Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Latest attempt to end BART strikes deserves high marks for creativity

Contra Costa Times editorial, March 3, 2015, Bay Area News Group

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker’s bill to end BART strikes highlights the difficulty of crafting legislation that’s politically viable, has teeth and doesn’t produce unintended consequences. Baker, R-San Ramon, won election last year in a swing East Bay district by campaigned to end BART strikes and promising to maintain a centrist political position. Thus, her first bill, AB528, doesn’t call for simply banning BART strikes. Instead, she takes a more nuanced approach. Keep in mind that the infamous 2013 BART labor fiasco, in which directors sold out riders and taxpayers by fattening the offer 48 percent in the final weekend of negotiations, occurred after the prior union contracts had expired. Baker’s bill would require that if there’s a no-strike clause in effect during the contract period it should be enforced after expiration provided BART continues to pay its employees. We give Baker high marks for creativity. She is trying to respect labor by not proposing a flat-out strike ban — an effort that would almost surely fail in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. (read article)

Laws that decimate unions may be inevitable. Here’s how labor can survive.

By Lydia DePillis, March 3, 2015, Washington Post

Sometime later this week, a right-to-work bill appears certain to land on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s desk. Despite the protests of thousands in Madison, he’ll sign it, dealing another blow to labor unions already crippled by laws passed during the Republican’s last term in office. It will also be a symbolic threshold: Wisconsin would be the 25th state to go right-to-work, putting fully half the country under laws that allow employees to opt out of paying dues, even though the union has the obligation to represent everyone in their workplace. As more and more workers benefit from a collective bargaining without paying for its upkeep, unions have become weaker, which lessens the incentive to join. The resulting tailspin, writ large, has been primarily responsible for the massive decline in unionization over the past half-century — making the struggle to stave off right-to-work laws a fight for union survival. (read article)

Union members speak out against right-to-work in Wisconsin

Associated Press, March 3, 2015, Chicago Tribune

Electricians, pipefitters, carpenters and other union members opposed to making Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state dominated more than 11 hours of testimony Monday on a fast-tracked proposal expected to pass the Legislature later in the week and be signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. The Assembly Labor Committee, six days after the Senate Labor Committee held a similar hearing, heard testimony into the night on the bill that would ban any requirement that nonunion members in the private sector pay union dues. Opponents outnumbered supporters 70-1 at last week’s Senate hearing, and the majority of those speaking Monday were also against the measure. The committee only took testimony and did not plan a vote on the measure, which was identical to what the full Senate passed last week. Democrats called on the committee to make changes, but Republican committee chairman Rep. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, said that would only delay the process. Democrats can offer amendments when the measure is up before the full Republican-controlled Assembly, likely on Thursday, but none are expected to be adopted. (read article)

Bill restricting union dues collection fails but not dead yet in Pennsylvania Senate

By Jan Murphy, March 03, 2015, Pennsylvania Live

An attempt to pass a controversial amendment to a bill that would restrict union dues collection from state and school employees’ paychecks narrowly failed in the state Senate on Monday. But most likely, we haven’t seen the last of this amendment to this so-called paycheck protection bill. The Senate voted 24-24 to defeat the amendment. A short time later, it voted 29-19 to reconsider the amendment at a later time, keeping it alive. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, would have made it illegal for government to deduct union dues from state and school employees’ paychecks. The amendment offered on Monday narrowed that restriction to only ban governments from deducting money for unions that is used for political purposes while still allowing dues collection to support for general union operations. (read article)

Los Angeles police union asks public to ‘reserve judgment’ over shooting death

By Lauren Gambino, March 2, 2015, The Guardian

In response to growing tensions in Los Angeles over the police killing of a homeless man on Sunday, the president of the local officers’ labor union urged the public to “reserve their judgment” until an investigation was complete. In a dramatic confrontation caught on video, five Los Angeles police department (LAPD) officers are seen scuffling with a man known as “Africa” on a sidewalk in the downtown area. Officers struggled with the man, writhing on the ground, before shooting him several times. The LAPD said the man lunged for one of the officers’ guns. Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, was quick to defend the officers in a statement released on Sunday. “LAPD officers are put directly in harm’s way every day as they face complex situations, unthinkable dangers and split-second decisions while protecting the residents of Los Angeles,” Lally said. (read article)

Wisconsin Assembly takes up union bill with passage likely this week

By Patrick Marley, March 2, 2015, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

A fast-tracked bill that would allow workers to choose whether to pay union fees is likely to be law by the end of the week. The state Senate passed the measure last week and the Assembly is holding an all-day hearing on it Monday. The Assembly will take it up as early as Thursday, and Gov. Scott Walker signaled over the weekend he would sign it as soon as he receives it. “By the end of the week, Wisconsin will be the 25th state in the nation that has freedom-to-work laws,” Walker told the conservative Club for Growth on Saturday, according to Politico. The legislation, known as right to work by supporters, would bar private-sector labor contracts that require workers to pay union fees. Supporters say workers should get to decide whether to pay toward unions and argue having such a law in place would help lure businesses to Wisconsin. Opponents say unions and employers should be able to reach contracts as they see fit and that it’s reasonable to require all employees to pay their share of costs because under federal law unions are required to represent everyone in a work unit, even those who don’t belong to a union. The labor fight comes four years after Walker — now a likely candidate for president — advanced and signed a measure that all but ended collective bargaining for most public workers. (read article)

Scott Walker to sign anti-union bill that will make inequality worse

By John A. Logan, March 2, 2015, The Hill

Wisconsin will soon become the nation’s 25th “Right to Work” (RTW) state. RTW prohibits employers and unions from negotiating agreements that require non-members to contribute to the cost of representing them. It weakens unions and increases economic inequality. The state Senate passed Bill 44 last week. This week, the Assembly will pass an identical Bill 61 and Gov. Scott Walker (R) — described by Joan Walsh as a “Koch brothers subsidiary” — will sign it into law. Walker has spent several years denying that he wanted to make Wisconsin a RTW state. In 2012, Walker had “no interest” in pursuing RTW. He would “do everything in power” to prevent it because private-sector unions had “overwhelmingly come to the table” to be his “partner in economic development.” In January, RTW wasn’t on his agenda. But last month, he embraced the divisive and damaging bill, because he had “never said” it wasn’t a “good idea.” So much for partnership! (read article)

Idaho could soon require open union negotiations

By Dustin Hurst, March 2, 2015, Fox News

Interested Idahoans could soon have access to all negotiations for pay, benefits and other perks for government workers. The House State Affairs Committee voted without dissent Thursday to approve a bill that would require all union negotiations be open to the general public. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian, told the panel the proposal would bring negotiations in line with Idaho law’s intent for greater transparency. “This seems to break with the spirit of our open meeting laws,” Harris said. The measure trails 2013’s House Bill 1098, which led the effort to provide great transparency into negotiations. That bill was sponsored by the Idaho Education Association and passed both legislative chambers unanimously. (read article)

GOP’s Blind Hate of Labor Union Members

By Leo W. Gerard, March 2, 2015, Huffington Post

To Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, America’s labor union members are the same as murderous, beheading, caged-prisoner-immolating ISIS terrorists. Exactly the same. That’s what he told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. The governor said that because he destroyed public sector labor rights in Wisconsin after 100,000 union supporters protested in Madison he could defeat ISIS as President of the United States. That sums up all the GOP hate and vitriol against labor union members in recent years. It would appear that Republicans can’t discern the difference between suicide bombers and working men and women who band together to collectively bargain for better wages and safer conditions. Republicans, it seems, can’t see that a foreign extremist group that kidnaps 276 schoolgirls is not the same as an American labor organization seeking to improve the lives of families and communities. This GOP blindness explains the relentless campaign by GOP leaders to renege on contractual obligations to workers, squash labor rights and slash the pay and benefits of union members.(read article)

Nevada Lawmakers move to stop agencies from paying for union work

By Ben Botkin, February 28, 2015, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Year in and year out, Clark County shells out six-figure pay to a small group of employees who step away from their regular work to handle matters for their unions. The system of paid union leave offers flexibility: County employees can attend legislative sessions, participate in staff grievance hearings and catch up on labor issues at union conferences — all on the taxpayer’s dime. Clark County staffers were paid $825,376.14 for doing union-related work from 2011 through 2013, a Las Vegas Review-Journal analysis of salary data shows. It’s all perfectly legal, plainly spelled out in labor contracts just like everything else negotiated between a union and management. But the practice raises eyebrows among critics, who say that tax dollars shouldn’t fund union-related activities that sometimes run counter to the same government agencies that pay their salaries. Government pay for union-related work would end in Nevada under a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno. Assembly Bill 182 would prohibit the practice as part of the bill’s wide-ranging shake-up of collective bargaining. Other aspects of the legislation would exclude supervisors from collective bargaining, prevent local governments from deducting union dues from employee paychecks and require final contract offers from both sides to be made public. (read article)

Rich get richer from fewer labor unions, study says

By Finbarr O’Reilly, February 28, 2015, Reuters

A study by the International Monetary Fund tracked three decades of income and found that as unionization declined, the wealth of the richest 10 percent in advanced countries showed a continuous increase. More specifically, the study’s authors found that when researching income levels during the period of 1980-2010, the decline in unionization explained about half of the rise in incomes for the richest 10 percent, and half of the increase in the Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality). “While some inequality can increase efficiency by strengthening incentives to work and invest, recent research suggests that higher inequality is associated with lower and less sustainable growth in the medium run, even in advanced economies,” argued the paper’s authors, Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron. (read article)

NLRB Election Rules Near Test in U.S. Congress

By Lawrence E. Dube, February 27, 2015, Bloomberg

Congress is about to take up proposals to block the National Labor Relations Board from implementing changes in its representation case rules and procedures set to take effect April 14. Many of the changes (see box below) have met vocal opposition from business groups and Republican legislators since they were originally proposed in 2011. A final rule approved in December 2011 was blocked by a court’s ruling that the board failed to properly assemble a quorum of members when it used an electronic voting room process to finalize the rule. But the board approved a modified version of the regulatory action in December, and the Senate and House will now consider resolutions under the Congressional Review Act to disapprove and block the rule changes. With Republican majorities in both chambers, the resolutions are likely to win approval, but a White House veto of congressional action could clear a path for the board to proceed with implementation of its changes. (read article)

How The Feds Have A Headlock On Labor Law

By Connor D. Wolf, February 27, 2015, Daily Caller

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, a panel of labor experts warned that some top federal labor officials are deep in the back pockets of organized labor. The panel detailed how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), under the Obama administration, has shown a clear and direct bias in favor of unions. Specifically, they argue, some major rulings made in the past year have significantly benefitted labor unions at the expense of companies and their workers. The panel argued that the bias is the result of labor unions contributing significantly to Democrat candidates and in return Democrats will often unfairly benefit unions through rules and regulations. This, they argue, includes the president and his labor board appointees. (read article)

Are Labor Unions an Enemy of Immigration Reform

By Michael Gryboski, February 27, 2015, The Christian Post

Certain labor unions are among the strongest opponents of comprehensive immigration reform, according to experts at the Conservative Political Action Conference. A Thursday panel called “Immigration: Can Conservatives Reach a Consensus,” panel featured U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Mario Lopez of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, and Alfonso Aguilar of the American Principles Project. In his remarks, held at a meeting room at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, Aguilar talked about the opposition unions had to certain immigration reform ideas. “We have Democrats who don’t want to see a guest worker program, because the unions don’t want to see a guest worker program,” said Aguilar. Aguilar has long been critical those fellow Republicans who have blocked reforms to the immigration system. Democrats also have anti-reform voices in their ranks, he pointed out in his Thursday remarks. Aguilar cited the Bracero Program, which brought large numbers of Mexican guest workers to the United States that Aguilar said liberals opposed “because of the unions.” (read article)

NYC Police Sergeants Union Signs New Labor Contract

By Nathan Lemire, February 26, 2015, ABC News

Two months ago, amid a searing rift with City Hall, the president of the New York Police Department’s sergeants union turned his back to Mayor Bill de Blasio and later called him “a total nincompoop.” On Thursday, that union head, Edward Mullins, fixed a wry smile to his face and allowed a jubilant de Blasio to wrap his arm around his shoulders in celebration of the union signing a new labor contract with the administration. The contract was another marker along the road to a tentative truce between City Hall and the NYPD’s officers after months of friction fueled by the cops’ anger over de Blasio’s handling of anti-NYPD protests that swept the city after an officer was not indicted in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. That vitriol escalated dramatically weeks later when two police officers were gunned down in a brazen daytime ambush and the unions suggested that de Blasio shared in the blame. Four of the five NYPD unions now have contracts. Mullins, who once demanded that de Blasio “humble himself” and apologize to the police, did not say he regretted his remarks but acknowledged that his relationship with the mayor had improved. (read article)

Lawsuit Aims to End Schools Paying Teachers to Do Union Work in Philadelphia

By Bill McMorris, February 25, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

A Pennsylvania nonprofit organization is suing a Philadelphia teachers union to end the practice of paying teachers to do union work on the taxpayer’s dime. The Fairness Center filed suit against the state teachers union on Wednesday morning to challenge so-called union release time, in which union representatives are pulled out of the classroom to attend to union business. Despite the fact that these representatives are no longer serving as teachers, they collect paychecks from school districts rather than the labor union. Fairness Center general counsel David Osborne said the practice drains much-needed resources from public schools. (read article)

To stop Big Oil, environmentalists need labor unions

By Rebecca Burns, February 25, 2015, Al Jazeera America

In their push to halt construction of the Keystone XL and other pipelines in recent years, environmentalists have often put a familiar question to labor: Which side are you on? More often than not, unions have ended up on the other side of the line in the tar sand, backing the oil and gas industry in its efforts to expand the pipeline and drilling projects that are poised to push us past the point of carbon no return. With hard-hit construction and trade workers swayed easily by industry’s promise of jobs, no matter how short term, the prospects for recruiting labor in the fight against climate change often look grim. But given that the workers who drill, mine and frack the earth — often at enormous risk to their health and safety — are specially poised to shut down these operations, the environmental movement can’t afford to give up on the idea of a robust blue-green alliance. In order to bring about such an alliance, however, the movement must offer workers something more than the distant promise of green jobs. On Feb. 1, members of the United Steelworkers (USW) launched the first nationwide refinery strike in more than 30 years, representing a crucial opportunity for environmentalists to stand alongside workers taking on Big Oil. The work stoppage expanded this week to more than 6,500 workers who have walked off the job at 15 refineries and chemical plants across the country. (read article)

West Coast Ports Back in Operation Following Deal With Labor Unions

Associated Press, February 25, 2015

Nearly all West Coast seaports began the work week with crews hustling to load and unload cargo ships that were held up amid a months-long dispute over a new contract for dockworkers. The exception Monday was the Port of Oakland, where problems persisted three days after negotiators for the dockworkers’ union and for employers reached a tentative agreement covering all 29 West Coast ports. Those ports handle roughly one-quarter of U.S. international trade, an amount worth about $1 trillion annually. In Oakland, nine ships were at berth and ready for cranes to move cargo Monday, but only one was being worked due to what port spokesman Mike Zampa called a “temporary shortage of experienced crane operators.” He said port officials expected experienced crane drivers to return for the night shift. (read article)

Labor activists cancel faculty unionization vote at CalArts

By Larry Gordon, February 25, 2015, Los Angeles Times

Labor activists have halted efforts, for now, to unionize the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, a move that reflects deep divisions at the Valencia campus and slows what had been a burgeoning trend to organize college professors in California and nationwide. CalArts activists formally withdrew their petition for a federally supervised election just hours before ballots were to be mailed out last week asking whether faculty wanted to be represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721. Unlike a growing number of colleges where the SEIU and other unions have come to represent part-time adjunct professors frustrated by low pay and uncertain employment, the CalArts movement sought to unionize nearly all professors since the school has no tenure system for full-time faculty. (read article)

Union chief says U.S. refinery strike could spread

By Erwin Seba, February 25, 2015, Reuters

The largest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years could spread if talks over improved safety conditions do not resume soon, United Steelworkers union (USW) International President Leo Gerard said on Tuesday. A total of 6,550 USW members are on strike at 15 plants, including 12 refineries accounting for one-fifth of U.S. capacity. Union members work at more than 200 oil terminals, pipelines, refineries and chemical plants in the U.S. The USW has said it is seeking to retain safety provisions from previous contracts and tighten fatigue standards for workers, as well as win back daily maintenance jobs now done by non-union contractors. “(The strike spreading) depends on what happens in the next round of negotiations and that those negotiations resume fairly quickly,” Gerard in a telephone news conference from Atlanta. Gerard, who is attending the AFL-CIO winter conference in Atlanta, said no date has been set for resuming negotiations. (read article)

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