Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Author Archives: Center for Union Facts

  • It Comes in Threes

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    The citizens of Michigan are facing a terrible triumvirate of ballot initiatives this fall. As Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) reports, the “Trojan Horse Amendment,” Proposal 2, is joined by two other unsavory referendums:

     

    One is a referendum on a law passed in 2011, Public Act 4, that enables appointed “emergency managers” of financially troubled cities and school districts to override union contracts.

     

     

    Another would lock into the state constitution a system set up under former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, in which home health workers are designated as public employees even if self-employed. The effect would be to channel part of the tax subsidies for home health care into dues and fees to the Service Employees International Union.

     

    The SEIU dues skim has already helped the union pocket $32 million.

     

    IBD says that the votes will come down to the wire. If we go by the polling and a vote on the three pro-union initiatives was held today, the SEIU healthcare dues bonanza would pass, but the emergency manager law and Proposal 2 are still too close to call.

     

  • Votes for Some

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    The Communication Workers of America (CWA) is in an ongoing dispute with bankrupt American Airlines over an attempt to unionize the struggling carrier’s passenger service agents. Under National Mediation Board (NMB) rules—as an air carrier, American’s labor rules are set by the Railway Labor Act — 50 percent of the agents must sign a statement of interest before an election can be held.

    Before February, that threshold was 35 percent. Since the CWA started its campaign before the law changed, it argued that it only needed to meet that threshold, but a federal judge disagreed. From the Associated Press:

    Judge [Terry R.] Means, who oversaw a brief trial in his Fort Worth, Texas, courtroom this month, ruled that the 50-percent standard applied by the time that the mediation board got around to reviewing the union’s election request in April. He issued an injunction barring the board from conducting any further election-related activities.

    Needless to say, the CWA is displeased. And to garner support, the union is promoting this advertisement:


    Of course, the CWA didn’t always think that “stopping workers from voting is UnAmerican.” Back in 2009, the CWA and its parent, the AFL-CIO, endorsed and pushed hard for the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act,” which would have curtailed employees’ right to vote on whether to unionize. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the CWA has backed voting.

     

  • Supreme Court Rules SEIU Can’t Take Public Workers’ Pay for Politicking Without Asking

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    Today’s Supreme Court decision in Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) could be a big step forward for employee rights. The Court found that SEIU Local 1000 violated public sector workers’ First Amendment rights by compelling non-members to pay for political activism.

    The case revolved around SEIU funding of ballot measure campaign groups in California’s 2006 initiative season. The SEIU wanted to see two of then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposals defeated. One would have required public-sector unions to obtain employees’ affirmative consent before using dues for political activity and another would have given the governor more authority to cut state employee compensation. Both failed.

    Under California law, public-sector workers in a unionized bargaining unit can elect not to join the union, but must pay for “chargeable expenses” related to collective bargaining activity. In the process of raising money to fund its campaign, the SEIU assessed what it called an “Emergency Temporary Assessment to Build a Political Fight-Back Fund.” The union required non-members in SEIU bargaining units to pay into the fund under the “chargeable expenses” rule.

    Non-members who supported the Governor’s ballot initiatives sued the union to protect their First Amendment right to not support political activity with which they disagreed. The Supreme Court found that the activity was not a “chargeable expense,” and thus the SEIU was required to supply a “Hudson notice” that notifies non-members of their right to not pay into the union’s political fund. The Court ruled, “‘Lobbying the electorate,’ which the SEIU claims is chargeable, is nothing more than another term for supporting political causes and candidates.”

    Furthermore, the Court ruled that the union should have erred in the interests of non-members who did not want to pay the assessment when considering whether to supply a notice. From the ruling:

    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 [non-political activities], 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 receive any payment from those employees.

    The high court also ordered that:

    Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.

    Though the Knox ruling only applies to public-sector workers, but it is heartening that the high court recognizes employees’ rights to not be coerced by a union into supporting the union’s politics.

  • MORE DEMOCRACY STARTS WITH LABOR REFORM

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    Across the rust belt and beyond, state legislatures are considering much-needed workplace reforms. High-profile victories, including Indiana’s enactment of right-to-work legislation, have intensified calls for changes to our 1940s-era labor laws and specifically, passage of the Employee Rights Act (ERA).

    The ERA is not the typical power grab attempted by management or union leaders at the others expense. Instead, the proposed changes re-balance the power equation between unions and employees.

    Most people believe that unions only gain workplace certification through a secret ballot vote. In fact, over the last three years, a third of all union certifications were accomplished through an employee signed card with a union official watching whether that worker signed or refused. And in another revelation for most, if a union is established at your job, even if you are not a supporter you still may be required to use them as a middleman with management if you want to discuss your pay, scheduling or work conditions.

    Many union shops have long been established with a majority voting yes in a real secret ballot election. But assume that election was in the 1960s. All those who voted yes are gone. And under current rules (and real-world realities), once a union is in place it is very difficult to dislodge. Why not automatically offer a re-vote to current members every three years just like we do for our elected officials?

    Labor leaders celebrated when the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled in favor of so-called quickie elections. This new time frame restricts the communication window for discussing whether exclusive union representation ought to be voted in or rejected. We give elected officials many months to make their case. Why not guarantee employees at least 40 days? They should be able to hear from management and the union before deciding an issue that will affect their lives far more dramatically than any one vote for a congressman or senator!

    And speaking of politicians, the ERA would also establish that a union members dues could not be used to support political candidates without their prior permission. In the current Alice in Wonderland world of labor, unions are taking their members forced dues payments to support politicians for office who, in turn, repay the union leadership by voting to deny employees prior control of that same dues money!
    These reforms in the ERA boast overwhelming popular support. Polling conducted by ORC International indicates union and nonunion households favor them by majorities as high as 83 percent. Statistics also reveal that only seven percent of currently unionized employees ever voted for the union collecting their dues. Yet union officials in an irony obviously lost on them say its anti-union to give employees an automatic vote opportunity to re-certify or reject their union.

    Not surprisingly, some employers have an interest in denying the certification re-votes that the ERA would establish. A handful of business owners who’ve struck sweetheart deals with their unions are concerned that employees could vote out their current representatives and replace them with a more radical crowd. Of course, if management feels the union is a positive force, they could endorse the union in the re-vote. (Here’s a bit of business schizophrenia: The same employers who have some union & non-union operations would probably try to stop the spread of unions among their employees but not work to reverse current certifications.)

    Choosing and changing our leadership has been a keystone of life throughout American history. In the workplace, there’s no justification for denying current employees the voting rights that their predecessors exercised 10 or 40 years ago and which bind them today.

    The ERA’s labor reforms in addition to being popular, potent, and long overdue extend our most enduring principles of democracy to a place where they can make a big difference.

    This piece originally ran in Human Events.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Center for Union Facts Obtains Internal Wisconsin Education Association Council Messaging Document

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    In the aftermath of the Wisconsin recall election, many public sector unions are still licking their wounds—and apparently leaving their internal documents out in the open.

    In an internal memo obtained by the Center for Union Facts, the Wisconsin Education Association Council outlines the communications strategy for messaging against “Walker and his right-wing allies.”

    A few interesting “Dos” and Don’ts” (emphasis added):

    DO

    Stay focused on students – voters care about schools because they care about students.

    Use parents as messengers when possible – while educators themselves can also be good messengers, parents’ motives are seen as less self-interested.

    DON’T

    Use cuts to teacher/education support professional benefits or pay as an example of the negative impacts of cuts – many voters still view educators’ benefits as overly generous.

    Use the “union” entity as a messenger – making this about WEAC vs. Walker causes many voters to tune out and dismiss communications as “politics as usual.” Keep a face on this issue by featuring members/parents to tell about the impact of cuts.

    You can view the document below in its entirety. Enjoy!

  • Unions Hard At Work Occupying the 99%

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    It would appear that the Occupy movement is now being co-opted by labor unions. For unions, the freshness, energy, and publicity surrounding the movement is a rare opportunity to make news for reasons other than declining membership rolls.

    Union leaders are wrapping themselves with the Occupy banner both rhetorically and literally. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry casts the Occupiers as natural allies reading from a script the unions wrote long ago.

    “We have been talking about the increasing inequality in this country for a long time,” she said last October. “I think what’s wonderful about the Occupy movement is that they captured this with…’We are the 99 percent.’ I feel like what we are doing is echoing a very smart thing that the occupiers began with.”

    Unions are more than echoing. As Townhall.com details, they’re organizing Occupy protests and voicing official support for demonstrators—using the movement as a springboard for their own efforts and agenda. In Chicago, Boston and Orange County (Calif.), area affiliates of the AFL-CIO organized protests for Occupiers and union members.

    This is more than a casual relationship forged by fellow travelers. While labor leaders tout the Occupy movement’s economic themes, they quietly allow front groups to do the dirty work of collaborating with Occupiers on disruptive protests. As The Daily Caller reports, Occupy groups are connected to unions across the country by personnel and funding.

    Last November, an SEIU front group, Good Jobs LA, joined with Occupy LA in demonstration against Bank of America. (Twenty protestors were arrested.) In Pittsburgh, the local Occupiers hooked up with another SEIU-linked group, One Pittsburgh, to protest against Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).

    The demonstration was billed as an anti-Wall Street event, but with SEIU’s influence it became a protest against Toomey’s “no” vote on advancing President Obama’s American Jobs Act legislation — a failed bill that would have benefited unions. (The Daily Caller, 3/8/12)

    Meanwhile, one Seattle-based group, Working Washington, that mentions nothing about its ties to SEIU was co-founded by union executives and organizers and incorporated by an inside-the-beltway law firm tied to the union. In a logical next step, unions have now arranged to start training Occupiers in so-called “direct action” tactics.

    Whatever sort of radical change Occupiers seek, most must never have imagined that they’d be facing assimilation into stale old union hierarchies.

  • Which Workers’ Rights Really Work?

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    Recently, authors Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit raised the idea of a “civil right to unionize” in a New York Times op-ed. For Kahlenberg and Marvit, it’s not enough that workers have the opportunity to organize if they think it is in their interests.

    AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka agreed. “Everybody should have the right to come together to better their economic lot,” he told a reporter at The Daily Caller. “It is a civil right.”

    Critics, however, took a different view. “It’s not that workers are being prevented from unionizing,” wrote Prof. Antony Davies of Duquesne University. “The problem, as unions see it, is that it is too difficult to force workers to unionize.”

    Some of the disagreement surrounds uncertainty over why union membership has declined so steeply and consistently over the past decades. While the authors attribute the decline to “weak and anachronistic labor laws, they fail to mention that the pinnacle of union membership in America – over 27 percent of private sector employees in 1954 – was built up under the same rules in existence today.

    The current drop off in membership is due to union abuse, using dues money for political purposes without regard to employee wishes, and the hijacking of employee rights in other areas.”

    From this standpoint the right that matters most to union members is the “basic democratic right of a secret ballot vote” on whether to recertify current unions and to unionize in the first place. The Employee Rights Act, a piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), includes that right as part of a broad set of proposed federal labor reforms.

    Current law may not extend to the workplace the same level of ballot secrecy that citizens routinely enjoy in modern democracies, but it does already provide workers with strong protections against discrimination.

    Kahlenberg and Marvit’s call to add a right to unionize to the Civil Rights Act raises interesting questions—not least of which is whether the Employee Rights Act’s measures afford a more substantive reform that workers are able to enjoy the benefits of unions that serve their interests.

    It’s ironic that labor leaders are invoking the Civil Rights Act – a piece of legislation that helped enfranchise millions of Americans – when they don’t provide their members with the same liberty, and often try to force unionization through card check and intimidation.

  • CUF’s ERA Campaign Hits Vegas

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    What’s true in Nevada is all too true around the country – employees often can’t vote by secret ballot on basic issues such as whether to recertify their unions, or to unionize in the first place. They have almost no control over whether their dues money is funneled into political campaigns or the pockets of unions’ political allies. The SEIU, for instance, recently spent $86,000 on radio ads in Nevada and Florida to criticize Mitt Romney.

    That’s why the Center for Union Facts (CUF) has launched a new Las Vegas ad campaign promoting the Employee Rights Act in print and on television. CUF’s full-page ad comparing the lack of representation in unions and in North Korea ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And CUF’s “Repair Shop” and “Class Elections” commercials have been on the air.

    The Vegas blitz continues CUF’s $10 million campaign in support of the ERA. CUF executive director was invited on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” last week to discuss the campaign and the merits of the Employee Rights Act.

    (Jump to 9:10 for interview)

    Union leaders and their Democratic allies may oppose the bill, but momentum and the public mood is on the ERA’s side. The status quo is beginning to crumble even in our nation’s capital.

    For too long, the labor reform debate has been bogged down in a big business versus big labor mindset. The ERA isn’t about attacking unions, but rather ensuring that they function the way their dues paying members want them to. More democracy in the workplace is an idea that protects workers, squares with America’s values and promises real economic benefits – in Nevada and across the country.