Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Jerry Brown Gets His Budget, Teachers Unions Get a Wake-Up Call

By William Bradley, June 17, 2014, Huffington Post

Governor Jerry Brown got another on-time California state budget with nearly everything he wanted, a regular occurrence since he exercised a first-in-history budget veto three years ago, when the state legislature voted on Sunday. And a few days before that, the state’s powerful teachers unions got a jarring wake-up call when a Los Angeles judge threw out the state laws governing teacher tenure, discipline, and termination, laws which have made it extraordinarily difficult to fire any public school teacher. Let’s talk about the teachers unions first. And let’s start with the good stuff, at least from a Democratic standpoint. These unions of well-educated knowledge workers, whose members perform, frequently rather valorously, one of society’s most important functions, are key lynchpins of the Democratic Party coalition. They contribute mightily to its success, as well as to the richness of its political culture, backing, mostly out of conviction, a host of progressive ideas. (read article)

Downtown L.A. streets blocked for union demonstration at DWP building

By Emily Alpert Reyes, June 17, 2014, Los Angeles Times

ndreds of union workers flooded a section of downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday to protest what they characterized as a threat by city leaders to withhold an upcoming payment to two nonprofit training organizations affiliated with the Department of Water and Power. City leaders have been trying for months to gain access to the financial records of the nonprofit trusts, but union leaders have resisted. Gathered in front of the DWP building across from the Music Center were members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents municipal utility workers, and the larger County Federation of Labor. Unions representing steel workers, hotel employees, stagehands, letter carriers and other non-DWP employees joined in the show of force. Labor leaders contend that the city is threatening to halt a July payment to the nonprofits. If that happens, they say the city would break collective bargaining agreements that call for paying “critical training and safety programs.” “What we want to communicate is, ‘Don’t fly in the face of a negotiated agreement,'” Maria Elena Durazo, the federation’s executive secretary-treasurer, said as workers nearby toted signs reading “A Deal Is a Deal.” Mayor Eric Garcetti and other top city leaders have pressed the union for more transparency in explaining how the nonprofits spent some of the ratepayer money they have received in recent years. (read article)

Obama: US must ‘strengthen unions’

By Justin Sink, June 17, 2014, The Hill

President Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. “should do everything we can to strengthen unions in this country” after decades of waning influence. During a manufacturing town hall in Pittsburgh, Obama credited labor unions for helping to build the middle class. “Weekends and overtime and benefits — things that now, non-union workers take for granted — well, you got those because unions were out there fighting for you for a very long time,” Obama said. The president acknowledged that “unions have been back on their heels over the last several decades.” He said globalization, technology and the declining costs of transportation gave them “less leverage” and led to fewer unionized private sector jobs. Obama said union laborers paid for their increased wages and benefits with “skills, reliability, productivity.” But he also encouraged labor “to be flexible” and “recognize that if you’re working for a company, that that company has to have a bottom line.” (read article)

Carpenters, Teamsters join forces to protest at Pa. Convention Center

Francis Hilario, June 17, 2014, Philadelphia Business Journal

In what looks to be another attempt to gain readmission into the Pa. Convention Center after being shut out of work for not signing a new customer satisfaction agreement, the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 107 will join forces Wednesday morning to protest their joint lockout. The protest, taking place at 10 a.m. at 12th and Arch streets in the entrance to the Convention Center, will focus “on the ‘unfair lockout’ and a call for ‘fairness’ by the Carpenters and Teamsters to the PCC to ‘end the lockout now,’” according to a statement released by the Carpenters. John McNichol, president and CEO of the Convention Center, recently spoke at an industry gathering event to given update on the center’s current standing with its six unions, including the two that didn’t sign the new work rules by the 11:59 p.m., May 5 deadline. (read article)

Panel of union critics say de Blasio lost big on the UFT contract

By Geoff Decker and Mary Ellen McIntire, June 16, 2014, Chalkbeat

What the city and the United Federation of Teachers have hailed as a historically collaborative agreement adds up to little more than giveaways for the teachers union, critics argued at a panel event on Monday morning.

As a result, panelists said, a new contract for teachers reflects plenty of missed opportunities for the de Blasio administration. “It’s likely to have no net benefit for kids at all,” said Dan Weisberg, the city’s former education labor chief who now regularly pans the city as vice president at TNTP, an education consulting and research organization. The criticism is unsurprising, since the event featured pundits who often spar with the UFT over how to hire, fire and pay public school teachers. But it is a reminder that the contract will continue to be closely scrutinized, especially as its most ambitious initiatives begin to transition into reality this summer and fall. The discussion came nearly two weeks after UFT members approved the contract by a three-to-one margin. And the contract has been praised for its emphasis on professional development and teacher retention, including from most of the city’s elected officials and State Education Commissioner John King. (read article)

Malloy, Foley make promises to Connecticut unions

By Susan Haigh, June 16, 2014, Associated Press

While Republican Tom Foley attempted to assure Connecticut’s largest labor organization Monday that he doesn’t want to roll back collective bargaining rights, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy accused Foley, his chief GOP rival, of “going after labor” and pitched himself as the true friend to unions. Foley, the endorsed Republican Party candidate for governor, has been criticized for saying Connecticut needs a “Wisconsin moment.” At the opening day of the Connecticut AFL-CIO political convention in New Haven, Foley attempted to clarify that he didn’t mean limiting collective bargaining rights, as was done in Wisconsin. Rather, Foley said, he meant changing the balance of power in Hartford, where the legislative and executive branches are controlled by Democrats — an explanation that prompted some of the nearly 300 delegates to snicker. (read article)

Unions push state legislatures for labor history courses

Associated Press, June 16, 2014, Fox News

Unions and their allies are trying to flex their muscle in state legislatures, pushing for labor history to be included in social studies curriculum and hoping a new generation of high school students will one day be well-educated union members. But the results are instead shaping up as a reminder of the tough political landscape faced by organized labor. In six states, opponents have pushed back against demands that teachers offer lessons about the first craft unions in the 19th century, the large-scale organizing drives that powered the growth of industrial unions in the 1930s, the rise of organized labor as a political machine and other highlights of America’s union movement. California and Delaware are the only states with laws that encourage schools to teach labor history. Kevin Dayton, a policy consultant to non-union construction companies in California, said the legislation was pushed by unions to boost their ranks. “They believe that one of the reasons young people are not organizing in unions is because they’re not taught in schools the benefits of being in a collective workforce,” he said. (read article)

Michigan teachers union attacks credit rating of member seeking to leave

By Sean Higgins, June 16, 2014, Washington Examiner

Kindergarten teacher Kimberle Byrd thought that she was no longer a member of the Michigan Education Association. After all, the state had adopted a right-to-work law in late 2012, meaning workers couldn’t be forced to join a union even if their workplace was organized. Since she hadn’t re-upped her MEA membership after that, she assumed she was out. So it was a real shock to her when she received a letter in May from a debt collection agency. It said she owed MEA $394.20 in delinquent dues. She was warned to either pay or legally dispute the debt. Otherwise, her credit rating was at stake. Only then did she learn that MEA requires all members to go through an opt-out process regardless of the right-to-work law. If they don’t, the union automatically deems them to have renewed their membership. In addition, the union only allows members to opt out during the month of August — which just happen to be when most teachers are on vacation. Since Byrd didn’t file in August, she is officially still a member as far as MEA is concerned. Another year’s dues will cost her around $1,100, she told me. “They wait until September to start telling you how to pay your dues because they don’t want to tell you how to get out. They give you no instructions, no paperwork, no anything prior to September. And at that point, it’s too late,” she told me. She’s still weighing her options, she says. Laingsburg, Mich., teacher Lisa Jelenek was even blunter: “The local and state MEA representatives intentionally plotted to deceive its members.” She’s resigned herself to paying for at least another year despite her objections to the union’s political agenda. Byrd and Jelenek’s stories highlight a big flaw in Michigan’s right-to-work law: Administering it is basically left up to the unions themselves. Big Labor has no incentive to let workers opt out, though, since that means fewer members and less dues money for them. So many unions never bother to inform their members of their rights and make it cumbersome and difficult for those who do try to invoke them. (read article)

Two Eastern Kentucky labor unions endorse McConnell

June 16, 2014, WKYT Kentucky

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell says two eastern Kentucky labor unions have endorsed him for re-election. McConnell’s campaign announced Monday that officials with the American Federation of Government Employees correction officer locals in Clay and McCreary counties endorsed him because of his history of constituent service. First Vice President of the Clay County local Stephen Creech said in a news release McConnell has always supported them in their dangerous profession. And Local 614 Vice President Sam Kitchen said in a news release McConnell has taken a personal interest in their concerns. McConnell has pushed for national right-to-work legislation, which many labor unions oppose. McConnell’s Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has been endorsed by the Kentucky chapter of the AFL-CIO and has promised to vote against right-to-work legislation. (read article)

Houston offers firefighters raises for scheduling concessions

June 15, 2014, Houston Chronicle

Mayor Annise Parker and firefighters union president Bryan Sky-Eagle say the deal announced at City Hall on Tuesday, is not perfect but is workable. Mayor Annise Parker and firefighters union president Bryan Sky-Eagle say the deal announced at City Hall on Tuesday, is not perfect but is workable. Houston firefighters would give up some of their ability to schedule time off in return for a pay hike under a tentative new labor contract that city officials hope will enable them to rein in overtime costs that threatened to bust the fire department’s budget this year. The City Council and the membership of Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341 must ratify the agreement for it to take effect as planned on July 1. The agreement, which includes a 4 percent raise, comes on the heels of a budget crisis that has seen the department, on some days, pull ambulances and fire trucks from the streets in recent months to control a spike in overtime costs. The higher overtime was driven in large part by a staffing shortage and what Fire Chief Terry Garrison’s command staff said were weaknesses in the prior union contract that limited their control over firefighters’ schedules. That crisis was addressed in March with a temporary contract in which firefighters agreed to trade some freedom to take time off for a 2 percent raise and a $975 lump-sum payment. That deal expires June 30. The current proposal takes a similar approach. Firefighters would get the 4 percent raise beginning Jan. 1, 2015, along with new terms encouraging them not to miss work, which often creates the need for shifts to be filled on short notice by replacements on overtime pay. (read article)

Even the labor unions are souring on Obamacare

By Sally C. Pipes, June 14, 2014, Insurance News Net

President Obama’s health reform law may have claimed a new victim — organized labor. Thanks to Obamacare, labor unions are facing higher health insurance costs — as well as steeper out-of-pocket bills and wage cuts. Consequently, these erstwhile allies of the president appear to be signing on with the majority of Americans who oppose his signature law. Obamacare’s many coverage mandates and taxes are to blame for this upturn in the cost of insurance. Overall, union officials project that Obamacare will increase their members’ health coverage costs by 5 to 12.5 percent. The requirement that health plans cover enrollees’ children until they turn 26 is one reason why. This provision alone has increased employer coverage expenses by 1 to 3 percent. Obamacare also drives up union health expenses with new taxes. One levy on multi-employer plans, which are jointly run by unions and private businesses, extracts $63 per beneficiary this year — and $44 next year. (read article)

The fall of teachers unions

By Stephanie Simon, June 13, 2014, Politico

As the two big national teachers unions prepare for their conventions this summer, they are struggling to navigate one of the most tumultuous moments in their history. Long among the most powerful forces in American politics, the unions are contending with falling revenue and declining membership, damaging court cases, the defection of once-loyal Democratic allies — and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign portraying them as greedy and selfish. They took a big hit Tuesday when a California judge struck down five laws they had championed to protect teachers’ jobs. The Supreme Court could deliver more bad news as early as next week, in a case that could knock a huge hole in union budgets. On top of all that, several well-funded advocacy groups out to curb union influence are launching new efforts to mobilize parents to the cause. Responding to all these challenges has proved difficult, analysts say, because both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are divided internally. There’s a faction urging conciliation and compromise. Another faction pushes confrontation. There’s even a militant splinter group, the Badass Teachers Association. (read article)

Labor Talks with San Francisco Muni Union at Impasse

By Chris Roberts, June 13, 2014, NBC Bay Area

The buses are still running, but the talks have stopped. Discussions between Muni officials and their bus and train operators are at a standstill in San Francisco, according to reports. Muni’s union transit operators need a new contract to replace the current deal about to expire, according to KQED. However, the terms offered by Muni officials aren’t acceptable to the union, which rejected it with a vote — but no new offer is forthcoming. This is not the first impasse: the rejected contract offer came after a mediator came up with a plan to give operators an 8 percent raise in exchange for a 7.5 percent pension contribution, according to the report. Agency officials told media that the union had dug in and was “refusing” to participate in mediation talks. Last week’s three-day “sickout” that tangled Muni service was called in response to the stall in contract talks. (read article)

Big Labor Gave Millions to Worker Centers in 2013

By Bill McMorris, June 13, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

Unions have pumped nearly $35 million into front groups that have skirted federal labor laws and agitated for higher pay and other Big Labor priorities in 2013, according to a new analysis. The Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI), a project of the Chamber of Commerce, found that prominent labor unions such as the SEIU and AFL-CIO have spent millions on non-profit worker centers, which have helped organize strikes and protests at various businesses over the past year. The most famous of these groups is the Fast Food Workers Committee, which has overseen protests for pay hikes at McDonalds and other well-known chain restaurants across the country. The Fast Food Workers Committee received more than $1.8 million from the SEIU in 2013, according to the analysis. “This is not some organic, localized uprising of restaurant workers or some altruistic campaign for higher wages. This is a systematic campaign to organize fast food workers,” said WFI’s Glenn Spencer. “You don’t invest millions every year in this type of operation without getting something in return.” (read article)

Big Labor Flexes Its Muscles Against… Charitable Giving In NYC?

By Katie Packer Gage, June 13, 2014, Daily Caller

When New York City resident Deborah Moses got out of prison, she needed help. Deborah came from a good family and had held a good job as a law firm’s receptionist before she was charged with manslaughter after defending herself in a domestic violence incident. But when she got out of prison, eager to get her life back together, she came back to nothing – no job and no place to live. So Deborah turned to the Back to Work Program in the Bronx, which helped her get back on her feet. She was able to find not only a job, but a home of her own as well. “Being … at the bottom and building myself back up once again,” Deborah said in a promotional video for the program, “my life has changed tremendously.” If big labor and their allies on the New York City Council had their way, New Yorkers like Deborah Moses might not be so fortunate. The Back to Work program that helped Deborah is run by the Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, one of several New York City charities which have received donations from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. All in all, Wal-Mart donated some $3 million to charitable organizations in the city last year. Last week, Crain’s New York Business reported that a union front group, the Big Labor muscle behind it and the politicians in their back pockets are calling on Wal-Mart to cease its charitable activity and, in the words of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, “stay out of New York City.” (read article)

Target Bends to Labor, Tells Contractors to Meet With Unions

By Josh Eidelson June 12, 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek

Target is introducing a potentially precedent-setting policy imposing new rules on companies it hires to clean its stores in the Twin Cities, the retail giant’s hometown. It’s a step forward for union-backed efforts to force major corporations to raise standards for workers they don’t directly employ. According to a Target (TGT) memo that the labor group Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha provided to Businessweek, Target’s Twin Cities janitorial vendors will be required not only to comply with federal and Minnesota labor laws but also to give workers the option of at least one day off each week; establish safety committees and let employees choose half the members; and invite unions to meet at least once a year with management. Most significantly, the document instructs each vendor—unless released from the obligation at Target’s discretion—to reach deals with labor groups that want to represent their workers. (read article)

Attacks on Organized Labor

By David Macaray, June 11th, 2014, Dissident Voice

The on-going assault on America’s labor unions comes in three basic forms: accusing unions of doing economic damage, accusing unions of being corrupt, and blaming public sector unions for gouging American taxpayers by forcing us to underwrite exorbitant pensions. While the first two are almost exclusively the product of Karl Rove-like smear tactics, the third, though wildly exaggerated, has some basis in fact. So let’s do the third one first. Although it’s true that we taxpayers do, in fact, pay for the wages and benefits of public sector workers, this was never seen as a “problem” until the number of private sector workers who had had their wages and benefits hollowed-out by their employers reached a critical mass. Before then, no one really thought or cared much about it. (read article)

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