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.

VW Plant’s Union Vote Could Be a Southern Labor Breakthrough

By Justin Bachman February 04, 2014, Businessweek

Workers at a Volkswagen AG (VOW:GR) auto plant in Tennessee will vote next week on union representation in an exercise being watched as a potential bellwether for labor organization efforts at other foreign-owned automakers in the South. The secret ballot, being held with the company’s cooperation from Feb. 12-14 at the Chattanooga sedan plant, would establish representation by the United Auto Workers and create a works council similar those used at every other VW plant, except for those in China. Works councils, common across German industry, are employee-elected bodies that help management resolve labor disputes and guide company decisions. “Some things under the traditional jurisdiction of the union would be overseen by the works council,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s regional president. “And until the workers actually sit down and negotiate that configuration, it’s hard to say what that would look like.” The vote comes after several months of negotiations between the union and Volkswagen officials in which the German company hasn’t moved to oppose labor organizers. Frank Fischer, chairman and chief executive officer of Volkswagen Chatttanooga, said in a statement that the company is “committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.” VW considers labor-management cooperation a competitive advantage, and the company has said it concluded that the creation of a works council in the U.S. would require union representation at the plant. (read article)

Tea Party teams with union leaders to fight Obama’s trade plan

By Alexander Bolton, February 4, 2014, The Hill

Normally the bitterest of enemies, labor unions and the Tea Party are reaching out to each other to defeat President Obama’s trade agenda. The groups are at separate poles when it comes to taxes, ObamaCare and who should be the next president, but they agree that making it easier for the administration to negotiate and win congressional approval of trade deals is a bad idea. “This is one of those issues that 90 percent of the left and 90 percent of the right agree on,” Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, said. Obama dismayed union allies last week when he called for Congress to pass trade promotion authority legislation in his State of the Union address. The authority, which was last given to former President George W. Bush, would prevent Congress from amending trade deals in exchange for the administration achieving specific negotiating objectives. It also would impose time limits on congressional consideration of trade agreements. The authority is thought to make it much easier to negotiate trade deals, because foreign partners have more certainty that the deals will become U.S. law. The AFL-CIO, Tea Party Nation and other groups privately acknowledged working together to stop a trade promotion authority law. Labor officials and Tea Party activists are working behind the scenes to build a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to block Obama’s priority. (read article)

Illinois union pension ‘victims’ double their money in four years

By Benjamin Yount, February 4, 2014, The Daily Journal

When Illinois’ coalition of labor unions sued over the state’s recent pension reforms, big public sector unions pointed to several current and retired workers as victims of the modest reforms. But a joint review by Illinois Watchdog and For the Good of Illinois of the salary and pensions shows these workers are anything but victims. “The people in the private sector just cannot match the salaries, the (perks) and the benefit packages offered by government,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois and its website OpenTheBooks.com. (read article)

Phoenix to halt all union ‘release time’

By Dustin Gardiner, February 4, 2014, The Arizona Republic

Phoenix employee-union leaders will no longer be allowed to engage in union activities on the taxpayers’ dime, city officials announced Monday in the wake of a court ruling that banned Phoenix police officers from doing union work while on duty. In a meeting with the city’s seven employee unions, acting City Manager Ed Zuercher said city attorneys had determined that the January ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper applies to all Phoenix labor groups, not just the police-officer union. Cooper’s ruling barred the heads of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association from holding permanent “release time” positions that allowed them to work full time on behalf of the union. She upheld an injunction that also prohibited rank-and-file members from using release-time hours for union activities, such as attending discipline hearings or lobbying on political issues. It’s the latest blow to employee groups fighting a 2011 lawsuit filed by the conservative Goldwater Institute to end release time. Attorneys for Goldwater say release time is a violation of the state Constitution’s gift clause, which requires the public benefit from any public money the government spends. Phoenix allowed the practice in its 2012-14 labor agreements. But Cooper ruled the city must ensure all its agreements with the unions don’t violate the gift clause or state law. (read article)

Missouri Legislative committee hears two more bills that could diminish unions

By Casey Bischel, February 3, 2014, Colombia Missourian

Almost like a drum beat, Missouri legislators heard the third bill in three weeks that could dampen labor unions’ power. On Monday afternoon, the Workforce Development and Workforce Safety Committee entertained House Bill 1617, which would require certain labor unions to ask members to collect dues and make political contributions, and HB 1594, which would allow volunteer labor on public works projects. Dubbed the “paycheck protection” bill by supporters, House Bill 1617 would make public employee union members to provide a yearly written authorization to continue their membership and require unions to ask for consent from its members to make political contributions. Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who sponsored the bill, left out “first responders,” including nurses, EMTs and law enforcement for simplicity, she said. Those in favor of the bill said the measure would make it easier for people to stop supporting union activities that they disagree with, such as political endorsements. (read article)

The Mayor and the Unions

Editorial, New York Times, February 3, 2014

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, this is the month that the civic conversation shifts from lofty goals and progressive agenda setting — and, let’s hope, snow plowing — to the gloomier and more combative subject of money. On Feb. 12, the mayor is scheduled to present his first budget, a preliminary document that will say a lot about his priorities for the coming fiscal year. Looming over it, a horizon’s worth of storm clouds ready to burst, is the challenge he warned of last week in Albany: negotiating new contracts with nearly all the city’s labor unions. Mr. de Blasio likes to talk about the city’s yawning “chasm” of social and economic inequality, which he has pledged his mayoralty to closing. But there is another chasm close at hand. In one of his last acts as mayor, Michael Bloomberg declared that he was leaving a balanced budget. That sketchy assertion relied heavily on one-shot revenues and overlooked uncertainty about cuts in federal aid, the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and, most of all, more than 150 bargaining units, representing about 300,000 city employees, that are working on expired contracts, some for five or six years. The unions have demanded retroactive pay totaling more than $7 billion. To pay even part of that, never mind raises going forward, could greatly strain financing for city services, not to mention Mr. de Blasio’s big ambitions in areas like affordable housing, health care and new initiatives for the poor and dispossessed. (read article)

Volkswagon Asks for Fast Vote on UAW Ties

By Neal Boudette, February 3, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Volkswagen AG is going to allow employees at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant to vote later this month on whether to unionize under an agreement it worked out with the United Auto Workers union. In an unusual move, the auto maker petitioned the U.S. National Labor Relations Board to conduct the vote. Balloting will take place between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14. The NLRB oversees private-sector labor elections and union decertifications. If workers vote to accept the UAW in Chattanooga, it would be a dramatic turn for the U.S. South, which has long resisted organized labor and has used its antiunion stance to attract several foreign-owned auto makers. Several auto makers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, have for years resisted organizing efforts by the UAW at U.S. auto plants and parts factories. The companies typically bar the UAW from campaigning inside their plants, and push for longer campaigning periods to give antiunion workers and groups more time to rally opposition. Volkswagen, which opened the $1 billion Chattanooga plant in 2011, has for months been in talks with the UAW aimed at establishing some kind of formal representation at the 3,200-worker facility. (read article)

Tennessee fastest growing state for union membership

February 3, 2014, KnoxvilleBiz.com

Tennessee may be the Volunteer State, but a growing share of its workers are organizing to get better pay and working conditions. Last year, Tennessee had the fastest rate of growth in union membership of any state, according to new government figures. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 31,000 more Tennesseans were members of labor unions in 2013 than in the previous year, swelling the ranks of organized labor in the state by 25 percent last year and boosting union rolls to the highest level in nearly a decade. Georgia and Alabama were close behind Tennessee in the growth rate for union membership with union rolls growing in each state by more than 22 percent last year. BLS estimates Georgia added 38,000 union members last year and Alabama added another 37,000 union members during 2013. (read article)

Labor unions finance GOP rift with tea party

February 2, 2014, Bloomberg

A Republican group promoting pro- business candidates as it battles the tea party in 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 Rep. 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. (read article)

Obama’s NLRB Rattles Employers by Ordering Printer to Keep Union

By Jim Efstathiou Jr. January 31, 2014, Bloomberg

When a majority of its press operators decided to quit the Teamsters, Pacific Publishing Co. in Seattle immediately stopped negotiating with the union. The Teamsters complained to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, where the agency’s general counsel sided with the union. He asked the board to give the labor group more time to persuade the unhappy members to return to the fold. Employer groups say the decision shows the board, operating at full strength for the first time since President Barack Obama took office five years ago, is tilting toward unions. That matters because the board is likely to take up a series of issues with potentially far-reaching impact, from the status of collective bargaining agreements after a corporate takeover to whether union organizers can use a company’s e-mail. “The stars seem aligned in favor of labor organizations for really the first time in over a decade.” Steven Bernstein, a labor attorney in Tampa, Florida, who represents management, said in an interview. Employers “should be very anxious.” The board reached full strength last year after a two-year standoff with Republicans who blocked Obama nominees, threatening to leave the five-member panel with too few members for a quorum. (read article)

Labor union officials say Obama betrayed them in health-care rollout

By Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger, January 31, 2014, Washington Post

Labor leaders who have spent months lobbying unsuccessfully for special protections under the Affordable Care Act warned this week that the White House’s continued refusal to help is dampening union support for Democratic candidates in this year’s midterm elections. Leaders of two major unions, including the first to endorse Obama in 2008, said they have been betrayed by an administration that wooed their support for the 2009 legislation with promises to later address the peculiar needs of union-negotiated insurance plans that cover millions of workers. Their complaints reflect a broad sense of disappointment among many labor leaders, who say the Affordable Care Act has subjected union health plans to new taxes and mandates while not allowing them to share in the subsidies that have gone to private insurance companies competing on the newly created exchanges. After dozens of frustrating meetings with White House officials over the past year, including one with Obama, a number of angry labor officials say their members are far less likely to campaign and turn out for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. (read article)

Why Alt-Labor Groups Are Making Employers Mighty Nervous

By Lane Windham, January 30, 2014, The American Prospect

A growing minimum wage movement indicates that despite low union membership statistics, labor’s future isn’t as dire as some in the business world might hope. Union membership remained steady last year—steady at its near-hundred-year low. A mere 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are union members, as are 11.3 percent of U.S. workers overall, according to figures released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.) Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—“alt-labor” activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions? Consider those striking fast food workers you’ve been reading about, the ones calling for a $15 an hour wage. Their numbers are not counted in the union membership figures. How about those Wal-Mart workers who struck for Black Friday and just won a key court case? Uncounted. What about the day laborers who joined any one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide? You got it, not included. Neither are the restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers or domestic workers, all of whom are organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions. (read article)

Cuomo receives harsh criticism from legislators, labor union leaders during rally

By Kyle Hughes, January 29, 2014, Troy Record

A public employees union rally Wednesday opposing the closure of Mt. McGregor and other prisons unleashed a torrent of criticism and insults directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was called a dictator, a moron and a monkey. The rally, attended by both Republican and Democratic legislators, exposed the raw feelings toward Cuomo after three years of cuts and retrenchments in the state workforce, along with the efforts to hold down state spending and close underutilized state prisons and psychiatric hospitals. “Gov. Cuomo, can you hear us now?” PEF President Susan Kent told hundreds of cheering state workers. “And this is our message: Stop doing these drive-by breaks in service, diminishing services, dismantling services, not including the legislators. “This is an elected branch of government. This is not government by fiat,” Kent added. “You are not a sole dictator here and we will not stand for it.” (read article)

Statement From City Manager Bill Workman: Status of Labor Relations and Complaints Against the City Manager

Posted by Nicole Mooradian, January 28, 2014, Redondo Beach Patch

DATE: Jan. 14, 2014, TO: Mayor & Council Members, FROM: Bill Workman, City Manager, SUBJECT: Status of Labor Relations and Complaints Against the City Manager. The City of Redondo Beach maintains a healthy and safe workplace for its employees. Our employees are provided with the appropriate tools, training, equipment, vehicles, goals and leadership to do their jobs in serving the community. The City Council has done an excellent job making financial and policy decisions to create an enviable quality of life for residents. We are a high achieving organization delivering quality services to the citizenry everyday with integrity and ethics. Our organization is led by a terrific set of department heads working together as a management team. Redondo Beach is recognized as one of the best managed cities in Los Angeles County. Together, the City Council and your labor relations negotiation team have been actively involved for many months seeking wage and benefit agreements with the City’s five individual employee bargaining units. Each of the bargaining units rejected the 3% compensation Last-Best-Final offers. (read article)

Illinois labor unions sue over plan to cut pensions

By Doug Finke, January 28, 2014, State Journal-Register

A coalition of public employee unions Tuesday filed their long-awaited lawsuit seeking to overturn the pension reform measures passed late last year.We Are One Illinois, which has fought pension reform for months, charged in the lawsuit that the reforms are an unconstitutional diminishment of pension benefits. “The lawsuit makes clear that pension theft is not only unfair, but it’s clearly unconstitutional,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan in a statement. “The legislature and governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs.” The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Sangamon County, a day before Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to deliver his state of the state speech. In that speech, Quinn is expected to cite pension reform as a significant achievement in his administration. The lawsuit lists as plaintiffs 25 active and retired members of the Teachers Retirement System, State Universities Retirement System and State Employees Retirement System. Like other lawsuits that have been filed, the plaintiffs say the pension changes will harm them and are not allowed under the state constitution. However, unlike the other lawsuits, the union filing details just how much financial loss is faced by each of the plaintiffs and what parts of the pension reform plan are the cause. “Those plaintiffs who are current employees teach our children, care for the sick and disabled, protect us from harm and perform myriad other essential services for Illinois and its citizens,” the lawsuit says. “Those plaintiffs who already have retired similarly dedicated their careers to the men, woman and children of Illinois. And each faithfully has contributed to his or her respective pension system the substantial portion of their paychecks the pension code requires.” (read article)

Supreme Court Labor Decisions Could Shake NLRB To Its Core.

By Hector Barreto, January 28, 2014, Forbes

In the past few weeks, the United States Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in two major cases revolving around issues that are near and dear to Big Labor’s heart. It has been widely speculated by the media if the high court hands down unfavorable decisions for the unions it could hasten the decline they have been experiencing for years despite the favorable actions undertaken by the Obama Administration. Did Obama Sidestep The Constitution With Recess Appointments The The NLRB? The more prominent of the two cases is National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, in which a bottling company from Yakima, Washington is challenging an adverse decision made by the Obama Labor Board on the grounds that the so-called independent agency lacked a quorum because three of its members were unconstitutionally recess appointed. The lawsuit alleges that when President Obama made the appointments, the U.S. Senate was in session convening regularly in pro forma sessions. According to the plaintiffs, the appointments were not lawful because the President cannot determine for a co-equal branch of government when it is and is not in session. The President’s motive was to completely sidestep the Senate’s constitutional duty of advising and consenting on high-level nominations. To be clear, no other president in American history has taken this step. Only President Obama made the decision to unilaterally sideline the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of placing three individuals on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), two of whom are known as allies of organized labor, a special interest that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in his national campaigns. (read article)

Union group sues to overturn Illinois pension reform law

January 28, 2014, Reuters

A coalition of public worker labor unions filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to overturn a new Illinois law aimed at reducing a $100 billion unfunded pension liability. The class-action lawsuit, filed by the We Are One Illinois coalition in Sangamon County Circuit Court in the state capital of Springfield, claims the law violates the Illinois Constitution, which stipulates that public worker pensions are contracts that the state cannot diminish or impair. The law, which was enacted in December but does not take effect until June, reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions, raises retirement ages and limits the salaries on which pensions are based. The unions’ lawsuit comes a day before Democratic Governor Pat Quinn gives his state of the state address, in which he is expected to highlight progress on tackling a pension funding problem that helped drop Illinois’ credit ratings to the lowest levels among states. The litigation also comes ahead of a $1 billion general obligation bond sale the state has scheduled for Feb. 6. (read article)

New labor union courts college football players

By Amanda Becker, January 28, 2014, Reuters

A new labor union is being formed for U.S. college athletes, and football players at Northwestern University in Chicago are looking to get onboard, the College Athletes Players Association announced Tuesday. An “overwhelming majority” of Northwestern’s scholarship football players have notified the U.S. National Labor Relations Board that they are seeking representation with CAPA, the group said in a statement. The filing of the petitions is a preliminary step that could lead to the student athletes joining what is believed to be the first labor organization of its kind, with backing from the United Steelworkers union. CAPA’s founder and president is Ramogi Huma, a former University of California-Los Angeles football player who previously founded the National College Players Association to advocate for college athletes. The NCPA backed a first-of-its-kind law in California that required colleges in the state who get more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue to pay for athletes’ sports-related medical care, among other student protections. (read article)

Pennsylvania labor unions fill state Capitol Rotunda in defense of union rights

By Mark Pynes, January 28, 2014, Pennsylvania Live

After seeing labor union rights erode in Wisconsin and Michigan, labor union members from across Pennsylvania took over the state Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday to say they will not let that happen here. More than a thousand firefighters, police officers, boilermakers, sheet metal workers, teachers, electrical workers and others came out in force to ward off what they see as the start of an all-out attack on workers’ rights. Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that would bar unions from being able to negotiate the collection of dues through payroll deduction. This would force unions to collect dues directly from members, which is anticipated would weaken union support. But the speeches made by various union members and labor supporters made it clear that they see these bills as part of a bigger movement to take away workers’ rights and silence labor’s voice in Pennsylvania. “They think we will sit back and watch as our brothers and sisters in employee unions are attacked. They think we will remain silent as they insult the entire labor movement in Pennsylvania,” said Danny Drumm, an Altoona firefighter to an at-times raucous crowd. “We won’t let that happen here.” (read article)

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!