Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

A Labor Union Prepares To Strike, As Obamacare Ups Health Insurance Costs By 5.0-12.5%

By Avik Roy, May 27, 2014, Forbes

Labor unions have, of course, been among President Obama’s most reliable supporters. Unions’ support was critical to the passage of Obamacare in 2010. But unions are continuing to learn, to their apparent surprise, that their members will bear many of the costs of the new health law. Now we learn that some laborers are preparing to strike, if they are forced to absorb the higher health-insurance costs that the Affordable Care Act requires. “When we first supported the calls for health-care reform, we thought it was going to bring costs down,” a lawyer for the Laborers International Union of North America, or LIUNA, told Kris Maher and Melanie Trottman of the Wall Street Journal. But that’s not what’s happening. Maher and Trottman today discuss several cases where unionized workers and their employers are being forced to absorb higher costs as a result of the law. (read article)

Obamacare Is Crippling Labor Talks Nationwide

By Zach Noble, May. 27, 2014, The Blaze

It’s a prime example of unintended consequences: the Affordable Care Act, pitched to the American public as a boon for the working class, is stalling out labor negotiations around the country. The Wall Street Journal reported: Unions and employers are tussling over who will pick up the tab for new mandates, such as coverage for dependent children to age 26, as well as future costs, such as a tax on premium health plans starting in 2018. The question is poised to become a significant point of tension as tens of thousands of labor contracts covering millions of workers expire in the next several years, with ACA-related cost increases ranging from 5% to 12.5% in current talks. Unions representing all kinds of workers, from Las Vegas casino employees to flight attendants, are being forced to negotiate new deals with management in order to bring health care coverage into ACA compliance, but are finding those negotiations stymied by the magnitude of health care cost hikes. Besides the known increases in premiums and other costs, the relatively unknown future costs that will come as more provisions, such as the “Cadillac tax” on high-end coverage, are phased in. Septa, Philadelphia’s regional transit system, estimates the Cadillac tax will bump up its healthcare costs by $15 million, or 12.5 percent, the Journal reported, and asked workers to contribute 1 percent of their pay to help cover that new cost. The union rejected the proposal. (read article)

Will West Coast Longshore Labor Talks Wrap Up Early?

By Robert Bowman, May 27, 2014, Forbes

A coalition of 67 groups representing manufacturers, farmers, retailers and transportation providers urged the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association earlier this month to wrap up negotiations over a new West Coast longshore labor contract before the old pact expires at midnight on June 30. Chances are they were wasting their breath. In fact, if history is any indication, the talks are likely to extend well beyond the nominal deadline. And, given the thorniness of the issues on the table, a work stoppage at all West Coast ports is not to be ruled out. The prospect of yet another disruption of West Coast port activity has shippers scrambling for alternatives, including routing some cargoes through East, Gulf or Canadian ports. Nevertheless, huge numbers of containers would be affected in the event of a strike or lockout. West Coast ports handle more than two-thirds of U.S. retail container cargoes, including the vast majority of goods imported from Asia, with total volumes of around 20 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year. (read article)

New Obamacare costs snarl union contract talks

May 27, 2014, MSN Money

Workers and employers tussle over who should pay for new costs that are tied to the Affordable Care Act. In Philadelphia, disagreement over how much workers should contribute to such health-plan cost increases has stalled talks between the region’s transit system and its main union representing 5,000 workers as they try to renegotiate a contract that expired in March. Roughly 2,000 housekeepers, waiters and others at nine of 10 downtown Las Vegas casinos voted this month to go on strike June 1 if they don’t reach agreements on a series of issues, the thorniest of which involve new ACA-related cost increases, according to the union. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines voted down a tentative contract agreement with management in February, in part because it didn’t provide enough protection against a possible surge in ACA-related costs, union members said. They are still without a new contract. Labor experts on both sides say the law doesn’t take into account that health benefits have been negotiated by employers and unions over decades, and that rewriting plans to meet new requirements can affect wages and other labor terms. (read article)

Phoenix ends pension spiking for police officers, firefighters

By Dustin Gardiner, May 27, 2014, Arizona Republic

Phoenix’s new contracts with its employee unions will end the controversial practice of pension spiking for police officers and firefighters and cap it for other city workers, saving taxpayers an estimated $233 million over 25 years, according to a city report. Pension spiking is generally seen as the artificial inflation of a city employee’s income toward the end of a career to boost retirement benefits. The practice has been widespread at City Hall and became a hotbed of controversy last year, particularly after former City Manager David Cavazos cashed in sick and vacation leave and other perks to boost his annual retirement check by about $88,000, to $234,536. (read article)

Union run by de Blasio’s cousin donated to political group that supported mayor’s campaign

By Greg B. Smith, May 27, 2014, New York Daily News

Eight days before the 2013 election, the union run by Bill de Blasio’s cousin quietly made a donation to a so-called “independent” political group whose spending benefited de Blasio’s mayoral bid, the Daily News has learned. It was the second instance of the union — UNITE HERE! — giving money to an “independent” group that aided de Blasio’s political interests. On Oct. 28, UNITE HERE! gave $200,000 to the New York Jobs Now Committee, a coalition of businesses and unions that urged voters to approve a ballot question on allowing casino gambling. On Oct. 29 and 30, the New York Jobs Now Committee spent $85,000 on a mailing that quoted de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and a newspaper editorial touting the benefits of casino gambling. (read article)

Labor union endorses Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett for re-election

By Peter Jackson, May 27, 2014, Pottsgrove Mercury

Philip Ameris, who heads a labor organization that speaks for more than 15,000 western Pennsylvania laborers, opposed Tom Corbett when he was elected four years ago but has been whistling a different tune since passage of $2.3 billion a year in new transportation funding. The money from higher fuel taxes and motorist fees is spawning new construction jobs across the state and the Laborers’ District Council of Western Pennsylvania thanked Corbett last week by giving his re-election campaign its first major endorsement from organized labor. Ameris, a lifelong Democrat, said he came to respect the Republican governor’s integrity during their mutual involvement in negotiations leading up to the bill’s passage in November. Corbett is “someone you can trust and I think he’s moving Pennsylvania in the right direction. … He’s very pragmatic and he keeps his word,” Ameris, the group’s president and business manager, said in a telephone interview. (read article)

Democrat Martha Coakley’s campaign for governor endorsed by New England Regional Council of Carpenters

By Robert Rizzuto, May 27, 2014, Massachusetts Live

Attorney General Martha Coakley, one of the five Democrats running for governor of Massachusetts, announced Tuesday that her campaign had landed an endorsement from the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. In backing Coakley, the union which represents more than 20,000 people throughout New England, cited her “commitment to protecting working families and creating a more fair economy.” “As Attorney General, Martha Coakley has been an advocate for working families and consumers,” said Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the NERCC in a statement. “Her Fair Labor Division sought to limit the impact of the underground economy – protecting workers and leveling the playing field for employers that play by the rules. As a candidate for Governor, she recognizes that growing income inequality is one of the major problems facing our society. Coakley knows that advocating for workers and supporting unions is the best method to rebuild the middle class.” (read article)

Labor unions fund Brown for Governor reelection bid

By Jon K. Brent, May 26, 2014, Central Coast News

Voters will go to the polls on June 3 for the California primary. They’ll choose between more than a dozen candidates for governor to determine which two appear on the ballot in the November general election. The secretary of state’s office tracks contributions and shows incumbent Jerry Brown leading in campaign contributions. Now a study from the nonprofit and nonpartisan Maplight organization, has revealed where the financial influence comes from for the top three gubernatorial candidates. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is running for his fourth term. He’s a virtual lock to win the most votes in the June primary. It seems the real contest is for second place, which will decide who runs against Brown in November. The latest polls show the frontrunners for that spot are Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and former Treasury Department official Neal Kashkari. MapLight’s analysis of campaign contributions from the secretary of state’s office shows the top five contributors to the campaigns of Brown, Donnelly and Kashkari and the geographic origin of those contributions. Note the pictures posted to this story. Jerry Brown has received $13,600,000 in contributions, and from the table you’ll note he’s financed heavily by the California Democratic Party and labor unions. Most of his contributions come from California. (read article)

Will the Supreme Court Kill Public-Employee Unions?

By Andy Kroll, May 26, 2014, Mother Jones

Forget Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow union-bashing governors. Forget the partisan Republican attacks on organized labor. The gravest threat today to public-employee unions—which represent cops, firefighters, prison guards, teachers, nurses, and other city and state workers—is a Supreme Court case named Harris v. Quinn, which could be decided as early as this Tuesday. And, strangely enough, it is the court’s most sharp-tongued conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who could ride to organized labor’s rescue. The case pits several of the nation’s mightiest labor unions, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), against their longstanding foe, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which helped bring the case. National Right to Work is funded by some of the biggest names in conservative philanthropy: the Bradley family, the Waltons of Walmart, Charles Koch, and DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, two dark-money ATMs. Labor officials see Harris as an effort by the deep-pocketed conservative movement to wipe public-employee unions off the map—and to demolish a major source of funding and support for the Democratic Party. “This is an attempted kill shot aimed at public-sector unions,” says Bill Lurye, AFSCME’s general counsel. (read article)

Fight At Big Calif. Grower Tests Workplace Democracy

By Matthew Heller, May 26, 2014, Mint Press News

Thousands of California farmworkers are facing a tough choice: pay dues to a union they don’t want to represent them or lose their jobs. The sealed ballot boxes now stored in the regional office of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in Visalia, Calif., contain the votes of thousands of employees of Gerawan Farming Inc., the nation’s largest peach producer. The workers cast those votes in November to decide whether to strip the United Farm Workers, the union co-founded by legendary activist Cesar Chavez, of its right to represent them. The union had been certified in 1992 but, after only one contract negotiation session with management, effectively abandoned its Gerawan membership. In October 2012, the UFW notified Gerawan that it was ready to bargain again over a contract even though, according to the company, 98 percent of current employees weren’t even around at the time the union was certified. “We thought it would be easy to get rid of the union,” Silvia Lopez, the employee who organized the campaign to decertify the UFW, told MintPress News in an interview. But because of an extraordinary labor dispute that has roiled California’s agricultural industry like no other since Chavez’s early battles with growers, the decertification votes may never be counted. And Lopez and thousands of her co-workers at Gerawan Farming could be facing the Hobson’s choice of having to pay dues amounting to 3 percent of their paychecks to a union they don’t want to represent them — or lose their jobs. The workers are required to pay the dues under a contract that was drafted by a mediator under a controversial 2003 mandatory mediation law. “he dream of farm workers using democratic processes to choose their own future has become a nightmare for Ms. Lopez and her fellow workers whom the is designed to protect,” Anthony Raimondo, an attorney representing Lopez, wrote in a court document. (read article)

McDonald’s Workers Arrested at Protest Near Headquarters

By Leslie Patton May 22, 2014, Bloomberg

More than 100 McDonald’s (MCD) employees and some labor and clergy members were arrested after protesting for increased wages near the fast-food chain’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. The event, the latest in a series of demonstrations by workers demanding $15-an-hour pay and the right to form a union, began at 1 p.m. local time yesterday, on the eve of McDonald’s Corp.’s shareholder meeting. About 2,000 protesters, including about 325 McDonald’s workers in restaurant uniforms, stormed though the company’s campus entrance at Jorie Boulevard and Kroc Drive in Oak Brook, according to the organizers, holding signs that said, “We Are Worth More” and “My Union My Voice.” The Oak Brook Police Department estimated the number was 1,000 to 1,500. The protesters — brought to the scene by 32 buses — were joined by Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and William Barber, an official from the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. About 110 people were arrested for trespassing, police said. (read article)

Economist Morici: Americans Reject Unions’ ‘Left-Wing Rhetoric’

By Bill Hoffmann, May 22, 2014, MoneyNews.com

Americans are kissing unions goodbye, according to economist Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland. “Let’s face it, America has rejected unions. Only 7 to 8 percent of the private sector workers in America are in a union because unions aren’t good for workers,” Morici told “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV. “They keep them from advancing. They pay them a lot for not doing very much, so they don’t improve themselves. “If you take the auto workers out of the situation, then there really are hardly any unionized workers at all left in America. Why? Americans have rejected them.” A good example, Morici said, was the rejection of the United Auto Workers union by employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. (read article)

Christie’s pension payment reduction plan sparks lawsuit from CWA

By Salvador Rizzo, May 21, 2014, The Star-Ledger

Another prominent labor union, the Communications Workers of America, says it will file a lawsuit in an effort to stop Gov. Chris Christie’s plans to grab $2.43 billion meant for the pension system to balance the state budget. The announcement from the CWA today comes a day after the largest public-worker union in the state, the New Jersey Education Association, said it would challenge Christie’s plans in court. The CWA is the largest state workers union. The Republican governor, in a stunning about-face, announced Tuesday that he would reduce two key payments meant to shore up New Jersey’s strained pension system, grabbing a total of $2.43 billion to cover unexpected revenue shortfalls in his budgets. For Christie, the move means he is walking away from a major pension overhaul he signed in his first term to restore the pension system’s financial health over approximately 30 years. But the governor said he had few other choices: He won’t raise taxes, he won’t take funds from schools and health care programs, and there is next to nothing left to cut in state spending. (read article)

Flint schools lay off 91 teachers and staff after approving new labor contracts

By Dominic Adams, May 21, 2014, Michigan Live

The Flint School District approved new contracts with three unions on the same day it laid off 91 teachers and staff. Both decisions were made during the board of education’s meeting on Wednesday, May 21. The measures were approved by a 7-0 vote, with board members David Davenport and Blake Strozier absent. “The ratification of the contracts is historic,” said Interim Superintendent Larry Watkins. “It definitely helps us with working toward eliminating the deficit elimination plan and now we just have to make sure we execute the plan.” The concessions from the United Teachers of Flint, Service Employees International Union Unit 150 Paraprofessionals and the Congress of Flint School Administrators amount to $6.6 million in benefit cuts, but employees will not have to take a 19 percent pay cut the district previously said was needed. The district is addressing a $10.4 million budget deficit and also owes the Genesee Area Skill Center $8.6 million in misspent millage money. “There were sacrifices by all the labor unions,” Watkins said. “With their input, we will work together to make sure we eliminate that DEP.” (read article)

Watchdog: Proposal for open union negotiations riles labor

By Teri Sforza, May 21, 2014, Orange County Register

Irony alert: The Orange County Board of Supervisors went into closed session Tuesday to discuss an openness ordinance. Groups say COIN (Civic Openness In Negotiations) is an attempt to politicize an already-fraught process, but its defenders say the ordinance would maximize transparency. Worker union reps objected vociferously to the proposed “Civic Openness in Negotiations” law, calling it “criminal,” “an ambush,” “another knife in the back,” “a thinly veiled attempt to further politicize an overpoliticized process,” and threatening to sue if the board proceeds. After emerging from closed session, supervisors argued over specifics for more than an hour, ordered up a legal analysis and asked for refinements. (read article)


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