Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Labor board seeking injunction over Alliance anti-union efforts

By Craig Clough, October 20, 2015, LA School Report

The California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will be seeking an injunction in Los Angeles County Superior Court to stop what it says is illegal interference by officials at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools against a unionization effort by some of its teachers. The LA teachers union, UTLA, is currently attempting to unionize the teachers at the charter school organization, which has 27 schools in the Los Angeles area and employs around 700 teachers who are currently not represented by any union. Alliance leaders have been vigorously fighting the unionization efforts, and UTLA claimed those attempts went too far and violated state laws. PERB agreed, and in August filed a formal complaint in state court. “It’s been pretty shocking what is happening at the Alliance schools,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. “Alliance has played hardball and used illegal tactics inappropriate for any workplace and totally unacceptable in publicly funded charter schools. We are pleased the labor board acted swiftly and decisively. It was the right thing to do.” (read article)

Brown Vetoes Equal Pay Bill for UC Contract Workers

By Roy Lyle, October 20, 2015, New University UC Irvine

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation on Oct. 9 that would have guaranteed UC full-time contract employees the same minimum wage that UC employees earn. Currently, full-time contract employees earn up to 53% less for the same jobs as their officially employed counterparts. Senate Bill 376, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara last February, attempted to amend existing provisions to the competitive bidding process, wherein the UC’s contracts are given to the lowest responsible bidder. Essentially, UCs select private contracting companies based off the company’s ability to provide the best quality service for the lowest price. The bill would have required private contractors to provide a written statement to the UC that their employees would be paid at a comparable rate to UC workers for all contracts over $100,000 in total. Senate Bill 376 attracted support from labor groups such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — UC’s largest labor union and one of its heaviest sources of criticism. According to research conducted by AFSCME Local 3299, the UC’s reliance on cheap contract labor drives increasing numbers of workers, particularly immigrants and persons of color, into poverty. “The effort to provide increased compensation to those who work for UC — either directly or on a contract basis — is well-intentioned, but I’m not prepared to embrace the provisions of this bill,” Governor Brown said in his veto message. The governor also noted efforts by the UC to benefit workers in response to criticisms of its wage and contracting practices. UC President Janet Napolitano announced the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan Jul. 22, which would raise the minimum wage across UC campuses to $15 over three years. (read article)

In Solar Boom, Unions Find Jobs and Lawsuits

By Andrew Keatts, October 20, 2015, Voice of San Diego

Solar development in Imperial County has been very good to the area’s labor unions, but those unions weren’t always so kind to solar developers. Union ranks in economically depressed Imperial County swelled in recent years, as industrial-scale solar panels took the place of thousands of acres of farmland. The boom came from SDG&E’s efforts to make good on a state mandate to increase the share of renewable energy its customers used. At the same time solar-related union jobs boomed, one union filed lawsuits on two solar projects alleging they violated the state’s landmark environmental law, CEQA. And a labor leader with that union admitted to our reporter Lisa Halverstadt that the projects his group sued over didn’t have a so-called project labor agreement with his union. Those are pacts that often mandate local hiring and outline pay and benefits. Those weren’t the only lawsuits solar developers in Imperial County had to fend off. Last week, Halverstadt wrote about the environmental groups that used the environmental law to attack projects that were meant to make good on the state’s environmental goals. (read article)

$15 state minimum wage?? Labor union says initiative has enough signatures for 2016 ballot

By Bruce Druzin, October 20, 2015, Silicon Valley Business Journal

An initiative to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 has enough signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot, according to a press release from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which is sponsoring the measure. “There’s no place in California where a person can live off $19,000,” said SEIU-UHW West Political Director Arianna Jimenez, referring to the annual earnings of a full-time worker making the current state minimum wage of $9. California requires 366,000 signatures for initiatives to be placed on the statewide ballot and, according to the release, the union started collecting signatures Aug. 10. Jimenez said they have a goal of reaching 610,000 before submitting the signatures to the California Secretary of State’s office in January 2016. “This will be on the ballot,” Jimenez said. If passed, The Fair Wage Act of 2016 will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 in 2017. The wage will subsequently increase $1 each year until it reaches $15 in 2021. After that, the wage will increase to match changes in California’s Consumer Price Index for urban workers. This news comes amongst a flurry of activity in Silicon Valley cities, many of which already have their own minimum wages. In September, mayors from San Jose, Campbell, Palo Alto and other cities announced their support for a coordinated regional minimum wage policy. And in August, Palo Alto approved a measure increasing its minimum wage to $11, with a goal of getting to $15 by 2018. (read article)

Cal State faculty to vote on major strike over contract

Associated Press, October 20, 2015, Contra Costa Business Times

Faculty members at the California State University’s 23 campuses are voting online and in person on whether to permit their labor union to call a strike over stalled salary negotiations. The strike authorization vote started Monday and runs through Oct. 28. It’s at least the fourth the California Faculty Association has held in eight years. No dates have been set for a possible walkout, and the earliest one would happen is January, CFA President Jennifer Eagan said. The union, which represents about 25,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches, and the Cal State system have been negotiating since May on the size of the pay raises union members will get this school year. The faculty association is seeking a 5 percent salary increase along with a 2.7 percent pay bump based on years of service. The university is offering raises of 2 percent, which is what other CSU employees received. “After years of stagnant faculty wages, the faculty on our public university campuses are angry, and we are ready for this strike vote,” Eagan said. “We work hard to provide quality education for our students, but we also need to support our families.” (read article)

Decline In Unions Weakens US Middle Class, Reduces Income Mobility Between Generations

By Cole Stangler, October 20, 2015, International Business Times

As unions crumble, the United States’ embattled middle class may be brought to its knees. A working paper published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests a “strong, though not necessarily causal” link between the power of labor unions, the well-being of the middle class and income mobility between generations. “If there is a causal component to the strong correlations we have found, the natural implication is that the U.S. will find it harder to address the problem of the diminishing middle-income group than if trade unions were as strong and viable as they were 30, 40 or 50 years ago,” researchers Richard Freeman, Eunice Han, David Madland and Brendan V. Duke found. “A strong union movement is not simply sufficient for high levels of intergenerational mobility and middle-class membership, but it could be necessary.” (read article)

Union Used CEQA Against Solar Projects, Too

By Lisa Halverstadt, October 19, 2015, Voice of San Diego

Imperial Valley solar developers who sought to cover thousands of acres with solar panels needed construction and electrical workers to make their vision a reality. That often meant dealing with unions that could provide those workers. The unions were eager to broker so-called project labor agreements, which usually include pacts to hire local workers and to offer certain pay and benefits. One of those local unions sued developers and Imperial County over the approval of four solar projects collectively known as the Campo Verde and Solar Gen 2 solar farms. They didn’t challenge about 20 others proposed during Imperial County’s solar boom. In its two lawsuits, the regional Laborers’ International Union of North America alleged violations of CEQA, a law meant to allow opponents to push for changes to a project that lessen its impact on the environment. I asked Mike Dea, the Laborers’ business agent who oversees the groups’ work on this front, why his union challenged these particular projects. He said his union had gotten involved in a number of environmental and labor-related lawsuits across the state. (read article)

Can Joe Biden count on union support?

By Stephen Collinson, October 19, CNN

Joe Biden’s relationship with America’s working men and women is at the core of his political soul. But as he reaches the end of a long process of contemplating a run for President — a decision could be imminent — the Vice President faces an uncomfortable question: Will the union movement be there for him at his moment of greatest political need? Labor has long been the backbone of Biden’s career and his associates have signaled that the issues the movement cares about would be central to a presidential campaign. Former Sen. Ted Kaufman, a top Biden aide, said in a recent email to former staffers that a potential White House bid would be anchored in a “burning conviction that we need to fundamentally change the balance of our economy.” (read article)

How one union will use video to lure digital news workers

By James Warren, October 19, 2015, Poynter.org

Amanda Holpuch is a face of a new sort of American unionism, at least when it come to digital media. Holpuch, 24, is a general assignment reporter for The Guardian US, where she’s focused a lot her efforts on gay marriage. After the big Supreme Court ruling in June, she even got to travel to report on the topic. She’s also the star of a brief organizing video produced by The NewsGuild-CWA, one of two unions that is having success of late organizing digital workers, with their wins coming at The Guardian, Salon, VICE, Gawker and Al Jazeera America. It can be seen here for the first time. During an era where a declining labor movement’s few big advances have largely come in the public sector, this constitutes at least an intriguing parenthetical. It’s still a bit early to know if it’s a harbinger of big things to come. “I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid,” she says in the video. “We’re the future of journalism right now,” she says during the video in which she recounts early meetings among Guardian workers in a New York bar to discuss the pros and cons of having a more collective voice at the workplace. They did research and settled on The NewsGuild, given its representation of workers at newspapers she and colleagues respect, such as The New York Times. “From stories I have heard from people who were online reporters 10 years ago, when it was just starting, they were not getting paid real well and they weren’t afforded the same benefits as print reporters… We are legitimate employees, this is a legitimate industry and we need to set that standard now.” (read article)

Campbell Brown’s insidious new lie: Charter schools, dark money and the war on teachers’ unions

By Jeff Bryant, October 19, 2015, Salon

Before Democratic Party presidential candidates readied for their first debate on CNN, they turned down an opportunity to meet at another forum. That meeting was to be hosted by ex-CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown, who now operates a media outlet, The Seventy Four, that promotes charter schools and other public education policies favored by wealthy foundations and individuals. Brown’s financial backers include the philanthropic organization of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the foundation of the family that owns Wal-Mart. As Politico reports, Brown’s group and another charter advocacy organization had already brought six Republican candidates together in New Hampshire in August to talk about education policy. Next, in conjunction with the Des Moines Register, the two organizations wanted Democratic candidates to gather in Iowa. None of the candidates would commit to attend even in principle. Politico reporter Michael Grunwald was quick to frame the candidates’ snub, with obvious help from Brown herself, as proof of the political might of teachers’ unions. For sure, Brown’s history of fighting with teachers’ unions. As an article in The Washington Post last year reported, she led an effort to cast the New York City teachers’ union as a protector of sexual predators. After that venture, Brown launched a group that filed a lawsuit in New York State to dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” (read article)

Actors’ Equity Strikes Back at Minimum-Wage Lawsuit Filed by Its Own Members

By Andrew Gans, October 19, 2015, Playbill.com

Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers, issued a statement Oct. 19 regarding the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Federal Court Oct. 17 by actors and other members of the L.A. theatrical community. The national council of Actors’ Equity decided in April to require 99-seat theatres in Los Angeles to pay actors no less than minimum wage — currently $9 a hour — despite strong opposition from the local actors at those theatres. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are L.A.-based members of Equity, together with other theatrical artists and theatre operators who had entered into a litigation Settlement Agreement with the Union in 1989 that established a system for regulating future changes to the Equity Waiver program. Plaintiffs claim that the Union’s decision to end Equity Waiver “will unfairly destroy small theater in Los Angeles and deprive thousands of actors of opportunities to collaborate on creative theatrical projects,” according to a recent press statement. The Oct. 19 Actors’ Equity statement reads, “Actors’ Equity Association is a labor union that exists primarily to advocate for better wages and working conditions for its artist members. (read article)

How To Cut Through Labor-Management Hostility

By Bill Fotsch and John Case, October 18, 2015, Forbes

Maybe you saw the headline a few weeks ago: a group known as the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The Quartet is a “many-hued association of labor unions, businesses, human-rights activists and lawyers,” reported the Wall Street Journal. Unions and businesses working together in pursuit of common goals? What an idea. Most of us Americans have been raised in the belief that labor and management are natural enemies. If you’re pro-business, you hate unions. If you’re for labor, you detest management. But this is crazy. Management’s job is to improve the company’s performance. A union’s role is to improve the lives of its members. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that committed, engaged employees are likely to boost performance. Or that a prosperous company can provide better job security and growth opportunities for its workers than a struggling one. (read article)

UAW Embarks on Social-Media Blitz to Enlist Support for Labor Deal

By Christina Rogers and Jeff Bennett, October 18, 2015, Wall Street Journal

Leaders at the United Auto Workers union have launched a social-media blitz to help sell a new tentative labor deal ahead of a critical vote this week, hoping to persuade skeptical rank-and-file workers to support the pact after poor communication contributed to a previous agreement being rejected by a wide margin. UAW President Dennis Williams and other union leaders are touting the latest deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Facebook pages, with a barrage of postings and infographics aimed at detailing what union leaders say are the contract’s potential benefits. The UAW has hired New York-based public relations firm BerlinRosen to help hone the social-media strategy, including advising on how to present postings and when. Many Fiat Chrysler factory workers and industry observers faulted UAW leaders for failing to clearly communicate the tenets of the previous deal. Voting on the new contract starts Tuesday and concludes Wednesday at Fiat Chrysler’s nearly two dozen U.S. factories and facilities. (read article)

SEIU strike hurt the community that they serve

Editorial, October 17, 2015, Solano County Reporter

A sea of purple washed over Solano County for two days this week. In this particular case, it was members of Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 and their supporters from other counties donning purple T-shirts, walking off the job for a two-day strike. They gathered in big numbers in downtown Fairfield and strongly voiced their discontent by making speeches, chanting, blowing noisemakers and waving picket signs. SEIU, Local 1021, the largest labor union in the county, represents nearly 1,800 Solano County workers who provide community services across the region, including social workers, infant nutrition counselors, mental health specialists, public health nurses, librarians, Child Support and Child Welfare specialists, public safety dispatchers, veterans’ services workers and clerical staff. Negotiations have stopped between the designated negotiators of the county and the labor union and instead have been hashed out in the media in the form of numerous press releases. The two parties met 19 times the labor union reported that 90 percent of its membership voted in favor of going on strike for one day after their contract with the county expired Sept. 28. After striking for one day, the membership voted in favor of a second day. Did going on strike help with negotiations? (read article)

Here’s why teacher’s unions are inherently political and overtly ideological

By Justin Katz, October 16, 2015, Watchdog.org

In a move sending shivers through the skin of organized labor unions across the country, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher in California public schools who says the thousands of dollars that, for nearly 30 years, she has been forced to pay a labor union, have been coerced funding of an organization that she does not support. If the court rules in her favor, then unions will no longer be able to force professionals who are not members to pay what labor activists call a “fair share fee” just because they are paid according to terms negotiated by the union. In some cases, the fee can be as much as dues; in others, the dues are reduced by some presumed percentage that goes specifically to political advocacy, as distinct from negotiation and member services. People who watch politics, particularly at the local and state levels, can see that labor unions are wholly political organizations, at least in the public sector. Indeed, one could argue that labor services are merely their method of raising funds and building manpower, with a raison d’etre of pushing partisan and ideological political issues. That is a large part of the reason that organizations like the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, for which this writer is research director, have signed on to an amicus brief encouraging the Supreme Court to come down on Friedrichs’s side. (read article)

Study: Supreme Court ‘right to work’ ruling could drag down pay

By Ned Resnikoff, October 16, 2015, Al Jazeera

The nine Supreme Court judges will soon hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and their ruling could transform all of the American public sector into a “right-to-work” zone. The result could be lower wages for public employees around the country, according to the author of a recent study from the pro-union Economic Policy Institute (EPI). At issue is whether non-union public employees can be legally required to pay so-called “fair share fees” to the unions that bargain their contracts. Proponents of right-to-work laws, which ban unions from charging such fees, argue that unions are political institutions, and that mandatory union fees violate the free speech rights of those who object to paying them. Studies of the nation’s right-to-work states show that such laws tend to lead to lower union membership rates, and to drive down wages among government employees. (read article)

Pro – and anti-union groups throw big dollars at small school board races as election nears

By Sara Rubin, October 15, 2015, Monterey County Weekly

Talk to any candidate for school board and they’ll tell you about all the meritorious reasons they’re running for a thankless job: They want to improve student performance, retain the best teachers and modernize the curriculum. Multi-million-dollar construction contracts aren’t part of their platform. But a look at endorsements and campaign contributions to some of the Nov. 3 school board candidates make them look like a proxy for pro-union and anti-union labor interests. The Salinas Valley Leadership Group, a political action committee led by construction and engineering business owner Don Chapin, has donated $53,000 to candidates in 11 different school board races, as of Oct. 8. (Chapin himself is also president of the Lagunita School Board.) The Don Chapin Company got burned after the Salinas Union High School District board voted 5-1 to approve a project-labor agreement (PLA) for building a fifth high school in North Salinas. The PLA guarantees union wages – but not local labor, and effectively blocks Chapin’s non-union company from bidding on the project, which is expected to cost $90 million. (read article)

No Wonder Growth Has Been So Anemic

By Andy Puzder, October 15, 2015, Wall Street Journal

In his remarks at a White House event last week called the Summit on Worker Voice, President Obama said that people who work hard “should be able to get ahead” but went on to acknowledge that workers are “seeing their wages and their incomes flatlining.” The reason, according to Mr. Obama, is dwindling union membership. “Union membership today is as low as it’s been in about 80 years, since the ’30s,” he said. “And I believe that when folks attack unions, they’re attacking the middle class.” Thus he recommends “making it easier, not harder, for folks join a union.” Here’s the reality: Wages and incomes for workers are stagnant because there aren’t enough jobs. It’s a matter of supply and demand. When jobs are scarce and people are unemployed, wages and benefits decline. When the job market is strong and businesses must compete for employees, wages and benefits improve. The solution, then, is more jobs. This isn’t rocket science. One can only wonder why the president continues to overlook the American businessmen and women who build the healthy economy that enables workers to find jobs and careers. (read article)

Solano County worker strike closes libraries

By Sharokina Shams, October 14, 2015, KCRA Sacramento

A large crowd of county workers on strike shut down public libraries Wednesday afternoon and descended on the Solano County administration building in Fairfield, demanding a new labor contract. Sheriff’s deputies estimated the crowd at 700 to 1,000 people, but not all were county workers. The county’s human resources director said about 500 people did not report to work Wednesday. The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union, said they have been in negotiations with the county since July. “We’re trying to get a fair contract for our members, and we want them to bargain with us fairly,” said Nadeen Roach, an SEIU member who said her job at the county is to help people wanting to enroll for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act. Solano County’s Human Resources Director Marc Fox said there are six sticking points in the negotiations, but the workers have been offered a fair contract. “The county has offered a 3-percent wage increase immediately and a 3-percent wage increase in October of next year,” he explained. “The union has asked for more. The county has offered continuation of health insurance with inflation factored in for 2016 and 2017. The union has asked for more.” (read article)

The Untold Story of When Labor Linked Arms With Occupy Wall Street

By Michael Gould-Wartofsky, October 13, 2015, In These Times

This is an excerpt from Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky’s book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement. The 99 Percent movement was made, not only by occupying squares and getting arrested for it, but also by building bridges with the nation’s embattled labor movement. It was the Occupy-labor insurgency that would help the movement pave a pathway from the political margins to the mainstream. Since the financial crisis, millions of union workers had been targeted for cutbacks, layoffs, wage freezes, and furloughs. New York City employees had not seen a raise since 2009. Education workers had been faced with mass layoffs, school closures and bruising budget cuts. In the private sector, the concessions demanded were even more extreme. Verizon had sought to squeeze higher health care premiums and a pension freeze out of its workforce, triggering a fifteen-day, 45,000-strong strike against the telecom giant. But by the fall of 2011, organized labor had little to show for its trouble. While the unions had sat out the initial phase of the occupation, some of the occupiers had set out to win them over. More than a few had union members in their families or in their networks of friends. Others had histories of student-labor activism or graduate student unionism. Still others had ties to white-collar unions like the Writers Guild of America East and the Professional Staff Congress, or to dissident tendencies within the teachers and teamsters unions. Together, they had formed the Labor Outreach Committee, sending “flying squads” across the city to support local union fights. (read article)

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