Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Coalition Fights for Employee Freedom

    eraThis week (August 10-16), a national coalition of groups (including the Center for Union Facts, which co-sponsors this website) are sponsoring National Employee Freedom Week to inform union members of their rights to opt out of union membership and certain (if not all) union dues. Working with grassroots state-level partners, the coalition and CUF are reminding union members of their rights under state laws and various Supreme Court decisions to withhold union membership and at least a portion of dues if they don’t support the union agenda. Polling by the coalition suggests up to 29 percent of self-reported union members would leave their unions if given the chance.

    While much of the coalition effort focuses on the rights of public employee union members, dissenting private-sector workers also have rights to refrain from funding union agendas they don’t support. According to exit polls from the last election, while 90 percent of union political spending backed President Obama and other Democrats, 40 percent of union households voted for Republican Mitt Romney.

    Depending on a (non-railway, non-airline) employee’s state of work, his or her rights vary:

    • If an employee works in one of the 24 Right-to-Work states, he or she can quit the union at any time and refrain from paying any money to the union. However, automatic dues deductions must be withdrawn during a union-specified window, so employees should ensure they know when their union’s window is by consulting their union bylaws, which may be available on the local union website.

    • If an employee works in one of the non-Right-to-Work states, the District of Columbia, a United States Territory, or certain federal enclaves (like military bases), an employee may quit the union at any time. However, the union may still charge mandatory “agency fees” — dues for non-members represented by the union. In order to receive a reduction in agency fees equal to an employee’s share of expenses not related to representation, an employee must write a letter to the union affirmatively objecting (using the phrase “I object”) to paying for unrelated (usually political) expenses. Resigning members typically have 30 days to file an objection (you can resign and object in the same letter), and some unions require employees to renew their objection letters annually. Consult your union bylaws for specifics.

    While union members opposed to their bosses’ agendas await the passage of broadly supported labor reforms like the Employee Rights Act, there are still options for them to refrain from full support of union bosses who don’t represent their interests. It just takes more work to stay informed — union bosses alone seem to want it to stay that way.


    The Right-to-Work states, in no particular order, are: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActSEIU
  2. Reform Teacher Tenure, Says…Whoopi Goldberg?

    The radical leadership of teacher unions like American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten are fighting a desperate rearguard action to protect the cushy status quo of de facto jobs-for-life for that fraction of incompetent teachers who (in the words of one union representative) “shouldn’t even be pumping gas.” Liberals and Democrats are asking their partisan allies ever more loudly to stop blocking meaningful reforms.

    The latest to join a left-of-center chorus that includes Education Secretary Arne Duncan, commentator Matt Bai, and the Washington Post editors is Whoopi Goldberg, actress and host of “The View,” who made adamantly clear that while she wouldn’t abolish teacher unions or collective bargaining, tenure for bad teachers had to go.

    That made teacher unionists angry. Like Randi, who has dedicated a significant portion of her career to whipping would-be reformist Democrats into line, radical teachers union supporters opened fire on Goldberg’s Twitter page. But Whoopi doubled down, posting the YouTube video below:

    Whether you’re a liberal or conservative, Goldberg’s takeaway point that “Bad teachers should not be given the gift of teaching forever—badly!” is common sense. Unfortunately, Randi and the teacher unions oppose these common-sense reforms with millions of dollars in political cash, forcing reformers to go to court to fix the problems. When even union supporters are telling AFT and its fellow teacher unions that fixes to the tenure system are needed, how long can Randi and her radical allies continue their trench warfare against America’s schoolchildren?

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  3. AFT Puts Pensions at Risk for Radical Politics

    BailoutThe New York Times came out this week with a deep investigation into the problems faced by New York City’s public employee pension fund (NYCers). The fund is struggling to match projected returns promised to employees and retirees with actual returns, and city services are already beginning to suffer as general revenue supports the fund.

    With both its members’ continued employment and its retirees’ pensions on the line, you would think that the United Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated NYC teachers union, would do everything in its power to help the city maximize returns for city employees.

    But you would be wrong, as the Times reports:

    The [pension plan] boards are fond of personally vetting investment firms — something experts in model boardrooms say they should not be doing. Politics can often intrude. The teachers’ union, for example, keeps a list of investment firms it sees as unacceptable because of their connections to groups that, say, favor charter schools.

    So, despite the fact that NYC pensions (including teachers’ pensions) are in dire straits, the UFT puts is political agenda above its members’ security. This isn’t the radical action of a rogue local, either—the national union led by radical union president Randi Weingarten has also insisted that states refuse to do business with money managers that the AFT doesn’t like.

    In the end, the only losers are likely to be AFT members and retirees. While their union bosses grandstand with members’ pension money, public pension funds continue to lag behind the returns they need to hit to satisfy the promises made to public employees. When those numbers don’t meet up in the end that means either a taxpayer bailout or pensioners losing out.

    We can’t know whether or not the AFT-blacklisted money managers would get better results than the current crop serving NYCers and other public pensions. Indeed, even the best money managers in the world might not be able to keep all the unrealistic promises made to some public retirees. Making financial decisions based on unrelated political agendas, though, can’t be helping

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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