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.

Northwestern football players seek to join labor union

By Teddy Greenstein and Chris Hine, January 28, 2014, Chicago Tribune

Kain Colter called Tuesday a “historic day,” one that began with a 7:45 a.m. meeting with Pat Fitzgerald in Evanston. Colter informed the Northwestern coach what lay ahead — a news conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago where Colter would become the face of a new movement. For the first time in the history of college sports, athletes are asking to be represented by a labor union. ESPN.com first reported the story Tuesday morning. Colter was joined by Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association. “Despite the progress NCPA has made, college athletes continue to be subject to unjust and unethical treatment in NCAA sports despite the extraordinary value they bring to their universities,” said Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA. “They’re too often left to pay for medical expenses during and after their college careers, they can be stripped of their scholarship for any reason, including injury.” Huma filed the petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board to recognize a new union, the College Athletes Players Association. (read article)

Illinois Labor Unions Sue Over Plan to Cut Pensions

By Kerry Lester, January 28, 2014, ABC News

Some of the largest public labor unions in Illinois filed a long-awaited lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s new pension reform law, a move that could delay implementation of the landmark measure and have major ramifications in upcoming elections. On the eve of a State of the State address by Gov. Pat Quinn, who faces a tough re-election campaign, lawyers for the We Are One Illinois coalition of unions filed the lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court on behalf of two dozen retired employees. The lawsuit, which follows others already filed by retirees, argues the pension bill approved by the Legislature and Quinn signed more than a month ago violates a clause of the state constitution that says pension benefits may not be “diminished or impaired.” It also asks the court to stop the law from taking effect until the case is decided. Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the suit “makes it clear that pension theft is not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional.” “The Legislature and governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs,” Carrigan said.” Promises must be kept, and the rule of law must prevail over politics.” (read article)

Labor Unions Pack Pennsylvania Capital Over Paycheck Bill

By Marc Levy, January 28, 2014, Pottstown Mercury

Labor unions are widening their fight over legislation in Pennsylvania that aims to prevent the state and local governments from deducting union dues and union political action committee contributions from the paychecks of unionized workers. A raucous union rally packed the Capitol Rotunda so tightly Tuesday that police forced many more union demonstrators to wait outside in freezing cold. Members of private- and public-sector unions showed up to assail the legislation as an “attack on workers’ rights” led by out-of-state billionaires and conservative groups that don’t disclose their donors. No vote on identical House and Senate bills has been scheduled in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democrats are opposed to it. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says he’d sign it, while top House and Senate Republicans have been noncommittal. (read article)

De Blasio asks pols to approve pre-K plan, says $2.5B surplus is for unions

By Glenn Blain, January 27, 2014, New York Daily News

In his first appearance as mayor before an Albany committee, de Blasio admitted that the city’s $2.5 billion surplus is targeted to cover yet-to-be negotiated contracts with unions, and asked state legislators to instead approve his plan to fund pre-K with a tax on those earning $500,000 or more. Forget about using the city budget surplus to fund universal prekindergarten — it’s going to be needed for pay for deals with labor unions, Mayor de Blasio told legislators Monday. In his first direct admission that the $2.5 billion surplus is targeted to cover yet-to-be negotiated pacts with the unions, the mayor told state lawmakers that Albany should instead approve his plan to fund pre-K with a tax on the wealthy. De Blasio warned that having “300,000 employees without a contract — by definition that’s going to add additional fiscal stresses.” All the city unions, including cops and teachers, are working without a contract, most for at least four years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to negotiate any raises unless the unions made concessions such as employee contributions to health care costs. Settling the contracts could cost taxpayers as much as $7 billion if the unions get retroactive pay hikes. (read article)

Groups plan to form ballot campaign to raise Michigan’s minimum wage

By Chad Livengood, January 27, 2014, Detroit News

A coalition of workers’ groups plan to form a ballot campaign committee Monday to consider pursuing a statewide vote in November on raising Michigan’s minimum wage. The Raise Michigan ballot committee will be formed with the state Bureau of Elections and is still finalizing its proposed increase of the $7.40-an-hour minimum wage, said Frank Houston, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which is part of the coalition. The group will likely seek a new minimum wage ranging from $9 to $10.10 an hour, Houston said. To qualify for the Nov. 5 ballot, the group would need to gather a minimum of 258,088 valid voter signatures for an initiated law or more than 322,609 signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment. Houston said the group hasn’t decide which electoral path to pursue. The ballot campaign is being sparked by inaction in Congress and the state Legislature on proposals seeking a raise in the minimum wage, which last increased in Michigan in 2008. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer of Battle Creek has proposed a minimum wage hike to $9.25 an hour, making it a major part of his campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. (read article)

National Labor Relations Board targets Tennessee

By Matt Patterson, January 27, 2014, Fox News

The United Auto Workers (UAW) — having sucked Detroit dry — is looking South for fresh blood. The union lusts after Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, tucked like a gleaming jewel among the mountains and waterways of Southeastern Tennessee. And it’s getting more-than-a little help from friends in Washington in its push to organize the facility. Late last week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dismissed complaints from Chattanooga VW workers that the union had illegally used coercion and misrepresentation to gain signatures on union authorization cards. The UAW has been a left-wing ATM machine for decades. After the NLRB news broke, word spread like wildfire in the community that the long-threatened union election was imminent. Union officials would love for the process to unfold quickly — they don’t want pro-company employees to have the time to make their case to co-workers — and Obama’s NLRB is falling over itself to oblige. No wonder: The UAW has been a left-wing ATM machine for decades. In 2012 alone its political spending totaled $14.7 million, including $1.7 million on mostly liberal candidates, Barack Obama among them. (read article)

Conservative groups, unions battle over pay in Pennsylvania

By Marc Levy, January 26, 2014, Washington Times

The hottest political potato in Pennsylvania’s Capitol this month is a bill that has drawn a network of conservative groups and labor unions into a clash over how tens of millions of dollars in dues payments are collected from hundreds of thousand public-sector workers. The bitter confrontation comes before any vote is even scheduled. But it is an election year when Republicans are tasked with defending their control of the state government, and the bill’s passage could weaken labor unions’ ability to marshal campaign cash to unseat perhaps the most endangered Republican of all, Gov. Tom Corbett. Democrats are dead-set against it. Stuck in the middle could be moderate Republican lawmakers while there is still time for a more conservative challenger to get on the ballot for the May 20 primary election. To an extent, the battle in Pennsylvania is a proxy for a wider war playing out nationally as conservative groups that often do not disclose their donors target labor unions. On Wednesday, Corbett said he would sign the bill, and then put the onus on leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass it. (read article)

Labor Unions Financing Republican Rift With Tea Party

By Greg Giroux, January 26, 2014, Bloomberg

A Republican group promoting pro-business candidates as it battles the Tea Party in U.S. primary campaigns is being financed mostly by labor unions, one of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies. Defending Main Street, a super-political action committee aligned with the Washington-based Republican Main Street Partnership, received more than 90 percent of its $845,000 in donations last year from labor groups, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The group is led by former Ohio Representative Steve LaTourette, a Republican who had good relations with labor in Congress. He voted for a minimum wage increase, the 2009 auto bailout and a bill making it easier to organize a union. That record and LaTourette’s new alliance with labor though the super-PAC is drawing scoffs from leaders of the small-government Tea Party movement. “It’s not surprising that a liberal Republican who supported big labor’s agenda in Congress would raise money from his allies in big labor,” Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Washington-based Club for Growth, said in a telephone interview. “It ain’t exactly dogs and cats living together. It’s more like birds of a feather.” In an odd pairing, given its funding source, Main Street is working alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, to defend Republican candidates deemed more practical and economic-minded over the Tea Party recruits. (read article)

Big money from labor and corporate elite flood into Illinois governor’s race

Melissa Harris, January 26, 2014, Chicago Tribune

When Bruce Rauner contributed more than $250,000 of his own money to his campaign for governor, it eliminated restrictions on the amount of money people could donate to his campaign or the campaigns of his competitors. In other words, a fundraising free-for-all. And a Tribune review of donors who have given $100,000 or more shows that the money race thus far boils down to organized labor versus Chicago’s corporate elite. So far, only one person has donated $100,000 or more to Gov. Pat Quinn: William Brandt Jr., a bankruptcy expert and chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority. Brandt and Quinn have been friends since they were teenagers at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. (read article)

De Blasio pre-K tax called ‘charade’ for unions

By Aaron Short and Carl Campanile, January 25, 2014, New York Post

The clash between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over pre-K funding is turning into an all-out brawl, with allies of the governor claiming the mayor is pushing higher taxes to fund new contracts for his labor buddies, sources told The Post. “We’re hearing chatter from people that de Blasio wants to raise the income tax on the rich to use it any way he wants — including paying for labor contracts and raises,” said a Democratic Party insider close to Cuomo. “The people who are pushing this are from the Working Families Party. De Blasio is married to them.” The Cuomo ally noted the WFP is basically run by the most leftist leaders in the labor movement — the Transport Workers Union, the Communication Workers of America and United Federation of Teachers, among others. (read article)

Here’s what big labor got wrong about my union dues bill

By Rep. Bryan Cutler January 24, 2014, Pennsylvania Live

For a bill that has been around in some form for each of the last three terms, legislation I’m sponsoring that would bar state government from collecting union dues has attracted a great deal of interest from both supporters and those who oppose the bill. Earlier this month, Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AFL-CIO, described the bill in a piece that appeared on PennLive as the opening salvo on the “war on workers.” I thought it best to cut through much of the rhetoric coming from both sides and explain what the bill does and does not actually do. For me, the entire bill is about one fundamental question: Should government be in the business of collecting political money? I agree that the bill as drafted would prohibit the collection of all political contributions by government on behalf of public sector unions. In addition, it would prohibit the collection of dues money for all unions, except public safety employees, since a portion of that money can also be used in the political process. What the bill does not do is change the relationship or requirement between the individual union members and their union. Members would still be responsible for their dues or fair share fees, the Commonwealth would simply no longer collect and distribute them. (read article)

Union membership fell in Missouri, rose in Illinois in 2013

January 24, 2014, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The share of American workers belonging to labor unions held steady in 2013, remaining unchanged at 11.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. It was a different story in Missouri and Illinois, however. In Missouri, 8.6 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2013, down from 8.9 percent in 2012. By contrast, 15.8 percent of Illinois workers were union members last year, up from 14.6 percent in 2012. Overall, 14.5 million workers belong to unions. That’s down from 17.7 million in 1983, the year for which comparable data were first available, the agency said. American labor has seen a steep decline in its membership for years, and the report released Friday suggests that — at least for now — the diminishing membership has halted. The yearly report provided a snapshot of union membership by state as well as a count of public- and private-sector union membership. (read article)

Labor Union Membership Rate Stays Steady in 2013

By Melanie Trottman, January 24, 2014, Wall Street Journal

The percentage of public-sector workers who belong to unions fell last year but rose in the private sector, as unions scored gains in construction, manufacturing, health-care and food service industries. In a twist, the 7.3 million private-sector workers who belonged to a union in 2013 edged out those in the public sector—7.2 million—for the first time in several years, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Overall, union membership rates didn’t budge from the 11.3% level it was in 2012 when it took the biggest drop in six years. Job losses in the public sector, once a bright spot for union growth, have taken a toll on unions in recent years. Unions lost roughly 120,000 public-sector members in 2013, a 1.6% drop from 2012, the report said. “For years, the decline in private-sector membership has been covered over by the increase in the public-sector unionism,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “Now the labor movement cannot count on public employees to be the engine of union growth anymore” as cities and states continue to face budget constraints, he said. (read article)

Oceanside police union is out of touch

Editorial, January 23, 2014, San Diego Union-Tribune

The Oceanside Police Officers’ Association still doesn’t get it. Despite the obvious need for reform of a pension system that is clearly unsustainable, the union that represents the city’s nearly 200 rank-and-file officers refuses to accept a new contract from the city similar to agreements already approved by Oceanside firefighters and police management. Oceanside police officers, already the highest-paid in the county, are seeking a 3 percent pay hike, The city is rightly balking at that and also wants to cap health-care contributions at current levels. In addition, and most important, the city wants to stop paying a portion of the employees’ share of retirement contributions because that inflates pension payments even more. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System considers the 9 percent payment compensation and thus factors it in when calculating pensions. Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern says that could cost the city up to $320,000 per retiree in additional pension costs. (read article)

The State Worker: Case before high court could shake public unions

By Jon Ortiz, January 23, 2014, Sacramento Bee

Maybe you haven’t heard about Harris v. Quinn, but you will, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling dooms public-employee collective bargaining. The legal storm started a few years ago when Pamela Harris and eight other Illinois in-home care workers said they didn’t want SEIU’s representation and shouldn’t have to pay any money to the union. Their lawsuit against the state and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn challenged nearly 40 years of case law that says unions can’t compel payment for political activities but can charge for negotiating contracts, since all workers benefit from collective bargaining. Attorney William L. Messenger argued in court on Tuesday that even those payments violate First Amendment free-association rights because government unions exist to influence public policy. In Illinois for example, in-home care workers earned $7 per hour with no benefits before unionizing. They now earn $11.65 per hour with health and other benefits, compensation paid with public Medicaid dollars administered by the state according to a contract negotiated with SEIU. (read article)

Are Union-Free Strikes Protected?

January 23, 2014, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

In June 2013, we issued a client alert discussing the efforts of unions and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to target the primarily union-free big box retailer and fast food industries. After describing how Target had come under scrutiny from the NLRB, the client alert detailed how the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the UFCW-backed group “OUR Walmart” had been coordinating strikes and filing charges with the NLRB against Walmart. The client alert then foreshadowed: “iven the Board’s recent penchant for union activism, do not be surprised if it takes a close look at Walmart’s policies and practices in the coming months.” As predicted, the Board filed a consolidated complaint against Walmart on January 14, 2014 alleging the union-free retailer violated workers’ rights in response to coordinated strikes across 13 states. The complaint alleges dozens of Walmart supervisors and one corporate executive threatened, disciplined, surveilled, and/or terminated more than 60 workers in response to the union-free strikes. The complaint is significant for two reasons: (1) the Board is taking the position that union-free workers have a protectable right to strike; and (2) the Board is testing its position against the nation’s largest employer. The Board views the union-free strikes as a form of protected concerted activity, and its press release states that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees employees the right to “act together to try to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union.” (read article)

Good for all workers? Justices debate union dues, bargaining and free speech

By Bill Mears, January 21, 2014, CNN

The Supreme Court appeared cautiously willing to uphold its decades-old precedent giving labor unions the power to collect dues for collective bargaining from public sector workers, even those who choose not to join the union. That could avoid a major political upheaval in the national labor movement. But a number of justices indicated Tuesday during oral arguments they may rule more narrowly on the case at hand — and exempt some home-care health providers from being designated “state employees” and forced under Illinois law to pay those fees. It is an economic and legal issue sharply dividing the business community and its allies on one side — with the unions, some states, and the Obama administration on the other.

At issue is whether the free speech and association rights of non-union personal assistants are being violated when Illinois negotiates exclusively with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) over wages, hours and working conditions. (read article)


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