Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Labor, Business Groups Join Forces to Press for Highway Bill

By Melanie Trottman, May 13, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Organized labor, business groups and consumer advocacy organizations are making a rare joint plea to Congress this week: Decide how to finance a long-term highway bill, then pass it without delay. Officials from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Automobile Association and several other groups gathered Monday at the Newseum in Washington to brief the press on their push for a long-term funding bill to keep the nation’s roads and bridges safe. The briefing coincided with the kickoff of “Infrastructure Week”, a time when nearly a dozen business, labor and other organizations try to highlight ways to modernize America’s aging infrastructure. “Throughout the week, our goal is to highlight the critical role infrastructure plays in America’s fight to stay competitive,” Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, said in a statement. The week comes at a critical time: Money is running low in the fund used as the main source of federal cash for U.S. roads and transit systems, and the Department of Transportation has indicated it could delay reimbursing states for construction costs starting this summer if Congress doesn’t replenish the account. (read article)

NLRB to Revisit Use of Company E-Mail Accounts in Union Organizing and Personal Use

Jack S. Gearan, May 13, 2014, National Law Review

The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board” or “NLRB”) under The President has broadly interpreted the protections afforded under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”). Section 7 gives employees the right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection and to form, join or assist labor unions. Employees also have the right to communicate about organizing and other union matters as part of their Section 7 rights. Despite the incorrect assumption that even some attorneys often make, the Act applies to union and nonunion employers alike. In expanding protections under Section 7, the Board has struck down what were previously considered customary and fairly innocuous workplace policies. For example, the Board has struck down workplace policies requiring employees not to discuss confidential investigations (GT Blog, March 14, 2013) as well as overbroad social media policies governing what employees can and cannot post on social media websites or blogs. These decisions have had considerable ramifications for employers who perhaps previously had paid little attention to the NLRB. Now it appears that the Board may be targeting policies prohibiting employees from using company email for personal matters or for the purposes of organizing. (read article)

Bolger’s union demand imperils ‘grand bargain’ in Detroit bankruptcy

By Daniel Howes, May 13, 2014, Detroit News

House Speaker Jase Bolger’s insistence that Detroit’s unions contribute to the “grand bargain” is emerging as a potentially large impediment to resolving the largest bankruptcy in American history. From Gov. Rick Snyder and Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen to Mayor Mike Duggan and Sen. Carl Levin, some of the state’s most influential players are trying quietly to gauge whether the Republican leader’s conditions can be met and by whom — or sidestepped in legislative wrangling over the coming weeks. The rising concern, coming as the state House today begins three days of hearings on a package of bills tied to the grand bargain, signals how vulnerable the complex bankruptcy workout could be to last-minute demands turned catastrophic deal-breakers, despite federal mediation under Rosen and hard-won support for the workout from the city’s unions, pension funds and retiree committee. “It’s never a done deal until everyone signs off on it,” says Bill Nowling, spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, adding that Orr is “certainly aware” of Bolger’s request. “How it works out remains to be seen.” That’s putting it mildly. Bolger’s condition that the city’s unions — not their members — contribute cold, hard cash to an $816 million fund financed by a dozen foundations, Detroit Institute of Arts donors and the state to protect the museum’s collection and bolster pension payouts to retirees is creating “a tizzy,” according to one person close to the situation. (read article)

Labor organizer mounts challenge to Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer

By Ryan Lillis, May 13, 2014, Modesto Bee

There isn’t a Walmart in Sacramento’s City Council District 5. In fact, there’s only one of the stores in the entire city. But the superstore chain is a big reason why the area’s councilman, Jay Schenirer, is facing an opponent as he seeks a second term in the June primary. Ali Cooper, a labor union political organizer, has attacked Schenirer for raising $50,000 from Wal-Mart’s charitable foundation to support a neighborhood initiative Schenirer started in Oak Park called WayUp, which conducts health screenings for elementary school students, mentors high school students and builds community gardens. The Wal-Mart funding was part of $1.4 million Schenirer has raised for WayUp over the past three years. Schenirer was also a leading voice when the City Council voted 6-2 last year to ease restrictions on big box stores such as Wal-Mart, a vote that angered union leaders who have battled the retailer for years over its wage and benefit policies. With tight rules in place, city officials said they were losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to bordering municipalities. There are five big box stores in the city, but 35 in the surrounding region. (read article)

San Jose mayor’s race: Union backing is Dave Cortese’s biggest strength, weakness

By Mike Rosenberg, May 12, 2014, Contra Costa Times

As mayoral hopeful Dave Cortese was giving his take on San Jose’s hot-button employee pension issue during campaign cold calls last week, a skeptical voter replied: “Is it true you’re backed by unions?” It’s a question Cortese has come to expect. The Santa Clara County supervisor is being fervently backed by the San Jose political machine known as organized labor — and that’s perhaps both his biggest strength and weakness. An army of union members has been walking precincts and calling voters for Cortese. Union members ?donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign, granted key endorsements from groups like cops and firefighters, and they’ve heckled his competitors online and at campaign events. The unions say Cortese will restore trust with city workers, mainly police officers who have been abandoning the city amid a years-long crime wave that continues to plague San Jose. But critics led by Mayor Chuck Reed, the current majority of the City Council and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce fear Cortese will wipe out years of fiscal restraint and cuts by going on a taxpayer spending spree. They point to his plans to roll back key parts of voter-approved pension cuts. (read article)

Big Labor Joins Ranks With Soros’ Pro-Democratic Funding Group

By Matthew Vadum, May 12, 2014, Newsmax

A secretive pro-Democratic funding powerhouse is welcoming more representatives of the labor movement as members amid concerns that Republicans are on track to take over the U.S. Senate in November. The development adds to organized labor’s already considerable clout within the elite fundraising empire known as the Democracy Alliance, which claims to have funneled about $500 million into liberal and pro-Democratic organizations. The invitation-only member-based Alliance, co-founded by radical billionaire philanthropist George Soros, describes itself on its website as a “first-of-its-kind partnership of change-makers who are committed to a stronger democracy and a more progressive America.” The Democracy Alliance keeps its membership confidential, but the names of new members came to light recently when Soros’ son Jonathan left behind a partial membership list of the group during a meeting in a Chicago hotel. It included a number of Big Labor officials. The goal of the Democracy Alliance is to foster a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups. The 100-plus millionaire and billionaire members of the Democracy Alliance range from high-tech entrepreneurs and bankers to Hollywood VIPs and heirs and heiresses. (read article)

Reinventing unions

By James Sherk, May 12, 2014, Washington Times

Few workers would turn down a raise. Union members, however, can have raises turned down on their behalf. Employees of a Pennsylvania grocery store learned this the hard way. Managers at the Giant Eagle grocery in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, wanted to reward hard work. So they boosted the wages of two dozen high-performing employees above their union rates. But United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 was not pleased. The union argued the pay increases violated their contract, took Giant Eagle to court and forced it to rescind the raises. Why did Local 23 oppose higher pay for its members? Because it upended their seniority system, allowing junior employees to make more those with more seniority. Local 23 wanted uniform pay scales — even if that meant cutting some of their members’ wages. Workers today want — and expect — recognition for their contributions and abilities, but uniform-pay scales forbid that. Such contracts could work in the assembly line economy of the 1930s, where workers performed essentially interchangeable jobs. But not in today’s knowledge economy. Why would a software designer or a search-marketing consultant want one? (read article)

Business, labor groups urge more road, bridge spending

By Bart Jansen, May 12, 2014, USA Today

Business and labor groups kicked off a week of dire warnings and noisy jackhammers to promote highway and bridge construction Monday, to overcome congressional reluctance to boost funding for the projects. “If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen,” Thomas Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on a panel at the Newseum. “All of us have got to go up and explain to our representatives that we’re so glad to have them – and we need the money, or we might not keep them.” In the same vein, Laborers’ International Union of North America announced Monday a $1 million campaign in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan for radio ads and billboards to highlight the costs and safety perils of deteriorating highways and bridges. The radio ad, featuring jackhammers, says the country doesn’t need another bridge collapse like Interstate 35 in Minneapolis in 2007, which killed 13 people. Billboards say potholes cause injuries and prompt $80 billion in auto repairs. (read article)

Union workers protest ‘lock-out’ at Convention Center

By Aubrey Whelan, May 12, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer

Workers returned to the job at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Monday morning as members of two fellow unions protested against being shut out from the sprawling complex. Police outnumbered the union protesters. During the morning, about 40 to 50 demonstrators – most, if not all, from Teamsters Local 107 – held positions around the sprawling complex, carrying signs saying “Locked Out” and shouting at workers entering the building. Some members of Carpenters Union Local 8 handed out literature to passersby. Four other unions reached agreement on work rule changes at the center last week and their members continue to work at the center. (read article)

California farmer locked in battle with union

May 11, 2014, Associated Press

Six months ago, workers at one of the largest fruit farms in the U.S. went to the ballot box to decide if they would continue to be represented by the United Farm Workers, which won that right two decades ago but never forged a labor contract. The ballots, still uncounted by state officials and locked in a safe, sit at the center of a dispute between the union launched by iconic farm labor leader Cesar Chavez and Gerawan Farming, Inc., which hires more than 5,000 workers annually to tend and harvest nectarines, peaches and plums. Chavez has long since passed away, but the UFW’s fight to get workers at Gerawan a union-negotiated contract goes on, moving from the farm’s vast orchards in Central California to courtrooms amid accusations of broken labor laws and intimidation tactics. In California, the nation’s most productive agricultural region, unions over decades have won more than 750 elections to represent workers, said Philip Martin, a farm labor expert at the University of California, Davis. But that never resulted in more than 350 negotiated contracts, so Martin said another 400 farms may find themselves in the same position as Gerawan. (read article)

Surprise: International Data Show U.S. Is A Labor-Friendly Country

By Jeffrey Dorfman, May 10, 2014, Forbes

In a recent Wall Street Journal story about Italy’s economic recovery some fascinating data were presented without the authors even realizing the big story they had uncovered. Yes, Italy seems to be in much better shape (and Portugal has made even bigger strides back to economic health). But the big story that the Journal just sailed right past is that relative to a set of our European counterparts the U.S. is actually a very labor-friendly country. The Journal story presents some data on labor productivity and GDP per capita for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. Not surprisingly, the U.S. has the highest labor productivity and Italy has the lowest. To find something surprising takes a little more work. GDP per capita is not a good measure of labor income as it contains all types of income including interest, dividends, all those returns to capital that have liberals so upset. To replace it, I collected data on average annual wages from the OECD for the same six countries, with both labor productivity and average wages converted to dollars with purchasing power parity exchange rates. Then I compared average wages to labor productivity, and that is where the surprise is. (read article)

Union-friendly Phoenix council plays hardball

By Doug MacEachern, May 10, 2014, AZ Central

Just how much community credibility is enough for a supermarket chain? The new owner of Arizona’s Pro’s Ranch Markets, which serve a largely Hispanic clientele, looks to have a plentiful supply of community credibility. The new owner is a partnership of the Gonzalez and Cardenas families, who both have owned stores in the Mexican food market in California for generations. Together, they own more than 60 supermarkets. They buy much of the food they sell from Mexico. Their Arizona partnership, known as CNG Ranch, LLC seemed a perfect fit to buy the Pro’s Ranch Markets operation, which owns 11 grocery stores and fell into bankruptcy last year. You would think, too, that the new owners would be welcomed in Arizona with open arms. Not just because of their roots, but also because, without their $55million investment, vast swaths of metropolitan Phoenix would be left without a major supermarket to become food deserts, as market-less neighborhoods are known. And more than 1,000 Arizona workers would be left unemployed. In Glendale, they did welcome the new Ranch Markets owners. Without reservations. And in Mesa. No objections. Open arms. Glad to have you. But in Phoenix, where five Ranch Markets are located, the welcome was different — less a “welcome” than an ultimatum. You want to open shop in Phoenix? Fine. But first, the company was told, you must do business with our union friends. (read article)

Phoenix police union seeks referendum on pay

Dustin Gardiner, May 10, 2014, The Arizona Republic

Phoenix’s police-officer union is asking voters to overturn the City Council’s decision to impose a contract that includes pay and benefit cuts for its members. On Friday morning, union leaders announced they will begin collecting signatures for a referendum election, saying years of cuts and a hiring freeze have strained the city’s force of 2,386 officers. They must collect 16,987 valid signatures within 30 days to get the issue on the ballot for a 2015 election. Police officers are protesting a new labor contract on all five of its employee unions that imposes a 1.6 percent pay and benefit cut in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. The union will also have to take a 0.9 percent cut in the second year of the contract. (read article)

Teachers union boss declares ‘war’ on school reform

By Aaron Short, May 9, 2014, New York Post

Believing he was among friends, UFT boss Mike Mulgrew showed what he’s really made of during a closed-door meeting with union activists — spewing hatred toward education “reformers” and charter schools, and even admitting he sabotaged teacher evaluations. “We are at war with the reformers,” Mulgrew said bluntly in an extraordinary admission during a gathering of 3,400 union delegates who voted for a new labor contract Wednesday night. “Their ideas will absolutely destroy — forget about public education — they will destroy education in our country.” The Wednesday night meeting of union delegates was closed to the press — but Mulgrew’s comments were forwarded to the website Chalkbeat. (read article)

Home caregivers say good riddance to union

Editorial, May 9, 2014, Detroit News

Two new Michigan laws settled a seven-year dispute over whether home-based caregivers should have had to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union. Now that they have a choice, union members have exited in massive numbers, evidence most of them didn’t want to be part of the union in the first place. That’s a fitting end to this story. A federal report filed by SEIU Healthcare Michigan earlier this month shows that around 44,000 members have left the union, meaning 80 percent of the union’s members have opted out. At the end of 2012, the union had reported more than 55,000 members. These individuals had no business being in a union. They are largely family members and friends who stay at home to care for loved ones. But a scheme orchestrated under the Granholm administration “organized” these caregivers in a mail election many of them didn’t participate in or even know about. A decade ago, the SEIU went after the Medicaid checks of Michigan participants in the federal Home Help Program, which gives elderly and disabled individuals the option of receiving care in their homes instead of an outside facility. Since the money first passed through the state, the Granholm administration and the SEIU created a “shell” employer for the caregivers and labeled them state employees — even though they don’t get benefits from the state and weren’t on the state payroll. Forcing these caregivers to pay dues greatly increased membership for the SEIU. Over seven years, the SEIU funneled more than $34 million from the assistance checks of the elderly and disabled. The union offered no benefits to these caregivers, as the SEIU couldn’t bargain for their wages or benefits and had no say in their working conditions. But that didn’t stop the union from taking $6 million a year from these often financially strapped individuals. (read article)

Mayor de Blasio proposes $73.9 billion city budget ramping up education, housing and labor contract spending

By Erin Durkin, May 8, 2014, New York Daily News

Riding a wave of new revenue, Mayor de Blasio Thursday proposed a $73.9 billion city budget that would ramp up spending on education, housing and labor contracts — and stick the next mayor with part of the bill. De Blasio revealed that settling all the outstanding contracts with the city’s labor unions will cost an eye-popping $17.75 billion, with the payments stretching into 2021— drawing concern from some budget watchdogs. The budget, for the year beginning July 1, would begin funding the big programs de Blasio promised during the mayoral race, when he made clear that he believes government should be a force for progressive change. And it would do so without raising taxes. Thanks to a projected increase in tax receipts because of the economy, spending backed by city revenues would rise $2.1 billion, or nearly 4%, to $56.1 billion. The proposed budget is balanced, as it must be by law, but the plan also projects a $2.2 billion deficit in the year beginning July 1, 2015, double the estimate in the mayor’s preliminary budget released earlier this year. (read article)

House panel grills college leaders on unionization

By Steve Berkowitz, May 8, 2014, USA TODAY Sports

Billed as an examination of the consequences of unionizing college athletes, a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing here Thursday involved plenty of that. However, the hearing also became a platform for Congressional criticism of the NCAA and Division I schools’ approach to addressing athlete concerns that triggered the effort to unionize scholarship football players at Northwestern. One of the five witnesses, Stanford athletics director Bernard Muir, told the committee that if his school’s athletes were allowed to unionize, the school “might opt not to compete at the level we are competing in.” And in an interview with USA TODAY Sports after the hearing, he was unequivocal: “If (Stanford’s athletes) are deemed employees, we will opt for a different model.” “I just know that from our board of trustees, our president, our provost, the Stanford culture, it just wouldn’t be appropriate to deem student-athletes as employees,” Muir said. “We would deem that inappropriate, so for that purpose we would have to look at other alternatives.” (read article)

Fast Food Workers, Labor Unions Plan Global Protest Calling For Higher Minimum Wage

May 08, 2014, Fox News Latino

Labor organizers say they’re planning another day of fast-food protests next week, with coordinated actions expected in the U.S. and more than 30 countries this time around. Union representatives from countries including Argentina, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand and Panama gathered in New York this week to share tips and strategize for the demonstrations slated to take place on May 15. Organizers plan to announce the global actions at a news conference outside a McDonald’s in New York on Wednesday afternoon. The protests calling for pay of $15 an hour in the U.S. have gained national media attention since they began in New York in late 2012. The push is getting financial and organizational support from the Service Employees International Union — which has more than 2 million members — and has served as an important backdrop as President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers seek to raise the federal minimum wage in an election year. (read article)

For workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, the debate over unionization is far from over

By Rhuaridh Marr, May 8, 2014, Metro Weekly

Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., factory is somewhat unique. The assembly plant, which opened in 2011 and employs over 2,000 people, exclusively manufactures Volkswagen’s Passat — churning out 100,000 of the sedate sedans in its first year of operation. Its single production line isn’t unique, though. Neither is its setting in Tennessee — General Motors builds the Chevrolet Equinox two hours away in Spring Hill. Instead, Chattanooga has the somewhat dubious honor of being the only VW manufacturing plant in the world that lacks any form of union representation. Of course, that could be reasoned with its location in the South, which has long fought against labor unions. When Volkswagen, Honda and other manufacturers came to the U.S. in the ’70s, they chose to buck the trend of the Big Three — who mainly manufactured in the North — and take their initial production lines to Southern states to avoid the unionization workers enjoyed at Ford, GM and Chrysler. Indeed, the introduction of these foreign manufacturing plants has been attributed to the general decline of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) labor union, which saw membership plummet over the following decades to a low of just 400,000 active members today. (read article)

A Major Rift Could Divide San Francisco’s Unions

By Joe Eskenazi, May 7 2014, San Francisco Weekly

San Francisco’s long-simmering labor war erupted last month with neither a bang nor a whimper but a conundrum. Attendees at the Labor Council’s annual fundraising banquet were beset with a spectacularly San Franciscan paradox: The city’s most stalwart labor backers heading to the year’s most stalwart labor-backing event were confronted by a group of labor stalwarts picketing the premises. What do you do when a labor group pickets a labor gathering? The rift festering within the city’s labor movement was no secret to those peeking behind closed doors. But now it’s out in the open. Which is just how the members of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council who upended organized labor’s big night wanted it. (read article)

California state attorneys’ union ‘still waiting’ on labor deal

By Jon Ortiz, May 6, 2014, Sacramento Bee

With a legislative deadline just a few weeks away, labor negotiations between the California’s state attorneys and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are in a holding pattern, a union spokesman said today. “We’re still waiting,” union spokesman Patrick Whalen said, attributing the delay to a “switch at the top” of the state Human Resources Department, where Director Julie Chapman abruptly retired in February and Richard Gillihan, a Department of Finance budget manager, took her place. Human Resources spokeswoman Pat McConahay declined to comment, citing the department’s policy to refrain from talking about ongoing contract negotiations. California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment is one of three unions that need to reach contract terms by mid-June so that the Legislature has time to fund the deals before they leave for their summer break. Otherwise, lawmakers won’t be able to take up the unions’ agreements until August. The other unions without labor agreements: International Union of Operating Engineers (Bargaining Unit 13) and the California Association of Professional Scientists. (read article)

Fast food strikes in 150 cities and protests in 30 countries planned for May 15

By Josh Eidelson, May 6, 2014, Salon

On May 15, fast food workers plan to mount one-day strikes in 150 U.S. cities, accompanied by protests in thirty countries, labor sources tell Salon. Organizers expect the walkouts to spread for the first time to cities including Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, and Sacramento, and to involve thousands of total workers, including hundreds each in cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Abroad, May 15 fast food protests – many of them targeting McDonald’s in particular – are planned in cities including Karachi, Casablanca, London, Sao Paolo, Dublin, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Geneva, and San Salvador, as well as locations in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Japan. Activists plan to hold a teach-in outside McDonald’s head office in Auckland, New Zealand; to stage flash mobs at five McDonald’s locations in the Philippines, and to shut down a major McDonald’s during lunchtime in Belgium. The following day, fast food workers in Italy plan to mount their own strike, staging protests in Rome, Milan, and Venice and shutting down stores for the day. (read article)

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