Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA. 

A little-noticed internal divide threatens liberalism
By Michael Lind, June 25, 2013, Salon
The debate over affirmative action reveals a split among liberals: the charity liberals vs. the solidarity liberals. The Supreme Court’s latest ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, restricting it while continuing to permit it, can be hailed as a victory by both proponents and opponents of the policy. Our polarized media has turned affirmative action into a left vs, right issue. It is worth recalling that there is a distinguished history of opposition to race-based affirmative on the center-left. Martin Luther King, Jr., thought that poor whites as well as nonwhites should benefit from compensatory programs. Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the March on Washington, argued correctly that race-based public policies would help to destroy the fragile coalition between civil rights activists and the white working class. Christopher Lasch dismissed affirmative action in college admissions and business set-asides as cynical, low-cost ploys to coopt nonwhite elites. And progressives like Richard Kahlenberg continue to make the liberal case for class-conscious but race-neutral approaches to public policy. Underlying this intra-progressive debate about affirmative action, it can be argued, is an even deeper difference in philosophy between what Mike Konczal has called “pity-charity liberalism” (which I will simplify to “charity liberalism”) and what might be called “solidarity liberalism.” For more than a century, the American center-left has been divided among charity liberals and solidarity liberals. The American center-left has long united groups with little in common other than opposition to unregulated industrial capitalism. The original charity liberals were the Progressives of the early 1900s, who tended to be upper-middle-class Protestants like Woodrow Wilson who took a paternalistic approach to reform. The original solidarity liberals were the two groups that made up the early twentieth century farmer-labor coalition in the U.S.—Jeffersonian rural populists of the school of William Jennings Bryan, and organized labor activists, whose constituencies tended to be European immigrants in the industrial cities. (read article

Labor Unions Hail Federal Sale of Low Powered Radio Frequencies
By Warner Todd Huston, June 25, 2013, StopTheACLU.com
Labor unions and ACORN-styled community groups based in America’s big cities are hailing a new decision by the Federal Communications Commission to auction hundreds of low power FM radio frequencies in compliance with the federal Local Community Radio Act passed in 2010. After a 15-year campaign to force the federal government to open up the dial to low power radio stations, the Prometheus Radio Project was finally able to convince Congress to pass the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) which changed the law to allow more stations to be licensed by the FCC. Originally new stations on the FM dial could only be licensed if the frequency requested was more than “three clicks away” on a digital dial from an existing station (for instance, from 96.1 to 96.3 is one click on the dial). The new law would allow for frequencies at three or only two clicks from existing stations with the stipulation that the new station would not cause interference with existing stations. Hence why they would be 100 watt, low power stations. The FCC has finally acquiesced to Congress’ law and will put thousands of new frequencies up for auction available only to non-profit groups between October 15 and October 29 of this year. (read article)

America’s Teachers Have A Choice, And This Includes Not Joining A Teachers’ Union
By Gary Beckner, June 24, 2013, Forbes
School’s out for summer, which leaves ample time during the day for students to relax—and for their teachers to recharge and reflect. It’s also an ideal time for them to decide whether union membership is right for them. Unfortunately, it’s also the only time for many of them to decide—the nation’s teachers’ unions, as well as many unions generally, have done a remarkable job of restricting their members’ knowledge of and ability to exercise their rights regarding union membership. For years, educators have joined teachers’ unions with the assumption that their money advances their profession. Unfortunately, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have morphed from respected education associations to behemoth special interest groups that do little to advance teachers as professionals. Educators nationwide have grown increasingly frustrated in recent years by the partisan political spending, high dues, and adversarial tactics of their labor unions. In 2012 alone, 140,000 educators left the NEA. This mass exodus has not only gained headlines but has left teachers questioning the value of pricey union membership, which can run as high as $1,200 a year. (read article)

Poll: More than 37 percent of Coloradans would leave their unions
By Calvin Thompson, June 24, 2013, Colorado Watchdog
Almost 40 percent of Colorado’s union laborers would leave their union if given the chance, according to a recent poll by a national coalition. As part of National Employee Freedom Week, 59 non-profit organizations in 35 states took part in a poll to determine if union workers across the nation would like to leave their union. The Independence Institute was among them. About 500 union workers from Colorado were asked the following question: “If it were possible to opt out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty would you do it?” About 37.6 percent of respondents in Colorado answered that they would leave, higher than the national average of 33.4 percent. While Colorado is not a right-to-work state, and the freedom to work without a union is severely restricted, the percentage of workers represented by unions has dropped consistently, by a couple percent. (read article)

BART Unions and Management Trade Allegations as Deadline Nears
By Dixie Jordan, June 24, 2013, Patch
With less than a week to go before BART’s contracts with its two largest unions expire, labor leaders and management were busy today (Monday) holding news conferences and issuing news releases accusing each other of bargaining in bad faith. Leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and foreworkers, and Service Employees International Union Local 1221, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, fired the first shot by holding a news conference to announce that they filed a lawsuit accusing management of failing to bargain in good faith over worker safety. BART management spokeswoman Alicia Trost responded by issuing a news release that says the worker safety allegations are “a smoke screen for the fact union leaders are refusing to bring our contracts in line with what is normal for the Bay Area and the transit industry.” The transit agency’s management said it would hold its own news conference at 1:30 p.m. Monday to provide an update on contract talks, which began on April 1 but haven’t been fruitful so far. Trost previously said that union leaders haven’t even mentioned safety issues in their own internal communications about the labor talks, instead emphasizing matters such as salaries, benefits and work rules. In another twist in the worker safety issues, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Monday filed a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report against BART station agent and union spokesman George Figueroa. (read article)

Happy National Employee Freedom Week, America
By Priya Abraham, June 24, 2013, Fox News
When you join an organization, whether it’s the Rotary Club or your local gym, you decide how long you want to be a member, and leave when you wish.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many employees throughout America. For them, being a labor union member feels much like checking out of the Hotel California: You can never really leave. In Pennsylvania, for example, leaving the union gets complicated for teachers and other government workers. Take the case of Rob Brough and John Cress, two public school teachers who resigned from their teachers’ union—a National Education Association affiliate—after several years of wanting to quit. National Employee Freedom Week will tell union members of their options, whether that is remaining a member, resigning, or leaving and becoming a religious or other conscientious objector. As soon as the teachers quit, their union rejected their resignations. The union cited what’s called a “maintenance of membership” clause written into most school district and other government worker contracts. This provision means union members may generally only leave their union during a narrow two-week window at the end of their three or four-year union contract. Teachers Brough and Cress are not alone in wanting to leave their union, but have discovered they don’t know all the rules for doing so. That’s why over 50 non-profits across the country have launched National Employee Freedom Week, a national campaign which runs June 23-29 focusing on educating employees about all of their rights in the workplace. (read article)

Union Helps New Jobs In L.A. Go To ‘Pot’
By William Dunkelberg, June 24, 2013, Forbes
The administration has done all it can to aid the cause of unions in the U.S., including making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it knows wouldn’t be confirmed by the Senate. A Federal Court has already invalidated these appointments (a second appeals court has joined the D.C. Circuit in ruling that President Obama’s recess appointments were unconstitutional, and just today, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge). This is consistent with the President’s promise to accomplish his agenda without the help of Congress. Unions have no interest in “competition” and support measures that restrict competition. But it is competition which delivers more jobs and output at lower prices than regulated markets. The liquor industry in Pennsylvania is an example. The State owns all the liquor stores, all the workers are unionized, numerous studies have shown prices are higher, selection is more restricted and service is poorer (even with more union workers) than in neighboring New Jersey where many Pennsylvanians go to buy their booze. Privatization is opposed by the union. Unionized toll-takers were strong opponents of “one way tolls” even though it was the best thing for drivers. This makes one wonder about the wisdom of having the workers in government agencies (like the IRS) unionized. President FDR strongly opposed the idea of “public sector unions.” Unions have well known political views and, as was the case with the toll workers, are concerned about their own well-being, not that of taxpayers and customers. (read article)

Conservative Groups Target Union Members
By Melanie Trottman, June 24, 2013, Wall Street Journal
A coalition of 60 groups in 35 states has begun a national campaign to tell workers they have the right to opt out of a labor union, and are providing instructions on how and when to do it. The campaign, which launched Sunday, is the brainchild of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, libertarian think tank. The group last year ran a local campaign informing teachers in the Las Vegas area how and when to opt out of the Clark County Education Association, a union affiliate of the larger National Education Association. To opt out, members had to submit a written notice during a two-week window in July, which many did, campaign leaders say. “It got us thinking, how many other millions of union members across the country are interested in leaving their union and don’t know if it’s even possible or don’t know when to do so,” said Victor Joecks, communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which is spending $25,000 on the “Employee Freedom Week” campaign. Mr. Joecks said he’s not accusing unions of withholding the information from their members but said they are burying it deep inside contracts. “The unions are doing a very good job of recruiting people. What we see this as is the counterbalance of the information” they emphasize, he said. (read article)

Nearly a third of Oregon union workers want out
By Steve Buckstein, June 24, 2013, The Oregonian
Right-to-work policies in 24 states allow workers the freedom to join or not join a union. Oregon, however, is one of the 26 states without such employee freedom. Here, if a workplace is organized by a union, workers must either join the union and pay dues, or opt out of membership but still pay what are called “fair share” dues, supposedly to cover the cost of negotiating and upholding their employment contracts. Why might workers like the opportunity to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their own money rather than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs, whatever those might be. (read article)

The Myth of Powerful Unions
by David Macaray, June 24th, 2013, Dissident Voice
Dad: “What do you want to be when you grow up, Jimmy?” Jimmy: “A lobbyist.” On June 1, 2013, the New York Times published the names of the top-twelve biggest spending lobbyists of 2012. It’s a fascinating list. Despite all the propaganda, disinformation and outright lies about organized labor that have been circulated by right-wing groups, there’s not a single labor union listed among them—not even the estimable AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in history. The reason there are no unions included is because, as any labor aficionado will tell you, organized labor doesn’t have anywhere near the clout that the big boys have. Despite the hype (“Unions are too powerful!”), organized labor is still camped out on the margins, still very much on the outside, looking in. Senators and congressmen—even the honest ones—don’t come cheap. They don’t come cheap, and they don’t come easy. In order to buy (or, less cynically, “rent”) an elected representative for the purpose of having him or her do your legislative bidding, you need to put your money where it will do the most good, which is to say you need to hire lobbyists. Below is the Times’ list of this Dirty Dozen, with the amount of money (in millions of dollars) each of them spent in 2012. (read article)

Tennessee union now will endorse candidates based on voting record
By Duane Marsteller, June 24, 2013, The Tennessean
AFL-CIO Labor Council President Gary Moore says the council will endorse candidates who support labor regardless of party affiliation… The state’s top labor union is changing how it endorses candidates, and it could cost at least one veteran Democratic legislator its longstanding support. The Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council will focus on voting records, and not on political labels, as it evaluates candidates in coming state races. The council approved the change in March, President Gary Moore said. “We’re going to look at and endorse candidates who support labor regardless of party affiliation,” he said. That’s a shift for the council, which represents about 300 unions and affiliates with 60,000-plus members in Tennessee and has a history of heavily favoring Democrats. In the 2012 state legislative campaign, it endorsed 53 Democrats, one independent and one Republican. The council previously based its political endorsements largely on the candidates’ party affiliations and pledges to support workers but never really followed up to verify whether their votes matched their words, Moore said. (read article)

Cuccinelli Stretches Labor Argument Vs. McAuliffe
By Sarah Mimms, June 23, 2013, National Journal
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is opening a new front against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in the Commonwealth’s governor’s race this year, seeking to tie McAuliffe to organized labor in a decidedly anti-Big Labor state. Cuccinelli has dubbed his rival “Union Terry.” He calls himself “Frugal Ken.” It’s becoming a governor’s race between really unpopular action figures. But Cuccinelli’s campaign went one step further on Friday, saying flatly in an interview circulated by his campaign that McAuliffe of opposes Right to Work legislation, which Virginia adopted decades ago, altogether. But there’s not much evidence that McAuliffe actually feels that way. Though McAuliffe said during his 2009 campaign that he would sign collective bargaining legislation, he has since said, repeatedly, that he would not do anything to overturn the Commonwealth’s right to work laws. Back in January, McAuliffe said at an event for the National Federation of Independent Business, “We are a great right-to-work state. We should never change that.” Earlier this week McAuliffe was less concrete. “I’m going to work with management. I’m going to work with labor. I’m going to work with everybody to move Virginia forward. It’s not ‘either-or.’ We are a right-to-work state that has been here for many years, and it’s not going to change,” McAuliffe told the Washington Post. And, of course, McAuliffe has taken $723,730 from organized labor groups this cycle, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. (read article)

GAME ON: Organized labor kicks campaign efforts into high gear following UFT endorsement for Bill Thompson
By Celeste Katz, June 23, 2013, New York Daily News
The mayoral race began with organized labor hoping to coalesce around one candidate to maximize its influence, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Four of the major Democratic candidates have won major union endorsements, and now those unions are pounding the pavement for their chosen men and woman.
Bill Thompson this past week won the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers, one of the top prizes in the race for City Hall. Minutes after the United Federation of Teachers endorsed William Thompson for mayor Wednesday, the union hit the button on 170,000 robocalls informing their members of the news. By Friday, the UFT had mailed tens of thousands of brochures touting Thompson to its Democratic members in the five boroughs. And by Monday night, the union hopes to have organized 3,000 volunteers to staff phone banks and conduct leafleting on Thompson’s behalf. It’s game on for organized labor, which is spending millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of campaign volunteers hoping to influence who will become New York’s next mayor. “Our goal is to win, and we’re very, very serious about that,” said George Gresham, president of the health care workers union known as 1199 SEIU, which has endorsed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for mayor. The stakes are high. All of the city’s nearly 300,000 unionized employees have been working without contracts for years. The municipal unions hope the next mayor will have a sympathetic ear when they make their demands for more than $7 billion in retroactive raises they say they’re owed. (read article)

Old Labor Asks New Labor for Help as Strike Looms at Patriot Coal
Laura Flanders, June 22, 2013, The Nation
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addressed a gathering of labor activists in Washington this week and told them that he needed them. “The future of America is at risk,” he said “because we have a democracy deficit and a solidarity deficit, and nowhere is that truer in our national life than in the workplace.” The sentiment was less startling than the context, at the second annual conference of the Labor Research and Action Network (LRAN). LRAN attracts organizers largely from community-based workers’ centers and training and research groups who work with low-wage, immigrant and part time, non-union workers. The biggest guy in Big Labor, in other words, a man who came up through the nation’s oldest industrial union (the United Mine Workers), was asking the newest organizers on the scene—the fast-food, retail, restaurant, day labor and domestic workers—for help. “How do we thicken relationships to both encourage experimentation and knit together a united labor movement?” he asked. It’s no wonder that he’s asking. When it comes to solidarity, Trumka knows whereof he speaks. The first time I laid eyes on him, in fact, it was in a place called Camp Solidarity in southwest Virginia. A public park turned union campground, in 1989 supporters flooded into Camp Solidarity from churches, schools and unions around the country in support of coalminers on strike against the Pittston Coal company. (read article)

An L.A. labor leader with a strong worker ethic
By Joe Mozingo, June 22, 2013, Los Angeles Times
Maria Elena Durazo, 60, the daughter of immigrant farmworkers, tenaciously leverages the clout of her L.A. County Federation of Labor to defend union jobs, increase pay and organize more workers… Maria Elena Durazo was angry. As Los Angeles’ reigning labor boss, she had packed the City Council chambers with dozens of union members, expecting action on an initiative that could eventually help large hotels modernize, creating and preserving jobs. Business interests were wary, knowing that as part of the proposal, Durazo also hoped to increase pay for hotel workers. Durazo thought she had an ally in Councilman Paul Koretz, who would propose that the city study wage increases. Instead, he told the council he wanted to postpone the discussion. Summoning Koretz to the side of the chamber, Durazo was overheard demanding an explanation. “What the hell is going on, Paul?” She then moved into a roped-off area reserved for lawmakers and their aides to buttonhole Council President Herb Wesson. After hushed exchanges, Wesson intoned into his microphone that the hotel item was back on the table. “Mr. Koretz would like to hear that item today.” The council didn’t end up voting on the wage provision that day, but the workers got their chance to address lawmakers directly about their pay, setting the stage for a future legislative drive. It was an apt illustration of how Los Angeles’ most powerful labor leader wields influence. Durazo tenaciously leverages the political clout of her 600,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to defend union jobs, increase pay and organize more workers. (read article)

What Are ‘Micro-Unions,’ and Why Is Big Business So Upset About Them?
By Bruce Vail, June 21, 2013, In These Times
Conservatives have created the myth of the ‘micro-union’ in a direct attack on worker organizing around the country. Legislation was introduced in Congress late last week that will, in the words of one of its prominent supporters, rein in government officials who are now encouraging “swarms of micro-unions” to descend on non-union employers for the purpose on “annihilating companies through a death of a thousand cuts.” Such lurid language has helped put the bill on the fast track in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the legislation has already been scheduled for a hearing next week before the Education and the Workforce Committee. Most observers expect it will receive quick approval there on its way to easy passage by the full House. Readers of Working In These Times can be forgiven for wondering what a micro-union is, exactly, and why Geoffrey Burr of the anti-union lobby group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace used such extravagant language to describe it. The term itself is not in common usage, even among labor lawyers and other union experts, and it does not even appear in the language of the House bill introduced June 13 by Rep. Thomas Price (R-Ga.) A micro-union, in short, is a relatively new description for a time-worn labor organizing technique that focuses on smaller, sharply defined groups of workers for the purpose of creating collective workplace action. That tactic, although nothing new, rubs against the grain of the popular imagination of labor organizing as a mass movement against large, highly visible corporations. “It’s definitely an invented term, and doesn’t come from labor [sources] at all. In fact, it’s a complete fabrication of the right wing,” says Jay Lederer, communications director of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). (read article)

German labor model wins support from UAW’s King
By Gabe Nelson and Amy Wilson, June 20, 2013, Auto News
The head of North America’s leading auto workers union is endorsing a German-style labor structure for a range of U.S. factories — not just ones owned by German automakers such as Volkswagen Group but also Detroit 3 plants with existing union contracts and nonunion assembly plants in the South. UAW President Bob King is offering what he sees as a less adversarial labor-relations model to companies such as Nissan that have resisted the union’s past entreaties. It is part of the union boss’s efforts to extend the union’s base into auto plants across the U.S. South. In an exclusive interview with Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News on Wednesday, King said he has seen the merits of the German model firsthand since his appointment last year to the supervisory board of General Motors’ German subsidiary, Adam Opel AG. Under so-called codetermination laws in Germany, union leaders or other employee representatives get as many as half the seats on supervisory boards that have a say over a company’s major investments and hold the power to hire and fire top executives. (read article)

Elder-care aides wooed by labor unions
By Matthew Heimer, June 20, 2013, Market Watch
The aging of the boomers and their parents has played a role in turning in-home health care into one of America’s growth industries: The Labor Department estimates that the number of home-health workers caring for the elderly and disabled will reach 3.2 million by 2020, up 68% from 1.9 million in 2010. But those jobs are anything but well-paid; the median wage in the industry was $9.70 an hour in 2010, and many home-care workers get no health-care benefits. (The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.) That puts home-health aides at the low end of the pay scale in elder care, with even less purchasing power than nursing home staff. And as Kris Maher reports in The Wall Street Journal this week, some labor unions are trying to organize home-care workers to give them the clout to negotiate better pay. As one might anticipate, the issue of whether the workers can unionize has become heavily politically charged; states with Democratic-led legislatures and governors (including, recently, Minnesota, Vermont and Connecticut) have generally backed the idea, while Republican-led states have curbed it—Michigan, for example, recently enacted a law barring home-health unionization. Opponents of unionization say that home-health workers are independent contractors and are often doing the work informally—many are caring for friends or relatives. Labor leaders say the fact that many workers are paid through Medicaid or Medicare effectively makes them public employees, and thus union-eligible. (read article)

As Obamacare insurance exchanges near launch, labor braces for impact
By Don McIntosh, June 19, 2013, Northwest Labor Press
Organized labor — entirely left out of the legislation that became known as Obamacare — has spent years behind the scenes patiently pleading with the Obama Administration to be allowed to benefit from the law’s implementation. Now, four months before the law’s mandated state insurance exchanges launch, it appears that while some union members will benefit, many others may actually be harmed. The state-by-state health insurance exchanges, which launch Oct. 1, 2013, are the linchpin of Obamacare’s plan to cover the uninsured. The exchanges will benefit a minority of low-wage union members who don’t currently have employer-provided health insurance. But they may harm many other union members who are covered through union-affiliated multi-employer health trusts — which are prevalent in construction and in low-wage industries like grocery and janitorial. The harm would come chiefly because union members and their employers won’t have access to individual subsidies, or to small-employer tax credits, for insurance purchased on the exchanges. But their nonunion competitors will. How unions are shut out of the state insurance exchanges: The state exchanges will begin selling insurance Oct. 1 to individuals and small businesses, with coverage to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. All otherwise uninsured individuals will be required to purchase health insurance, or else face a tax penalty that starts at 1 percent of income and rises to 2.5 percent by 2016. Those earning up to four times the poverty level will get some amount of subsidy when they purchase on the exchanges. And the poorest — those earning less than 133 percent of the poverty level — will have their insurance paid for entirely. But individuals won’t be allowed to buy insurance on the exchanges if their employer provides health insurance. (read article)

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