Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

UAW weighing GE protest

By Bryce G. Hoffman, April 24, 2012, The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers will join other labor unions and activist organizations on Wednesday in what is being billed as a major protest aimed at disrupting General Electric Co.’s annual shareholders meeting — part of a nationwide effort, called the “99 Percent Spring,” to jump-start the Occupy Wall Street movement. The union now seems to be dialing down its plans under pressure from political leaders who worry the demonstration could become a major embarrassment to a city and state struggling to attract business and investment, according to sources familiar with the situation. The UAW would not comment on Wednesday’s event. But speaking to a crowd of union members in Flint two months ago, UAW President Bob King said the GE shareholder meeting, to be held at the Detroit Marriott, was an opportunity to take the UAW’s crusade for what he called “social justice” to a new level. (read article)

Preparations Under Way for New Union Vote Rules Next Week

By William McQuillen on April 23, 2012, Business Week

Labor-relations consultant Phillip Wilson has had a busy month, flying from Arizona to Virginia holding seminars and conducting online workshops to get employers ready for what he says is one of the biggest changes in labor law in decades. The flurry of activity stems from preparations by employers across the country for National Labor Relations Board rules to speed up union organizing elections that are set to go into effect a week from today. The regulation will simplify union-election procedures and shorten the time for balloting after employees request a vote. The compressed schedule, which may cut in half the time permitted for voting to as few as 15 days, could tilt votes in favor of unions at a time when their share of the workforce is falling, Wilson said. “The compressed election rule is a huge change,” said Wilson, the vice president and general counsel of Labor Relations Institute Inc. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. “It’s a dramatic new way in the way elections are held.” (read article)

Upcoming Changes To Labor Laws To Affect Non-Union Employers

By Franczek Radelet, April 23, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Over the past 18 months, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been extremely active in forging significant changes to labor laws that affect all employers, union and non-union, and the activity is only going to continue for the foreseeable future. As of April 30, 2012, new rules will go into effect that will substantially streamline union organizing procedures. In short, under these new rules, employers may have as little as half the time they are currently allowed to engage and convince their employees that a union is not the best option for them. Although union membership is at an all time low, these changes in the union election process will make it significantly easier and quicker for unions to mobilize employee workforces and establish union representation—in as little as 21 days. (read article)

Will Our Senators ‘Ambush’ Virginia Workers And Employers?

By Barbara Comstock, April 23, 2012, National Review Online

On Tuesday there will be a critical vote in the U.S. Senate which will determine whether Virginia employees and employers will be subject to “ambush” elections that would shorten the time for union elections to as few as ten days. This rule could force workers into a unionized workplace with little debate beforehand — even in a right-to-work state like Virginia. This misguided policy has been promulgated — not by Congress — but by the unelected members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as a favor to unions. It would go into effect on April 30. Forty-four senators have signed on to a Resolution of Disapproval, S.J. Resolution 36, by Senator Enzi of Wyoming, that would overturn this unnecessary and undemocratic ambush election rule. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate or the House can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval to stop a federal agency from implementing a recent rule or regulation. This Resolution cannot be filibustered and needs only a simple majority in the Senate to pass. (read article)

Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals

By Charlie Savage, April 22, 2012, New York Times

One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism. “We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.” For Mr. Obama, that meeting was a turning point. As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals. But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. (read article)

Labor union sues Indiana, calls working alongside nonunion employees ‘slavery’

By David Martosko, April 22, 2012, The Daily Caller

In a lawsuit against three Indiana government officials, a labor union alleged on Wednesday that its constitutional rights under the Thirteenth Amendment — which outlawed “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” — are violated whenever its members are forced to work alongside nonunion employees. The International Union of Operating Engineers, whose members work as heavy equipment operators, mechanics and construction surveyors, sued Indiana’s governor, attorney general, and labor commissioner in February, alleging that the state’s “right to work” law is unconstitutional. Indiana’s law prohibits employers from making union membership a condition of getting or keeping a job. The union’s February lawsuit claimed the law violated its members’ Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of “equal protection” under the law. (read article)

American makes its case against union contracts

Associated Press, April 23, 2012, Chicago Sun Times

Lawyers for American Airlines and its labor unions argued Monday in federal bankruptcy court over the best course for the financially troubled company. American’s lawyers said the company must make painful cuts in labor costs to survive in an increasingly competitive industry. Union lawyers suggested that there is a gentler alternative — a merger with US Airways. American’s parent, AMR Corp., has lost about $12 billion since 2001 and filed for bankruptcy protection in November. The company says it is saddled with higher labor costs than competitors and must eliminate 13,000 union jobs, freeze or terminate pension plans, curb health benefits, and change work rules. (read article)

Vote in Pennsylvania Tests Influence of Labor Unions

By Kris Maher, April 22, 2012, Wall Street Journal

A congressional primary in western Pennsylvania is shaping up as a measure of organized labor’s ability to turn out working-class voters during a presidential-election year. Reps. Mark Critz and Jason Altmire, both conservative Democrats, have been forced into a face-off Tuesday after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature combined parts of their districts when the state lost a congressional seat. In a rare move, unions are backing one Democrat over another, arguing that Mr. Critz is the more loyal labor supporter. Political experts are watching to see how much pull the state’s unions have with voters in union households—a voting bloc that could help sway the presidential race in several states. (read article)

Unions Finally Make a Showing On Super PAC Stage

By Russ Choma on April 22, 2012, OpenSecrets.org

Labor unions injected themselves into the super PAC story line in March to a greater degree than at any time yet this election cycle, increasing by 50 percent the amount given by organized labor in the previous 14 months. Very wealthy individuals, the vast majority of them conservatives, have been by far the dominant donors to super PACs thus far in 2011-2012, and the March reports don’t change that. Of the $186.5 million donated to super PACs, $141.9 million of that — about 76 percent — has come from individuals. In March, individuals contributed at least $16.3 million of the roughly $32.1 million super PACs brought in. Add in the money from companies closely affiliated with notable conservative individuals, like the $1 million from Huron Carbon (which is privately owned and run by Bill Koch, a brother to Charles and David Koch, who are more active on the political side of the equation ), and the dominance of conservative individuals is even stronger. The industry sectors that are giving big to super PACs haven’t changed much, according to OpenSecrets.org data – the finance, insurance and real estate sector continued to be a dominant force, accounting for 27 percent of all money to super PACs in March, with 87 percent of it going to conservative super PACs (a story we’ve reported before). OpenSecrets.org data shows that the single organization that gave the most to super PACs in March was the National Education Association, which gave $3 million to its own super PAC. (read article)

Obama’s Renegade NLRB Is Disrupting the Recovery

By Peter Roff, April 20, 2012, U.S. News

Few federal agencies have worked as hard to disrupt the economic recovery as the National Labor Relations Board, a five-member body created in 1934 to oversee union representation elections and to investigate and propose remedies where unfair labor practices are found to exist. The board is not operating at full strength. President Barack Obama has managed to keep it functioning through several recess appointments—which are controversial given that Congress was not in recess at the time they were made—but that has not slowed it down. In one instance the board “discovered” that it had the rule-making authority to require businesses to post notices in the workplace informing employees of their “rights” to form a union despite the fact that it had never done anything of the kind in its nearly 75 year history. A federal judge, however, disagreed. Last Friday U.S. District Judge David Norton found that the labor board had exceeded its authority, determining that since Congress didn’t authorize it to issue the poster rule, it was unlawful for it to have done so. (read article)

Unions in Depressed Illinois Rally Against Mitch Daniels, Right-to-Work

by D.R. Berry, April 20, 2012, Breitbart.com

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was in Champaign, Illinois today to speak at the Champaign County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Daniels is not very popular with labor unions because he signed the “right to work” law in his state, which bans unions from collecting mandatory fees for union representation. About thirty busloads of labor union members from all parts of the state–and beyond–came to the parking lot of the University of Illinois Assembly Hall to protest against Daniels and the right to work law–and make it clear that “anti-union” legislation is not welcome in Illinois. “The Right to Work Won’t Work in Illinois” Facebook page states that the groups behind it are “committed to fighting for workers’ rights and maintaining collective bargaining rights.” They are also not very fond of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Gov. Walker was in Springfield Illinois on Tuesday to speak to business leaders, and one of the main points of several speakers at today’s gathering was how well they managed to stick it to Walker on that occasion. An estimated 3500 union protesters had been in attendance for that event, much the same as today’s gathering. There were several speeches by union leaders from Indiana and Illinois. The president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, Michael Carrigan, proclaimed that he was “proud to be in Springfield to welcome that scurrilous rat from Wisconsin, and I’m proud to be here to welcome that scurrilous rat from Indiana.” The crowd loved that. (read article)

All Workers–Including Union Workers–Should Be Able to Achieve Rewards

By James Sherk, April 19, 2012, Heritage Foundry

The Brooklyn Hospital Center wanted to reward its best nurses, so it honored high-performing nurses with a breakfast and gave them $100 gift cards. Unfortunately, the nurses’ union did not approve. They filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and the board forbid the hospital from giving such bonuses again. This ruling was unsurprising. The National Labor Relations Act requires unionized companies to bargain over all pay changes. Companies cannot pay individual employees less than the union rate, but they cannot pay them more than the union rate, either. The only surprise was that the Brooklyn Hospital Center thought it could legally pay bonuses. Unions usually do not allow companies to reward individual performance. They prefer seniority systems and job classifications that apply to all workers. Such group compensation divorces pay from performance. Most union members get paid a fixed rate, no matter how hard they work. Their employer cannot legally pay them more. It is one thing to argue for unions setting a pay floor. But why should unions set a maximum wage? If a worker can earn a raise through hard work, then he should get to keep it. Fortunately, Representative Todd Rokita (R–IN) has introduced legislation removing this pay ceiling. The Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act would allow union members to earn performance pay. Unions could not object to individual raises and bonuses, and paying more than the union rate would no longer be an unfair labor practice. The bill would prevent businesses from selectively giving raises to anti-union employees, but it would allow them to reward hard work. (read article)

Wisconsin unions bet on underdog

By Josh Eidelson, April 19, 2012, Salon

Having led the movement to recall Scott Walker, labor is now throwing its weight behind the Dem who lags in polls. After Wisconsinites submitted signatures to recall their union-busting governor, labor leaders pledged not to settle for just “Anybody But Walker.” Last week, the state AFL-CIO made good on that promise. As a string of current and former elected Democrats lined up behind Milwaukee Mayor and Democratic primary front-runner Tom Barrett, the labor federation followed many of its major unions in endorsing former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk. Many labor leaders say Falk is more likely to beat Walker in the recall and reverse his policies once in office. But to get the chance, she’ll have to overcome Barrett’s 14-point polling lead before the May 8 primary. Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews says the difference between Falk’s and Barrett’s plans for how to restore workers’ collective bargaining is “the key issue” in the primary. (read article)

Federal Court Temporarily Blocks NLRB’s Union Posters Rule

By Andrew Chow, April 18, 2012, Reuters

A federal court issued a temporary injunction Tuesday, blocking the National Labor Relations Board’s new rule to require posters about union activity in the workplace. The rule was set to take effect nationwide on April 30, the Associated Press reports. But legal questions about whether the NLRB has the power to require the union posters must be answered first, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in issuing the injunction. The NLRB rule would require most private employers to display an 11-by-17-inch poster in a prominent place, explaining employees’ rights to join a union and take part in collective bargaining, according to the Board. The NLRB’s union posters would also state that union officials can’t coerce workers into joining a union, and that workers have a right to not join a union. The NLRB posters are similar to other government agency-issued posters that describe anti-discrimination laws and workplace safety rules, according to the AP. The key difference: Federal laws specifically require the anti-discrimination and workplace-safety posters be displayed in workplaces. By contrast, the NLRB’s union poster is not required by law, according to a federal judge in South Carolina. That judge ruled Friday that the NLRB exceeded its authority in approving the union poster requirement, the AP reports. (read article)

Fed courts rule against NLRB proposal; vote on ‘ambush’ bill next

By Jessica M. Karmasek, April 17, 2012, LegalNewsline.com

A federal judge last week struck down a National Labor Relations Board proposal requiring all employers, including those in the private sector, to post a notice of employee rights. For more than 75 years, the NLRB did not require employers to post a general notice of employee rights in the workplace. However, in December 2010, the board changed course and issued a proposed rule that all employers subject to the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, must post notices informing employees of their rights — including their rights to form or join a union — under the act. The board published its final rule in August 2011. In September 2011, pro-business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sued the NLRB. Legal Newsline is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, which is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber. The proposal was set to take effect April 30. However, Judge David C. Norton, of the U.S. District Court of the District of South Carolina, ruled Friday that private businesses do not have to post such notices informing workers about their rights to form or join a union. (read article)

Hostess Brands battles labor unions in bankruptcy court

By Candice Choi, April 17, 2012, Christian Science Monitor

Hostess Brands, which makes Twinkies, is asking a federal bankruptcy court to throw out union contracts for its workers, a move that would prompt union members to strike. Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. A union official representing workers at Hostess Brands Inc. said Monday that he isn’t optimistic the two sides will come to an agreement over workers’ contracts before the dispute lands in bankruptcy court. Hostess has said it will ask the court this week to toss out its existing union contracts if its workers don’t accept cost-cutting proposals in its “final” offer. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January, citing rising competition and pension and medical costs. Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, has 19,000 employees. All but 3,100 are unionized, meaning the company has higher pension and medical benefit costs than competitors with non-union workforces. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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