Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Public Sector Unions Gain Power, Lose Popularity, says Economist

By Nancy Thorner, January 26, 2015, Heartlander Magazine

While becoming more and more powerful, public sector unions are losing favor with taxpayers, Daniel DiSalvo, author of “Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences,” said during a forum hosted by The Illinois Policy Institute Tuesday in Chicago. The event’s format was that of a two-way conversational discussion that took place between DiSalvo and Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, about the role of public-sector unions in politics today. Daniel DiSalvo is Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Colin Powell School at The City College of New York-CUNY and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership. Although Americans have long supported public unions because they associate them with the merits of the working class, recently taxpayers have begun to see reality with polls showing that barely half of Americans approve of unions, while an overwhelming majority approve of Right-to-Work laws. (read article)

Dems urge labor board to ‘vigorously defend’ new union election rules

By Sean Higgins, January 26, 2015, Washington Examiner

A group of 15 Senate Democrats and one independent wrote to National Labor Relations Board Chairman Mark Pearce and urged him to “vigorously defend” the board’s controversial new rule that allows for faster scheduling of workplace unionization votes. “Reports indicate this rule will likely be challenged in court by those who oppose workers’ efforts to unionize. We believe this rule will restore balance and certainty to the union election process and strongly encourage you to vigorously defend this rule in the face of such challenges,” wrote the senators, led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio., in a Jan. 23 letter. The 15 were joined by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. (read article)

Labor Policy Expert Cited on Union Decline

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, January 26, 2015

Although union membership in Michigan fell 7.6 percent from 2013 to 2014, the full effect of the state’s right-to-work law has yet to be seen, according to Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio. “Right-to-work still has not kicked in for many Michigan workers,” he told The Detroit News. “As the contracts with the Big Three expire later this fall, tens of thousands of UAW autoworkers will be eligible for right-to-work. This includes many second-tier workers who are being paid far less than their co-workers because of UAW negotiated contracts. Past deals favoring older workers at the expense of new ones may come back to haunt to the UAW when younger workers are able to choose whether or not to support a union that short-changed them.” (read article)

Toyota to revise pay for factory workers

January 27, 2015,  Nikkei

Toyota will revamp how it compensates factory workers to put greater emphasis on performance and less importance on seniority in order to draw more young talent. The new arrangement will apply to about 40,000 employees aged 18 to 65, or about 60% of the company’s 68,000 workers. The automaker has unveiled the proposal to its labor union and is hopeful of rolling it out next January. Toyota will revisit its existing seniority-based system and also reshuffle allowances for dependents to provide greater benefits to workers who are raising children. Employees will be evaluated twice a year on criteria such as performances on the factory floor and on teamwork. Wages will be adjusted accordingly every six months for those around age 30 and older. By focusing more on merit, Toyota wants to improve workplace morale and attract new, younger hires. (read article)

Supreme Court Rules Against Union Retirees in Benefits Case

By Jess Bravin, January 26, 2015, The Wall Street Journal

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled ambiguous provisions in union contracts shouldn’t automatically be interpreted in favor of workers, giving a chemical manufacturer another chance to terminate lifetime health-care benefits for retirees. The case came from an M&G Polymers USA plant in Apple Grove, W.Va., where contracts from the 1990s provided health-care benefits to retirees receiving the company’s pension. The company, a unit of Mossi Ghisolfi Group in Italy, sought in 2006 to make retirees contribute to health-care costs. The retirees and their dependents filed suit, and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found the company had reneged on the contract, saying it was “unlikely that would agree” to such a deal “if the company could unilaterally change the level of contribution.” The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that faulted the legal rationale of the lower court’s holding, which automatically favored workers when union contract terms were ambiguous. The ruling addressed a legal precedent of the Sixth Circuit, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, but addresses a question that could apply nationwide. (read article)

Metro faces huge shortfalls in retiree benefit funding

By Frank Daniels lll, January 26, 2015, The Tennessean

Can Nashville afford the retirement package it offers city employees? Since 2002, the cost of Metro government’s retirement benefits, much of which are paid for out of the city’s current budget, has grown from 13 percent of the total property tax revenue to 25 percent of property taxes. The retirement costs now account for 9 percent of the city’s total budget. Retirement costs have been increasing at an average pace of 9 percent a year during that 12-year span, while property tax revenue has grown 3.8 percent a year on average…..The worrying numbers were presented to the Metro Employee Benefits Study and Formulating Committee, a citizens’ panel appointed by Mayor Karl Dean in 2013 to review the city’s benefit structure. The city’s unions are understandably worried about any threat to benefit plans for Metro employees, and pushed the Metro council to not re-appoint the committee in November so that it could complete its work.(read article)

Kentucky Labor Sues to Kill Local Union-Shop Bans

By Steven Wishnia, January 26, 2015, Laborpress

Hoping to squelch an infestation of county laws banning the union shop, a group of Kentucky labor unions have asked a federal court in Louisville to invalidate them. In a suit filed Jan. 15, they argue that under federal law, local governments are not authorized to enact so-called “right to work” laws, which make it illegal to require workers to join the union or pay a fee for representation. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 authorizes “States with a capital S and Territories with a capital T” to pass such laws, says David Leightty, a lawyer with the Louisville firm representing the unions in the suit. A state court struck down a local law on those grounds in 1965. Five Kentucky counties have passed “right to work” laws in the last five weeks, beginning with Warren County on Dec. 19. A sixth has preliminarily approved one. There are plans afoot to push them in 17 more counties, says Eldon Renaud, president of United Auto Workers Local (read article)

Jerry Brown, employee unions set to tangle over health insurance

By Jon Ortiz, January 25, 2015, The Sacramento Bee

After years of making concessions to Gov. Jerry Brown, California labor leaders had hoped that the fourth-and-final-term Democrat finally would be in a giving mood. But after the governor’s budget proposal two weeks ago, several unions are bracing for tough talks in the coming months about Brown’s determination to cut the state’s costs of insuring employees and retirees. A range of options are on the table, from cheaper insurance plans and smaller subsidies to extending how long new hires must work to qualify for retiree health benefits. If history is a guide, Brown will prevail, said Mike Genest, a Department of Finance director under former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Governors get 90 percent of what they want,” said Genest, who had a long state career before retiring in 2009. “I think Brown will get a substantial piece of what he wants here.” (read article)

Labor union membership falls in U.S. in 2014

By Melanie Trottman, January 24, 2015, The Wall Street Journal

The rate of U.S. union membership fell slightly in 2014, continuing a trend that suggests the labor movement will have to step up efforts to rebound from its decades-long slide. Figures released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the combined rate of private- and public-sector union membership was 11.1% last year, down from 11.3% the prior year. Membership in the private sector fell to a rate of 6.6% in 2014, from 6.7%, while public-sector representation rose slightly to 35.7%, from 35.3%. Unions managed to collectively add about 41,000 members in the private sector, led by industries such as construction and leisure and hospitality, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with total private-sector employment, said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research.“The overall workforce is growing faster than the union workforce,” said Schmitt, who said unions gained members in part because of workers who got new jobs in unionized facilities. (read article)

Public-sector workers five times more likely to be part of a union

By Steve Goldstein, January 23, 2015, MarketWatch

Public-sector employees are more than five times more likely to be part of a union than their private-sector counterparts, according to the latest data released Friday. The Labor Department reported that public-sector workers had a union membership rate of 35.7%, compared to the 6.6% level for private-sector workers. Squabbles over public-sector unions have grown in frequency, particularly over the issue of public-sector pensions, which frequently are of better quality — and costlier — than the private sector.(read article)

Economic News Release

January 23, 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics

In 2014, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 11.1 percent, down 0.2 percentage point from 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million, was little different from 2013. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. The data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. For more information, see the Technical Note. Highlights from the 2014 data: –Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.7 percent), more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent). (See table 3.) –Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 35.3 percent for each occupation group. (read article)

Why Can’t Unions Keep Up With the Economy?

By Russel Bermanjan, January 23, 2015, The Atlantic

Last year may have been a banner year for job creation in U.S., but it was not a banner year for unions. The percentage of union members among workers nationwide dropped to a new low of 11.1 percent in 2014, extending a decades-long decline for the labor movement.(read article)

Michigan union membership drops 1.8 percentage points

January 23, 2015, Associated Press

The share of Michigan workers in labor unions fell again in 2014, the second year that employees could opt out of union fees under the state’s right-to-work law. The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that Michigan union membership was 14.5 percent last year. That’s a drop of 1.8 percentage points from 2013. (read article)

Why the Ironworkers conviction is monumental: An attorney’s view

By Wally Zimolong, Attorney, January 22, 2015, Philadelphia Business Journal

The guilty verdict in the trial of former Ironworkers Local 401 President Joseph Dougherty is a monumental decision that will have a profound impact on labor relations in the construction industry both locally and nationally. On a local level, the conviction should be another step towards ending Philadelphia’s hard-earned reputation as a place that developers should avoid because of “the unions.” Both locally and nationally, the decision could be the first in similar criminal cases federal prosecutors bring against labor unions and begin a wave of civil litigation against them as well. (read article)

Union Faces Fresh Questions in West Coast Longshore Standoff

By Mark Brenner, January 22, 2015, Labornotes.org

The new year brought fresh tensions to the West Coast waterfront, where negotiations are stalled between 20,000 longshore workers and the major shipping companies. Employers are screaming over container congestion that has ships stacking up outside ports up and down the coast. They accuse the longshore union (ILWU) of running job slowdowns and “working to rule” since November. Terminal operators have zeroed in on a shortage of yard-crane operators as the prime culprit clogging container storage areas and causing substantial delays loading and unloading ships. They blame the union for withholding the workers who are trained to operate the equipment. The ILWU contends it’s just ensuring the companies don’t cut corners on training and safety. (read article)

Right-to-work is wrong for union bosses

By Jason Hart, January 22, 2015, Watchdog.org

When labor unions insist right-to-work laws are “wrong,” what they really mean is right-to-work laws are wrong for union bosses. Union bosses have a financial interest in fighting right-to-work. On the books in 24 states and being considered in New Mexico, Missouri, Wisconsin and elsewhere, right-to-work laws allow workers to choose whether to pay unions. Right-to-work laws do nothing to prevent workers from forming, joining, or bargaining through a union, so union officials are stuck fabricating reasons Americans should be forced to pay unions for their own good.(read article)

SEIU to Force Unwilling Workers into Big Labor’s Ranks

By Mark Mix, January 22, 2015, cnsnews.com

Today, more than eight million Americans are employed by independent franchises. Franchises are typically small firms operating in sectors like fast food, car repair service, or tax preparation. In exchange for fees and royalties, franchisors like McDonald’s, Jiffy Lube and H & R Block furnish small business owners with uniforms and/or store designs and set quality standards. However, they’re rarely involved in deciding how large a franchise’s workforce is, how much employees are compensated, or how employees are hired and fired. Until now, the powerful National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has reasonably held that union officials may not file unfair labor practice complaints against a franchisor unless they can show that it “meaningfully affects matters relating to the employment relationship such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision and direction.”(read article)

Ignore The Members Pay The Lawyers

January 21, 2015, UFCWMonitor.com

In a move that is becoming more and more common union officers are spending their members’ dues on lawyers in an attempt to thwart the democratic process. The most recent example is the United Food and Commercial Workers suing Hardin County, Kentucky over the banning the collection of union due as a condition of employment. The ordinance supported by a grass roots organization known as My Check My Choice passed January 13, 2015. Rather than attempt to convince workers that union membership is worth having the unions lawyered up and raced to the courthouse the very next day. These union officers never seem to make the connection between declining membership and lack of service to their members. Rather than focusing on improving membership services they concentrate on forcing workers to join whether they wish to or not. Is it any wonder union membership in the private sector has been trending downward? (read article)

American migration to right-to-work states continued in 2014

By Jason Hart, January 20, 2015, Watchdog.org

Labor bosses portray states where right-to-work laws make union dues optional as impoverished wastelands, but Americans continue flocking to those places. Annual interstate migration studies from Allied Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines and United Van Lines offer an early look at how each state performed in terms of inbound versus outbound migration in 2014. U.S. Census Bureau migration survey data will not be released until later in the year. While each state’s weather and other variables are obviously major factors, data from the three shipping companies suggest Americans are unconvinced by union propaganda about low wages and deadly conditions created by right-to-work laws.The states with the most net inbound Allied Van Lines moves were right-to-work states Texas, Florida, Arizona and South Carolina. Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York — all forced-unionism states — had the most net outbound Allied moves. (read article)

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