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 confirms Obama labor board nominee

By Thomas Ferraro and Kevin Drawbaugh, October 29, 2013, Reuters

A divided Senate on Tuesday confirmed a former union lawyer picked by President Barack Obama to be the top prosecutor at the National Labor Relations Board. With Obama’s Democrats rejecting Republican fears that Richard Griffin would bring an unfair labor bias to the board, the Senate approved him as the NLRB’s general counsel on a mostly party-line vote of 55-44. The board, which oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices, has long been a point of friction between pro-union Democrats and pro-business Republicans. While the battle over Griffin ended, a wider struggle over the NLRB and the power of the presidency remained to be played out before the U.S. Supreme Court. Until a court ruling in January against the White House, Griffin served for a year on the NLRB as a contested Obama appointee. Before that, he was general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers. Obama nominated him in August to be NLRB general counsel. The five-member board of the NLRB makes its ultimate case determinations, but the general counsel plays a critical role as a gatekeeper, investigating alleged labor violations and deciding which cases should be prosecuted. Before the vote on Tuesday, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee declared his opposition to Griffin, saying: “I’m concerned about the direction of the NLRB as an advocate more than an umpire. “I do not believe his presence as general counsel will improve the situation.” (read article)

Oregon, Pennsylvania newest states on the front line of Right to Work battle

October 29, 2013, PR NewsChannel

Workplace Freedom OhioMisery may love company, but labor leaders in Ohio say they are disappointed to hear that the Right to Work battle has moved to the forefront in both Pennsylvania and Oregon. Although Pennsylvania’s previous package of Right to Work bills has been stalled since last spring, state lawmakers believe that it might be time to act on at least one of the bills targeting the automatic deduction of state workers’ union dues. On the other side of the country, Oregon Democrats are extremely worried that the state could see a Right to Work measure on the 2014 ballot that applies specifically to public employees in a similar ways to the laws recently passed in Wisconsin. “We hate to see Right to Work potentially spread into new areas” said Pat Sink, Ohio’s IUOE Local 18’s business manager. “But we’re confident that with the right amount of dedication and perseverance, labor unions in both states can weather this storm.” (read article)

Union and retiree pressure mounting against multi-employer pension fund reform

By Hazel Bradford, October 29, 2013, Pensions & Investments

A package of reform proposals to help the most troubled multiemployer pension funds is running into more opposition from some union and retiree advocates. At a hearing held Tuesday by the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions to consider possible legislation, members of the Retirement Security Review Commission discussed their reform proposals, which would allow for reduced benefits for future and possibly current retirees in the most troubled pension funds. Those cuts are now opposed by the 37 million-member AARP, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Pension Rights Center and $8.4 billion IAM National Pension Fund, Washington. “There is a battle brewing in the halls of Congress,” said R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, after the hearing. (read article)

Detroit emergency manager says ‘cram down’ a possibility

By Joseph Lichterman, October 29, 2013, Reuters

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said Tuesday he could force a legally binding settlement on the city’s creditors if they were unwilling to accept a proposed restructuring plan in bankruptcy court. The “cram down” provision of federal bankruptcy law allows a judge to approve a plan of restructuring over the objections of creditors, so long as at least one impaired class of creditors votes to confirm it. “We hope to reach a negotiated solution even now,” Orr said as he took the witness stand on the fifth day of a trial to determine whether Detroit is eligible for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. “If we don’t, we will address that situation and certainly ‘cram down’ is an opportunity available to us.” If U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, who is overseeing the case, finds Detroit eligible for bankruptcy, the city will need to submit a plan of readjustment that must be approved by the court. Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history on July 18. But at a June 14 meeting with its creditors, the city proposed offering its unsecured creditors, who are owed about $11.9 billion, just pennies on the dollar through a $2 billion note issue. Those creditors include city pension funds, retirees, bondholders and bond insurers. (read article)

AFL-CIO Aids Day Laborer Center Campaign to Block Deportations

By Carl Horowitz, October 29, 2013, National Legal and Policy Center

Organized labor doesn’t waste too many opportunities when it comes to promoting illegal immigration. For over a dozen years, in fact, the AFL-CIO has made it official policy to support the granting of amnesty to persons living illegally here. But with the House of Representatives unlikely to follow the Senate’s lead in passing immigration amnesty/surge legislation, unions are drawing ever closer to “day laborer” radical nonprofit groups in hopes of persuading legislators to come around. The best-known of these is the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, or NDLON. The network and its affiliates have inspired any number of confrontational, and at times menacing, street protests across the U.S. in hopes of ending all deportations of unauthorized day workers. These protestors, in a sense, are the “muscle” of mass immigration enthusiasm. National Legal and Policy Center repeatedly has argued that labor unions are their own worst enemy on immigration (see pdf of this 2006 Special Report). For at least two decades, their leaders have supported a dramatic expansion of low-skilled workers from abroad, especially Mexico and other Latin American countries, on the assumption that these workers are natural candidates for membership. (read article)

Cities need to hold the line on labor costs

By the Editorial Board, October 29, 2013, Sacramento Bee

As city leaders in Sacramento struggle, so far unsuccessfully, to reach agreement with the police officers’ union on a new labor contract, they should keep a nervous eye on Vallejo. It could be a harbinger of bad things to come. Burdened by police and firefighter pay and pension costs and a collapsing housing market, Vallejo, the largest city in Solano County, declared bankruptcy in 2008, the first city to do so in our state in modern times, but not, as it sadly turned out, the last. Today, two years after it emerged from bankruptcy protection, Vallejo remains mired in debt, with a $5.2 million budget deficit that, if no adjustments are made, is projected to grow to $8.9 million by the end of the next fiscal year. Much of Vallejo’s debt is attributable to its public-employee pension obligations. When it declared bankruptcy in 2008, Vallejo’s annual payment to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System was $8.82 million, or 11 percent of the city’s general fund budget. Today, the city’s pension payment is $15 million, 18 percent of its general fund. (read article)

Unions sitting out ACA enrollment

By Reid J. Epstein, October 29, 2013, Politico

President Barack Obama’s loyal allies in the labor movement aren’t jumping to help the administration in the public battle over the problematic Obamacare website. Put off by new reinsurance fees on group health care plans that affect union members, Big Labor is largely sitting out the effort to enroll people for health care coverage or make the White House’s public case that the mangled rollout of HealthCare.gov doesn’t mean the entire Affordable Care Act is flawed. The AFL-CIO isn’t lifting a finger to help the White House — it remains in negotiations at the White House and on Capitol Hill to change elements of the law it finds objectionable to workers. Those talks were put on hold earlier this month during the government shutdown — a far larger concern for the federal government employee unions — and have begun to restart only in recent days, according to officials from multiple unions. (read article)

Union objects to voting delay for VNA home health aides

By Judy Benson, October 29, The Day (Connecticut)

The union seeking to organize home health aides at the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut is objecting to a two-week delay of the union election, charging that VNA administration is deliberately stalling to gain time to urge workers not to support the union. The union, AFT Connecticut, also filed two unfair labor practice charges against the VNA last week. The election had been scheduled for last Friday, but is now slated for Nov. 8. Twenty-six aides would be eligible to participate. The original Oct. 25 date was set before the government shutdown closed the Hartford offices of the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB informed both sides that if the government did not reopen by Oct. 15, the vote would have to be postponed. When the government reopened Oct. 16, however, the NLRB said it could go ahead with the Oct. 25 vote if the VNA and the union agreed. Matt O’Connor, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said workers wanted the vote to go forward and management could have been prepared, but wants to use the extra time to continue “anti-union activities.” (read article)

Rule Against Non-Union Workplace “Disruptions” Can Run Afoul of National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

By Peter T. Tschanz, October 29, 2013, Barnes & Thornburg LLP

A recent opinion from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) serves as an important reminder for non-unionized employers. As we previously explained, Section 7 of the NLRA gives employees the right to form, join or assist labor organizations. It also guarantees employees the right to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid or protection. Even in the absence of a labor union, an employee complaining about wages, hours or working conditions on behalf of himself or herself and other employees cannot be disciplined or discharged for such conduct under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In Purple Communications, an ALJ found that a work rule that prohibited workers from “ausing, creating, or participating in a disruption of any kind during working hours on Company property” unreasonably interfered with the Section 7 rights of employees to engage in protected concerted activity. According to the ALJ, the employer’s work rule did not define or limit the meaning of “disruption” or state that is was not intended to refer to Section 7 activity. Accordingly, workers could “reasonably interpret to outlaw some such activity.” The NLRB has been taking an increasingly aggressive stance with respect to rules that could be construed as have a chilling effect on an employee’s right to engage in protected concerted activity. (read article)

Perennial Prevailing Wage Debate Pits Towns Against Labor Unions

by Hugh McQuaid, October 29, 2013, Connecticut News Junkie

Municipal associations asked the legislature’s Labor Committee to support changes to the state’s longstanding and politically secure prevailing wage policy at a public forum Tuesday in New Britain. Connecticut law requires contractors working on state and town construction projects to pay their workers wages and benefits at least equal to rates posted annually by the Labor Department. The prevailing wage law applies to all new government construction projects above $400,000 and renovations projects costing more than $100,000. Prevailing wage frequently pits organized labor unions—who believe the policy sets important wage standards for construction workers—- against municipalities—who view it as a burdensome unfunded mandate. Although those thresholds have remained unchanged since 1991, they’re often challenged by legislation, usually from Republican lawmakers, seeking to increase the thresholds or scrap the policy. More than a dozen such bills were proposed last year and died in the Labor and Public Employees Committee. Changes to the law may face an uphill battle in the committee, chaired by Democrats Sen. Cathy Osten and Rep. Peter Tercyak. However, for representatives of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, the trigger modification does not seem like a big ask. Litchfield First Selectman Leo Paul, a Republican, asked members of the committee to put aside their political allegiances and help relieve towns of costly mandates. (read article)

University of California’s Largest Union Begins 3-Day Labor Strike Vote

By Holly Quan, October 28, 2013, CBS San Francisco

The union representing more than 22,000 University of California workers kicked off a three-day strike vote on Monday, with pensions and workers’ rights being the main issues. UC has been in negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 for more than a year. Spokeswoman Dianne Klein said they imposed a contract a month ago that gave Local 3299 members a raise, but the sticking point has been pension reform. “We instituted pension reform in 2010 basically so that everyone would have a pension to draw upon when they reach retirement age. That’s what it’s about,” Klein said. (read article)

De Blasio reaps union donations thanks to campaign finance loophole

By Beth DeFalco and Yoav Gonen, October 28, 2013, New York Post

Bill de Blasio is taking advantage of a campaign-finance loophole — which he helped establish as a City Council member — that allows unions not representing municipal workers to contribute without limit. Unite Here, an international labor union whose former president John Wilhelm is de Blasio’s cousin, gave the Democrat’s mayoral campaign more than $20,000 in the first three weeks of October alone by pulling funds from chapters across the country. The donations came from Oakland, Detroit, St. Louis and Forest Park, Ill. The union had already given more than $25,000 from other non-New York City chapters, including locals in Chicago, Boston, Atlantic City and Los Angeles. In 2005, de Blasio led the passage of a bill that defeated an attempt by the Campaign Finance Board to limit the influence of unions by holding that all chapters of a union were to be considered a “single source” of donations. (read article)

Detroit bankruptcy trial veers off course as Gov. Rick Snyder takes stand

By Mark Guarino, October 28, 2013, Christian Science Monitor

In more than three hours of often-contentious testimony Monday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder defended his decision to move Detroit toward a Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Governor Snyder was the fifth and final witness for the city, which is being sued in federal court by a coalition of groups that says the bankruptcy was not necessary. The case hinges on whether Snyder and the emergency manager he installed, Kevyn Orr, were justified in seeking the biggest bankruptcy for a municipality in US history. Yet the most heated testimony often centered on a different issue – one unlikely to influence Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes in this case, but which could become the thrust of other legal cases to come. Labor unions, in particular, are worried that the bankruptcy is only a first step toward eviscerating city pensions. Again and again, lawyers for the groups that oppose bankruptcy hammered Snyder and Mr. Orr on this point. And again and again, the two refused to take the bait. The lawyers honed in on a proposal Orr submitted to creditors in June that put the city’s pension debt at $3.5 billion. Unions say the number is less than half that, and they maintain that a move to cut pensions would violate protections in the state constitution. On Monday, Snyder said, “it’s speculation” that retiree pensions will suffer. “There isn’t even a plan on the table,” he said. (read article)

Common Core Teaches Second Graders to be Good Union Comrades

By Michael Schaus, October 28, 2013, Town Hall Finance

Aside from the obvious objections to allowing the creators of Healthcare.gov to get more involved in the education of America’s youth, a new reason to resist the creepily altruistic “Common Core” curriculum has surfaced. New Common Core teaching materials instruct second graders that land owners are intrinsically evil, that business owners are inherently greedy, and Saul Alinsky radicals are the saviors of the everyman. (Besides – and I know this should seem pretty obvious – do you really want the architects of a 17 trillion dollar debt teaching our kids things like basic math?) According to Fox news, a textbook company contracted to produce materials under Common Core State Standards is trying to teach students as young as second grade about economic fairness by praising unions, protests and labor leader Cesar Chavez, according to an education watchdog group. Cesar Chavez is one of the liberal movement’s most recent heroes to be considered “in vogue”; as was evidenced by Google’s decision to honor the Labor activist instead of Jesus last Easter Sunday. Chavez’s Saul-Alinsky-inspired-radicalism should put him firmly on the fringe of mainstream Americanism. (A great read on Chavez can be found here.) But, believe it or not, the textbook’s mention of Chavez is only a minor portion of the indoctrination “lesson” plan. (read article)

Martin Walsh, Boston Mayoral Candidate, talks of broader balance

By Michael Levenson, October 28, 2013, Boston Globe

When Martin J. Walsh got his union card in 1988, he essentially entered the family business. Laborers Local 223 counted his father as a member. It was led by his uncle. His cousin, Martin F. Walsh, now runs the union. Another cousin is the office manager. Walsh himself worked on the back-breaking side of the union for only two years, hauling rocks and filling dumpsters, before taking a series of increasingly prominent desk jobs that culminated in a $175,000-a-year job as the head of the city’s largest building trades group. During his 25 years as a union man, Walsh rose to become one of the key figures in Boston’s construction industry, a politically connected labor leader who understood how to usher a project past neighborhood opposition, secure state financing, and keep the peace with developers. He negotiated pay raises for public employees and hammered out agreements with some of the city’s biggest builders to ensure they would hire only union workers, all the while holding down a second job as a state representative. (read article)

The Image and Influence of California’s Organized Labor

October 27, 2013, The California Report

In many ways organized labor is the most the powerful political force here in deeply Democratic California. But the bitter Bay Area transit strike that ended this week revealed a few cracks in the armor. As the second BART strike in four months unfolded, commuters were frustrated and furious — at both sides. Some blamed the transit agency for disrespecting the workers and for hiring an outside negotiator despised by the unions. But public anger seemed especially aimed at the workers, who some saw as greedy. So what do we learn from this very public transit strike? And what does it say, if anything, about the image and influence of unions in California? Scott Shafer and The California Report’s Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow have more. In many ways, organized labor is the most the powerful political force here in deeply Democratic California. However, the bitter Bay Area transit strike that ended this week has revealed a few cracks in the armor. As the second BART strike in four months unfolded, commuters were frustrated and furious — at both sides. Some blamed the transit agency for disrespecting the workers, and for hiring an outside negotiator despised by the unions, but public anger seemed especially aimed at the workers, who some saw as greedy. (read article)

Why Millenials Are Pro-Union But Don’t Actually Join Them

By Aaron Sankin, October 26, 2013, Motley Fool

Buried in a Pew Research survey released earlier this year is an interesting tidbit: Millennials (people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) hold a much more favorable view of labor unions than do older Americans. The statistic presents a bit of a paradox because young people are, far and away, the least likely age group to be members of a union. If Millennials are such staunch supporters of unions, why aren’t they actually joining them? “I think the reason Millennials tend to be positive on union is that they’re what’s called a ‘civic generation,'” explained Michael Hais, co-author of the book Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America. “They are very group-oriented and look out for the benefit of the group over individuals. They have an ingrained sense of equality and want to find win-win situations that benefit large groups of people.” Hais asserts that civic generations, another example of which is the so-called “Greatest Generation,” are strongly influenced by economic and foreign policy stressors during their formative years. For the Greatest Generation, those experiences were the Great Depression and WWII. For their part, Millennials were similarly shaped by the high unemployment rates of the Great Recession and 9/11 attacks. “Growing up in the shadow of these events gave Millennials the conviction that everyone needs to pull together to get through,” argued Hais. (read article)

Wisconsin labor reforms still battling opposition in the courts

By Laura Edghill, October 25, 2013, World Magazine

The legal battle over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s signature collective bargaining legislation continued this week, with a Madison judge ruling restrictions on the practice are unconstitutional. Judge Juan Colas also found state labor relations officials in contempt for enforcing parts of the law’s restrictions he ruled invalid in September 2012. The rulings mean school districts and municipal employers must resume negotiations with unions that request talks, but unions can’t force employers into binding arbitrations and public worker unions can’t legally go on strike. State legislators approved the labor union reforms, pushed by Walker as a cost-saving measure, in 2011. In addition to curtailing collective bargaining rights, the law requires most state workers to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits. (read article)

Center for American Progress: Where Walmart And Labor Unions Come Together

By Ashley Alman, October 25, 2013, The Huffington Post

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought down the curtain on the celebration of the Center for American Progress’ 10-year anniversary on Thursday, but not before CAP President Neera Tanden thanked a few of the event’s sponsors: Walmart, AT&T, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. An odd combination of supporters — Walmart and labor unions, that is — when only Wednesday House Democrats took to the Capitol with Walmart employees to criticize the corporate titan’s low wages and scheduling practices. CAP, a progressive think tank, has been criticized for receiving financial backing from sponsors whose practices don’t align with the group’s efforts. The Nation drew attention to the confidential members of CAP’s “Business Alliance” — those who contribute thousands of dollars a year to the institute — noting parallels between CAP’s advocacy efforts, and those who fund them. CAP refuted the assertions, encouraging “any reader to look directly at the substance of work on corporate accountability and financial sector reform, clean energy, campaign finance reform, defense cuts, and progressive tax reform to judge for themselves.” (read article)

Strategic union campaigns: is your company a target?

DLA Piper, October 24 2013

In the past decade, dramatic shifts have occurred in how labor unions engage the world’s multinational companies. The expansion of businesses across borders has motivated the world’s largest unions to form international coalitions and affiliations, enhancing their scope and capabilities. Unions across the globe are cooperating on an unprecedented scale, sharing strategies and resources, and coordinating efforts to target multinationals as well as entire industry sectors.  –  Unions now seek decisive market shares in order to control the labor supply to major industry sectors. Union operatives and allies hold key leadership positions on various international organizations, shaping emerging policy in a way that favors their strategic campaigns. Unions spend hundreds of millions on international activities, leveraging the overseas campaigns to gain footholds domestically. Unions conduct years of intense research on target companies and industry sectors. Comprehensive mapping exercises identify a target company’s: key stakeholders, command and control systems, business operations, markets, competitors, growth plans, revenue streams and profit centers, workforce and related issues, legal and regulatory climate, supply chains, vital partnerships and core customer relationships. They then exploit weak points and other levers as themes in the campaign.  –  Unions employ an array of tactics: shareholder initiatives; leveraging relationships with human rights organizations; political and regulatory action; litigation; negative publicity, including coordinating sit-downs, hunger strikes and secondary boycotts that can intimidate the company as well as its customers, suppliers and other important stakeholders. Unions seek global agreements that incorporate the pro-union tenets of international labor organizations, with core rights for workers and the right to bargain collectively for the employees. These agreements often require target companies to impose the same obligations on its vendors and successors. The campaign will attempt to create a negative image of the company through media blitzes and targeted public action. At the same time, in an escalating and coordinated effort to “prove” that problems exist, unions will sponsor litigation and regulatory enforcement actions, often unrelated to labor issues, e.g., mass tor t actions. Through discovery, unions obtain important additional information that can be used to launch the next wave of attacks. One of the greatest challenges for target companies is recognizing the campaign in the first place. Unlike more traditional attacks, strategic campaigns are long term, sophisticated and very difficult to identify early on. (read article)

Virginia Governor Candidate Terry McAuliffe silent on union-connected loan

By Jim McElhatton, October 24, 2013, The Washington Times

Terry McAuliffe has promised voters he is committed to transparency, but in the final days of a Virginia governor’s race he leads, the Democrat has steadfastly refused to explain a complicated financial arrangement involving several family trusts and a union-owned insurance and investment company. For the arrangement, known in real estate parlance as a covenant not to encumber, Mr. McAuliffe — along with two other trustees for family trusts in his wife’s name — asked a bank for a $750,000 letter of credit “for the benefit of” Union Labor Life Insurance Co., or Ullico, the union-owned company that came under a congressional investigation a decade ago for risky investments. As part of the deal, new liens or sales contracts could not be placed on the family’s home in McLean, Va., without the bank’s permission, according to land records that The Washington Times located in Fairfax County. (read article)

The decline of union membership and what it means for politics

By John Alquist and Margaret Levi, October 24, Washington Post

Our book is about how organized groups define their scope of action. Can members be persuaded to take actions on behalf of others outside the group? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Political parties, religious congregations, and civic associations all mange to coordinate behavior on behalf of others. But they also screen actively for like-minded people based on shared political or religious perspectives. Similarly, individuals regularly sort themselves into groups reflecting their preexisting preferences. What room is there for persuasion and inspiration? What leeway is there for organizational leaders to expand the organization’s mandate? We focus on labor unions, comparing those with minimal political commitments to the very mobilized. We show that it is possible — though difficult — for these groups to take positions and sustain costly group actions on topics far from the organization’s original raison d’etre. These actions are consistent with what we refer to as a broader “community of fate,” in which the welfare of group members is treated as bound up with that of others outside the group. Expanding the community of fate depends on activist leaders and organizational rules existing in a delicate equilibrium. (read article)

In Boston as in L.A., labor unions are testy focus of mayor’s race

By Cathleen Decker, October 24, 2013, Los Angeles Times

For the second time this year, the contest to run an overwhelmingly Democratic city is resting in large part on whether one of the candidates is too cozy with organized labor, for decades the fuel that sustained the party’s candidates. In Boston, a debate Tuesday night centered on attacks made by organized labor against John R. Connolly, and Connolly’s attempts to turn back the criticism on his rival, Martin J. Walsh, a longtime labor leader. Connolly painted a portrait of unions thrilled at the prospect of one of their own at the negotiating table, presumably to pull the chips their way: “It seems like they can’t wait to get you at the table,” Connolly told Walsh, and by extension Boston’s voting public. (read article)

Transportation Strike May Damage Union’s Pull

By Bill McMorris, October 23, 2013, Washington Free Beacon

Labor experts suggested the strike by more than 2,000 unionized San Francisco transit employees could decrease the influence of the politically powerful union that led the walkout. Dr. Steve Allen, a labor expert at the Capital Research Center, said that the union’s gambit in shutting down the transit system for the second time in the past year could embolden political allies to get tough in future negotiations. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who received near-universal endorsements from labor unions in his campaign, banned the union from striking over the summer. “There’s a really good chance of a backlash and the unions have to make sure they don’t push it,” Allen said. “When you have something like public transportation that affects the public everyday, that’s getting into dangerous territory for the union.” The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was shut down after failed negotiations between the city and SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union over onerous work rules. The strike outraged union critics, who said that unions are ignoring fiscal realities out of their own interests. (read article)

Strike bans raise new problems, labor experts warn

Joe Garofoli, October 23, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle

The idea has its charms to those who were stuck in gridlock induced by the BART strike, the second one this year: Ban transit workers from striking. Such an idea has been floated by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Democratic state Assembly candidate and Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer, whose constituents spent idle hours on Highway 24 in recent days as BART trains were halted by the strike. They point out that transit workers aren’t allowed to strike in most jurisdictions nationwide. In San Francisco, a prohibition in the City Charter bans Muni workers from striking. But while banning strikes might feel good in the grip of gridlock, some experts say it can lead to long-term problems. In Oregon, where strikes by transit workers have been banned since 1995, there has generally been labor peace, said Henry Drummonds, a law professor at Lewis and Clark University in Portland. He helped install the system. If contract talks don’t work, Drummonds said, the two sides go to an arbitrator, who picks one proposal or the other – winner take all. The premise is that because neither side wants the arbitrator to choose the other’s position, they craft solutions that are more moderate “and not so far out,” Drummonds said. “It’s such a high-risk game that the parties are driven to compromise positions and come closer to an agreement,” Drummonds said. “So it reduces the number of disagreements.” But he acknowledges that critics say the system “doesn’t allow any flexibility. It forces the arbitrator to go for one or the other, even if he thinks one of the provisions in the winning package is undesirable.” (read article)

Michigan governor defends Detroit bankruptcy filing approval

By Joseph Lichterman and Bernie Woodall, October 23, 2013, WTAQ (Green Bay)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder defended Detroit’s bankruptcy filing on Monday, stating in court that he followed the state and federal constitutions while addressing fiscal issues that had built up in Detroit for more than half a century. Snyder said the Michigan and U.S. constitutions do not prevent actions that he took, even though the Michigan constitution prohibits diminishing pension payments to retired employees. Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has indicated that cuts to pension benefits would be part of a Detroit bankruptcy restructuring plan. “I believe I am following the constitution and the constitution of the United States, which treat pensions as a contractual obligation,” Snyder said. Snyder’s testimony was a rare court appearance for a sitting governor and came in the fourth day of a federal trial seeking to determine whether Detroit has a right to protection from its creditors under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code. Unions, pension funds and retirees are opposing Detroit’s bankruptcy petition, and federal bankruptcy court judge Steven Rhodes will rule on Detroit’s eligibility after a multi-day proceeding expected to last into next week. (read article)

‘Transplant’ laborers may put brakes on UAW drive in right-to-work states

By Tim Devaney, October 23, 2013, Washington Times

A United Auto Workers drive to organize workers at the Volkswagen Passat plant in Tennessee is turning into a critical battle in labor’s drive to breach the wall of foreign automakers who have flocked to the American South and other right-to-work states in recent years to open nonunion plants.

But in a twist of typical labor-management game plan, the UAW fight is not with the German-owned Volkswagen, where some executives have indicated they are more willing to work with the union, but with the plant’s workers, Tennessee state officials and anti-labor advocacy groups who fear the precedent a successful organizing drive could set. The UAW, which claims it already has signed up a majority of the plant’s workers for the union, is facing pushback from a group of Volkswagen employees who are skeptical of the labor movement and are not so fond of the idea of unionizing. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has taken up the fight on behalf of these employees, filing two separate complaints accusing the UAW and Volkswagen of colluding to unionize the plant in Chattanooga. (read article)

They Want it All: Juneau Project without PLA Mandate Disturbs Labor Unions

By Andy Conlin, October 22, 2013, The Truth About PLAs

Construction union bosses in Juneau, Alaska, want all publicly funded projects to be subject to wasteful and discriminatory project labor agreement (PLA) mandates, and they are not shy about voicing their objections when someone ignores their demands and allows fair and open competition for public projects, as did Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil. The Associated Press reported in early October that Uchytil decided not to require a PLA mandate on an upcoming $54 million construction project for two floating ship berths, because he determined it would not be appropriate for the project. Although that is well within Uchytil’s rights as the port director, President of the Juneau Central Labor Council Pete Ford strongly opposed the decision, in part because not using a PLA mandate sets a bad precedent for future public projects. (read article)

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