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.

In new government gig, union attorney is quick to punish employers

Fred Wszolek, November 26, 2013, Daily Caller

Wherever Richard Griffin goes, controversy seems to surrounds him. So much so that in his first days as the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) General Counsel, he decided to punitively assault America’s largest private employer, Walmart. The NLRB – a so-called independent federal agency – accused Walmart of retaliating against workers who planned to go on strike, a very bold claim to make considering the evidence. Yet, such incidents are not atypical for Griffin. His recent authorization of a complaint against Walmart is part of a broader trend to undermine the law and pay back his union boss friends who helped put him in a position of power to begin with. Griffin was appointed to his job despite a number of red flags that should have immediately disqualified him from working in the federal government. But the truth is, under President Obama, for the first time the NLRB has actual labor bosses presiding over disputes between unions and businesses. Prior to joining the Obama Labor Board, Griffin was general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). Earlier this summer, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Griffin was “named in a federal complaint filed in October by 10 members of IUOE Local 501, out of Los Angeles, which describes a ‘scheme to defraud out of revenue, cost savings and membership,’ by means of kickbacks, bribery, violent threats and extortion. The suit names dozens of IUOE officials as defendants, and Mr. Griffin is highlighted in a section describing an embezzlement and its subsequent hush-up.” (read article)

Labor unions looking for uncommon allies in Boeing bid

By Collin Reischman, November 26, 2013, Missouri Times

Boeing Co., one of the largest employers in the state, is looking for a place to build its newly announced 777X commercial jet. Gov. Jay Nixon and other state lawmakers and business leaders are hoping to pitch Missouri, where 15,000 Boeing jobs already exist, as the home of the new jet. Any deal would likely require Missouri to offer an incentive package, likely in the form of tax breaks or credits, to Boeing. Some lawmakers have publically supported an incentive package. Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin and House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town & Country, both publically supported the idea of an incentive package to draw the new work in. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he was “bound by law,” to honor any call of a special session. “Boeing has an important, significant presence here as a leading employer and job creator,” Jones says. “The Missouri House is always open to increasing that presence.” (read article)

Big Labor is co-opting worker centers to avoid federal law

By Peter Schaumber, November 26, 2013, The Hill

Two weeks ago, in a sharply worded decision, a California state judge ordered one of the nation’s largest unions and a worker center to stop trespassing inside Walmart stores. The union is the United Food and Commercial International Workers Union (UFCW), and the worker center is OurWalmart, described by the UFCW in federal filings as a “subsidiary.” According to the judge, Walmart made “every reasonable effort to settle any legally cognizable labor dispute in question with the defendants.” Nevertheless, the defendants summoned “flash mobs” by text and e-mail, and stormed the Walmart stores, blowing air horns, screaming, and blocking aisles and exits. Worker centers are not something new; but their current use by unions is. They provide unions with a vehicle to organize without the restrictions imposed by federal labor law, long considered by Big Labor an impediment to union organizing. Originally, worker centers were community-based non-profits that advocated for workers’ rights – funded by foundations, membership fees, and other donations. Although the structure and function of these centers varied widely, they all provided members a variety of services, such as job training, employment services, English-as-a-second-language and legal advice. But many worker centers have expanded their activities into areas historically occupied by unions, and beginning in or about 2006, some have affiliated with unions. (read article)

NLRB Approves Union’s Gifts To Striking Wal-Mart Workers

By Ben James, November 25, 2013, Law 360

he National Labor Relations Board concluded in a recent advice memorandum that the United Food & Commercial Workers union didn’t violate federal labor law when it offered $50 gift cards to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. workers who agreed to go on strike on Black Friday 2012. The NLRB memo, issued by the agency’s division of advice and dated Nov. 15, tackled allegations that the union had run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act by making threatening or coercive statements and by offering gift cards to workers. (read article)

Mike McGinn’s union bullying of early education providers

Editorial, November 25, 2013, Seattle Times

Unionizing Seattle day-care workers is not something Mayor Mike McGinn should force in the remaining weeks of his term. Seattle child-care providers should consider suing Mayor Mike McGinn to undo a heavy-handed directive forcing them to negotiate with unions or lose city funds. Bob Gilbertson, president and chief executive of the YMCA of Greater Seattle, said providers are unified in opposition to the outgoing mayor’s order. The executive might run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act. “We’re weighing a lawsuit,” Gilbertson said. “None of us are against unions but we want to balance what’s right for employees with what’s right for kids and families.” (read article)

For Illinois unions, it’s anyone but Rauner in GOP governor race

By Rich Miller, November 25, 2013 November 26, 2013, Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois union leaders are reportedly mulling several options about what to do in the governor’s race. But the only thing they appear to agree on so far is that anti-union multimillionaire Bruce Rauner cannot be allowed to win. Some union honchos are looking at endorsing a candidate in the Republican primary election in March. State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, already has strong support from the Operating Engineers, a union that’s even more opposed to Rauner since the his endorsement by the strongly anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors. Other unions have also taken keen notice of that endorsement. Surprisingly enough, Dillard is also being looked at by some public employee unions. They’re hoping that he’ll be a “no” vote on pension reform. Dillard recently told the Kankakee Daily Journal that he wants employees to pay more into the system and wants a later retirement age, neither of which appear to be in the cards at the moment. (read article)

A union request for the New York mayor-elect: “Labor Neutrality”

Dana Rubinstein, November 25, 2013, Capital New York

Stuart Appelbaum, the union head who spearheaded last year’s successful fight to require some recipients of city subsidies to pay their workers more, has a new request for mayor-elect Bill de Blasio: labor neutrality. “I’ve always believed that the best way to deal with income inequality is through collective action by workers,” said Appelbaum. “And that means forming unions and negotiating contracts. I think that the best way to move forward is to be looking for labor neutrality and labor peace as part of our notion of living wage.” In its most basic formulation, labor neutrality means that a developer agrees not to interfere with the formation of a union, and the workers agree not to disrupt business by, say, going on strike. Appelbaum would like to see labor neutrality language in play any time the city’s economic development corporation subsidizes a development. In some instances, labor neutrality agreements are already a prerequisite to doing business with the state. (read article)

Labor Union PAC Gives $150K to Republican Business-Oriented Super PAC

By Kent Cooper, November 25, 2013, Roll Call

The political action committee (PAC) of an international labor union has given $150,000 to a new Republican business-oriented Super PAC. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) PAC has reported it gave $150,000 on 10/31 to Defending Main Street Super PAC Inc., a Republican business-oriented group that supports center-Right members of Congress and candidates. The group, led by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, wants to support candidates that are being attacked by very conservative groups, such as Freedomworks, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action. The Super PAC makes independent expenditures only. Through the end of September, the Laborer’s PAC had given $57,500 directly to Republican candidates. They had given $478,500 to Democrats. View campaign finance profile. The Laborer’s PAC also gave $75,000 to the Democratic-oriented Super PAC, House Majority PAC, and $144,000 to federal candidates and political committees. (read article)

Wisconsin State labor commission votes to start union recertification elections

By Jason Stein, November 25, 2013, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The state’s labor commission voted Monday to hold union elections starting this week, potentially setting up yet another round of legal wrangling over Gov. Scott Walker’s limits on collective bargaining for most public workers. Both Walker appointees on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission voted to schedule elections for school district employees beginning Friday, said the commission’s legal counsel, Peter Davis. The recertification elections will decide whether those teacher unions keep their official status and the voting will stretch through noon on Dec. 19, with employees registering their votes by phone. “Notices advising employees how they can cast a ballot will be emailed to affected school districts and unions beginning today,” Davis said in an email. The elections are moving forward after a legal skirmish that climbed to the state Supreme Court, which made a preliminary ruling Thursday in the ongoing case. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colás found the commission’s two members in contempt of court last month for scheduling union elections and taking other actions under the labor limits known as Act 10. Colás last year found major parts of Act 10 unconstitutional and said in last month’s contempt order the commissioners were barred from following it. In a 5-2 decision late Thursday, the Supreme Court vacated the contempt order, giving the labor commission an opening to move forward, Davis said last week. In addition to the school district employees, elections for municipal and county workers could also be held in the spring. (read article)

Labor Stats and Facts: Unionization Is Up in 2013, For One Very Big Reason

By Robert Combs, November 25, 2013, Bloomberg

At first glance, it looks as if 2013 is shaping up to be a banner year for unions. Our newly released NLRB Election Statistics Mid-Year 2013 Report says that 65,185 workers were organized in NLRB elections in the first half of this year—more than were organized over the entire course of 2012. But there’s more to this total than meets the eye, because it includes one single, gigantic outlier: an SEIU win at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. This accomplishment organized 44,919 workers—the largest private-sector bargaining unit by far that we’ve documented in almost 30 years of NLRB research. Without that single election factored in, the number of workers organized in the first half of 2013 falls to just over 20,000. That’s actually down from last year, and in line with the general trends we’ve been tracking—fewer elections, fewer union wins, and fewer workers joining unions as a result. Amid this downward trajectory, however, some of the data suggest that certain workers are having a better year in 2013 than they did in 2012. For example, while the AFL-CIO and Change to Win participated in fewer elections—and won a lower percentage—in first-half 2013 than in first-half 2012, independent unions—those not affiliated with either federation—quietly boosted their wins and cut their losses. These independents logged an impressive 68.4 percent win rate through June, up from 59.2 percent last year. (read article)

Labor Unions Fueled Major Liberal ‘Dark Money’ Group In 2012

By Paul Blumenthal, November 21, 2013, Huffington Post

The billionaire Koch brothers and their conservative network may be the best-known users of “dark money,” but their liberal foes have not ceded the field. Labor unions, in particular, were major backers of Patriot Majority USA, the second-highest spending nonprofit aiding Democrats in the 2012 elections. Patriot Majority USA received nearly $2.26 million from unions and another $750,000 from a health care trade association in the last election cycle, according to a review of federal records by The Huffington Post. The group turned around and spent more than $7 million on six Senate races, five House races and the presidential contest. Since the group is organized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit, it is not required to disclose its donors. Patriot Majority USA co-founder Craig Varoga, who did not respond to a request for comment this time, said in a 2012 HuffPost interview, “I don’t think the people who are supporting us would be particularly surprising, but we are not disclosing the donors for this particular organization.” The top reported donor to Patriot Majority USA was the Service Employees International Union, which gave $1.14 million in combination with the SEIU Leadership Council. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was the second-largest reported donor with contributions totaling $1 million. Other union donors included the National Education Association with $100,000, Plumbers & Pipefitters AFL-CIO with $10,000 and the Fire Fighters AFL-CIO with $5,000. Patriot Majority USA also operates a super PAC called Patriot Majority PAC and a 527 organization called Patriot Majority, both of which have been funded almost exclusively by unions since their inception. The latter two groups are required to report their donors. (read article)

Boeing May Partly Move Production Out of Washington State Following Union Vote

Bill McMorris, November 21, 2013, Washington Free Beacon

Boeing may move portions of its airplane construction out of Washington after a local union rejected a contract offer that would have saved the company $8 billion. A company spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that the company had no choice but to consider moving construction of some of its largest planes out of the Evergreen State after International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 751 rejected changes to wage and retirement plans. “Since the union rejected the offer, we were forced to pursue all options for locating the 777X,” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder Jr. said. “That process is actively underway, although we are not disclosing which locations we are considering.” Alder emphasized in a follow-up with the Washington Free Beacon that the company has not yet ruled out Puget Sound. “We are now in a competitive process that will take many things into account,” he said. (read article)

You won’t believe what the Department of Labor might do to employers soon

By Fredrick Englehart, November 21, 2013, Crain’s Cleveland Business

As part of its spring regulatory agenda published back in July, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a number of regulatory activities for the remainder of the calendar year. One of the more controversial changes, scheduled possibly for November, is the issuance of the final rule to narrow the advice exemption to the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The LMRDA currently provides that employers and legal consultants must report to the DOL each time they engage to persuade employees directly or indirectly regarding employees’ rights to organize or bargain collectively. Such work is called persuader activity. At this juncture, given the fact that the union density figure has slipped to 6.6% in the private sector, it is not unreasonable for you to ask, “Why should I care?” The answer is you probably needn’t care unless you fall into one of the following categories: You own, manage or work for a private sector business that has or ever might seek legal advice about labor or employment; or You provide labor or employment advice to such a business. For most of the past half-century the government has interpreted the current persuader reporting rule to exempt “advice” from the reporting requirements unless the consultant or lawyer spoke directly with the employees (the direct contact interpretation). (read article)

Another big battle: labor vs. business

By Craig Gustafson and Lori Weisberg, November 20, 2013, San Diego Union-Tribune

Mayoral candidates David Alvarez, Kevin Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher share a light moment during a debate earlier in October sponsored by the Police Officers Association. Three months ago David Alvarez was a first-term city councilman best known for railing against the City Hall establishment. Now, after a surprising second-place finish in Tuesday’s special mayoral election, Alvarez is one step away from running City Hall. Alvarez, a 33-year-old Democrat, will square off against Republican City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who collected the most votes Tuesday, in a runoff expected to be set in February. The big loser in the election was Qualcomm executive Nathan Fletcher, a Democrat who finished third in a mayor’s race for the second straight year despite starting this time as the front-runner. Alvarez’s sudden emergence as a political force is directly attributed to the influential San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council — an umbrella group of local unions — elevating him out of relative obscurity as the labor movement’s standard-bearer in this election. The group had 700 boots on the ground to get out of the vote for Alvarez and raised more than $1.4 million from unions to bolster his candidacy. (read article)

Volkswagen Trips Over Tennessee’s Touchy Union Politics

By Justin Bachman, November 20, 2013, Bloomberg

The Germans from Volkswagen (VLKAY) are finding a cultural clash in the American South. The company’s desire to install a “works council,” an advisory group that’s part of the operations at nearly all of its assembly plants outside of China, has run into a hornet’s nest of local labor politics in Chattanooga over the involvement of the United Auto Workers. The union has been seeking to organize workers at the VW plant, which employs 2,500 people to turn out Passat sedans, as well as other foreign automakers with operations in the region. It remains unclear, under U.S. law, whether the company would need to accommodate some type of union organization to form a “works council,” but executives from the automaker seem inclined to that view. In Germany, where VW’s plants are unionized, the councils collaborate with executives on workplace issues and implement the decisions of a 20-member supervisory board, half of whose members are labor representatives. (read article)

BART board expected to reject union contracts and ask for a new vote

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, November 20, 2013, Contra Costa Times

With BART and its unions facing off over partially approved labor contracts, Bay Area commuters may well wonder what fresh hell awaits them. For the time being, anyway, BART workers are operating trains normally under the terms of two labor contracts that expired June 30. And union leaders have called it “premature” to talk about a third strike. But the BART board appears likely Thursday to reject four-year contracts that Amalgamated Transit and Service Employee International members ratified Nov. 1. The board last week sent its managers back to the negotiating table, citing an expensive paid leave provision they say was mistakenly included in the contract language. “Given the cost, I have to put my concerns for the riders and the taxpayers ahead of the considerations of what the employees might do if the contracts are rejected,” BART Vice President Joel Keller said. Keller also said he will ask the unions Thursday to take the contracts back to their members — sans the leave provision — for another vote as quickly as possible. (read article)

UCSB Students and Union Workers Protest Against UC ‘Unfair Labor Practices’

By Liberty Zabala, November 20, 2013, Central Coast News

University of California union workers and students across the state are rallying against alleged unfair labor practices by the UC system. This is the second protest after tense contract negotiations between both parties. More than a year’s worth negotiations between these union workers and the University of California has gone cold. “The workers are always here they’re the one, they’re the backbone like we said to the University,” says UC Santa Barbara Ocilyuliema Herrojon. “They’re the ones that clean. They’re the ones that maintain it. They’re the one that keep it going and through the years we see their getting cuts, not only in the wages but, as well as, their benefits.” And during the negotiation, workers say they’ve been asked about their plans to strike. “They trample upon the rights by intimidation asking if they’re going to come on strike,” says UC Custodian Andy Padilla. “Which is a question they don’t have to answer but just asking the question in itself. That’s intimidating a lot of people.” So the union filed this complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board documenting dozens of incidents where they say their workers were threatened or intimidated by the University.” (read article)

Can AFL-CIO’s Damon Silvers save organized labor?

By Lydia DePillis, November 18, 2013, Washington Post

Damon Silvers, AFL-CIO Policy Director, still remembers the pickles. In 2011, at a roundtable discussion in Durham, N.C., the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness showcased biotech firms that weren’t planning to hire anybody, remnants of the textile industry, and an artisan pickle maker. Silvers, the policy director of the AFL-CIO, concedes that the jobs council was celebrating some wonderful entrepreneurial people. But really, he says, it was evidence of a collapsing industrial economy and a president who seems to have given up on pushing a comprehensive progressive agenda. “If we become a society of a handful of biotech engineers working for companies that are going to move jobs overseas and the rest of us are fighting for jobs stuffing pickles into jars, that’s not the kind of place you want to live,” he says. Silvers doesn’t want any of us to live in that kind of place. But the labor movement is as weak as it has ever been, with the percentage of American workers who are union members at an all-time low of 11.3, mostly concentrated in the public sector. Instead of signing up for a long career as an auto worker or a coal miner, more people now work on contract for no benefits, rupturing the relationship between labor and management that unions had evolved to exploit. On top of that, long-term mass unemployment means that nobody’s willing to demand anything from an employer other than a steady paycheck. Silvers, a 49-year-old lawyer with three Harvard degrees and Coke-bottle glasses, is the person who’s supposed to stop the unions’ free fall. (read article)

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