Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions wasted millions in Wisconsin, Michigan governor races

By Jason Hart, November 11, 2014, Watchdog.org

Union bosses dumped more than $7.5 million into the Wisconsin and Michigan governor races only to see both states’ labor-reforming incumbents re-elected. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, both Republicans, were two of the five governors publicly targeted by union coalition AFL-CIO in February. Last Tuesday, Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke 52-47, and Snyder defeated Democrat Mark Schauer 51-47. Big labor hates — and in 2012 tried to recall — Walker because of 2011’s Act 10, a centerpiece of his agenda limiting the power of public-sector unions. Snyder signed two right-to-work laws in 2012, empowering most Michigan workers to opt out of paying labor union bosses and launching himself near the top of the union enemies list. Without accounting for union contributions to Democratic Party committees or any of a laundry list of politically active “progressive” nonprofits, unions this year spent at least $4,387,631 against Walker and at least $3,276,973 against Snyder. These figures likely far understate unions’ staff and monetary investments in both races. (read article)

The ever-expanding reach of the NLRB and why non-union employers should care

By Tina Syring, November 11, 2014, Inside Counsel

In the past, non-union employers paid very little attention to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as those companies rarely had their employment policies and practices scrutinized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Instead, the non-union employers had a false sense of security in believing the NLRB would leave them alone because they had no unionized employees. It often felt as though non-union employers only took notice of the NLRA or NLRB when a threat of unionization appeared or when it appeared the Employee Free Choice Act would pass in 2009. However, as non-employers have learned over the past few years, times have changed. Despite the failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act or the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous rebuke of President Obama’s recess appointments in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the Board appears relatively unfazed. Instead, the NLRB has continued its activist role in supporting labor unions’ organizing efforts. In this two-part series, we will examine various activities by the NLRB and why non-union employers should take notice. (read article)

Unions still signing up new members, despite Michigan’s 2012 Right To Work legislation

By Emily Lawler, November 11, 2014, Michigan Live

Sparrow Home Health nurses voted this week to unionize, marking the first group the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) has registered since Gov. Rick Snyder signed Right to Work legislation in 2012. “What we’re seeing is that Right to Work or not, nurses and others recognize that forming a union is the most effective way that they can have a voice in the workplace,” said Michigan Nurses Association spokesperson Dawn Kettinger. Ed McNeil, special assistant to the president of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) rattled off four new groups he’d helped form unions this year, though he says he’d have to dig through some files to find the total number they’ve done since 2012. “They’re calling us to organize them because they’re looking at the type of work that we’ve done in the past and how we represent people,” McNeil said. He estimates that the actual number of AFSCME members in the state is staying about the same, since some individuals are dropping out. As far as new organizing goes, “We’re doing more than we did before 2012,” McNeil said. Another example of unions picking up members after the passage of the state’s Right to Work law is in Detroit, where the American Federation of Teachers organized teachers at Detroit’s Cesar Chavez Academy in 2014. (read article)

Teachers Unions Don’t Represent All Teachers

By John Greet, November 10, 2014, Long Beach Post

As reported here, 10 current members of the California Teachers Association (CTA) are suing that labor union, a state-level affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), alleging, among other things, that “compulsory unionism is a violation of (their) constitutional right to freedom of speech and association.” Rebecca Friedrichs, who has worked as a public school teacher in Orange County for about 26 years, and her co-plaintiffs, all of them public school teachers from various California cities, appear to feel that neither NEA, CTA, nor their respective local union affiliates, represent them or their views when it comes to both contract negotiations and political activities. Current and former LBUSD teachers are members of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) which is also a local affiliate of both CTA and NEA. Like all other local teachers unions in their own Districts, TALB is the exclusive bargaining entity for LBUSD teachers. TALB members pay for their membership through union dues, a considerable portion of which is, in turn, sent on to both the CTA and the NEA. According to the dues page at TALB’s website, the top level of members (or Category 1) currently pays $1066 per year in membership dues, $641 of which is sent on to CTA and $183 of which is sent on to NEA. There appear to be four other membership Categories which have lesser dues levels. (read article)

Developer decides to use 100 percent union labor for Downtown project

By Suhauna Hussain, November 10, 2014, Daily Californian

The developer of a proposed 17-story mixed-use project in Downtown Berkeley recently announced its decision to use 100 percent union labor in the project’s construction. Project developer HSR Berkeley Investments signed an agreement several weeks ago with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, which represents the county’s 28 labor unions, to use union labor. The project, called the Residences at Berkeley Plaza, will be located at 2211 Harold Way. Robert Stoker, president of the council, said that it is a “win-win” situation when both labor unions and developers come together and do something for the community. Stoker said it is important that construction workers make livable wages. The project will employ roughly 300 skilled workers, who will earn $65 per hour on average, and take about three years for completion, he said. “What better stimulus for the city of Berkeley than a sustainable project built with local labor, built in this community,” Stoker said. According to Mark Rhoades, who represents HSR Berkeley Investments, the project was intended to be a union project from the very beginning, and there has not been such an agreement between a private developer and a labor union in the past two decades. (read article)

NLRB to Decide Whether Workers Can Use Company Email to Discuss Ways to Improve Working Conditions

By Melanie Trottman, November 9, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Business groups are bracing for a ruling by federal regulators that could require employers to let workers use company email systems to communicate about ways to work together to improve wages and working conditions, potentially giving unions a powerful organizing tool. The National Labor Relations Board, which resolves workplace disputes and oversees union elections in most of the private sector, is considering reversing a 2007 ruling that employees don’t have a statutory right to use employers’ email systems for such purposes. Since then, the board’s makeup has changed—all five members were appointed by President Barack Obama. Also, the NLRB’s general counsel, whose opinion can hold sway at the agency, has urged the board to reverse the 2007 decision, saying email is a primary way that workers communicate with each other and is vital to their rights under federal labor law to work together for mutual aid and protection—with or without a union. (read article)

Wage Watch: Labor unions endure a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

By Claire Zillman, November 7, 2014, Fortune

Count organized labor as one of the many victims of the Republican Party’s stunning dominance of Tuesday’s midterm elections. Count unions among the many victims of the Republicans domination at the polls on Election Day, as organized labor leaders and supporters failed to help Democrats hold off deep losses in Congress and in governors’ mansions. Big union losses came in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin as Republican gubernatorial candidates that the AFL-CIO had painted as anti-union won their elections. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s victory was likely the most painful, since a defeat to Democrat Mary Burke would have signaled a rebuke of his attack on collective bargaining. The race had been neck-and-neck leading up to Election Day, but Walker pulled off a 52%-47% win. The nation’s teachers unions also fared particularly poorly on Tuesday. They shelled out more than $60 million on the midterm elections and ended up with very little to show for it, as their candidates in Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois lost their elections. Many of the union-backed state and local initiatives on issues like pre-K education also suffered defeats. (read article)

Cop, fire unions sued by the city over labor pacts

By Josh Baugh, November 7, 2014, San Antonio Express

The city of San Antonio filed lawsuits Friday against the police and fire unions, whose collective-bargaining agreements expired earlier this year, asking a state district judge to decide whether a 10-year “evergreen clause” that would keep the entire contract intact violates the Texas Constitution. “Today we are asking the court for a legal determination as to whether the police and fire union labor contracts can constitutionally remain in effect for the next decade,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to continuing the negotiation process.” Former City Attorney Michael Bernard, now a partner in the San Antonio office of the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm and member of the city’s collective-bargaining team, said the City Council is facing “significant budget deadlines” because it budgeted less money for fiscal year 2015 than what it would cost to cover the estimated costs of health care under the public-safety contracts. The council approved a policy this year limiting spending on public safety to 66 percent of the general fund, and city officials have targeted health care as the primary way to reduce costs. Without new contracts in place, the city will begin spending more than what’s budgeted for uniform health care by $1.6 million each month because it has to honor the unions’ contracts. Now, less than two months into the new fiscal year, the council is faced with making $14.2 million in budget cuts from areas such as street maintenance and “other essential services” to honor the terms of the unions’ collective-bargaining agreements, a city news release states. (read article)

An L.A. Story: Unions Show Signs of Life

By Tina Rosenberg, November 6, 2014

Gabriela Ochoa is a vivacious woman who buses tables at the Landings Restaurant at the Holiday Inn near Los Angeles International Airport, a job she has held since 2001. This year has been a good year for Ochoa, 45, and her husband, who is a supervisor at a vegetable packing company. They have two adult children, a teenager and 6-year-old twins, and they can afford to give the twins treats. “I can take them to IHOP or to the aquarium,” she said. She hadn’t seen her family in Mexico for years, but this summer Ochoa, her husband and the twins took a two-week vacation to Michoacán to visit them. She can get herself a new pair of sneakers without worrying about the money. The family owns its house. “My older children joke that they didn’t have what the kids have now,” she said. “Now the twins have more food in the fridge, a gallon of milk instead of a small carton, more toys. I take them to Chuck E. Cheese.” Ochoa can do these things because in 2006, the City Council passed a law mandating a $10.64 hourly wage and health benefits for hotel workers on Century Boulevard, the corridor of 13 large hotels just outside the entrance to LAX. After legal squabbles, it went into effect in 2008. (read article)

Hey, unions: Don’t freak out about Scott Walker’s big victory

By Shikha Dalmia, November 6, 2014, The Week

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) pulled off a stunner of a solid victory on Tuesday. And after his very public fights with Wisconsin’s public sector unions, the governor’s re-election is being billed as a major blow to Big Labor. In the long run, that is no doubt true. But unions might not have that much to worry about in the foreseeable future. That’s because there just aren’t many governors, including Walker himself, who are going to have the appetite or the need to push anti-union measures until the economy tanks again. It’s easy to see why Walker’s win is seen as terrible for Big Labor. Unions had put a bull’s eye on Walker ever since he signed the union-deflating Public Act 10 into law in 2011. Walker’s law went well beyond eliminating compulsory payment of union dues as a condition of employment in union shops, as right-to-work laws (including one signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder) do. Although, unlike right-to-work, it applies only to public sector unions, it: bars employers from withholding dues from employee paychecks and tells union bosses to make their own collection arrangements; requires unions to be recertified every year; mandates government employees to contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits; and restricts collective bargaining to base wages — making benefits, workplace arrangements, and staffing levels off limits. These restrictions were crucial in freeing local budgets from the chokehold of unions, saving state taxpayers $2 billion in just its first year. (read article)

California Schools Chief Torlakson Wins Second Term

By Allie Bidwell, November 5, 2014, US News

Incumbent Tom Torlakson, a former teacher heavily backed by teachers and labor unions, narrowly walked to re-election Wednesday as California’s superintendent of public instruction. What is normally a low-profile race caught national attention as it highlighted a stark divide within the Democratic party: the ideals of labor unions versus education reformers. Torlakson’s challenger, charter school executive Marshall Tuck, made a surprising challenge throughout the race, with both sides spending upwards of $10 million each on their campaigns. The race became the most expensive and most high-profile in California, with total spending more than triple that of the governor’s race – more than $30 million in all. Leading into the election night, polls showed the two in a dead heat, with more than one-third of likely voters still undecided. In all, Torlakson received 52 percent of the vote, while Tuck received 48 percent, with 100 percent of precincts partially reporting. Torlakson issued a statement early Wednesday morning declaring victory. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Torlakson said. “They were strong, but we were stronger. They were tough, but we were tougher. After all, we’re teachers – we did our homework.” “I congratulate my opponent for running a strong campaign,” Torlakson said of Tuck. “And while I disagree with him in many respects – I believe he truly wants California’s children to succeed – and I wish him well.” Torlakson’s re-election is one of few big wins for teachers unions, as most of the GOP governors they targeted to defeat – Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Rick Scott in Florida and Rick Snyder in Michican – were successful in their races. Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said Torlakson’s win was a boost for California students. (read article)

In Great Lakes States, Union Retribution Fizzles

By Tom Gantert, November 5, 2014, Michigan Capitol Confidential

In December of 2012, in the aftermath of Michigan’s Republican Legislature passing a right-to-work law, thousands of union members from around the state participated in a teleconference where their leaders promised “retribution” against the GOP. One union member wondered if Democrats took control of the Legislature, “Could we shove it right down their throats?” Al Garrett, president of Michigan AFSCME Council 25, shot back: “If we were to change the composition of both houses, where we were the majority and had the governor, no question we would be able to get rid of it right away. … In November of 2014, we vote to change the composition of those bodies. … We will not forget the folks who did this to us.” Garrett said the union would “make sure we identify the folks who did us in and get them out of office.” (read article)

GOP Victories Deal Blow to Organized Labor

By Melanie Trottman and Kris Maher, November 5, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Republican wins in Senate and gubernatorial races on Tuesday dealt a blow to organized labor, which failed to help the Democratic Party fend off deep losses in the second straight midterm election. Unions were unable to oust Republican governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Maine after the incumbents were targeted by the AFL-CIO for pushing measures that curbed union power. In Rhode Island, many union members opposed Democrat Gina Raimondo, the state treasurer who had spearheaded deep pension cuts for state employees. Labor opposition split among two other candidates, and Ms. Raimondo was elected governor. In West Virginia, incumbent Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, first elected in 1976, lost his seat in coal country after Republicans repeatedly linked him to President Barack Obama , who is widely disliked by the state’s voters for his administration’s energy policies. Mr. Rahall had the backing of the once-formidable United Mine Workers of America and unions contributed more money to his re-election than any other federal candidate—more than $400,000, said the Center for Responsive Politics. (read article)

Republican Governors Face Down Labor

By Steven Malanga, November 5, 2014, City Journal

Republicans began their march to dominance in statehouses around the country shortly after Barack Obama won the presidency. Running anti-Obama candidates, the GOP captured a net of eight governors’ mansions between 2009 and 2013, giving the party 29 in all. In 24 of those states, the GOP also controlled the legislature. Some of those governors ruled boldly by cutting government spending, signing controversial right-to-work legislation, and limiting the right of public workers to strike. They prompted the ire of unions, who targeted half a dozen GOP governors for defeat this year. Labor largely failed, however, because as exit polls suggest, state voters actually approved of many of the boldest moves made by Republican governors over the last four years. (read article)

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!