Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

State Legislatures Consider Future of American Labor

By Jenni Bergal, July 7, 2015, Governing

Thousands of protesters rallied outside the state capitol in frigid temperatures in February to express their anger before the state Senate voted. The Assembly held a heated all-night debate. But in the end, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature passed a right-to-work measure this session, making it the 25th state to enact such a law. Wisconsin was this year’s poster child for labor-related warfare in state capitols. Gov. Scott Walker, who already had whacked collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers in 2011, has rocketed to the top tier of Republican presidential candidates largely because of his anti-labor efforts. His rise is a vivid illustration of how strongly Republicans feel about the issue. But Wisconsin was only one of about two dozen states where members of Republican-led majorities in one or both chambers introduced either right-to-work bills, aimed at preventing workers from being forced to pay union dues, or measures to roll back prevailing wage laws that establish workers’ pay on public projects. In the end, right-to-work advocates scored some wins and suffered several defeats. Only two states — Wisconsin and Missouri — passed bills, although Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed Missouri’s. At least three states — Indiana, Nevada and West Virginia — repealed or scaled back prevailing wage laws. (read article)

Container Ships Bypass Port of Oakland, Citing Delays

By Erica Phillips, July 7, 2015, Wall Street Journal

An alliance of major container shipping lines has canceled four upcoming calls to the Port of Oakland, citing “severe delays.” On Tuesday, the Port of Oakland said there were six vessels waiting at anchor outside the port and another six waiting in a holding area outside the bay. The port attributed the delays to a shortage of local dockworkers. The G6 Alliance, which includes six ocean carriers, pulled vessels on its “Pacific Atlantic 2” run, which were scheduled to reach Oakland this month. The earliest was to arrive on Wednesday. The four vessels are operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and APL, a subsidiary of Neptune Orient Lines. The companies said they would monitor the situation and expect to restore service once the delays had improved. Get the latest logistics and supply chain news and analysis via an email newsletter. Sign up here. Some container ships have bypassed West Coast ports following severe delays earlier this year during a protracted period of labor negotiations. On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau said West Coast ports’ share of U.S. container imports had fallen to 45% in May, from 51.5% a year earlier. (read article)

Labor Unions Must Act Now to Survive US Supreme Court Deathblow

By Shamus Cooke, July 7, 2015, Global Research

The court intends to take aim at the head of organized labor by ruling against the California Teachers Association, and in the process fundamentally change labor law in a way that would cripple public sector unions, the last bastion of significant social power in the U.S. labor movement. If the public sector unions are destroyed, the private sector and building trades will be targeted next, as the devastation in Wisconsin proved. Although the Supreme Court is expected to be anti-union, there is still time to change the Court’s mind. The Supreme Court is like any other political organization: it is incredibly sensitive to public sentiment and flexed social power. For example, gay marriage wouldn’t be legal today if not for the boldness, tenacity and mobilization of the LGBTQ movement. The labor movement has much to learn from this experience. (read article)

Union Is the New Black: Labor Organizing in Orange Is the New Black

By Leslie Tolf, July 7, 2015, Huffington Post

In its third season with Netflix, Orange Is the New Black has had a significant effect on America’s consciousness regarding: race, women and incarceration, and transgender issues. This season highlighted many character backstories, but personally, the most interesting plot-line was that of the security guards and their efforts to organize a potential union. We see labor issues in popular culture and television on occasion, and this example in particular shines light on issues that that arise when workers don’t have labor protection. In this instance, the security guards at Litchfield women’s prison were dealing with cut hours, a loss of benefits and job security, and how to protect themselves. The answer to that, in addition to having an ally in management, was to form a union. We’re not often exposed to unionization in mainstream media, so I want to take the opportunity to explain the importance of unionizing and what it takes to get the protection you need when it comes to labor. (read article)

Obama admin promotes union fight for fast-food dues

By Jason Hart, July 6, 2015, Watchdog.org

Service Employees International Union wants to take dues from fast-food workers, and the Obama administration wants to help. Mary Beth Maxwell, principal deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Labor, praised SEIU’s “Fight for $15″ unionization campaign in a June entry on the labor department’s website. Fast-food workers, Maxwell wrote, “are showing that coming together to form unions is still how workers can raise their voices.” “Although it is unclear yet what protection the law affords them, as long as they have the courage that comes from acting together, they’re willing to take risks every day to build a better future for their families,” Maxwell added. Encouraging words, no doubt, from one of the nation’s top labor officials. And not unexpected, given Maxwell’s background. Before joining the Obama administration, Maxwell was executive director at union front group American Rights at Work. Before that, Maxwell was a national field director for union front Jobs With Justice. (read article)

Public employee unions fear loss of numbers under new Kansas law

By Peter Hancock, July 6, 2015, Lawrence Journal-World

Public employee unions in Kansas say they are concerned a new law that took effect July 1 will further reduce their membership and the job protections that come with it. “I am expecting our numbers to continue to decrease as they have been decreasing throughout this administration,” said Rebecca Proctor, interim director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, or KOSE, the state’s largest public employee union. The new law, contained in House Bill 2391, gives state agencies more flexibility to change an employee’s job duties and to move positions from classified to unclassified service. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed it into law May 11, and it became effective July 1. Kansas Secretary of Administration Jim Clark, who is retiring this month, requested the bill, saying that in a modern work environment, supervisors need more flexibility to adjust job duties and reorganize positions. (read article)

GOP pushes back on policy changes of U.S. labor board

By Tracie Mauriello, July 5, 2015, Toledo Blade

Republicans aren’t letting a presidential veto stop them from trying to block rules that would make it easier and faster for unions to organize. Stymied by the president’s March veto of their resolution against the policy change, Republicans are using the budget process to block the rules. An appropriations bill that recently cleared House and Senate committees includes provisions to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from implementing the rules, which would allow smaller bargaining units or “micro-unions” to form within departments of the same company, allow electronic voting in union elections, hold companies responsible for labor violations of business partners such as franchisees, and reduce the wait period between the circulation of organizing petitions and union elections. “The rule-making was designed to streamline and modernize,” NLRB chairman Mark Pearce said at a recent hearing. “The ultimate goal for the rule is to promote efficiency.” But Republicans are moving to cut the labor board’s allocations by 10 percent in a funding bill that also contains provisions to prevent the new rules from being enforced. They argue that the new rules are harmful because they don’t allow employers enough time to respond to unionization efforts. Previous rules required a 38-day wait between petitioning and voting. The new rule, which went into effect in April, would allow votes after two weeks. (read article)

The Irony Would Be Overwhelming

By David Macaray, July 5, 2015, Huffington Post

By now everyone who has regularly paid attention to what might optimistically be called the “American labor movement” is aware that the Supreme Court now holds in its hands the power to ruinously damage U.S. public sector unions. Indeed, it holds in its hands the power to eviscerate them, destroy them. Next term, in the matter of Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the high court will decide whether a worker is free to enjoy all the wonderful benefits of a labor union without having to pay one penny for any of them. As preposterously unfair as this sounds, those are the sorry facts framing the case. In 1977, in the landmark Abood decision (Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education), the Supreme Court ruled that while public sector workers were entitled not to join the union, they were nevertheless required to contribute their “fair share” to the union treasury in order to defray the costs of the collective bargaining process that provided these superior wages and benefits. (read article)

AFL-CIO leader tries to quell pro-Sanders revolt

By Brian Mahoney, July 3, 2015, Politico

Richard Trumka has a message for state and local AFL-CIO leaders tempted to endorse Bernie Sanders: Don’t. In a memo this week to state, central and area divisions of the labor federation, and obtained by POLITICO, the AFL-CIO chief reminded the groups that its bylaws don’t permit them to “endorse a presidential candidate” or “introduce, consider, debate, or pass resolutions or statements that indicate a preference for one candidate over another.” Even “‘personal’ statements” of candidate preference are verboten, Trumka said. The memo comes amid signs of a growing split between national union leaders — mindful of the fact that Clinton remains the undisputed favorite for the nomination — and local officials and rank and file, who are increasingly drawn to the Democratic Party’s growing progressive wing, for whom Sanders is the latest standard-bearer. (read article)

Supreme Court Case Poses Threat to Teachers’ Union Financing

By Stephen Sawchuk, July 2, 2015, Education Week

The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a challenge to its 40-year-old precedent permitting public-sector unions to compel nonmembers to pay service fees, a move that threatens to further undercut the already weakened labor organizations, including in K-12 education. If the court overrules its 1977 decision, teachers’ unions in 25 states and the District of Columbia could no longer collect the fees from teachers who do not wish to be members. They would face the elimination of a significant source of revenue, and would almost certainly experience member defections. “The court is threatening to put a dagger very close to the heart, financially speaking, of the way labor unions operate,” said Lee Howard Adler, a lecturer at Cornell University’s Institute of Labor Relations and an expert on public-sector bargaining. Brought by 10 California teachers and a Christian educators’ group they belong to, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association alleges that requiring nonmembers to pay what’s called “fair share” or “agency” fees violates the teachers’ constitutional rights to free speech. (read article)

Sheriff’s deputy union seeking pay raise after labor contract expires

By Will Houston, July 2, 2015, Eureka Times-Standard

While the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office was recently given a $3.2 million funding boost to unfreeze and hire new deputy positions, one union states that the county is not doing enough to keep existing deputies from leaving the area. Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs’ Organization President Jamie Barney, who has worked with the coroner’s office for 17 years, said that county supervisors are being “disingenuous” by stating they are prioritizing public safety while their existing law enforcement staff goes another year without a raise. “We have a lot of good local people working at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay here if the board doesn’t take public safety serious.” The Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs’ Organization currently has around 130 members — including sheriff’s deputies, district attorney’s office investigators and welfare fraud investigators. (read article)

The SEIU’s Odd Recipe for Unionizing Fast Food

By Josh Eidelson, July 2, 2015, Bloomberg

The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest labor groups, is battling to organize America’s fast-food workers. Since 2012 the union has spent more than $25 million on a campaign that’s included backing lawsuits over alleged unpaid wages and racially motivated firings, promoting legislation to change the franchise system, and occasionally mounting attention-grabbing strikes. The goal is to put so much pressure on companies like Wendy’s, Burger King, and especially industry leader McDonald’s that they agree to raise pay and embrace unionization. There’s only one problem: Almost all the people SEIU wants to organize aren’t directly employed by the fast-food giants they’ve gone to war against. Instead, the big chains contract out the management of most stores to thousands of small franchisees, legally distinct companies that hire the workers, run the business, and pass a cut of their sales back to headquarters. Most people flipping burgers under the Golden Arches don’t get McDonald’s paychecks, and even fewer will in the future, since Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook’s turnaround strategy for the chain includes increasing the global share of its franchised stores to 90 percent, from 81 percent now. (read article)

Where There Aren’t Unions, Can Online Platforms Organize Workers?

By Ben Schiller, July 2015, Fast Company

Until October last year, Starbucks had a strict policy against its employees showing their tattoos. Essentially, if you had ink on your arms and you wanted to work as a barista, you needed to cover up. That it now has a different, more open dress code is down to two factors mainly: an Atlanta-based barista named Kristie Williams who started complaining about the policy and an organizing platform called Coworker.org. Since launching in 2013, Coworker has facilitated dozens of worker campaigns covering everything from Nike’s lobbying policy (it gets employees to argue in favor of trade liberalization even if those employees don’t agree with it) to FIFA’s (ridiculous) decision to play the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf. Anyone can start a petition (“Let US Have Beards” says a recent one from a Publix employee) and engage colleagues in signing up if they agree. Cofounder Michelle Miller says 250,000 people have signed up for the platform and that 70,000 of those people have participated in campaigns so far, including about 20,000 Starbucks employees, or about 7% of its total global workforce. (read article)

Union Members Support Bernie Sanders

By Destiny Albritton, July 1, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

Bernie Sanders has turned Hillary Clinton’s parade to the White House into a competitive race for the Democratic nomination, as unions prefer Clintons’ socialist opponent. LaborUnionReport.com organized an informal poll in mid-June 2015 and the results showed that union support for Hillary Clinton was lacking significantly. Seventy-six percent of union members favor Bernie Sanders for president in 2016. Only 11 percent of union members favored Hillary Clinton. The report said, “due to her time spent with the employer-friendly Rose law firm (which helps employers fight unions), as well as her stint on the board of directors for Wal-Mart, many union members believe Clinton cannot be trusted.” (read article)

The Supreme Court’s threat to gut unions is giving the labor movement new life

By Lydia DePillis, July 1, 2015, Washington Post

The last time someone tried to call a lunchtime union meeting at the Upper Marlboro Parole and Probation office, things didn’t go well. Even with free food. “Nobody reported to the conference room, because they thought someone was there to sell them insurance,” remembers Monica Harris, who works there. But she, at least, had made it to an all-day activist training run by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees at a union hall in Baltimore. “A lot of people have lost faith in the union, because they haven’t seen anyone,” Harris explained to a circle of workers and union staff. “Right now, we’re in a place where we need rebuilding. It’s not just about lunch.”They nodded understandingly. Stories like this are common in Maryland, a state where most local government workplaces are “agency shop,” meaning that every employee must pay fees to the union whether or not they choose to become a full member. (read article)

Why Labor’s Dem-on-Dem Attacks Are Foolhardy

By Jerry Roberts, July 1, 2015, CalBuzz

In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously posed a political question to moderate civil rights leaders Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, then quickly answered it himself. ”You know the difference between cannibals and liberals?” the president asked. “Cannibals eat only their enemies.” LBJ’s formulation comes to mind as we ponder the recent eat-your-own behavior of the dominant, union faction of the California and National Democratic Parties, which seems, oddly, to ape that of Tea Party Republicans. Ideological rigidity, unwillingness to compromise, incendiary rhetoric, unreasonable demands, infuriating inconsistency and scorched earth tactics: these are just some of the characteristics of Tea Party types, whose stranglehold on Congress has so enraged liberal and moderate Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet they’re exactly the characteristics – albeit on the left not the right — that now infest the Labor Union Wing of the Democratic Party, in California and Washington. From Elk Grove to East Rockaway, Democratic members of Congress, from Ami Bera to Kathleen Rice, who have dared to stray from Big Labor’s take-no-prisoners stance on trade, have been pilloried as traitors to working people and others. Their mortal sin: bucking organized labor’s line on just a few issues, while hewing to it on most. (read article)

Unions Face Battle-Tested Executives in Talks

By Kimberly S. Johnson, June 30, 2015, Wall Street Journal

The glory days of labor unions may be a thing of the past, according to one professor who cites a fresh round of conflicts at employers with unions representing 400,000 workers. “I think on one hand, the Golden Age of the past of unions — where they bargained for the best plans, the high wages and good pensions — might be over,” said Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “We’re not making as much in this country as we used to,” she added, meaning unions have less bargaining power than they did 30 years ago. Unions today are starting to “wake up” to figure out how to respond to a new reality in which management demands further cuts to wages and benefits, she said. While wrangling over benefits is a cornerstone of union negotiations, looming threats facing several big companies—including coping with the requirements of The Affordable Care Act– exacerbate the conflicts, as we reported today in CFO Journal. Workers are preparing to strike if asked for more concessions– and union negotiators are dealing with a new crop of executives, battle-tested from riding out the recession. Management won’t cave in at the threat of a strike, says David Gregory, professor of law at St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, N.Y. “Labor didn’t have its bearings when corporate America was in a take-it-or-leave-it mode,” in recent years, Mr. Gregory said, adding that unions don’t “have many moves” left their arsenal today. (read article)

Hillary Clinton to huddle privately with top labor leaders

By Annie Karni, June 30, 2015, Politico

Hillary Clinton will attend an informal, intimate get-together for national and international labor leaders at campaign chairman John Podesta’s Washington, D.C., home on July 14, sources told POLITICO. The event, which takes place amid lingering concerns in the labor community over Clinton’s stance on trade, is scheduled for one day after a handful of influential labor leaders host a D.C. meet-and-greet with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton, Larry Cohen, the outgoing CWA president and American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein will host that meeting, which will be held at APWU headquarters in Washington. “It’s a meet and greet, he’s an important candidate,” Dimondstein said of Sanders. “He’s not in the pocket of the corporations, and wants corporate money out of politics. We hope to hear from him, to go into some of what his platform and program is, and how it relates to working folks. I have not officially endorsed Bernie, but I’m happy to be a co-host so he can meet with other labor leaders.” He said he is expecting a group of between 30 and 40 labor leaders to attend. (read article)

Bernie Sanders And Unions Have A Common Enemy: Scott Walker

By Connor D. Wolf, June 30, 2015, Daily Caller

Democratic presidential hopeful and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders Tuesday went after Republican Gov. Scott Walker for limiting union power in Wisconsin. “Needless to say I’m strongly opposed to his agenda,” Sanders told reporters during a phone conference, according Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think we need leadership in this country that is ready to stand up for working families. We need to strengthen the trade union movement in this country, not break it.” Though most of the major unions have yet to officially endorse a candidate, local unions have been increasingly moving to support Sanders. (read article)

Illinois attorney general says no state paychecks without budget

By Karen Pierog, June 29, 2015, Reuters Business Insider

Illinois state workers cannot be paid without an enacted budget for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday, State Attorney General Lisa Madigan said on Monday as a major labor union warned it could sue over any missed paychecks. The Democrat-controlled legislature and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner have been at an impasse over a spending plan. Madigan said “the Illinois Constitution and statutes prevent the comptroller from continuing to pay expenditures, including the state’s payroll, without a budget, and even a court cannot order all of these payments to be made.” (read article)


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