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.

L.A. may hike minimum wage for hotel workers to highest in U.S.

By James Rainey, January 14, 2014, Los Angeles Times

Labor leaders hope a proposal that would dramatically raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles for workers at large hotels to roughly $15 an hour will be a step toward pay hikes for other industries. Members of the City Council expected to propose that large hotels pay their workers $15.37 an hour — more than double the national minimum of $7.25 an hour and push far above California’s rate of $8. Union leaders want the increase to apply at hotels with 100 rooms or more, saying such a hike would lift housekeepers, busboys and maintenance workers out of poverty and inject much-needed cash into a languorous local economy. It would apply to 87 hotels across the city and an estimated 10,000 employees, only some of whom are unionized. Labor leaders hope it will be just the first step toward pay hikes for many other minimum-wage workers. “We would absolutely like to extend this to other industries,” said Maria Elena Durazo, chief of the county Federation of Labor. The organization plans to unveil billboards Tuesday, in the form of faux Los Angeles city signs that say “City Limited” and “Poverty Wage Pop. 810,864.” Previous “living wage” ordinances in Los Angeles have focused on narrower bands of the economy. Under a 1999 city law, employees at Los Angeles International Airport get at least $15.67 an hour. And workers at 13 hotels near the airport earn a minimum of $11.97, thanks to a 2007 ordinance. (read article)

BART’s largest union votes to ratify labor contract

By Erin Ivie, January 14, 2014, San Jose Mercury

BART’s largest union voted to approve a ratified labor contract Monday, effectively ending eight months of turbulent negotiations that prompted two four-day strikes and unending frustration for thousands of Bay Area commuters. Eighty-seven percent of SEIU 1021 members voted in support of the four-year contract, which includes a series of “reasonable raises” and calls for safety and reliability measures. These measures include increased lighting in stations and tunnels, committees to begin reopening station bathrooms to help improve station cleanliness, and an electronic tracking system to flag unresolved safety issues filed by workers. “In California we believe in workers having a voice in the workplace in order to improve working conditions and services to the public,” said Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU 1021, in a statement. “This is particularly important at BART and other transportation agencies, where workers have lost their lives on the job, face incredibly dangerous working conditions on a daily basis, and need a voice to make the system safer for the thousands of riders they serve each day.” The ratification comes as SB 423, a proposed bill designed to eliminate California transit workers’ right to strike, lost traction in the state Senate on Monday. (read article)

How Did This Man Become a Serious GOP Candidate?

By Daniel Libit, January 13, 2014, National Journal

In the GOP’s baseball-card collection of Midwestern governorships, one “need it” tops the list: Illinois, where Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is wrapping up his first full term. Some believe they’ve found their man in Bruce Rauner, a wealthy financier from the tony Chicago suburbs. Not exactly a heretical choice—except that this particular wealthy financier leans left on abortion, is publicly agnostic on gay marriage, has donated generously to Democrats such as Ed Rendell and Richard M. Daley, and is a close friend of Obama chief of staff-turned-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom he helped sherpa through the investment-banking world in the late 1990s. Movement conservatives have shown a marked reluctance to support rich guys with wishy-washy purity scorecards, let alone those who are cozy with Democrats. But in recent weeks, Rauner has asserted himself as more than just the moneyed default choice for the play-it-safe crowd, most specifically by taking on the public-sector unions. When Quinn signed legislation in December to reduce the state’s pension payouts by $160 billion over the next 30 years, Rauner decried the bill as a “Band-Aid.” He has repeatedly blamed leaders at SEIU, AFSCME, and the Illinois teachers union for putting the state in a “long-term death spiral,” as he put it in a 2012 Tribune op-ed. In the same piece, he criticized both Democrats and Republicans for allowing public-employee benefits to run amok. “What is interesting about him is, you could make the case he is a fairly establishment guy in many regards,” says former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who was a member of the congressional Tea Party Caucus. “But he has made a case that he is an outsider angry with both parties. And that resonates with a lot of tea-party people.” According to recent reports, the specter of Rauner’s nomination has labor thinking about wading into the Republican primary race to try to stop him. (read article)

For Michigan State Employees, 2014 Means Finally Having the Freedom To Choose

By F. Vincent Vernuccio and Jarrett Skorup, January 14, 2014, Michigan Capitol Confidential

Michigan state employees had ample reason to celebrate the new year — their unions can no longer get them fired for not paying dues or fees. Almost all of the collective bargaining agreements between the state and its classified employee unions expired Dec. 31, meaning that right-to-work now applies to the vast majority of the more than 35,000 unionized state employees and they can exercise their rights immediately. “Yes, state employees will have the option of opting out of the union,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the State Budget Office. Unlike the Michigan Education Association, which attempts to limit teachers from exercising their rights to a narrow window every year, almost all contracts for civil service employees provide that these state workers can revoke payment or membership at any time. (read article)

Bill de Blasio’s persuasive case for universal pre-K

By Katrina vanden Heuvel, Tuesday, January 14, Washington Post

Last week, as New York found itself in the icy grip of the polar vortex, another deep freeze seemed to be settling over the Empire State — this time between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio — and crystallizing two competing visions for the future of the Democratic Party. First came dueling news conferences last Monday. Cuomo stood before the Albany press corps, announcing his plan to cut taxes by $2 billion, while de Blasio was in a Harlem classroom, joined by a bevy of labor leaders who pledged their support for his signature policy initiative: funding universal pre-K for 4-year-olds (and after-school programs for all middle schoolers) by increasing the income taxes of New Yorkers making over $500,000 a year by about a half-percentage point. (read article)

Palo Alto calls impasse in union talks

By Gennady Sheyner, January 14, 2014, Palo Alto Weekly

As city seeks to adjust salaries, union officials warn of recruitment ‘crisis.’ After months of contentious and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Palo Alto officials have declared an impasse in their talks with the city’s largest labor union, setting the stage for the city’s fiercest labor battle in nearly five years. The city and the Service Employees International union, Local 521, have been struggling to narrow the considerable gap between their positions, which remain largely unchanged despite more than three months of talks. Employees are specifically protesting the city’s effort to realign worker salaries to reflect the market median; calling for greater cost-of-living adjustments; and seeking to retain existing benefits, particularly health care for retirees. The union represents more than 600 employees, or more than half of the city’s total workforce. The group, whose roster includes city planners, librarians, utility workers and technicians, was the first to suffer benefit cuts in the aftermath of the economic downturn, with reforms including a second pension tier and new requirements for employee contributions to health care costs. That effort concluded in 2009 with the City Council imposing a contract on the SEIU following rallies, protests and a daylong strike by the union. (read article)

Missouri legislators discuss ‘right to work’ measure

January 14, 2014, Associated Press

House Republican leaders wasted no time pursuing their agenda Monday, using the first legislative hearing of the year to introduce a labor measure that Democratic leaders denounced as an attempt at “union busting.” The legislation that supporters describe as a “right to work” measure would prohibit labor contracts from requiring that all employees pay union fees, regardless of whether workers are union members. Under current law, unions are allowed to levy fees against workers who are not union members but who work under a collective bargaining agreement that allows such fees. “This is a necessary bill if Missouri wishes to re-gain competitive standing with the states around us,” said the proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield. The bill also has the backing of House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who controls which bills get referred to committees and placed on the House debate calendar. (read article)

First Boeing Machinists, Now State Pensions in the Crosshairs

January 13, 2014, Sky Valley Chronicle

Washington State workers pension plans now in the crosshairs of politicos.(OLYMPIA, WA) — Was Boeing’s blue-collar machinists union a canary in a coal mine for retirement pensions across the land? During the first week in January after Boeing machinists were the first ones to blink in a high stakes showdown at high noon with Boeing over the future 777X work, the general theory among some pundits was if a strong 126-year old union like the IAM can be made to bend on the sacred pension issue by simply a threat from Boeing to take its marbles and go play elsewhere, then nobody’s pension is safe from here on out — be it a private sector or public sector union. It is now just ten days from that historic IAM union Seattle area vote and already some Washington State lawmakers have the pensions of state workers in the crosshairs. State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, plans to introduce proposed legislation Monday that would offer a $10,000 incentive to state workers who agree to move from the state pension system into a 401(k)-style retirement package, according to a report by the Seattle Times. And the reasoning? As some had predicted, “If it’s good enough for Boeing, it should be good enough for the employees of Washington state,” Ericksen told the Times in a report that notes his plan would also end pensions for new state hires in addition to offering the incentive to current workers. (read article)

The Shrinking Role Of Unions Will Keep Corporate Profit Margins Nice And Fat

By Sam Ro, January 13, 2014, Business Insider

Corporate profit margins are at record highs. Goldman Sachs is among the Wall Street firms that believes this is the result of a long-term structural change, not some short-term cyclical fluke. “One of the underpinnings of our view on equities over the last several years has been that the current level of margins is sustainable and likely to stay well above the levels seen in the 1970s through the 1980s,” they wrote in a new report to private wealth clients. Here’s the basis thesis: Labor market slack and technological improvements will keep wage cost growth contained, deleveraging will limit the impact of higher interest rates, and increasing overseas exposure will keep overall taxes and operating costs low. (read article)

Close to Home: Project labor agreements are bad policy, costly to county

By Monica Soiland Nelson and Ken Kreischer, January 13, 2014, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will once again be considering a policy to require all construction contractors to sign a project labor agreement with trade unions as a condition of working under county contracts. On Sept. 18, 2012, the supervisors considered a similar policy that wasn’t enacted. The county subsequently awarded a $22.7 million contract for the Sonoma County airport runway project without a project labor agreement. That contract award was not controversial: The board approved it unanimously, and the job was given to the lowest responsible bidder regardless of the union affiliation of any contractor or worker. Arguments given to date in support of the proposed new project labor agreement policy for county construction contracts lack substance and are not based on factual evidence. No research is acknowledged. No data is presented. The supervisors have primarily depended on the unsubstantiated opinion and narrative of big labor special interests as a basis to justify it. Proponents of project labor agreements have good reason to not present any reason or facts to support their case: None exists. (read article)

Some Thoughts on the Future of Organized Labor

By Reihan Salam, January 13, 2014, National Review

Nelson Lichtenstein, a distinguished labor historian teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes that the U.S. is on the cusp of left-liberal ascendancy, and that we may well see a trade union revival in the decade to come. Lichtenstein sees two roads ahead if such a revival is to come to pass. The first road, which keep in mind he sees as desirable and even exciting, would involve massive street protests and crippling strikes: “The first road would look something like what transpired on May 1, 2006, when during the massive “Day Without Immigrants” demonstrations millions of Latinos and supporters shut down scores of food-processing plants, restaurants, vineyards, and transport hubs in what was, in effect, a general strike. In its early hopeful stages, the Arab Spring looked something like this, and had Occupy been a dozen times larger it might have resembled a de facto sit-in that paralyzed urban financial hubs. We’ve had such mass upheavals in the more distant American past: in the industrial cities of the Midwest during the height of the 1936 and 1937 sit-down strikes; and in the era of hospital, teacher, and sanitation worker militancy in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” (read article)

Supreme Court case highlights U.S. labor agency political divide

By Amanda Becker and Carlyn Kolker, January 12, 2014, Reuters

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Monday in a case involving soda bottler Noel Canning Corp., presidential appointment power will be the main dispute, but the case will also put on display one of Washington’s most politically polarizing agencies – the National Labor Relations Board. Created nearly 80 years ago to supervise union elections and protect workers’ rights to organize, the NLRB is a battleground for pro-labor Democrats and pro-management Republicans. Deep disagreement between the two sides over the NLRB’s role – and over organized labor itself – makes disputes involving the board uncommonly bitter and subjects its agenda to constant reshaping, depending on which party controls the White House. “It’s no accident … that this major constitutional showdown is occurring over appointments to the board,” said AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, a former board member. Monday’s case began as a labor dispute. The NLRB found in February 2012 that Noel Canning, a Pepsi bottler in Yakima, Washington, had reneged on a verbal contract during union negotiations. The company appealed to the courts, attracting the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conservative interest groups and Republican leaders in Congress. The case evolved into a constitutional challenge to the president’s power to make appointments to key posts without Senate confirmation. At issue are “recess appointments” made in January 2012 by Democratic President Barack Obama to the NLRB. (read article)

Maximum energy at Seattle rally to push for $15 minimum wage

By Erik Lacitis, January 12, 2014, Seattle Times

Even after more than two hours of speeches for a new group called 15 Now, the crowd of some 350 to 400 people that packed the hall Sunday afternoon at Seattle’s Labor Temple still managed to chant and show enthusiasm. And a number of the speeches were socialist-movement type addresses, not the easiest to sit through for casual observers. The final speaker, newly elected Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the socialist who ran on the $15-minimum-wage platform, told the crowd, “My brothers and sisters, when people stick around for two hours on a Sunday afternoon,” it really did mean commitment. Sawant said she’d give $1,250 a month — $15,000 a year from her annual $120,000 council salary — to the campaign. She said that “when I get my first paycheck” she’d announce other contributions to various groups. The 15 Now group wants the advisory committee put together by Mayor Ed Murray to come up with “a strong, adequate $15 wage plan” for Seattle by April. If not, said Philip Locker, a national organizer for the Socialist Alternative party who also was political director for Sawant’s campaign, the group will start gathering signatures to put the $15 wage on the November ballot. (read article)

Boeing contract cuts into union labor influence

By Phuong Le, January 12, 2014, Charlotte Post-Courier

The new labor contract that was approved in a close vote by Boeing machinists this month 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 the Jan. 3 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 have 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, the day after the union vote: “This is happening with a company that’s doing very well financially.” Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers approved an eight-year contract extension by 51 percent, a turnaround from November when the same workers voted down a previous offer by 67 percent. The passing margin was about 600 votes of about 23,900 counted, according to Wilson Ferguson, president of a local unit of District 751. Ferguson said the vote diminished the local union’s power since it conceded some hard-fought benefits they won’t be getting back. (read article)

Labor unions vs. political unions: Critiquing the ‘unbundled union’

By Douglas Williams, January 12, 2014, Southern Studies

…Benjamin Sachs, a labor law professor at Harvard, correctly attributes representational inequality to the decline of the labor union in America. Labor unions were strongest as arbiters of economic and representational equality, he states, when they had the ability to pressure lawmakers into supporting progressive legislation that leveled the economic playing field… As anti-union forces became more successful at reducing the ranks of the unionized rank-and-file, the political machine that churned out policy victories for working people slowly began to wither. Sachs’ solution to this problem, and the larger issue of representational inequality, is to decouple the political and economic functions of a labor union, and change labor law to allow employees at a particular workplace to form “political unions.” These unions would enjoy the same advantages that have traditional unions have enjoyed in the workplace, namely: (1) The ability to use the shop floor as a locus for organizational activity, (2) the ability to use the employer’s payroll function as a means of funding union activity, (3) the ability to use the company’s information that has been gathered about their employees, and (4) the protection of workers against retaliation by their employer for engaging in union activity. Sachs makes it clear that he proposes the political union not as a replacement for collective bargaining efforts, but rather as a complement. (read article)

Powerful public sector union SEIU helps Wisconsin county lawmaker write wage hike bill

January 12, 2014, Fox News

Big Labor helped a Milwaukee County lawmaker write legislation for union workers that is projected to cost taxpayers more than $27 million over the next six years. County Board of Supervisors member David Bowen wrote the legislation in collaboration with the Service Employees International Union, fellow board member James Schmitt confirmed. The so-called “living wage” ordinance could bankrupt the county’s Department of Family Care, stunt job growth and hinder future development, according to a fiscal analysis by the county’s nonpartisan comptroller’s office. The proposed law would set a living wage of $12.45 an hour for 350 county employees and hundreds of others who work under contract with the county. However, the proposal offers contracting firms an exemption from the wage increase if their workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and a bona fide labor union. (read article)

NYC health care union that backed de Blasio, Mark-Viverito wields new clout

By Annie Karni, January 12, 2014, New York Daily News

The SEIU-1199 has restored its reputation as a political powerhouse in the city after helping to secure the election of the city’s two most powerful officials. George Gresham was one of the first guests to arrive at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration. The president of the powerful health care workers union SEIU-1199 took a seat in the front row of the VIP section, tucked himself under a blue blanket and stared up at City Hall with a serene look on his face. “I’ve never been as excited to be there since 1990,” Gresham said last week. “Maybe because it’s been 20 years of Republican leadership, but more than that, I think it’s because this is a progressive candidate and that’s the core of who he is.” If de Blasio owes his landslide election to anyone, it’s Gresham and his union. The 200,000-member group was the only major labor union to endorse de Blasio in the primary and did so back in May when he was languishing in fourth place. “We wanted to grow even more labor leaders to come out and support de Blasio,” said Gresham, who poured millions into the race. (read article)

Beware the left-wing-funded ‘Main Street’ Republicans

By Michelle Malkin, January 11, 2014, Houston News

What do George Soros, labor unions and money-grubbing former GOP Rep. Steven LaTourette all have in common? They’re control freaks. They’re power hounds. They’re united against tea party conservatives. And they all have operated under the umbrella of D.C. groups masquerading as “Main Street” Republicans.

LaTourette heads up the so-called “Main Street Partnership,” which claims to represent “thoughtful,” “pragmatic,” “common sense” and “centrist” Republican leadership. Reality check: The pro-bailout, pro-debt, pro-amnesty, anti-drilling group founded by former liberal New York GOP Congressman Amory Houghton includes three liberal Senate Republicans (John McCain, Mark Kirk and Susan Collins) and 52 center-left House Republicans. LaTourette himself is a self-serving Beltway barnacle who held office for nearly two decades. Now he’s leveraging his new tea party-bashing platform to benefit a family-operated lobbying business. The New York Times shed light on LaTourette’s tangled web of GOP establishment outfits last week. But that story just scratched the surface. As the paper reported, the Main Street Partnership is a nonprofit group that charges members up to $25,000 per year to rub elbows with Washington’s rich and powerful. The Main Street Advocacy Fund and the Defending Main Street SuperPAC are political satellites planning to amass $8 million to bolster Republican liberals and moderates facing tea party challengers in 2014. McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies is LaTourette’s lobbying firm. The Times notes that “corporations and lobbyists” fund the Main Street Partnership. But far-left donors provided seed money for these affiliated K Street fronts. Who’s behind the Defending Main Street SuperPAC? Big Labor. National Journal’s Scott Bland reported last month that “two labor organizations, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, directed a combined $400,000 to the Republican group in September and October. (read article)

The Employee Rights Act will help make sure unions earn worker support

By Matt Patterson, January 10, 2014, Daily Caller

…thousands of Americans are routinely forced to participate in labor union activity as a condition of employment. Thanks to government-granted power known as “exclusive representation,” union bosses often have the authority to represent every worker in a company’s “bargaining unit,” even if many – or even most – of those workers never agreed to unionization. Exclusive representation is one of many favors that labor bosses have pried from pliant politicians over the decades with their boatloads of campaign cash. Unions have also bought for themselves exemptions from harassment and anti-stalking laws and even successfully lobbied to deny voters in union elections that most fundamental electoral safeguard, the secret ballot, making it easier for union organizers to pressure and bully their way into a workplace… Legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) called the Employee Rights Act would provide for some long over-due and badly-needed labor reforms, including: 1) Require a union to win the majority of all employees in a proposed bargaining unit (not just a majority of those who vote, as is the case now). 2) Guarantee the right of workers in union elections to cast their vote with a private ballot to ensure the integrity of the democratic process and to protect voters from intimidation. 3) Make it, “unlawful for any person, through the use of force or violence … to restrain, coerce, or intimidate … ny person for the purpose of obtaining … any right to represent employees.” (read article)

How the Rise of Women in Labor Could Save the Movement

By Bryce Covert, January 10, 2014, The Nation

“While birthing ROC I have birthed two children,” Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the restaurant worker organizing group ROC United, told me over the phone. She was talking over the yells and laughter of her young daughter, riding in a car with her between meetings. “I’ve been really thinking about work/life balance, and I want for myself the same things I want for the restaurant workers. Our two priority issues, paid sick days and the minimum wage, are framed as gender justice issues.” Even as the traditional labor movement falters, hitting a ninety-seven-year low in membership rates, female labor leaders like Jayaraman are on the rise and becoming highly visible. Women workers, who were all but shut out from unions in the 1930s, when the movement first gained real power, have been pushing into the top ranks. Mary Kay Henry is president of SEIU, one of the largest unions in the country. Randi Weingarten heads the American Federation of Teachers. At the AFL-CIO, Elizabeth Shuler is the secretary-treasurer and Arlene Holt-Baker recently retired as executive vice president. (read article)

Machinist union members file unfair-labor charges against Boeing

By Alwyn Scott, Jan 9, 2014, Reuters

Members of the Seattle-area machinists union have filed unfair labor practice charges against Boeing Co (BA.N), alleging the company interfered with their rights to vote freely on a contract offer by threatening to move their jobs out of state unless they approved the agreement, the National Labor Relations Board said on Thursday. Members have filed at least 20 unfair labor practice charges in recent days, including at least two against Boeing, and the rest against the labor union’s international leadership, NLRB attorney Anne Pomerantz said in an interview. Most of the charges have been filed since the January 3 vote that approved a contract extension through 2024. In exchange for ratification, Boeing agreed not to build its latest jetliner, the 777X, in another state, which would have meant the loss of jobs for machinists who build the planes in the Seattle area. (read article)

The Future of Coal: Union Boss Keeps Up the Fight

By Kris Maher, January 8, 2014, Wall Street Journal

A shrinking coal industry is threatening the future of the United Mine Workers of America, a storied labor union that has represented coal miners since 1890. In the 1930s, when vast numbers of miners were needed to load coal by hand, the Mine Workers was the nation’s biggest and most powerful union, with about 800,000 members. Today, the union has about 35,000 active members, 20,000 of whom are coal miners. But it also represents roughly 40,000 retired miners who, along with another 50,000 spouses and dependents, still receive union-negotiated retirement benefits. That means that decades after fighting armed battles to unionize mines, the former labor giant is spending much of its energy trying to preserve the economic security of miners from another era. Last year, for example, the Mine Workers spent $7 million organizing protests and fighting to maintain benefits for retirees at Patriot Coal Corp., which emerged from bankruptcy protection last month. (read article)

Watch Out for a 2014 Conservative Foundation Strategy Attacking Public Unions

By Rick Cohen, January 8, 2014, Nonprofit Quarterly

Here is a prediction that you might not see anywhere else: Conservative foundations and conservative think tanks will put a major emphasis on attacking public sector unions. For conservatives, public sector unions represent a political counterweight to the policy lobbying and electoral campaigning resources of corporate America. The Center for Responsive Politics has documented the extent of political contributions of public sector unions, hugely leaning toward Democratic candidates. Overall union membership has been dropping precipitously in the U.S., down from 11.8 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent of employed workers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The power of unions is really in the public sector, where 35.9 percent of workers belong to unions, as opposed to private industry, where only 6.6 of the labor force is in unions. The strength of public sector unions is particularly in local government, where 41.7 percent of workers belong to unions. While congressional Republicans have spent fruitless time following Tea Party political obsessions, at the state level Republicans such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker have squared off against public sector unions as a more practical political agenda. (read article)

As courts consider Anchorage labor law rewrite, city uses it to negotiate with unions

By Sean Doogan, January 8, 2014, Alaska Dispatch

The Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday afternoon over a proposed citizen referendum that would roll back Anchorage municipal labor law changes proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan and passed by the Anchorage Assembly in March. The ordinance, called the Responsible Labor Act, is currently suspended pending the outcome of the court’s decision, expected next month. But the municipality has used the main tenets of the law while negotiating seven union contracts last year and early in 2014. Three of those unions have already ratified new contracts. The effort to overturn the labor law rewrite began almost immediately after it was passed in March 2013 by a 6-5 Anchorage Assembly vote. Municipal unions and labor supporters quickly began collecting the 7,124 signatures needed to get their repeal effort on the ballot. But last April, the municipal clerk rejected the petition, supporting the municipality’s claims that the changes are technical and administrative and thus not subject to a voter petition. The unions sued, and in August a state Superior Court judge ruled the referendum could move ahead. The municipality appealed, and now the matter sits before the state’s six Supreme Court justices. The law has been officially suspended pending the outcome of the ruling, which is expected in February. (read article)

Income Inequality And The War On Labor

By Brian Powell, January 7, 2014, Media Matters

Right-wing media outlets who have long engaged in a campaign to demonize organized labor may be contributing to economic inequality as economists point to declining union participation as one cause of the growing economic rift in America. Unions and union workers have been a consistent target for right-wing media figures who have attacked organized labor as a leech on society and destroyer of jobs. In the latest example of anti-union rhetoric, the opponents of organized labor in the conservative media have defended Boeing Co., which has come under fire recently for its anti-worker policies. On January 3, Boeing’s leadership came to an agreement with its largest union that freezes pension plans and limits wage increases for Boeing workers — all at a time when the company is setting productivity records while its shares are hitting record highs on the New York Stock Exchange. Workers initially rejected the terms, but after Boeing began taking steps to move their jobs to states with anti-union right-to-work laws, they conceded by a margin of 51-49%. (read article)

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