Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Santa Clara County: Marathon last-ditch bargaining reaps tentative union deal

By Eric Kurhi and Mark Gomez, June 30, 2015, San Jose Mercury News

After a marathon bargaining session that started on Friday and nearly lasted until daybreak Tuesday, a planned strike was averted when a tentative agreement was reached with Santa Clara County’s largest employee union. “I can’t imagine how exhausted they are,” said Board President Dave Cortese. “Some of them went four or five days with just naps.” While county and union officials were tight-lipped about details of the deal pending union ratification, sources close to the negotiations said it involves a 4.5 percent raise the first year of the four-year contract and 3 percent raises each of the remaining three years. It was not immediately clear whether the contract called for concessions in other areas, such as higher health care costs. (read article)

Supreme Court to Weigh Dispute Over Union Fees

By Adam Liptak, June 30, 2015, New York Times

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to the way public-sector unions finance their operations. Union officials said a ruling against them would deal a blow to organized labor. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, teachers in California who chose not to join the union and who said being compelled to pay union fees they did not agree with violated their First Amendment rights. Limiting the power of public unions has been a long sought goal of conservative groups, and they welcomed Tuesday’s development. “The question of whether teachers and other government employees can be required to subsidize the speech of a union they do not support as a condition of working for their own government is now squarely before the court,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said in a statement. (read article)

High court may deal unions serious blow

By Brian Mahoney, June 30, 2015, Politico

The Supreme Court will have an opportunity next term to deal public sector unions a serious financial blow. The court agreed Tuesday to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case brought by 10 non-union California teachers who say that forcing them to pay “fair share fees” to a union — even if only for the purpose of collective bargaining — compels them to support an organization they oppose politically, in violation of their free speech rights. The case is a blockbuster for both the court and the labor movement. Just days after the Supreme Court cheered unions and the rest of the liberal coalition by sanctioning gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act, the court chose to reconsider a privilege that public sector unions have enjoyed as a matter of settled law for four decades. The result may undermine drastically that same coalition. (read article)

Top Unions Send Hundreds of Thousands in Donations to Planned Parenthood Abortion Biz

By Kate Scanlon, June 30, 2015, Life News

Unions are donating money to Planned Parenthood, and members who object are often unable to hold their unions accountable. According to a search of union records on the Department of Labor’s website, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers gave a combined $435,000 to Planned Parenthood last year. James Sherk, the senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, said that “most union members have no idea that their union donates their dues to the largest abortion provider in America.” “Federal law does not require unions to get their members’ authorization before spending their dues on controversial causes. Union leaders have wide discretion to spend their members’ money as they like,” Sherk said. (read article)

Labor Department Expected to Make Millions More Eligible for Overtime

By Melanie Trottman and Eric Morath, June 29, 2015, Wall Street Journal

Millions more Americans who work in excess of 40 hours a week will qualify for overtime pay under a proposed rule the Labor Department is expected to unveil this week—a signature White House initiative aimed at strengthening the middle class and tackling income inequality. The agency is proposing to raise to $970 a week the salary threshold that generally determines who is eligible for overtime pay, according to sources familiar with the administration’s plans. The increase more than doubles the current threshold of $455 a week. Under existing federal rules last updated in 2004, workers who are paid by the hour or earn a salary of less than the threshold generally are eligible for overtime pay, while those with salaries of at least that amount who work in white-collar jobs generally aren’t. (read article)

They Spend Millions, but Minimal Transparency Required for Government Union Finances

By Anne Schieber, June 29, 2015, Michigan Capital Confidential

Michigan’s public sector unions collect tens of millions of dollars from government and school employees, but if members want to learn how their dues money is being spent, all they’ll find is a one-page report disclosing just three aggregated spending figures. Unlike private sector unions, which are subject to federal labor law and financial disclosure requirements, state and local unions are subject to oversight by individual states. (This is related to the fact that states can also choose not to recognize or bargain with public sector unions.) Michigan’s financial reporting requirements for public sector unions are “ineffective in providing important information for union members,” according to Nathan Paul Mehrens, author of “Bringing Financial Transparency to Michigan’s Public Sector Unions,” a new study published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Mehrens is a labor expert who helped draft a reform of transparency requirements at the U.S. Department of Labor during the early 2000s, and now leads the Americans for Limited Government Foundation. (read article)

Why Gov’t Unions Can Easily Break The Law

By Connor D. Wolf, June 28, 2015, Daily Caller

Focusing on Michigan, a report released Monday by The Mackinac Center makes the case that there are not adequate laws to stop public sector unions from engaging in illegal activities. In many states, like Michigan, and the federal level, public sector union members can be charged hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year in union dues. Unfortunately, as the report “Bringing Financial Transparency to Michigan’s Public Sector Unions,” argues, public sector unions are not held to the same standard of transparency and accountability their private sector counterparts are. “This means that public school employees, state and county workers and all the other unionized public employees in Michigan do not have access to detailed financial information about the union to which they pay dues,” the report noted. (read article)

Unions need to ponder how to stay relevant

By Mary Kramer, June 28, 2015, Crain’s Detroit Business

n a couple of weeks, the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers will kick off contract talks to replace four-year pacts that expire Sept. 14. As Dave Barkholz has reported for our sibling publication Automotive News, the UAW hopes to eliminate or significantly change the “tier two” wage structure it approved in 2007 to help save the Detroit 3 and create jobs. As the industry has rebounded, plants have hired thousands of new workers. Today, nearly 30 percent of the Detroit 3’s hourly workers are paid tier-two wages, which are roughly at least $10 an hour less than tier one. For the union, the two tiers rub against the grain of the “equal pay for equal work” union philosophy. For the automakers, according to Barkholz, each additional dollar per hour in wages costs the automakers about $100 million. Eventually, all this will play out among unionized suppliers, too, because supplier contracts mirror those of their biggest customers, the Detroit. Tiered wages and transplants seem to be the big issues for the UAW’s future. (read article)

Big Labor targets Steyer, Soros in massive 2016 fundraising effort

By Kenneth P. Vogel and Brian Mahoney, June 26, 2015, Politico

Big Labor, which once relied almost exclusively on member dues to fund its political activity, is now hoping to raise huge checks for its 2016 efforts from billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer, according to confidential documents. The documents, obtained by POLITICO from a source outside the labor movement, show labor leaders have invested considerable time and union cash to secure preferential treatment from the preeminent club of major liberal funders, the Democracy Alliance, or DA. They also offer a rare glimpse into labor’s efforts to identify rich donors who could pump money into union-linked nonprofits that can legally accept unlimited donations and do not have to disclose their contributors. One briefing document shows that a leading labor nonprofit called Working America — which works to organize nonunion workers to seek higher pay and better working conditions, and to elect sympathetic candidates — is focusing on donors it considers “true progressives care about labor.” It offers detailed profiles with information seemingly intended to cultivate wealthy donors. (read article)

Farm workers union defeats state of California

By Dan Noon, June 26, 2015, Armstrong & Getty Show 760 AM Los Angeles

In a turnabout for California’s storied history of migrant labor, Latino field hands are fighting to get the United Farm Workers, the union that carries on the legacy of founder Cesar Chavez, out of their lives and pockets. If the workers prevail, they would deprive the UFW of thousands of members, not to mention a bounty of union dues, and send a powerful anti-union message nationwide. But they could well lose. The union appears to have the support of putatively impartial state labor referees who have not hidden their pro-union sympathies. And with more than half of its official membership at stake in the dispute, the union has plenty of incentive to fight after decades of decline. At issue is 2013 balloting aimed at decertifying the union as the legal representative of the roughly 5,000 laborers at Gerawan Farming, the nation’s largest peach grower. An administrative judge for the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) is expected to issue a decision any day on whether to count the ballots, which have been locked in an agency safe, or destroy them. The union says vote tampering and intimidation spoiled the ballots. (read article)

More Than 9,000 Santa Clara County SEIU Union Workers Vote to Strike Over “Unfair Labor” Practices

By Yalda Rafie and Scott Budman, June 25, 2015, NBC San Francisco

More than 9,000 Santa Clara County union workers voted on Wednesday to authorize a strike next week over what they say are unfair labor practices – the first time in more than four decades. SEIU 521 spokeswoman Khanh Weinberg said that 97 percent of the union members comprising of 911 dispatchers, janitors, librarians and nurses, voted to authorize the strike on Tuesday. Workers voted to hold an “open-ended” strike with no end date. “It was a very difficult choice for our members to do because they’re the ones, they’re the front line workers,” said Luisa Blue, chief elected officer of SEIU Local 521. “They’re the ones that continue to provide vital services to our community here in Santa Clara County, and they do so under very difficult situations.” For its part, the county downplayed the threat of a strike actually happening. (read article)

Santa Cruz city labor union votes ‘no confidence’ in city manager

By Jessica A. York, June 25, 2015, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz’s largest employee union publicly issued a “vote of no confidence” in City Manager Martin Bernal Tuesday, shortly before the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted to approve a tentative new four-year contract with the labor group. Service Employees International Union local 521 President Doris Henry, reading a prepared statement written by Region 2 Director Deborah Narvaez, said members’ vote was “overwhelming” on the issue. The listed complaints covered concerns about his employee communications and lack of involvement in employee-manager disputes, use of interns and temporary workers, and lack of equity in incentives and benefit cash-outs. “Workers do not feel that the city manager presents all information clearly and succinctly to the council, with honesty and integrity, while looking out for all employees and not just the executive management,” Henry wrote. Mayor Don Lane and Councilman Micah Posner spoke out in support of Bernal, each saying they were surprised by the union’s vote of no confidence. (read article)

Dispute over union fees could return to Supreme Court

By Sam Hananel, June 24, 2015, Associated Press

Powerful public-sector unions are facing another high-profile legal challenge that they say could wipe away millions from their bank accounts and make it tougher for them to survive. A group of California schoolteachers, backed by a conservative group, has asked the Supreme Court to rule that unions representing government workers can’t collect fees from those who choose not to join. Half the states currently require state workers represented by a union to pay “fair share” fees that cover bargaining costs, even if they are not members. The justices could decide as early as next week whether to take up the case. Union opponents say it violates First Amendment rights to require nonmembers to pay fees that may go to causes they don’t support. They could find a sympathetic ear at the high court, where the justices last year indicated they may be willing to reconsider a 38-year-old precedent that allows unions to collect the fees. (read article)

How dollars and politics are fueling S.F. construction unions’ surprising anti-development stance

By Cory Weinberg, June 24, 2015, San Francisco Business Journal

San Francisco construction unions’ surprising opposition to some market-rate housing developments is a twist in the city’s fight over affordability. What does it say about the political appetite for new market-rate development when the people getting paid to build the projects take a stand? The news underscores the behind-the-scenes politics bubbling in the city’s housing market. On the one hand, more San Francisco housing projects are getting out of the ground, which keeps construction unions buzzing with work and arms them with leverage to negotiate. However, those projects have too many units with prices out of reach of residents even earning 50 percent more than the city’s median income. Although 3,514 housing units were constructed last year– the most in at least the last two decades – the number of employed residents overall in the city increased by nearly six times that, so the new supply isn’t coming close to driving down prices. (read article)

Realistic ways policymakers could strengthen collective bargaining

By Jared Bernstein, June 23, 2015, Washington Post

When it comes to electoral politics, conservatives complain about the role played by “big labor” on behalf of progressive candidates and issues. With union coverage at a historically low 11 percent of the workforce (7 percent, private sector; 36 percent, public sector) and wealth concentration, corporate profitability, and the influence of money in politics and policy at all-time highs, I’d suggest “big capital” is a more potent force. Still, there’s no question that the union movement remains the single largest American institution that campaigns and lobbies on behalf of working families, and that puts it in the cross-hairs of powerful elites. However, while progressives typically tack “more unions” onto our lists of policy goals, my concern is that this is largely pro-forma, and that many think that with the loss of our industrial base and the rise of both service employment and the “gig” (i.e., freelance) economy, calling for more collective bargaining is more nostalgia than plausible policy. (read article)

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