Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Detroit’s Retirees Vote to Lower Pensions, in Support of Bankruptcy Plan

By Monica Davey, July 22, 2014, New York Times

Coming to terms with what came to be seen as inevitable, this city’s public-sector retirees have voted to lower their expected pension benefits, a crucial step in the city’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy before the end of the year. The result, announced late Monday night, came after two months of court-required voting. The balloting revealed a belief by current workers and retirees that the city’s offer — as much as 4.5 percent cuts to some pensions and diminished future cost-of-living increases — would be even worse if this one was rejected. It also reflected a series of deals struck over months with the leaders of unions, retiree groups and pension funds who had, in some cases reluctantly, called on their members to vote yes to cutting their own pensions. Some retirees said they had voted yes because they felt there was no good alternative. The vote was tense and personal. It created divisions among the 32,000 retirees and workers eligible to vote, some of whom objected to the plan, asserting that the State Constitution protected pensions from any reductions. But approval was tied to an essential part of the city’s strategy, which is securing a pledged infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from foundations and the State of Michigan. (read article)

Detroit pensioners back grand bargain in bankruptcy vote, creditors object

By Nathan Bomey and Matt Helms, July 22, 2014, Detroit Free Press

Detroit retirees voted to accept pension cuts and allow the Detroit Institute of Arts to spin off as an independent institution, reflecting a critical endorsement of the city’s restructuring blueprint to resolve the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. With all votes counted, the two separate classes of pensioners — civilians and police and fire — voted “yes” to back the grand bargain, giving the city significant momentum in its fight against holdout financial creditors. “The voting shows strong support for the city’s plan to adjust its debts and for the investment necessary to provide essential services and put Detroit on secure financial footing,” Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said in a statement. “I want to thank city retirees and active employees who voted forcasting aside the rhetoric and making an informed positive decision about their future and the future of the City of Detroit.” (read article)

Los Angeles County workers union endorses Sheila Kuehl in supervisor’s race

By Catherine Saillant, July 22, 2014, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the region’s largest union voice, gave its official “enthusiastic” endorsement of former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl in her campaign for Los Angeles County supervisor. Rank-and-file members representing a range of organized workers across the county — including teachers, lifeguards, nurses, bus drivers and grocery and hotel workers — voted to give the endorsement, the union said in a prepared statement. “Sheila clearly brings the strongest level of experience and commitment to solving the most pressing issues facing L.A. County’s working families,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the federation. The group noted that Kuehl served in the state Assembly and Senate for 14 years, and has been an educator and civil rights activist for more than two decades. (read article)

Seeking Re-Election, Emanuel Gets More Love From Labor Unions

By Erin Carlson, July 21, 2014, NBC Chicago

Not every Chicago labor union is coalescing behind prospective mayoral candidate Karen Lewis. When Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to herald the ground-breaking of Wolf Point West Tower — a 48-story, $160 million development on the Chicago River — Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, and Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, took the stage to sing the mayor’s praises. “Thank you to Rahm Emanuel for all that you’ve done to bring good middle class construction jobs to the city of Chicago,” declared the burly Trades Council boss Villanova on Friday, adding: “And I will let you know, as far as labor’s concerned, Congressman Rahm Emanuel had a 95 percent lifetime labor voting record and we appreciate that. … His vision and leadership has brought projects that were dreams or blueprints lying on some architect’s desk into a reality. He’s made it possible for our members to go to work, pay their bills and support their families.” The lovefest continued as Ramirez praised Emanuel’s attention to less visible, below-ground infrastructure projects that he said contribute as much to the Chicago economy as flashier developments like Wolf Point. Emanuel’s relationship with the building trades has remained intact amid opposition from the Lewis-fronted Chicago Teachers Union and local progressive organizations. (read article)

Obama Honors Union Fronts at White House Ceremony

By Bill McMorris, July 22, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

The White House honored several union front groups on Tuesday for their work supporting President Barack Obama’s agenda. Obama said “ordinary Americans” such as Restaurant Opportunities Center founder Saru Jayaraman and other big labor proponents were “taking action to raise wages for working women and men around the country.” Labor watchdogs say that the president’s selections for the “Champions of Change” honors are labor agitators, rather than people working to create jobs. Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, said that the president’s selection focuses more on union front groups than “ordinary Americans.” “The White House isn’t championing ‘ordinary Americans’—it’s championing the agenda of the country’s major labor unions and the groups they fund,” he said. Obama’s selections are almost entirely involved in unionization campaigns, according to Saltsman. ROC is a driving force behind the SEIU’s push to organize restaurant workers into unions. Jayaraman has supplied academic and political clout for the movement through a restaurant workers coalition and ROC’s efforts. (read article)

Unions, Christie clashing again over pensions

July 22, 2014, July 22, 2014, Houston Chronicle

Gov. Chris Christie’s summertime talks with residents in beach communities starting Tuesday come with a theme that has some of his biggest critics riled up anew. The possible 2016 Republican presidential contender is calling his talks “No Pain, No Gain,” and he’s sounding alarms — as he has for much of the year — that the state’s promised pension and health benefits for public sector workers are becoming unaffordable. He offers the bankruptcy of Detroit as a warning sign for his state. Unions and political advocates for those workers already are ramping up their protests even before Christie offers his proposed solution — something he says he will do this summer after weighing options on requiring workers to contribute more, raising retirement ages and cutting benefits. At an event Tuesday in Long Beach Township, he assured a retired police officer that the only threat his pension faces is if the state’s system goes bankrupt. But he did suggest that employees who have been on the job 10 years or less would have the ability to adapt to a new system. (read article)

Petaluma OK sought for Riverfront project amid union opposition

By Lori A. Carter, July 20, 2014, Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The face of a little baseball player on the verge of tears juxtaposed with scary looking 50-gallon drums strewn about a field is a powerful image, one meant to raise safety concerns about a planned hotel and residential project in Petaluma. But is it accurate? Or is it a union blackmail tactic to force the developer to agree to hire only union labor for its 39-acre plan? On Monday night, the Petaluma City Council will be asked to approve the final environmental impact report and zoning maps for Riverfront, a plan for a 120-room hotel, commercial and office space, 4 acres of parks and trails, 273 housing units including townhouses, live-work units and apartments, and space for a community boathouse. A group led by trade union leaders, including Jack Buckhorn of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Santa Rosa, bought ad space with the sad Little Leaguer’s image asking community members to stop the project. Buckhorn said the group, called Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development, is simply concerned about the safety of construction workers and that of future residents or park users. They say lead and arsenic in the soil needs to be further studied. (read article)

Why Are Teachers Unions So Opposed to Change?

By Antonio Villaraigosa, July 20, 2014, Wall Street Journal

President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” This message has apparently been lost on some people in our teachers unions who used their recent national conventions in Los Angeles and Denver to argue against desperately needed changes in our public schools. At a time when only one in 10 low-income children is earning a four-year college degree and two out of three jobs of the future will require one, change is needed. At a time when more than half of young people attending community college need to retake high-school classes because the education they received was not rigorous enough, change is needed. At a time when American 15-year-olds trail their counterparts in 30 countries in math, 23 in science and 20 in reading, change is needed. For some time now, teachers, elected officials, community, business and nonprofit organizations have advanced bold changes in education. America is raising standards, investing in teachers, rewriting curriculum, bringing technology into the classroom and exploring new learning models like public charter schools that are getting results in higher graduation and college-enrollment rates. (read article)

Rep. Keith Ellison wants to make union organizing a civil right

By Ned Resnikoff, July 19, 2014, Labor Notes

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison plans to unveil legislation that would make unionization into a legally protected civil right, the congressman said on Saturday. The bill, which he plans to formally introduce on July 30, would make it easier for workers to take legal action against companies that violate their right to organize. It is already illegal to fire workers in retaliation for union activities, but enforcing workers’ right to organize can be a tricky process under current law. Currently, wrongfully terminated employees must file an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which will then determine whether to represent the worker in a legal fight against the employer. But workers are not able to directly sue their employers for anti-union retaliation, and the process of bringing forward a successful unfair labor practice claim can take years. Ellison’s legislation would maintain the unfair labor practice system, but also allow workers to individually sue their employers over allegations of illegal retaliation. (read article)

Unions raise environmental objections to Riverfront plan

By Allison Jarrell, July 18, 2014, Petaluma Argus-Courier

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will have to decide if environmental concerns raised by trade unions about the mixed-use project proposed on the Petaluma River are genuine, or a smokescreen used to delay the project following failed labor discussions. Construction policy consultant Kevin Dayton of the Coalition of Fair Employment in Construction said all over the state, he has seen labor unions use this tactic as a punitive measure to stall projects. But union representatives say the issues they’ve raised are sincere. “Almost always, they do this because they’re pressuring the developer for some sort of economic concession — usually a project labor agreement,” Dayton said while addressing the Petaluma Planning Commission during last month’s public comment on the project. “It’s too bad that the union representatives here aren’t being open about that.” It was an accusation that Jack Buckhorn, business manager of the Santa Rosa union chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, vehemently denied. (read article)

Judge Orders LA Union-Controlled Nonprofits to Seat Board Members Appointed by Mayor

By Larry Kaplan, July 18, 2014, Los Angeles Times

A judge has ordered two controversial Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) nonprofits to seat trustees allied with Mayor Eric Garcetti, reports the Los Angeles Times. Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield granted a preliminary injunction requiring the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the city-owned utility’s largest union, to recognize two new trustees appointed by the mayor, although he did not order it to convene meetings of the two nonprofits’ boards. If the meetings happen, according to the Times, the trustees—the mayor’s chief counsel, and a DWP board member (a mayoral appointee)—could then get access to the nonprofits’ detailed financial records. Garcetti and L.A.’s other top elected officials are locked in a months-long battle with IBEW leader Brian D’Arcy over access to documents showing how the Joint Training Institute and Joint Safety Institute have spent more than $40 million in ratepayer money since 2000. The nonprofits, ostensibly set up to augment training and enhance labor-management relations, are jointly run by boards split evenly between union and management appointees. The union trustees have refused to meet with the mayor’s trustees since their appointments early this year. It was unclear if the IBEW would appeal the judge’s ruling. (read article)

Workers Say McDonald’s Fired Them for Union Activity

By Leslie Patton, July 18, 2014, Bloomberg

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating whether employees at McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) restaurants were fired for joining labor unions, a case that threatens to disrupt the decades-old fast-food franchise model. A worker group accused McDonald’s locations in New York of terminating nine employees for their union involvement and organizing activities, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News through a Freedom of Information Act request. Charges were filed by the Fast Food Workers Committee for incidents occurring from November 2012 until April this year. By including the parent company in the case, the workers are targeting the restaurant owners and McDonald’s as a joint employer. If the labor board decides against the company, it could set a precedent for franchised restaurants, putting more responsibility on parent corporations. That could raise costs for restaurant chains, as well as deter entrepreneurs from getting into franchise businesses, said Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association. (read article)

Fresno County supervisors take legal steps to fight labor losses

By Marc Benjamin, July 18, 2014, Fresno Bee

Fresno County supervisors are continuing to battle the state Personnel Employment Relations Board, which has opposed them over negotiations with county prosecutors and Fresno County Jail corrections officers. Fresno County supervisors voted Tuesday to sue the state Personnel Employment Relations Board, which earlier this year ordered the county to return to a “fact-finding” process in negotiations. The employment board said the county improperly imposed 12-hour shifts on 60 Fresno County Jail employees and added exemptions for seniority rules. The county this week also appealed a decision by an employment board judge that said the county improperly imposed pay cuts of 9% or more on county prosecutors in December 2011. An administrative law judge ruled earlier this year that the county didn’t negotiate in good faith. The prosecutors estimate they are owed about $2 million in back pay. The two employment issues come as the county and its largest labor union, Service Employees International Union, are awaiting a ruling from the state employment board over pay cuts imposed in 2011. Union officials estimate 4,500 union members could be owed up to $100 million if the pay cuts are deemed improper. (read article)

Security Guards Hit SEIU Local Union Officials with Federal Unfair Labor Practice Charges

July 18, 2014, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

A local security guard has filed a federal charge against a San Francisco-based union for violating his and his coworkers’ rights. With free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, Universal Protection Service security guard Daniel Ozabuki filed the unfair labor practice charge for himself and seven others against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 24/7. The guards are all employed by Universal Protection Service, which has been party to a monopoly bargaining agreement with Local 24/7 since the company took over for the previous security contractor, Guard Maintenance Services Corporation. Guard Maintenance Services also had a monopoly bargaining agreement with the union. Because California lacks a Right to Work law making union membership and dues payments strictly voluntary, workers can be forced to pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment. However, under Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court precedent, workers who refrain from union membership can also refrain from paying for union politics and members-only event. (read article)

Labor strike: Bus officials, union wrap meeting; 2 more set

July 17, 2014, Bakersfield Now

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez scheduled Thursday’s meeting so the two sides could formally sit down and go over issues regarding a strike that is now in its third day. Teamsters Local Union No. 517 went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, hampering GET’s bus service to thousands of residents in and around Bakersfield. Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Perez said the sides had not met in three days, limiting the possibility of any deal to get worked out. But, after Thursday’s meetings Perez was hopeful things went in the right direction. “The tone this morning was progressively better,” Perez said. “And we made some progress.” Though a deal was not reached, Perez said two more meetings have been scheduled for Friday and Saturday morning. Both will be at 8 a.m. The union is asking for a 4 percent wage increase every year over a three-year deal. The union also has complaints about the number of its members on part-time status at GET. (read article)

Labor unions seek buyers for 3 Atlantic City casinos set to close

July 17, 2014, Associated Press

Now that the shock over the prospect of losing three Atlantic City casinos in the coming months is starting to wear off, many workers and their union are mounting a growing effort to keep them open by attracting new bidders and offering flexibility in contract negotiations with any potential buyer. In recent weeks, the owners of the Showboat and Trump Plaza have said they will close them by September, and Revel could do likewise if a buyer is not found at a bankruptcy court auction next month. That could put nearly 8,000 workers on the streets. But many of them don’t want to lose their jobs without a fight. “The workers aren’t lying down for this,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union. “They haven’t accepted that they are no longer needed as employees in the Atlantic City casino industry.” The union plans to contact potential buyers for the casinos, saying they can be profitably run if bought at a low enough price. It also staged a rally last week in support of the Showboat and has lined up a bipartisan collection of state elected officials behind an effort to keep the casinos open. (read article)

Rahm’s Labor Challenge

By Allysia Finley, July 16, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is seeking a second term, caught a break Tuesday when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ruled out a challenge. Yet by closing the door on a bid, Ms. Preckwinkle created an opening for Mr. Emanuel’s biggest scourge, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. The first-term mayor, who faces re-election next February, has been under heavy fire for an epidemic of violent crime, school closures and budget cuts. A We Ask America poll released Monday showed Ms. Preckwinkle leading the mayor by 24 points in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, while Ms. Lewis topped the incumbent by nine points. The poll was taken just after the Fourth of July weekend, when 71 Chicagoans were shot and 13 died. For months, Ms. Preckwinkle had let speculation about her running fester. Progressive and labor groups, which bristled at Mr. Emanuel’s support for charter schools and pension reforms, urged her on. Although the county executive has criticized the mayor’s education policies, she’s not a dyed-in-the-wool lefty like Ms. Lewis. Ms. Preckwinkle has supported measures to modestly increase county employees’ pension contributions and the retirement age that aren’t too different from what Mr. Emanuel has proposed for Chicago workers. On Monday, she crowed about “cutting the sales tax, holding the line on property taxes, and cutting a billion dollars of fat out of our budget.” The union chief, on the other hand, has objected to any modification in benefits and demanded sweeping tax hikes to pay down the city’s $30 billion unfunded pension liability. (read article)

NLRB says it lacks jurisdiction in unions’ battle with Convention Center

By Jane M. Von Bergen, July 16, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled against union carpenters and Teamsters barred from working at the Convention Center. The order, issued Monday by the Philadelphia regional office of the NLRB, dismissed the unions’ complaints that the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority had engaged in unfair bargaining. Signed by regional director Dennis P. Walsh, the order said the NLRB had no jurisdiction over the case because the National Labor Relations Act, which it enforces, does not apply to the Convention Center Authority, a public entity. It did say the unions provided evidence “supporting findings that the authority acted in derogation of bargaining obligations” that would be covered by the National Labor Relations Act if the authority were covered by the law. The decision “affirms our position that these charges were not appropriately before the NLRB, lacked merit, and that the authority acted fairly and within the law as it applies to the center,” said Gregory Fox, chairman of the authority’s board. “There was no conclusion that the center acted in violation of its legal obligations.” The Carpenters had another interpretation. “The NLRB decision simply states that they have no jurisdiction in this matter,” said Martin O’Rourke, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters. “The facts of the Carpenters’ complaint were not rejected,” he said. “The Carpenters will immediately file an unfair labor practices complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and will continue to protest their unjust and unfair lockout.” (read article)

Supreme Court decision in Harris v Quinn creates “right-to-work” situation for home care workers

By Don McIntosh, July 15, 2014, LaborPress.org

SSeveral late June decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court could affect the labor union movement, but by far the most significant was its June 30 decision in a case called Harris v. Quinn. The 5-4 decision in Harris v Quinn split along partisan lines, with the five Republican-appointed justices in the majority and the four Democratic appointees dissenting. The court struck down an Illinois requirement that home care aides working for state Medicaid clients pay union dues or “fair share” agency fees to the state employees union that represents them. The union involved in the case was Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The majority of justices said it was because home care workers aren’t “full-fledged public employees.” Medicaid pays their wages, but the home care workers are hired by and overseen by the Medicaid patients they serve. Gene Mechanic, a Portland-based labor attorney who represents public sector clients, said state laws that contradict Harris v Quinn could remain on books for decades and not be enforced, or they could be amended. But it’s clear that in Oregon and elsewhere, the decision creates a “right-to-work” situation for unionized home care workers: Union contract provisions that require them to pay union dues or a fair share equivalent will become unenforceable in court. (read article)

What Do Workers Want? Union Spending Does Not Reflect Member Priorities

By James Sherk, July 15, 2014, Heritage Foundation

Testimony before State Government Committee Pennsylvania House of Representatives: Chairman Metcalfe and Members of the State Government Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify this afternoon. My name is James Sherk. I am a Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation. Government unions spend their members’ mandatory dues heavily on political causes that the union leadership supports. They do so without asking their members’ permission, and irrespective of the preferences of their membership. Taxpayers subsidize government union political fundraising through the publicly funded payroll system. The government automatically takes union dues out of government employees’ paychecks. This system privileges union bosses and their priorities at the expense of union members and taxpayers who hold different views. This spending does not reflect workers’ desires. When unions must ask workers for permission to spend their dues on political causes, political spending drops dramatically. My research shows that union political spending falls by roughly half after states adopt paycheck-protection laws. Union bosses spend dues to prop up their own power instead of serving their membership. (read article)

When Did Teacher Unions Decide to “TURN” … Against Collective Bargaining Rights?

By Kathleen Carroll, July 15, 2014, CityWatch Los Angeles

We watch the chaotic struggles against mass school closures, mass teacher-school employee layoffs, and the proliferation of charter schools. We see the expansion of charter school management organizations and online learning, testing, with associated tech companies taking huge chunks of education tax dollars. We then hear politicians claiming we have a budget crisis, yet many of the same names appear over and over. The profiteers that usually emerge within the debate about privatizing public education include Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Michelle Rhee and her Students First, and the Milken Foundation, just to name a few. But what is missing from the debate is the fact that teacher union officials themselves are active participants in the scheme to monetize and profit from the public education system. Our public education system was built-up over hundreds of years with taxpayer money. The labor struggles before and during the Depression Era are well documented. Why do labor unions including national teacher unions NEA and AFT exist? They exist because fearless workers risked and sometimes lost their lives to improve working conditions for future generations of workers. (read article)


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