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.

Scalia’s golden chance to kill unions

Josh Eidelson, January 6, 2014, Salon

A Supreme Court case to be heard this month could deal another body blow to the embattled U.S. labor movement. The case, Harris v. Quinn, offers the court’s conservative majority a chance to make so-called right to work the law of the land for millions of public sector workers. And it targets one of the most effective ways unions have grown their ranks – getting governors to classify the growing ranks of taxpayer-funded home care workers as public employees with unionization rights – and a decades-old precedent that the 2012 Knox v. SEIU case suggests justices may be itching to overturn. If the court strikes that 1977 (Abood) precedent – that workers in union workplaces can be required to pay fees for “collective bargaining activities,” though not for “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining” – unions fear further defunding, diversion, division and discrimination will follow. (read article)

New Boeing Contract Is ‘Turning Point In The Labor Movement’

By Phuong Le, January 6, 2014, Huffington Post

A new labor contract that was approved in a close vote by Boeing machinists secures a major airplane contract for the Seattle area, but it also moves workers away from pensions. National union leaders, the state’s governor and the company all hailed Friday contract approval — which defied local union bosses — as a vital boost to the region’s economy. The tight count exposed deep rifts in the once-powerful union, but with plenty of states lining up to give Boeing exactly what it wanted to get work on the 777X, the aerospace giant had a tremendous advantage. “It shows that even a strong local is vulnerable and has a limited defensibility to slow the tide of concessions that has been going on across the country,” said Leon Grunberg, a sociology professor at the University of Puget Sound who co-authored a book, “Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers.” He added Saturday, “This is happening with a company that’s doing very well financially.” (read article)

Portland Declares Labor Impasse with 1,600 Workers

By Aaron Mesh, January 6, 2013, Willamette Week

The City of Portland today declared an impasse with a coalition of seven labor unions, signaling negotiations over a new contract have broken down. “We started bargaining on Feb. 19,” says Rob Wheaton, chief negotiator for the District Council of Trade Unions. “Essentially, they’re saying that they don’t want to talk anymore.” The DCTU represents more than 1,600 city workers, ranging from janitorial employees to police staff. The city and the union coalition have clashed over the contract language that would let the city contract out jobs the unions say should go to its members. Those outside contracts include deals with the county jail and state prisons—programs that union leaders described as “slave labor” to WW in September. (read article)

Unions On Board With Mayor De Blasio’s Universal Pre-K Plan

January 6, 2014 CBS New York City

Labor leaders said they’ll lobby state lawmakers to OK New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to offer universal pre-kindergarten. Leaders of several major unions joined de Blasio Monday at a news conference to announce the push. De Blasio took office Jan. 1. The proposal for universal pre-k, plus expanded after-school programs for middle-schoolers, was a centerpiece of the Democrat’s campaign. Vincent Alvarez is president of the city’s Central Labor Council. He calls the proposal “critical to tens of thousands of working New Yorkers.” “This is going to be a big political lift but it’s a lift — you’re seeing labor is standing here saying we need to get this done,” said United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew. The mayor added he knows it will be a fight. “We don’t think it will be easy but we think we will be victorious because we think the support is growing all the time and we don’t think anyone doubts that the goal is the right goal. It’s a very typical reality in government that people may share certain goals and still might disagree on how to get there,” said Mayor de Blasio. De Blasio wants to pay for it by raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers. Such a tax hike needs state Legislature approval. (read article)

Police hiring, labor talks on LA City Council’s 2014 agenda

By Alice Walton, January 6th, 2014, Southern California Public Radio

The Los Angeles City Council will return to work on Tuesday following its winter recess. The Los Angeles City Council returns Tuesday from its winter break, and police hiring and labor talks are likely to top the agenda in the coming months. The recruitment of new LAPD officers will be a hot topic. Council members want to know why the police department is not finding enough qualified candidates. The department has been trying to maintain a force of about 10,000 officers — a benchmark set by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The department is currently just shy of that level, but there is concern about keeping up with attrition. Under a motion from Councilman Tom LaBonge, City Hall also wants to find ways to encourage military veterans to join LAPD. The city council is also expected to look at the fire department’s use of technology and data. That comes as Mayor Eric Garcetti continues a nationwide search for a new fire chief. And on the horizon are contract negotiations with City Hall’s biggest unions. (read article)

New Hampshire labor leaders to take up minimum wage hike fight

By Garry Rayno, January 5, 2014, New Hampshire Union Leader

New Hampshire labor leaders will unveil their 2014 legislative priorities, such as increasing the minimum wage, during a news conference Tuesday in Concord. Lawmakers abolished the state’s minimum wage law in 2011, but state law holds that no employee shall be paid at an hourly rate lower than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. Last year, lawmakers attempted to reestablish the state minimum wage and to increase it, but those bills were either killed or sent back to committees. However, several similar bills will be introduced this session. Nationally there has been a push to increase the federal minimum wage — including walkouts at retailers and strikes by fast-food workers. Thirteen states increased their minimum wage Jan. 1. In 2014, 21 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Hampshire established a state minimum wage in 1949. In 2011 when the Republican-controlled Legislature removed the state minimum wage from the books, then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed it. He said a repeal would “undermine our state’s economic strategy.” The veto was overridden by the House and Senate. State Rep. Jeff Goley, D-Manchester, had argued that the state should not give up its ability to set a minimum wage above the federal threshold. (read article)

Martin Walsh’s sensible kind of unionism

By Hugh Kelleher, January 5, 2014, Boston Globe

Since the moment Marty Walsh declared for mayor, there has been much discussion about what his long history with construction unions might mean for Boston. He was the head of the Boston Building Trades, representing laborers, electricians, plumbers, and other unions — a resume that raised concerns in some quarters about how he might approach contracts with city employees. Most commentators took too little account of which union world Walsh comes from. There is a tendency to conflate construction unions with other types of private-sector unions, and with public unions. But each of these three types functions differently, and Walsh’s history with construction unions actually bodes well for taxpayers. As a representative of employers, I sat in joint union-management meetings with Walsh. Although he and I represented different sides in collective bargaining, I supported his candidacy for mayor. In meetings he was able to find consensus. He in no way fits the stereotype of a construction union leader as a table-banger or bully. Beyond that, Walsh comes from a world where people are employed only when there is a job that needs doing. Construction unions in Boston and elsewhere are cognizant of the bottom line in these key ways: Unlike public unions representing teachers, police, and firefighters — and unlike unions in other private-sector industries — construction unions provide no job guarantees. There is no tenure or seniority. As a union employer, I hire the best people and fire those who don’t perform. Period. (read article)

BART union approves new labor contract

January 4, 2014, KTVU San Francisco

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and foreworkers, approved a tentative four-year BART agreement on Friday night, according to union representatives. Members of the Service Employees’ International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, will vote on the pact on Jan. 13. Des Patten, a top negotiator for SEIU Local 1021, said he’s hopeful that the members of his union will approve the agreement, saying, “We worked long and hard for our members so they could vote ‘yes’ on it.” BART directors voted 8-1 Thursday to approve the tentative agreement that could end nine months of labor strife with the agency’s employee unions. The only board member to vote against the agreement was director Zakhary Mallett, who said he opposes it because it doesn’t include a net increase in the amount of money employees must contribute to help pay for their retirement costs. BART management had said the pension contribution increase was one of its goals in lengthy negotiations that began last April 1 and included two four-day strikes in July and October by members of ATU Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021. (read article)

Legality of union violence at heart of court case

By Phil Fairbanks, January 4, 2014, Buffalo News

One construction executive will testify about the violence and vandalism he witnessed on a picket line at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Another will recount the threats and intimidation that culminated in a union member stabbing him in the neck. And still another will tell the jury of a menacing letter sent to his wife. They are just a few of the 100 or so witnesses expected to testify in the trial that starts this week against seven former labor leaders accused of using death threats, assaults and vandalism to force construction companies into hiring union workers. The trial, nearly six years in the making, is based on allegations that the former leaders of Operating Engineers Local 17 engaged in a decade of extortion and racketeering as part an ongoing criminal enterprise. “It’s shocking so little was done for so long,” said Robert A. Doren, a lawyer for several of the companies targeted by the union. “It’s sort of about time.” Federal prosecutors say the criminal conduct involved some of the region’s biggest construction projects, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Ralph Wilson Stadium, and often added millions of dollars to the cost of those projects. Yet courts have a long history of suggesting that a union’s reliance on violence, threats and intimidation can be permissible under federal law. Even the nation’s highest court ruled that union members can use violence and vandalism in the pursuit of “legitimate union goals.” (read article)

Low-wage workers’ movement looks to build on banner year

By Ned Resnikoff, January 4, 2013, MSNBC

The past four decades have been grim for the American labor movement. The percentage of workers enrolled in unions has been slipping since the 1970s, and it may soon approach the single digits if the trend continues. It remains to be seen whether the country’s ailing unions can possibly reverse this decline, or even slow it down; but if a labor resurgence does occur, future historians may label 2013 as the year when it began. Over the past year, workers in some of America’s lowest-paying industries have gone on strike in unprecedented numbers. Fast food workers in over 100 cities have walked off the job, demanding a base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Walmart workers pushed ahead in their campaign against the world’s largest private employer, winning some positive media coverage and a favorable ruling from the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, low-wage, federally contracted workers attracted the support of over 60 sitting members of Congress, and campaigns across the country for a higher minimum wage won substantive results. (read article)

Teachers Union says it didn’t know of PAC ad

By Wesley Lowery, January 2, 2014, Boston Globe

If Boston voters had known the national teachers union was spending so much for Martin J. Walsh (right), pundits say, it could have helped John R. Connolly in the election. The Boston Teachers Union denied Wednesday any involvement in a massive television advertisement buy in the final days of the Boston mayoral race by its national affiliate that is believed to have helped propel Martin J. Walsh to victory over Councilor John R. Connolly, a longtime adversary of the union. In a strongly worded statement sent to its members, the Boston Teachers Union thanked the American Federation of Teachers — the country’s second-largest educators union — for its $480,000 ad buy on behalf of Walsh but said it had no prior knowledge of the group’s involvement in the race. “The funds came directly from the AFT treasury as the AFT recognized the importance of the election,” read the statement, which was provided to the Globe by Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union. “The BTU had no prior knowledge of, and gave no prior approval to, this donation.” While the Boston Teachers Union did not formally endorse either candidate, Stutman sent an e-mail to members on Election Day offering his personal endorsement of Walsh. He declined to comment further. Last week’s disclosure that the American Federation of Teachers was behind the late ad campaign from the mysterious “One Boston” political action committee illuminated the extent to which Boston’s mayoral contest served as a major battleground for the national clash between charter school advocates and teachers unions. All told, national education groups poured more than $1.8 million into the mayoral race. Behind labor unions, it was the second-highest amount spent by any interest group. (read article)

New York City’s new labor official vows respectful stance with unions

By Edith Honan, December 31, 2014, Reuters

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Tuesday named a new city labor director who immediately vowed to take a sympathetic stance toward public workers when the nation’s biggest city renegotiates expired contracts with its workforce. Bob Linn, the new director of labor relations, pointedly weighed in on a national debate that has raged from New Jersey to Wisconsin over how teachers, firefighters and other public workers should be compensated. While it has become fashionable to attack public workers, “you will never hear that from any of us,” he said. Public-employee unions in New York are demanding up to $8 billion in retroactive pay increases as part of new contracts that outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg has left for de Blasio, a liberal Democrat who takes office on Wednesday. Bloomberg and unions let the previous contracts run out between 2009 and 2012 without much effort to reach a new deal, allowing Bloomberg to avoid open strife with labor and allowing the unions to wait for a more sympathetic negotiating partner. The Bloomberg administration estimates retroactive pay increases for public sector unions could cost the city $4 billion to $8 billion, and also forecasts a budget gap of $2.2 billion next year. (read article)

Labor unions keep strong grip on Pennsylvania politics

By Eric Boehm, December 29, 2013, Pennsylvania Independent

On a sunny afternoon in early July, Fredrick Anton was finishing his lunch at a popular Harrisburg café. As Anton, the CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association and a longtime prominent voice in conservative circles of Pennsylvania politics, headed for the door he nearly bumped into Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for a wide range of labor unions. “Congratulations,” Anton said, shaking Bloomingdale’s hand, an acknowledgement of political victories scored by the unions in the recently-completely budget season in Harrisburg. “We’re not done yet,” Bloomingdale said in return. It was hard to tell exactly what he meant. In Pennsylvania and across the nation, the fight between business groups and their Republican allies against big labor and its Democratic defenders surely will continue. But something in Bloomingdale’s tone seemed to indicate a deeper significance. At a time when powerful labor unions in other industrialized states were watching their influence wane, the significance of unions in Pennsylvania politics is not done, at least not yet. (read article)

Rhode Island Public-Sector Unions Lock Horns with State Treasurer over Pensions

By Carl Horowitz, December 23, 2013, National Legal and Policy Center

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Gina RaimondoAmong unions, the term “pension reform” is a red flag. In Rhode Island, labor officials are taking their opposition to a higher level. Early this month, a prominent researcher hired by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Ted Siedle, filed a request with the Securities & Exchange Commission requesting an investigation of Rhode Island State Treasurer Gina Raimondo (in photo). Back in mid-October Siedle had released a report accusing her and her various associates in the financial industry of siphoning benefits. Not long after, Rhode Island State Senator and Laborers union official Frank Ciccone filed a similar request with the SEC. Yet in November he resigned from his union posts. That raises the question: Is the main issue Raimondo? Or is it the role of unions, and not just in Rhode Island, in driving public-sector pensions toward insolvency? (read article)

100,000 Government Workers Choose Freedom from Unions in Wisconsin

Matt Batzel, December 21, 2013, Town Hall

Less than 3 years after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed his collective bargaining reforms (Act 10), more than 100,000 union members have left Big Labor. The Left has fought these reforms at every step, but when workers are given the choice, they have overwhelmingly voted to leave government unions. Wisconsin’s reforms prove that public sector union representation is becoming an antiquated idea. Other states should follow Wisconsin’s example and provide government workers with the freedom to vote on union representation. On Thursday, more than 70 local unions failed their re-certification votes with over 5,500 employees walking out on their unions as a result. Thursday was the deadline for many public sector unions to vote for the first time whether they would have union representation. Part of Act 10 was the requirement that government unions annually hold a re-certification vote. Many labor unions pre-empted their reforms through ramming through contract extensions for various lengths of time. Consequently, Thursday marked the end of the first voting period for many unions across the state. Prior to this week’s re-certification votes, numerous reports have come out about loss of union membership. While it is very hard to pin down the exact number of “members” the unions have lost largely because unions are not willing to release this information, we can come up with a minimum estimate of union dues paying members who have left their respective unions based upon publicly available information. In May 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) had lost 34,073 and at least 2,455 have left since then. American Federation of Teachers- Wisconsin (AFT-Wisconsin) told the Wisconsin State Journal that they had lost about 5,250 members, while the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association lost 1,350 members. Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) lost around 50,000 members prior to this latest round of voting. Even the Wisconsin Professional Police Association lost 1,700 members. In total, the public reports indicate Wisconsin unions have now lost more than 100,000 members since Act 10 became law. (read article)

Labor Looks South: UAW And Volkswagen’s Chattanooga Plant

By Gary Klotz, December 20, 2013, Law360

After Bob King was elected as the United Auto Workers’ (“UAW”) President in 2010, he said the following about organizing foreign-owned automotive companies: “If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW.” In 2011, King predicted that with the UAW’s “Principles for Fair Union Elections,” the UAW would organize at least one foreign-owned automotive plant by the end of 2011. The UAW, however, organized no foreign-owned automotive plants in 2011, 2012 or 2013. The UAW, with the help of IG Metall, a German labor union, is now trying to organize Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Under German law, a business must have a “works council” in which all workers, including unionized workers, are represented by elected council members. A works council is separate from union representation, but union leaders are among the elected works council members. A works council has codetermination rights about how the business operates in areas including working hours, overtime, employee leave, health and safety and performance evaluation. A works council also consults with management about other issues, including working methods and production planning. A German employer, however, does not negotiate wages and benefits with a works council. (read article)

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