Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

N.L.R.B. Ruling Holds McDonald’s, Not Just Franchisees, Liable for Worker Treatment

By Steven Greenhouse, July 29, 2014, New York Times

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for workers at its franchisees’ restaurants, a decision that if upheld would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide. Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees over the last 20 months, he found that 43 had merit on such grounds as illegally firing or threatening workers for pro-union activities. In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the fast-food company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations. McDonald’s said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships. (read article)

San Bernardino Judge Accuses Fire Union of ‘Stonewalling’

By Steven Church, July 29, 2014, Bloomberg

San Bernardino’s firefighters are “stonewalling” negotiations in the California city’s bankruptcy, said a federal judge, who refused to immediately give their union permission to sue in state court. San Bernardino has either cut deals with, or is in talks with, almost all of its major creditors. Since the city filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the firefighters have fought over a variety of technical questions, including what rules should govern any contract-related negotiations. “I see the stonewalling coming from the firefighters,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury said at a hearing today in Riverside, California. After filing for bankruptcy, the city had been mired in conflict with unions and its biggest creditor, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which it owes about $143 million, according to court papers. In June, San Bernardino’s lawyers told Jury that the city had a final deal with Calpers and was in talks with the police union. To put together a debt-adjustment plan that will return the community of about 200,000 to fiscal stability, the city must either win over the unions or beat them in court. (read article)

Micro-Unions Return to Gut Employee Rights

July 29, 2014, LaborPains.org

As part of their ongoing efforts to weasel their way into workplaces and curtail employee rights, labor unions have aggressively pursued the creation of “micro-units”—subdivisions of a workplace that a union can organize one-by-one. Since the Obama-stacked National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in the precedent-eviscerating Specialty Healthcare case that micro-units were hunky-dory, it was only a matter of time before Big Labor’s best friends in D.C. expanded the ruling. The NLRB has now done so, recently ruling in a case called Macy’s, Inc. and Local 1445, United Food and Commercial Workers Union that perfume and cosmetics salespeople constituted their own micro-unit eligible to be unionized alone. Micro-unions are part of a wide-ranging effort by unions to get dues dollars however they can, in this case by Balkanizing a workplace so that a small group of unhappy people can form their own union even if the larger group of employees has no interest in joining. The UFCW has other methods, as well—most notably “worker centers” like the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a UFCW “subsidiary organization” dedicated to activism against the world’s largest retailer. (read article)

Obama May Help Unions Take Over Fast Food Industry

By Ernest Istook, July 29, 2014, TalkRadioNews.com

The cost of a hamburger might be doubled under a proposal being considered by federal bureaucrats. Bureaucrats may pull a fast one on the fast food industry. And you may pay double for a burger. The National Labor Relations Board may let labor unions unionize each fast food chain all at once, bypassing thousands of local owners who actually own and operate individual franchises. For example, all 12,700 McDonald’s locations would be declared one huge joint employer, even though the parent company only owns one-fifth of the franchises. One big organizing campaign is so much easier for the unions than thousands of separate local efforts. If the NLRB endorses it, then they could move on Burger King, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, you name it. The unions’ first goal is contracts that double wages from minimum wage to $15 an hour—that could double what you pay for a hamburger. (read article)

Study: Collective Bargaining Slows Economic Growth, Lowers Wages

By Bill McMorris, July 29, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

Collective bargaining may not be the boon for workers that labor unions claim it is, according to a new study. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free market think tank, found that states with higher rates of union presence and collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sector also suffer slower economic growth that leads to less opportunities and lower wages for workers. “Collective bargaining has harmed economic well-being in America, severely inhibiting productivity and stunting wage increases, and this new CEI report demonstrates it,” said Iain Murray, CEI vice president for strategy. A high union presence correlates to economic “deadweight” that slows productivity growth and economic expansion across a state, according to the study authored by labor experts Lowell Gallaway and Jonathan Robe. The deadweight can harm workers throughout their careers with 15 percent earnings losses over a 50-year period. “The presence of labor unions that operate as bargaining agents in the process of collective bargaining has the potential to seriously inhibit economic growth,” the report says. “It is worth noting that these figures are minimal estimates of the deadweight losses produced by labor unions.” (read article)

Panel rules that Los Angeles City Hall must toss out new pension rules

By Dakota Smith, July 28, 2014, Los Angeles Daily News

In a major victory for Los Angeles city unions, a labor panel on Monday ordered that City Hall leaders toss out pensions rules adopted last year, a move that jeopardizes billions of dollars of promised savings for the city. The five-member Employee Relations Board sided with a report concluding the city of L.A. violated labor rules when then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city officials enacted sweeping new retirement benefits for employees without the unions’ consent. “This is a huge deal,” said the unions’ attorney Ellen Greenstone, speaking to reporters immediately following the vote. A statement on the ruling from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office wasn’t immediately available. Siding with Villaraigosa, Garcetti led his colleagues on the City Council in creating a new, two-tier pension system in 2012, arguing the move would save $4 billion over a three-decade period, The new rules hiked the city’s retirement age and gave new employees less in retirement wages than existing workers. Also, spouses of retired workers could no longer receive city-funded health insurance. Union leaders said the changes were enacted without their consent, and brought their complaint to the city’s Employee Relations Board, which oversees labor disputes. The central issue was whether the city leaders could change rules for new employees without negotiating with union groups. (read article)

The State Precedent That Threatens True Local Control

By John Loudon, July 28, 2014, Public CEO

On June 3, 2014, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved a plan, which included $500,000 in local funding, to construct a $25 million pipeline between the Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio reservoirs that will allow more storage of water for the Salinas Valley. The board took the vote and made the decision locally. Sadly, state lawmakers are attempting to force bad policy on local leaders in an unprecedented move to pay off organized labor unions. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who represents the Salinas Valley, gutted the contents of an unrelated bill, AB 155, and replaced them with a mandate requiring a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the design-build pipeline project. Highly controversial PLAs raise project costs by reducing the bidding pool, giving union hiring halls control over all workers, banning non-union apprentices, and forcing non-union workers to send dues and all benefit payments to unions. As a result, the majority of contractors usually refuse to bid on the work which results in cost increases to taxpayers by as much as 13-15 percent. Beyond the contracting issues, the story of AB 155 is much more troublesome for local elected officials who are accountable to constituents for leadership and prudent financial management. This is the first California bill to mandate a Project Labor Agreement on ANY project, state or local. If it passes, we can expect Sacramento politicians to intervene on one local issue after another at the behest of labor unions. (read article)

Why Are Postal Workers Boycotting Staples?

By Michelle Chen, July 28, 2014, The Nation

You might not consider your local post office to be a hotbed of political foment. But last Tuesday, the nation’s window clerks and other mail service staff assembled in Chicago to declare that, despite efforts in Washington to privatize and downsize the Postal Service, nothing would keep these workers from their appointed rounds. Rallying with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the banner of “The US Mail is Not For Sale,” post office workers marched to protest recent moves by the office superstore Staples. The chain is at the center of a highly controversial “public-private partnership” deal to turn its store counters into quasi-post offices. At the APWU convention, the union amped up its call for a nationwide boycott of Staples to oppose plans to pilot the so-called “Retail Expansion Plan” at eighty-two stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and potentially expand nationwide. Following weeks of postal workers’ campaigning, with support from the AFL-CIO and numerous public and private service-worker unions, Staples has apparently pulled back and announced that the expansion plan would be ended and incorporated into the existing “Approved Shipper” program, which more generally allows private retailers to market certain postal products. In an e-mail to The Nation, Staples states the company has ended the pilot for now, but “will continue to explore and test products and services that meet our customers’ needs.” (read article)

Will the NLRB super-size Big Labor’s fast food industry push?

By Sean Higgins, July 28, 2014, Washington Examiner

Big Labor has put a lot of time and money behind unionizing the fast food industry but hasn’t had much to show for it so far. They might soon get a lucky break though when a federal government agency decides a case that could rewrite corporate franchising law. The problem Big Labor has is that in most cases your favorite drive-through burger joint is actually a locally owned small business. About 80 percent of the 12,700 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., for example, are not owned by the corporation. Even though each one has pretty much the same menu and is staffed by people in the same red and yellow uniforms, in reality the owner is just paying to use the McDonald’s brand name. That’s franchising in a nutshell. For the unions, that means they typically cannot target a corporation and organize all the workers in one swoop. Instead, the unions would have to do each franchise individually, since those are the real employers. An upcoming National Labor Relations Board case involving complaints against McDonald’s may fix that problem for unions. The NLRB might decide that both the parent corporation and the local franchises are in fact joint employers. (read article)

‘Unionism’ Should Not be a Title VII Protected Class

By Jon Hyman, July 28, 2014, Workforce.com

Way back in 2012, the New York Times published an op-ed titled, A Civil Right to Unionize, which argued that Title VII needs to be amended to include “the right to unionize” as a protected civil right. At the time, I argued that including “unionism” as a protected class was the worst idea ever. Apparently, at least one Congressman disagrees with me. MSNBC is reporting that later this week Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) “plans to unveil legislation that would make unionization into a legally protected civil right,” on par with “race, color, sex, religion and national origin.” His goal is to make it “easier for workers to take legal action against companies that violate their right to organize.” I agree with Representative Ellison that employees should never be fired for “expressing an intent to support union activity.” The problem with his idea, however, is that this is a right that the law already protects. Sec. 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer … by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.” (read article)

Fast food convention portends escalation in strikes

By Ned Resnikoff, July 28, 2014, MSNBC

“Whatever it takes.” That was the unofficial refrain for last weekend’s fast food workers’ convention in the suburbs of Chicago, where over 1,300 low-wage employees gathered to profess their dedication to the cause. On Saturday, the second and final day of the convention, workers unanimously passed a resolution to keep fighting and keep striking until they had won union representation and a $15 hourly wage. Many of the convention attendees wanted to go further – even suggesting breaking the law. “We need a nationwide sit,” Mary Coleman, Milwaukee-based Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen employee and grandmother of six, told the other workers. “Across the nation, all fast food workers, retail workers, we pick a time, we pick a day, and everybody just stops.” Coleman spoke about the need for a nationwide sit-down strike during Saturday’s pre-lunch discussion period, when she and other workers from the audience were given the opportunity to answer questions such as, “What else can we do in our cities to increase pressure on low-wage employers and grow our movement?” She wasn’t the only one to suggest more radical tactics than the day-long strikes which have thus far been the movement’s calling card. A male audience member said workers should form human chains to prevent consumers from entering fast food restaurants. “Be aggressive in hitting their bottom lines,” he said. (read article)

Solar labor dispute flares: Unions, contractor disagree over construction practices at San Mateo’s Nueva School

By Samantha Weigel, July 28, 2014, San Mateo Daily Journal

A scathing labor dispute about the installation of solar panels at Nueva School’s new state-of-the-art campus at Bay Meadows is prompting the San Mateo City Council to look into whether it can ensure contracts are upheld. The dispute centers on the general contractor’s hiring practices and if electricians or laborers should do the solar work — an industry with wide interpretation as to who can. And while city officials have taken an interest, it is not clear what, if anything, can be done. Still, Councilman David Lim brought the matter to the council’s attention and instructed city staff to research the matter at a study session last week. “We need to send a clear message to developers that if they’re going to enter into a project labor agreement with our unions, they better be damned sure to follow it,” Lim said. However, as the city is not a party to the agreement, it may not have authority to enforce the PLA. The private Nueva School is building its first high school at Bay Meadows, currently in Phase II of the former race track’s 83.5-acre redevelopment off Highway 101 north of Hillsdale Boulevard. Construction of the environmentally-friendly 2.7-acre campus started in early 2013 and is slated to be mostly finished in time for school to start in the fall. Prior to construction, the general contractor, Devcon Construction, entered into an agreement with unions to hire locally and iron out which tradesmen would be hired for specific jobs, according to multiple sources. However, the addition of solar panels came after the PLA was drafted and has spurred a dispute between a San Mateo electricians union, a solar energy subcontractor, Devcon and the city. (read article)

Business groups alarmed by rise of ‘micro-unions’ in workplace

By Tim Devaney, July 26, 2014, The Hill

Business groups are sounding the alarm over decisions from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that they say would make it easier for small groups of people to create “micro-unions” in the workplace. The NLRB first recognized the so-called micro-unions in 2011 at Specialty Healthcare, a rehabilitation center, where a group of nursing assistants wanted to organize. Then this week, the labor board endorsed another micro-union, giving a small group of employees at Macy’s permission to organize. Industry groups fear the arrangements could create havoc by forcing companies to bargain with multiple unions at the same work site. “We are very concerned, because the Specialty Healthcare case, in our view, was just the tip of the iceberg,” said Eric Oppenheim, who owns 18 franchise restaurants throughout Maryland and D.C. “Now, they’re going to target industries that traditionally were very difficult to unionize.” The rise of micro-unions has all sorts of industries flustered, from restaurants and hotels to grocery stores and manufacturers. “I think most employers, if they haven’t been approached by a micro-union yet, they’re definitely waiting,” said Amanda Wood, director of employment at the National Association of Manufacturers. The Speciality Healthcare decision gave unions the ability to, in essence, “gerrymander” a workplace, says Jim Plunkett, director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The problem with Speciality Healthcare is not the smallness of the unions, but the way the lines are gerrymandered within a workplace,” Plunkett said. “They’re allowed to cherry pick the employees in the workplace that they know will be supportive of the union.” (read article)

Border patrol union at odds with AFL-CIO on immigration

By Daniel Libit, July 25, 2014, CNBC

While the current migrant child crisis has made hell for America’s border agents, it has brought a timely spotlight for their labor union. “From a political standpoint, I think it is great,” Shawn Moran, the vice president and spokesman for The National Border Patrol Council, told CNBC.com. “It is bringing visibility back to the border. Previously, the only time you heard about the border was in terms of use-of-force incidents, and we haven’t been painted very favorably in that regard. This shows the border is definitely unsecured.” Moran, who has become an omnipresent cable news fixture the past month, is the first to acknowledge the odd political paradoxes confounding a labor union that takes a hardline immigration stance. “We are caught in the middle,” he told CNBC.com in a lengthy interview this week. “Republicans like us because we are law enforcement. Democrats like us because we are a union. But we haven’t seemed to be able to get both sides together.” (read article)

Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition May Strike

By Alex Tonisson, July 24, 2014, Bay City News

The Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition’s 13 unions are voting this week and next whether to authorize a strike because they have been working without a contract since July 1. The 450 union members in the coalition are Golden Gate Ferry deckhands and captains, Golden Gate Transit bus maintenance workers and mechanics, bridge ironworkers and inspectors and construction trades employees, the coalition’s co-chair Alex Tonisson said. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has proposed a three-year contract that would increase the cost of employees’ healthcare premiums thereby negating a minimal wage increase, Tonisson said. “A strike is very likely,” Tonnison said this morning. The cost of living wage increases for union members in the coalition over the last 10 years are 12 percent below cost of living wage increases received by other earners in the Bay Area, Tonnison said. (read article)

N.Y. Met Opera threatens to lock out musicians in labor dispute

By Jonathan Allen, July 24, 2014, Reuters

New York’s Metropolitan Opera said it will lock out its musicians and other unionized employees next week if a new contract agreement is not reached, in an escalation of a labor dispute that threatens to derail an entire opera season. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote a letter to chorus members, orchestra players, stagehands and other employees on Wednesday saying they should prepare for a work stoppage if a new agreement is not reached when current contracts expire on July 31. “I sincerely hope to avoid such an unfortunate event,” Gelb wrote in his letter. The Met, which says it has an annual operating budget of over $300 million, has blamed a drop in its revenues since 2011 on dwindling audiences for opera worldwide. It spent nearly $259 million on labor and benefits for union and non-union employees in 2013, figures provided by the Met show. (read article)

SEIU union played attack role in June primary

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, July 23, 2014, Maryland Reporter

It was a surprise for senate candidate Cheryl Kagan when she opened her mailbox just a few weeks before the June 24 primary and discovered mailers smearing her opponent — ones she hadn’t paid for. These mailers, dedicated to knocking down Del. Luiz Simmons (D) whom Kagan defeated in Montgomery County’s District 17 primary, were funded by the Maryland branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It is a rapidly expanding and politically prominent labor union who endorsed Kagan and more than 80 others for state office. Most were incumbent Democrats, and most won. These mailers and the union’s presence have permeated recent Maryland election cycles, and while the candidates who enjoy an SEIU endorsement consider it a boon for their campaigns, other contenders consider themselves targets, and have derided the SEIU’s tactics as purely nasty. SEIU, across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, represents more than 2 million workers, who primarily are employed in health care, local government, and property servicing jobs — janitors, security officers, and maintenance workers. (read article)

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