Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Union Push to Reclassify Workers in CA Could Result in 900,000 Jobs Lost

    As if workers didn’t have enough to deal with while trying to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, California has gone and made matters even worse. The state is suing rideshare apps Uber and Lyft for violating the state’s AB5 law by allegedly misclassifying workers as independent contractors, instead of employees.

    We’ve covered which unions are funding the lawyers behind this suit, but we haven’t discussed what will happen to gig workers if these attorneys — and their pals in the labor movement — actually get their way.

    A new report from the Berkeley Research Group found that “forcing app-based delivery and rideshare drivers to become employees would result in eliminating 900,000 jobs, reducing the number of drivers needed in California by 80 to 90 percent.”

    It turns out, 80 percent of drivers in CA work fewer than 20 hours a week, with most working less than 10 hours per week. That means when these workers are forced to become employees — and to comply with less flexible work schedules  — the number of app-based drivers “needed to satisfy consumer demand” will drop by 80-90 percent.

    Right now, over one million Californians use rideshare or delivery apps to make additional income. But if the state’s union-backed attorneys successfully reclassify all of these workers as employees, it could leave 900,000 CA workers without their gig.

    Organized labor’s front groups — led by “Gig Workers Rising” — criticized the study on Twitter, and pointed readers to a comforting counter survey from a researcher at UC-Santa Cruz. But that survey’s credibility is in doubt for several reasons:

    • Survey respondents were “recruited” through labor groups opposed to the gig companies;
    • The survey authors had no way to verify whether the person taking a survey was currently a gig worker;
    • Gig Workers Rising advertised the survey to its members to boost the respondent counts, even offering to pay them–and still wound up with a very small sample;
    • The author, Chris Brenner, has worked on past research projects with the sponsoring organization for Gig Workers Rising.

    It’s pretty rich to criticize as biased a study whose authors received industry support — and point readers to another study whose authors receive labor support.

    Drivers don’t seem to want what labor is selling. One gig worker who switched from ridesharing to delivery after the coronavirus hit had this to say about AB5 and the lawsuit: “These new laws and lawsuits that try to take away our freedom to choose flexible, independent work will kill jobs and take away chances to make money in the midst of an economic meltdown. It makes absolutely no sense.”

    Another worker who’s been using the gig economy as a way to pay for his college tuition mentioned the countless individuals who would be hurt by this change, including “students who need the flexibility to work around school schedules, working people who need to supplement income, seniors who want to work a few hours a week to support their retirement.”

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “79 percent of independent contractors preferred their arrangement over a traditional job.” But unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers (a long time supporter of the CA Attorney General bringing this lawsuit) don’t seem too concerned with what workers would prefer.

    Judging by labor’s support for AB5 — a law that has already cost thousands of Californians their jobs — the UFCW and other labor unions have no issue taking away opportunities or flexibility for CA’s gig workers, so long as they can increase their number of dues-paying members in the process.

    Categories: UFCW
  2. Labor-Backed Attorneys Target Uber and Lyft in Lawsuit

    This week, the state of California filed a lawsuit against ride-share companies Uber and Lyft. The lawsuit claims these gig companies are misclassifying workers as independent contractors under the state’s AB5 law. The suit was filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; city attorneys from San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego joined in.

    Since unions can’t directly organize independent contractors, they’ve supported laws like AB5 that would reclassify thousands of these workers as employees. This lawsuit is just the next step in the battle these unions, and their conduits, are waging to organize the fast-growing gig economy. (At WorkerCenters.com, we’ve mapped the coordination between labor unions, the 501c4 groups they fund, and organizations such as the Gig Workers Collective.)

    It’s no wonder whose side these attorneys are on — each one involved in the suit against Uber and Lyft has a history of financial backing from labor unions.

    Let’s start with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Before he became AG, Becerra had a long stint as a Congressman. According to FEC filings and data available on OpenSecrets.org, Becerra received a total of $129,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) during his time in the House of Representatives.

    During his run for AG, UFCW PACs donated a total of $59,700 to Becerra, including donations to his 2022 campaign. A list of re-election endorsements from UFCW leaders (below) speaks to Becerra’s popularity with the union. (It’s worth noting that the UFCW is one of the key unions funding Working Washington — a worker center dedicated to organizing workers in the gig economy.)

    This is in addition to the thousands Becerra has received from other labor unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Teamsters.

    Across his campaigns for San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera has received $17,000 from labor unions, including the IBEW, Teamsters, and the Transport Workers Union of America. Similarly, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Fueur has received over $10,000 from labor unions during his campaigns for city attorney, including donations from the SEIU and the Los Angeles Building and Construction Trades Council.

    San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, who filed her own lawsuit against a gig company last year, received $162,407 in independent expenditures from labor unions during her 2016 campaign. She also received over $20,000 from Policy Action PAC (shown below)– a PAC that received $5,000 from SEIU Local 221 that same year. Unions also spent $28,001 in independent expenditures against Elliott’s opponent. So far, Elliott’s 2020 campaign has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of San Diego and the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, which receive significant support from UFCW locals.

    Union’s have spent big to support their friends in high places, and it looks like their efforts are paying off. But AB5 has already cost thousands of workers their jobs in California. During the coronavirus pandemic — when millions have found themselves unemployed — is going after one of the few industries that’s still hiring really what’s best for workers?

     

    Categories: Gig WorkersUFCWWorkers Center
  3. SEIU-Backed Worker Center Targets Postmates

    The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is in the midst of a corporate campaign against Chipotle. Last year, New York City-based SEIU local 32BJ ramped up its Fight for $15 movement to organize workers at the burrito chain’s locations in the city. And that’s just the latest iteration of the union’s partnership with the Fight for $15. Over the years, the SEIU has poured millions of dollars into this national campaign to raise the minimum wage and organize fast-food restaurant employees.

    The coronavirus may have stunted the union’s on-the-ground efforts for the time being, so it’s not surprising that the SEIU has turned to its trusted (and funded) worker center Working Washington (WW) for help. What is surprising: That WW would use its gig worker organizing efforts to launch a second front against Chipotle.

    This week, WW is calling for a three day long #GuacOff where Postmates delivery workers are asked to ignore any Chipotle orders that come in. The strike follows a partnership between Chipotle and Postmates that gives customers free delivery during the crisis. Through its Payup.wtf campaign platform, WW has advertised the strike as a way for workers to “demand sick leave, hazard pay, and safety protections” from Postmates.

    Considering WW’s close relationship with the SEIU, it seems this “GuacOff” has the added benefit of going after one of the SEIU’s top targets, if only indirectly. According to financial filings with the Department of Labor, the SEIU has given almost $20 million to WW over the last several years. Since 2017 alone, the worker center has received over $1.7 million from labor unions overall. As union membership continues to decline, labor leaders have increased efforts to organize the gig economy. WW and other gig economy-focused worker centers provide the perfect front — it seems they can even kill two birds with one stone when it comes to doing the SEIU’s bidding.

    The #GuacOff is just one of the many gig-worker strikes WW and its conduits are planning for this week. However, if the outcome is anything like their efforts to strike last month, we’d bet Postmates — and Chipotle — don’t have too much to worry about.

    Categories: Gig WorkersSEIU
  4. Coronavirus Response Bill Includes Handout for Labor Unions 

    Congress finally passed phase three of its coronavirus relief package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The bill provides much needed financial assistance for U.S. businesses that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as direct relief to individuals and families. But it’s not without a catch.

    The CARES Act allows businesses employing between 500 and 10,000 employees,to apply for a direct loan from the Treasury Department. (It’s worth noting these are not the Small Business Administration loans for smaller businesses that are also provided by the bill.)

    If a business accepts one of these loans (which are not forgivable), it is then required to “make a good-faith certification that the recipient will remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.”

    But it’s unclear when the word “neutral” will come into play. For instance, it could come into effect after a union petitions for an election, when representation cards are first being solicited, or when a union notifies management of their intention to represent employees. The definition is not established by the law. Therefore, it will be up to the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Department of Labor, or the Treasury Department.

    Typical neutrality agreements stipulate that unions can organize via card check — bypassing secret ballot elections to authorize union representation. However, those are agreements that employers voluntarily agree to for various reasons and do not apply here.

    The neutrality requirement has nothing to do with mitigating the effects of the coronavirus, and everything to do with restoring power to labor unions that have seen a continued drop in membership — especially in the private-sector. Consider how auto workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN might have fared if their plant had been subject to a similar neutrality provision. These workers recently voted to reject the United Auto Workers (UAW) — a union that remains tied up in a federal corruption investigation in which its former president and 13 other officials have been charged. Plant employees certainly dodged a bullet by voting “no” to unionizing. But under this new stipulation, countless workers may end up shackled to the UAW or a similarly corrupt union.

    It’s shameful that union officials and their political allies in Congress would use a legislative response to a global health crisis as a way to promote Big Labor’s agenda.

    Categories: UAW
  5. The Gig Worker “Strike” That Wasn’t

    To listen to Vice tell it, Monday’s planned gig worker “strike” was the country’s biggest labor action since the 1936 General Motors workers sit-down in Flint, Michigan:

    Instacart shoppers are planning a nationwide mass revolt over the grocery delivery app’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. … The March 30 walkout will build on a wave of wildcat strikes sweeping across the country …  leading to calls for a “general strike,” or mass strike action across the country.

    USA Today reported that more than 150,000 Instacart shoppers and customers would “walk off the job” today. (It’s unclear how a gig worker who doesn’t gig, or customer who decides not to use the app, can “walk off” a job–but set that aside.) Meanwhile, TechCrunch said that online retail giant Amazon would face a “bevy” of strike activity today. 

    The strikes are part of a larger labor union campaign to organize these workers and turn them into dues-paying members. But if you strained to see the impact of the so-called strike on Monday, you’re not alone.

    Axios reported that the strike had “absolutely no impact” on Instacart’s operations, citing a statement from the company. Relative to this time last week, the “platform had 40% more workers on it…” That’s basically the exact opposite of what a successful strike should accomplish.

    Independent verification of this was visible around the country. In Lancaster County, PA, for instance, one local reporter found that the service was “operating normally.”  In central Oregon, a group of Instacart shoppers took to local media to confirm that they would not be participating in the strike, and viewed being an independent contractor as a perk of the job rather than a drawback.

    Amazon’s antagonists didn’t fare much better: The company confirmed that just 15 people out of a workforce of 5,000 participated in the Staten Island demonstration”–a participation rate of less than one percent. 

    Unions have struggled in recent years to reverse membership declines in the private-sector, and view the tech industry as fertile ground. But if today’s poor showing is any indication, the workers don’t want what the union is selling.
    Categories: Gig WorkersWorkers Center
  6. SEIU’s Hypocrisy in the Face of Corona Crisis

    Last week, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal highlighting its latest campaign to  “Protect All Workers.” The ad was an open letter to America’s CEOs from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. In the ad, Henry asks these business leaders to implement a list of union demands in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

    Of course, the union expects “immediate action by major industries and corporations.” If only the union had lived up to its own expedient expectations when it came to addressing sexual harassment allegations in its ranks.

    Earlier this year, one of the SEIU’s largest locals SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) settled a “contentious” sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against the union by former union employee Mindy Sturge. The lawsuit and subsequent testimony from union employees depict a union “plagued by sexual misconduct scandals.”

    Sturge said she believed former union leader Marcus Hatcher put something in her drink in an attempt to take advantage of her, saying she felt “violently sick shortly after drinking it.” Another employee claimed UHW Vice President Stan Lyles assaulted her in an elevator. Yet another claimed SEIU Vice President Dave Regan was seen “drunk in meetings,” and had a habit of making lewd comments about female employees.

    Many more accusations are detailed at www.MeTooSEIU.com.

    Some of the top union officials mentioned in the lawsuit continue to hold high-ranking positions at the union. As for President Henry, it appears she knew of the accusations and failed to take action against potential sexual predators. Staffers claimed their attempts to report misconduct were ignored.

    One former employee Daria Alladio claimed she reached out to the International union to find out why her assaulter Pedro Malave was being hired by union affiliates. She received no response. Mindy Sturge said she reached out to the International with concerns about sexual harassment twice to no avail.

    So much for “protecting all workers” being the “moral requirement of this moment, and always,” like the union’s ad proclaims. If the SEIU truly wants to “Protect All Workers,” maybe it should start with its own. For that matter, workers counting on the SEIU to look out for their best interests should consider how the union treats its own employees. 

    Categories: SEIU
  7. NLRB Asked to Take Action Against UFCW Scheme Forcing Union Membership

    National labor unions are profiting off of the expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis industry, and the most egregious offender is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). This week, the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTWF) asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to put a stop to this scheme. 

    According to the NRTWF, the UFCW is manipulating state licensing laws to force employees into union ranks. A letter from the foundation to the General Counsel of the NLRB describes this “disturbing trend” that violates “employees’ Section 7 rights to choose or refrain from union representation.”

    Here’s how the scheme works: Several states have industry-specific licensing laws on the books that are aimed at empowering unions by forcing membership dues on employees. In New York and California, for instance, employers are required by law to enter into “Labor Peace Agreements” in order to maintain their license. In Pennsylvania and Illinois, cannabis license applicants who have LPAs essentially get preferential treatment by state officials.

    Instead of allowing employees to pick their representation, an employer could already have an agreement with a labor union before the business is up and running. As the Foundation points out, these LPAs “violate workers’ privacy” and threaten their right to choose whether or not to join a union.

    The NRTWF cites New Jersey as the most “egregious” violator of workers’ rights, as its law “brazenly requires employers to enter into collective bargaining agreements that will almost certainly contain forced dues clauses.” Additionally, license applicants must comply with LPAs as a condition of keeping their license. In practice, this means the state “pressures employees to sign up for unionization solely to keep their employers afloat.”

    Unfortunately, it’s not “uncommon for labor to use its political muscle to force businesses to bend to its will.” California’s cannabis industry recently got a wake up call on how unions expect business to be done in the Golden State: “You have to play by union rules, or you don’t exist.” 

    It’s not just licensing laws that are susceptible to undue union influence. Hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 11 uses similar schemes to expand its reach in Southern California. The union fought for a proposal to mandate LPAs for city-owned property in downtown Santa Monica. Local 11 also frequently backs development projects that are otherwise opposed by community members, so long as the proposed hotel developer signs an LPA with the union.

    As the NRTWF has warned, “Once this practice of dragooning workers into forced union representation and forced dues becomes established, it will be that much more difficult to overturn.” To protect workers’ rights, especially in the continually growing cannabis industry, the NLRB should take seriously these state schemes to push workers into union ranks, and work to preempt future laws that may compromise employees’ free choice.

    Categories: NLRBUFCWWorkers Center
  8. Labor Racket Weekly: February and March

    For reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, some union bosses might find themselves quarantined for some time — behind bars, that is. Check out the latest labor rackets from the past few months.

    In Arkansas, Michael Johnson, former President and Business Manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1658, was charged in a criminal information with one count of embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $9,317.

    In Michigan, Edward “Nick” Robinson, former President of United Auto Workers (UAW) Midwest CAP Council, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds in excess of $1.5 million, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

    In Georgia, Janet Pilcher, former Secretary-Treasurer of National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 536, was indicted for embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $65,033.

    In Maine, Jeffrey Phillips, former Financial Secretary-Treasurer of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local Lodge 836, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing from within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, in the amount of $57,610.

    In North Carolina, Terry Slaughter, former Secretary Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1208, was sentenced to six months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay $62,315 in restitution and a $100 fine.

    In Michigan, Michael Grimes, a former senior official in the General Motors Department of the United Auto Workers (UAW), was sentenced to 28 months in prison and 12 months of supervised release. Grimes was also ordered to forfeit $1,509,500 in proceeds from his crimes and pay a $200 special assessment. On September 4, 2019, Grimes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

    In California, after a six-day trial, a jury found John S. Romero, former President of United Industrial Services Worker of America (UISWA), guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 371), 12 counts of theft or embezzlement of approximately $800,000 in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 669), and one count of filing a false financial report with the Department of Labor, in which he failed to properly report the existence of more than $100,000 in receipts and disbursements (18 U.S.C. 1001). Romero’s family members, who were co-defendants (son John J. Romero, former UISWA Secretary-Treasurer; daughter Danae Romero, former UISWA Trustee; and ex-wife Evelyn Romero, former UISWA President), each previously pleaded guilty to counts under the indictment and testified at trial on behalf of the government.

    In Pennsylvania, James Young, former President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 4973, was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay $5,450 in restitution and a $100 special assessment. As a condition of his probation, Young cannot visit a casino establishment during his two year probationary period. On October 23, 2019, Young pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling union funds totaling $7,050.

    Categories: Building and Construction Trades CouncilLabor Racket Weekly