Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Martinez takes labor fight to U.S. Supreme Court

By Dan Boyd, October 6th, 2015, Albuquerque Journal

Just months after a legislative attempt to overhaul New Mexico’s labor laws was derailed, Gov. Susana Martinez is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a previous ruling that allows public sector unions in roughly 20 states – including New Mexico – to collect “fair-share” fees from employees who decide not to become union members. In an 18-page brief filed last month with the Supreme Court, Martinez argued the mandatory representation fees violate employees’ constitutional free-speech rights. “The right not to be compelled to exercise speech that a person opposes is a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Martinez wrote in the brief, which was submitted by Governor’s Office and contract attorneys. The Supreme Court case involves several California public school teachers, backed by a conservative group, who object to having to pay fees to a state teachers union. Arguments in the case are expected to be heard this fall, according to the Los Angeles Times. Martinez, a second-term Republican, has repeatedly clashed with labor unions since first being elected governor in 2010. She supported legislation this year that sought to bar unions from being able to collect fair-share fees from nonunion employees in both the private and public sectors, but the so-called right-to-work bill was defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate after being approved in the House of Representatives. (read article)

Bernie Sanders proposes sweeping labor law reforms

By Ned Resnikoff, October 6, 2015, Al Jazzera America

Progressive legislators introduced a law on Tuesday that would speed up the process for forming labor unions and penalize companies that delay negotiating with newly formed unions — as labor allies in Congress try to preserve some of the gains they have made during President Barack Obama’s second term. The Workplace Democracy Act, sponsored by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, would eliminate the two-stage balloting process for union election, a move that labor advocates say will make it easier for workers to form unions. Under current law, employees in a given workplace can trigger an election if at least 30 percent of them sign union authorization cards. After those cards are signed, workers must obtain a majority vote in favor of the union in a second process to get the union certified. The Sanders proposal would eliminate the ballot and lead to union certification if a majority of workers sign cards. (read article)

San Diego inks deal with largest labor union

By David Garrick, October 6, 2015, San Diego Union Tribune

San Diego reached a tentative agreement Tuesday with its largest labor union on a four-year contract that includes a wide range of compensation increases aimed at boosting employee recruitment and retention. Mayor Kevin Faulconer hailed the four-year deal with the Municipal Employees Association, which represents more than 4,000 of the city’s nearly 11,000 workers, as the right balance between rewarding employees and protecting taxpayers. He stressed that the deal abides by the city’s Proposition B pension reform measure by delaying any salary increases that would hike pensions until July of 2018. And the vast majority of those annual pay increases won’t make the city’s pension system vulnerable because, at 3.3 percent per year, they’re within actuarial estimates of future employee pay hikes. About 10 percent of MEA employees, however, would receive larger annual pay hikes ranging from 5 to 7 percent beginning in July 2018 because they have jobs where more pay is needed for recruitment and retention, city officials said. (read article)

Oregon Cannabis Workers Unionize

By Gordon Friedman, October 5, 2015, Statesman Journal

At least two collective bargaining contracts between Oregon cannabis workers and the dispensaries that employ them have been signed, and more are expected to partake in collective bargaining as the industry develops. The move to unionize by some cannabis workers strengthens the role unions have historically held in negotiating workplace conditions for their members, as labor unions enter a brand new market. And the trend is expected to grow: As many as 50 Oregon cannabis businesses have expressed interest in unionizing to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555. The union represents more than 20,000 retail and manufacturing workers in Oregon and Washington. The UFCW is one of the largest unions in the nation, with more than 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada. It has already begun representing cannabis workers in Washington, who signed a collective bargaining agreement in June. Cannabis workers first unionized in Oregon this July, when three employees at Portland’s Stoney Brothers dispensary, now known as Hi Casual Cannabis, signed a collective bargaining contract with UFCW Local 555. UFCW Local 555 is also representing two employees at the West Salem Cannabis dispensary who ratified a collective bargaining agreement in September. Margo Lucas, the dispensary’s owner, said she’s “thrilled” about the contract. (read article)

How Unions Are Being Given Free Rein To Use Public Employees

By Connor D. Wolf, October 5, 2015, Daily Caller

Public sector unions in Fairfax County, Va. aren’t just allowed 240 taxpayer-funded hours of political lobbying, they are also solely responsible for tracking whether they surpass the limit. The lobbying is performed by county employees in place of their actual jobs. It may also include other political activities. The practice is known as official time on the federal level and release time in the states. Rather than the county or some other external review, it is solely up to the very unions that benefit from the policy to track the hours. This despite regulations compelling the county to audit the time spent on release time. Essentially the public sector unions are responsible for making sure they do not surpass the 240 hours of taxpayer-funded political lobbying they are afforded. According to documents provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation, the county doesn’t even have information about the amount of hours spent on release time. The county puts full trust in the unions to track honestly and not surpass the 240 hour limit. (read article)

Labor unions giving serious thought to endorsing Trump

By Sean Higgins, October 4, 2015, Washington Examiner

Billionaire developer Donald Trump has thrown yet another monkey wrench into the political status quo: Some major labor unions are now mulling endorsing the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s a move that would have been unthinkable in previous election cycles, but Trump has fans among the union rank and file and deviates enough from the GOP platform that labor leaders are giving him a serious look. On Tuesday, the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced its executive council would put off a decision on a presidential endorsement due a lack of consensus. Fox News reported that the delay was caused partly by members’ support for Trump and that the union was seeking a meeting with the candidate. (read article)

Clinton gets endorsement of largest U.S. labor union

By Luciana Lopez, October 3, 2015, Reuters

U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who has been vying with challenger Bernie Sanders for the support of organized labor, scored a win on Saturday with an endorsement from the National Education Association, a huge teachers union. The NEA, the largest U.S. labor union with 3 million members, is the latest in a string of unions to support Clinton, including the American Federation of Teachers and the machinists’ union. Clinton’s lead in opinion polls has been narrowing against Sanders, a Vermont senator who has rallied progressives with his pledges to tackle income inequality and rein in Wall Street. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia praised Clinton as a strong leader who would work for students, teachers and families “because she understands the road to a stronger U.S. economy starts in America’s public schools.” Eskelsen Garcia said 75 percent of the 175-member board of directors voted to endorse Clinton. (read article)

Unions and tech: A most unlikely political alliance forms

By Joe Garofoli, October 2, 2015 Updated: October 3, 2015, San Francisco Chronicle

To many in the tech industry, unions represent everything they aim to disrupt: calcified, seniority-driven institutions that are slow to innovate. To many in labor, tech firms are modern-day robber barons, seeking to skirt workplace protections by abdicating responsibility for any workers they haven’t already outsourced or automated. Yet an unlikely alliance is being seeded in Silicon Valley, as unions and some tech firms are realizing they need each other — politically. As tech companies have gone from garages to corporate campuses, many have come to rely on the service industry — traditionally a labor stronghold. Valley firms need people to drive the buses that ferry engineers to their walled garden campuses, clean their sprawling open floor plans, cook meals in their lavish cafeterias and guard their doors. This has given labor an in at a time when it urgently needs members. The largely nonunion, highly profitable tech sector is ripe with potential recruits. Fifty years ago, roughly 1 in every 3 U.S. workers belonged to a union. But as the nation’s manufacturing base has shrunk, now only 11 percent have a union membership. (In California, 16 percent of workers are union members, a figure that’s been stable for the past decade.) A nascent union movement has emerged over the past several months, as tech firms have agreed to contracts with the workers who drive their private shuttle buses. In February, bus drivers for eBay, Zynga, Yahoo, Genentech, Apple and voted to join the Teamsters International union. Tech firms that play nice with unions could stand to benefit from their relationship. (read article)

Planting a Pro-Union Ruling Down on the Farm

By Allysia Finley, October 2, 2015, Wall Street Journal

In the tradition of the Obama administration’s pro-union shenanigans with the National Labor Relations Board, California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) has teamed up with the United Farm Workers union to shake down workers at the state’s largest tree-fruit grower. Gerawan Farming, a third-generation family farm in Fresno, is trying to fend off the attack. On Sept. 17, ALRB administrative-law judge Mark Soble issued a long-awaited decision on whether to count the Gerawan workers’ ballots cast in 2013 to decertify the UFW. Given the ALRB’s pro-union bias, Mr. Soble’s decision to throw out the ballots, disenfranchising thousands of workers, wasn’t surprising. Unlike other California agencies, the ALRB employs in-house administrative-law judges to arbitrate complaints. Still, both management and workers at Gerawan Farming were disappointed. “To destroy ballots after the majority of employees asked for an election is wrong and undemocratic,” said Dan Gerawan, co-owner of Gerawan Farming in a written statement. “Thousands of our employees were told by the ALRB they had the right to vote as they wanted. To now say their votes won’t be counted is wrong and disrespectful to workers and their right of free choice.” (read article)

Teachers Union Erases Records Showing Dissent

By Bill McMorris, October 2, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

One of the nation’s largest teachers unions claimed to have only one dissenting member in its federal labor records, contradicting the reports from numerous local affiliates. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) disclosed that only one teacher out of more than 1.6 million opted out of paying full dues last year, according to federal labor filings released in September. The union charges full-time members $18.26 per month and collected nearly $160 million in dues money in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30. Federal labor record keeping laws require unions to disclose membership totals, including what are known as agency fee payers—those who pay partial union dues to cover bargaining costs while opting out of supporting the full scope of union operations, such as political advocacy. While a full-time member’s dues money can be used to finance the $37.6 million that AFT spent on lobbying and other political activities in 2015, an agency fee payer’s dues cover representational operation costs, which cost the union $73.8 million. The number of agency fee payers listed by the national headquarters stands at odds with the membership totals at the local level. For example, AFT Local 4053 represents more than 51,000 members covering upstate New York and is based in the state capital of Albany. Nearly 2,600 of the educators represented in bargaining units were agency fee payers in the as of March 2015, according to its federal labor filings. (read article)

Firefighters’ Union Backs Away From Endorsement of Hillary Clinton

By Noam Scheiber and Amy Chozick, October 2, 2015, New York Times

The International Association of Fire Fighters, one of the country’s more politically powerful unions, has abandoned its initial plans to endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, according to union sources. Harold A. Schaitberger, the union’s general president, informed Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, in a telephone call on Monday. According to a union official, Mr. Schaitberger told Mr. Mook that the executive board and rank-and-file members — the latter were recently polled — did not support a Clinton endorsement. The early support of a cross section of unions — most prominently the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Mrs. Clinton in July — had been a source of strength for the Clinton campaign. But in recent weeks, as Mrs. Clinton’s numbers in some polls have sagged and she has faced an increasingly formidable challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, some labor unions appear to have had second thoughts. (read article)

UAW President Faces a Restive Union

By Jeff Bennett and Christina Rogers, October. 2, 2015, Wall Street Journal

Two weeks ago, United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams appeared on the verge of restoring the long-sidelined union to a prominent role in the auto industry. He was near to a deal for higher wages from a Detroit auto maker, had found broad support for his health-care purchasing co-op and was touting a more collegial relationship with auto makers. How quickly things have changed. Today, Mr. Williams is facing a membership revolt at Chrysler, a strike at Ford Motor Co. this weekend, and little chance of wringing a richer contract from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV after his tentative deal was soundly rejected by members. Just 15 months into his term as the head of a union with 140,000 Detroit Three members, Mr. Williams faces the difficult task of shifting sentiment in favor of the Fiat Chrysler deal, which members rejected largely because it allowed a despised wage system to continue for at least four more years. (read article)

Some teachers resisting union endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president

By Evan Halper, October 1, 2015, Los Angeles Times

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a dear friend of a fiery teachers union leader, she speaks out against the bombardment of standardized testing that dismays educators, and she never misses a chance to say how enamored she is with those who teach. Many teachers are less enamored with her, however. One of the most hotly debated issues among rank-and-file educators this week is whether Clinton deserves their support. Many are saying no — or at least, not yet — and calling upon their state leaders to resist a move by the president of the union representing 3 million teachers to endorse Clinton. They are deeply bitter about President Obama’s education policies and fear Clinton would stay on the same path, which is championed by some of her ultra-wealthy friends and supporters, particularly Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad. The pressure has been intense enough to prompt some notable defections in the National Education Assn., the largest labor union in the U.S., whose president is lobbying state chapters to line up behind Clinton when the organization considers an endorsement at a leadership gathering that starts Thursday. The New Jersey chapter, one of the biggest, has said flatly it would not support the move. Massachusetts is joining it. Both want to wait. The Vermont chapter has already endorsed its native son, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who is Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination. (read article)

Senate Republicans move against union power

By Sean Higgins, September 30, 2015, Washington Examiner

Senate Republicans will make the case Tuesday for reining in the National Labor Relations Board, the main federal labor law enforcement agency, arguing that its recent efforts to expand the legal definition of a “joint employer” would hurt the economy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will lead the effort by holding a hearing on legislation dubbed the Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act. The hearing is part of coordinated effort by Republicans to head off the labor board’s efforts. House GOP lawmakers held a hearing earlier this week in the Education and the Workforce Committee on their version of the legislation. Both bills would limit the legal definition of a joint employer to two or more businesses that have “actual, direct and immediate control” over a group of workers’ terms and conditions. The legislation effectively would undo a recent NLRB decision in a case called Browning Ferris that said a contractor can be considered the joint employer of a subcontractor’s employees. The board also has a pending case against McDonald’s Corp. that could expand the definition to include corporate franchisers and their franchisees. It has solicited legal opinions on whether it should make companies that hire temp agencies also joint employers of the agencies’ employees. Both cases could vastly expand legal liability for businesses by making them responsible for labor practices at other companies. That could draw them into disputes with labor unions and make them vulnerable to labor board legal action. Labor leaders have applauded the moves. (read article)

California Labor Union That Fought for $15 Minimum Wage Now Wants an Exemption

By Natalie Johnson, September 30, 2015, The Daily Signal

The labor union that led the charge for a $15 minimum wage hike in cities across California is now moving to secure an exemption for employers under union contracts. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor buried the exemption on the eighth page of its 12-page proposal for the Santa Monica City Council to review Tuesday while deciding whether to follow Los Angeles and increase the minimum wage. The loophole would allow employers with collective bargaining agreements to sidestep the wage hike and pay their union members below the proposed $15-per-hour minimum wage. James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, said the exemption is a union attempt to encourage businesses to unionize by making themselves the only low-wage option as union membership continues to drop off. “This proposal would force any worker in Santa Monica whose labor is worth less than $15 an hour to purchase union representation in order to hold a job,” Sherk said. “Unions should not be able to selectively exempt themselves from the harmful consequences of the minimum wage hikes they lobby for.” (read article)

Government Unions Hurt Upward Mobility: What We Can Do About It?

By Carrie Sheffield, September 29, 2015, Forbes

We all want to help society’s most disadvantaged. Yet there’s a persistent myth in America that today’s labor unions just fight for the little guy, the lunch pail-toting everyman. However true that may have been a generation ago, today’s face of organized labor is drastically different. Unions of yesteryear were predominantly in the private sector. But since 2009, government union membership surpassed private membership, and their membership looks very different from when it comprised Joe Sixpack and his pals. Government unions, on average, represent skilled, white-collar workers who enjoy generous benefits, sans accountability, courtesy of the hardworking taxpayer. This has profound implications for the upward mobility and fiscal solvency of future generations. It also presents troubling challenges to democracy and sovereignty at all levels of government. My new paper released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility, And What Can Be Done about It, highlights this problem. (read article)

Report: Government Unions Take from the Poor to Give to the Rich

By Bill McMorris, September 29, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

The government employees who now make up a majority of the nation’s union members are a far cry from the blue-collar archetype of old, according to a new report. The Competitive Enterprise Institute will release a report on Tuesday morning documenting the changing nature of unionism in America, as white-collar professionals in the public sector overtake the private sector working class as the face of unionism. “Public sector unions may claim they stand up for the little guy, but generally they aren’t representing blue collar workers against a better-educated, white-collar management,” said Carrie Sheffield, a scholar at the institute, in a release. “Government unions represent skilled, white-collar workers who enjoy big benefits and job security, courtesy of the taxpayer.” (read article)

Report Documents How Public Sector Unions Are Out of Control

By Connor D. Wolf, September 29, 2015, Daily Caller

Unchecked power has allowed public unions to establish member benefits that put a huge burden on taxpayers, a report released Tuesday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) found. The report, “How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility And What Can Be Done About It” by CEI journalism fellow Carrie Sheffield, found public sector unions have been able to force costly policies through effectively crippling essential government programs. Through collective bargaining, they then increase the costs of these programs, generally with little resistance from politicians, despite the burden on taxpayers. Worst of all, Sheffield finds, the negative effect on upward mobility is not simply contained within the union, but spills out to effect the people who use their services, often those most in need of a leg up. (read article)

Clinton calls for nixing Obamacare provision opposed by unions

By Alex Seitz-Wald, September 29, 2015, MSNBC

In a move that could help her shore up support with labor unions, Hillary Clinton called Tuesday for replacing a key funding mechanism of the Affordable Care Act that unions have long opposed. “I encourage Congress to repeal the so-called Cadillac Tax,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a statement. “My proposed reforms to our health care system would more than cover the cost of repealing the Cadillac Tax, while also reining in skyrocketing prescription drug costs and out-of-pocket expenses for hard-working families.” She did not give details of her replacement plan. The so-called Cadillac tax, which levies a hefty 40% tax on high-end employer-provided insurance plans, has come under increasing fire from some Democrats, even though it provides crucial funding for Obamacare. While aimed at the wealthy, the tax also threatens to hit many union members, who tend to have excellent health care plans. Labor unions opposed the tax from the beginning and have fought with the White House ever since to end it. Critics worry employers would reduce health care benefits to avoid the tax once it goes into effect in 2018. (read article)

The wrong lesson from Walker’s withdrawal

By Richard Berman, September 28, 2015, Washington Times

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is claiming Scott Walker’s demise proves an anti-union message doesn’t connect. “This is a clear rebuke of the anti-worker platform on which Gov. Walker based his entire presidential campaign,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Gov. Walker found nearly zero support for his policies that would have tipped the scales even further against working families.” Hardly. While dancing on the Walker campaign grave, these union bigwigs are also whistling past the graveyard. Mr. Walker’s campaign went south when he went off-message with bizarre proposals like building a wall on the Canadian border. That’s a “South Park” episode, not the policy of a serious presidential candidate. And while Mr. Walker’s campaign may have died for failure to connect with voters, one major labor reform he was proposing is very much alive. It was one week before he dropped out that he found his labor reform voice that had first made him so popular. But then he made a second mistake. In a desperate overreach, he offered a kitchen sink of reforms that collapsed of its own weight. Though he mentioned the hugely popular Employee Rights Act (ERA), it was in passing at the end of a speech riddled with proposals that were irrelevant or too arcane for the average primary voter to understand. How can you expect excitement around National Labor Relations Board reforms when most people don’t know what the acronym NLRB means? And why spend time promoting right-to-work laws when the vast majority of the early primary states have already passed those laws? Talk about burying the lead. Mr. Walker would have had far more success if he had led with the pro-employee message of the ERA and based his labor platform on it. The ERA is easy to understand — its eight reforms pivot around 80 percent favorability among Republicans and union household members. What part of an 80 percent favorability rating among Republican voters did Mr. Walker not understand? (read article)

NLRB Charges Union with Coercive Dues Scheme

By Bill McMorris, September 24, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

A California union stands accused of illegally forcing a nurse’s aide to pay dues without informing him of his right to opt out of membership. Guillermo Cornejo said in a complaint that Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West failed to properly notify him of his Beck Rights when he started work at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in 2012. When he bucked at handing over nearly two percent of his paycheck to pay dues, the union attempted to get him fired, according to the National Labor Relations Board, the country’s top labor arbiter. “Respondent failed to inform Charging Party that he has a right to be or remain a nonmember,” the NLRB complaint says. “Respondent has been restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed… has been attempting to cause an employer to discriminate against its employees.” (read article)

Three Reasons Labor Unions Will Prevail

By David Macaray, September 23, 2015, Huffington Post

If — as so many Republicans, reactionaries and Chamber of Commerce minions would have us believe — the American labor movement is more or less dead in the water, then there would be no reason to spend hundreds of million of dollars seeking to further cripple or destroy it. If organized labor is as moribund as they claim (with barely 11-percent of the workforce, totaling 14.6 million members nationwide) then why do they remain scared shitless of it? After all, if your “enemy” has been rendered frail and ineffective, why continue to marshal valuable resources in opposition to it? Here are three arguments for why the labor movement is far stronger than it appears. THE FEAR. The moneyed Establishment (Wall Street, academe, the stock market, the mainstream media) continues to be terrified of unions. And the reason they continue to be terrified is because they know the truth. Despite organized labor’s declining membership, the Establishment realizes that given the opportunity to compare the benefits of a union shop to those of a non-union shop, employees are going to opt for the union. That’s why businesses resort to obfuscation and time-stalling tactics to prevent certification votes. (read article)

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