2013, The Inquisitor

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker‘s collective bargaining reform law (Act 10) has survived yet another legal challenge and has once again been upheld in federal court. US District Judge William Conley ruled that the measure, which among other things ended forced union membership in the public sector, did not violate the First Amendment rights of those members. “Under Act 10, general employees remain free to associate and represent employees and their unions remain free to speak; municipal employers are simply not allowed to listen,” the judge wrote. The law prohibits collective bargaining in the government sector on anything other than pay increases. In January of this year, the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, ruled that the entire law — including the ban on involuntary union dues deductions — was constitutional. You may recall that Wisconsin state senate Democrats abandoned their constitutional work stations in February 2011, and hid out in Illinois, to prevent a vote on Act 10 which was designed by Walker and his allies to prevent the state from going bankrupt as a result of jacked-up public sector pay, benefits, and pensions. It was finally voted into law about a month later. (read article)

Unions say they have enough signatures to put labor ordinance on ballot

By Nathaiel Herz, September 14, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage’s municipal unions say they’ve collected enough signatures to give the public the last word in the months-long battle over the city’s controversial new labor ordinance. On Monday the unions plan to deliver more than the necessary 7,124 petition signatures to City Hall to place a repeal of the ordinance on the ballot, said Gerard Asselin, the chairman of the Coalition of Municipal Unions. “We are certain that we will exceed that 7,124,” Asselin said in an interview Friday. He wouldn’t say how many signatures had been collected. The ordinance, which passed in March, was vehemently opposed by the municipal unions as it worked its way through the Anchorage Assembly with the backing of Mayor Dan Sullivan. The ordinance curtails the unions’ right to strike, limits annual raises and restricts incentive pay and bonuses in future contracts. Once the clerk’s office checks the validity of the signatures, the ordinance becomes suspended, and the charter says the city has 75 days to hold an election on the question. Or the Assembly could decide to put the referendum on a later election ballot such as April’s regular city election. Almost immediately after the measure passed the Assembly, the unions launched an effort to try to repeal it through a referendum. (read article)

How much do fat cat union bosses make to fleece middle class?

September 14, 2013 by Tom Tillison, September 14, 2013, BizPac Review

While President Obama is always eager to stress income inequality in America, he need look no further than the unions that support him as a new study shows hundreds of labor bosses earned more than a quarter of a million dollars in 2012. “A total of 428 American labor union officers and employees were paid more than $250,000 in 2012, in stark contrast to union propaganda expressing solidarity with ‘the middle class,’” according to Media Trackers. When we think of labor unions, the thought of blue collar workers punching the clock to make ends meet comes to mind, but Media Trackers found that the top 100 highest paid union bosses made over $52 million in 2012. Of these 100 union officials, 28 were paid over $500,000 — salaries paid by membership dues of the laborers and government employees they represent. While these officials are paid quite well, the gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid union employees continues to grow, according to the Washington Times. The report shows the earnings of the rank-and-file workers toiling in factories and construction sites that the union officers represent pale in comparison with the top officials paid to represent them. An analysis of union disclosures by the Times showed: In 2000, the bottom quarter of full-time employees at union offices… made less than $33,900, while the top quarter made more than $65,400. Among reports for fiscal 2012 submitted so far, the bottom quarter made $49,700 compared with $103,100 for the top quarter. The highest paid union official in 2012 not aligned with professional athletes was Gerald W. “Jerry” McEntee, the former president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – his total pay equaled $1,121,988. (read article)

Obama To Labor Unions With Multi-Employer Health Plans: Drop Dead

By Avik Roy, September 14, 2013, Forbes

Well played, Mr. President. Last week, prior to the big AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles, President Obama personally spoke to AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka, asking him to water down several anti-Obamacare resolutions that union leaders were planning to pass there. Trumka obliged, keeping calls to repeal Obamacare out of the official AFL-CIO resolution on the health law. Then, on Friday evening, after the convention was over, the Obama administration revealed that it would ignore unions’ demands to subsidize their members using Obamacare. As a result, some unions fear that they will wither away. “I guarantee you by your next convention four years from now, you won’t meet a quarter of this room,” said Joseph Nigro, president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union. “We won’t be here.” (read article)

Defunding the Left, One Union at a Time

By John Hinderaker, September 14, 2013, PowerLine

“Defunding the left” was one of the objectives of the Republican uprising of 1994; unfortunately, that goal went unrealized. This is one of the basic differences between Left and Right: conservative candidates and organizations have to raise money from individuals who contribute voluntarily, out of conviction, while Democrats and liberal organizations are able to extract money by force from taxpayers and others. The Left has managed to institutionalize itself. Labor unions are the most notorious example of this phenomenon, although by no means the only one. In many states, Democratic politicians have enacted laws that compel workers to contribute to labor unions; union bosses, in turn, take much of that money and contribute it to Democratic politicians. This is the real “dirty money” in politics. Most people do not realize the extent to which unions dominate special interest spending on elections. When you talk about special interests, it is hardly worth mentioning any other than unions. This chart, from Open Secrets, shows the fifteen largest contributors to federal campaigns during the period 1989-2012. Ten of the fifteen are unions. (read article)

Dan Walters: Unions held whip hand in California Capitol

By Dan Walters, September 13, 2013, Sacramento Bee

When the Legislature’s 2013 session began nine months ago, a giant question mark hung over the Capitol. What would be the effect of having so many new members – nearly half of the Assembly – and of new districts created by an independent commission for the first time, of the first-ever use of a top- two primary election system, and of having two-thirds Democratic supermajorities in both houses? We now know the answer: Unions, particularly those representing public employees, tightened their already strong grip. Dozens of measures that unions wanted to enhance their members’ incomes, fringe benefits, bargaining positions and procedural rights were enacted, albeit not always as extensively as they wished. Just as consistently, legislation that unions opposed fell by the wayside, even when it had broad public support, or even when Gov. Jerry Brown, their on-again, off-again ally, wanted it. An overhaul of the California Environmental Quality Act was the most conspicuous example. Two bills, both dealing with sexual abuse of children, illustrate the syndrome. (read article)

Administration Rejects Union Pleas on Health Law

By Robert Pear, September 13, 2013, New York Times

The federal government on Friday rejected pleas from labor unions for a dispensation from President Obama’s health care law. The decision, likely to infuriate some of Mr. Obama’s closest political allies, denies federal tax credits to workers who receive health coverage under employee benefit plans sponsored by more than one employer. Such plans are common in construction and other industries. Under the 2010 health care law, the tax credits will be available starting next year to low- and moderate-income people who buy private insurance in state-based marketplaces known as exchanges. The administration’s decision was made by the Treasury Department, but almost surely approved by the president. The Treasury said its conclusion resulted from a straightforward reading of the 2010 health care law, which says that workers are not eligible for premium tax credits if they have been offered affordable coverage under an employer-sponsored plan that provides minimum value. (read article)

Can the courts save labor?

Ned Resnikoff, September 13, 2013, MSNBC

As far as state law goes, 2012 was particularly unkind to labor unions. That was the year when not one but two states passed “right-to-work” laws, making it illegal for labor unions in Michigan and Indiana to collect mandatory fees from the workers they represent. Now, unions in both those states are fighting back through the courts. An Indiana judge has declared that state’s right-to-work law unconstitutional, and the case will now proceed to the state Supreme Court for mandatory review. Meanwhile, a coalition of public sector labor unions is appealing an unfavorable Court of Appeals decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, where they hope to make the case for exempting state civil servants from Michigan’s right-to-work law. In both cases, organized labor’s case against right-to-work is based on the peculiarities of state law; a coordinated, national strategy against right-to-work is unlikely to emerge out of these lawsuits, because other right-to-work states don’t necessarily have the same laws as Michigan and Indiana. But if unions in those states manage to undo the effects of right-to-work laws, it would be a significant coup for a labor movement which has increasingly found itself stymied by pro-management employment law. Unions are particularly fearful of right-to-work laws because of the “free rider” problem they create: Employees in a unionized workplace can simply decline to pay for union services, even as unions are legally required to expend their resources bargaining for them. For unions with already limited resources, such obligations could be fatal. The Indiana state court’s ruling is, “symbolically, is a tremendous win,” said Ed Maher, spokesperson for Indiana’s International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150. When state judge John Sedia struck down Indiana’s right-to-work law, the news was received with a “standing ovation” at the AFL-CIO national convention, said Maher. AFL-CIO is the country’s largest labor federation. But while Indiana’s right-to-work law may be ailing, it is not yet dead. Judge Sedia’s ruling is subject to mandatory review by the Indiana Supreme Court, and the state’s attorney general has announced his intention to continue defending the law. (read article)

VW Appears Headed for Union Vote in Tennessee

By Neal E. Boudette, September 12, 2013, Wall Street Journal

The United Auto Workers union said it passed a key hurdle in its bid to organize workers at Volkswagen AG’s VOW3.XE +0.66% plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., raising the political pressures that are squeezing the German auto maker from both sides of the Atlantic. UAW organizers believe they have signed union cards from more than 50% of the workers at plant, a union spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday. If verified, the card collection would enable the UAW to seek certification from the National Labor Relations Board as the official representative of the plant’s about 2,000 workers. The card count could also strengthen the UAW’s hand in discussions with Volkswagen about a type of representative council in Chattanooga. Volkswagen opened the $1 billion plant in 2011. The company chose Tennessee for the plant, in part, because it is a right to work state that doesn’t allow workers to be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The auto maker now finds itself slipping closer to having the plant unionized because of German and U.S. labor laws. In Germany, employees of large companies are represented by works councils. U.S. law requires companies that have works councils to have workers represented by an outside union. In recent months, German labor representatives at VW have pushed to create a works council in Chattanooga, to ensure workers there have the same kind of voice as workers in Germany. (read article)

Labor Movement Shifts Its Focus From Unions to Coalitions

By Harold Meyerson, September 12, 2013, Washington Post

Having banged its head against a wall for years with nothing to show for it but a headache, the American labor movement is devising a plan to bypass the wall altogether. During its quadrennial convention here this week, the AFL-CIO has acknowledged that the laws protecting employees who seek to join a union have been rendered so ineffectual that labor must come up with new ways to advance workers’ interests. There was a time when labor activists believed that the union movement would be the vehicle through which working people rose. For the time being, however, most labor activists don’t believe that’s possible. While they’re not abandoning traditional workplace organizing, they’re proclaiming a strategic shift. “We are going to expand the idea of collective bargaining,” said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco AFL-CIO. “You can have collective bargaining through legislation. You can have collective bargaining through ballot measures.” Working in a coalition with community organizations, labor prevailed on San Francisco’s city government in 2008 to mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers or pay the city to subsidize low-income residents’ purchase of coverage. By itself, labor could not have won these and kindred battles. “Even if all we cared about was our own contracts, we can’t even get those anymore without community assistance,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. So the chief business of this convention has been to redefine labor’s mission. Unable to build traditional unions the traditional way, the AFL-CIO has committed itself to building the kinds of coalitions that won expanded health care and affordable lofts in San Francisco. For several decades, unions have aligned with other key liberal constituencies on a host of discrete battles — immigration reform, voting rights (again), financial regulation, universal health coverage — but now it wants to cement these alliances in permanent coalitions. (read article)

Wisconsin’s Third Largest Teachers Union Decertified on August 31st

By Nick Novak, September 12, 2013, MacIver News Service

The Kenosha Education Association (KEA), the state’s third largest teachers union, was officially decertified on August 31, 2013 according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. Mark Belling, who broke this story on Thursday, said that the decertification came after a recent vote by members in which only 37 percent voted to reauthorize the union. KEA is the largest teachers union to disband since Act 10 was signed into law in 2011. The union had 2,400 members according to their website. Act 10 limited collective bargaining rights for public employees and required public unions to have an annual vote to recertify. Vincent Vernuccio, Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told the MacIver News Service, “recertification is needed to keep unions responsible to their members and to allow the change necessary to remove ineffectual representation. It is simply democracy and majority rule.” (read article)

Detroit retirees join labor unions in challenging bankruptcy law as unconstitutional

By Bloomberg News, September 11, 2013, Crain’s Detroit Business

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Detroit’s retired employees joined labor unions in attacking the city’s record-setting $18 billion bankruptcy, claiming the law that lets municipalities seek court protection from creditors violates the U.S. Constitution. A court-approved committee for retired public workers filed papers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit today claiming that because of the constitutional question, a higher court should decide whether the city remains in bankruptcy. The committee accused Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr of filing the case in July with the intention of cutting pensions for retired city workers. Those workers aren’t eligible for federal Social Security benefits, “rendering their entire economic existence dependent upon retirement compensation promised by the city,” the committee said in its objection. In an effort to have the case thrown out at a hearing next month, the retirees and unions plan to question Gov. Rick Snyder under oath about his role in authorizing the bankruptcy. The groups point to a line in the Michigan Constitution that says public worker pensions are a contractual right that cannot be undone. They argue that Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code can’t trump a state constitution. The groups asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to find that either the filing doesn’t meet the tests set out in Chapter 9 or that Chapter 9 itself violates the U.S. Constitution because it interferes with Michigan’s sovereignty. (read article)

L.A. Mayor Garcetti working to rebuild ties to labor unions

By Michael Finnegan and Catherine Saillant, September 11, 2013, Los Angeles Times

Months after much of organized labor fought hard to block his election as mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti tried to mend fences Wednesday with a call for solidarity with unions in their struggle for jobs that pay middle-class wages. “Now more than ever, our fight must be for more than just jobs,” Garcetti told hundreds of union leaders at a national AFL-CIO convention in downtown Los Angeles. “It must be for good jobs — jobs that don’t just pay rent, but that help you buy a home. Jobs that don’t just pay the bills, but that can send your children to college.” Maria Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles County Labor Federation leader who ran an independent campaign against Garcetti in the May election, welcomed the mayor’s remarks, saying unions were focused on the tasks ahead. “By being here today, he obviously is signaling that he wants to work with labor, and he intends to work with labor, and that’s a good place to be,” Durazo said. During the campaign, Durazo accused Garcetti of turning his back on hotel workers seeking a $15-an-hour minimum wage and faulted him for backing pension cuts for some new city workers without collective bargaining. Garcetti, a former city councilman, has long been a pro-labor Democrat. But public employee unions, led by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local representing Department of Water and Power employees, and the county labor federation spent heavily against him in the mayor’s race. (read article)

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez feels at home among union activists

By Ricardo Lopez, September 11, 2013, Los Angeles Times

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez knew all the right things to say in his biggest speech since getting the job a few months ago. “I feel at home,” Perez told the thousands of union activists gathered at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He then spent the next 40 minutes of the keynote address pledging to raise the minimum wage, protect worker rights and look after middle-class and immigrant workers. “Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty,” he told union leaders. “As we work together, we will build a better America. As we work together we will bring the middle class to thrive again. As we work together, we will make sure that everybody has the ladder of opportunity to climb.” The audience gave him a standing ovation when he was finished. The speech was seen as an important first step for Perez to publicly cement his reputation as a strong union backer at a time when labor membership has waned. Union leaders are banking on his support as they seek to bring in new members — non-union progressive allies and other worker nonprofits — to broaden the labor movement. Expect Perez to set a worker-rights agenda, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center. Much like his predecessor, former California Rep. Hilda L. Solis, he is likely to be aggressive in enforcing existing labor law and going after unscrupulous employers for wage theft issues. (read article)

The ‘Coase Theorem’ and Labor Unions

By Casey B. Mulligan, September 11, 2013, New York Times

Thanks in part to the late Prof. Ronald Coase of the University of Chicago, the economics of labor unions cannot be easily classified as “conservative” or “liberal.” Labor unions are organizations of workers through which workers collectively bargain with their employer(s) over wages, fringe benefits, working conditions and other ingredients of employment contracts. Labor unions tend to support candidates from the Democratic Party more than they support Republicans, and “liberals” are thought to be the ones who would acknowledge socially productive activities by unions. A supposedly conservative view is that, with the help of special legal exemptions from antitrust laws and their ability to put workers on strike, labor unions harm economic efficiency by restraining competition in the labor market. (read article)

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