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.

BART Unions Sue Board Over “Illegal” Labor Contract Negotiations
By Lisa Fernandez and Cheryl Hurd, December 3, 2013, NBC San Francisco
BART’s two largest unions filed suit on Tuesday against the agency’s board of directors, claiming “illegitimate” actions regarding their labor contracts – specifically over six weeks of paid family leave that was agreed to, but not formally approved. “The remedy is for BART to honor the agreement,” SEIU Attorney Kerianne Steele said at a news conference at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse. She said the unions have not yet discussed or planned another strike, but added they are “not ruling anything out.” For BART’s part, spokeswoman Alicia Trost issued this statement: “This unnecessary action will only delay resolution to BART’s labor contract. A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake. When mistakes are made in contract negotiations they are corrected administratively by the parties, acting in good faith. Fortunately, this mistake was caught in time before the mistaken language was brought before the district’s board for ratification…District negotiators would never have knowingly agreed to such a financially backbreaking proposal.” She said BART management will look at the lawsuit “over the next several days.” The suit stems from an 8-1 vote on Nov. 21, when BART’s board of directors rejected ratifying an agreement their authorized chief negotiator Thomas Hock, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier, and Labor Relations Manager Rudy Medina signed and bargained with the unions to end a contentious four-day strike in October. (read article)

Illinois lawmakers taking up bill to fix pension mess
By Sara Burnett, December 3, 2013, Stamford Advocate
Illinois lawmakers were poised Tuesday to vote on a plan to solve the state’s $100 billion pension crisis — a proposal many are calling the most important vote of their careers and one that could deeply reduce the retirement benefits of hundreds of thousands of workers and retirees. At a hearing on the measure Tuesday morning, House Speaker Michael Madigan called the pension shortfall — the worst of any state in the country — “one of the most serious problems affecting the state of Illinois.” “Change must be done,” the Chicago Democrat said. But public-employee labor unions called the plan unfair and unconstitutional and were continuing their efforts to kill it. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said it would severely cut the retirees’ benefits and could only be described as “theft.” “How can you do this to the good people who serve our state?” Montgomery said. Nine of the 10 members of a bipartisan pension conference committee signed off on the deal late Monday, sending it to the floors of both the House and Senate, where votes were expected later Tuesday. (read article)

Unions’ Disarming New Tactics
By Megan McArdle, December 3, 2013, Bloomberg
I wrote last week that unions were having difficulty organizing employees at such places as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the face of a weak labor market, and they were therefore adopting tactics that you might call “alterna-organizing”: turning to the firm’s clientele or the government, rather than employees, to help them raise wages. That’s why OUR Walmart is running an informational campaign against Wal-Mart rather than trying to establish a union — it gives it more leeway to enlist customers and voters in its drive for higher wages at the company’s stores. Well, here’s another exhibit in the trend: The Service Employees International Union is sponsoring ballot initiatives in California and Oregon that would cap executive pay at hospitals and limit how much customers can be charged. But what does this have to do with the workers? you will ask. The answer is nothing, directly. Instead, the ballot initiatives are bargaining chips. If the hospitals will “work with” the union, the SEIU will back off the ballot initiatives, which threaten hospital profits. (read article)

Judge Clears Way for Detroit to Pursue Bankruptcy
By Becket Adams, December 3, 2013, The Blaze
Dealing a major blow to labor unions, a judge ruled Tuesday that Detroit can move ahead with its bankruptcy filing. “This once proud and prosperous city can’t pay its debts. It’s insolvent. It’s eligible for bankruptcy,” Judge Steven Rhodes said in announcing his decision. “At the same time, it also has an opportunity for a fresh start.” The bankruptcy, which aims to address the city’s $18 billion in long-term liabilities, means unions, pension funds and retirees stand to take a loss with the rest of the city’s creditors. Rhoades said he believes bankruptcy will allow Detroit to recover and move forward. “The city of Detroit was once a hard-working, diverse, vital city, the home of the automobile industry, proud of its nickname the Motor City,” he said adding Detroit’s many problems including double-digit unemployment, “catastrophic” debt deals, vacant homes, massive public safety issues and population loss. The judge did not approve a specific bankruptcy plan for the city. Rather, he gave Detroit officials the green light to pursue that option, despite massive pushback from major labor unions. (read article)

Farm workers’ union dispute puts spotlight on California ag labor law
By Jeremy B. White, December 3, 2013, Sacramento Bee
It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them. Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on. It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years. “We got surprised because we never knew the union” represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. “So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there.” The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California’s landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown’s first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes. (read article)

Unions plan fast-food strikes for minimum wage hikes
By Breanna Deutsch, December 2, 2013, The Daily Caller
Labor unions and liberal activists want you to say goodbye to the McDonalds dollar menu. On Thursday fast-food workers and union-backed activist groups will organize protests across the country demanding a $15 dollar minimum wage, reports The New York Times. These protests are part of a broader movement that began in November 2012, when 200 fast-food workers participated in a day-long strike at over 20 restaurants in New York City. Since then, the union-endorsed activist groups, Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, have campaigned to establish a $15 dollar minimum wage across the country. In August of this year, the labor activist groups staged the largest fast-food worker strike ever, with protests taking place in 50 cities across the country. They plan to out-do their August protest this Thursday, with strikes planned in over a 100 cities. “There’s been pretty huge growth in one year,” Kendall Fells, one of the movement’s main organizers, told the NY Times. “People understand that a one-day strike is not going to get them there. They understand that this needs to continue to grow,” she explained. (read article)

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Unintimidated’
By Frank A. Keating, December 2, 2013, Washington Times
Thank goodness for federalism. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s timely book clearly demonstrates the essentials of talent and character in the ranks of state executives. Perhaps only a governor can appreciate what Mr. Walker wrought. I do. And it was stunning. In Oklahoma, when I proposed a right-to-work referendum, which ultimately passed by a vote of the people, the reaction from the labor movement was negative but contained. Big rigs from around the country circled the Capitol in Oklahoma City and temporarily blocked traffic, but the Highway Patrol quickly put an end to that mischief. My fight was a brushfire. Scott Walker’s was a conflagration. It is a story well told, and one that must be learned and be a part of every courageous governor’s DNA. In January 2011, the newly inaugurated Republican governor faced a budget shortfall of $3.6 billion. He could either raise taxes or lay off 10,000 teachers, policemen and firefighters to close the gap. Or he could do something bold. Gov. Walker chose bold. Some might say recklessly bold. But it was amazing and gutsy — and essential to Wisconsin’s prosperity. (read article)

Walker is Wisconsin’s action governor
By George Will, December 2, 2013, Milwaukee Daily Tribune
In 2011, tens of thousands of government employees andothers, enraged by Gov. Scott Walker’s determination to break the ruinously expensive and paralyzing grip that government workers’unions had on Wisconsin, took over the capitol building in Madison. With chanting, screaming and singing supplemented by bullhorns, bagpipes and drum circles, their cacophony shook the building that the squalor of their occupation made malodorous. They spat on Republican legislators and urinated on Walker’s office door. They shouted, “This is what democracy looks like!” When they and Democratic legislators failed to prevent passage of Act10, they tried to defeat — with a scurrilous smear campaign that backfired — an elected state Supreme Court justice. They hoped that changing the court’s composition would get Walker’s reforms overturned. When this failed, they tried to capture the state Senate by recalling six Republican senators. When this failed, they tried to recall Walker. On the night that failed — he won with a larger margin than he had received when elected 19 months earlier — he resisted the temptation to proclaim, “This is what democracy looks like!” (read article)

BART Worker Unions Consider Lawsuit Over Family Leave Provision
By Holly Quan, December 2, 2013, CBS SF Bay Area
After Bay Area Rapid Transit’s Board of Directors overwhelmingly voted in November to remove a family-leave provision that they said was never supposed to be included in the contract, the agency’s two biggest unions said they may take the issue to a judge to challenge that decision. The provision, which offers six weeks of paid leave was said to be mistakenly written into the final draft which BART signed, and its unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555—both ratified. But when it came before the board on Nov. 21, the members approved it without the provision included. The unions claim that’s unfair, and illegal. (read article)

New Fast-food strikes aim at 100 cities
Candice Choi and Sam Hananel, December 2, 2013, USA Today
Fast-food workers in about 100 cities will walk off the job this Thursday, organizers say, which would mark the largest effort yet in their push for higher pay. The actions are intended to build on a campaign that began about a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year. The protests are part of a movement by labor unions, Democrats and other worker advocacy groups to raise pay in low-wage sectors. Last month, President Obama said he would back a Senate measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Protesters are calling for $15 an hour, although many see the figure as a rallying point rather than a near-term possibility. It’s not clear how large the turnout will be at any given location, or whether the walkouts will be enough to disrupt operations. Similar actions this summer had varying results, with some restaurants unable to serve customers and others seemingly unaffected. (read article)

Michigan’s takeover of Detroit exposes strains over control
By Stephen C. Fehr, December 2, 2013, Mercury Nation-World
On Jan. 1, Detroit will swear in its first white mayor in 40 years. Usually that would be a significant turn in a city where eight of 10 residents are black. But the milestone will be diminished by the reality that this city is the largest in America where elected officials do not run their own government. A Washington, D.C. lawyer, Kevyn Orr, is managing the day-to-day operations of the Detroit government for now and into the new year instead of Mayor-elect Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council. Orr answers to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who in March appointed him as an “emergency manager” to steer the city through an unprecedented bankruptcy. Michigan’s election-year intervention in Detroit points up a collateral effect of a state takeover: the loss of control by a government’s leaders whom residents elected to deliver their services. Nineteen states have enacted laws allowing the state government to step in and help a financially distressed city, but only a handful are as aggressive as Michigan, which has taken over seven cities and three school districts since 2007. (read article)

A union in every way but name soaks up tax dollars
By Mike Paranzino, December 2, 2013, Washington Times
Congress may have defunded the scandal-plagued ACORN in 2009, but its model of merging taxpayer funding with grants from liberal foundations to drive a partisan, pro-union agenda has been copied by others. Among ACORN’s most astute imitators is a labor union front group, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which was founded by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union in 2002. Underwritten by our tax dollars, the Restaurant Opportunities Center is moving beyond attacking restaurants in America’s biggest cities and is now setting its sights on Election Day 2014. That’s bad news for America’s taxpayers and for job creators nationwide. The center recently posted a job listing for a “national campaign director” to run “4-5 state-based campaigns in advance of congressional midterm campaigns” seeking higher minimum-wage and mandated paid-leave laws. The new hire, in coordination with the center’s lobbyist, will supervise “22-23 local organizers around the country” and “oversee a multimillion-dollar budget.” Perhaps harassing diners at nonunion restaurants with a giant, inflatable cockroach gets old, even for labor organizers. (read article)

Union Targets Hospitals in California, Oregon
By Kris Maher, December 1, 2013, Wall Street Journal
The nation’s largest health-care union is threatening to mount ballot initiatives in California and Oregon that it says would lower health-care costs, but industry officials say the real goal is to pressure hospitals into making it easier for the union to organize thousands of workers. Proposed measures in both states would cap executive pay and limit how much hospitals can charge consumers. Both sides say they are prepared to spend millions on opposing campaigns if the measures get on the ballots in November 2014. But before it gets to that point, the Service Employees International Union said it could back off if the industry agrees to work with the union. Hospitals can join with the SEIU, or “get into some very high-stakes policy and political engagements,” said Dave Regan, who heads the SEIU’s biggest local in California. He said he is prepared to spend $4 million starting next year to get the signatures needed and then $10 million to $20 million on the campaign in California. It isn’t uncommon for unions to wage negative public campaigns to win agreements from employers, including organizing accords. But experts say the SEIU appears to be ramping up the tactic by setting the stage for a direct appeal to voters. (read article)

IRS considering new regulations on chamber of commerce groups
By Patrick Howley, December 1, 2013, Daily Caller
The Obama administration is considering imposing new regulations restricting the political activity of chambers of commerce. Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel and the Treasury Department rolled out 32 pages of new guidance last week with proposals to govern 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups. Their guidance calls for strict new rules that prohibit nonprofits from engaging in “candidate-related activity,” which is relatively vague, according to the documents. But here’s a takeaway: the IRS and Treasury Department noted that they’re considering new regulations to prohibit 501(c)(5)’s and also 501(c)(6)’s from engaging in political activity. C5’s are mostly labor unions, and C6’s are mostly chambers of commerce. (read article)

Pension fix proposal put to test
Associated Press, December 2, 2013, Kankakee Journal
For years, Illinois’ multibillion-dollar pension crisis has dragged down the state’s finances and jeopardized the retirement funds of hundreds of thousands of public employees. Yet, lawmakers remained sharply divided on how to fix the problem. They will take another shot at it Tuesday, when legislators are scheduled to return to the Capitol to consider a compromise that emerged last week. While many unknowns remain about the impact of the plan, here’s some background and the basics of what will be a potentially historic vote. Illinois’ five public-employee retirement systems are a combined $100 billion short of what’s needed to pay benefits as promised to workers and retirees. The accounts contain about 40 percent of what they need to be considered fully funded. That funding level is the lowest of any state in the nation. (read article)

In states’ latest battle with organized labor, Illinois public unions target Democratic lawmakers
Associated Press, December 1, 2013, Fox News
The latest battle between organized labor and states trying to fix huge budget problems by cutting pension costs has surfaced in Illinois, where public union leaders are waging an all-out effort to stop the Democrat-led campaign. Details of a plan reached last week appear to show state legislative leaders are attempting to solve Illinois’ $100 billion pension crisis in part by changing workers’ retirement age, reducing automatic pension increases and limiting their collective-bargaining privileges. Union leaders argue the plan to help the under-funded pension plan, which appears to have bipartisan support, seems no different than the one the General Assembly rejected earlier this year. “It’s an unfair, unconstitutional scheme that undermines retirement security,” the We Are One Illinois labor coalition said last week as details of the plan emerged. “It’s no compromise at all with those who earned and paid for their retirement benefits. In fact, reports suggest the leaders have repackaged Senate Bill 1 and barely bothered to disguise it.” Rank-and-file state lawmakers were briefed on the plan Friday, and a vote could come as early as this week. Leaders of the unions, a usually reliable Democratic vote, are specifically targeting Democratic state senators from moderate, swing districts where election opponents can hammer them for inaction or being too tough on state workers and say eight to 10 of them are considered “persuadable.” (read article)

Black Friday protests outside Wal-Mart lead to arrests
By Hannah Cho, November 29, 2013, Dallas News
While Black Friday shoppers loaded up inside Wal-Mart stores, some employees and supporters staged protests outside the retailer, demanding higher wages and more full-time work. About 100 people protested Friday morning outside the Balch Springs store, one of many sites targeted across the country on the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Police arrested 13 people associated with the protest in Balch Springs. Union representatives said there were arrests in eight other cities, including Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Seattle and Sacramento, Calif. Critics want the Arkansas-based retailer to pay workers at least $25,000 per year and offer more full-time jobs. By increasing wages, Wal-Mart would give its workers more “purchasing power, create more jobs and improve the economy,” organizers of a rally outside Detroit said in a release. A petition signed by 1,400 people was given to a Wal-Mart official outside the Detroit-area store, said Sara Wallenfang, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO. “I think a message needs to be sent to the company,” former Wal-Mart worker Robin Edwards told the Detroit Free Press at the rally. “We’re standing with the Wal-Mart workers and support them. And we’re here to fight for a higher minimum wage.” (read article)

Miami-Dade County workers’ pay at center of union hearings
By Patricia Mazzei, November 29, 2013, Miami-Dade Herald
It has become a dreaded routine for the Miami-Dade County Commission: asking public employees to give up some of their benefits and wages to keep the government financially afloat. On Thursday, commissioners will consider Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s latest request to require workers to contribute 5 percent of their base pay to cover group healthcare costs for another year. This time, the mayor may have a harder time finding consensus among commissioners. The commission has already defied the mayor and eliminated the 5-percent contribution for two labor unions. That decision, overriding a Gimenez veto in September, set a precedent for the remaining seven unions fighting the proposed extension, union leaders say. Greg Blackman, president of the Government Supervisors Association of Florida OPEIU Local 100, which represents professionals and supervisors, said commissioners have been loath to do away with the concession for some employees but not others. (read article)

Government employee union boss calls for thug tactics against voter ID
By Charles C. Johnson, November 28, 2013, Daily Caller
J. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, pledged to ignore the Supreme Court and said that he and the labor movement would “fight in the streets” against Republican governors’ supporters of voter integrity efforts. “I’m committing myself, I’m committing our union, and the labor movement. We will not — we will not — allow Republican governors to control the vote in this country,” he said to applause. “That is a God-given right of every citizen. The right to vote! We are going to fight ‘em. We’re going to fight them in the streets. We are going to fight them anywhere. We are going to fight them! I don’t care what the Supreme Court says.” J. David Cox made the remarks at a recent Rainbow PUSH Coalition event honoring Jesse Jackson’s 72nd birthday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California. (read article)

VW in delicate dance with German union over Tennessee plant
By Bernie Woodall, November 27, 2013, Automotive News
Volkswagen AG officials in Germany and the United States are performing a delicate dance with VW’s influential German union as they wrestle with the possible representation of workers at the company’s plant in Tennessee. Volkswagen is trying to introduce its model of a German-style works council, which would help set work rules for white- and blue-collar workers, at its only U.S. plant, in Chattanooga. While Volkswagen has works councils at all of its plants outside of China and Tennessee, it faces challenges in forming one in Chattanooga for various reasons, including a split within the company over whether to support the UAW. IG Metall, the German union with seats and influence in VW’s boardroom, is pressing the company to establish a works council at Chattanooga. IG Metall also supports the UAW’s bid to organize the U.S. plant. It is IG Metall’s influence and the company’s need to keep labor peace in Germany that has Volkswagen’s U.S. officials careful not to misstep. At the same time, they also are trying to maintain good relations with Tennessee’s politicians, led by anti-UAW Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans. (read article)

Union-backed group paid Seattle fast-food wage protesters
Northwest Watchdog, November 27, 2013, Fox News
As the $15-an-hour minimum wage movement continues across the country, critics question whether the push is truly a grassroots effort. The Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank based in Washington state, claims a union-backed organization called Working Washington paid at least one Subway worker $75 to protest the fast-food wage earlier this year. Working Washington is pushing for $15-an-hour minimum wage and held three protests at fast food restaurants in Seattle this summer. A copy of a check to a worker from Working Washington comes from the lawyer representing Subway in a case in which an employee was fired after the protests, according to the Freedom Foundation report. It’s unclear how many workers might have been paid to protest, but Freedom Foundation officials argue it shows these movements are more the work of union organizing. “Protests over the minimum wage have been popping up all over the country this year. Not only are labor unions supporting these protests, in many cases they are fabricating them,” Freedom Foundation labor policy analyst Max Nelson told Northwest Watchdog. “Our finding that the SEIU was paying fast food protesters in Washington earlier this year just goes to show that these protests are part of a sophisticated PR campaign, not a grassroots uprising.” (read article)

As $15 Minimum Wage Passes In SeaTac, Labor Looks To Seattle
By Carolyn Adolph, November 26, 2013, KUOW 94.9 FM Seattle
Three weeks after Election Day, supporters of a measure to increase the minimum hourly wage to $15 in SeaTac celebrated their victory. With the last batch of votes counted, King County declared the proposition had passed with more than 1 percent of the vote. It remains unclear when employers will have to start paying workers $15 an hour. The opposition group, CommonSense SeaTac said it would pay for a recount (the county does not recount votes for propositions). Meantime, Alaska and two restaurant groups have filed suit in county court, arguing that the proposition is unlawful. Until that’s resolved, the minimum hourly wage will remain frozen at $9.19 – Washington state’s minimum wage, the highest in the country. Delays didn’t appear to dampen spirits at Sea-Tac Airport, where labor leaders celebrated and turned their focus to Seattle. Mayor-elect Ed Murray campaigned on a $15 an hour minimum wage, noted David Rolf, president of the Service Employees International Union HealthCare 775NW. “I was part of the transition meeting the other day and the living wage conversation is very much alive in the incoming administration,” Rolf said. “SeaTac is only one city in a large region, and ultimately our economic prosperity in this region cannot depend on whether or not we give tax breaks to one aerospace company. It has to depend on whether we are building a middle class that can sustain a whole region.” (read article)

Employee Rights Act takes shot at unions
By Jeff Ayres, November 26, 2013, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Mississippi’s two U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, are co-sponsors of a bill aimed at providing workers greater protection from being coerced into joining labor unions. The Employee Rights Act (S. 1712) would give workers “more of a say on whether to join a labor union while also offering them stronger protections from union tactics regarding dues, votes and forms of intimidation,” according to a joint statement from Cochran and Wicker. The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Republican stalwarts Orrin Hatch and Lamar Alexander. All its co-sponsors, including Cochran and Wicker, are from the GOP, a party traditionally no fan of organized labor, and include big names like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. The bill would guarantee employees’ rights to secret-ballot votes when deciding whether to organize, union recertification by secret ballot at organized workplaces with a turnover rate of more than 50 percent and the ability for workers to collect lost wages, “illegally collected union dues” and/or damages “from a union that interferes with their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.” It also would criminalize threats of violence from union representatives in the act of organizing or collective bargaining. (read article)

Administration accused of giving unions ‘special treatment’ with exemption from ObamaCare fee
By Judson Berger, November 26, 2013, Fox News
The Obama administration is being accused of giving labor groups “special treatment under the law” after formally proposing a change that could exempt union health plans from a pesky ObamaCare fee. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who flagged the obscure rule change after it was filed in the Federal Register (see page 70), blasted the exemption as “crony capitalism at its worst.” “Unions are now experiencing the ugly reality of this law, and they want out,” he said in a statement. Indeed, the AFL-CIO has fought against what is known as the “reinsurance fee” in the Affordable Care Act. The temporary fee would kick in next year and is meant to raise $25 billion over three years, to help pay for the cost of people with pre-existing conditions signing up for coverage through the ObamaCare exchanges. The proposal filed Monday would exempt certain self-insured plans — those that do not use a third-party administrator for core functions — for 2015 and 2016. Republicans charge this is aimed at unions’ so-called Taft-Hartley plans, though union officials had downplayed the change and suggested some of their plans wouldn’t be eligible anyway. (read article)

 

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