Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Silicon Valley’s labor views indicate a split in the Democratic party

By Gregory Ferenstein, November 17, 2015, The Guardian

In America’s new era of political realignment, the Republican party is not the only one experiencing a grassroots political coup. A new breed of capitalism-loving and urbanized liberals are demanding an entirely new role for the federal government. With heavy support from Silicon Valley, these new tech Democrats want the government to embrace economic disruption, with unlimited high-skilled immigrant visas, expansive trade deals, and performance-based funding that encourages charter schools to abandon teacher unions and adopt the management model of a modern startup. “The replacement of working-class whites with upscale professionals has turned the Democratic coalition into an alliance with a built-in class division,” wrote Columbia journalism professor and New York Times columnist Thomas B Edsall on the migration of professionals from the Republican party to the Democrats. “While constituting a minority, the relatively upscale wing clearly dominates party policy and provides the majority of the activists who run campaigns, serve as delegates to the convention and have become the core of the party’s donor base.” (read article)

Union of Sonoma County government employees strike Tuesday

By Angela Hart, November 17, 2015, Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The largest group of unionized Sonoma County government employees is set to go out on a one-day strike Tuesday, protesting what it contends is a stingy contract offer from the county, bad faith in negotiating at the bargaining table and other issues it says amount to unfair labor practices. Union officials for the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents more than half of the county’s roughly 4,100 employees, say rank-and-file workers in purple SEIU shirts will demonstrate at a dozen locations throughout the county, mostly clustered in Santa Rosa. The move comes two weeks after SEIU Local 1021 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The two sides have held more than 20 rounds of bargaining over four months, according to Lisa Maldonado, field director for the union. The current two-year contract ended Oct. 31. “Sonoma County is experiencing a recovery with big increases in tax revenue, but they keep saying they don’t have enough money for increases in compensation and health benefits,” Maldonado said. “But we know that they do …   meanwhile workers are caught between stagnant wages, skyrocketing health care costs and rents that are out of control.” (read article)

CalPERS moves to reduce investment risk, lower profit expectations

By Dale Kasler, November 17, 2015, Sacramento Bee

CalPERS’ trustees took a major step Tuesday toward reducing risk in the pension fund’s investment portfolio, a move that could lead eventually to higher contributions from government agencies and employees. The giant pension fund’s finance and administration committee voted 4-3 to adopt an unusual risk-reduction plan that would gradually lower CalPERS’ discount rate, which serves as an official forecast of annual investment profits. The current discount rate is 7.5 percent and would likely go to 6.5 percent over 19 years, according to CalPERS staff. The vote was something of a surprise. The committee rejected a more gradual approach advocated by labor unions and several of the pro-labor CalPERS board members in favor of an alternative introduced by committee member Bill Slaton last month. However, the committee dismissed a much more stringent plan, advocated by Gov. Brown’s administration, to bring the discount rate down far more quickly. (read article)

Hillary Clinton wins major endorsement from service workers’ union

By Evan Halper, November 17, 2015, Los Angeles Times

Organized labor took a major step in coalescing around Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday, as one of its heavyweights voted to endorse her despite loud objections from backers of her rival and longtime labor stalwart Bernie Sanders. The Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers in service industries such as healthcare and child care, made the endorsement following a lengthy debate at a meeting of its executive board here. “We feel very confident about Hillary Clinton’s capacity to fight, win and deliver for working people,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in an interview immediately following the endorsement vote. Henry said the 77-member board overwhelmingly approved the move in a voice vote. “We looked at the analytics and believe that this is the woman who can win in a general election,” Henry said. (read article)

Unions Eye Los Angeles Charter Schools

By Kris Maher, November 16, 2015, Wall Street Journal

As teachers unions ramp up efforts to organize the fast-growing charter school movement, one of the biggest and most contentious fights is taking place at a chain of schools in Los Angeles. In March, 70 teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the city’s largest charter system with 26 schools and more than 600 teachers, announced they wanted to join United Teachers Los Angeles, the 31,000-member union that represents all of the city’s public school teachers and about 1,000 teachers at 12 independent charter schools. Alliance officials counter that being free of union rules has helped their charter schools operate with greater flexibility and smaller class sizes and ultimately send 95% of graduates to college each year. They also question why a union fighting the expansion of charter schools wants to organize charter teachers. (read article)

Project labor agreement back on agenda

By Christine Huard, November 16, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune

A union-friendly construction contract that prompted controversy is back on the agenda after Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District trustees tabled the proposal last month. Board members will consider approving negotiations with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council on a project labor agreement, or PLA, for work funded by the Proposition V bond measure at Tuesday’s board meeting at Cuyamaca College. Trustees delayed acting on the proposal at the Oct. 20 board meeting until they could gather input from the bond oversight panel. A capacity crowd attended a board workshop on the matter that night, which included presentations for and against the labor-friendly agreements. The governing board voted 3-2 in favor of waiting on making a decision. Trustees Mary Kay Rosinski and Debbie Justeson opposed the delay. The evening also saw critics of board member Edwin Hiel serve him with a notice of an intent to circulate a petition to recall him over his support for the project labor agreement. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which said voters were promised in 2012 that the district would not adopt a PLA, has said it will revoke its support for the measure if trustees go ahead with talks to work out terms of the labor pact. The East County Chamber of Commerce board of directors recently voted to support the group’s opposition. The collective bargaining agreement would require contractors who win bids for construction work funded by the district’s $398 million bond measure to operate under union rules. Pacts such as these often set standards for wages, local hiring and benefits for workers who are required to pay union dues regardless of whether they are union members. Supporters of the pacts say they are good for the community because they create good job opportunities for local workers. Opponents say they increase costs of taxpayer-funded projects and unfairly exclude nonunion workers. (read article)

Big labor’s unlikely hope: Antonin Scalia

By Sean Higgins, November 16, 2015, Washington Examiner

In a Supreme Court case that could deal a major blow to public-sector unions, organized labor is looking to one justice to swing the majority their way: Antonin Scalia. Scalia, usually the court’s leading conservative, surprised observers last year by appearing to lean toward labor’s side during oral arguments in a similar case involving public-sector unions called Harris v. Quinn. Yet a closer look at his past writings suggests that may not have been out of character. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which involves whether government employees can be forced to pay union “fair share” fees even if they refuse to join the union, the teachers union is betting that Scalia can be won over. Its brief in the case, filed in early November, is mainly written to appeal to him, labor law experts note. “Reading between the lines of the brief, they are clearly going after Scalia. (read article)

Right to Work: Solution for Our Struggling Economy?

By Matthew Baumgarten, November 16, 2015, WDTV West Virginia

The U.S. is divided right down the middle on states that have right-to-work laws, and those that don’t. A new study from WVU found that right-to-work states see better economic success, which could generate success for our state as well. But, some fear right-to-work would hurt labor unions and drive-down salaries. But, Dr. John Deskins, Director of Business and Economic research at WVU says through their research, they didn’t find any evidence that our state wouldn’t benefit from a right-to-work law. “The bottom line is, over the past couple decades, right-to-work has led to noticeable improvements in GDP and employment growth among states that have right-to-work policy in place currently. We weren’t able to identify anything in the data the would lead us to believe that West Virginia would be atypical in terms of how it would respond to adopting right-to-work. So, it seems like it would boost employment and GDP growth in this state.” Workers in right-to-work states are not required to join a labor union as a condition of their employment. The study did show that right-to-work laws cut union memberships by about 20%. Some argue that weakened unions will lead to complications. “There’s approximately about $6,000 less on salary for an individual in a right-to-work state,” says Kenny Perdue, President of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. “There’s also the safety factor for each state, it’s approximately 54% higher for injuries or fatalities. And, everything else is correlated with that. Higher health care costs, it comes into cost of living.” (read article)

Will West Virginia become the 26th right-to-work state?

By Jason Hart, November 16, 2015, Watchdog.org

Lawmakers may be in a race this winter to see whether West Virginia or neighboring Kentucky becomes the 26th right-to-work state. The Republicans who control both houses of the West Virginia Legislature appear likely to introduce a right-to-work bill — which would let workers choose whether to pay labor unions — in January. Because the Legislature could override a veto with a simple majority in each house, Republicans could make West Virginia a right-to-work state by March even if Democrats voted in lockstep against it. West Virginia’s economy suggests state labor laws are in desperate need of reform. From January 2011 through August, West Virginia’s private-sector job growth ranked dead last among the 50 states. Though recent Environmental Protection Agency rules crippling the coal industry have made things worse, slow job growth in West Virginia is nothing new; from January 1995 through August, the state’s private-sector job growth ranked 44th. (read article)

De Blasio Backs Labor Unions in Case Headed to Supreme Court

By Ryan Haas, November 16, 2015, JP Updates

Mayor Bill de Blasio is lending some support to labor unions in a case heading for the U.S. Supreme Court. The city recently filed an amicus brief with the court backing public workers unions’ ability to collect mandatory fees, even from workers who don’t want to join the union, officials said Sunday. In particular, the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association was brought to court by a group of California teachers who objected to a mandatory union fee, saying it violates their First Amendment rights. Supporters of the labor union counter that it’s fair because even workers who opt out of the union end up benefiting from the collective bargaining. (read article)

Mizzou Football Shows the Power of Student Labor

By Ben Geier, November 15, 2015, Fortune

College football players may not have a union, but they have far more influence than you might think. This past week, all eyes turned on Columbia, Missouri, as the actions of University of Missouri students, and particularly student athletes, resulted in the resignation of Mizzou’s president, a national debate over the limits of free speech and, to some, a fight for the soul of the American university. Last weekend, black members of Mizzou’s football team announced that they would not participate in team activities or games until University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe stepped down. The move was an act of support for campus activists calling for Wolfe’s resignation, arguing that the administrator hadn’t adequately responded to incidents of racism on campus. No matter where you fall on the issues, one thing is undeniable: American student athletes, and campus populations more broadly, are wielding their power with more force than they have in a long time. (read article)

Labor, tech unite behind push for ‘on demand’ worker rights

By David McCabe, November 15, 2015, The Hill

Tech companies, venture capitalists and unions are uniting behind a push to win benefits for the growing contingent of ‘on-demand’ workers at companies like Uber. A statement released this week in support of making benefits more portable was signed by boldface names in both tech and labor. The two founders of ride hailing service Lyft signed on, as did a partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. So did an official with a Seattle chapter of the Service Employees International Union and the heads of two notable worker alliances. It’s a partnership between communities that have sometimes been at odds, but who see an issue where they both have much to gain by working together. “I think great things are often accomplished through coalitions of strange bedfellows,” said SEIU 775 President David Rolf, who signed the letter. The statement, released on Medium on Tuesday, is an urgent call for policymakers to consider ways that a social safety net can be established for workers at on-demand economy companies. The workforce at the startups, many of which have grown into multi-billion dollar enterprises, is largely comprised of independent contractors who don’t get the kind of benefits and protections given to employees. That is often cheaper for companies, who are not on the hook for things like unemployment and health insurance subsidies, but critics say it leaves the workers vulnerable. “Everyone, regardless of employment classification, should have access to the option of an affordable safety net that supports them when they’re injured, sick, in need of professional growth, or when it’s time to retire,” the statement reads. They said that America needed a “new model” to deliver benefits to the workers that is available to all and can accommodate workers who are working as contractors for more than one service or business. (read article)

Labor union president blasts Obama for rejecting pipeline

By Alex Mills, November 15, 2015, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers

It’s over. The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline came crashing down on Nov. 6 when President Obama ended a seven-year political battle by rejecting the construction of the crude oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry advised him against approving the construction of the pipeline. Obama said the pipeline would not make a “meaningful” contribution to the creation of jobs and the economy. However, the head of a labor union that probably would have benefited from those jobs vehemently disagreed. He said Obama’s decision “is just one more indication of an utter disdain and disregard for salt-of-the-earth, middle-class working Americans.” Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), said this is not the first time Obama has turned his back on blue collar workers. (read article)

Letter: Police union contracts protect ‘bad apples’

By Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore, November 15, 2015, Auburn Citizen

The stock market crashed in October 1929 and ushered in the Great Depression, bringing labor unions to the forefront! Later, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, he passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which gave workers “the right to organize and bargain collectively through representative of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers.” Unfortunately, there’s one labor union that has among their membership officers that believe that the NIRA gives them full authority to “interfere, restrain and coerce”! And, it’s these “bad apples” that have created most of the serious problems that exists today. Fortunately the attention the media is now giving to this problem might get the public’s attention because politicians have been taking a blind eye to it! Certainly the recent “carefully staged” to look like a suicide by Lt. Charles Gliniewicz is proof of a ‘bad apple’. According to the Chicago Tribune (Nov. 6) the release of Gliniewicz’s 30-year file showed an officer whose career “was marked by drunken indiscretions, sexual misconduct and threatening behavior.” Although the police union knew about it and kept it covered up, it was the FBI’s investigation that exposed his criminal acts. (read article)

Hillary Clinton Is Pulling Away From Bernie Sanders With Union Endorsements

By Dave Jamieson, November 15, Huffington Post

When it came time to think seriously about endorsing a presidential candidate for 2016, Paul Feeney says it wasn’t a hard decision for members of his union. Feeney is a shop steward for a local union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Massachusetts. His fellow members haven’t forgotten the time they were in an ugly contract battle with Verizon back in 2003. One day, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) showed up and joined the workers on their picket line. He delivered one of the trademark fiery speeches that, more than a decade later, the rest of the country would come to recognize. “They remember when Sanders stood up on the back of a pickup truck and addressed our members,” Feeney said. “The person who went to bat for them the most was Bernie Sanders. And that means something to people.” The endorsement from Feeney’s local union council says a lot about organized labor in the Democratic presidential primary. Three months out from the Iowa caucus, some of the biggest unions have already lined up behind front-runner Hillary Clinton, believing the former secretary of state has the best chance of defeating whoever Republicans end up nominating. And yet there’s a deep, abiding passion for Sanders among much of the liberal rank and file, no doubt because he’s been a relentless proponent of collective bargaining throughout his 25 years in Congress. The zealous support for Sanders says as much about Clinton as it does about the self-described democratic socialist. (read article)

Solano County and SEIU labor union reach impasse

By Melissa Murphy, November 13, 2015, Vacaville Reporter

After months of negotiations, an expired contract and a two-day strike, Solano County and Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 have reached an impasse. “Future discussion would be futile,” said the county in a press release issued Friday afternoon. It noted that the impasse was declared after negotiations reached late into the night Thursday. “The county was forced to go this route after a long process wherein the parties engaged in 21 formal negotiation sessions spanning over four months and two informal meetings,” the county reported and added that it made three requests to engage in mediation, which the Union rejected. Reached by phone Friday evening Cecille Isidro, a SEIU spokesperson, said the union was not informed of the impasse and that the county repeatedly failed to bargain in good faith. Isidro explained that while negotiations lasted for several hours Thursday night it was clear that the county didn’t come to the table with an open mind and that there wasn’t someone with authority present to reach an agreement. John Stead-Mendez, executive director for SEIU, Local 1021, agreed. “We don’t believe we’re at an impasse, it’s an illegal tactic to force our hand,” he said and added that the county contradicts itself by saying future discussions would be futile and then desire mediation. “They’ve failed to have an open mind.” (read article)

Fremont school board directs district to negotiate project labor agreement for Measure E work

By Aliyah Mohammed, November 12, 2015, Fremont Bulletin

Fremont Unified School District’s Board of Education has authorized the district to negotiate an agreement that would pay a labor organization to provide union employees when it contracts work on Measure E bond obligation projects that voters approved in June 2014. The board unanimously voted Oct. 28 to form a subcommittee to represent the district in negotiating with Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County. The subcommittee would consist of Superintendent Jim Morris, Associate Superintendent Raul Parungao and at least two board trustees. Board President Desrie Campbell and board clerk Larry Sweeney volunteered to serve on the subcommittee. The decision to proceed with negotiations followed presentations and lengthy discussions at the Aug. 12 and Sept. 9 board meetings about whether a project labor agreement should be used to complete remaining Measure E classroom update projects. (read article)

Union Situation at VW Chattanooga: ‘Very Unusal,’ Says Labor Expert

By Michael Edward Miller, November 11, 2015, WUTC.org

The United Auto Workers are seeking a an election to represent maintenance workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen assembly plant. But the UAW already has a sizeable presence at the plant: UAW Local 42 is a Chattanooga-based group that claims to represent more than half of the plant’s blue-collar workforce, although the group doesn’t have the power to collectively bargain or organize strikes. Another union also represents plant workers. The American Council of Employees is a locally-created union without any ties to a national organization. Like UAW Local 42, they can’t strike. How unusual is this, having two unions at a plant, but neither has the power to collectively bargain? (read article)

Millennials are revitalizing organized labor

By Amy B. Dean, November 11, 2015, Al Jazeera America

Millennials are often made out to be selfish and individualistic, but they appear to be taking a greater interest in social movements and dramatic social change than some previous generations. A series of polls suggests that, compared with other demographic groups, Americans in their 20s have less favorable views of capitalism and higher opinions of unions and government intervention in the economy. Millennials are also the first generation in a long time to feel a sense of common purpose in the economy and to look toward collective action as a means of improving their circumstances. Millennials are entering the workforce during the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, so it’s harder to buy into the myth that working hard and narrowly focusing on your own fortunes will be enough to ensure success. In a recent Atlantic story, Jonathan Timm wrote a story on the hopeful, if fragile, signs of millennial engagement with the labor movement, as well as the substantial structural issues facing a union resurgence. The article focused on the story of an employee at Peet’s Coffee in a relatively poorly paid service-sector job and her attempts to organize her workplace. The effort failed, coming to ruin on the shoals of intractable management and high turnover, but he featured very high profile victories at digital news companies such as Gawker and Vice that have garnered substantial attention in recent months (Al Jazeera America’s digital staff unionized in October.) (read article)

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