May 07, 2013
Another Attack on Public Unions: New California Case to Test Public Unions' Ability to Collect Dues
Thanks to Charlotte Garden (Seattle) for passing on this interesting and under-reported story about a new case just filed in California which has the potential to drastically change the way public unions operate in that state. The case is Friedrichs v. California Teacher Association and the complaint can be found here.
Peter Scheer on the 1st Amendment News website writes in his post, New 1st Amendment Case Poses Existential Threat to Public Employees Unions:
In a scarcely-noticed lawsuit filed [April 29th] in federal district court in Los Angeles, a conservative nonprofit, the Center for Individual Rights, claims that California’s system for collecting union dues from government employees abridges free speech safeguards by compelling employees to subsidize union political advocacy and activities with which they disagree.
And in case you think this case is a non-starter in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's Abood decision, think again:
On first look, the suit looks like a loser because the challenged union practices were upheld in a 20-year-old US Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Nonetheless, on second look, the suit has a very respectable chance of succeeding because of a 2012 Supreme Court decision, Knox v. SEIU, in which five justices said, in effect, that the Abood decision was a mistake. Also, the plaintiffs are represented by Jones Day, one of the biggest and best law firms in the country, which wouldn’t have taken the case unless prepared to litigate all the way to the nation’s highest court.
In other words, another attack on the very existence of public unions, like we have already seen in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. The California public employee unions are extremely strong and willing to put the necessary money into this litigation to win, so it is anyone's guess what might happen. It might come down to the judicial make-up of the California Supreme Court when, and if, the case is appealed there (as it did with Act 10 and the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court).
March 21, 2013
Should Colleges Train Scabs
One of my favorite bloggers on higher education, Dean Dad at Confessions of a Community College Dean, asks: Should a public college partner with a private company to train scabs? I'd encourage Workplace Prof Blog posts to read the entire post and to comment over at Dean Dad's blog.
Anya Kamenetz has a thought-provoking piece about the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s agreement to run welding programs for Caterpillar. Caterpillar is expecting a strike, so it wants the local technical college to train its managers and non-unit staff to be able to do union jobs if its welders walk off the job. MATC is responding to employer need, offering training in an employable skill and thereby supporting the local economy. Now the Steelworkers’ union is petitioning MATC to refrain from what it considers pre-emptive strikebusting. It’s an ugly, sticky issue.
There’s nothing objectionable about a technical college teaching welding. It has done that for years, and I assume has done it well. And there’s nothing unusual about a college contracting with specific private employers to run classes or training workshops for its employees. Community colleges have done that for decades. * * *
In this case, the union is essentially asking the college to take a moral position that training these workers in this skill at this time is wrong. * * * [T]hinking through the consequences of taking a self-consciously moral position gets complicated quickly. Suppose MATC told Caterpillar to go away. The governor of Wisconsin isn’t known for being particularly union-friendly; I can imagine severe political (and therefore budgetary) consequences for the college far beyond the loss of the contract. Something like that is going on now in Michigan, where some public colleges are trying to sign long-term contracts with unions to beat the “right to work” deadline, and legislators are threatening budgetary retaliation. * * *
Wise and worldly readers, what would you do? If you ran MATC, would you honor the union request, or would you run the program?
February 08, 2013
Porter on Women and Unions
Improving the working conditions of all American workers must include considering the voices of one group traditionally underrepresented in union ranks and leadership — women. In this paper, I explore the interrelationship between women, unions, and women’s willingness to negotiate. Despite the tumultuous history of women’s involvement in the unionized labor market, women’s participation in unions is increasing relative to men. Recent studies also reveal that women significantly benefit from union representation, even more significantly than men. One reason for this disparity is that many women have not been very successful in negotiating on their own behalf. For many reasons explored in this paper, many women have been socialized to be uncomfortable negotiating for what they deserve. Thus, women benefit by participating in unions, where the negotiation is done on their behalf, and we should be encouraging women’s involvement in unions. Furthermore, women are still grossly underrepresented in union leadership roles. Because studies show that women are more likely to join a union when there are more women leaders, increasing the number of female union leaders should lead to an increase in women’s participation in unions. More women in leadership roles also has the potential to improve the overall success of the union, garner more attention to issues important to women, and bring a new perspective to union/management negotiation. Even though the negotiation literature suggests that women are often unwilling to negotiate on their own behalf, this paper will demonstrate they are very willing to and effective at negotiating on behalf of others. Finally, I will demonstrate how effective women can be as leaders and advocates when they work together to reach a common goal.
December 05, 2012
Coworker.org Officially Launches with First Worker Petition Campaign
Congratulations to Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch, friends of the blog, who have just officially launched Coworker.org and its first official petition campaign on behalf of a fired Walmart worker in Arkansas.
Here is what I wrote about Coworker.org in my recent paper considering alternative models to the existing Wagner Model of labor law in the United States:
[Coworker.org] is an online platform that puts the power of collective bargaining into the hands of all workers, all over the world. It represents a scalable departure from traditional union organizing by providing ordinary people with online tools and training to organize their co-workers and advocate for changes on the job.
When coworker.org launches, it will be a petition-based internet service. The worker’s initial point of entry will be the creation of a petition centered on the change they would like to see in their workplace and would target their bosses. The process of procuring fellow employees to sign the petition would be how these employees would form their organizing committees going forward . . . [B]y using social media “share” functions on services like Facebook and Twitter, workers will be able begin to promote their workplace campaigns and gather coworker interest in the same workplace issues.
It is a fabulous idea which responds perfectly and timely to the challenges facing worker rights organizations in our global, mobile, and tech-savvy economy. Check out the site and if the spirit moves you, sign the petition to get the Walmart worker her job back!
June 22, 2012
Grad Student Organizing: Bye Bye Brown?
Well, it's now been over a year and a hlaf since the Board ordered a hearing in which it indicated its desire to reconsider Brown University's ruling that grad students aren't employees under the NLRA. Today, the NLRB announced that it will in fact review this issue in two cases and has invited amicus briefs on the issue. The invitation for briefs lists these questions:
1. Should the Board modify or overrule Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004), which held that graduate student assistants who perform services at a university in connection with their studies are not statutory employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, because they “have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university”? 342 NLRB at 487.
2. If the Board modifies or overrules Brown University, supra, should the Board continue to find that graduate student assistants engaged in research funded by external grants are not statutory employees, in part because they do not perform a service for the university? See New York University, 332 NLRB 1205, 1209 fn. 10 (2000) (relying on Leland Stanford Junior University, 214 NLRB 621 (1974).
3. If the Board were to conclude that graduate student assistants may be statutory employees, in what circumstances, if any, would a separate bargaining unit of graduate student assistants be appropriate under the Act?
4. If the Board were to conclude that graduate student assistants may be statutory employees, what standard should the Board apply to determine (a) whether such assistants constitute temporary employees and (b) what the appropriate bargaining unit placement of assistants determined to be temporary employees should be?
The notice also states that "[b]riefs not exceeding 50 pages in length shall be filed with the Board in Washington, D.C. on or before July 23, 2012. The parties may file responsive briefs on or before August 6, 2012, which shall not exceed 25 pages in length. No other responsive briefs will be accepted. The parties and amici shall file briefs electronically at https://mynlrb.nlrb.gov/efile. If assistance is needed in filing through https://mynlrb.nlrb.gov/efile, please contact the undersigned."
Much more to come on this later . . . .
June 21, 2012
Bodie on Knox Decision: Political Spending = Business Spending (by Unions as well as Corporations)
Cross-Posted at PrawfsBlawg by Matt Bodie (St. Louis/Notre Dame):
Earlier this week, the WSJ touted a new Manhattan Institute study showing that political contributions by corporations have a positive effect on the bottom line. The study found that "most firms, like most individuals, behave rationally and strategically in their spending decisions on campaigns and lobbying, devoting resources in ways that, they have reason to expect, will benefit the corporations themselves and their shareholders." And benefits do come, in the form of lower taxes, more favorable regulation, and earmarks that help the business. The authors calculate that these political benefits improve returns for shareholders by 2% to 5% a year.
It should not be a surprise that corporate political spending helps corporations. This recent study follows upon research by Jill Fisch on FedEx's political spending, which found that "FedEx has successfully used its political influence to shape legislation, and FedEx's political success has, in turn, shaped its overall business strategy." The WSJ uses the Manhattan Institute report to beat back critics of Citizens United who are looking to get corporations out of politics. The Journal opines:
Liberals have been trying to persuade CEOs and corporate boards to stop spending money on politics by claiming that it doesn't pay. But according to a new study by the cofounder of the Democratic-leaning Progressive Policy Institute, corporate participation in politics works for the companies and their shareholders. * * *
In a better world, corporations wouldn't have to devote money and time to politics. . . . But politicians have created a gargantuan state that is so intrusive that businesses have no alternative than to spend money to defend themselves and their shareholders from such arbitrary looting as the medical device tax in ObamaCare. Liberals want business to disarm unilaterally.
Oddly, neither the Journal nor the Supreme Court seem to understand these principles when it comes to unions.
In today's Knox v. SEIU, the Court again privileges the rights of represented employees to opt out--or rather, not to have to opt-out in the first place--from union political spending. The Court clings to the trope that the union's political spending is somehow extraneous to the core services provided by the union to the represented employees. But political spending is perhaps even more important to unions than it is to corporations. I have posted before about SEIU's electoral activity, but it bears repeating--SEIU spent an estimated $85 million to help elect Barack Obama in 2008. Although the Obama administration failed to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed, it did pass healthcare reform -- which was arguably more of a SEIU priority. (See Chapter 9 of this book by Steve Early, entitled "How EFCA Died for Obamacare"). Former SEIU President Andy Stern had the highest number of oval office visits of any outsider--22--during the president's first six months in office. Stern was not in there based on his individual perspicacity about the nation's various problems. He was in there as president of the fastest-growing union in the U.S. -- one whose members largely worked in the health care field and would benefit from an expansion of health care benefits.
Knox v. SEIU concerns a "Political Fight-Back Fund" levied against represented employees, including nonmembers, to fund political activities in California. Two propositions were on the California ballot: Proposition 75, which would have required an opt-in system for charging members fees to be used for political purposes, and Proposition 76, which would have given the Governor the ability to reduce state appropriations for public-employee compensation. In response to the petitioner's objection to the special assessment, an SEIU employee said, "we are in the fight of our lives," and it's easy to see the urgency. If you accede to the principles that (1) employees can choose as a majority whether to have union representation, and (2) all represented employees need to pay for their representation, then political spending should not be excluded. In an era where state governments are reconsidering collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, political spending is critical to the unions' very existence as businesses. Unions need to have collective bargaining rights in order to bargain collectively on behalf of represented employees.
The majority's opinion in Knox v. SEIU assumes the distinction between collective bargaining expenses and political expenses without much discussion, other than an interesting block-quote from a Clyde Summers's book review. (I would argue that all of Summers' examples don't really prove his or the Court's point.) And at this point, not even the dissent questions the Hudson framework. But it makes no sense. Unions and academics should start fighting the framework: unions are businesses, and political spending is business spending.
I did see one glimmer in the Court's opinion, in the following passage:
Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. See, e.g., Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. ___ (2010). But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights.
The Manhattan Institute report, like the Wall Street Journal, recognizes that corporations are not merely "express[ing] their views on political and social issues" when they make political contributions. They are fighting for their businesses. The Court should not continue to disarm unions unilaterally in a post-Citizens United world.
Supreme Court's Knox Decision
The Supreme Court issued its decision in Knox this morning and went against the union in a 7-2 decision. It appears to mandate an opt-in system for special assessments and possibly dues increases (I haven't had time to more that skim the opinion, but there seem to be several questions left open). Two Justices only concurred, and would limit their decision to the holding that a union can't collect nonchargeable funds from employees who earlier objected to such payments. Here's the official summary:
1. This case is not moot. Although the SEIU offered a full refund toall class members after certiorari was granted, a live controversy re- mains. The voluntary cessation of challenged conduct does not ordi- narily render a case moot because that conduct could be resumed as soon as the case is dismissed. See City of Mesquite v. Aladdin’s Cas- tle, Inc., 455 U. S. 283, 289. Since the SEIU continues to defend the fund’s legality, it would not necessarily refrain from collecting similar fees in the future. Even if concerns about voluntary cessation were inapplicable because petitioners did not seek prospective relief, there would still be a live controversy as to the adequacy of the refund no- tice the SEIU sent pursuant to the District Court’s order. Pp. 6−8.
2. Under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special as- sessment or dues increase levied to meet expenses that were not dis- closed when the regular assessment was set, it must provide a fresh notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent. Pp. 8−23.
(a) A close connection exists between this Nation’s commitment to self-government and the rights protected by the First Amendment, see, e.g., Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U. S. 45, 52−53, which creates “an open marketplace” in which differing ideas about political, economic, and social issues can compete freely for public acceptance without improper government interference, New York State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, 552 U. S 196, 202. The government may not prohibit the dissemination of ideas it disfavors, nor compel the endorsement of ideas that it approves. See, e.g., R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U. S. 377, 382. And the ability of like-minded individuals to associate for the purpose of expressing commonly held views may not be curtailed. See, e.g., Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U. S. 609, 623. Close-ly related to compelled speech and compelled association is compelled funding of the speech of private speakers or groups. Compulsory subsidies for private speech are thus subject to exacting First Amendment scrutiny and cannot be sustained unless, first, there is a comprehensive regulatory scheme involving a “mandated association” among those who are required to pay the subsidy, United States v. United Foods, Inc., 533 U. S. 405, and, second, compulsory fees are levied only insofar as they are a “necessary incident” of the “larger regulatory purpose which justified the required association,” ibid. Pp. 8−10.
(b) When a State establishes an “agency shop” that exacts com- pulsory union fees as a condition of public employment, “[t]he dis- senting employee is forced to support financially an organization with whose principles and demands he may disagree.” Ellis v. Railway Clerks, 466 U. S. 435, 455. This form of compelled speech and associ- ation imposes a “significant impingement on First Amendment rights.” Ibid. The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers—to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts—is an anomaly. Similarly, requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues―rather than exempting them unless they opt in―represents a remarkable boon for unions, creating a risk that the fees nonmembers pay will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree. Thus, Hudson, far from calling for a balancing of rights or in- terests, made it clear that any procedure for exacting fees from un- willing contributors must be “carefully tailored to minimize the in- fringement” of free speech rights, 475 U. S. 302−303, and it cited cases holding that measures burdening the freedom of speech or as- sociation must serve a compelling interest and must not be signifi- cantly broader than necessary to serve that interest. Pp. 10−13.
(c) There is no justification for the SEIU’s failure to provide a fresh Hudson notice. Hudson rests on the principle that nonmembers should not be required to fund a union’s political and ideological pro- jects unless they choose to do so after having “a fair opportunity” to assess the impact of paying for nonchargeable union activities. 475 U. S., at 303. The SEIU’s procedure cannot be considered to have met Hudson’s requirement that fee-collection procedures be carefully tailored to minimize impingement on First Amendment rights. The SEIU argues that nonmembers who objected to the special assess- ment but were not given the opportunity to opt out would have been given the chance to recover the funds by opting out when the next annual notice was sent, and that the amount of dues payable the fol- lowing year by objecting nonmembers would decrease if the special assessment were found to be for nonchargeable purposes. But this decrease would not fully recompense nonmembers, who would not have paid to support the special assessment if given the choice. In any event, even a full refund would not undo the First Amendment violations, since the First Amendment does not permit a union to ex- tract a loan from unwilling nonmembers even if the money is later paid back in full. Pp. 14−17.
(d) The SEIU’s treatment of nonmembers who opted out when the initial Hudson notice was sent also ran afoul of the First Amendment. They were required to pay 56.35% of the special as- sessment even though all the money was slated for nonchargeable, electoral uses. And the SEIU’s claim that the assessment was a windfall because chargeable expenses turned out to be 66.26% is un- persuasive. First, the SEIU’s understanding of the breadth of chargeable expenses is so expansive that it is hard to place much re- liance on its statistics. “Lobbying the electorate,” which the SEIU claims is chargeable, is nothing more than another term for support- ing political causes and candidates. Second, even if the SEIU’s sta- tistics are accurate, it does not follow that it was proper to charge ob- jecting nonmembers any particular percentage of the special assessment. If, as the SEIU argues, it is not possible to accurately determine in advance the percentage of union funds that will be used for an upcoming year’s chargeable purposes, there is a risk that un- consenting nonmembers will have paid too much or too little. That risk should be borne by the side whose constitutional rights are not at stake. If the nonmembers pay too much, their First Amendment rights are infringed. But, if they pay too little, no constitutional right of the union is violated because it has no constitutional right to re- ceive any payment from those employees.
April 02, 2012
American University Labor and Employment Law Forum 2012 Symposium
The editors of the American University Labor and Employment Law Forum Symposium invite everyone to attend their 2012 Symposium: Labor Movement 2.0: The Role of Organized Resistance in the 2012 Elections.
The Symposium is scheduled for next Monday, April 9, 2012 from 9 am - 3 pm at the American University Washington College of Law, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Room 603, Washington, D.C.
From the conference flyer:
A timely examination of the fight for workers’ rights and the critical role of political action, through unions and grassroots community organizing. Political action has been used to establish wage floors and hours ceilings, provide for workers’ health, safety, and long-term security. The other side of the coin reveals that it has also been used to limit workers’ abilities to negotiate the terms of their employment. How will political action via unions, PACs and grassroots community organizing impact the current status of the American worker in 2012?
Up to four and a half (4.5) CLE hours will be applied for as requested to different states, for a charge of $220.00. To register, go to https://www.wcl.american.edu/secle/cle_form.cfm and choose the event from the drop down menu.
March 06, 2012
GOP Voter ID Law Enjoined by Wisconsin State Court
A state court judge in Wisconsin today has temporarily enjoined the operation of a voter ID law in Wisconsin enacted by the GOP legislature. The bill would have made it harder for many historically oppressed groups and elderly citizens to vote in the coming recall and federal elections based on largely hypothetical concerns about voter fraud.
Although not strictly a labor and employment law issue, I bring this decision to blog readers' attention because these GOP Voter ID laws, like the anti-collective bargaining laws which preceded them, are sponsored by ALEC, the conservative monolith that provides conservative legislators with model legislation throughout the country. Taken together, these laws represent an orchestrated attempt to disenfranchise historically Democratic Party voters and their unions allies.
The temporary injunction in NAACP v. Walker isssued today in Dane County (Madison) Circuit Court by Judge Flanagan can be found here.
May 13, 2011
Estreicher on Negotiating the People's Capital Revisited
Sam Estreicher (NYU Law) has posted on SSRN his forthcoming piece in the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal: Negotiating the People's Capital Revisited.
Here is the abstract:
What follows is the second part of an unofficial transcript of an off-the-record conversation among three of the labor movement's leading strategists. (The first installment appeared under the title “Strategy for Labor,” 22 J. Labor Research 569 (Summer 2001), and has been updated as “Strategy for Labor Revisited,” available www.ssrn.com). This second meeting was also convened by C, or "cooperationist," who had been for over ten years the president of a local union, part of a major industrial union, representing 3,000 employees who had been hired to staff a new manufacturing plant in a Southern town ("Newplant"). Newplant had been widely touted as a breakthrough in U.S. labor-management relations because it was consciously designed to promote greater participation of production and maintenance workers in business decisions and a “partnership” role role for union officials alongside traditional management officials. In bitterly contested local elections last year, C was voted out of office and now serves in a staff capacity at the AFL-CI0. A, or "adversarialist," perhaps surprisingly a longstanding friend of C, is the research director of another industrial union. A was very active in the Students for A Democratic Society in the 1960s, and after graduating from Oberlin College began his career as a labor organizer, working for a succession of unions that had been active in the McGovern-Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party. S, or "stay the course," is the highly respected chief of staff for a national union representing government workers. Section headings and parenthetical references are supplied by the editor and do not appear in the original transcript.
Fascinating and revealing. I, like many others, believe we are at a cross-roads in deciding how to promote employee voice in the New American workplace. This insights by different union strategists should give people much to ponder.
January 10, 2011
An AALS Sonnet, AALS Shame, and Other Thoughts from the SF Hilton Picket Line
Given the charge of reflexive moral exhibitionism by James Young on Rick's post this past Friday on the picketing by law professors and others at the San Francisco Hilton during the recent annual meeting of the Assocation of American Law Schools (AALS), I thought rather than answer James directlty, I would try to show some of the emotion and heart on display in solidarity with the Hilton HERE Local 2 hotel workers for obtaining a better contract this past Friday at a rally and on the line.
I thought long and hard about whether to post my AALS Sonnet which I read publicly at the Law and Humanities Section panel on Saturday morning in San Francisco and whether to post Professor Rachel Arnow-Richman's inspiring speech at the rally, but with Rachel's permission, I publish both here. Sure, some like James, will jeer at some ivory-towered-types like us engaging in what they might believe is facile righteous indignation. But I believe all human beings must work hard to develop a space or a place between righteous indignation and shame over not saying anything, and that is what I seek to do in this post. In addition to being real to myself, my hope is that this post also provides a good example for students and others who have read this blog over the years.
An AALS Sonnet
by Professor Paul M. Secunda
I was filled with rage,
Workers' rights a mess,
Professional Progressives against us.
Prager, Hanson, and Olivas
Why is there so little trust?
Lawprofs are human beings too,
Concerned with worker dignity through and through.
Will union rights live to fight another day?
Labor profs ready to walk away.
Full of frustration and distrust,
Thinking of not coming next year, better off.
I am today filled with rage,
But future tomorrows light my way.
Remarks at Local HERE 2 San Francisco Hilton Hotel Rally
by Professor Rachel Arnow-Richman
Friends and Colleagues, Organizers and Workers, I am so honored to stand before you today.
My awe and appreciation for everything you have done has deepened (as has my faith in your ultimate success) each day that I myself have worked to try to relocate this conference.
And let me tell you why.
First the good news – through the hard work of the people like Karl Klare, Gary Peller, Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer, and David Harlan, over 2/3 of the AALS conference has been relocated out of the Hilton!
Next the bad news – In the course of trying to achieve this result, we have seen AALS engage in depressingly familiar tactics: Beginning with stonewalling, delay, replacing principled faculty who refused to appear in the Hilton with other speakers. Do you recognize any of these moves?
These tactics – straight out of the anti-union management playbook – culminated last night in a refusal to adopt a non-binding resolution asking AALS to do more next time to avoid siting a hotel in the midst of an active labor dispute. What was their rationale? That it would impair their “organizational flexibility” and cost millions of dollars that would ultimately come out of our pockets as dues-paying members.
This response has been the cause of tremendous frustration and indignation for principled faculty. But luckily for us AALS is not our employer.
Imagine for just a moment that these games were being played not by a professional society with whom we voluntarily affiliate, but by the company who paid our salaries, a company that had the right to set the terms and conditions of our employment, to terminate us at will.
If you can imagine that and imagine the courage it would take to be as outspoken as we have been in those circumstances, then you begin to imagine the circumstances under which Local 2 is waging its battle.
And you might also come to appreciate the importance of our role as faculty in that struggle.
You the professors have a special duty to stand up for these brave workers. Not only are we as faculty committed professionally (through our research and teaching) to the cause of justice, but we enjoy a freedom of speech, a security in our employment, and a voice in the governance of our workplaces that is unheard of in the contemporary economy. If those of us who enjoy the privileges and security of academic employment don’t speak out on behalf of these workers who will?
So I call on all of the law professors to honor this boycott and to stand in solidarity with these incredibly brave women and men of Unite/HERE! Local 2.
January 02, 2011
Public-Sector Unions Feeling More Pain
Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules.
It is an angry conversation. Union chiefs, who sometimes persuaded members to take pension sweeteners in lieu of raises, are loath to surrender ground. Taxpayers are split between those who want cuts and those who hope that rising tax receipts might bring easier choices.
And a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending.
A brutal reckoning awaits, they say.
This is bad news, and it's only going to get worse. It's terribly unfortunate that unions are being scapegoated for politicians' past and present underfunding of pension and benefit accounts.
For the entire article, see Public Workers Facing Outrage as Budget Crises Grow.
April 12, 2010
SEIU v. NUWH Verdict
BeyondChron writer Randy Shaw, via Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer, reports on the apparently hollow $750k victory of the SEIU in its San Francisco lawsuit against breakaway union National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Shaw reports that
The first three [goals] were to deplete NUHW resources by forcing its leaders to spend time and money defending themselves, send a message to hospital and home care workers facing elections that NUHW cannot not be trusted, and turn the Rosselli leadership team into a cautionary example for other SEIU locals that are considering publicly questioning President Stern’s agenda. None of these goals were achieved by the verdict.
February 02, 2010
5th Cir.: Janitor Union Wins on Claim That Houston's Parade Ordinances Constitutionally Interferes with Ability to Strike
The case is SEIU v. City of Houston (5th Cir 01/29/2010) and Ross Runkel provides a nice run down on the case:
A union representing over 5000 Houston janitors staged a strike, and applied for permits to conduct parades, marches, and rallies in support of that strike. The city of Houston denied several of the requests, so the union sued - alleging that the city ordinances under which the permit applications were processed violated the First Amendment . . . .
The [Fifth Circuit] noted, "[w]e proceed slightly further in invalidating the City's rules than did the district court but leave most of the City's scheme intact." With respect to reversal, the court concluded that 1) the city's sound ordinance was unconstitutional, to the extent it imposed "[t]he limit of two permits per location per thirty-day period[;]" 2) limitations in the city's parade ordinance, which severely limited the hours of the day when parades could be held, was unconstitutional; and 3) the city's park permitting ordinance requirements were unconstitutional in total.
So an interesting case where constitutional law comes to the aid of a union in vindicating its rights to march on public property to support their strike. Of course, this occurs with the backdrop of not too friendly locale for unions in the first place.
January 22, 2010
DOL: Union Density Rate Essentially Unchanged in 2009
DOL Secretary Hilda Solis had the following statement today on the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Union Members in 2009:
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that, in 2009, the unionization rate of employed wage and salary workers was 12.3 percent, in essence unchanged from the 12.4 percent rate in 2008. Among private sector employees, the rate dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.6 percent in 2008.
The data also show the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary union members were $908 per week, compared to $710 for workers not represented by unions. Union members earn 28 percent more than their non-union counterparts.
When coupled with data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, these numbers make it clear that union jobs are good jobs.
As workers across the country have seen their real and nominal wages decline as a result of the recession, these numbers show a need for Congress to pass legislation to level the playing field to enable more American workers to access the benefits of union membership. This report makes clear why the administration supports the Employee Free Choice Act.
Just laughing to myself and thinking how former Bush Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao would have heralded these figures. Certainly, EFCA would not have been mentioned.
January 15, 2010
Princeton Review: Get Ready for the College for Working Families
Thanks to Daniel Mitchell, Professor-Emeritus at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, who brought to my attention this article by Steve Kolowich entitled: A Historic Union? (January 15, 2010, Inside Higher Ed).
Here's a taste:
A month after completing its first foray into online higher education by acquiring the distance education provider Penn Foster, the Princeton Review has set its next goal: to help create the largest online college ever. And it thinks it can do it in five years.
The company announced yesterday that it is entering into a joint venture with the National Labor College -- an accredited institution that offers blended-learning programs to 200 students, most of whom are adults -- to establish what would be called the College for Working Families. The college would offer courses tailored to the needs of union members and their families, beginning this fall.The curriculum would be broadened from the National Labor College’s current offerings, which are largely made up of courses in labor studies . . . . The new institution would start off awarding associate degrees, with aspirations to running bachelor's and master's programs down the line. Tuition would be similar to that at most community colleges.
Now independent, the National Labor College was originally established as a training center for the AFL-CIO, with which it still retains a close relationship. That’s where the growth potential comes from; the AFL-CIO has 11.5 million members.
I think the article is right that from the union perspective, they could have never hoped to build such a potentially massive re-training operation on their own. I also think that with the need to retrain workers for the new realities of our economy, the timing could not be better.
December 04, 2009
NLRB: Number of R Cases Drops
The National Labor Relations Board released its Fiscal Year 2009 Performance and Accountability Report this week. According to the report, although the Board's caseload remained steady, unfair labor practice (ULP) charges increased slightly and representation election petitions decreased by 14.4%. Some other highlights:
- the Board recovered $77,611,322 on behalf of employees as backpay or reimbursement of fees, dues, and fines, with 1,549 employees offered reinstatement; and
- Regional Offices won 89.8% of Board and Administrative Law Judge ULP and compliance decisions in whole or in part.
What remains unclear is whether the decline in the number of R cases results from a diminished need for union representation, the hope that EFCA (in one form or another) will be signed into law, or something else.
September 14, 2009
Union Official Backs Off Charge that VW is Revisiting its Nazi Past
From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
A union official backed away Friday from an analogy in an e-mail in which he had linked Volkswagen's Nazi past to the use of Hispanic workers building the automaker's Chattanooga plant . . . . Tom Owens, director of communications for the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department in Washington, D.C., [wrote in an email this week that VW under the Nazis was responsible for the mass deportation and exploitation of workers. Now VW is replicating its past by] building the plant while Tennessee is in a recession and "they resort back to their dark past by making use, and exploiting, a predominantly foreign work force that some eyewitnesses say is 80 percent non-English-speaking Latino."
Owens now says that the analogy he made about VW was a bad one, and that he regrets making it.
Hat tip: Dennis Nolan.
September 08, 2009
Rise in Unemployment Negatively Correlated With Support for Unions
Have to admit that I was a little taken aback when I saw this post (and chart) from Nate Silver at 538.com:
Gallup recently found sympathy toward labor unions is at an all-time low, at 48 percent. but then again, unemployment is close to its post-WWII highs. Gallup did not happen to ask this question in late 1982 or early 1983, when unemployment exceeded 10 percent. They did ask in August 1981, when unemployment was up to 7.4 percent and rising rapidly, and at that point support for labor was at 55 percent, which was the lowest figure it had achieved before this year's survey.
The regression line finds that, for every point's worth of increase in the unemployment rate, approval of labor unions goes down by 2.6 points. Alternatively, we can add a time trend to the regression model, to account for the fact that participation in labor unions has been declining over time. This softens the relationship slightly, but still implies a decrease in approval of 2.1 points for unions for every point increase in unemployment. Both relationships are highly statistically significant.
So why does support for labor unions go down when unemployment rates rise? Here are some possibility, but would love to hear other thoughts from the reader:
1. The Blame Game: "It is because of unions and their unreasonable demands for higher wages and benefits that American companies are losing jobs to global competition."
2. We Need More Unions: "The decrease is union support has actually caused higher unemployment rates, not vice versa. If there were more supports for union, we would have a large middle class, greater consumer spending, and more jobs for everyone."
3. Need More Safety Nets: "Unions have shot themselves in the foot. Rather than working for saftey net legislation like their European peers, unemployment means that those unemployed blame the unions for not helping them negotiate this difficult economic climate."
4. Resentment of Unions: "When unemployment is high, the non-unionized working class resent unions for giving their members greater job security while they're left out in the cold."
There are many more explanations/theories obviously, so please provide your own in the comments.
September 04, 2009
USAPA Sues PBGC for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Under ERISA
The US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA) has filed a lawsuit against the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) seeking the removal of the PBGC as trustee of US Airways pilots’ pension plan.
The lawsuit also requests the immediate appointment of a temporary trustee to perform the investigatory functions - a role it alleges the PBGC has refused to perform on behalf of pension plan beneficiaries since 2003.
USAPA president captain Mike Cleary said: "The PBGC has not fulfilled its obligation as trustee of our pilots' retirement fund. Our own investigation has uncovered a number of questionable circumstances surrounding activities and investments of our retirement fund prior to its termination.
"Our request to the PBGC for a thorough investigation has fallen on deaf ears, so we are asking the court to appoint a trustee who will do its due diligence in this matter and investigate the management, or perhaps the mismanagement, of our pilots' retirement fund." . . . .
The PBGC assumed control of the pilots' pension on March 31, 2003, when US Airways terminated the plan during its bankruptcy proceedings over the objections of the pilots.
The suit will be in the nature of a breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA by the USAPA, which represents more than 5,000 US Airways pilots.