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.

Another big union refuses to accept workers’ rejection

By Bill Zwerger, February 25, 2014, American Thinker

On Friday, after two days of voting, workers at a Novelis Inc. aluminum manufacturing plant in Oswego, NY rejected by fifteen votes the USW’s attempt at organizing a union at the company’s largest North American facility. Combined with the recent failure by the UAW to organize workers at the VW plant in Tennessee, this latest news will no doubt send non-climate change induced shivers down the spines of union supporters of all stripes, who are witnessing in real-time the rapid demise of their once formidable influence. I mean, it’s one thing for workers from a backwoods, bible-thumping, pro-gun state like Tennessee to fail to see the virtues of the union’s efforts to protect workers from greedy, compassionless companies. But in enlightened New York, the home of Emperor Andy, err, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Schumer and the Working Families Party? Say it ain’t so comrade. Of course the USW, unable to accept the harsh reality of this defeat, is crying foul: However, a representative from the United Steelworkers Union has accused the company of violating federal law during efforts to organize the plant. USW has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. (read article)

Detroit public safety union leaders say pension cuts ‘crippling,’ ‘unacceptable’

By Christine Ferretti, February 24, 2014, The Detroit News

Officials with Detroit’s public safety unions on Monday blasted the city’s “brutal and unreasonable” plan to cut pensions as it aims to shed about half of its estimated $18 billion in debt. Union leaders, during a news conference at the police said the association offices on Jefferson, said the pension changes outlined in the document filed Friday by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr are “crippling” and “unacceptable.” “The city’s plan of adjustment attacks the hard-earned vested pensions of police and fire employees,” Detroit Police Officer Association President Mark Diaz, alongside representatives for Detroit’s firefighters and police commanders, lieutenants and sergeants, told members of the media Monday. “In some cases, denying employees of all and any pension, in spite of their years of dedicated city service.” The pension changes are outlined in the plan Orr submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court which lays out his debt-cutting strategy in the city’s municipal bankruptcy case. The plan pushes for pension cuts and the proposed elimination of cost-of-living increases for the next decade. (read article)

Labor unions disappointed at 1 percent pay raise Obama to propose for federal workers

By Joe Davidson, February 24, 2014, Washington Post

Federal labor leaders are disappointed with President Obama’s proposal to raise federal employee pay by 1 percent next year. The proposal will be included in the administration’s budget, which Obama will announce next week. His spending plan also will include a 1 percent raise for members of the military. “I strongly believe that federal employees deserve more, and this amount is inadequate,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). “There is no question in my mind that inadequate raises will have consequences on recruitment and retention.” Kelley says a 3.3 percent increase would be “fair and reasonable,” and she said NTEU members would take their case to Congress during their legislative conference that opens Wednesday. (read article)

Public Pension Tabs Multiply as States Defer Costs and Hard Choices

By Rick Lyman and Mary Williams Walshfeb, February 24, 2014, New York Times

More than 40 states have taken steps in recent years to rein in mounting public employee pension costs that threaten to strangle government services. But pension experts say that while some of those overhauls have whittled state shortfalls, even drawing upgrades from bond-rating agencies, many of them have simply deferred pension costs to the future. And none have come close to closing their pension gaps quickly enough to keep pace with a rapidly aging — and retiring — public work force. The most effective solutions, those experts contend, remain the most politically difficult, and thus least often tried: raising taxes substantially, or cutting the future retirement benefits that current public workers will accrue in their remaining years of service, a practice that is routine for companies but illegal for governments in some states and labeled immoral by unions. (read article)

Big Labor, ‘looking for revenge,’ expects to dump $300 million into 2014 elections

By M.D. Kittle, February 24, 2014, Watchdog.org

Big Labor pledges it will go all in, again, in its drive to knock out its top political adversaries in 2014. And one of the biggest targets is Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, hero to conservatives, bane of the left for his public-sector collective bargaining reforms. Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, in a New York Times piece last week said the nation’s labor unions look to spend at least $300 million going after Republicans in this fall’s elections. Much of that spending is expected to be dropped on four industrial battlegrounds — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, traditional union strongholds. Big Labor also wants Florida. “Their hope is to not only oust the Republican governors of those states, but also to flip several of the legislative chambers. In all five states the Republicans control both houses,” the Times piece notes. Organized labor spent about $300 million in 2010 targeting elections. This time around, the unions intend to hammer a theme they see as the winner this election year: Boosting the minimum wage. (read article)

Public Pensions Boards story

February 24, 2014, Sacramento Bee

A rift between Gov. Jerry Brown and the board overseeing the nation’s largest public pension fund over rising liabilities tied to longer retiree life expectancies highlights a concern about how decisions are made at an agency with tremendous influence over state finances. The board of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System will meet Tuesday to begin considering how to address the costs associated with retirees living longer. CalPERS responded to the governor by saying it must consider the ability of employees and governments to pay higher rates, and the fund’s staff has recommended against the governor’s request to tackle the problem immediately. Pension-reform and taxpayer advocates in California say this response isn’t surprising considering the composition of the CalPERS board, which is dominated by public employees who will benefit from the pension system or those who are appointed by Democratic officeholders who receive significant campaign contributions from government labor unions. They say such an arrangement, common across the U.S., can encourage rosy investment projections and low contribution rates. “You have people who are not disinterested,” said Joe Nation, a Stanford University public policy professor and former Democratic state lawmaker who studies pension systems. “Unfortunately, the incentives are really misaligned.” Of the 12 members on CalPERS’ board, 10 are due to collect public pensions from the agency they oversee. The board, which has one vacancy, has no independent taxpayer representative or an independent investment expert. The “public representative” appointed by the Democratic leadership in the Legislature is president of a grocery and food industry workers union. (read article)

Is the U.S. better off without unions?

By Evan Soltas, February 24, 2014, Bloomberg News

Three decades ago this month, the economists Richard B. Freeman and James Medoff published a classic book, “What Do Unions Do?” If they wrote it today, they would have to call it “What Did Unions Do?” Unions are dying in the United States. The share of private-sector workers who are union members dropped from about 35 percent in the 1950s to 6.7 percent in 2013. That gradual decline was highlighted Friday, when workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted against unionization by a count of 712 to 626. That loss was more than just symbolic. The United Auto Workers framed it, as Alec MacGillis of the New Republic has pointed out, as a fight for “the future of organized labor.” That was only a slight exaggeration. A win in Tennessee would have also made it far easier to unionize Southern auto plants, where the future of the U.S. industry lies. Trying to pin this on Republicans like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker or Gov. Bill Haslam — both of whom made public threats against the workers if they unionized — won’t get you very far. Unions have been undermined by a combination of worker hostility and the rising power of capital over labor. Their demise raises a question: Is the U.S. better off without them? (read article)

Nikki Haley to unions: Stay out of South Carolina

By Dan Calabrese, February 24, 2014, Canada Free Press

To listen to much of the mainstream media, you’d think South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was waging war on unemployed workers, telling those who could have brought them job opportunities to stay out of the state in the service of her ideological predelictions. But Nikki Haley is a lot smarter than that. She can see the destruction wrought by unions in the Rust Belt, not to mention way the federal government tends to put its thumb on the scales to give unions more power once they’ve shown up. Haley knows that wouldn’t be in South Carolina’s economic interests, and she’s refreshingly blunt in expressing what’s on her mind. Here’s how USA Today portrays it: GOP animosity toward unions grew red-hot in South Carolina during Haley’s first year as governor after the National Labor Relations Board went to court to block the Boeing Co. from making its Dreamliner jet at a new factory in North Charleston. The NLRB argued that Boeing had built the plant in right-to-work South Carolina in retaliation for past union strikes at the company’s Puget Sound operations but ultimately dropped the complaint. Haley has continued to remind voters of what the agency tried to do and did it again Wednesday while appearing here at the South Carolina Automotive Summit, an annual conference for the state’s auto industry. (read article)

Wisconsin’s Legacy for Unions

By Steven Greenhouse, February, 22, 2014, New York Times

Three years ago, a labor leader named Marty Beil was one of the loudest opponents of Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill,” a proposal that brought tens of thousands of protesters out to the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in frigid February weather. A gruff-voiced grizzly of a man, Mr. Beil warned that the bill was rigged with booby traps that would cripple the state’s public-sector unions. He gets no satisfaction from being right. Since the law was passed, membership in his union, which represents state employees, has fallen 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million. Mr. Walker’s landmark law — called Act 10 — severely restricted the power of public-employee unions to bargain collectively, and that provision, among others, has given social workers, prison guards, nurses and other public employees little reason to pay dues to a union that can no longer do much for them. Members of Mr. Beil’s group, the Wisconsin State Employees’ Union, complain that their take-home pay has fallen more than 10 percent in recent years, a sign of the union’s greatly diminished power. (read article)

Auto workers union appeals defeat at VW plant in Tennessee

February 22, 2014, Fox News

The United Auto Workers on Friday challenged last week’s close vote by workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., that rejected the UAW’s bid to represent them. In an appeal filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union asked the federal labor agency to consider holding another vote at the plant, arguing that “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups” had swayed the election. The union’s request, known as an objection to the election, could lead to a new election. The NLRB will review the UAW’s objections, a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. The appeal cited “a coordinated and widely-publicized coercive campaign” by politicians and outside groups to deprive Volkswagen workers of their right to join a union “free of coercion, intimidation, threats and interference,” The Journal reported. In particular, the appeal took aim at Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and former Chattanooga mayor, who suggested that a “no” vote would lead a Volkswagen expansion in the state with a new sport-utility vehicle line. The UAW bid was defeated in a 712-626 vote, even though the German company generally is considered labor-friendly. (read article)

How California tamed its once-dysfunctional Legislature

John Diaz, February 21, 2014, San Francisco Chronicle

One might assume that a legislature that just gained a Democratic supermajority would become more liberal and more combative with business interests. But the opposite happened when Democrats secured two-thirds of all seats in the Senate and Assembly – along with control of the governor’s office – in Sacramento in 2013. The California Legislature proved “more moderate and less polarized” than before the 2012 election, according to an analysis of its voting patterns by the University of Southern California to be released Monday. What’s going on? Has Sacramento really changed? “I think the answer, without question, is yes,” said Susan Kennedy, who served as chief of staff to two governors, Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. The report by USC’s Christian Grose, a public policy professor, noted that the centrist shift coincided with the arrival of two voter-prescribed reforms: a 2008 initiative that took the drawing of legislative district boundaries out of the hands of elected officials and a 2010 initiative that replaced partisan primaries with a system in which the top two finishers would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. While Grose cautioned against making a direct cause-and-effect link, advocates of such reforms – most notably Schwarzenegger – suggest they are delivering their promised antidote to polarization and gridlock. “The reforms were never designed to change the partisan composition of the Legislature,” Kennedy said. “They were designed to change the behavior of the legislators once they were elected.” (read article)

U.A.W. Asks Labor Board to Examine Vote at Tennessee Plant

By Steven Greenhouse, February 21, 2014, New York Times

The United Automobile Workers asked the National Labor Relations Board on Friday to order a new unionization election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., asserting that the union’s loss last week was because of improper interference by the state’s lawmakers. The complaint filed with the labor board asserts that statements made by Senator Bob Corker and some state lawmakers amounted to “threats” that swayed the VW workers to vote against the U.A.W. In a stinging defeat for the union, workers at the Chattanooga plant voted 712 to 626 against joining the U.A.W., even though the company did not oppose the unionization effort. In the days before the vote, several state lawmakers warned that they would block future subsidies to the plant — making it less likely to expand — if the workers voted for the U.A.W. In a statement, the U.A.W. said the anti-union campaign included “widely disseminated threats by elected officials that state-financed incentives would be withheld if workers exercised their protected right to form a union.” (read article)

Two major pro-Keystone unions donate to anti-union US Chamber of Commerce

By Gaius Publius, February 21, 2014, America Blog

One more fine catch from Lee Fang and the renascent Republic Report. My understanding is that the major trade unions who are pushing hard to get the climate-disaster Keystone XL Pipeline built are these: Laborers International Union of North America (“Laborers”), Pipeline Contractors Association (“Pipefitters”), International Union of Operating Engineers (“Engineers”), now joined by the Teamsters as well. Some background and context on whom these unions represent: The Laborers are the do-everythings, the unskilled labor — “unskilled” in the sense that they’re not specialized in any other way. As we noted earlier they lift, carry, cut, cart stuff round, run construction elevators, and perform similar work. These are the lowest in the hierarchy on a construction site, they hold the flags on a road construction job, they work extremely hard — they break their backs doing work no other worker is asked to do. It’s tough work, not as well compensated, and thank god it’s union work. The Pipefitters are what you think they are; they lay pipe. It’s easy to see why they’d be called on if a pipeline is to be built. The Engineers are the lift-loader drivers, crane operators, the excavation equipment operators. They work all the heavy equipment. Again, an obvious group to be involved with a pipeline project. That said, these unions are not our friends on climate or Keystone. In fact, and let’s be clear, they’ve chosen to be our enemies on climate and Keystone. (read article)

Auto union defeat in Tennessee means labor power won’t spread

By George Will, February 20, 2014, Washington Post

This year’s most important election will not occur in November, when more than 90 million votes will be cast for governors and national legislators. The most important election, crucial to an entire region’s economic well-being and to the balance of the nation’s political competition, has already occurred. Last week, at a Tennessee factory, workers rejected representation by the United Auto Workers union. The 712-626 vote — an 89 percent turnout — against unionizing the 3-year-old Chattanooga Volkswagen plant was a shattering defeat for the UAW, for organized labor generally and for liberalism nationally. It was a commensurate victory for entrepreneurial federalism. Sixty years ago, 35 percent of America’s workforce was unionized, almost entirely in the private sector. Today, 11.3 percent is unionized. About half (49.6 percent) of this minority are government workers whose union dues do much to elect their employers. UAW membership has plummeted as far and fast as Detroit has — from 1.5 million in 1979 to about 380,000 in 2012. In 2011, UAW President Bob King said, “If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW.” (read article)

Obama, Democrat labor union supporters arrested for racketeering

By Jim Kouri, February 20, 2014, High Plains Daily

Federal law enforcement officials on Tuesday arrested and charged 10 members of a major labor organization, that supported – and contributed millions to – President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, in a large-scale RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Criminal Organizations) case , according to a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The members of the Ironworkers Union’s Local 401 in Pennsylvania are charged with alleged criminal acts, including arson, extortion, assault, and the destruction of private property, in order to force construction contractors to hire union ironworkers, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Local 401 business manager, 72-year-old Joe Dougherty, as well as union representatives Ed Sweeney, Sean O’Donnell, Christopher Prophet, and William O’Donnell, and five other officials are facing serious prison time if convicted of the charges, according to the FBI and prosecutors. (read article)

Labor groups to rally for California high-speed rail

February 19, 2014, Fresno Business Journal

Several labor and environmental groups will speak out in support of high-speed rail during a rally Feb. 20 in Hanford. The rally, being held at noon in front of the Hanford Civic Center at 400 N. Douty St., will bring together the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the California Labor Federation, Building and Construction Trades Council, Laborers International Union and environmental groups. During the event, speakers representing the groups will outline some of the advertised benefits of high-speed rail, including a reduction in air pollution by limiting the number of cars on the highway and thousands of jobs created during construction and operation, as well as increased commercial activity along the rail route. (read article)

Labor unions push back against Right to Work efforts in Missouri, Pennsylvania

February 19, 2014, Beverly Hills Courier

With Right to Work fights waging on across the nation, two prominent battlegrounds, Pennsylvania and Missouri, are in the throes of battle and both are trying to make Right to Work law with legislation. The efforts are from Republicans and, as they have in the past, they are ramping up the rhetoric while promoting new rounds of Right to Work bills, commonly referred to as “Paycheck Protection” legislation in those respective states. “It’s Right to Work, but these anti-union lawmakers try to use different names to confuse people,” says Pat Sink, Ohio’s IUOE Local 18 business manager. “They call it something very attractive and misleading. But these bills are backed by Republicans and financed by big business, which means it’s not good for hard working union folks in any state.” Sink says he’s watching what’s happening across the country and not just in Ohio. He says the playbooks are similar and there are lessons to be learned from each battle. In the end, he says these measures need to fail for workers to win. (read article)

Labor Leaders See Focus on Wages as Key to Union and Democratic Victories

By Steven Greenhouse, February. 19, 2014, New York Times

Gathered for their annual winter meeting, the nation’s labor leaders say that what they see as the best theme for reviving the union movement — American workers need a raise — also would be a winning issue for their Democratic allies in this fall’s elections. “Raising wages for all workers is the issue of our time and, hopefully, will be the issue of this election,” Richard Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president, said at a news briefing here on Wednesday. Union strategists said they planned to put far more focus on state and local elections because the Republicans’ success at capturing so many governor’s mansions and state legislatures in 2010 resulted in huge setbacks for organized labor. The labor movement has been on the defensive in recent years and suffered a stinging defeat last week when workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against joining the United Automobile Workers. It was another measure of diminished influence, as unions now represent just 11 percent of the work force, one-third the level of a half-century ago. (read article)

VW Labor Representative Speaks Of Blocking New Southern U.S. Production If There Is No Labor Union

February 19, 2014, The Chattanoogan

Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized, Reuters reported. Workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union. Reuters said German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth. Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council. “I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again,” said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council. (read article)

Labor board stacks the deck for unions

By Jason Stverak, February 18, 2014, The Hill

The Obama administration spent most of 2013 reeling from scandal, after various federal agencies, most noticeably the National Security Agency, were found violating the privacy of innocent Americans. Although the White House continually professed a mixture of ignorance, outrage and resolution to make changes, 2014 has started on the same note, with another federal board deciding that personal email addresses and phone numbers aren’t all that personal anymore. The National Labor Relations Board, a five-member commission appointed by the president, recently resurrected a controversial rule that would provide the private phone numbers and email addresses of workers to union organizers. As part of a broader push to make it easier and quicker for unions to entrench themselves in workplaces, this proposal — which was struck down by a court in 2012 — violates the privacy of employees and shifts communicative power from the individual to the union. The present rules governing union organizing protect the rights of individual workers, unions, employers and opponents of unionization by allowing both sides ample time to organize and make cases to employees before a secret-ballot election. The NLRB’s proposal would upset this equilibrium in several ways, most jarringly by allowing union officials to make unsolicited, after-hours calls to employees, creating a greater potential for coercion and intimidation. In fact, a survey found that 82 percent of union households would support a law allowing employees to opt out of having their personal information shared. As disturbing as this mass distribution of private data may be, the proposed rule would also egregiously shift the election process in favor of union organizers, greatly restricting the time available to workers who oppose unionization to make their case to their colleagues. The present system includes a series of triggers during the organization process, with set periods of time between filing for election and the actual casting of ballots. By eliminating this system in favor of quick “ambush elections,” the new rule undercuts the rights of workers in opposition to unionization, who are already at an organizational and financial disadvantage to unions. (read article)

Mob’s Hold on Unions Isn’t What It Used to Be

By Sean Gardiner, February 18, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Thirty years ago, customers paid more for the salmon, shrimp and other seafood dishes they ordered at New York City restaurants because the Mafia controlled the truckers union that made deliveries to the Fulton Fish Market, according to law-enforcement officials and court records. Fish spoils quickly, so the Mafia allegedly extorted payments from officials who ran the market by threatening delivery delays. In turn, fish-market officials demanded payoffs from restaurants, which passed that cost onto its patrons, law-enforcement officials said. The exploitation of unions by organized crime has been an “unpleasant fact of life” since the late 19th century and “thrived practically unopposed” until the mid-1970s, James Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law, wrote in his 2006 book, “Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement.” The five families controlled construction, garment, waste hauling, trucking, airport cargo and other unions, he said in an interview. Paying extra to do business in New York—a so-called mob tax—”was just the way it was; it was accepted. You had to deal with them.” That started changing in the 1980s under then Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, Mr. Jacobs said. “I think he’s the most important organized-crime prosecutor in American history,” he added. “I don’t think he really gets enough credit for that.” (read article)

Public Unions Push Back on Pension Reforms, But What Will Courts Say?

By Lou Cannon, February 17, 2014, State Net Capitol Journal

Public employee unions and their allies are flexing their muscle in California, where a sweeping pension reform initiative that once seemed destined for the November ballot will instead take a legal detour that will delay it. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, the initiative’s author, said he will mount a legal challenge to the wording of the ballot proposition by fellow Democrat Attorney General Kamala Harris. Reed contends the wording is biased and pro-union, which Harris through a spokesperson denies. Public unions contributed heavily to Harris’ campaigns. This twist in the California pension wars comes against the backdrop of a stark warning from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension union. Brown called upon the pension fund to address increased life expectancy of public employees, saying longer-lived retirees will add $1.2 billion annually to pension costs. In a letter to CalPERS board president Rob Feckner, Brown saida recommendation by the board’s staff to postpone action until 2016 was “unacceptable.” (read article)

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