Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

California politics: Union-backed Democrats face off against anti-union Democrats

By Sharon Bernstein, June 3, 2014, Reuters

Californians head to the polls on Tuesday for a primary election likely to highlight divisions in the state’s dominant Democratic party, as incumbent labor-backed candidates fight reformers positioning themselves to take on unions in several races. The election to choose candidates for governor, secretary of state and numerous legislative and congressional offices could be the kickoff to a long and politically bloody election season for Democrats, as the state’s open primary system allows the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to square off against each other in November, and in many cases both will be Democrats. “It’s going to be like scorpions in a bottle,” said political analyst David Mark, editor of the Palo Alto based website Politix. In Los Angeles, 18 candidates were certified to run for the seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Henry Waxman, including former City Council member and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, State Senator Ted Lieu and New Age inspirational author Marianne Williamson. The two who receive the most votes Tuesday will then square off in a contest expected to get ugly quickly, Mark said. Several races involve candidates who have been allied with the state’s powerful labor unions running against fellow Democrats who are not. (read article)

Labor Targets California Education Reformer

By Allysis Finley, June 3, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Unions have been mostly quiescent this primary season in California due to the lack of contentious ballot measures and competitive statewide races. One exception is Tuesday’s primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, where the California Teacher Association has spent $4 million to fend off a challenge by school-reform Democrat Marshall Tuck. Unlike other primary contests, the putatively “non-partisan” superintendent’s race will be an open-and-shut-case if any candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Otherwise, the top-two finishers will go to a November runoff. This significantly ratchets up the stakes of Tuesday’s primary. Democratic incumbent Tom Torlakson has cozied up to the union by rejecting White House incentives to link teachers evaluations with student performance. Mr. Tuck, on the other hand, ranks among their top enemies. He served as president of the flourishing Green Dot charter network in Los Angeles (which is unionized) and supports eliminating seniority-based firing and tenure. Backing him are education reformers and philanthropists such as Eli Broad and Bill Bloomfield. (read article)

Muni “Sickout” Day 2: Union Officially Rejects Labor Deal

By Erin Sherbert, June 3, 2014, San Francisco Weekly

As expected, the alleged Muni “sickout” is continuing today, where some 200 workers have called in “sick” causing massive citywide transit delays for the second day.

And as expected, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A overwhelmingly rejected the labor contract before them. A vote was taken Friday, but a final tally was not complete until this morning. Members voted 1,198 to 47 to reject the labor contract which called for increasing wages by 11.2 percent and in exchange forcing workers to pay 7.5 percent into their pensions — a cost the SFMTA is currently covering, according to Paul Rose, spokesman for Muni. Union reps say that all through the bargaining process, SFMTA managers assured workers that if any pension cost shifts away from the city to workers, those expenses would be offset with appropriate wage increases. After doing their own math, the union concluded that the plan before them Friday would result in a cut to their take-home pay. (read article)

The Supreme Court could cut union membership in half

By Matthew Yglesias, June 3, 2014, Vox.com

The Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the case of Harris v Quinn, a somewhat obscure tale of a mother’s reimbursement payment for providing her disabled son with home-based health care that’s exploded into a potential political earthquake that potentially holds the fate of public sector labor unions in the balance. Here’s what you need to know to get caught up to speed before the court acts. Nominally the case is about labor union representation of home health care workers in Illinois who work with disabled patients. The plaintiff, Pam Harris, is the mother of Josh Harris who has Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, a severe illness that leaves him in need of constant care. Illinois provides a modest financial benefit for people in need to hire home-based health care on a contract basis. Like many recipients of disability benefits in Illinois, Harris has contracted with a family member — in this case his mother, Pam — to be his caregiver. Pam Harris is also, like everyone else working on a home health care benefit in Illinois, represented for collective bargaining purposes by the SEIU, which deducts either members’ dues or a representation fee from the paychecks of the workers it represents. Harris is asking the Supreme Court to rule that it’s unconstitutional for Illinois to make her pay the union representation fee. But standing behind Harris is the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, backed by the usual array of conservative moneybags types, including the Bradleys, the Waltons, and Charles Koch. (read article)

Right to Work in Michigan – One Year Later

By Greg Kellogg, June 3, 2014, Michigan Policy Network

On December 11, 2012, Michigan became the 24th state to pass “right-to-work” legislation making it illegal for employers to collect union dues as a condition of employment. In the absence of right-to-work, employees in unionized workplaces a free to eschew union membership but cannot “opt out” of paying union dues. Thus, all employees are covered by their union’s contracts and receive the same benefits regardless of membership status. The same universal coverage applies to employees who choose not to pay dues under right-to-work, making them “free riders” who benefit from the union’s representation without supporting it financially. Critics of right-to-work laws argue that the free rider problem is not only unfair to those employees who pay for union benefits but also weakens the union’s power relative to management, undermining its ability to negotiate for wages and benefits. Moreover, any drop off in financial support reduces the union’s capacity to fund pro-labor political activities. (read article)

Deputy Prosecutors Continue Unionization Battle While Their Bosses Push Back

By Mark Davis, June 3, 2014, Vermont Independent Voice

The two-year quest by deputy state prosecutors to join a labor union is growing more contentious. After failing to win recognition as state employees in recent years, deputies from eight counties filed petitions with the Vermont Labor Relations Board asking to be recognized as county employees — as some state officials have long suggested they are. But now the Department of State’s Attorneys is opposing that request. The state’s attorneys have retained a private lawyer to argue that their deputies aren’t state or county employees, but rather at-will workers with no right to form a union. “It’s amazing, the firestorm we are seeing right now,” said Justin St. James, staff attorney for the Vermont State Employees Association, which is trying to organize the deputies. “There’s a lot more anger now. They were told they weren’t state employees, they were county employees. And now, all-out opposition to being county employees.” (read article)

Unions, lawmakers ask for minimum wage raise

By Gideon Bradshaw, June 3, 2014, Pennsylvania Live

The sign told the story: “Working Full Time! Living in Poverty!” Chanting activists in matching shirts brought their signs to the Capitol Tuesday to set the tone for union leader Kathy Jellison. “We’ve got Pennsylvanians who work 40 hours a week are eligible for public assistance,” Jellison said. “We’ve got working families choosing between paying the light bill or buying groceries.” Jellison, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 668, and other union organizers joined Democratic lawmakers and leaders of religious groups to ask state officials to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from its current $7.25 — the same as the federal minimum — to $10.10 an hour. Their their calls came amid a nationwide effort by Democrats and labor activists, who have made the issue a priority this year. However, in Pennsylvania, the Republican dominance of the legislature makes it unlikely the activists will see an across the board increase in minimum wage this year. Seven states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wage so far this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, bringing the total number of states with wages above the federal minimum to 22. (read article)

Unions slam Obama EPA rule

By Lachlan Markay, June 3, 2014, Fox News

Labor unions criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on carbon emissions from power plants on Monday, highlighting growing tensions between the environmentalist and working class arms of the Democratic Party. Those tensions have come to the forefront as leading Democrats embrace environmentalist policies backed by billionaire political donors that are generally opposed by members of the party’s rank and file base. Some labor unions, groups generally considered loyally Democratic, rebelled on Monday after the EPA released its new regulations, which studies have suggested will carry hefty economic costs. United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) president Cecil Roberts blasted the proposal, saying it would leave tens of thousands of the union’s members unemployed. “The proposed rule … will lead to long-term and irreversible job losses for thousands of coal miners, electrical workers, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others without achieving any significant reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” Roberts said in a statement. (read article)

Supreme Court could deliver crippling blow to Big Labor

By Sean Higgins, June 2, 2014, Washington Examiner

In the first year since the Wolverine State adopted a right-to-work law in 2013, SEIU Healthcare Michigan lost a staggering 80 percent of its members. The case illustrates a dirty secret of the modern labor movement: A lot of its rank and file members don’t want to be in a union in the first place and will leave if given the chance. What right to work did in Michigan, the Supreme Court might soon do nationally: In the case of Harris v. Quinn, the justices must decide if Illinois state government can force its own public sector employees to participate in a union. If the ruling is “no,” that could effectively extend right-to-work laws to all public sector employees. The possibility has labor law experts closely watching the case. About half of all union members nationally – more than 7 million people – work in the public sector. Many, possibly a majority, are in workplaces that were unionized before they were hired, so they never had a chance to decide for themselves. Many may leave, hurting Big Labor’s already-sliding membership numbers. The court could announce the ruling as early as Monday. (read article)

Are Unions the Big Problem at Veterans Affairs?

By Charles S. Clark, June 2, 2014, Government Executive

Of all possible causes of the Veterans Affairs Department’s front-page woes — corrupt managers, funding shortfalls, an exploding population of veterans, a poor communications culture – there is one that has drawn perhaps the least attention. Too many highly paid VA employees spend their time on union organizing, some say. On May 29, Kimberley Strassel devoted her regular column in The Wall Street Journal to an essay titled “Big Labor’s VA Choke Hold: How Democrats put their union allies before the well-being of veterans.” Stating that two-thirds of the VA workforce is unionized, she said, “That’s a whopping 200,000 union members, represented by the likes of the American Federation of Government Employees and the Service Employees International Union. And this is government-run health care — something unions know a lot about from organizing health workers in the private sector.” (read article)

Seattle Minimum Wage Hike Already Hurting Businesses

By Alex Bolt, June 2, 2014, OpenMarket.org

What did they think would happen? Seattle is likely to lift its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The move, supported by leftists and labor unions, would make the city’s artificial wage floor the highest in the nation. Proponents gush about the importance of “living wages,” while opponents, citing economic research, warn against the increases in unemployment and harm to small businesses likely to follow. Unfortunately for artificial wage floor boosters, Seattle politicians need only look a few miles away to see the harm a $15 minimum wage can do. SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle, recently decided to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and United Liberty tells us that employers in SeaTac have had to cut employee benefits to stay in business after the dramatic raise. In an interview with a publisher from Northwestern Asian Weekly, one employee describes how her company had to cut her benefits to counter the skyrocketing cost of wages: “I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added. The wage hike is already hurting Seattle businesses, even though it has not been implemented yet. (read article)

Seattle approves $15 minimum wage in ‘historic victory’ for workers

By Chris McGreal, June 2, 2014, The Guardian

Seattle’s new law will be closely watched for the threat of lawsuits by local franchises of fast-food corporations. Seattle’s city council agreed to raise the the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour on Monday, making it the highest in the US. The move will benefit about one quarter of the city’s workforce, particularly women and minorities, as it lifts the lowest paid to more than double the federal minimum wage over the coming years. It is also likely to boost local campaigns across the US, from San Francisco and Chicago to New York state, to raise the incomes of minimum wage workers after Republicans in Congress blocked President Obama’s proposal for a national increase. But Seattle’s law will be closely watched for its economic impact and for threatened legal action by local franchises of fast-food corporations, such as McDonald’s and Subway, some of the largest employers of low-paid workers in the city, seeking to be classified as small businesses in order to win more years to implement the increases. Kshama Sawant, the only socialist city councillor in the US whose election campaign last year became a driving force behind the minimum wage legislation in Seattle, said it fell short of what she wanted to see because of delays in implementation and loopholes, such as a “training wage” for younger people. (read article)

Right-to-work law needed in Illinois

By Scott Reeder, June 2, 2014, Chicago Sun-Times

Thirty-one years ago, I gave a speech to my high school rhetoric class on how Illinois ought to become a right-to-work state. Back when I was in high school, my hometown of Galesburg was an industrial center that churned out lawn mowers, refrigerators, steel buildings and outboard motors. Industrial unions were powerful in Galesburg just as they were in Peoria, Moline and all across Illinois. So my speech calling for ending compulsory unionism was not particularly well received. After all, many of my classmates were the sons and daughters of union workers. To them, I was preaching apostasy. A right-to-work law simply means that employees cannot be forced to join a union or otherwise pay union dues in order to keep their jobs. Today, when I visit my hometown, I feel sadness. Those union factory jobs have evaporated. (read article)

Longshore union blasts law judge’s decision, says it risks lives

By Mike Francis, June 2, 2014, The Oregonian

Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union responded strongly Sunday to a labor judge’s preliminary finding that the union deliberately conducted work slowdowns at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6. They said they would file exceptions to his ruling. “It’s an absurd outcome,” said Troy Mosteller, secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 8. He said the ruling would force union laborers to work in a way that “puts lives at risk or be accused of hard timing” International Container Terminal Services International Oregon, a unit of the Philippine conglomerate that operates Terminal 6. An administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board on Friday found that union members drove trucks and operated cranes unnecessarily slowly, refused to hoist cranes in bypass mode and declined to move two containers at a time on older carts, reducing productivity at a terminal where workers have clashed with ICTSI Oregon. They did so, the judge found, “in order to force … ICTSI and carriers who call at Terminal 6 to cease doing business with the Port.” (read article)

Volkswagen labor official vows to back UAW organizing effort in Tennessee

By Brent Snavely, June 2, 2014, Detroit Free Press

Frank Patta, general secretary of Volkswagen’s Global Group Works Council, vowed to help the UAW continue to organize workers at the automaker’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The UAW lost an election last February by 44 votes after top Tennessee politicians and Republican interest groups helped to sway some workers against the union. The loss stunned the UAW because Volkswagen’s management agreed to be neutral in the election and even seemed to favor UAW representation. German labor union officials had been working hand-in-hand for about four years before Volkswagen agreed to the election. According to an agreement the UAW signed in January, the union is barred from resuming an organizing campaign in Chattanooga for a year. (read article)

Muni drivers calling in sick to protest labor contract terms

By Patti Lee, June 1, 2014, KTVU San Francisco

It started as a rumor, something union members hinted might happen, but now it’s becoming a reality. SFMTA is reporting an uptick in the number of Muni drivers calling in sick ahead of Monday’s commute. That could bode badly for people who rely on bus service, said spokesman Paul Rose. “According to preliminary attendance records there’s an increase of operators calling in sick,” Rose told KTVU.

Rose explained SFMTA had heard rumors that Muni operators might start calling in sick en masse as a way to protest the terms of their labor contract. Union members voted on that contract Friday and Rose says the transit authority has been monitoring the “gossip” all weekend. Late Sunday afternoon, as more drivers than usual started calling in sick, SFMTA put its contingency in place, which includes calling in back-up drivers. Rose says the agency has experience dealing with a shortage of drivers. It’s the agency’s everyday reality. (read article)

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

By Vince Calio, May 30, 2014, 24/7 Wall St.

The percentage of American workers in unions remained effectively unchanged last year. This marks a departure from the nation’s long-term trend. In the past 30 years, union membership has dropped from 20.1% of the workforce in 1983 to 11.2% last year. Despite this long running decline, some states remain union strongholds, while others have almost no union presence. In New York, Alaska and Hawaii, more than 22% of workers were union members last year. Conversely, in five states, less than 4% of all employees were union members. A number of factors help determine whether unions have a significant or negligible presence in a state, including industry composition, labor laws and political atmosphere. Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and calculations by Unionstats.com, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the highest and lowest shares of workers who are union members. (read article)

Union spent at least $2 million last year on Fight for $15 movement

By Alejandra Cancino, May 29, 2014, Chicago Tribune

The Service Employees International Union spent at least $2 million last year supporting the effort to organize low-wage fast-food workers and staging strikes in Chicago, according to filings with the Labor Department. It was known that the SEIU has been the main backer of Chicago’s Fight for 15 campaign. But the filings disclose the financial and personnel ties between the SEIU and the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, itself a union. Members of the Workers Organizing Committee don’t pay dues but are asked to attend meetings and participate in events. The Workers Organizing Committee’s goal is to unionize low wage workers, but most of them are employed by franchisees, which makes organizing difficult if not “virtually impossible,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor specializing in labor issues at the University of California at Berkeley. The reason: the union would have to launch a campaign at each location and gain the support of the majority of workers employed at those locations. Shaiken said SEIU’s spending in the campaign seems to be “modest,” given the scale of the efforts. “SEIU is a large union with considerable resources,” Shaiken said. Last year, SEIU reported an income of about $314 million. It has nearly 2 million dues paying members. (read article)

Big Labor’s Veterans Administration Choke Hold

By Kimberley Strassel, May 29, 2014, Wall Street Journal

We know with certainty that there is at least one person the Department of Veterans Affairs is serving well. That would be the president of local lodge 1798 of the National Federation of Federal Employees. The Federal Labor Relations Authority, the agency that mediates federal labor disputes, earlier this month ruled in favor of this union president, in a dispute over whether she need bother to show up at her workplace—the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. According to FLRA documents, this particular VA employee is 100% “official time”—D.C. parlance for federal employees who work every hour of every work day for their union, at the taxpayer’s expense. In April 2012, this, ahem, VA “employee” broke her ankle and declared that she now wanted to do her nonwork for the VA entirely from the comfort of her home. Veterans Affairs attempted a compromise: Perhaps she could, pretty please, come in two days a week? She refused, and complained to the FLRA that the VA was interfering with her right to act as a union official. The VA failed to respond to the complaint in the required time (perhaps too busy caring for actual veterans) and so the union boss summarily won her case. The VA battle is only just starting, but any real reform inevitably ends with a fight over organized labor. Think of it as the federal version of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states where elected officials have attempted to rein in the public-sector unions that have hijacked government agencies for their own purpose. Fixing the VA requires first breaking labor’s grip, and the unions are already girding for that fight. (read article)

Cab drivers seek higher paying jobs with innovative on-demand car services

By Matthew Hurtt, May 29, 2014, UnitedLiberty.org

Taxi unions are doing everything in their power to keep on-demand private driver services from entering the market. Cab drivers in Boston organized a protest of Uber last week in an attempt to intimidate the business, and a taxi cab union in Washington filed suit against the company several weeks ago. They’re not alone, though. Municipal governments are looking for ways to restrict the popular services from operating within their boundaries. The issue at hand is simple: well-connected organizations (taxi unions) collude with their friends in government to keep prices high and service quality low for themselves, while attempting to regulate out any and all innovative competition. It’s a win-win for unions and government, and consumers ultimately lose in the end. But now, there’s evidence the crony collusion actually hurts cab drivers, as well. The Washington Post’s Matt McFarland compared average wages for cab drivers to averages wages for UberX drivers, and the results are shocking. (read article)

The labor union that runs the media

By Cliff Kincaid, May 27, 2014, RenewAmerica.com

One of the major speakers at last week’s “New Populism” conference was Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union which represents on-line writers, reporters, editorial assistants, editorial artists, and correspondents at major news organizations. Cohen gave his speech after returning from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) conference, where Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, was announced as winner of the title of “the world’s worst boss” for trying to keep prices low for consumers and opposing union control of his workplace. Bezos, the new owner of The Washington Post, will have to negotiate with The Newspaper Guild, which merged with the CWA in 1995 and represents nearly 900 editorial and newsroom workers at the Post. “Amazon has successfully fended off U.S. labor unions since its founding in 1994,” notes Time magazine. Bezos has been described as a libertarian, but the Post was known as a liberal Democrat newspaper under its previous owners, the Grahams. It will be interesting to see if he cuts this union down to size. The survival of the paper, with declining revenue and readers, may depend on it. As the “populism” conference indicates, the progressives – once called liberals – are now calling themselves something else, in order to fool the electorate. Don’t look for the media to blow the whistle on themselves. Whatever they call themselves, they are in control of much of the news and editorial content of major news media organizations. We look forward to the Post, under its new owner, telling the truth about how the CWA functions as a major component of the progressive movement, and how liberal bias is killing the appeal of the so-called mainstream media. (read article)

Labor Unions Try to Shift Increasing Obamacare Costs to Employers

Katie Pavlich, May 27, 2014, Townhall

For years now labor unions have been repeatedly asking the White House and Congress to fix major aspects of Obamacare as the legislation continues to kill off the American 40-hour work week. Due to new regulations, companies continue to cut worker hours in order to avoid reaching the 50 full-time employee Obamacare threshold requiring a business to provide health insurance through government exchanges. Last summer major labor leaders Jimmy Hoffa, President of the TEAMSTERS, UFCW President Joseph Hansen and UNITE-HERE President D. Taylor sent the White House a scathing letter about the dire situation Obamacare has forced onto workers and slamming President Obama for failed promises about keeping healthcare plans. Now nearly one year later, union leaders are wrestling with employers about who should pay for extra Obamacare costs. (read article)

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