Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Randi’s Pet Charter School Closes

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgBack in 2005, then-United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, now president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), opened a (unionized) charter school in Brooklyn. She stated its purpose: “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

    Ten years later, the poor performance of the UFT charter school—one of the worst-rated in the city—suggests that the notion of union roadblocks to success wasn’t so “misguided and simplistic” after all.

    The UFT’s K-8 charter school announced this week that it is closing. That isn’t necessarily bad for the students: A review by the State University of New York Charter Institute, which sponsored the UFT’s charter application, found that the school had “poor” educational outcomes in the middle school grades.

    This poor grade wasn’t a fluke: The school had done poorly on previous city reviews. Chalkbeat reported in 2012:

    But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.


    On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the [NYC] Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

    There’s an important lesson here: Just calling a school a “charter school” doesn’t mean that it comes with the benefits charter advocates hope for. For real gains to be made, charter schools need the advantages in flexibility and competition they have over traditional district schools—advantages opposed by teachers unions. To the extent charter schools allow principals and administrators to engage in flexible decision making—including flexible decision making in human resources policy forbidden by union contracts—they are an improvement on traditional district schools. But as the AFT and the other national teachers union engage in campaigns to unionize the mostly union-free sector, charter advocates may shortly see that a crucial element to school success is keeping Randi and her minions away.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  2. Wage Hike not Good Enough When the Goal Is a Union

    walmartEarlier this week, Wal-Mart issued a directive raising base pay at the company’s stores to $9 per hour for new hires and $10 per hour for current employees. If the complaints of the “Organization United for Respect At Walmart” (OUR Walmart) were really about the company’s pay being too low, you might expect at least a grudging acknowledgment that employees’ situations would be helped some by this private action.

    But OUR Walmart isn’t a grassroots effort to raise pay: It’s a well-connected union-organized campaign that will never be satisfied until Wal-Mart has agreed to “neutrality” (unions’ P.R.-tested name for public card check) and employees are dues-paying members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). (To wit: The UFCW wouldn’t put $240,614 into a media blitz for its campaign unless it expected to get a return.)

    And when potentially millions in dues money is on the line, no compromise is good enough. In fact, the goal posts must move. The New York Times reports on where they’re going now:

    With some progress on the hourly wage front, labor activists are highlighting another longstanding demand: more hours — and more consistent hours — for hourly-wage workers like Mr. Rodriguez, something they say will make as much a difference to workers’ pocketbooks as an increase in wages.

    (Funny—we can remember a time when unions restricted workers’ hours so that more people were employed to cover all shifts. Of course, that was for an already-unionized business, so more people employed meant more people paying dues.)

    Because Wal-Mart has independently acted to alleviate one UFCW front group complaint, another comes to the fore. It’s a clever strategy that unfortunately might snooker media outlets that already breathlessly (and incorrectly) reported that OUR Walmart’s protests were “strikes”—when, in reality, a meaningless number of employees were walking off the job.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUFCWWorkers Center
  3. Will Wisconsin Be Number Twenty-Five?

    thumbs upBig news from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin: Legislators are calling a special session to advance a right-to-work measure. Following reforms permitting employees to refrain from funding unions in Indiana and Michigan, the state legislature has indicated that it will pass the measure and Governor Scott Walker has said he will sign it. Wisconsin would bring up the half-way mark for right-to-work laws, being the 25th state to ban so-called “agency shop” contracts requiring employees to fund labor unions in order to keep their jobs.

    Union bosses reeling from the effects of employee-empowering reforms to public-sector workplaces in the state are naturally outraged, with some activists calling for a French-style “general strike.” But with the law likely to pass over their hollering, what lies in store for labor in the Badger State? While union bosses claim imminent doom, the facts show that right-to-work offers unions a choice: Continue the status quo and suffer membership declines, or adopt a new model of representative unionism and preserve influence.

    Consider Nevada, which adopted a right-to-work law in the 1950s (and sustained it against multiple union-backed repeal efforts). Until Michigan passed right-to-work in 2012, Nevada was the most unionized right-to-work state, and the state remains highly unionized (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.4 percent of Nevada workers are union members, good for the 11th most-union state). In short, since the unions in Nevada have convinced employees that union representation helps them, they haven’t suffered the declines that unions in the Midwest have. (It also helps that union demands haven’t helped drive the casino industry into bankruptcy, as happened with some Midwest manufacturing.)

    However, there are important employee rights that right-to-work laws don’t affect. Card-check will still be permitted, allowing unions to organize without a private vote. This matters because even though right-to-work allows nonmembers to refrain from funding the union, unions still have a privilege they demanded in federal labor law—exclusive representation, which requires all grievances and contract negotiation to go through the union. And if an employee wishes to get the union out, he or she would still need to follow the onerous and intimidation-laced decertification process, since an organized union has perpetual tenure.

    If employee rights advocates want to continue the momentum from Indiana, Michigan, and now Wisconsin, they should call for the federal Employee Rights Act, which takes a wider view of employee rights and restricting union privilege than right-to-work alone. Among other reforms, it requires secret ballot votes to unionize, protects employees against coercion when decertifying a union, and grants employees the periodic right to a vote on whether to keep an established union. Each of its reforms is supported by more than 75 percent of Americans and guarantees new rights to employees to bring employment relations—which haven’t been significantly updated since the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947—into the 21st Century.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-WorkSEIU
  4. What Is One Union Hiding?

    ba planeThe Daily Caller got wind of a curious decision by Transportation Workers Union Local 577, which was certified in 2010 to represent flight attendants for Allegiant Air. Apparently, TWU 577 hasn’t been filing financial reports with the Office of Labor-Management Standards. The Caller reports:

    In the letter, which was obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the advocacy group Americans For Limited Government Research Foundation detailed to the U.S. Department of Labor that Local 577 of the Transport Workers has failed for years to disclose its financial records. Local 577 represents Allegiant Air flight attendants. […]


    “Whether a contract is ratified is irrelevant under the LMRDA when determining whether a local labor organization is covered by the Act,” [ALGRF President Nathan] Mehrens told TheDCNF. “If TWU didn’t want to follow the LMRDA’s requirements for local labor organizations, it should not have created Local 577.”

    Basically, the union got certified and then negotiations began, but the first contract has not yet been agreed. So TWU 577 remains the certified representative, but no contract is yet in force. TWU argues unconvincingly that this allows TWU’s national office to include Local 577’s expenses on its own reports.

    So why might a relatively ineffective union like TWU 577 (which, recall, hasn’t completed a contract negotiation despite having years to cut a deal) want to hide its expenditures? Simple: It might lead members to believe their dues money isn’t being used effectively. Our organization and others have caught the national American Federation of Teachers spending six figures on limousines, UNITE HERE channeling money to the mayoral campaign of a senior officer’s cousin, and the SEIU spending tens of millions Astroturfing campaigns against restaurants.

    And while it’s unlikely that TWU Local 577 would have anything of that nature to hide from prying eyes, local unions can have embarrassing open secrets too. Numerous union locals are largely controlled by members of the same family, and this can mean big bucks for the lucky clans. We can’t know what TWU 577 might be trying to obscure with its creative recordkeeping tactics, but union members deserve at the very least the transparency that federal law requires.

    Categories: Center for Union Facts
  5. An NPR ‘Miss’ On Labor Unions and the Minimum Wage

    CUFDinosaurA recent National Public Radio (NPR) report looked curiously at the phenomenon of unions pushing for radical minimum wage increases (including in some cases a more-than-doubling of the current minimums). Correspondent Ben Bergman notes that few workers who make the minimum are unionized, and he asks what unions stand to gain from their campaigns.

    We can help him figure that out. For one, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and similar unions for service workers like the hotel and restaurant divisions of Unite HERE have plenty of bargaining units with employees under, at, or around the proposed new minimum wage level. Others have guaranteed premiums over the statutory minimum, as we have detailed previously.

    Unions also have greener reasons to push massive wage hikes. The “fight for $15” worker center/minimum wage campaign is a multimillion-dollar project of SEIU, and the end goal includes paying off this “investment” with more union dues. As a result, in addition to minimum wage messaging the campaign comes with creating “Worker Organizing Committees” that file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board designed at least in part to make fast food restaurants easier to unionize. The Manhattan Institute estimated SEIU’s potential payoff from unionizing half of McDonald’s and McDonald’s franchise employees alone at $100 million per year.

    And if that doesn’t work, there’s another way to turn a doubled minimum wage into more union dues. Minimum wage and so-called “living wage” laws often contain exceptions for collective bargaining agreements. Maxford Nielson of the Freedom Foundation explains:

    Los Angeles became the latest to join the movement when the city council approved a law on Sept. 24 requiring large hotels to pay employees at least $15.37 per hour and provide generous paid sick-leave benefits. But the ordinance includes a provision, increasingly common in similar ordinances, that permits unions to waive the requirements in collective bargaining.


    This waiver enables labor organizers to approach a nonunion employer struggling to pay the new minimum with the following offer: assist them in unionizing employees by signing a “neutrality agreement,” in return for which the union will use the collective-bargaining waiver to allow the employer to pay less than the new statutory minimum.

    The only winners? The union bosses whose salaries keep flowing.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsChange To WinPolitical MoneySEIUUnion SpendingWorkers Center
  6. Union Strike Threatens Cheap Gas, Ambulance Services Might Be Next

    fistsYou may have noticed that the price of gasoline has plummeted recently. Good news, right? Well, not if you’re the United Steelworkers (USW): The union just walked out on strike at nine oil industry facilities in Texas. The Houston Chronicle quotes an employment lawyer noting that USW’s strategy seems lacking:

    The strike could be a way the union is sending a message to its members that it’s doing something proactive, said A. Kevin Troutman, an employment lawyer with Fisher & Phillips in Houston. But he questioned the timing.


    “It’s not a great time for the union to strike,” Troutman said, referring to the recent and dramatic fall in oil prices. “Companies don’t have the money like they once did and are more likely to dig in their heels.”

    While the struck oil companies (which include Shell, the firm leading the all-industry management negotiating team) expect to be able to maintain output, a protracted strike might hit consumers square in the pocketbook. Still, it could be worse:

    Southwest Ambulance employees have authorized a strike if final negotiations between its union and Rural/Metro Corp. over employee benefits fail.


    The local I-60 chapter of the International Fire Fighters Association, representing about 800 employees, voted in favor of having the strike as an option to settle the years-long dispute with its parent company over retirement benefits, longevity pay and overtime.

    In short, an ambulance service employees union in Arizona has now formally issued a threat to strike, come what may to the sick. It’s one thing when union demands threaten your on-time flight arrival or risk an unexpected spike in fuel prices; striking against the public safety is another issue entirely (as politicians once recognized).

    Big Labor’s decline in numbers and relevance has sent Richard Trumka and his fellow union bosses looking toward a militant past for a rebirth. They have stormed state capitols, struck against children’s educations, and demanded small businesses accede to their political agendas. While we haven’t heard about unions leaving the dead unburied yet, don’t be surprised if desperate bosses resort to desperate measures to rally their flagging numbers of dues-paying members.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union Facts
  7. Despite Government Efforts, Union Density Slips Further

    CUFDinosaurIn December, a reporter for Politico proposed that a series of Obama Administration actions were proof of “Labor’s big comeback.” We were skeptical, to say the least: Year after year of reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that an ever-shrinking percent of employees bother to actually join unions.

    Now we can add another data point to the trend. The “union density”—the proportion of employees who are union members—declined again this year, reaching 11.1 percent of the workforce. This is the lowest level recorded by the BLS since it began collecting union membership data in 1983.

    Union bosses and their supporters view this as evidence of a legal environment skewed against unions. President Obama vowed, “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.” Unfortunately, labor’s idea of giving employees a “voice” involves government-mandated “quickie” elections procedures designed to give unions more dues-paying members with as little information as possible.

    If unions are really going to have a comeback, it won’t be from government regulators. After all , workplace organizing is still governed by the same 1947 law under which unions had their heyday. Big Labor will need to change its sixties-era sales pitch and come back with a model that speaks to the 21st-century workforce.

    When government-granted monopolies on dues payment are lifted, as they were for all workers in Michigan and for public-sector workers in Wisconsin, many union members bail on their old bosses.

    In 2011, for instance, Wisconsin enacted Act 10, a major labor reform affecting public sector workers. With union power circumscribed, many employees have taken advantage of newfound freedoms and left the union. The Wisconsin State Council of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has seen a steep membership decline — as seen in the chart below from the database of Labor Department filings — since that law was passed. The labor reforms won the support of the Badger State, and despite much union wailing Gov. Scott Walker and legislators who backed the reforms were mostly re-elected. The state Supreme Court also upheld the reforms.

    AFSCME WI Chart

    The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a reform package offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price in the last Congress, proposes several widely supported reforms to union practices that enable individual employees to express their views in the workplace. By ensuring secret ballot votes to unionize, strike, and periodically reauthorize existing unions, ERA would make sure that union organizers cannot mislead or intimidate employees in expressing their views on unionization. Legislators should look to state-level examples like Wisconsin and Michigan and advance labor reform that will give employees a real voice.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActSEIU
  8. Hypocritical “Union Shop” Flails in Defense of Union Funding

    moneythumbWe recently questioned the timing of the Center for Media and Democracy’s decision to allow itself to directly take funding from unions. A reporter with contacted CMD head Lisa Graves for comment, and received a curious reply. We’ll let Watchdog explain:

    Graves called the undisclosed union donations “a small percent of its overall funding.” […]


    “After I became the leader of CMD, we began a review of our policies and practices, and it was my view that the Supreme Court was wrong in Citizens United to equate corporations and unions and that the old policy reinforced that so we changed it,” she said of the landmark court decision that lifted campaign finance restrictions.

    Graves’s view seems to be that using union money for political advocacy is OK while using business money isn’t, just because she says so. This stinks of rank hypocrisy, and Graves’s pathetic deflections show just how weak and self-serving her position is.

    It’s also undeniably false that unions provide “a small percent of [CMD] funding.” Department of Labor disclosures by unions (the only way we could figure out that CMD gets union funding) reported $118,000 in itemized union payments to CMD in 2013. That was about 14% of the organization’s contribution and grant revenue, according to tax returns.

    And what about Graves’s defense on the timing of CMD’s union support flip-flop? Well, it doesn’t seem to match the facts. Graves took over CMD in 2009, and the union funding policy didn’t change until very late 2010. The timing of the “final decision” remains very, very suspicious.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneySEIU