September 01, 2009
Investigation of NFL Players Union
Reports are coming out that the Labor Department is investing the NFLPA for colluding with the NFL owners in secret over future labor discussions. The information came out of a retaliation suit by an NFLPA employee (incidentally the daughter of the scandal magnet, Rep. Jim Moran). According to the AP:
The NFL Players Association has confirmed it is the target of a federal investigation into whether union leaders attempted to collude with NFL officials by holding secret meetings to discuss labor talks. NFLPA official George Atallah said Tuesday the union has been cooperating with the Department of Labor probe, which came to light in a lawsuit filed against the union last week by NFLPA employee Mary Moran. Moran claims she was wrongfully removed from her job as director of human resources and placed on administrative leave with pay on Aug. 3 because of her role as a confidential informant in the investigation.
In court documents filed in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday, Moran said she provided investigators evidence that former NFLPA president Troy Vincent(notes) and other union members met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, allegedly to provide the league access to confidential union information.
She alleged that NFLPA executive committee member Mark Bruener(notes) and Texans player representative Kris Brown(notes) also attended the meetings, which she claims were not authorized by or reported to the union. She alleged the meetings were a bid by union members to gain influence with the NFL while providing “owners a toehold in the NFLPA.”
It's unclear what's really going on here. For instance, it seems odd that the union is being investigated--if the allegations are true, the owners and a rogue union official are the perpetrators and the union is the victim. We'll none doubt hear more later.
[Alex Long also points out that Pro Football Talk--which knows more about this than me--has confirmed that the headache is more the owners' than the union's.]
NELP: Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) brings to our attention a report, Labor Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, published jointly by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the Center for Economic Policy Research, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, and the NELP.
Here's a taste:
Across the United States, growing numbers of employers are breaking, bending, or evading long-established laws and standards designed to protect workers, from the minimum wage to job safety rules to the right to organize. This "gloves-off economy," no longer confined to a marginal set of sweatshops and fly-by-night small businesses, is sending shock waves into every corner of the low-wage -- and sometimes not so low-wage -- labor market. What can be done to reverse this dangerous trend?You can purchase a hard copy of the report for $10 by contacting Joanna Lukowicz, email@example.com.
This report, based on the book The Gloves-Off Economy: Labor Standards at the Bottom of America's Labor Market (a Labor and Employment Relations Association volume published by Cornell University Press), provides a comprehensive yet compact summary of gloves-off practices, the workers who are affected by them, and strategies for enforcing workplace standards. The editors, four prominent labor scholars, have brought together economists, sociologists, labor attorneys, union strategists, and other experts to offer varying perspectives on both the problem and the creative, practical solutions currently being developed in a wide range of communities and industries.
Hat Tip: Dan Idzikowski
August 30, 2009
The New Yellow-Dog Contracts
Steven Greenhouse (New York Times) has an article on a disturbing agreement that a company in Montana is "urging" all workers to sign. Regis, the country's largest hair salon company, wants workers at salons in Montana to sign a document stating: “In order to preserve my right to a secret-ballot election, and for my own protection, I knowingly and without restraint and free from coercion sign this agreement revoking and nullifying any union authorization card I may execute in the future.” As the CEO admitted, this document is intended to prospectively take away the ability of employees to get voluntary recognition for a union or, should a card-check provision pass, take advantage of that. He also says signing the card is "totally voluntary," but the idea that an employee would really feel free not to sign, especially in this economy, defies belief.
As Bill Gould (Stanford) was quoted as saying, this is illegal (and, in his words, a "modernized version of the old yellow dog contract"). Not only does it run contrary to the NLRA's statement that workers have the right to designate a representative of their own choosing--note the lack of the word "elect"--but it looks like a blatant 8(a)(1) violation.
Of course, Regis may have gotten more than they asked for. Although the salons at issue had never garnered any union activity in the past, labor leaders are now threatening to picket and distribute fliers at the salons.
Reminder: This and other stories of interests, covered and not covered on the blog, can be found on psecundawrkprof Twitter feed here.
August 27, 2009
Reminder About the 11th Annual National Law Students Workers' Rights Conference
Mary Anne Moffa, Executive Director of the Peggy Browning Fund, has brought to our attention that this year's National Law Students Workers' Rights Conference will be held October 16-17, 2009, in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Each year this conference brings together law students, experts, and practitioners from all over the nation to discuss workers' rights laws in a thought-provoking, stimulating, educational environment. Here's a conference Brochure and Registration Form. More information about the conference is available at The Peggy Browning Fund website.
Many of my labor and employment students have attended over the past years, and they have raved about the experience. Please let your students know about this opportunity. Some funding assistance is available.
March 06, 2009
UK Miners Strike, 25 Years Ago Today
Twenty-five years ago today, UK miners struck en masse after Margaret Thatcher's government announced the closure of a South Yorkshire mine. Labour correctly assumed that this would be the first of many mine closures in the heavily subsidized industry. At the strike's peak, 90,000 miners put down their tools, but the government had stockpiled coal and a year later, the strike was broken.
The miners' strike was a pivotal event in UK political and labor history, much as PATCO was in the U.S. -- except that the miners' strike was broader, much more violent, and had the potential to bring down the government.
November 19, 2008
Unions, As Shareholders, Use Bailout to Push Executive Compenstion Reforms
My labor and employment law colleague, Phoebe Williams, who also teaches business associations, brings to my attention the roles unions, as shareholderes, are seeking to play in the current government bailout scheme.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are filing new proposals that seek compensation reforms at companies that participate in the U.S. Treasury Department’s bailout program.
In the supporting statement for these 2009 resolutions, the labor funds argue that the pay restrictions in the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) “fail to adequately address the serious shortcomings of many executive compensation plans.” Instead, the unions urge directors to adopt “more rigorous executive compensation reforms that we believe will significantly improve the pay-for-performance features of the Company’s plan and help restore investor confidence.”
According to the Associated Press, more than 110 financial firms have indicated that they likely will participate in the TARP’s Capital Purchase Program, under which the government has so far committed up to $250 billion to buy preferred stock. The labor funds have filed this resolution at JPMorgan Chase, KeyCorp, Bank of America, American Express, and SunTrust Banks, and plan to submit the proposal at more than 45 other firms.
The proposal calls for directors to adopt the following reforms:
* Limit annual incentive compensation to an amount not exceeding one times the senior executive’s annual salary;
* Require that a majority of long-term compensation be awarded in the form of performance-vested equity instruments;
* Freeze new stock option awards to senior executives, unless the options are indexed to peer group performance so that relative, not absolute, future stock price improvements are rewarded;
* Require senior executives to hold for the full term of their employment at least 75 percent of the shares of stock obtained through equity awards;
* Prohibit accelerated vesting for all unvested equity awards held by senior executives;
* Limit all senior executive severance payments to an amount no greater than one times the executive’s annual salary; and
* Freeze the accrual of retirement benefits under any supplemental executive retirement plan (SERP) for senior executives.
The labor unions urge directors to adopt all of these reforms unless barred by existing executive employment agreements.
In short, the bailout has presented an opportunity for unions to actively challenge excessive executive compensation. This is an example of how unions through their roles as shareholders are seeking to influence executive pay, voting for boards of directors, and other corporate governance issues.
November 06, 2008
Best Buy Fighting CWA Organizational Campaign of Geek Squad
From the Consumerist blog (via my colleague Jessica Slavin):
Emails are shooting around to Geek Squad employees, encouraging them to join the Communications Workers of America union, so Best Buy retorts with emails of its own to voice its concerns. In an email sent by corporate management, Best Buy spoke of its concerns about unions, that unions would hinder its ability to speak with and negotiate with each Geek Squad employee individually. For, there's nothing like the closeness created when one employee negotiates with a hydra. That's just one fun piece of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in the email, posted inside...
[A taste of the email below]:
Each of you may have been receiving emails from anonymous individuals identifying his/herself as Wilt Chamberlain, Double Agent, Geek Squad, Agent Agent or Magic Johnson. These emails from an anonymous sender(s) are asking you to ‘unite’, directing you to the Communication Workers of America (CWA), directing you to a Forum and soliciting signatures on a petition for legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) . . . .
Modifications are needed to get through this difficult time. This is happening in every company in America. Today, we are in a lot stronger position than most companies.. Economic times fluctuate. Decisions have to be made in both good times and in tough times. We always want your input. We want to hear your voice, your concerns and want to make changes in a respectful manner. We want to continue to work with you directly so that questions can be answered and so that misunderstandings can be addressed without filters. And we also recognize that as a management team we sometimes fail to follow the best processes – never intentionally - but your direct feedback and input helps all of us learn to be better in the future in service of our employee and customer.
One email suggested that Best Buy is afraid of Unions.
We are not afraid – We are concerned.
We are concerned about being able to talk with you directly.
We are concerned about being able to continue to get your feedback, input and suggestions in an open forum.
We are concerned that a union could result in a lack of flexibility to address market conditions, customer desires and your own desires and needs.
To whoever is using the name of the great Wilt Chamberlain.
Over the last thirty years, union membership has dropped from 35% of total workers to just over 7% of the private sector. Did you ever ask yourself why any business loses market share? In one email the CWA is mentioned. To find out more about the CWA, take the time to search around the links at http://unionfacts.com/unions/unionProfile.cfm?id=188 . . . .
Let me say that we are not afraid of unions at Best Buy. We truly believe that union representation is not in the best interests of the company, our customers or our employees. If you have any issues, concerns or ideas please do not hesitate to talk to your immediate supervisor or reach out to me.
In closing, let me say that we are betting the farm on our employees. What we are concerned about is putting something or someone between our employees and their supervisors that eliminates transparency, honesty and our ability to win with our customers by creating a world class experience for each of our employees. Feel free to reach out share your thoughts, ideas or concerns to me at anytime . . . .
The face of the modern anti-union campaign? Does Best Buy have troubles with the coming Obama administration and its embrace of labor concerns?
At the very least, corporate America, there is a new sheriff coming to town . . . .
October 10, 2008
Race, Unions, and the Presidential Election
NPR's Morning Edition this morning ran a story about Richard Trumka, UMW President and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, who for the last several months has been giving speeches on the issue of race and the presidential election. It's a reaction, he says, to racist comments he has personally encountered; he says he feels compelled to personally challenge anyone in the labor movement who may not vote for Obama because he is black. An excerpt from a speech at the United Steelworkers convention:
Our kids are moving away because there's no future here. And here's a man, Barack Obama, who's going to fight for people like us, and you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-loving mind?
Here's the NPR story. Hat tip: Danielle Lorenz.
September 15, 2008
Unions and the Web
Johninnit, blogging from the TUC congress in Brighton (UK), makes four predictions about how the web will affect unions in 2010:
- The web will empower the grass roots, while simultaneously encouraging unions to form connections internationally. An example is a General Motors Workers’ blog where GM car plants across the world connect with each other.
- The web will enable more creative on-line campaigning. Unions and activists can nowadays produce near professional quality campaign material. Quality may be mixed – there may be some loose cannons – but even so, if unions can line up 1,000 loose cannons pointed in half-way the same direction ....
- The web will improve union democracy and accountability.
- Unions will use the internet to reach out to young workers who would otherwise never consider joining.
Hat tip: John's Labour Blog.
Union (UK) Blogging
Work-related Blog points us to Tigmoo, a blog aggregator for UK trades unions, which permits a subscriber to access lots of union perspectives by monitoring just one feed. Tigmoo carries about 90 union blogs. Is anyone aware of a similar aggregator for U.S. union blogs?
September 05, 2008
Is Union Membership Rebounding in the US?
Buoyed by a rising tide in California in general and Southern California in particular, U.S. unionization levels rose substantially this year, defying a decades-long trend of decline, according to a report by UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
"The State of the Unions in 2008: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation" shows unionization rates nationwide rising half a percentage point over the 2007 level, to 12.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers in 2008. The rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point between 2006 and 2007. Prior to that, the last time U.S. unionization rates registered an increase was in 1979.
"This is good news for organized labor," said Ruth Milkman, lead author of the report and outgoing director of the UCLA labor institute. "It shows that despite an extremely hostile environment, unions can grow."
Milkman and UCLA sociology graduate student Bongoh Kye analyzed U.S. Current Population Survey data on union membership for California, Los Angeles and the nation. They report unionization rates by race, immigration status, gender, age and education for the first six months of 2008. This year's report and earlier such studies of unionization data going back to 1996 are available at www.irle.ucla.edu/research/unionmembership.html.
According to the report, in the first half of 2008, the number of U.S. workers on the membership rolls of labor unions increased by 583,300 over the 2007 average.
Fueling the nationwide increase was the recent growth in unionization in California, which currently accounts for 16 percent of all the nation's union members, more than any other state. California's unionization rate in 2008 is 17.8 percent, up from 16.7 percent in 2007 and 15.7 percent in 2006.
I wonder if this increase might be in anticipation of new labor law reform with a new administration and Congress? Or it is more likely that this a regional phenomenon with most of the growth coming in states where unions are already strong?
Time will tell is this is a blip or the start of a trend.
Hat Tip: Ravi Malhotra
August 20, 2008
LA SEIU Union Leader in Trouble?
The election of a Los Angeles union leader under fire for his labor group's spending practices is the subject of a government review that could force a new vote because of complaints that the contest was unfair to challengers.
The U.S. Labor Department is investigating allegations that Tyrone Freeman's union local made it nearly impossible for candidates not on his slate to qualify for the ballot, according to people familiar with the probe.
Freeman's local, a chapter of the giant Service Employees International Union, has denied that the election rules were tilted against challengers. Freeman and his slate won by default because no challenger gathered enough signatures to make the ballot . . . .
A source close to the union said Trossman was informed six years ago of allegations involving Freeman's finances and personal relationships. It is unclear whether a review was undertaken at that time; Trossman said that the SEIU might have performed an audit of the local because of the allegations, but that he couldn't be sure.
I do not know enough about these allegations to have an opinion, but let me say that to the extent that the allegations are true, I hope the labor movement would move swiftly to remove a bad apple to make it clear to the public that union abuses will not be tolerated.
Hat Tip: Dana Nguyen
August 14, 2008
Unions Ask FEC to Probe Wal-Mart for Electoral No-No
[p]rominent labor groups are seeking an investigation into whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated federal election laws by telling employees that electing Democrats would lead to passage of legislation making it easier to unionize companies.
In a letter to be delivered as early as Thursday, the labor groups are asking the Federal Election Commission to determine whether the company "made prohibited corporate expenditures" by organizing meetings across the country to warn employees that a Democratic president would back legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which the company opposes. The groups say such statements amount to advocating the defeat of Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the November election.
For the complete story, see Unions Seek Probe of Wal-Mart Over Election Law (subscription required).
June 13, 2008
Prominent Democratic Politicians Refuse to Cross UCLA Workers' Picket Line for Commencement
The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting (subscription required):
After former President Bill Clinton canceled his scheduled appearance as the commencement speaker at the University of California at Los Angeles this week, to show his support for workers mired in contract negotiations with the university, other prominent national Democrats have followed suit . . . .
Mr. Clinton was to have spoken today to graduates of UCLA's College of Letters and Science, the university's main undergraduate division, but the former president said through a spokesman this week that he would not cross the workers' picket line (The Chronicle, June 11).
On Thursday, two Democratic members of Congress—Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Hilda L. Solis, both from the Los Angeles area—called off planned speeches at other UCLA commencement ceremonies.
Mr. Waxman was to have spoken to graduates of the university's School of Public Health today, and Ms. Solis had been scheduled to address graduates of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies on Saturday.
In addition, Wesley K. Clark, the retired U.S. Army general who sought the Democratic Party's nomination in the presidential race of 2004, canceled his planned speech to graduates of the political-science department on Sunday. (More than 30 academic departments of the College of Letters and Science hold individual events in addition to the college's main graduation ceremony.)
"Until the University of California and the 20,000 patient-care and service workers resolve their dispute, I won't be able to speak at the commencement ceremony for the UCLA School of Public Health," Mr. Waxman said in a written statement. "I will not cross the picket line and hope this is resolved as quickly as possible."
The contract negotiations affect medical technicians, custodians, and cafeteria workers on campuses throughout the University of California system. Their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has asked all scheduled speakers at university commencement ceremonies to cancel their engagements.
Well, thankfully for UCLA, I don't hear of any Republican politicians not willing to cross a picket line.
The Coming Debate on Card Check Recognition
Tim Miller of the Labor Pains blog tells us that The Center for Union Facts and the Employee Freedom Action Committee has been very active this week raising the issue of card check.
"Right now there is an insidious bill being pushed on lawmakers. If passed, it will upend America’s political landscape and have a long-lasting effect on the economy. And you’ve never heard of it."
Let the debate begin because I think this may be a priority in the coming Obama administration.
June 03, 2008
UAW Files Complaint on Universal Smoking Ban at Caterpillar
In response to Caterpillar banning smoking on all of its US properties, effective June 1, the United Autoworkers (UAW) has filed a complaint with the NLRB. As the Chicago Tribune points out, the issue is whether the workers' right to smoke has been part of the sixty-year old bargaining agreement and that the company needs to bargain with the union over the work-rule change.
"Caterpillar labor relations manager Dan Day said in a statement that the company 'cares about the health of its employees and wants to ensure that everyone who works on or visits Caterpillar property has access to the healthiest and safest work environment possible.'"
Regardless of the motives of Caterpillar in undertaking this initiative, I would say the issue of smoking in the workplace affects the terms and conditions between employer and employee and should be considered a mandatory subject of bargaining, wouldn't you?
March 18, 2008
Is Mississippi on the Verge of a Union Movement?
I do not jest. Consider that just last week the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported:
A vote to unionize the Johnson Controls plant in Madison County was unsuccessful.
“We were 34 votes short,” said Gary Casteel, United Auto Workers regional director.
The facility supplies seats and other components to Nissan. The United Auto Workers was seeking to represent the workers.
The final tally was 213 for unionizing and 145 opposed.
Now, I want to argue that 145 votes for unionization in the heart of the Deep South is nothing short of an amazing accomplishment and Southern workers are being to understand the benefits that come with unionization. Although there are currently over 100 local unions in Mississippi (again, not kidding), there is only one lawyer I know in the state that practices union-side labor law full-time (hello Roger Doolittle!).
But here I want to go back over fifty years of history and invoke the memory of the great Professor Bill Murphy, who recently passed away, who wrote in a prescient piece in the Mississippi Law Journal in 1954. I describe his idea in a recent tribute I penned to him in the same Journal:
In Bill’s article on “The 'Right to Work’ ‘Statute,” “[he] wanted lawyers to understand how labor unions sought security, the arguments for and against such security measures, the origins of right-to-work laws, and the litigation that the laws had caused.” Murphy’s commentary on these laws was unusually astute and he proved prescient when he observed that “a cheap, docile labor supply” in the South would attract industry which would inevitably lead to the rise of unionism in the region. Indeed, in the last decade as Mississippi has been successful in luring the likes of Nissan, Toyota, and other large corporations, Bill’s prediction about the eventual increase in unionism in this state no larger appears far-fetched.
I hope where ever you are Bill, that you are smiling about these favorable developments.
March 03, 2008
Second Life: Union Island
The first ever Union Island User Group meeting will be held tomorrow. There will be two time slots, one at 9AM GMT and one at 7PM GMT, to let people from different time zones chip in. Meet (using text) in the bar on Union Island. Topics to be discussed include the status of the Union Island project, and asking what people want from it.
February 26, 2008
Union Busting, UK Style
[There] appears to be a steadily growing trend for UK companies to hire aggressive, US-style "union busters" to persuade their employees not to join a trade union.
The threat is serious enough for Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, and Stewart Acuff, director of organising at the TUC's American equivalent, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), to have announced this month that the two organisations were joining forces to "thwart employer efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to demonise trade unions and scare employees from joining up".
Some of the firms are home-grown, but an increasing number of companies in the U.K. are hiring American union busters. The tactics will sound familiar [list compiled by WRBN]:
- Taking a £80 donation to a Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a reputable organisation, equates to "Your subscription bankrolls one-party communist states."
- Employees repeatedly told that the arrival of a union will inevitably result in conflict, confrontation and strike action, with a consequent loss of earnings, and that collective bargaining can in any case often lead to lower pay.
- Plying workers with bumper stickers with a huge red tick to the no box, lollipops on a stick printed with the refrain "Unions suck", bags of "Union free" popcorn, and sponges that say "Don't get soaked for union dues - vote no!"
- Videos depicting a long and lurid history of evil union ways, and cartoon postcards showing a drawing of a big fat cat, a lighted cigar in its mouth and its paw pointing directly out at you. "This is your union," reads the caption.
For more, see Jon Henley & Ed Pilkington, Divide and Rule.
January 25, 2008
Some Good News for Unions in 2007
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is reporting a rise in union membership:
In 2007, the number of workers belonging to a union rose by 311,000 to 15.7 million, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Union members accounted for 12.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers, essentially unchanged from 12.0 percent in 2006. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, theunion membership rate was 20.1 percent.
Other interesting findings include:
Workers in the public sector had a union membership rate nearly five times that of private sector employees.
The union membership rate for public sector workers (35.9 percent) was substantially higher than for private industry workers (7.5 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 41.8 percent.
Black workers were more likely to be union members (14.3 percent) than were whites (11.8 percent), Asians (10.9 percent), or Hispanics (9.8 percent). Within these major groups, black men had the highest union membership rate (15.8 percent) while Hispanic women had the lowest rate (9.6 percent).
About 1.6 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union on their main job in 2007, while not being union members themselves.
In 2007, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $863 while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $663.
Hat Tip: Cornell Institute for Workplace Studies