Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

The Rise of Corporate Democrats in California

By Gary Cohn, April 15, 2014, Huffington Post

Marin County is one of California’s most liberal regions and, with its iconic redwoods and stunning coastline, it is also a power center for environmental activism. And so, when a bill to give the state Coastal Commission authority to levy fines against shoreline despoilers came for a vote in the state Assembly in 2013, it was taken for granted that Marin’s new Assemblyman, Marc Levine, would vote for passage. That didn’t happen. Instead, the San Rafael Democrat sat out the single most important vote for his constituents that year – which helped doom the measure. But Levine was not finished. In Sacramento he would abstain or skip votes on bills helping farm workers and creating a bill of rights for domestic workers. He has also voted against legislation requiring economic impact reports for big box stores and requiring more rate-increase disclosure from Kaiser Permanente. That Levine keeps at arm’s length the progressive values of the 10th Assembly District, which includes much of equally liberal Sonoma County, should come as no surprise. During his two Assembly campaigns he has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from some of the state’s largest business interests. What is baffling is that Levine, who declined to comment for this article, is neither a DINO (a conservative who is a Democrat in name only) nor a farm belt centrist. He remains a committed suburban liberal. One, that is, who happened to attend a local Mitt Romney rally in 2012 and who felt at ease appearing at a Republican Lincoln Dinner last year. Levine is also no aberration. Rather, he is part of a new breed of Democrat, one exceedingly attentive to big business while tone-deaf toward the Democratic Party’s traditional base, which includes union workers, environmentalists and public school advocates. (read article)

Union files labor practice complaints against University of California

Kathy Robertson, April 15, 2014, Sacramento Business Journal

The union that represents 13,000 teaching assistants at the University of California — including almost 1,800 at University of California Davis — filed two more unfair labor practice complaints Monday, marking a total of seven filed in the last six months. United Auto Workers Union Local 2865 has been in contract negotiations with UC since July. The new complaints relate to the arrest of 22 students at University of California Santa Cruz on April 2 as teaching assistants began a two-day strike to protest alleged intimidation and unresolved previous unfair labor practice complaints. (read article)

The Coming Great Rift Between Progressives And Democrats May Be Beginning In New York

By Stephen Kruiser, April 15, 2014, PJ Tatler

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once earned plaudits from liberals for his tough talk on gun control and success in legalizing gay marriage in the state. But, lately, he’s found no shortage of frenemies to his left. In the past month, liberal protesters outside Cuomo’s office have dubbed him “Governor 1 Percent”; a prominent progressive activist has suggested that he run for reelection as a Republican; the head of a major labor union has called for someone to challenge the governor in the Democratic primary; and a series of behind-the-scenes feuds between Cuomo and other top Democratic officials have spilled out into public view. The proximal cause for the infighting during an election year, when parties typically put aside their internal differences, is the state’s recently concluded, highly contentious budget process, which ended many Democrats’ hopes for sweeping ethics reforms this year. On fiscal policy, Cuomo aides insist the budget is “very progressive,” but the labor-backed Working Families Party, which endorsed the governor in 2010, is reconsidering its support this year. (read article)

Detroit reaches deal with retired police and firefighters

By Melanie Hicken and Chris Isidore, April 15, 2014, CNN Money

Detroit’s emergency manager and retired police and firefighters hammered out a deal Tuesday that marks a big step forward in the city’s efforts to exit bankruptcy. If approved, the deal would significantly limit proposed cuts in pension benefits for the public safety retirees. Bankruptcy mediators said the agreement with the Retired Detroit Police and Fire Fighters Association was the first the city had reached with any group representing its retirees. The association has about 6,500 members and represents more than 80% of Detroit’s retired public safety workers. Under Tuesday’s deal, retirees would suffer no cuts to their current pension benefits and would receive nearly half of their annual cost of living increases moving forward. The city, which filed for bankruptcy last July, remains in talks with other retirees and workers as well as the city’s two pension funds – one for public safety workers and one for general city employees. (read article)

5 Things Northwestern Is Telling Other Football Schools About Unions

By Melanie Trottman, April 15, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro has been fielding questions from colleagues from around the country in recent weeks. They want to know more about the National Labor Relations Board’s decision that Northwestern’s scholarship football players are school employees who can unionize. Mr. Schapiro answered them at once in a “Dear Colleague” letter last week that was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Northwestern sent the April 7 letter to all the presidents of NCAA Division I football schools, according to a Northwestern University spokesman who confirmed its authenticity. Mr. Schapiro conveyed a mix of reassurance and caution about the effort Northwestern is fighting through an appeal to the NLRB. (read article)

Postal Union Fights Staples Partnership: ‘A Big Step Toward Privatization’

By Dave Jamieson, April 15, 2014, Huffington Post

On a recent Saturday morning, 500 protesters poured out of a parade of school buses, signs and megaphones in hand, and tried their best to shame a single Staples store just outside Chicago. Among them was Mike Suchomel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, who traveled all the way from New Jersey for a nearby labor conference. What has infuriated Suchomel and many of his fellow postal union members is a new arrangement struck between USPS and the office supply retailer. Under the premise of a pilot program, a limited number of Staples locations are now offering most of the same services provided at post offices, to be handled by Staples employees rather than postal workers. (read article)

Unions, FutureGen ink deal for clean-energy initiative

By Greg Olson, April 15, 2014, Jacksonville Journal Courier

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin joined representatives of 17 labor unions and the FutureGen Alliance in signing an agreement Monday to get construction started on the FutureGen. 2.0 project, the largest energy research initiative in U.S. history. The program will be based in Morgan County. “The signed agreement further guarantees a reliable, highly skilled workforce of women and men for the FutureGen 2.0 project,” said Ken Humphreys, chief executive officer of the FutureGen Alliance. “It also assures local unions that FutureGen 2.0 jobs will be governed by accepted union labor work rules and that wages and benefits will be determined by a standardized project labor agreement. The agreement also helps ensure that employment opportunities and the associated economic benefits are realized right here in Morgan County, Illinois and surrounding counties.” FutureGen 2.0 is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Illinois and private sector companies to retrofit a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia to capture and store more than 90 percent of its emissions. A recent University of Illinois study found that FutureGen will create an average of 620 well-paying jobs for the next 24 years and bring $12 billion in overall economic benefits to Illinois. (read article)

Virginia Senate race raking in millions with months to go

By Julian Walker, April 15, 2014, The Virginian-Pilot

If Virginia’s pricey 2012 U.S. Senate race is a template for this year’s contest, voters should prepare for a barn burner with millions in opaque political cash raised and spent in the run-up to November. Consider: The re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat seeking a second six-year term, has already raised $11.2 million towards that effort with nearly eight months until Election Day, including $2.7 million in the first three months of this year. Former Bush White House veteran Ed Gillespie, a onetime lobbyist and a strong contender to win the Republican nomination, appears to be keeping pace, raising $2.2 million after entering the race in mid-January. (read article)

Nonprofits Caught in Pension Crossfire Between Foundation, Unions

By Cameron McWhirter, April 14, 2014, Wall Street Journal

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, created by a Texas billionaire and his wife, has made a name for itself since 2011 by funding research on the fiscal health of public pensions. Now, irate public-employee unions are pressing nonprofits such as public television, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Brookings Institution to stop taking money from the Houston-based organization. The unions argue that the Arnold Foundation is trying to sway public opinion to support replacing public pensions—which give workers including police, firefighters and teachers guaranteed benefits at retirement—with defined-contribution accounts similar to 401(k)s, or hybrid approaches. The funding woes of several high-profile pension systems, including those for city workers in Detroit and Chicago, have some municipalities and states worried they won’t be able to fund other areas of government. In an interview, Mr. Arnold, 40 years old, a former Enron Corp. trader who later created an energy hedge fund, called the union allegations “an organized smear campaign” against him and his foundation to avoid discussing solutions to pension-funding problems. Mr. Arnold said that he doesn’t want to end public retirement plans but stabilize them, and that he doesn’t favor any one solution to pension problems. (read article)

Proposed changes to union rules divide U.S. business, labor

By Amanda Becker, April 10, 2014, The Lehigh Morning Call

U.S. union organizers squared off against powerful business interests on Thursday over whether proposed federal rule changes for union organizing are an overdue procedural update or a radical step that would put employers at a disadvantage. The U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Thursday and Friday is hearing input from unions, workers and businesses on the board’s proposals to modernize its rules for union elections, which includes allowing electronic signatures and expediting pre-election hearings. Employers, backed by their trade associations and lobbying groups, have said the NLRB’s plan will allow union organizers to hold so-called “ambush elections” that would give companies little time to respond. Unions and worker advocates have said this doomsday scenario is hyperbole. The NLRB’s priority is protecting the right of workers to organize and improve working conditions, not weighing the power balance between unions and employers, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld attorney Caren Sencer told the board Thursday. “It is not an agency designed to balance interests,” said Sencer, who represents unions and workers in employment disputes. The NLRB is an 80-year-old federal agency that oversees union elections, protects workers’ rights to take collective action and polices unfair labor practices in the private sector. (read article)

Union threatens Dem House members on anti-Keystone vote

By Rick Moran, April 13, 2014, American Thinker

Democratic House members are being squeezed by pro and anti Keystone pipeline advocates and the issue threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the 2014 mid term election. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) has sent a letter to its members telling them to put some heat on Democratic House members who oppose construction of the Keystone pipeline. But mega-donor Tom Steyer has threatened Democrats with being cut off from his $100 million war chest if they vote for the project. The issue has pitted activists against each other and has caused President Obama to delay his decision until he can figure out a way out of the mess. The Hill: A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative “feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.” Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. (read article)

Feud between union and Subaru dealership escalates with hilarious video

By Cheryl Carpenter, April 13, 2014, BizPac Review

If you thought the feud between the Wichita Subaru dealership and a local labor union was over, think again. Team Subaru has outdone themselves in round four with an amusing music video. It began in March, when Carpenters Local 201 placed a banner on the Subaru dealer’s property attempting to shame them over a labor dispute, as chronicled by Twitchy. But the dealer’s response gained national attention: The union moved its sign, and once again it was bested by the Subaru response, which included adding a comma to its sign and writing this on its blog: Our banner friends moved all the way over to the right, in an apparent attempt to end the sentence. However, with the help of a comma, the phrase makes sense when the signs are reversed! March Madness was too big to ignore, with the dealer writing this on its blog, and making yet another change to its sign: All of us here at Subaru of Wichita are crazy about March Madness. We’re especially thrilled to be cheering on the Wichita State Shockers as they continue to make history. GO SHOCKERS! With Team Subaru leading 3-0, the union has once again moved its banner, prompting the dealership to throw a dance party, writing this on its Facebook page: All this banner repositioning feels a lot like dancing. So, what better way to join the fun than with a musical pop n’lock ballet Google Glass extravaganza? (read article)

Ohio pushes back against player unions

Julie Carr Smyth, April 13, 2014, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

State pushback against a movement to unionize college athletes has begun in Ohio, the football-loving heart of a heated anti-labor campaign in 2011 and home to one of America’s highest-grossing collegiate franchises, the Ohio State Buckeyes. A measure approved by the state House on Wednesday, two weeks after a federal agency said football players at Northwestern University could unionize, clarifies that college athletes aren’t public employees. The proposal appears to be the first of its kind to clear a state legislative chamber; it heads next to the state Senate. The opposite is happening in Connecticut, where lawmakers are looking at clearing the path for college athletes to unionize. Some observers, though, think other states are more likely to follow Ohio’s lead. “This is a pre-emptive move,” said John Russo, a union organization expert who formerly directed Youngstown State University’s Center for Working-Class Studies. The National Labor Relations Board official ruled March 26 that full-scholarship players at Northwestern University in Illinois are employees and therefore eligible to unionize. (read article)

Big Labor Thugs Emboldened by Obama Labor Board

By Fred Wszolek, April 12, 2014, Townhall

Racketeering, assault, and extortion — these are just a few of the crimes that union organizers have been accused or convicted of committing over the past few weeks and months. You would think Big Labor bosses would be concerned with their image and whether or not it affects their ability to maneuver with friends in the Obama Administration. Not so. In fact, they have been emboldened by the actions undertaken by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is currently seeking to expedite the unionization process so much so that workers and businesses will not be able to make informed decisions concerning the formation of collective bargaining units in their place of employment. To better understand who stands to benefit from the proposed “ambush” election rule change giving employees and employers less than two weeks to act after union petitions have been filed, while also providing union organizers with the personal contact information of workers, we need to look no further than recent press reports. Last February, for instance, ten members of the Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401 were charged with “conspiracy, extortion, arson, destruction of property, and assault under federal racketeering statutes.” Local media outlets reported that union organizers created “goon squads” to intimidate construction contractors who refused to hire union workers with violent force and explicit threats. (read article)

Labor group won’t back Assembly candidate in primary

By Derek Moore, April 12, 2014, Press Democrat

More than 60,000 union members living in the North Bay are expected to receive a slate mailer in the coming weeks bearing recommendations for who they should vote for in the June primary. A candidate endorsed by the North Bay Labor Council, in turn, can benefit from hundreds of volunteers manning phone banks, walking precincts and performing other campaign duties. However, the council is taking what may be an unprecedented pass on endorsing in the 10th Assembly District primary, featuring incumbent Assemblyman Marc Levine, Santa Rosa Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom and Marin college trustee Diana Conti. The more than 60 labor groups represented by the council are splintered over which of the candidates to back for the Assembly seat, which covers Santa Rosa south of College Avenue, Petaluma and Marin County. “It’s not where we want to be,” Jack Buckhorn, the labor council’s president, said of the divisions in the race. Observers attribute the situation to redrawn political boundaries, the fairly new top-two primary system and to the candidates, who have varying degrees of labor support — as well as opposition. (read article)

Boston, firefighters reach tentative labor deal

April 12, 2014, Boston.com

The city of Boston has reached a tentative labor contract with its firefighters union, marking the first time since 2001 that the two sides have struck a deal without arbitration. Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Richard Paris announced the deal Saturday. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed. The union is expected to present the deal to its members next week. Firefighters are expected to vote on it in about 10 days. The two sides launched formal negotiations after Walsh succeeded Mayor Thomas Menino in January. Walsh is a former labor union leader whose election benefited from help from labor organizations. Walsh described the deal as a compromise that serves the interests of Boston’s firefighters and taxpayers. Paris says the deal was bargained in good faith. (read article)

Boston police unions approve labor deals worth about $34m

By Travis Andersen, April 11, 2014, Boston Globe

Two Boston police unions have ratified labor deals that will cost taxpayers an estimated $34 million for a six-year period that includes some retroactive years, city and union officials said Thursday night. Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration negotiated the deals with unions representing superior detectives and superior officers, at estimated costs over the six-year period of $12.1 million and $21.9 million, respectively. It was not immediately clear Thursday night why the amounts differed, though the detectives union has fewer members than the superior officers’ group. The contracts next go to the City Council for approval and then to the mayor for his signature. “We are pleased to have reached agreements with these two unions, and to have avoided a potentially lengthy and contentious arbitration process at greater cost to the taxpayers,” said Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for Walsh. While details of the pacts and negotiations were limited Thursday night, the contract for the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation includes a 9 percent base salary raise over three years, beginning Oct. 1, 2013, as well as retroactive hikes for when they worked under an expired contract. (read article)

Policy Divides Over Union Elections on Display at NLRB

By Melanie Trottman, April 11, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Political and workplace divides over labor policy were on display at the National Labor Relations Board’s Washington headquarters this week, where the board held a hearing to examine its proposal to streamline and speed union-organizing elections in the private sector. The proposed federal rule was revived by the board’s three Democrats in February after business groups stymied a 2011 version in court on a technicality. The board’s two Republicans dissented on the latest attempt, in a split that has reverberated in Congress and among employer and union groups at odds over the proposal. About three dozen people testified Thursday to the board members of the agency run by presidential appointees, and dozens more presented Friday as part of the two-day hearing, They included representatives for unions in the construction, retail, and food industries and lawyers for business trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Union officials pressed the board to advance the proposal on the grounds that it takes too long to schedule elections because of employer stall tactics such as litigation, while employer representatives urged a withdrawal on the grounds that employers would be robbed of time to counter union-organizing campaigns. (read article)

Labor Union to Cash Rich Apple: “It’s Tax Time”

By Daniel Hirsch, April 10, 2014, Mission Local

As Tax Day looms, representatives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been quietly, but persistently, nudging Apple, a company infamous for tax avoidance, to pay up and on Thursday morning, five representatives showed up at the corner of 15th and Mission streets to make their demands. “They have a staggering amount of cash in off-shore and out-of-state accounts, more than Google or other companies, and public resources that our members rely on — transit, public schools — are struggling,” said SEIU representative Alfredo Fletes. “We need to remind Apple that they impact these things too.” For an hour this morning, Fletes and his colleagues politely handed out fliers and held signs detailing the scope in which they believe the tech company is avoiding its duties to California. According to SEIU, California loses $221 million in corporate tax because of Apple profits held in Nevada subsidies. Recent years have seen increased international scrutiny for the Cupertino-based company with subsidies around the world. A Congressional inquiry last May found that Apple consistently avoids paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes by channeling money into off-shore subsidies. Recently, others have been writing about the cash that Apple and other tech companies are sitting on. A Moody’s report showed Apple with $158.8 billion in cash reserves. (read article)

Labor Split Boosts Ohio Governor

By Kris Maher, April 10, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Gov. John Kasich has earned such ire among unions that he is on a list of six Republican governors the AFL-CIO has said it hopes to topple this fall. But a group of laborers within the AFL-CIO’s own ranks are considering backing Mr. Kasich’s re-election bid, emblematic of a larger split in the labor federation over issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to the Affordable Care Act. Members of building trades unions—including carpenters, laborers, electricians and iron workers—tend to be more conservative politically than most other union members. They often side with business over environmental groups and find common ground with Republicans on infrastructure projects. “We’re pragmatic with our politics. Jobs are our currency,” said Sean McGarvey, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department at the AFL-CIO in Washington. In Ohio, union leaders caution that the courtship between Mr. Kasich and the building trades is relatively new. Still, the political-action committee of the state’s trades unions gave his campaign the maximum contribution, and it is “very possible” the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, whose member unions represent 90,000 hard hats, will endorse the governor, said Dennis Duffey, secretary-treasurer of the group. (read article)

Union: Too much power for developers in arena entitlements

By Ben van der Meer, April 10, 2014, Sacramento Business Journal

The city of Sacramento needs to take a more careful look, and let others do the same, before approving ancillary development around the new downtown arena, according to a research analyst for a union representing hotel and restaurant workers. Ty Hudson, of Unite Here Local 49, said his group is concerned city approval of entitlements the city’s planning commission will review today will give little leeway in the future as new development details come out. While city staff and planning commissioners could influence actual project design for a proposed hotel, for example, other portions would be exempt from city review, he said. And the matter would only go before the City Council again on appeal, with the same constraints on what the city could ask developers to do, he added. “Essentially, it would be the planning equivalent of writing the Kings a giant blank check,” Hudson said. (read article)

NLRB complains Black Friday protesters went too far

By Eric Boehm, April 9, 2014, Watchdog.org

Labor union members and protesters who stormed a Michigan Walmart on “Black Friday” in 2012 have landed in hot water with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB has filed a complaint against Our Walmart, a so-called “workers center” group that organizes protests and claims to represent employees at the national big-box retailer, and the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union, which funds Our Walmart’s activities. The complaint also names a number of individuals, including UFCW employees and members of Occupy Detroit, who participated in protests at a Walmart in Dearborn, Mich., in November. The Black Friday protests have become a common sight at Walmarts and other large retailers, but the labor unions behind the protests stepped up their efforts in 2013 to coincide with a national push from progressives seeking to hike the minimum wage. The protesters in Dearborn apparently stepped it up a little too much. (read article)

‘Workers centers are just third-wave unions,’ says labor activist

By Sean Higgins, April 8, 2014, Washington Examiner

Jose Oliva, networks director for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said so-called “worker centers” like his group were a “new form of unionism” that would replace craft and industrial unions. He made the comments in an interview with the public radio program Global Nation late last month. Worker centers are nonprofit groups that act as an alternate form of labor organizing. The most prominent of these are backed by traditional Big Labor groups. ROC United’s board, for example, includes Paul Schwalb, deputy director of food services for the union UNITE HERE. Oliva explained the differences and similarities between the two groups and why Big Labor is turning to this model… (read article)

Labor’s lackeys stack the deck but workers keep leaving unions

Editorial, April 8, 2014, Washington Examiner

An unprecedented trend is reshaping the contemporary American workplace: U.S. workers are headed in one direction even as union leaders and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are going full-gallop in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, this development is rarely if ever mentioned in the news pages of the liberal precincts of the mainstream media. That absence is especially unfortunate because the way Americans work is undergoing fundamental change. For their part, workers are leaving traditional labor unions and have been doing so for years. Union membership in private sector companies was 6.7 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private sector union membership peaked at nearly 36 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s. It’s been downhill ever since. Government workers remain by far the most unionized, at 35.3 percent. Together, the overall percentage of the nation’s workforce that is unionized was only 11.3 percent, representing 14.5 million employees. (read article)

AFL-CIO admits declining membership a major problem

Chris Fleisher, April 8, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The AFL-CIO convention had barely begun before the labor group’s leader in Pennsylvania offered a sobering thought that its challenges went beyond raising the minimum wage. “If we don’t reverse the trend in our numbers, we’re going to be in dire straits indeed,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. The statewide labor organization kicked off its biennial convention in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, an event that 800 people are expected to attend as the organization sets the priorities for the next two years. Bloomingdale’s comment was a small, even quiet point made amid spirited calls to fight the political and corporate powers that labor leaders say threaten worker rights. Still, it was a reminder that unions have another challenge beyond fighting anti-union legislation and arguing for higher wages. Indeed, they must fight for their own survival. Union membership has declined across the United States since the early 1980s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, more than a fifth of the nation’s workers were unionized. By last year, the rate had fallen to 11.3 percent. (read article)

Understanding Core Workforce Provisions in Project Labor Agreements

April 7, 2014, Truth About PLAs

Among the many reasons why most merit shop contractors oppose government-mandated project labor agreements (PLAs) is language requiring contractors to hire all trades employees for a PLA jobsite directly from union hiring halls. Sample language from a typical PLA: “Article 7.01. – For Unions having a hiring hall or job referral system in their local agreements, the Employer agrees to be bound by such system and it shall be used exclusively by the employer.” This provision prevents contractors from using their existing craft employees to build a PLA project. This is problematic because successful construction firms invest resources into their workforces to improve jobsite safety, productivity and quality in order to deliver value to customers and develop a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Many contractors believe hiring unfamiliar workers of unknown quality through union hiring halls is a needless risk that could delay time- and cost-sensitive construction schedules. They contend an unfamiliar workforce makes it difficult to make accurate labor cost and project schedule estimates. They say it harms existing employees economically, and undermines the benefits of having a loyal workforce focused on the success and growth of a company in a customer-service business. (read article)

Not your grandpa’s labor union

By Leon Neyfakh, April 06, 2014, Boston Globe

As ‘employee’ and ‘employer’ become hazy categories, experiments in worker advocacy are replacing unions as we’ve known them. Behind disparate organizing efforts, which come amid plummeting private-sector union membership overall, is a profound shift affecting nearly every industry in the American economy. More and more working people, at all levels of income, are operating in a gray area in terms of their employment status. For some, this means being hired as independent contractors or temps; for others, it means working for a subcontracting company or a franchise that takes orders from a massive corporation. Most workers affected by this new paradigm are not at risk for being maimed or killed on the job, the way American miners were in the 1860s when dangerous working conditions spurred them to unionize. But they feel vulnerable in a different way. In a world where a full-time, long-term job with benefits at a single company is increasingly rare, these so-called precarious or contingent workers often lead unpredictable lives without financial stability or a clear set of similarly affected colleagues. Under this new regime, formal unionization is out of the question for millions of Americans. In response, the labor movement has begun to experiment with new possibilities for how workers might negotiate for better conditions. “There’s been a fundamental shift in the workplace in this country,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center. “These are all experiments in trying to organize the new working class.” “There are just very few sectors of the economy that fit that model anymore,” Weinbaum said. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the number of people who fell under the umbrella of contingent workers—defined in the report as those who “are not wage and salary workers working at least 35 hours a week in permanent jobs”— was 42.6 million in 2005. In all these cases, labor experts say, what we’re seeing is evidence of a struggle to establish clarity about what constitutes employment, and an effort to reduce the ambiguity surrounding the relationship between workers and the entities that wield power over them. (read article)


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