Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions Push to Establish Bloc of Low-Wage Voters

By Eric Morath and Melanie Trottman, November 10, 2015, Wall Street Journal

The Fight for $15 movement is seeking not just to influence Americans’ paychecks, but also the country’s upcoming elections. Fast-food workers and other supporters are protesting in many cities on Tuesday, demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The rallies are organized by the Service Employees International Union and other labor organizations. The protests have been credited for putting pressure on cities and states to raise the minimum wage. A $15 an hour pay floor will be established in the coming years in Seattle, Los Angeles and for fast-food workers in New York state. Now organizers say they’re increasingly pushing politicians, including presidential candidates, to support their cause. The prospects of building a bloc of voters around the push for a $15 minimum wage “are huge,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in an interview Tuesday morning. “I think it’s quite possible to inspire the 64 million workers earning under $15.” Low-wage workers could have a bearing on national politics, mostly because their numbers are so large. The SEIU’s estimate is roughly in line with Labor Department data showing that 50% of U.S. workers earned less than $17.09 an hour last year. (read article)

Fast-Food Strikes And Protests To Hit Hundreds Of Cities

By Dave Jamieson, November 10, 2015, Huffington Post

Spokespeople for the campaign say it plans to launch one-day worker strikes in 270 cities on Tuesday, its largest demonstration yet. In the past, many of these worker walkouts have been negligible — single digits in small towns, made visible only with the help of community activists. But others, in cities such as New York and Chicago, have been significant enough to disrupt service or even temporarily shut down restaurants, forcing major chains to publicly address the issue of poverty wages. Early Tuesday, Fight for 15 had already posted news of a victory on its Twitter account, saying the mayor of Pittsburgh announced a $15 an hour minimum wage for all city workers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also plans to announce on Tuesday that he will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for state employees, The New York Times reported. The Fight for 15 is funded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents roughly two million workers mostly in the service sector. (read article)

Chicago Teachers Union touts result of ‘practice’ strike vote

By Juan Perez, Jr., November 10, 2015, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Teachers Union said Monday that its members voted overwhelmingly to support a strike in a practice vote taken last week — but acknowledged that members were responding to a ballot that did not directly address a walkout. The word “strike” did not appear on the ballot distributed to the union’s members for what CTU characterized in a news release last week as an “official ‘practice’ strike vote.” Union members were asked to check “Yes” or “No” to four questions, two of which also served as political statements about Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool. (read article)

City, firefighters union face off in court

By Josh Baugh, November 10, 2015, San Antonio Express News

The labor union for local firefighters and the city of San Antonio argued in state district court Tuesday over whether the so-called “evergreen clause” in their contract violates the Texas Constitution. The city had sued the police and fire unions several months ago in an effort to get rid of the clause, which keeps an expired contract in force for up to 10 years if a new one hasn’t been agreed to. The city allowed the suit to languish until the San Antonio Police Officers Association walked away from contract negotiations in September. The union said it would not come back to the table until the lawsuit was withdrawn or litigated. City leaders decided to rekindle the case, which led to Tuesday’s hearing. (read article)

Missouri labor unions spend big to fend off ‘right to work’

By Jason Hancock, November 10, 2015, Kansas City Star

Organized labor in Missouri is gearing up for another right-to-work fight in 2016. It’s been nearly two months since a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to kill legislation that would have made it illegal to force a worker to become a union member or to pay dues to a labor organization as a condition of employment. In that time a political action committee run by the Carpenters’ District Council of St. Louis & Vicinity has donated $335,000 to a bipartisan group of candidates. Albert Bond, the union’s executive secretary-treasurer, said the donations will top $400,000 by year’s end. “We haven’t even made it to the Kansas City side yet to support those who supported us,” Bond said. “We’re trying to get people re-elected who stood with us on right to work.” (read article)

GE’s Labor Unions Urge Court to Block Retiree Health Care Cuts

By James Passeri, November 9, 2015, The Street

General Electric’s biggest labor unions, including the Teamsters and United Autoworkers, are asking a federal judge to bar the company from cutting health care benefits that they say were promised to retirees in labor contracts. In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for northern Ohio, they contend that GE’s discontinuation of existing health plans for retirees violated the terms of collective bargaining agreements for “tens of thousands” of former GE employees. In place of existing plans, the Fairfield, Conn.-based manufacturer has said it will provide retirees who turn 65 before January 2018 with a $1,000-a-year reimbursement for insurance bought on exchanges starting next year. (read article)

War of words not helping Rauner, Madigan resolve impasse

By Bob Secter and Rick Pearson, November 9, 2015, Chicago Tribune

Speaking to a Chicago gathering of business students last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner related how a professional mentor long ago had instilled in him the importance of embracing the golden rule. “Treat other people the way you’d like to be treated,” Rauner said. “Sounds simple. Sounds corny. Hard to do consistently, and it’s the key to success. It’s the key. Respecting other people.” That lofty goal is being severely tested by a monumental state budget standoff that’s rooted in sharp ideological and political differences and aggravated by nostril-flaring contempt between Republican Rauner and Democratic critics, who view each other as not just wrong but reckless. Rauner salts the adjective “corrupt” into references to House Speaker Michael Madigan and his Democratic allies, government worker unions and others the governor opposes. Madigan has strategically left the name-calling to others, among them his own spokesman who publicly ridiculed the governor as “a scared second-grader.” (read article)

Boeing union battle reignites under expedited election rules

November 8, 2015, Charleston Post & Courier

With the battle over organized labor heating up again at Boeing South Carolina, a new study shows rules designed to expedite union elections are putting employers at a disadvantage. But there hasn’t been a huge increase in the number of labor organizers trying to take advantage of the measure passed this year by the National Labor Relations Board. In the six months after the rules took effect April 14, it took an average of 26.89 days for a union election to occur after organized labor filed a petition seeking a vote. That compares with 39.5 days during the same period a year earlier, according to an analysis by the Fisher & Phillips law firm in Columbia. While quick elections tend to favor unions, the law firm’s analysis shows there was just a 2.2 percent increase in the number of petitions filed under the new rules. “Unions filing a petition are possibly still getting accustomed to what they have to do,” said Michael Carrouth, a labor lawyer with Fisher & Phillips of Columbia. “This could just be the calm before the storm.” (read article)

Detroit leaders hope casinos avert labor dispute

By Brent Sanvely and Matt Helms, November 7, 2015, Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Casino Council will be back at the bargaining table on Monday in a round of negotiations watched closely by city leaders because of the tremendous tax revenue at stake and intense competition in the region for the gaming dollar. As negotiators meet Monday for the first time since Oct. 30, observers are hoping the two sides make progress towards an agreement avoid a labor dispute that could be costly for the casinos and the region. “The casinos are an important source of revenue,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “I get concerned every time there’s a union-management issue, and I hope they find a middle ground and work it out.” Taxes from casino gaming represent about 16% of the City of Detroit’s total revenues, or just under $170 million. That’s nearly $3.3 million a week. (read article)

Unions challenge work visas

By L.M. Sixel, November 6, 2015, Houston Chronicle

Longtime union leader Michael Cunningham didn’t know much about work visas when he heard about certified letters piling up at Texas AFL-CIO headquarters. “There was a flood of them,” said Cunningham, describing two boxes he sorted through in 2006 after a change in immigration law required companies seeking foreign workers to inform local labor unions. Some companies sought a few temporary welders, roofers and other construction workers. Others wanted 100 or more. And their wage offers were $3 to $10 less per hour than what U.S. construction workers were earning. It appeared to him that employers were bringing in foreign workers to fill jobs they said U.S. workers didn’t want – except that U.S. job seekers often didn’t know about them. (read article)

Bernie Sanders’ momentum stalls in an unlikely place: union halls

By Evan Halper, November 6, 2015, Los Angeles Times

Ask Allysha Almada why she supports Bernie Sanders, and Almada, a Glendora nurse who tried to form a union and was later fired, shoots right back with her own question: How could she not? Sanders, the Vermont senator, doesn’t hedge with labor. Just about anything on the broader labor agenda, he champions. He recently unveiled legislation that read like a union wish list in front of a spirited throng of laborers shouting approval, Almada among them. Sanders bristled when a reporter asked whether the bill would help him win endorsements from national unions – which it hasn’t. “It’s not a question of winning,” he snapped. “This is legislation I have supported, quite honestly, since literally the first year I was in Congress.” That was a quarter-century ago. (read article)

‘Fight for $15’ walk-outs and protests continue; are you prepared for November 10?

By Jonathan J. Spitz, November 6, 2015, Lexology.com

Continuing its three-year campaign, “Fight for $15” on November 4, 2015, announced plans for worker strikes and protests at fast food restaurants in 270 U.S. cities on November 10. The protests, timed to occur one year prior to the 2016 presidential election, is calculated to send a message to voters and candidates. Protests will culminate with a march on the November 10 Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. While the fast food workers involved in the walk-outs are not represented for purposes of collective bargaining by a labor union, the walk-outs have largely been organized and funded by the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”). Employers with union contracts who have lived with the possibility of strikes are generally more familiar with the rights and obligations of employees and employers under the labor law than their non-union counterparts. But now that walk-outs and work stoppages are becoming an accepted strategy in the non-union workforce, non-union employers need to know the rules, too. (read article)

New bill would boot unions from the IRS

By Carten Cordell, November 6, 2015, Federal Times

A new bill from Sen. Tim Scott, R.-S.C., seeks to strip perceived partisanship from the IRS, and its No. 1 target is employee unions. Scott introduced the End the Partisan IRS Culture, or EPIC, Act on Nov. 6, a bill that seeks to exempt the revenue agency from collective bargaining to remove what he sees as an unfair political bias created by its employee unions. “The American people should be able to trust that the Internal Revenue Service is running as efficiently as possible, and not being used by any president as a blunt force tool to enact revenge on political enemies,” Scott said, in a statement. The idea to remove collective bargaining and labor organizing from the IRS came up first in August, when the a GOP recommendation within the Senate Finance Committee’s report on the IRS’s handling of 501(c)(3) groups suggested extending an exemption normally reserved for agencies involved in national security or otherwise require employees to remain apolitical. (read article)

Grad students renew union push at Yale, Harvard

By Michael Melia, November 6, 2015, Associated Press

Efforts to unionize graduate students at private universities are gaining momentum as the National Labor Relations Board shows new openness to arguments that they are not just students but also school employees. A union for teaching assistants is in place at only one private U.S. school, New York University, where the administration gave its blessing in 2013. Since then, organizing campaigns have sprouted or gained new life at other major northeastern universities, including Yale, Harvard and Columbia. Students and schools around the country are closely watching the NLRB following its recent decision to reconsider its decade-old ruling that graduate student at private schools are not entitled to collective bargaining. At Yale, the Graduate Employee and Students Organization delivered a petition to the administration last month at the latest of several rallies since the NYU decision. Supporters in attendance included New Haven’s mayor and Connecticut’s attorney general and its two U.S. senators, all Democrats. The Yale students are asking for recognition and for negotiations on issues including pay and benefits, mental health services and racial and gender equity among faculty and students. (read article)

Union: Obama Threw Workers Under the Bus

By Bill McMorris, November 6, 2015, Washington Free Beacon

One of the nation’s largest unions accused President Obama of betraying workers and the labor movement by blocking the Keystone Pipeline and is backing up its rhetoric with campaign donations to Republicans. The Laborers’ International Union of North America said that Obama’s bow to environmentalists meant that he was more concerned with “elitists” and “his legacy” than with helping workers provide for their families. “President Obama today demonstrated that he cares more about kowtowing to green-collar elitists than he does about creating desperately needed, family-supporting, blue-collar jobs,”said Terry O’Sullivan, the union’s president, in a release following Obama’s Friday announcement. Obama joined Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry at the White House to announce that the administration would not approve the long-awaited TransCanada pipeline. He said that the pipeline and fossil fuel development and transportation “would not serve the national interest of the United States,” while claiming that the State Department was ultimately responsible for the decision. He also downplayed the economic benefits of the multi-billion-dollar project. “For years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” Obama said. “The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy.” (read article)

Wolf bucks party by signing law to close loophole on union intimidation

By Jeff Bluementhal, November 5, 2015, Philadelphia Business Journal

In a surprise move, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf bucked his party and the building and trade unions that supported him by signing into law legislation designed to curb stalking and harassment during labor disputes. The legislation, orignally called House Bill 874 and now Act 59 of 2015, removes exceptions to the offenses of stalking, harassment and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction from those involved in labor disputes. “I believe it is important to allow men and women to come together and have their voices heard,” Wolf said. “I also believe that any form of harassment by employees or employers is unacceptable.” (read article)

USMX: Legislation to change labor negotiations unnecessary

By Alan M. Field, November 5, 2015, Journal of Commerce

The contract negotiation process between the International Longshoremen’s Association on the East and Gulf coasts and management is on firm footing and in need of no change, according to Tom Simmers, executive president of United States Maritime Alliance. Rebutting calls for changes to the negotiation process — including through federal legislation — in the wake of the 2014-15 showdown between U.S. West Coast dockworkers and employers, Simmons, whose group represents ocean carriers, terminal operators and port associations in talks with the ILA, said, “Through time and trial, we have built a model that has kept the East and Gulf coasts strike-free for 38 years. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it? If history is any precursor, we will be stable for many years to come.” Just because major labor disruptions haven’t happened, however, doesn’t mean they haven’t come close. During the last round of negotiations in 2012-13, two extensions to the previous contract were needed, and a federal mediator’s help was needed to avoid a strike. Speaking on Oct. 27 to the 2015 Northeast Cargo Symposium produced by the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade, Simmers said USMX doesn’t support legislation that would address labor disruptions at U.S. ports. Most recently, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced legislation that would initiate federal action to head off port slowdowns if certain metrics were met. (read article)

NYC police union protests small raises outside arbitrator’s home

By Lorena Mongelli, November 5, 2015, New York Post

A thin blue line of angry NYPD cops protested Thursday outside an arbitrator’s Upper East Side home — venting frustration over his award of paltry 1 percent raises. At least 1,000 members of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association took their beef with Howard Edelman, chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board, to his luxury digs on York Avenue, between East 63rd and 64th streets, where he lives in the penthouse. Edelman awarded retroactive raises for city cops of just 1 percent over each of the past two years, between Aug. 1, 2010, through July 31, 2012. Police picketers shouted “1 percent’s not good for us!” and “Howard the coward!” Protesters carried a makeshift coffin to symbolize the danger they face every day on the job. Some carried signs with a picture of Edelman crossed out. (read article)

Target’s bid to block first-ever union is nixed by NLRB

By Mark Reilly, November 5, 2015, Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

The National Labor Relations Board has rejected an appeal by Target Corp. to void a unionization vote by a small group of pharmacy workers — the first such vote the retailer has ever lost. The Wall Street Journal reports on the ruling, in which the NLRB found Minneapolis-based Target (NYSE: TGT) hadn’t offered any “substantial issues warranting review.” The Minneapolis-based retailer’s bid followed the September vote by a handful of workers in its Brooklyn, N.Y., store, all of them in Target’s pharmacy department, to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Target has never had any employees successfully form a union before. (read article)

Can “solidarity unionism” save the labor movement?

By Eric Dirnbach, November 4, 2015, WagingNonviolence.com

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued. Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism. (read article)

CSU faculty union authorizes a strike amid labor negotiations

By Nanette Asimov, November 4, 2015, SF Gate

Thousands of faculty said Wednesday that they will strike across California State University’s 23 campuses next semester if stalled labor negotiations fall apart. A strike — the first in CSU history — would affect nearly 400,000 undergraduates and more than 55,000 graduate students. At issue is salary: Faculty leaders say the university has tilted its teaching force away from tenured professors so that 59 percent of instructors are now low-paid, nonpermanent “lecturers,” who earn less than $45,000 a year, on average. Tenured professors and those on the tenure track typically earn in the mid- to high $80,000s — which they say is less than the $89,000 earned by tenured community college professors. Sheila Tully, who has a doctorate and teaches anthropology at San Francisco State University, made $34,000 last year. (read article)

SEIU starts competing effort to put minimum wage on California ballot

By Christopher Cadelago, November 3, 2015, Sacramento Bee

California’s largest labor union on Tuesday unveiled its own bid to increase the statewide minimum wage, setting up dueling pay measures aimed for next year’s ballot amid persistent concerns over income inequality. The proposed initiative, supported by the Service Employees International Union’s state council, would boost the base wage to $15 per hour by 2020, and mandate six paid sick days a year. The current $9-an-hour minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10 on Jan. 1. Following another failed push in the Legislature, Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU Local 1021, said it’s time California joins the nationwide effort. “We have more wealth than anywhere,” Sanchez said. “But also more poverty and economic inequality.” The announcement exposes simmering tensions between SEIU’s umbrella organization, which claims more than 700,000 members, and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which is pursuing a separate measure to gradually hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. (read article)

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