Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Texas Touts Lighter Regulations in Wooing California Firms

By Aman Batheja, April 29, 2014, The Texas Tribune

Monday’s news that Toyota is moving 3,000 jobs from California to Texas is drawing fresh attention to the competing business climates of the two states. Gov. Rick Perry has waged a lengthy campaign for California businesses to move to Texas. Along with predicting California businesses will see reduced tax bills in Texas, he often touts his state’s lighter touch when it comes to regulating businesses. “While California regulates,” his office tweeted last year, “Texas innovates.” A closer look at the two states’ approaches to some key regulations reveals major differences that increase costs for California businesses compared with their Texas counterparts. Entrepreneurs in Texas often find fewer obstacles to developing land or energy resources and lower labor costs than they would in California. But some argue that the Texas approach has hidden costs that simply aren’t worth the sacrifice, such as lower wages for workers at the bottom of the economic ladder and less stringent protections of the environment. Supporters of the Texas approach counter that it’s not Texas regulations that are too lenient but California regulations that are onerous. “We like to think Texas is not so much light in its regulatory impact as it is just more rational and reasonable,” said Steve Minick, vice president of government affairs at the Texas Association of Business. “There’s a reason people are leaving California and why they’re not enjoying the growth that other states are enjoying.” In California, politicians have been pushing for years to streamline the state’s regulatory framework. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has mentioned it in three of his last four annual State of the State addresses. “Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays,” Brown said in 2013. Among the regulatory obstacles Brown has sought to ease is California’s restrictive approach to land development, which experts say has led to a shortage of housing options and sky-high costs. (read article)

When unions use non-member dues to finance political activities

By Steven Malanga, April 29, 2014, Washington Examiner

A lawsuit making its way through federal court in California highlights just how much unions use their right to collect “agency fees” from nonmembers to fund political activities. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that government employee unions could collect a fee from nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining, the justices noted that such fees could not be used to cover political activities. In that decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the court affirmed a Michigan law that required teachers who didn’t want to join a union to pay a so-called “agency fee” to the Detroit Federation of Teachers for the work it did representing everyone on the job. Since then, government unions in 22 states and the District of Columbia have been allowed to collect agency fees, and have largely determined what those fees should be. That may be about to change. A lawsuit filed by 10 dissident teachers challenges the California law that requires them to pay $650 each per year to the California Teachers Association and its parent, the National Education Association. (read article)

Labor Leader Says Obama Lacks ‘Courage’ To Make Keystone Pipeline

By Jared Keever, April 29, 2014, Opposing Views

The leader of a labor union that backed both of President Obama’s election campaigns has now publicly denounced the president’s delays in approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Fox News reports that Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborer’s International Union, wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post last week that the president’s most recent delay was politically motivated. The column came on the heels of an announcement from the Obama administration that it was extending a review period for the pipeline indefinitely. O’Sullivan believes the announcement is meant simply to extend the decision beyond the November midterm elections. “No one seriously believes that the administration’s nearly-dark-of-night announcement last week, on Good Friday, that the pipeline would again be delayed was anything but politically motivated,” O’Sullivan wrote. The pipeline is a controversial, proposed line that would carry oil from Canada to Texas. (read article)

Wisconsin Race Signals Historic Shift In Power of Unions

By Peter Nicholas, April 28, 2014, Wall Street Journal

It was the most searing political fight in Wisconsin’s recent history. Yet, as Democrat Mary Burke campaigns for governor across the state, it is as if the battle that curbed union benefits, eroded labor’s clout and made Gov. Scott Walker a star within the Republican Party never happened. Ms. Burke sticks to a bread-and-butter argument that job growth has faltered under Mr. Walker. She talks up her business credentials as a former executive at her family’s business, Trek Bicycle Corp. But Ms. Burke largely steers clear of the 2011 law championed by Mr. Walker that drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol in Madison while coming to define the governor’s tenure. As Democrats see it, there is no realistic path to victory over Mr. Walker in November by building a campaign around restoring Wisconsin’s public-employee unions to their former status. That fight has been fought—and lost, many Democrats said. Mr. Walker won a recall election in 2012 that was largely a referendum on his tussles with the unions. (read article)

Turmoil over labor contracts looms for Phoenix

By Dustin Gardiner, April 29, 2014, Arizona Republic

The fight over pay and benefits for Phoenix’s workforce of nearly 14,000 civil servants is expected to hit a boiling point this week, with dozens of union members planning to fill a City Council meeting on Wednesday to protest proposed cuts. Union leaders say the city is attempting to balance its projected $37.7 million deficit on the backs of employees who’ve already been strained by compensation cuts and hiring freezes stretching back to the Great Recession. City Manager Ed Zuercher has proposed the unions take a 1.6 percent across-the-board pay and benefit cut in the upcoming fiscal year, saving an estimated $16 million. Some city leaders say the proposed reductions are a pittance considering many of the so-called cuts for some union members are merely the suspension of merit pay raises as well as a freeze in increases to the longevity bonuses seasoned employees receive every year. (read article)

Media Matters fights against bid to unionize staff

By Jessica Chasmar, April 28, 2014, Washington Times

The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America is actively fighting against a bid to unionize its workers, according to a report by the Washington Examiner. The two groups had previously hoped the matter could be resolved without litigation, but Media Matters has hired law firm Perkins Coie and plans to oppose the bid from Service Employees International Union Local 500. “We are disappointed Media Matters is taking this route,” union spokesman Christopher Honey told the Examiner. The communications director for Media Matters, Jess Levin, said Saturday that the nonprofit was not “actively opposing” unionization, but she declined to elaborate on how it was responding to Local 500’s bid. Media Matters had previously rejected Local 500’s bid for a Card Check election, which prompted the union to petition the National Labor Relations Board. The union has the backing of 36 of its 51 workers, Mr. Honey told the Examiner. The fight seems to contradict many of the progressive causes Media Matters has tried so hard to bolster. (read article)

Unions nixed election-reform deal, Cuomo says

By Chris Bragg, April 28, 2014, Crain’s New York Business

Republicans aren’t the only roadblock to publicly funded elections across New York, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Labor unions short-circuited a potential deal to implement a new system, he said in an editorial board meeting with Crain’s. Senate Republicans in Albany have long deemed publicly funded elections a waste of taxpayer dollars. But, according to Mr. Cuomo, the Senate GOP was ready to make a deal this year to allow them—only to have labor unions balk. The legislators settled for a watered-down version, setting up a mere pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. The outcome was decried by good-government groups. In exchange for public financing of elections, the governor said, the Senate GOP wanted deep-pocketed unions and major liberal spenders to agree not to engage in heavy outside spending, as allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The ruling allowed unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions. In labor-friendly New York, much of that spending has come from unions. (read article)

Detroit reaches labor deal with city unions

By Cherie Curry, April 28, 2014, Reuters

Detroit and a coalition of 14 city employee unions have reached a tentative deal on five-year collective bargaining agreements, federal court-appointed mediators said on Monday. The agreement in principle covers the major aspects of labor contracts with the city’s largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and 13 other bargaining units, said the mediators, who were appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge overseeing Detroit’s historic municipal bankruptcy. Kevyn Orr, the city’s state-appointed emergency manager, has been reeling in deals this month with key creditors, including Detroit’s two retirement systems and three bond insurance companies, giving him critical support for his blueprint for the city’s emergence from bankruptcy. Once the union pacts are finalized and ratified by union members, the terms will be included in the city’s plan of adjustment, which must be approved by the bankruptcy court, the mediators said in a written statement. Terms of the deal, which covers 3,500 workers, were not released and will be made public once the contracts are ratified. (read article)

The decline of the labor union

By Sean Higgins, April 28, 2014, Washington Examiner

A massive snowstorm hit Chattanooga, Tenn., on Feb. 13, forcing the Volkswagen plant to close in the middle of an historic election to decide whether its workers would join the United Auto Workers union. It was the UAW’s latest lucky break. The union had gotten most of its supporters to vote on the first day and the election would be decided by a majority of votes cast. So if only 100 of the 1,550 eligible workers ultimately cast ballots and 51 were for UAW, it would still win. Even before the snow fell, VW officials had pushed the UAW’s organizing effort. Under pressure from its German workers union, IG Metall, VW even held mandatory meetings where workers were forced to hear UAW organizers. No opposition voices were allowed to speak. But when the votes were counted, the UAW lost, with the final tally showing VW workers voted 712-626 against unionizing. (read article)

Agreement between American Dream developers and North Jersey labor unions

By John Brennan, April 28, 2014, North Jersey Record

Governor Christie, speaking in front of a backdrop of more than 100 construction workers at the Izod Center, heralded a project labor agreement between American Dream Meadowlands developer Triple Five and North Jersey labor unions as a key element in the resumption of full-scale construction at the site. Christie and Triple Five executive Paul Ghermezian, meanwhile, each spoke about how “ugly” the current façade of the shopping and entertainment project is – with company officials promising a makeover that will kick off this summer. Ghermezian set a goal of a fall 2016 opening date, including the new indoor water park and amusement park complex. Up to $800 million in bonds to help pay construction costs have yet to be issued by the Bergen County Improvement Authority, but the project got a recent boost from a settlement of a long-standing battle with the Giants and Jets that will allow the entertainment segments to be open to the public on football Sundays. (read article)

Union leader takes aim at Obama administration over Keystone delays

April 26, 2014, Fox News

The head of a major labor union is lambasting President Obama over the latest delay on the Keystone XL pipeline, six years after it was initially proposed. Terry O’Sullivan, leader of the Laborers’ International Union which represents a half-million construction workers, claimed the administration’s announcement on Good Friday that it was putting off a decision, possibly until after the midterms, had politics written all over it. In a Washington Post opinion piece, he suggested that “the Obama administration grow a set of antlers or take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.” O’Sullivan has turned to various media outlets including The Wall Street Journal to voice his frustration with the pace of the Keystone process, and saying the only thing holding Obama back is courage. Last week, the administration announced it is extending a key review period indefinitely – a move that may push off a determination on the final project until after the midterm elections. (read article)

How The National Labor Relations Act Succeeded

By Nick Zaiac, April 25, 2014, Daily Caller

Conventional commentary contends that The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has failed. Conservative analysts object to certain rights granted to workers to organize unions. Liberal analysts focus on the decline in private sector union membership from 35 percent in the 1950s to less than 10 percent today as obvious evidence of failure. But Michael Wachter, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, argues in the current issue of Regulation that the two stylized facts emphasized in conventional commentary are, in fact, essential components of the labor law’s success. The NLRA, as amended by the Taft-Hartley amendments of 1947, has been “exceedingly successful” because the combination managed to end a long era of industrial warfare and create a system in which union representation was not necessary to create employer-employee trust. (read article)

Northwestern University football players to vote on union amid debate over labor rights

By Nick Anderson, April 24, 2014, Washington Post

Northwestern University football players are scheduled to vote Friday whether to join a union, part of a labor battle that is drawing intense scrutiny from colleges with major athletic programs, national union leaders and higher education lobbyists in Washington. At issue is whether players on scholarship at the private research university in Evanston, Ill., are effectively employees with the right to seek collective bargaining. A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Ohr, determined March 26 that the football players should be considered employees under federal law. Northwestern disagreed and appealed the decision to the five-member board in Washington. The board announced Thursday that it had accepted the university’s request for a review. There is no timetable for the board to rule. (read article)

Defeat for Union Challenge to Wisconsin Labor Law

By Dan McCue, April 23, 2014, Courthouse News Service

The 7th Circuit has upheld a law that sharply curbs the power of public-employee unions to bargain with Wisconsin and local governments, and eliminates payroll deductions for union dues. Enacted in 2011, Act 10 bars Wisconsin and its local municipalities from bargaining with unions over anything but base wages. The bill had inspired a furious debate in the Wisconsin Legislature and well-publicized demonstrations by union workers and their families outside the statehouse in Madison. Unions also filed several legal challenges to the law but so far have come up empty. In 2013, the Chicago-based 7th Circuit tossed a separate constitutional challenge filed on behalf of the state teachers’ union. Wisconsin courts have also rejected several efforts to void the law. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 60 and Laborers Local 236 brought the case at hand, which alleged a violation of their First Amendment right of association or their right to petition government for redress of grievances. They claimed Act 10 unfairly disadvantages their members compared with government employees who choose not to have union representation. A federal judge in Madison rejected these claims, however, holding that the state’s public employees “remain free to associate and their unions remain free to speak; municipal employers are simply not allowed to listen.” (read article)

Koch Company and Labor Unions: One Degree of Separation

By Russ Choma, April 22, 2014, OpenSecrets.org

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The influence industry sometimes produces strange bedfellows. Case in point, according to recently filed lobbying disclosure reports from 2014’s first quarter: The same lobbying firm that represents Koch Companies Public Sector and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in their efforts to keep the IRS from tightening up regs on dark money groups also represents one of the biggest names in organized labor. Of course, organized labor is not necessarily unfriendly to the idea of outside money groups; unions have made great use of super PACs and have been linked to liberal dark money groups like Patriot Majority. But the prevailing narrative of partisan politics puts unions on the opposite side of the battlefield from the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch (and by extension the conglomerate they own, KCPS). (read article)

Vermont State Employee Union Attempts to Unionize Prosecutors

Anne Galloway, April 22, 2014, Vermont Digger

The Vermont State Employees Association has changed its strategy after an unsuccessful two-year battle to unionize deputy state’s attorneys, victims’ advocates and administrative staff. A Senate bill that would have allowed state’s attorneys to bargain collectively has been stalled this biennium and there is no indication from lawmakers that it will be taken up before adjournment. So the union is now looking to organize workers in state’s attorneys offices county by county under the Municipal Employee Relations Act (MERA). VSEA filed petitions last week with the Vermont Labor Relations Board on behalf of six state’s attorneys offices in Chittenden, Franklin, Essex, Orange, Rutland and Windsor that represent 55 workers. (read article)

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