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.

Labor Wants Its Say at Davos

By Katrin Bennholdjan, January 21, 2014, New York Times

Philip Jennings, a union leader from working-class Wales, has been coming to this Alpine ski resort for two decades to rub shoulders with the bosses of the world. His message has not changed. “The world needs a pay rise,” Mr. Jennings said on a Davos panel last year. Some executives in the room rolled their eyes, others smiled politely. Did he want to go back to the 1970s, one journalist inquired. Did he understand basic economics? Mr. Jennings, who has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, is general secretary of UNI Global Union, which represents 20 million service workers in 150 countries. This year, as he again carries labor’s message to Davos, he arrives with some rhetorical wind at his back. President Obama last month called the stalling of social mobility “the defining challenge of our time” and vowed to help unions “to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.” Pope Francis has questioned the idea of trickle-down economics. Even John Cridland, the head of Britain’s biggest business organization, the Confederation of British Industry, has scolded companies for not paying employees enough. The sponsor of the Davos convocation, the World Economic Forum, in its annual risk assessment released last week, cited the growing gap between rich and poor as its single greatest worry for 2014. (read article)

U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Rowland appeal in union layoffs case

By Keith M. Phaneuf, January 21, 2014, Connecticut Mirror

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear former Gov. John G. Rowland’s appeal regarding a ruling that his administration used layoffs to punish state employee unions in 2003. The case now heads back to U.S. District Court in Hartford, where Rowland will file a motion to dismiss the case, according to a written statement released Monday through his attorney. “It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court is not taking this case,” Rowland wrote in a statement. “It will have a profound impact on governors, mayors, boards of education and taxpayers all across America.” A coalition of 13 state employee unions sued to challenge 2,800 layoffs Rowland ordered in December 2002 in response to a growing state budget deficit. The Republican governor, they charged, specifically targeted bargaining units to punish them for supporting Democrat William E. Curry Jr. in that year’s gubernatorial contest. After the district court initially dismissed the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled last May that Rowland’s layoffs were improper because they targeted unionized workers. Both sides have agreed that the Rowland administration followed all appropriate seniority rules when the layoffs were enforced. But they also agreed that the job cuts weren’t based on any analysis of the state’s workforce needs. (read article)

Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left

By Andy Kroll, January/February 2014 Issue, Mother Jones

In the predawn twilight of December 4, 2012, Randy Richardville, the Republican majority leader of the Michigan Senate, called an old friend to deliver some grim news. Richardville’s two-hour commute to the state capitol in Lansing gave him plenty of time to check in with friends, staff, and colleagues, who were accustomed to his early morning calls. None more so than Mike Jackson. Jackson and Richardville had grown up in the auto town of Monroe, 40 miles south of Detroit. Jackson now headed Michigan’s 14,000-member carpenters and millwrights’ union, which had endorsed Richardville, a moderate Republican, for 10 of the 12 years he’d served in the state Legislature. “Guess where I was last night,” Richardville said. Jackson wasn’t in a guessing mood—and it wasn’t just the early hour. Since the election a few weeks earlier, Republicans had been aiming to use the current lame-duck session to ram through a controversial piece of legislation known as right-to-work. Such laws, already on the books in 23 states, outlawed contracts requiring all employees in a unionized workplace to pay dues for union representation. Jackson and other labor leaders were scrambling to head off the bill, widely regarded as a disaster for unions. Richardville, who had once told a hotel conference room filled with union members that right-to-work would pass “over my dead body,” was one of the votes they’d counted on. (read article)

Supreme Court to hear 1st Amendment challenge to labor unions

By David G. Savage, January 20, 2014, Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court will hear a 1st Amendment case this week involving Chicago-area in-home care providers that could end up dealing a major blow to public-sector labor unions. Illinois, California, Maryland, Connecticut and other states have long used Medicaid funds to pay salaries for in-home care workers to assist disabled adults who otherwise might have to be put in state institutions. The jobs were poorly paid and turnover was high. Over the last decade, more than 20,000 of these workers in Illinois voted to organize and won wage increases by joining the Service Employees International Union. But the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union advocacy group, sued Gov. Pat Quinn and the SEIU, accusing the state and union of conspiring to relabel private care providers as state employees so they could collect more union fees. “This scheme is nothing more than pure political payback,” said Patrick Semmens, a director of the group, complaining that unions have helped fund Quinn’s campaign. They are also challenging whether workers who don’t want to participate in the union should be forced to pay dues, a longtime union practice known as “fair share” fees. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several mothers who take care of their disabled adult children at home and resent the idea of paying about $50 a month in union dues. (read article)

The Volkswagen way to better labor-management relations

By Matthew Finkin and Thomas Kochan, January 20, 2014, Los Angeles Times

Works councils — elected bodies representing all workers in a plant, both blue and white collar — are acclaimed as one of the best, most innovative features of Germany’s labor relations system. They have been shown to enhance efficiency, adaptability and cooperation. By supporting the use of work sharing (agreeing to reduce everyone’s hours rather than laying some people off), for example, these councils helped Germany experience less unemployment during the Great Recession and a faster, more robust recovery since then. For years, labor law, labor economics and labor-management researchers like us have urged experimentation with works councils in the United States. Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers are proposing to do just that at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant. This could be a watershed in American labor relations, one that rejects the outmoded adversarial doctrines that have built up in U.S. labor law and practice. And it signals management and labor support for a new model of cooperation and partnership. (read article)

Forcing caregivers into union violates First Amendment rights

By George Will, January 19, 2014, Deseret News

The Democratic party is the party of government because it embraces a proposition it has done much to refute — that government is a nimble, skillful social engineer — and because government employees are a significant component of the party’s base and of its financial support through government employees unions. Franklin Roosevelt, architect of the modern party, believed unionization would be inappropriate in the public sector. Today’s party, however, aggressively uses government coercion to create supposed “government employees” from whom unions can extract money, some of it for the party. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the Illinois government’s policy of herding home-care workers into unions violates the workers’ First Amendment rights. It does. Because organized labor’s presence in the private sector has shriveled from about 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s to 6.6 percent today, public-sector employees are labor’s oxygen. In Democratic-controlled Illinois, the relationship between the party and organized labor is, to say no more, mutually congenial. (read article)

Supreme Court to hear little-known case with huge implications for unions

By Peter Moskowitz @PeterMoskowitz January 19, 2014, Al Jazeera America

A case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court this week has managed to stay out of the limelight, skirting political debate and media frenzy for years despite its potentially devastating ramifications for unions across the country. Harris v. Quinn is a case started by eight home-care workers who resisted joining a state union — and paying the corresponding union dues — in Illinois. Unionization was a prerequisite for their employment by the state. They filed a class-action lawsuit against Illinois in 2010, arguing that being forced to pay into a union as a condition of their employment violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of association. As the case worked its way up the court system, with both state and federal appeals courts siding with the state, the lawsuit ballooned from a small class-action case into one that could affect every public-sector union in the country. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the foundation of public union funding — the ability to collect compulsory dues — could crumble. Union leaders and labor supporters are worried that the current Supreme Court, which has had a lukewarm relationship with organized labor, will overturn decades of precedent and find that public-sector unions cannot compel state employees to pay them. (read article)

Teachers union says PPS ‘pushing us closer to a strike’

Jennifer Anderson, January 17, 2014, Portland Tribune

Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers appear to have had their last mediation session, and the possibility of strike is looming. After a 14-hour session Thursday, Jan. 16, talks between the two sides made no progress and are stalled after nine months, according to the district. The Portland School Board could vote as early as Tuesday’s meeting to give a 7-day notice of intent to impose a contract on the union. If that happens, PAT President Gwen Sullivan says union organizers and representatives would gather and assess what to do. They could accept the imposition or vote to strike, an action the union takes seriously, Sullivan says. State rules require that the union hold a minimum of two pre-strike assessments before they can vote to strike. They’ve already had one, and the result was “unbelievably united for not letting them impose” the contract, Sullivan says. “Whatever comes out of this has to be strong,” she adds. “We’ve got to be united.” PPS officials say items of contention are a longer school year for students, salary increases for teachers and early retirement benefits. They say they’ve offered a three-year contract based on frameworks negotiators for both sides discussed during intensive sessions recently. “We have had intensive talks that have generated movement on many issues, from teacher hiring to work load relief,” says Superintendent Carole Smith. “We addressed the issues the association told us were their top priorities: workload and health care. We believed we were getting close to an agreement, but we are disappointed that we are now seeing a widening gap. Tonight we informed the association that we are not able to move beyond the frameworks that had us close to a settlement last week.” (read article)

Union power? Numbers say no

Bill Cotterell, January 17, 2014, Tallahassee.com

It’s always a little strange to hear political candidates, and occasional newspaper letter writers, complain about how those greedy, powerful public-employee unions are slopping at the public trough. That’s a fair accusation in Chicago or New York, maybe, but certainly not in Florida state government. Municipal transit workers, police and firefighter unions in Florida are powerful at the city and county levels — witness the current legislative efforts to get a financial handle on pensions — but in Tallahassee, they win more in court than at the bargaining table. By state law, dictated by a Florida Supreme Court ruling some 40 years ago, public employees have the right of collective bargaining. They don’t have the right to strike, which makes sense, so negotiations are a bit easier with that off the table. For state employees, labor talks consist of the unions working out a deal with the state. Any items left unresolved go to “impasse,” to be settled by the Legislature. Then the Legislature does whatever it wants, with scant attention to anything previously agreed upon. (read article)

Analysis: Wal-Mart case seen a key test in struggle over labor rights

By Carlyn Kolker and Kevin Drawbaugh, January 16, 2014, Reuters

A challenge by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s treatment of striking workers is likely to become a critical symbol of labor unions’ attempts to organize the many non-union workplaces in the United States in the face of stiff resistance from management. The wider implications of the showdown for Wal-Mart and other American employers that don’t recognize unions are likely to be much more important than any costs the giant retailer may face if it loses the case, labor experts said. The NLRB, which oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices, issued a complaint on Wednesday accusing Wal-Mart of violating labor law by firing or disciplining workers for strikes over wages last year in 14 states. The NLRB’s complaint breaks new ground for the agency, which is bringing more cases involving non-union workers as it asserts its role in an increasingly non-union economy. Wal-Mart is the largest employer to face such a complaint in years. “This is part of a drive by the NLRB to further police employees’ labor rights in the non-unionized workforce,” said Paul Secunda, a professor of labor law at Marquette University. “If the NLRB can go after Wal-Mart and be successful, that sends a shot across the bow to all employers across the line – to employers that are similar in size, to smaller employers – that they are under the jurisdiction of the NLRB,” he said. (read article)

Despite labor criticism, Emanuel and Quinn collect union cash

By Lynn Sweet, January 16, 2014, Chicago Sun Times

While local public service unions are harsh critics of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn, the Democrats are picking up megachecks from other labor organizations, most associated with the building trades. Emanuel, with no 2015 rival yet to emerge, has collected $861,400 from trade unions for his main campaign fund, Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, with another $52,600 check going to Emanuel’s other political warchest, The Chicago Committee. That represents a significant turnaround in political cash from unions for Emanuel since he first ran for mayor in 2011. Quinn, who faces no major March Democratic primary challenger, picked up one of his biggest donations — $250,000 — from the suburban Countryside-based Local 150 of the International Union Operating Engineers PAC for this Taxpayers for Quinn fund. The hauls show that the labor movement — almost all part of the Democratic family — does not speak with one voice nor share one agenda when it comes to political giving in state and city races. (read article)

Unions resist dormant bill limiting collections of dues for Pennsylvania workers

By Kate Giammarise, January 15, 2014, Harrisburg Post-Gazette

Public sector unions would be crippled if a bill limiting their ability to collect dues and political contributions from members gains traction in the state Legislature, labor groups say. The bill was introduced in the House several months ago, and, while no hearings or votes have been scheduled, it has been the subject of increased lobbying and chatter in the Capitol, to the alarm of labor groups. A separate bill awaits action in the Senate, though that version hasn’t moved out of committee, either. The proposal would bar state and municipal governments from deducting union dues or political contributions from the paychecks of most public employees — though the dues of prison guards, police officers and firefighters are excluded from the bill, according to a legislative memo seeking House co-sponsors. (read article)

Unions: Big attack on Pennsylvania public employees planned for 2014

By Daniel Denvir, January 15, 2014, Philadelphia City Paper

Reports have whipped across the state this week that major anti-labor groups are sending resources to Pennsylvania in a push to curb public employee unions, an effort modeled on successful attacks in the traditional labor strongholds of Wisconsin and Michigan. “We have seen an uptick in activity by the usual right-wing groups like Commonwealth Foundation,” says Wythe Keever, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We’ve been hearing that there’s some billionaire corporate interests that are pouring money into the state. Republican lawmakers are being threatened that if they don’t vote for paycheck- deduction legislation they will face a Tea Party primary opponent.” A likely vehicle for this effort is House Bill 1507. The legislation would make it impossible for public-sector unions to automatically collect dues from their members’ paychecks and eliminate the required “fair share fee” from workers who do not join. The legislation would also make it impossible for unions to automatically deduct optional donations to labor political funds. “Their thinking is that time is tight and that Gov. Corbett is vulnerable, and that their window of opportunity is closing,” says Keever. Corbett, a Republican elected in 2010, faces low approval ratings an extremely tough reelection fight this fall. The legislation could devastate public-employee unions, undermining workers’ ability to bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions. It would also weaken a key Democratic ally in a major swing state ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. In what seems like a measure aimed at limiting a political backlash, the legislation exempts police and firefighters. (read article)

Negotiations become hostile between Redondo Beach and employee unions

By Carley Dryden, January 15, 2014, Daily Breeze

Negotiations between Redondo Beach employees and city management have reached a boiling point, with both sides claiming they’ve endured hostile, retaliatory behavior and personal attacks. The employee groups recently rejected the city’s last, best and final 3 percent wage offer, calling it insulting and claiming the city has not negotiated in good faith. More than five years ago, as the city struggled to stay afloat during the crippling recession, city employees agreed to cuts in wages and other benefits totaling 6 percent. The implication was that the money would be restored to the employees within a year or two, said Brad Sweatt, president of the Redondo Beach Fire Association. But each year, the employees say they’ve been shortchanged. Negotiations began heating up last year when employees formed the Coalition of Redondo Beach Employees (C.O.R.E.) and took a vote of “no confidence” against the city manager. Of 297 employees who voted, 98 percent voted “no confidence,” Sweatt said. C.O.R.E. members protested at a November council meeting to draw attention to what they claim has been unfair, dishonest treatment by city officials. “The average citizen looks at the (city’s offer) and goes, ‘Wow. The employees are turning down a 3 percent raise.’ They don’t understand how we’ve gotten to this point,” Sweatt said. The average salary of a city employee in Redondo Beach is $47,000, he said. If the employees get their 6 percent wage cut restored, they would still be at the bottom of comparable cities in terms of compensation. (read article)

Portland Students Pack School Board Meeting, Back Teachers Union

By Alex Garcia, January 15, 2014, Labor Notes

Students, teachers, parents, and members of 10 local unions packed the Portland, Oregon, school board meeting Monday in solidarity with union teachers. Students made clear that if the district does not settle a fair contract, we would stand alongside our teachers on the picket line. “Stay at the table! Don’t impose!” we declared at the demonstration. “If you do, we’ll strike, too!” The crowd numbered more than 400. The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) has been negotiating with the district for nine months. Management can choose to impose its contract at any time. Portland Student Union’s Demands: Class sizes less than 20; Proper funding of the arts; More time with guidance counselors; Student-teacher collaboration in building curriculum; Rich, relevant curriculum—not Common Core; Democratic process in the allocation of funds; Restorative justice—not suspensions and expulsions; Funding for wrap-around programs; Support for all teachers; No school closures. (read article)

Reform, new labor issues likely to keep unions busy in 2014

By Joe Carlson, January 15, 2014, Modern Healthcare

Labor unions didn’t break any records for organizing activity in healthcare in 2013, but opponents and supporters of organized labor think conditions are ripe for a major surge in the coming year. Factors driving that surge include the National Labor Relations Board likely approving new rules expediting union elections, and healthcare workers are feeling greater anxiety over wages and job security due to partly market and policy pressures to reduce healthcare costs. “There is a heightened interest among workers whose wages haven’t gone up in three or four or five years,” said Kirk Adams, executive vice president for healthcare at the Service Employees International Union, healthcare’s largest labor group. (read article)

Cranston police labor union lawyer says timing of parking ticket blitz after contract vote was coincidence

By Gregory Smith, January 15, 2014, Providence Journal

Casting off his tattered cloak of confidentiality, police Capt. Stephen Antonucci has emerged as the central figure in the parking ticket controversy. He and the police labor union, of which he is president, are now publicly fighting allegations that officers retaliated against two City Council members for votes the members made that helped to stymie a proposed police labor contract. Councilmen Steven A. Stycos, D-Ward 1, and Paul H. Archetto, D-Ward 3, have charged that officers annoyed by their votes on Nov. 14 hit the owners of illegally parked cars in their wards with an extraordinary flurry of 128 tickets in the 24 to 48 hours afterward. Joseph J. Rodio, lawyer for the police union, identified Antonucci as the man who ordered the blitz. Stycos and Archetto have said that a high-ranking officer must have orchestrated it, but they never named anyone. Speaking for the union and for Antonucci, Rodio dismissed the controversy over the ticketing as the sour product of a misunderstanding about what happened and said a Police Department internal investigation could not have found anything amiss. (read article)

In a first, Amazon warehouse workers to vote today on labor union representation

By Jason Del Rey, January 15, 2014, CNBC

An Amazon.com employee loads boxes onto a conveyer belt for shipping at the company’s distribution center in Phoenix.

A group of up to 30 Amazon employees at one of the company’s Delaware warehouses will have the opportunity to vote today in an election that could establish the first-ever labor union representation at a U.S. Amazon facility. A simple majority — or half of those who vote plus one — is needed to establish the first-ever union shop inside an Amazon facility in the U.S., according to International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers spokesman John Carr. (read article)

A labor union’s crash landing

By Andrew Elrod, January 15, 2014, Al Jazeera America

Boeing workers in Washington’s Puget Sound know how to strike. In 1995, when the company was preparing to move jobs out of state, they struck for 69 days and won. Workers whose jobs left the state would be retrained and kept on. To top it off, they got a 10 percent raise. Facing similar demands in 2005, machinists in Boeing factories walked out for four weeks and secured for themselves retirement payments of about $70 a month for each year worked. When that contract expired in 2008, they walked out again — and returned with a better retirement deal of $83 per year worked. It may seem odd, then, that the same 30,000 Boeing employees who understood firsthand the power of collective bargaining chose earlier this month to end their pensions plans, which came with guaranteed retirement payments, and accepted in their place riskier 401(k) plans, which guarantee nothing. But circumstances dictated that there wasn’t much else they could do. Boeing is a company that pits state governments against one another to compete for larger subsidies and forces communities into a race to the bottom to see who can fight unions and lower wages the fastest. It is a prime example of 21st century business in the United States. As a result of these tactics, American workers, both unionized and independent, have little choice but to accept the lowered living standards their employers offer as conditions for their doing business. (read article)

Union Activists Sign on to Pro-Minimum-Wage-Hike Bill

By Bill McMorris, January 14, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

A letter supporting a minimum wage hike being circulated by the George Soros-funded Economic Policy Institute that purports to represent the views of leading academics has been signed by a number of economists who work for labor unions and leftwing special interest groups. In-house economists for the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, and liberal, labor-aligned groups such as Center for American Progress, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research all signed onto the letter, which was touted as proof that the proposed $10.10 minimum wage would serve as a panacea for slumping wages. “At a time when persistent high unemployment is putting enormous downward pressure on wages, such a minimum-wage increase would provide a much-needed boost to the earnings of low-wage workers,” the letter says. Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, said that a form letter signed by like-minded academics does little to alter economic realities. He pointed to hundreds of studies that show that minimum wage hikes hamper employment, especially for younger and less skilled workers. (read article)

Top Ten Union Corruption Stories of the Year

By Carl Horowitz, January 13, 2014, National Legal and Policy Center

Though union membership as a share of American workers continues its long decline, union officials in 2013 showed they’re not the sort to stand on the sidelines, especially in the legal realm. Organized labor was unusually active last year in using the courts and Congress to press their interests. Their ultimate weapon: immigration amnesty/surge legislation. Eight members of the Senate, four from each party (“the Gang of Eight”), solicited advice exclusively from supporters of open borders in hopes of achieving their idea of “comprehensive reform.” Senator unveiled the measure in April and passed it by 68-32 in June, Yet since then, the measure, deservedly, has stalled in the House. Drafted in secret, with no hearings or debate, the bill represents a corruption of the political process. If it becomes law, the result would be a further undercutting of entry-level wages for U.S. workers as a whole. Call them naive or sinister, but union leaders would have much to answer for either way. (read article)

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