Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

San Jose strikes labor deals with 3 unions that include raises

By Ramona Giwargis, June 15, 2015, San Jose Mercury

City leaders announced tentative labor agreements with three of 11 unions on the run-up to several crucial deadlines: the expiration of 10 contracts, the start of a new fiscal year and the City Council’s fast-approaching monthlong recess in July. Labor negotiations have been in process with all 11 city unions since the beginning of the year. The City Council reached contracts with the Municipal Employees’ Federation and the Confidential Employees Organization in a special closed-session meeting Friday. Earlier that day, an agreement was signed with the International Union of Operating Engineers. San Jose now has signed agreements with four of 11 employee groups, including its firefighters union last week. All of the contracts, which cover about 2,000 city employees, include 3 percent raises over a span of two or three years. The contracts include a one-time lump payment of 1 percent of an employee’s pay. The payout cannot be counted toward employee pensions. Earlier in the week, an agreement reached with IAFF San Jose Firefighters Local 230 will give firefighters more than 14 percent in ongoing raises over a span of three years. It’s the first raise for firefighters in seven years. (read article)

Pension tidal wave is about to crash down on taxpayers

By Steven Malanga, June 15, 2015, Washington Examiner

The New Jersey legislature, looking to solve a budget crisis back in 1992, passed a bill that changed some of the accounting principles of the state’s government employee pension system. The technical changes, little understood at the time, made the system seem in better financial shape than it actually was, allowing the legislature to reduce contributions for pensions by $1.5 billion over the next two years. Legislators seized those extra dollars and redirected them into other spending. Jersey officials could manipulate their pension system because local governments have latitude in how they run their own retirement plans. So what they did was not unique. Around the country, state and local officials have increasingly discovered over the years that they can exploit the complex and sometimes ill-defined accounting of government pension systems, as well as loopholes in their own laws governing those pensions. Over time, elected officials came to promise workers politically popular new benefits without setting aside the money to pay for them, declared “holidays” from contributions into pension systems and changed their own accounting systems midstream to make the systems seem better funded — all just ways of passing obligations on to future taxpayers. In the process, government pension systems became one of the chief vehicles that state and local politicians used to massage their budgets. Now we face the consequences. (read article)

Labor ponders how hard to punish Democrats who back trade measures

By Cathleen Decker, June 14, 2015, Los Angeles Times

Organized labor suffered an embarrassing loss in California last month when a defiant Democrat it had targeted for years easily won a state Senate seat over a union-preferred candidate. So it reveled in Friday’s victory over President Obama on a trade measure that inspired a battle for the votes of Democratic House members. The trade fight was an epic intraparty mudfest. Unions, the party’s biggest source of pavement-pounders and money, barraged undecided House members with phone calls, ads and protests. Obama gathered local television newscasters to the White House to praise the members he hoped would side with him and traveled to Capitol Hill for some last-minute, and ultimately unsuccessful, arm-twisting. The ferocity was still being felt post-vote by the few California Democrats who thwarted labor amid clear threats of retribution. “It’s disappointing that we had a few members vote in a way that we would say was against the interests of working people in California,” said Steve Smith of the state labor federation. “And this is something we’re going to remember.” (read article)

The SEIU’s efforts to mobilize at McDonald’s

By Lydia DePillis, June 14, 2015, Daily Herald

This past weekend, the walls of Cobo Center on the Detroit River reverberated with more than the usual amount of cheers and chants, endlessly repeating a two-pronged demand: A minimum wage more than double the level of the federal baseline, and a labor union for the fast food industry. “We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check hey hey we work, we sweat, for $15 on our check hey hey!” shouted scores of people dancing and clapping on-stage, as the crowd of hundreds in the ballroom before them joined hesitatingly, and then enthusiastically. Moments of silence with fists raised punctuated speeches and more hype sessions, as contingents of mostly black and hispanic low-wage workers from different cities sought to out-cheer each other. “Kansas City in the hooouuuse!” “Raise up Greensboro!” “Where you at Oakland!” Young people got on chairs and beat on tables, with chants erupting spontaneously from all corners of the cavernous room. (read article)

Rauner, public unions not close on contracts

By Kerry Lester, June 14, 2015, St. Louis Today

The contracts for more than 40,000 Illinois state workers will expire at the end of the month, and their unions and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s negotiating team apparently aren’t close to agreeing on new ones. The impasse has gotten more public attention in recent days, with union members staging nearly 100 protests throughout the state to rally public support to their calls for fair contracts. With the potential for a far-reaching strike or lockout looming, here are some things to know:  The state’s contracts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state’s largest public employee union representing roughly 36,000 state workers, and those with roughly two dozen smaller unions representing roughly 5,000 nurses, police officers and others expire June 30. Although they have been negotiating new pacts for six months, the sides remain far apart on several key issues, including wage increases, health insurance costs, the promotion process and how overtime pay is calculated. Rauner has said little publicly about the status of negotiations. (read article)

Labor’s Might Seen in Failure of Trade Deal as Unions Allied to Thwart It

By Norm Scheiber, June 13, 2015, New York Times

Depleted by decades of diminishing reach and struggling to respond to recent anti-union laws, the labor movement has nonetheless found a way to assert itself politically by wreaking havoc on President Obama’s trade agenda, a top priority of his final years in office. On Friday, stiff labor opposition helped derail a measure necessary to clear a path for an up-or-down vote on a sweeping trade deal that the White House is negotiating with 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean. “Labor worked on this long and hard,” Representative Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat sympathetic to the emerging deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.), said on the eve of the vote. “If labor was neutral on this issue, and members were allowed to just make a decision on their own, this bill would not have a problem in passing.” While a broad coalition of unions and liberal activists can claim credit for beating back the president’s favored legislation, the key to labor’s display of force in Congress, according to supporters and opponents of the trade deal, was the movement’s unusual cohesion across various sectors of the economy — including public employees and service workers not directly affected by foreign competition. (read article)

Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union

By Dan Kaufman, June 12, 2015, New York Times

his first day of work in three months, Randy Bryce asked his foreman for the next day off. He wanted to go to the Capitol in Madison, Wis., and testify against a proposed law. Bryce, a member of Milwaukee Ironworkers Local 8, was unloading truckloads of steel beams to build a warehouse near Kenosha, and he needed the job. He has an 8-year-old son, his debts were piling up and a 10-hour shift paid more than $300. But the legislation, which Republicans were rushing through the State Senate, angered him enough to sacrifice the hours. Supporters called it a “right to work” bill, because it prohibited unions from requiring employees to pay dues. But to Bryce, that appealing name hid the true purpose of the bill, which was to destroy unions. The next morning, Bryce, who is 50 and has close-­cropped black hair and a horseshoe mustache, woke up at 5:30, got dressed in his usual jeans, hoodie and Local 8 varsity jacket with an I-beam and an American flag stitched on the back and drove 90 miles to Madison in his gray Mustang. Despite the February chill, crowds had begun to gather in the square outside the Capitol. The scene was reminiscent of a similar one that played out four years earlier, in 2011, when thousands of people occupied the Capitol’s rotunda for more than two weeks to protest Act 10, a law that demolished collective-­bargaining rights for nearly all public employees. The protests in Madison were the first significant resistance to the ascendant Tea Party and helped set the stage for Occupy Wall Street. For Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, it was the moment that started his conservative ascent. (read article)

Traditional Unions Impede New Media’s Flexibility

By F. Vincent Vernuccio, June 9, 2015, New York Times

The staff at Gawker says their next step after unionizing is determining “what we want to bargain for” in a contract. That would mean deciding whether they want to form a traditional union that could be an impediment to the creativity needed in the new media workplace, or a professional guild that could support it. Collective bargaining agreements are generally a one-size-fits-all deal that do not allow for individuality. The traditional union model hasn’t changed much since the industrial revolution. Collective bargaining agreements are generally a one-size-fits-all deal that do not allow for individuality or flexibility. Traditional unions serve as a middle man between staff and management, where all decisions regarding working conditions must get union approval. In non-right-to-work states, unions can force workers to financially support them and get workers who don’t pay fired. A traditional union at Gawker would not allow for the type of flexibility needed in the new media industry. No matter how many hits an author’s pieces receive or how hard a staffer works, the only way to get a raise under an old-fashioned contract would be to log another year on the job. Finally, staff members could be forbidden from negotiating with management about anything covered in the contract and would have to at least let the union be present during grievance and disciplinary hearings. (read article)

New Jersey labor unions, Democrats angry with Supreme Court’s pension ruling

By Salvador Rizzo and Hannan Adely, June 9, 2015, NorthJersey.com

New Jersey labor unions and Demo­cratic leaders reacted angrily to the state Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday that allows Governor Christie to cut billions of dollars in funding for the pension system, saying they will keep pushing him to honor a 2011 law requiring a $3.1 billion pension payment in the coming budget, which is due June 30. “We’re going to make sure that not one legislator gets a free pass on this issue,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association. In practice, it means that Christie and the Democrats are once again at a stalemate that kicks the pension problem down the road, something elected officials have been doing for nearly two decades. Democrats said they would again pass legislation to increase taxes on wealthy earners and businesses to find the money for a full $3.1 billion payment. Christie, a Republican likely to enter the presidential race this month, has vowed to veto the tax hikes and to reduce the $3.1 billion pension funding payment to $1.3 billion — and now has the permission of the state’s highest court to do it. (read article)

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