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.

DeBlasio’s Pre-K Spending Could Benefit Teachers Unions

By Bill McMorris, November 19, 2013, Washington Free Beacon

New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s pledge to provide universal pre-school could serve as a financial windfall for some of his biggest allies. De Blasio promised to create new pre-schools for thousands of children under the age of 5 by raising taxes on the 40,000 New Yorkers who earn more than $500,000 per year. The expansion of the school system would provide members for the city’s powerful public sector unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, according to labor and education experts. “Unions are increasingly unable to attract new members, so they’re looking to the government to help them unionize new segments of the workforce,” said labor expert Max Nelsen. “If the government is in a position of influence, like doling out taxpayer dollars to preschools, it can influence them into unionizing.” (read article)

Right to work: Busting unions for their own good

By Daniel Martin Gray, November 19, 2013, Washington Times

Without unions, corrupt capitalists would never have stopped squeezing the blood and sweat from the brow of labor. Unions made millions free, and helped build the middle class. But the corruption and greed that infected robber barons was never theirs alone. No one is immune. Every institution ever devised has been subject to moral sabotage. Unions are no exception. What once worked for workers now works against them. America’s unions have become a bane. They suck money from the working-man’s pocket and drive jobs overseas. They bully business and cow workers. They ‘represent’ folks who never voted for them. They use forced dues and fees for Progressive political causes that have nothing to do with rank-and-file’s jobs. They set up internal voting systems so stringent that they make the two-party system look like a parliamentary free-for-all, ensuring no one gets into Union office except hand-picked cronies. As the main source of funding and organizational manpower for Progressive political efforts, unions actively threaten American Constitutional government. The growing Right to Work movement is the best hope for unions. When unionism is made voluntary, it forces unions to compete for dollars by providing what the worker wants. All RTW laws do is prevent unions from mandating dues and fees, freeing workers to decide for themselves if union participation is in their own best interests. (read article)

Union’s Supreme Court case threatens key organizing tool

Moshe Z. Marvit, November 19, 2013, Al Jazeera

On Nov. 13 in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked the first question in an important case about labor practices. He began by prodding the lawyer for the petitioner, a union, to define “property.” Employers have used traditional notions of property to deny workers the right to organize, the right to work free from discrimination and the right to demand a greater share of productivity. This first question by Kennedy, the justice who wields the court’s swing vote, confirmed that the union had entered hostile territory. Before the case, UNITE HERE Local 355 v. Martin Mulhall et al., reached the Supreme Court, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that neutrality agreements — a common feature of agreements between unions and employers since at least the 1970s — may violate a criminal provision of the 1947 Labor Management Relations Act, also known as the Taft Hartley Act. The union, UNITE HERE Local 355, appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn this judgment. The attempt, as Kennedy’s first question confirmed, was likely foolhardy. (read article)

California labor board to seek order against UC strike

Associated Press, November 19, 2013, Times Union

State officials are set to ask a court on Tuesday to stop some University of California hospital employees from participating in a planned strike at UC’s five medical centers. The state Public Employment Relations Board is scheduled to seek a temporary restraining order against unionized patient care employees at a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court scheduled for 9 a.m. University officials say the labor board’s request will focus on employees in critical health and safety roles. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299 has called on its more than 21,000 UC patient care workers to go on strike on Wednesday. The workers include radiation therapists, who help treat cancer patients, MRI technicians, technicians who sterilize equipment used in surgeries and pharmacy technicians who deliver medications to patients. The union called the strike in response to what it said was intimidation by UC management of employees who participated in a two-day walkout in May. (read article)

Rein in reckless public pensions

Editorial, November 18, 2013, USA Today

This month’s races for governor sent a widely noted message that Republicans will do much better if they nominate center-right candidates like New Jersey’s Chris Christie than far-right candidates like Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli. Less remarked was the message that the New Jersey race sent to Democrats. It is not often that a state votes for a Democratic president by nearly 18 percentage points one year and then for a Republican governor by an even larger margin the next. One lesson is that public disgust with government – and particularly government spending – includes anger over the unaffordable sweetheart deals that states and localities signed with public employee labor unions, a core Democratic constituency. A good bit of Christie’s appeal stems from a pension overhaul he engineered that pushes back retirement ages and requires workers to contribute more. Similarly, in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker faced down public-sector unions and survived a recall election. “Wisconsin’s pension system is the only one in the country that is fully funded,” Walker writes in his bookUnintimidated, which comes out today. Fueling taxpayers’ anger is that they are financing benefits no longer available to most private-sector workers. Some state and local government workers can retire in their 50s, after 33 years of service, and continue drawing the same income. Estimates for the total shortfall of public pensions start at about $700 billion. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office said that $2 trillion to $3 trillion was more accurate. Even a long bull market won’t make the problem go away. (read article)

BART directors must reject costly labor deal

Editorial, November 18, 2013, Contra Costa Times

BART directors on Thursday must reject the costly labor contract that ended the four-day strike last month — even if that means workers walk off the job again. We already knew the deal was a sellout of riders and taxpayers that blew through the budget BART directors had set going into the negotiations. Now we learn that district negotiators also “inadvertently” agreed to outrageously expensive new family leave policies that hadn’t been accounted for in previous cost estimates. Union officials claim the additional benefits were part of the deal for months. That’s news to BART directors and the public. But even if it was supposed to be part of the contract, that’s all the more reason that the transit board should reject it. For those who haven’t followed the latest surreal developments, it turns out that after negotiators for the two sides reached a deal, after union members voted to ratify the contract, a BART attorney discovered it contained the family leave provision. (read article)

Labor Panel Finds Illegal Punishments at Walmart

By Elizabeth Harris, November 18, 2013, New York Times

In addition, the board’s general counsel said an inquiry found evidence that a Walmart spokesman, appearing on national television, had unlawfully threatened employees who were considering taking part in the protests. While the board authorized the filing of a complaint asserting violations of workers’ rights, no complaint was filed on Monday. The board counsel’s office said it would give the parties a chance to reach a settlement. Walmart denied the accusations, and it called the board’s steps “procedural.” The board’s general counsel was investigating accusations made against Walmart stemming from protest activities planned last year for Black Friday, among others. (read article)

Opinion: Supreme Court should protect rights of workers and unions

By Raul A. Reyes, November 18, 2013, NBC Latino

Could the future of labor unions be hanging in the balance? Observers and experts seem to think so. The Supreme Court just heard arguments in Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall. This dispute originated in South Florida in 2004, when Mardi Gras Gaming (a casino company) and Unite Here (the union) signed a “neutrality agreement.” The casino agreed not to interfere with union organizing, to provide lists of their employees to the union, and to allow votes on union membership by signatures. In exchange, the union promised not to picket or strike against the casino, and to help a gambling measure pass in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The union also spent about $100,000 in support of the gambling initiative. But after it passed, Martin Mulhall, a casino employee, sued the union, saying the agreement violated federal labor law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit sided with him, and now the Supreme Court will have the final say. Mulhall bases his case on Section 302 of the National Labor Relations Act. It says that employers may not “pay, lend, or deliver… any money or other thing of value” to a union. Because the neutrality agreement between the casino and the union benefitted the union, Mulhall asserts, it was a “thing of value” and thereby illegal. (read article)

Unions sets sights on Ohio governor’s race

By John Seewer, November 17, 2013, Associated Press

Union leaders are now looking ahead at Ohio’s governor’s race after knocking off a big city mayor who they say was their top political target this year. Organized labor helped oust Toledo’s mayor — an ally of Gov. John Kasich — who infuriated unions two years ago by appearing in a TV commercial backing the collective bargaining law that Ohio voters later overturned. Democrats and labor officials believe that independent Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s loss two weeks ago to another, union-backed independent was fueled by his endorsement of the Republican plan to limit collective bargaining for public workers. “A lot of what our membership responded to was that Mayor Bell aligned himself so closely with Gov. Kasich,” said Mike Gillis, a spokesman for the Ohio AFL-CIO. Kasich’s critics are hoping that there is enough anger left over from the contentious debate in 2011 to defeat him. But defeating the governor will be a much bigger challenge than taking out Toledo’s mayor, who had fallen out of favor with unions in a town dominated by organized labor. Unions plan to remind voters often it was the governor who signed the law that would have prohibited more than 350,000 public employees from negotiating health care and pension benefits and would have banned public employee strikes. (read article)

BART board, unions set to meet over contract error

By Sergio Quintana, November 17, 2013, ABC San Francisco

A dispute over BART’s tentative union contract is heating up this weekend in a new development. Both sides have agreed to meet on Monday. BART’s Board of Directors says a mistake gives union members more paid family leave than was negotiated. Under the contract agreed to by labor and management last month, BART employees get six weeks of paid family leave each year. That’s nearly twice as generous as the standard state family leave program benefit. This is the section that sidelined the BART union contract. (read article)

Carmaker, Tennessee leaders at odds over union

By Erik Schelzig, November 18, 2013, Portland Press Herald

Top Volkswagen officials are trying to quell fears among Tennessee politicians about efforts to work with a union to create a German-style works council at the automaker’s lone U.S. plant in Chattanooga. So far the Republican leaders remain unconvinced. Labor representatives, who make up half of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s supervisory board, have pressured VW management to enter discussions with the United Auto Workers about representing workers at the plant because U.S. law would require a works council to be created through an established union. Bernd Osterloh, the head of the Volkswagen’s global works council and a member of the company’s supervisory board, was among a delegation of company leaders who visited the plant Thursday and later met with Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in Nashville. Southern politicians say they fear a successful UAW organization of the Volkswagen plant would hurt the region’s ability to attract future investment, and that it could lead to the spread of organized labor to other foreign car makers. (read article)

Boeing says will not reopen union talks on 777X

Reuters, November 16 2013, CNBC

Boeing said it has no plans to reopen talks with a union representing Washington state workers who have rejected a labor contract linked to its newest jet and vowed it would “look very broadly” at where to build it. Washington state machinists last week voted down a contract negotiated between Boeing and leaders of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) that would have kept production of Boeing’s profitable wide-body series in the Seattle area in return for lower benefits. Boeing is keeping “all options open” on where to build the 777X and expects to make a decision “within the next several months”, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner told a news conference on Saturday. He was speaking on the eve of the Dubai Airshow where industry sources expect the U.S. planemaker to launch the latest version of the 777 jet with around 250 orders. Asked whether Boeing was willing to go back into talks with the IAM after its members rejected the contract proposal, Conner said: “At this point we have no plans to do that.” (read article)

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe courted Va. labor and business. Can he keep both sides happy?

By Fredrick Kunkle, November 16, 2013, Washington Post

Virginia’s top corporate executives, including many who have backed Republicans before, are betting that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) will be good for business. Top union leaders think he’s their man, too. While unions were pouring money and muscle into electing McAuliffe, he was busy promising to uphold the state’s anti-union “right-to-work” law and winning endorsements from business groups. As a result, both big business and big labor consider McAuliffe an ally, each convinced that he could not have won without its support. “I’m optimistic Terry McAuliffe will be a pro-business governor,” said Barry DuVal, president and chief executive of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which has a membership of about 13,500 businesses. “We feel good with him right now,” said Tim Waters, national political director for the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers, whose 27,000 Virginia members toil in shipyards, tire factories, paper mills and other industrial sites. “But we’re cautious in our optimism.” (read article)

Student Labor Union Authorizes Strike

By Aleksandra Konstantinovic, November 16, 2013, The UC San Diego Guardian

A union representing student workers throughout the UC system has authorized its members to go on strike following a unionwide vote that passed with 96 percent support. United Auto Workers Local 2865 includes 12,000 teaching assistants, graduate student teachers and readers who now have the authority to strike in protest of alleged intimidation tactics used by the UC administration. The vote comes a week after the union’s no-strike clause expired in its contracts with the University of California. UAW has expressed support for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 workers, who plan to strike at UC campuses on Nov. 20. UAW may join them in solidarity. UAW members claim that their annual pay, purportedly an average of $17,000, is not nearly enough to live on without taking a second or third job. Like AFSCME workers, UAW representatives believe that the UC administration acted unlawfully when it asked union members if they were planning to go on strike. (read article)

Lawsuit Asks: Should Taxpayers Pay More For Labor Peace?

By Daniel Fisher, November 15, 2013, Forbes

Is labor peace so important that taxpayers should pay millions of dollars more for it? That’s the question a New York appeals court will answer in proceedings beginning Tuesday, when contractors challenge state rules requiring them to agree to use union labor before they can even bid on a multimillion-dollar construction project. Blasting contractor Lori Florian said she can’t honor the “project labor agreement” on a state highway reconstruction project without jeopardizing public safety and her seven-employee business, Alpha Drilling and Blasting.</p>

<p>“I am in a specialized business — I trained my people myself,” said Florian, 56, who started out delivering explosives with her ex-husband and gradually built a $1 million-a-year blasting firm. &nbsp;“My guys are highly trained and if I were to work under the PLA, I am now being sent people from the (union hiring) hall I don’t know.” (read article)

Boeing machinists soundly reject labor deal

Reuters, November 14, 2013, Chicago Tribune

Boeing machinists soundly rejected an eight-year labor contract extension on Wednesday that would have let them build the company’s newest jetliner in Washington, a historic decision that could forever alter the course of Boeing’s 97-year presence in the state. International Association of Machinists members voted 67 percent against a deal that would secure an estimated 20 years of work building Boeing’s 777X jet, but a deal that would have terminated their pension plan and raised their healthcare costs. The decision means Boeing will consider building key parts of the 777X, including the wings, in non-union U.S. states or in Japan, where it has already received an offer. A crowd of more than 100 people erupted in cheers when the vote was announced amid a charged atmosphere at the union’s main hall in Seattle. The vote means Boeing will look for other locations to build the 777X, the only jet it is likely to develop in the next 15 years. Even though the union’s 31,000 workers gave up their chance for those jobs, they considered the giveaways in the contract too grave to accept. (read article)

Senate GOP warns administration not to exempt unions from ObamaCare fee

By Alexander Bolton, November 14, 2013, The Hill

Senate Republicans have urged the administration to halt work on a regulation that would exempt labor unions from a controversial reinsurance fee under the Affordable Care Act. The administration should not exempt unions without also exempting for-profit companies, charities and faith-based organizations, the senators warned. “To think that the Obama administration would consider such an action that benefits one group over another can only be characterized as cronyism at its worst,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell. “The regulatory process is meant to implement the law as written, not as the administration wishes it were,” they wrote. “If the law will unfairly hurt certain groups, it should be repealed or amended through Congress.” Twenty-one Republicans signed the letter, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Senate Republican Policy Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.). The Department of Health and Human Services indicated earlier this month that it was mulling a proposal to exempt some union health plans from the reinsurance fee, a tax intended to stabilize the premiums of health plans available through the federal exchanges. The rulemaking would exempt Taft-Hartley union health plans, which cover about 26 million people, according to a Senate GOP estimate. (read article)

Supreme Court Questions Labor-Management ‘Neutrality’ Pacts

By Nina Totenberg, November 13, 2013, NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court, which has been somewhat hostile to unions in recent years, on Wednesday examined a key union organizing tool. At issue: neutrality agreements, under which employers pledge to remain neutral during union organizing campaigns, and in exchange, the union promises not to picket, boycott or strike. The anti-union National Right to Work Committee is challenging these agreements, contending that they are illegal under the 1946 Labor Management Relations Act. The purpose of that law was to promote industrial peace and avoid nasty, even violent clashes over unionization. In light of that, courts have long upheld neutrality agreements, finding that they carry out the purpose of the law. And in recent decades, unions have found that neutrality agreements are their most effective organizing tool. The agreement at issue before the Supreme Court on Wednesday was fairly typical. A Florida casino owner agreed to provide union organizers access to its workers, to recognize the union if a majority of workers signed up, and to arbitrate disputes. The union, in exchange, agreed not to boycott, strike or use other outside pressure tactics. It promised not to coerce employees, and it said it would support an initiative to allow casinos to expand their business with slot machines. After the initiative passed, the casino reneged on the agreement and backed a lawsuit brought by the National Right to Work Committee on behalf of Martin Mulhall, a casino employee who objected to unionization. (read article)

A worst-case scenario for de Blasio and labor

By Gloria Pazmino, November 12, 2013, Capital New York

When Bill de Blasio takes over as mayor, he’ll be reckoning with 300,000 municipal workers with expired contracts seeking some $7 billion in retroactive pay, as well as an expected $2 billion deficit. David Gregory, executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at the St. John’s University law school, told the Times he expects de Blasio to arrive at some accommodation with the municipal unions that would involve paying out part of that amount over a period of years. And if they can’t arrive at such an agreement? “First, de Blasio has to attract business and lower taxes,” said Gregory. “No one wants layoffs, but it could come down to an absolute last resort for Bill de Blasio.” That last resort would be, according to Gregory, that “he’ll have to lay off in order to give.” Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, thinks the very thought of layoffs is ludicrous. He says the unions simply want what they’ve gotten in the past, and that the city has the means of giving it to them. “We have men and women that are working in this city, their paychecks have stayed exactly the same,” he said. “All that money is owed to us.” He thinks the Bloomberg administration has deliberately lowballed the amount of money the city has on hand in order to avoid dealing with the backpay issue. “For the past four years, the mayor keeps saying the city is running at a deficit,” he said. “But there is $7.5 billion dollars reserved.” (read article)


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