Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Wisconsin Democrats still searching for Walker opponent

January 16, 2012, Associated Press

Supporters of a push to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from office are prepared to declare victory in their effort to force the Republican into a recall election. But a problem looms for Democrats: They still don’t know who would run against him. Recall organizers say they have gathered far more than the 540,208 signatures required to force the election against both Walker and GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and will submit their petitions Tuesday. Walker has meanwhile dominated the state’s airwaves with ads defending his agenda, including the law enacted last year that ended nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers and spurred the recall effort in the first place. He’s also crisscrossed the country raising millions of dollars, taking full advantage of both the conservative rock star persona built as he put Wisconsin at the center of the national labor rights debate and a quirk in state law allowing those targeted for recall to ignore normal contribution limits until an election date is set. (read article)

Right to work fight may hit Michigan

By Jim Lynch, January 16, 2012, The Detroit News

Supporters and opponents of making Michigan a right-to-work state are closely watching Indiana’s lawmakers debate the issue and gearing up for a possible battle in Lansing this year. The bill before the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly would make it illegal for labor contracts to require employees to pay union dues. The measure, backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, has prompted mass protests by union workers and a walkout by Democratic lawmakers. Proponents of right-to-work legislation say freeing industry from cumbersome labor rules and negotiations can help attract and keep employers. But with labor drawing its lifeblood from membership fees, union officials see right-to-work as a direct attack on organized labor. No wide-ranging right-to-work bills have been introduced in Michigan yet, but there is a growing expectation that could change soon, despite the reluctance of Gov. Rick Snyder to address the issue. Gene Clem, a spokesman for the Michigan Tea Party Alliance, based in the state’s southwest, thinks 2012 might be the year the issue gets addressed in Lansing. “I’d give it a 60-40 chance in favor of it getting to the governor’s desk this year,” Clem said. “I think it’s particularly likely given what’s going on in Indiana right now.” (read article)

Kentucky labor eyes Indiana anti-union vote

by Jere Downs, Jan. 15, 2012, Louisville Courier-Journal

Controversial right-to-work legislation could advance this week in the Indiana legislature, and Kentucky labor unions and pro-business interests are closely monitoring its progress. A priority of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled Indiana legislature, the bill would make union dues optional in organized workplaces. In 22 states where such laws prevail, proponents say they help encourage economic development. But the labor movement argues that right-to-work laws weaken unions and result in lower wages and benefits overall. “If Indiana were to go the wrong way, the pressure on Kentucky wages would just be amazing. We would be run over,” said Chris Sanders, general counsel for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 227, which represents Kroger workers on both sides of the Ohio River. “If Indiana passes it, Kentucky will be a conspicuous outlier. Most of the Southern states already have it,” Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spokesman Bryan Sunderland said in an interview Thursday. “In right-to-work states … job growth is higher. We can attract and grow more jobs if we can have that.” (read article)

Union presses opposition to out-of-state contracts

By Stephen Singer, January 14, 2012, BusinessWeek

Organized labor, a key constituency of the Democratic Party, hopes to turn up the heat on Connecticut’s Democratic administration and legislature over out-of-state companies that win construction contracts for state-financed projects. Charles LeConche, business manager at the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council, is angry that one contract for $130 million for construction along the bus-only route between Hartford and New Britain has gone to a Massachusetts company. Unions have been major supporters of the overall $567 million project aimed at boosting Connecticut jobs. “It’s not a union issue,” he said. “We’re trying to jump-start the Connecticut economy.” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s election last year as the first Democratic governor in 20 years raised expectations among unions that they would make strong gains following two Republican governors and Independent Lowell Weicker, who previously was a Republican. “I thought we won the election,” LeConche said. “We’re wondering why we can’t get to a better place to protect in-state workers and contractors.” (read article)

Lobbyist Scott Wetch bends Legislature to benefit labor unions

By Marc Lifsher, January 14, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Blunt, shrewd and intimidating, Wetch has become a powerful force in Sacramento, lobbying the Legislature on behalf of unionized employees. California building contractors were thrilled when waterless urinals came on the market, thinking the devices would save them a fortune in plumbing costs. The state building code would need to be changed, but that seemed an easy sell. The fixtures would prevent billions of gallons of water from being wasted, and California’s environmental lobby could be counted on as a powerful ally. There was one hitch. His name was Scott Wetch. Wetch is a Sacramento lobbyist for labor unions, and urinals without water pipes would not be good for his clients in the building trades. His campaign to derail the bill shows why he is considered one of the shrewdest operators in the Capitol. (read article)

Indiana Bill May Breach Unions’ Fortress in Industrial Midwest

By Timothy Jones, January 13, 2012, Bloomberg

When Greg Eckert joined the painter’s union in Fort Wayne 25 years ago, one of every five Indiana workers was a dues-paying member of organized labor. The ratio now is one in nine. Declining union membership and rising Republican clout have put Indiana on the edge of becoming the first so-called right- to-work state in an industrial region known for titanic labor battles that paved the way for modern-day contracts, health care and retirement benefits. A bill moving through the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Indianapolis would exempt nonunion employees from paying dues when working alongside union workers. Republicans view it as a cost-cutting, job-creating tool. Democrats call it union-busting that will lower wages. And if the measure passes in Indiana, it may energize the right-to-work movement in a region that has repeatedly beaten it back. “Ohio, Michigan — if Indiana goes down, they’ll all have targets on them,” said Eckert, 52, who was outside protesting the bill as Republican Governor Mitch Daniels promoted it in his Jan. 10 State of the State speech. (read article)

Anti-union group challenges Obama labor board recess appointments

January 13, 2012, Associated Press

Two pro-business advocacy groups on Friday filed the first legal challenge to President Obama’s recent recess appointments, asking a federal judge to find them unconstitutional. The National Federation of Independent Business and the National Right to Work Foundation argue Obama cannot legally bypass the Senate to appoint three new members of the National Labor Relations Board, an agency that referees labor-management disputes. The groups made the argument in a motion in federal district court in Washington, D.C., as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the labor board for requiring businesses to put up posters telling workers about their right to form a union. The challenge came a day after the Justice Department issued a legal opinion defending the appointments of the labor board members, and the appointment of a national consumer watchdog, against Republican criticism. Obama stoked controversy when he made the appointments Jan. 4 during the Senate’s current 20-day recess. Republicans leaders have called it an unusual and unconstitutional power grab, saying the Senate was not technically in recess when Obama acted. (read article)

Rick Santorum On His Pro-Labor Votes In Congress: I’ll Have ‘A Very Different Point Of View’ As President

By Amanda Terkel, January 15, 2011, Huffington Post

As a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum occasionally sided with labor unions to raise the minimum wage and protect striking workers. But now he’s trying to reassure GOP voters that, if he becomes president, he’ll take very different positions. On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked the GOP presidential candidate about his vote against a national right-to-work law and his support for the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires government contractors to pay the prevailing wage. Right-to-work laws bar unions from automatically collecting dues from workers’ paychecks at private companies. “I think if you look back in my track record, I think I had about a 9 percent big labor voting record. You picked out the two,” said Santorum. “And you need to remember, I was from the state of Pennsylvania. State of Pennsylvania does not have a right-to work-law. The state legislature and our governor for a long time had rules in place that were inconsistent with right-to-work. And I wasn’t, as United States senator representing the state of Pennsylvania, going to go down and by federal vote change the law on the state. I believe the state has the right. If they want a union dues requirement, then the state should be able to do that.” “As a president, I have a very different point of view,” he added. “I have already signed a letter and sent it to the national right to work that I would sign a national right-to-work bill because now, I’m no longer representing that state. (read article)

Former labor secretary encourages Calpine workers to join union

By Elizabeth Larson, January 13, 2012, Lake County News

On Thursday evening a former U.S. secretary of labor came to Lake County to visit with Calpine workers who are on the verge of voting to join a union. Robert Reich, who served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor and now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, met with about 60 Calpine workers, organizers and members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1245 at the Little Red School House. Approximately 219 workers at Calpine’s Geysers operations are eligible to take part in an election to join IBEW 1245 Jan. 25-26, according to the union. Reich’s visit follows a meeting several Calpine workers held with Gov. Jerry Brown about their efforts to unionize on Dec. 9. In addition to getting the chance to hear from Reich, Calpine employees who came to the Thursday night meeting were able to ask questions of union organizers about the process and find out how contract negotiations could benefit them. The union organizing committee asked the men and women who attended to introduce themselves and share how long they had been at the company. There were many longtime employees, some who had worked more than 20 and sometimes 30 years as techs, in the steamfields, in maintenance and other areas. The process of organizing the election to join the union has been a divisive one. (read article)

Former NLRB Member Strikes Back at Romney’s ‘Union Stooges’ Remark

By Melanie Trottman, January 11, 2012, Wall Street Journal

One former member of the National Labor Relations Board is fighting back after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a  campaign ad slamming the NLRB as “union stooges.” Craig Becker, a Democrat who left the board last week just as Mr. Romney released his ad, said Mr. Romney’s jabs have been “a little shocking” and are part of widespread criticism of the NLRB among Republicans and business groups since President Barack Obama came into office. The criticism is “unfortunately part of the campaign now,” Mr. Becker said. “It’s a little shocking, I think.” On his website, Mr. Romney has referred to board members as “Big Labor cronies” who have “wreaked havoc on the law.” (read article)

The US Chamber of Commerce on Obama’s Labor Appointments

By Lori Ann LaRocco, January 9, 2012, CNBC

Next week U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohue will be making the Chamber’s big State of American Business Address.  The group is turning 100 and in the past century American business has certainly transformed.  One area unfortunately that continues to still be the same old story is the battle between big labor and companies. Recently, Mike Eastman, executive director of Labor Law Policy for the Chamber, gave us the Chamber’s view of recent appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. (read article)

The economics of employees’ rights

By Mark Schug, January 08, 2012, Tampa Tribune

From the statehouse in Madison, Wis., to a Boeing factory in Charleston, S.C., it was a busy year for organized labor. They’ve been working tirelessly to convince Americans that membership in the middle class is synonymous with membership in a labor union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — dominated by union-friendly appointees — has been an important ally, just recently approving new election rules to speed private-sector union organizing. Lost amidst these political battles is any discussion of employees’ best interests. Enter the Employee Rights Act (ERA). This legislation, co-sponsored by Republicans Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, takes an important step to restore freedom to American labor markets. The history of organized labor makes one thing abundantly clear: When given a choice, most American workers are skeptical of union power. Throughout much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, union membership was well below 10 percent. The numbers changed in the 1930s when legislation that tilted the rules in favor of unions was passed (such as the Norris LaGuardia Act of 1932, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938). Unions are legal cartels. Unions restrict the supply of labor in order to raise the wages and benefits of their members above levels that would be set by free-market forces. (read article)

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