Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Voters want Congress to protect employees from unions

By Newt Gingrich and Rick Berman, December 16, 2014, Washington Post

On Election Day, voters didn’t just rebel against President Obama. There was another pattern in the candidates they chose: Across the country, they picked pols who explicitly supported individual employee rights. This wasn’t just a canned part of every Republican’s platform. Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Snyder of Michigan, for instance, both won reelection after pushing through significant employee-friendly reforms in their first terms. Even in deep-blue Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner campaigned on a platform to give state employees the right to decide for themselves whether to join a union. Pro-employee rights candidates now hold majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate, and it’s time for Congress to deliver the pro-employee agenda that has gained so much momentum in the states. Here’s how members can enhance employee rights in the workplace. The best legislative vehicle for advancing those rights is the Employee Rights Act (ERA). (read article)

California Senate leader calls for pension funds to pull out of coal

By David Siders and Jon Ortiz, December 15, 2014, Sacramento Bee

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said Monday that he will propose legislation requiring California’s massive pension funds to divest their holdings in coal. The proposal, which de León said he would submit in January, comes amid pressure from environmentalists for governments to eliminate fossil-fuel investments from their portfolios. While divestment has been seen since the time of apartheid as a largely symbolic measure, it can raise awareness and exert pressure on large institutions. If approved, de León’s divestment plan would affect the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System. “Coal is a dirty fossil fuel,” de León said. “I think that our values should reflect, you know, who we are as the state of California.” It was unclear how far-reaching the proposal might be, or what firms other than coal-mining companies, if any, might be affected. The Los Angeles Democrat said he is “going through all of those details right now” and that “once we get down deeper in the weeds we can tell you how far it goes.” (read article)

Labor board gives unions new leverage to organize workers

By Tim Devaney, December 15, 2014, The Hill

The National Labor Relations Board is moving to grant unions sweeping new powers to organize workers over fierce objections from business leaders, who complain that actions announced last week amount to early Christmas gift for Big Labor. The NLRB on Friday published regulations allowing for at speedier union elections, two years after a nearly identical rule was struck down in federal court. The highly anticipated regulations were issued a day after the NLRB decided that employees should be allowed to use company email systems for union business. The controversial NLRB moves have labor leaders cheering and businesses reeling. “There’s no question about it,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce, “unions are going to have the upper hand.” Former conservative NLRB board member Brian Hayes called the agency’s recent efforts a “gift to organized labor.” The NLRB’s efforts to speed up union elections could go a long way toward reversing declining union numbers, he says. Labor officials complain that businesses often slow down the process in months and sometimes even years of litigation, which discourages workers from unionizing. But the new rules will reduce many of these “unnecessary delays” and ensure that workers vote “in a timely manner,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. (read article)

UAW president: Pay increases on the agenda for ’15

By Michael Wayland, December 15, 2014, Detroit News

Bridging pay gaps and raising wages appear to be the top priorities for United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams heading into 2015 contract negotiations with Detroit automakers. Williams said it’s time for the union’s nearly 139,000 members at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC to be rightfully rewarded for their work and the sacrifices members made during the economic downturn. He said the days of automakers arguing that union labor costs are making them uncompetitive are over, as the pay gap between CEOs and the rank-and-file has grown. “If they want to go ahead and want to talk about wages, I am more than happy to sit down and talk about their salaries,” Williams said Monday morning when talking with news media at Solidarity House, the union’s headquarters in Detroit. The remarks echo those from the UAW’s 36th Constitutional Convention in June, when Williams was elected to lead the union. The slogan “It’s our time” was plastered on T-shirts supporting solidarity among members, many of whom haven’t received raises in nearly a decade. (read article)

Right-to-work trims union clout, broader economic impact unclear

By Matthew DeFour, December 15, 2014, Wisconsin State Journal

If Wisconsin adopts a right-to-work law next year, it will join other union strongholds like Michigan and Indiana in weakening private sector union strength with a goal of spurring the economy. Although it’s too early to tell what impact the 2012 laws in those Midwestern states have had, studies of the other 22 states with right-to-work laws reveal mixed results, with ongoing disagreement among academic researchers and economic think tanks about the impact on jobs, wages and private investment. There is broader agreement that such laws reduce union membership, which opponents argue is the goal of right-to-work. But even there the evidence is muddled by the general decline in union membership over decades. Even without the law in place, Wisconsin’s private sector union participation rate was 8.2 percent in 2013, down from 19.8 percent in 1983. “Folks have strong feelings about right-to-work laws on both sides,” said Georgia State University labor economist Barry Hirsch. “I’ve always felt the proponents and opponents overrate it. It has never struck me as being so important as both sides emphasize.” (read article)

Will These Labor Unions Ruin Christmas?

By Connor D. Wolf, December 15, 2014, Daily Caller

Two major unions are continuing protests through the holiday shopping season against companies trying to make sure gifts get out in time. The West Coast port slowdowns and the latest rounds of Amazon walkouts in Germany have caused significant problems for their respective companies in the midst of the holidays. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has been using work slowdowns as a tactic to pressure the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) during negotiations. The slowdowns, which began in October, have created concern over what impact it may have on holiday shopping. The slowdowns have caused the most congestion at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two busiest shipping hubs. Together the two ports handle 43 percent of all container cargo entering the United States, according to The Global Post. (read article)

Patrick shifts position on worker unionization

By Michael Levenson and Stephanie Ebbert, December 15, 2014, Boston Globe

Seven months before Governor Deval Patrick agreed to transfer 500 state workers into a public employees union, his legal team successfully blocked a similar union effort by arguing it would be contrary to law. Documents obtained by the Globe show that Patrick’s legal team in March opposed an effort by the National Association of Government Employees to represent about 3,000 state employees hired since July 2011. Patrick’s team argued that the positions that NAGE wanted to include had not been part of the union in its 30-year history and that the transfer would deny workers the right to determine their own representation. Now, Patrick is arguing that extending union protection to another 500 workers is warranted. The latest transfer, proposed in October as Patrick prepared to leave office, has been controversial because folding the workers into the union will effectively insulate them from layoffs at a time of transition. Patrick, who has called for emergency spending cuts to eliminate a budget crunch, is about to hand over the corner office to Charlie Baker, a Republican who has promised a thorough review of state government. (read article)

Napa State union protests private security guards

By Kerana Todorov, December 14, 2014, Napa Valley Register

The union that represents peace officers at Napa State Hospital has threatened to file a lawsuit against the state for wanting to hire private security personnel to escort patients off campus. Napa State Hospital has considered contracting with a private security company to transport patients to appointments at other locations, according to a letter the union sent to state officials. The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents hospital peace officers, demanded in a Nov. 19 letter that the California Department of State Hospitals and Napa State Hospital immediately stop all efforts to contract with a private company for services hospital police officers perform. A similar effort to hire private security guards petered out in 2007 after the peace officers’ union filed a complaint in Sacramento County Superior Court. The state then wanted to hire security guards to replace peace officers staffing the guard kiosks on campus seven days a week. (read article)

Ohio teachers’ union dues boost big-government groups

By Jason Hart, December 12, 2014, Ohio Watchdog

The Ohio Education Association reported $1.5 million in political spending this year, including five-figure donations to the state’s top “progressive” nonprofits. OEA gave $30,000 to Innovation Ohio, $25,000 to ProgressOhio and $20,000 to Policy Matters Ohio during the union’s fiscal year ending Aug. 31. IO and Policy Matters are union think tanks whose research invariably concludes Ohio needs bigger government. ProgressOhio is the state affiliate of national leftist advocacy group ProgressNow. As would be expected, all three union-funded nonprofits are fierce critics of paycheck protection, which ends the use of taxpayer resources for collecting union dues, and right-to-work, which lets workers choose whether to pay union bosses. IO was founded by Janetta King, chief of staff to Democrat former governor Ted Strickland, within months of Strickland’s failed 2010 re-election bid. King, who still chairs the IO board of directors, now works with Strickland at union ally Center for American Progress Action Fund. (read article)

NLRB boosts unions’ organizing leverage

By Brian Mahoney, December 12, 2014, Politico

In the most significant policy change ever undertaken by the Obama administration to strengthen the power of labor unions, a divided National Labor Relations Board issued a long-awaited final rule speeding up the union election process. The rule will require businesses to postpone virtually all litigation over eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to join the union, thereby depriving management of a stall tactic that unions widely claim benefits the employer. In effect, regional NLRB directors will be given broad discretion to rule such litigation unnecessary until an election takes place. The regulatory shift represents a clear victory for a labor movement that has often felt taken for granted by the Obama administration. In 2009, labor leaders felt frustrated when the White House declined to press for the Employee Free Choice Act, the so-called card check bill, which would have streamlined union elections in different ways. More recently they’ve opposed the president’s push to fast-track the Trans Pacific Partnership without certain labor protections. The initial response to the new rule from labor was somewhat muted. In a written statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said it comprised “modest but important reforms to the representation election process” that will “help reduce delay in the process and make it easier for workers to vote on forming a union in a timely manner.” (read article)

Right-to-Work Laws: Myth vs. Fact

By James Sherk, December 12, 2014, Heritage.org

Many states and local governments are considering right-to-work laws. These laws make union dues voluntary. Without them, union contracts make paying dues a condition of employment. While most Americans support the concept of right-to-work, unions argue strenuously against them. However, most of the arguments against right-to-work have little basis in fact. Myth: Right-to-work laws prohibit unions. Fact: Right-to-work laws make union dues voluntary. Without right-to-work laws, unions negotiate contracts that force workers to pay dues or get fired. Right-to-work laws protect workers’ freedom. The National Labor Relations Act also protects the right of workers in right-to-work states to unionize. Unions currently represent 4.4 million workers in 24 right-to-work states, including highly unionized Nevada, Iowa, and Michigan. Myth: Right-to-work laws undermine unions. Fact: Right-to-work laws make unions work to earn workers’ support. In the long run, this can strengthen union locals. Without right-to-work laws, unions can take their members’ dues for granted and provide lower quality representation. Gary Casteel, the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, explains: This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. (read article)

The GOP and Police Unions: A Love Story

By Eleanor Clift, December 12, 2014, Daily Beast

Republicans and unions are like oil and water: They don’t go together. Except for one big exception. Republican politicians support police unions and unionized fire fighters too, often exempting them from the scorched earth policies they direct toward other public sector unions, like teachers and government workers. “The police are the domestic version of national defense,” says Sam Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. “The reason that Republicans love them so much,” he explained, it that Republicans “identify very strongly in a time of change and turbulence with the troops that provide order. The police are very popular with Republicans and with the middle class in general.” When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cracked down on collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, he exempted cops and fire fighters. He feared the police might go on strike and join the protestors. Videos of that pairing could have doomed Walker’s entire effort. “It’s a decision by politicians not to bite off more than they can chew,” explains James Sherk, a labor policy expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation. (read article)

Labor Board OKs Personal Use of Company Email

By Tom Raum, December 11, 2014, US News

In a victory for unions, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that employees can use their company email accounts for union organizing and other workplace-related purposes, if they do it on their own time. Once an employer gives an employee access to the company email system, then the business cannot restrict what the employee emails, so long as it is generally workplace-related and isn’t during working hours, the NLRB ruled. The NLRB is a government agency that investigates unfair labor practices. The ruling said that “the use of email as a common form of workplace communications has expanded dramatically in recent years.” The ruling could give unions a powerful organizing weapon. The three Democrats on the five member board voted “yes,” while the two Republicans abstained. The ruling reverses a 2007 board decision that employees don’t have a legal right to use their employers’ email for union activity or discussing wages or other workplace issues. It also upholds an opinion by the NLRB’s general counsel, who suggested that workers had a presumed statutory right to use company email to discuss a range of workplace issues — so long as they did it on their own time and unless an employer could demonstrate that doing so would hurt productivity of office discipline. (read article)

California Campus Union Votes 2-1 for Israel Divestment

By JTA, December 11, 2014, The Jewish Daily

A union which represents University of California student-workers and academic employees voted to approve a resolution to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors, and other student-workers at the University of California, announced Wednesday that the measure was approved in the Dec. 4 vote 1411 to 749. The union also announced that, during the vote, 1136 members pledged to personally adhere to the academic boycott of Israel. With the vote, the UAW Local 2865 became the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote on Israel and BDS. The measure calls on the University of California and the UAW International to “divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid”; and calls on the U.S. government to end military aid to Israel. Some 53 percent of voting members also pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel” until the Israeli universities “take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.” (read article)

Walmart Illegally Punished Workers, Judge Rules

By Steven Greenhouse, December 10, 2014, New York Times

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that Walmart managers in California had illegally disciplined employees for going on strike and unlawfully threatened to close a store if many of its employees joined a group demanding higher wages. In a decision made public on Wednesday, Geoffrey Carter, an N.L.R.B. administrative law judge, also found that a Walmart manager had illegally intimidated workers by saying, “If it were up to me, I’d shoot the union.” In addition, the judge said it was unlawful for Walmart managers to tell employees that co-workers returning from a one-day strike would be looking for a new job. Our Walmart, a union-backed group of Walmart employees, filed the complaint with the labor board, asserting that officials at Walmart stores in Placerville and Richmond, Calif., had illegally intimidated workers. Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said in a statement: “We do not agree with some of the administrative law judge’s conclusions.” The company said it would appeal parts of the ruling to the full labor board in Washington. Walmart has a long history of vigorously battling unionization efforts. (read article)

New York City and 8 Labor Unions Reach Tentative Contract

By Nikita Stewart and Al Baker, December 9, 2014, New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an agreement on Tuesday night with a coalition of eight labor unions representing 12,000 high-ranking officers, marking his administration’s first deal with uniformed labor organizations. Mr. de Blasio called a rare, impromptu evening news conference to announce the tentative contract agreement, which would give the officers — including police captains, sanitation chiefs and deputy jail wardens — an 11 percent raise over seven years. The agreement with the Uniformed Superior Officers Coalition would give the workers an additional 1 percent raise compared to a deal that had been struck this year with other unions, which will receive a 10 percent increase over seven years. “These leaders articulated very fairly that it was right to acknowledge the difficulty of this work and the dangers of this work and that there should be additional compensation because of that,” Mr. de Blasio said. (read article)

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