Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Resigned to Freedom: The California Teachers Association prepares for life as a voluntary association

By Larry Sand, September 21, 2014, City Journal

The worst union in America is contemplating its worst nightmare—a time when state law no longer compels California’s teachers to pay it for the privilege of working at a public school. According to a 23-page PowerPoint presentation unearthed by union watchdog Mike Antonucci, California Teachers Association officials are taking seriously the idea that a raft of pending litigation could put an end to mandatory union dues in the Golden State, and they’re exhorting local union leaders to rise to the challenge. The presentation’s title is fitting: “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share.” “Fair share” in this context refers to the union’s current legal right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state, whether they join the union or don’t. But a world without compulsory dues isn’t hard to imagine—it’s already the reality in 24 right-to-work states, including Florida, Indiana, and Michigan, home to the still-powerful Michigan Education Association. The CTA presentation offers a candid assessment of emerging legal “attacks” in the wake of Harris v. Quinn, in which the Supreme Court this year ruled that the First Amendment forbids the state of Illinois to force part-time home health-care workers to pay collective-bargaining fees. The high court is likely to take up Friedrichs v. CTA, a much wider-ranging lawsuit now pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals alleging that compulsory dues to public-employee unions are flatly unconstitutional. (read article)

Sorry, Unions: Franchises Are Real Small Businesses, Too

By Stephen Moore, September 21, 2014, Daily Signal

If the Obama Administration has its way, Ronald McDonald may soon have to wipe that grin off his face as he stands beneath the Golden Arches. One of the most successful models for expanding small-business ownership in America is under full-scale attack from unions and the White House. The political strategy is to fundamentally change the legal relationship between locally owned stores like McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Popeyes (NASDAQ:PLKI), Taco Bell (NYSE:YUM) and their multibillion-dollar parent companies. No longer would franchisees be legally classified as independent contractors to the parent company. The left wants the employees of each of the hundreds of thousands of independently owned franchise restaurants, hotels, retail stores and others to be considered jointly employed by both the independent franchisee and parent. This change would overturn a 30-year legal precedent for how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deals with franchisees. As of now, entrepreneurs can purchase and run their own stores. Likewise, the parent company is sheltered from legal risks associated with the actions on the part of the independent franchisees. (read article)

Labor group urges faculty union

By Cody Nelson and Meghan Holden, September 22, 2014, Minnesota Daily

One of the country’s largest labor organizations is attempting to unionize University of Minnesota faculty members, claiming that recent trends in higher education are hindering faculty and instructors’ work at universities nationwide. The Service Employees International Union sent an email late last week to University faculty members, urging them to allow SEIU Local 284 to represent them for negotiating pay, benefits and working conditions. There are currently no unions representing faculty members on the University’s Twin Cities campus. The labor union said in the email that faculty members’ rights are slipping away and notes that the proportion of tenured and tenure-track faculty members is declining nationally. To remedy these issues, faculty members must unionize, the SEIU said. “At many schools, we’re facing less faculty inclusion in governance structures, erosion of academic freedom and fewer protections on our intellectual property,” the email read. According to SEIU’s email, faculty members and other academics from schools nationwide have “taken steps to form unions.” (read article)

Kasich will revive anti-labor drive

By Jim Provance, September 21, 2014, Toledo Blade

Then an Ohio State University student government leader, Ed FitzGerald met with then-Congressman John Kasich in his Washington office a quarter of a century ago. “I thought that he was very ideological,” said the now-Democratic gubernatorial candidate. “We had very specific questions and concerns about student loan programs and grants, and very rhetorical. It wasn’t a substantive policy discussion.” Fast forward to 2011 with Mr. FitzGerald having just been elected as Cuyahoga County’s first executive and Mr. Kasich about to take office as Ohio’s new Republican governor. They met again along with other northeast Ohio government officials. “He told us that he was going to cut the Local Government Fund, but we were going to save so much money because we were going to change the rules for collective bargaining of public employees,” he said. (read article)

Unions join the climate fight

By Michael Casey, September 21, 2014, Fortune

Labor once opposed more environmental regulations to preserve jobs. But its position is slowly shifting with the increase in the number of green jobs. Working at a nursing home in New York City, Myrtle E. Williams had seen her share of severe storms. Then Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, flooding the Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation, in Far Rockaway, where she worked as a nurse and forcing her and a skeleton staff to spend the next week caring for the frail and elderly amid power outages. “It became more real to me how important it is for us to recognize what is happening with our climate and how it’s effecting us,” Williams said. Williams, a member of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, is among 10,000 union members from 70 unions in New York and around the country who took part in the People’s Climate March on Sunday to call for United States and the rest of the world to tackle global warming. Two days before the United Nations convenes a one-day climate summit, march organizers said as many as 100,000 people demonstrated, chanted and sang their way through midtown Manhattan including activists, business leaders and host of celebrities reportedly including Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon and Brad Pitt. Related events took place in over 160 other countries. The presence of Williams and other union members marching through the streets of New York – by far the largest participation of organized labor in a climate event – might surprise some onlookers who have grown used to organized labor lining up with big business to oppose President Obama’s plan to cut emissions, primarily from coal-fired power plants. Unions have also supported the building of the Keystone Pipeline, which is opposed by environmentalists. But in many ways their participation illustrates an emerging struggle within the union movement to strike a balance between supporting job growth and recognizing environmental issues are a concern, especially among their younger members. (read article)

L.A. Councilman Bernard Parks finds himself in political wilderness

By Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahnhiser, September 20, 2014, Los Angeles Times

For much of the past decade, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks has been a force at City Hall. He helped topple a mayor, played a key role in steering the city through the Great Recession and served as a counterweight to the political pull of organized labor. Supporters say Parks has been punished for taking principled stands — and warn that the city suffers when one of its few fiscally conservative voices is sidelined. Others contend he caused his political predicament by holding grudges and being inflexible. “He’s super-intelligent. He actually reads the budget documents. He asks incisive questions,” said Jason Elias, formerly a regional coordinator for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents roughly 10,000 city employees. “But his bedside manner, so to speak? There’s a lot lacking there.” Parks called complaints about his style “frivolous” and said he’s not interested in cutting deals with other council members. He dismissed the idea that his political influence has waned, saying he regularly shines a spotlight on overlooked issues. A frequent critic of organized labor, Parks regularly finds himself in the minority on union issues at City Hall. And as a sharp-tongued contrarian on a City Council that prides itself on playing nice, Parks also dissents on other decisions. Out of concern over food contamination, he cast the only vote against banning plastic bags. (read article)

Port labor talks turn on effects of automation

By James Nash, September 20, 2014, Bloomberg News

West Coast shippers and dockworkers are struggling to reach a labor agreement as terminal operators replace as many as half of laborers at some ports with robots in the largest technological change in half a century. The two sides are discussing how to retrain and preserve jobs for dockworkers as automation reduces the number of positions at one Los Angeles terminal by 40 to 50 percent after changes are completed in 2016, according to a Harbor Department report released in April. “In the U.S., the extent to which automation of container terminals affects the number of longshoremen’s jobs depends on negotiations between the employers and unions,” Neil Davidson, a senior analyst at Drewry Maritime Research in London, said by email. “Employers aren’t simply free to decide to reduce jobs. In addition, it depends on the nature of the automation.” The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association are negotiating a new contract for 20,000 West Coast dockworkers, more than two months after a six-year agreement expired. A strike or lockout could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day, according to the National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers. In addition to automation, the two sides are discussing salaries and work rules. They resolved the issue of health-care expenses, they said in August without revealing details. (read article)

Getting to 51% in race for Wisconsin governor

By Mitch Henck, September 20, 2014, Wisconsin State Journal

Jimmy Carter’s communication director Jody Powell often would complain about Ronald Reagan’s unfair advantage in the 1980 presidential election. “We have to placate women’s groups — minorities, organized labor and environmentalists — and Reagan doesn’t have to. He can just divide and conquer and get a majority of 51 percent and he wins.” That brings us to this year’s Wisconsin governor’s race. After the Act 10 firestorm, petition gatherers and signers had supreme confidence that most Wisconsin citizens were with them. After all, they argued that Gov. Scott Walker was destroying the middle class, that he was taking money out of the pockets of consumers who could no longer buy as much. Walker won the recall by 7 percentage points. Outside of Dane County, voters saw the protesters as Dane County elitists who were throwing a tantrum because they could no longer control a process that would more often than not get them more health care and retirement benefits than their neighbors who were watching all the unrest on the news. (read article)

Big Labor Millionaires Lead ‘Income Equality’ Convention

By Jason Hart, September 19, 2014, Newsmax

Several of America’s wealthiest union bosses spoke at the 2014 Ohio AFL-CIO convention in Cincinnati this week. The event’s theme? “Building the movement for income equality.” American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten portrayed herself and other AFL-CIO leaders as the voices of the working class, although the AFT paid her $2,022,274 taken from union members and forced “fair share” fee payers between 2010 and 2013. Weingarten reminded convention attendees of the need for higher taxes and more government spending to create “good jobs” in the public sector, which would also funnel more money to AFT and other public-sector unions. Weingarten has a very good job: she was paid $543,150 in 2013 alone. Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), urged conventiongoers to make the $40 million union smear campaign against Ohio government union reform bill SB5 a lasting movement. Because unions successfully overturned SB5, forced AFSCME dues continue their movement from Ohio taxpayers to government workers to Lee Saunders’ bank account. Saunders was paid $350,058 in 2013. If Ohioans had the freedom to choose whether to pay a union, there might be a more pressing need for AFSCME to justify paying Saunders $1,317,166 from 2010-2013. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who was paid $298,542 during the union coalition’s 2013 fiscal year, called for more wealth redistribution from job creators. AFL-CIO paid Trumka $1,177,564 from 2010-2013. (read article)

A People’s Climate Movement: Indigenous, Labor, Faith Groups Prepare for Historic March

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez, September 19, 2014, Democracy Now

New York City is set to host what could be the largest climate change protest in history. Organizers expect more than 100,000 people to converge for a People’s Climate March on Sunday. Some 2,000 solidarity events are scheduled around the world this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s United Nations climate summit. We spend the hour with four participants representing the labor, indigenous, faith and climate justice communities: Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is the president of Union Theological Seminary, which recently voted to divest from fossil fuels; Lidy Nacpil is a member of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice; Clayton Thomas-Muller is co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign in Canada and a member of the Idle No More campaign; and Estela Vázquez is executive vice president of 1199 SEIU, which is expected to bring thousands of union members to the march. (read article)

NLRB to Employers: Go to Hell

By Bill McMorris, September 19, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

Bosses should be wary of punishing profane and insubordinate employees, according to one prominent law firm. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal labor arbiter that oversees employee relations and union elections, has issued a series of rulings in recent years protecting insubordinate employees. Cursing out one’s boss may violate social norms and common sense, but the agency says it can also be construed as protected activity. In May, an NLRB regional judge ordered a California Hooters to rehire a waitress who intimidated and cursed out her colleagues and bosses over an allegedly rigged bikini contest. In June, the board ruled that a Starbucks employee who told his boss to “go yourself” could not be fired because he was pro-union. Attorneys with Holland & Knight, a prominent management-side labor law firm, said that the NLRB’s willingness to protect the profane carries many implications for employers. Reacting to an employee’s rude outburst could open the company up to federal litigation and allegations of unfair labor practices. “Clearly, employees are free to discuss, and even complain about, their terms and conditions of employment; this is a core right protected by federal law, whether or not the employees are represented by a union,” Holland & Knight attorneys wrote in a blog post. “However, the Board is now frequently condoning incredibly objectionable behavior that is combined with an alleged exercise of protected activity.” (read article)

In Wisconsin governor’s race, labor settles for what it can get

By Naureen Khan, September 19, 2014, Al Jazeera

The rage against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was still palpable here on a recent clear September day at Fighting Bob Fest, an annual gathering of progressive activists. Three years have passed since Walker, a Republican, championed legislation that curbed collective bargaining rights for public unions, sparking dramatic protests outside the state Capitol and an ultimately unsuccessful recall effort, but the memory still stung for many of those in attendance. So when the Democratic nominee for governor, Mary Burke, who is looking to oust Walker in November, took the stage in front of these activists, many might have expected her to join in on the pile-on. But, when she gave her 15-minute stump speech, there was a nary a word on the much-reviled Act 10 or unions in general. “It’s about better jobs, and better schools and a better Wisconsin,” Burke said at Sauk County Fairgrounds, summarizing her decidedly non-controversial campaign themes. “That’s what this race is about, and that’s why I’m running for governor.” (read article)

Democrats, labor accuse Foley of union-busting

By Mike Savino, September 19, 2014, Journal Inquirer

Democrats and union leaders on Thursday accused Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas C. Foley of trying to break up a union at a Pennsylvania factory he once owned after employees went on strike for more than two years during the early 1990s. They said the incident is part of a larger “puzzle” of Foley profiting while his employees suffered, calling it a sign that he doesn’t relate with the middle class. “It’s not a beautiful puzzle, it’s not with rainbows or wildlife. It’s a puzzle with destruction and despair for workers and their communities,” Connecticut AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Lori Pelletier said during a press conference in Haddam. Foley, though, said union leaders had misled employees of his Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, plant, and that many ultimately withdrew from the union and returned to work. He said he owned the factory for 17 years after the strike started before selling it to a larger company, and that it grew significantly during that time. “This is a story I’m happy to talk about as long as people want to talk about it. We came and saved jobs for workers,” Foley said Thursday during a walking tour in Middletown. (read article)

NYC jazz musicians fear poverty in retirement, ask clubs to help with pensions

By Jonathan Lemire, September 19, 2014, Associated Press

Keisha St. Joan has been singing at some of the most famous jazz clubs in the nation for more than five decades.

She was paid $50 a night when she sang in “Three Guys and a Doll” in 1958. Now, at age 75 and nearing retirement, she has no pension to fall back on — and is asking the clubs to help out. “Because jazz is considered the national treasure of America, there should be a greater concern for each musician who has paid a dear price to learn his or her craft,” she testified Wednesday in front of the New York City Council. “We demand the just rewards of receiving a pension in our old age.” St. Joan, several other musicians and a representative of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802 labor union asked the city council for help. Unlike musicians who appear on Broadway or those who sing at the Metropolitan Opera, jazz singers in New York City don’t receive benefits. “Jazz musicians need pensions,” said trumpeter Jimmy Owens, 70. “They need to enjoy the same benefits received by their brother and sister musicians on Broadway and in the symphonic field. The need is real.” (read article)

Police Demilitarization Pits Police Union Against Top Labor Federation

By Jacob Fischler, September 18, 2014, Buzzfeed

More than a month after Ferguson and the debate it sparked over the militarization of local police forces, an internal rift has grown between the nation’s top labor federation and one of its own unions. The International Union of Police Associations, a member of the AFL-CIO, has been largely quiet on the issue of police militarization. But in a couple of open letters the union has shown support for the program that provides police with military-grade weaponry. The AFL-CIO meanwhile has been a vocal supporter of police demilitarization and better oversight. The federation’s president, Richard Trumka, even signed a letter to Congress calling for a “federal czar” to oversee police forces.

But despite their differences, IUPA has been reluctant to call out its federation, or even admit how different their views are. IUPA spokesman Rich Roberts told BuzzFeed News that Trumka has consulted with union president Sam Cabral, but wouldn’t say the last time they spoke directly or what the conversation entailed. Roberts said Cabral was traveling and he’d been unable to reach him for comment. “Like any family there are going to be some disagreements here and there, but that doesn’t break up the family,” Roberts said. (read article)

Labor Unions Urge Emanuel To End ‘Toxic’ Interest-Rate Swaps

September 17, 2014, Progress Illinois

Three major labor unions in Chicago want Mayor Rahm Emanuel to end ‘toxic’ interest-rate swaps with banks — deals they say cost the city and the public school district more than $100 million annually. The Chicago Teachers Union, AFSCME Council 31 and SEIU* Healthcare Illinois sent a letter to the mayor Wednesday, urging him “to immediately file for arbitration” under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority “to seek a refund of sums expended on fraudulent interest-rate swaps.” The city should act “immediately,” because the option for filing for arbitration could end as early as next month, the unions said. “Ending these deals would generate additional revenue that would help the city meet a wide range of vital needs—mental health services, early childhood education, public safety and the growing pension obligation,” CTU President Karen Lewis, AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch and SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher wrote in the letter. “If the city does not act in this manner, we intend to pursue any and all alternative measures that could compel a reexamination of these highly questionable arrangements,” the letter adds. The unions point out in a news release that “these toxic swaps were entered into by government bodies in hopes of stabilizing their financial planning and protecting against major losses of public resources. But the banks’ failure to fully disclose the risks of these agreements has cost the public billions in cities and towns across the country.” (read article)

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