Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Union Hack Does Union Bidding at NLRB

    SEIU_Flow_ChartYesterday, the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel’s office gave a boost to the SEIU’s $15 million-plus effort to unionize the fast food industry by backing SEIU’s outrageous legal theory on franchisees.

    On the one hand, it shouldn’t be surprising: General Counsel Richard Griffin is the controversial former general counsel of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), and his allegiances are still the same even if his job title isn’t.

    On the other hand, this decision by President Obama’s notoriously partisan NLRB is notable for its sheer audacity: Griffin’s decision eviscerates 35 years of legal precedent that has recognized franchisors and franchisees as separate. It is without a doubt the most significant development in the campaign by SEIU and its P.R. firm Berlin Rosen to hijack employer and employee rights.

    Here’s how SEIU’s scheme works. A stage-managed P.R. campaign purporting to show massive worker discontent despite little actual employee participation leads to the filing of NLRB charges (whether merited or not) against franchisees that rope in the branding franchisor companies. The partisan NLRB and General Counsel pursue the ridiculous legal avenue preferred by the SEIU and its lawyers Levy Ratner, P.C.—recipients of more than $4.25 million in 2013 from SEIU and its locals—despite over 30 years of appellate court precedent refuting the claim.

    Before Griffin’s decision, the NLRB took a very narrow view of “joint employment,” the relationship SEIU purports to exist between the franchisor and employees. According to labor attorneys Michael Starr and Howard Sokol:

    The NLRB and courts have for decades recognized that two entities constitute a “joint-employer” under the National Labor Relations Act…if they share the ability to directly and immediately control or “co-determine” essential terms and conditions of employment, such as, hiring, firing, discipline, supervision and direction.

    That doesn’t sound anything like the relationship that currently exists between most franchisors and franchisees, where the latter directly control “hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction.” Not surprisingly, McDonald’s has vowed to challenge Griffin’s decision, which seems ripe for a corrective from administrative law judges or federal courts.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsEnding Secret BallotsNLRBSEIUWorkers Center
  2. Micro-Unions Return to Gut Employee Rights

    newspaperAs part of their ongoing efforts to weasel their way into workplaces and curtail employee rights, labor unions have aggressively pursued the creation of “micro-units”—subdivisions of a workplace that a union can organize one-by-one. Since the Obama-stacked National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in the precedent-eviscerating Specialty Healthcare case that micro-units were hunky-dory, it was only a matter of time before Big Labor’s best friends in D.C. expanded the ruling. The NLRB has now done so, recently ruling in a case called Macy’s, Inc. and Local 1445, United Food and Commercial Workers Union that perfume and cosmetics salespeople constituted their own micro-unit eligible to be unionized alone.

    Micro-unions are part of a wide-ranging effort by unions to get dues dollars however they can, in this case by Balkanizing a workplace so that a small group of unhappy people can form their own union even if the larger group of employees has no interest in joining. The UFCW has other methods, as well—most notably “worker centers” like the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a UFCW “subsidiary organization” dedicated to activism against the world’s largest retailer.

    For all the press OUR Walmart—which is managed by Big Labor P.R. firm Berlin Rosen—seems to get, it doesn’t get much support from employees. But micro-unions might offer worker centers like OUR Walmart the ability to sneak a foot in the door by dropping big money on a small set of employees to get publicity for their broader organizing drive.

    But the problems for uninterested employees and employers is obvious. Could Fast Food Forward, SEIU’s New York City restaurant worker center, attempt to unionize just cashiers, forcing employers to make different work arrangements with cooks? Micro-unions, so-called “minority unions,” and worker centers are the farthest things from the principles of organized negotiation—termed “labor peace”—that form the core of modern labor law.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsNLRBSEIUUFCWWorkers Center
  3. Unions’ Weird Old Survival Trick Coming to a Congress Near You

    CUFDinosaurAn MSNBC report indicates that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) intends to introduce legislation to make union organizing a “civil right.” While Ellison’s legislative language has not yet been introduced, he expressed the desire to make it easier for pro-union employees who felt that their rights were violated to sue their employers.

    Current law already allows employees to file for back wages and reinstatement through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process. Ellison’s additionwill do little but encourage lawsuits to tie up the union organizing process—leading to violations of employee rights through card-checks, as employers figure dealing with unions will be cheaper than fighting perpetual litigation by unions. The AFL-CIO, which has backed the “civil right” notion, will undoubtedly be over the moon.

    The idea of making union organizing a “civil right” was teased as the one weird old trick that will save labor from its decades-long decline after two writers at The Century Foundation published a book (and an accompanying New York Times op-ed) proposing it in 2012. It got a bit of play among the Occupy Wall Street (remember that?) crowd and union professionals, but didn’t appear to go much of anywhere.

    That isn’t too surprising—the writers first pitched the idea around the turn of the millennium  with a reprise in 2004. Perhaps the “civil right” notion isn’t getting traction because it’s bad policy—employers already face sanctions for violating the rights of employees who want to unionize, and this additional step is just a hand-out for union bosses. The idea is even unpopular: In 2012, a referendum to create a constitutional right to collective bargaining failed in the union stronghold of Michigan, even as the state was handily re-electing President Obama. (Labor’s overreach probably contributed to Michigan becoming the 24th Right-to-Work state.)

    If codifying an obligation to be harassed by Big Labor failed in the union heartland, it looks like the public have a different view of labor rights than Rep. Ellison and the Century Foundation writers. Indeed, Americans—including comfortable majorities of union households—support fixing the imbalances between unions and individual employees. The Employee Rights Act, which contains seven major reforms including a provision guaranteeing secret ballot votes on whether to form a union, would correct these imbalances. Recent national polling suggests that these provisions are quite popular amongst Americans, with the seven reforms each receiving 80 percent or greater support.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  4. Unions Negotiating with NYC Fill Mayor’s Slush Fund

    crime money steal embezzle 2Earlier this year, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)—an affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—got almost all that it wanted—including billions of dollars in “back pay”—in its negotiations with New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio over a new contract.

    UFT heavily backed de Blasio’s election with $250,000 in “independent expenditures” on his behalf, so it’s not surprising that the new mayor would want to repay his supporters handsomely. But reporting by Crain’s New York Business suggests that the pay-off for this sweetheart deal went well beyond campaign contributions: The national AFT gave the Campaign for One New York, a 501(c)(4) lobbying group run by de Blasio’s campaign manager, $350,000 one month before the UFT deal was sealed.

    AFT claims the donation was part of the union’s longstanding support of government-funded pre-kindergarten, but the timing is highly questionable. (De Blasio administration officials denied any impropriety to Crain’s.) The director of NYC good-government watchdog Citizens’ Union told the New York Post: “To have a newly elected mayor start a nonprofit organization to support his big initiative — and then go calling for dollars from those who are involved in the city’s business — is unseemly.”

    There’s another interesting nexus at the Campaign for One New York: That between Berlin Rosen—the people behind the “worker center” fast food and retail corporate campaigns—and the NYC Mayor’s Office. Berlin Rosen ran de Blasio’s election campaign and now runs P.R. for the Campaign for One New York. There’s a reason UFT, UNITE-HERE (in a highly controversial and possibly illegal manner), and other labor unions (including the SEIU) back de Blasio—his people are their people.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyTeachers Unions
  5. Teachers Union Fighting Campaign Disclosure

    crime money steal embezzle 1Teachers unions in Massachusetts have tried before to obscure their involvement in political races: The Boston Teachers Union (BTU), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) led by Randi Weingarten, was criticized by the Boston Globe for a shady political scheme designed to elect BTU’s favored mayoral candidate.

    Now, Massachusetts legislators are trying to curb this sort of behavior by requiring SuperPACs like the one used by BTU and AFT to report their donors more frequently and in text on television advertisements. Despite employing so-called “dark money” networks of their own (like BTU/AFT’s), teachers union leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to restrict the influence of these so-called “dark money” groups. Whether or not the Massachusetts rule is actually good policy, it stands to reason that the union should be supportive of this proposal.

    But guess who isn’t happy about Massachusetts’ proposed rules: It’s a union! According to a Boston Globe report, The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s National Education Association (NEA) affiliate, is lobbying to strip at least one disclosure provision from the bill citing “technical issues.” Uh huh. As the Globe notes, MTA recently created its own SuperPAC to support its favored candidates in state elections, and the group spent $2.75 million in 2010 to re-elect Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

    That an NEA group would try to block rules designed to combat the hiding of donors until after the election isn’t terribly surprising: The national union’s Executive Director was recently appointed Chairman of the left-wing money clearinghouse Democracy Alliance’s board. Either way, MTA’s recent lobbying is yet another indication that unions’ purported opposition to money in politics applies only to money they aren’t spending themselves.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsNEAPolitical MoneyTeachers Unions
  6. For Big Labor, Is Politics More Important than College?

    fist1Among the adversaries of labor unions’ politics and power plays, few inspire quite as much hatred from union bosses as libertarian businessmen-philanthropists Charles and David Koch. Unions have fought desperately against the Kochs’ efforts to fund pro-business candidates and causes, even when it traps them in hypocrisy when they buddy up with left-wing financiers (see: American Federation of Teachers President and Democracy Alliance member Randi Weingarten).

    But unions are also fighting the Kochs’ general philanthropy efforts. After David Koch donated $100 million to a cancer hospital in his home city of New York, for instance, the New York State Nurses Association and SEIU Local 1199 responded by marching on the hospital in protest. And having implicitly rejected cancer research, unions are now implicitly rejecting college for African American youth: The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has retaliated against the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) taking a donation from the Kochs by breaking its own support for the group.

    Since 2003, AFSCME had partnered with the UNCF on the “Union Scholars Program,” which offered students at UNCF member institutions partial scholarships and assistance and stipends for internships with AFSCME, all for a cost of roughly $54,500 per year from AFSCME dues.

    When the project began, then-AFSCME president Gerald McEntee was highly pleased by the arrangement, saying:

    “AFSCME has always worked hard to create a brighter, more just, and decent future for the children of working men and women… Given that philosophy, it seemed only natural that we should partner with the United Negro College Fund, which has etched indelibly in our minds the axiom, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste.’”

    Apparently, AFSCME doesn’t have a problem with a few minds being wasted in order to make a political point.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union Facts
  7. Desperate UAW Digs in for Chattanooga Fight

    Class Election kidsIf you thought that a defeat for a union in a unionization election was the end of Big Labor’s efforts, you’d be wrong. Volkswagen plant workers who told the United Auto Workers to get packing are about to learn this, as the union has created a local to “represent” the workers despite the employees’ clear decision against unionizing.

    The union claims participation will be “voluntary” and that a request for formal bargaining will not be issued until a majority of workers join the union. Does this sound familiar? It should—UAW officials just described an attempt at card check.

    Volkswagen officials haven’t announced if they would recognize a card check, but if UAW sneak in by the back door after losing a secret-ballot vote it would be an illustration of everything wrong with union selection under current labor law: The idea that public card signatures secured under conditions of potential intimidation more accurately reflect employees’ views than votes cast in the privacy of a voting booth is simply ludicrous.

    More importantly, the union only has to “win”—whether by ballot or by card-check—once, then it essentially lasts forever. (Unions faced only 202 decertification elections in 2013, according to the National Labor Relations Board.) There is no provision for employees to periodically scrutinize their unions with a re-certification election under current law, even if most of the employees in a bargaining unit didn’t participate in the initial certification. A 2012 analysis by CUF of NLRB and Census data found that up to 92 percent of unionized employees hadn’t voted to unionize, largely because of union perpetuity.

    Both of these infringements on employee rights would be corrected by a pending piece of federal legislation, the Employee Rights Act (ERA). Currently before Congress with 27 co-sponsors in the Senate and 99 in the House of Representatives, the ERA would require re-certification after half the initial voting employees left the bargaining unit and would require all union votes be by secret ballot. It may come too late for Volkswagen employees trying to stay out of the clutches of the “United Obama Workers” (as a billboard called the UAW), but ERA would restore balance between union special privileges and employee rights.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActUAW
  8. Randi’s Union Too Far for the Washington Post

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgWe noted a growing schism between teachers unions and their formerly reliable Democratic Party allies recently. Add another usual Big Labor backer saying Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has gone too far: The Washington Post editorial board — which had demanded a “compromise” card-check bill in 2009 — is not happy with the obstinacy of AFT’s D.C. local, the Washington Teachers Union (WTU):

    Giving public school students more instruction time is a priority of D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. She set aside $5.1 million in next year’s budget for the effort. But, as The Post’s Emma Brown reported, the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is blocking the initiative by urging teachers not to approve the change and by preventing the issue from coming to a vote.

     

    Let’s emphasize that last point: The union that is supposed to represent the interest of teachers won’t allow a vote in which teachers would decide for themselves, school by school, if they want a longer school day that would benefit students and for which they would be paid. A provision in the teachers’ contract, which expired in 2012 but is in force until a new agreement is reached, allows individual schools to adopt nontraditional scheduling if two-thirds of teachers approve.

    Similar to the SEIU’s “don’t vote” plan for a Las Vegas hospital workers’ contract, WTU won’t let its members take votes authorized by the D.C. collective bargaining agreement to extend the school day. The Post editors fear that decision might hurt students and teachers.

    The Post additionally reports that the union president says WTU is “being cautious not to be [a roadblock] to reform,” which only leads one to ask what the union might unleash if it tried to block reform openly. If Washington’s AFT looks anything like the national union, those efforts might include blocking new charter schools, fighting to reverse teacher accountability reforms, or lashing out at political leaders who fix pensions that could bankrupt states or cities. History — the WTU famously unmade respected former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s political patron, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, in 2010 — doesn’t suggest that the union will behave any differently.

    As much as Randi might complain about Democrats like former Obama aides Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt — to say nothing of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called the recent Vergara v. California decision that vitiated that state’s coddling teacher tenure laws “a mandate” — siding with reformers against archaic teacher union-backed work rules, the ship of reform has sailed. Efforts like WTU’s no-vote policy are going to get rightly criticized from all sides.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions