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Posts Tagged ‘union busting’

The Act 10 Saga Continues: Wiscosnin Judge Holds WERC Commissioners in Contempt for Enforcing Act's Recertification Provisions

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

secunda-paulThe Wisconsin Act 10 story took another unexpected turn this past Monday.  Those of you that have been following this saga know that Act 10 is the anti-public sector collective bargaining law enacted under the leadership of tea party Governor Scott Walker in 2011.  There have been all sorts of bizarre twists and turns in now almost three years of political and judicial fighting among the Walker administration and impacted unions.

Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court is due to hear oral arguments on November 11th on a trial judge’s ruling from September 2012 that Act 10 violates free speech, association, and equal protection rights of public sector union members under the federal and Wisconsin state constitution, there has been quite a side-show in the meantime.

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) is tasked with applying Act 10′s onerous recertification provisions, which require public sector unions to annually certify through vote than 51% or more of all members (not just voting members) still wish to be represented by the union.  In its previous incarnation, WERC did meaningful public sector employment work in the areas of fact-finding, mediation and arbitration. That function is mostly gone under the Act 10 regime.

In any event, the dispute here is whether Judge Colas’s decision striking down Act 10 only applied to the unions represented in that case or to all public sector unions in Wisconsin. The initial ruling was less than clear in this regard.  Because of the ambiguity, WERC has continued to apply the recertification provisions by decertifying the Kensoha teachers union for not seeking recertification and by planning to hold recertification elections in November for other public sector unions.

Judge Colas ruled on Monday that the two WERC Commissioners were in contempt of court for seeking to still apply Act 10 because his ruling applied to all public state and local employees in Wisconsin.  WERC has responded by completely ceasing its efforts to apply these provisions of Act 10 in order to purge their contempt.

It is unclear what happens next.  On the one hand, I, and most others, suspect that the 4 to 3 conservative-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court will strike down Judge Colas’s decision invalidating Act 10, which makes all this contempt hoopla eventually moot. But when that decision comes down is anyone’s guess, although likely before next summer.  On the other hand, the government has indicated that it will seek immediate relief from Judge Colas’s conempt order by asking the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to stay or vacate Judge Colas’s order.

I am somewhat bummed by all this on a personal level. I published what I thought was a comprehensive law review article detailing the entire Act 10 story in the summer of 2012 (shortly before the unsuccessful recall election of Governor Walker), but now I see I might have to write a second part to this saga.  Sigh.

This article was originally printed on Workplace Prof Blog on October 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Paul Secunda is an associate professor of  law at Marquette University Law School.  Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He co-authored the treatise Understanding Employment Law and the case book Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law.  Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media.  He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country.

Ban Ki-Moon Accused of Union-Busting at UN

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Michelle ChenUnited Nations workers spend their time on the front lines of the global struggle for human rights, but now they are battling for rights in their own workplace. The UN has come under fire for union-busting, and the labor standoff could undermine its ability to uphold the rights of others around the globe.

All summer, the United Nations’ staff unions have been clashing with management over a new policy aimed at curtailing the staff’s collective bargaining rights. The Staff Coordinating Council, the union leading the opposition campaign, contends that the loss of this negotiating power, enacted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, would deal an unprecedented blow to the union’s power to negotiate contracts and working conditions.

The dismantling of union power, in turn, may signal a gradual shift away from democracy and toward neoliberalism throughout the institution often hailed as the world’s watchdog.

The conflict began last spring, after the General Assembly issued a general order for the secretary general to revise rules for the Staff-Management Coordinating Committee, the current forum for collective bargaining talks. Ban then issued reforms that reduce the committee’s role in the negotiations to, essentially, an advisor—which the Council says is tantamount to “removing the right of staff unions to negotiate.”

According to the unions, when they declared the reforms unacceptable, management broke off talks. In July, the UN went ahead and enacted the rules. According to the Staff Coordinating Council , Ban had made far more drastic policy revisions than what the General Assembly had mandated. They say the order simply serves as a pretext for Ban to undermine the union’s influence, and that he has operated outside of the UN legal framework, which would require him to “seek mediation before consolidating this mandate.”

Now, UN employees—from office staff to peacekeepers to humanitarian aid workers—are waiting anxiously to see how the reforms will affect their power to determine the conditions of their work in a massive global governing structure.

Prior to the new policy, UN staff’s contract negotiations were similar to that of civil service unions in many member states, though the negotiations were not completely binding since the General Assembly could technically override the labor agreements. The loss of these collective bargaining rights has provoked international outcry from labor advocates, including the International Trades Union Congress.

Collective bargaining: A human right?

Union advocates say cutting collective bargaining will impact workers’ ability to respond effectively to crises, especially in war and disaster zones, where the UN is often the most dependable source of relief:

In order to continue this work, staff must feel valued and treated with the same dignity the UN encourages other organisations to treat their staff. Without a fully motivated and engaged staff, the results on the ground will change dramatically. The workforce of the UN is dedicated to its mission…. Everyone has the same goal.

Many labor issues are effectively on hold due to the breakdown of the talks. The staff union had wanted to address concerns over the UN’s the growing reliance on private security contractors in its military missions. Unions were also demanding “better protection for whistleblowers” and stronger oversight mechanisms, and “a workable screening system” to prevent agencies from employing people convicted of war crimes and other human rights violations.

Critics have stressed the irony that the UN’s own humanitarian campaigns often cite labor rights and collective bargaining as part of its founding human rights principles. (By contrast, the staff of the International Labour Organization, the global labor-rights monitoring body, is unionized with collective bargaining.)

The anti-union shift at the UN seems to run counter to its outspoken stance on labor rights in the private sector, such as its recent criticism of Bangladesh’s weak worker protections following the Rana Plaza factory disaster. The UN Global Compact, an initiative that advises businesses on human rights issues, proclaims that “Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”

The Staff Coordinating Council cites longstanding decrees on the right to union representation that enshrine collective bargaining as a universal right for all workers. Speaking by phone from Geneva, Staff Management Committee Vice President Ian Richards tells Working In These Times, “We think it’s clear that whether you’re bound by national laws or not, you should have the right to collective bargaining.”

Neoliberal humanitarianism?

This is, of course, not the first time the UN has come under fire for political hypocrisy—in recent years, agencies, both staff and leadership, have been scandalized by various cases of human rights violations, including misconduct by peacekeeping forces.

But the new labor policy is more than just the UN’s failure to walk the talk on labor rights. The reforms seem to reflect a global neoliberal trend among some member states. The undermining of collective bargaining at the UN follows labor crises in public sector unions in Europe and echoes Wisconsin’s pivotal anti-union law.

Unions argue that it reflects a general pattern of eroding job quality and security at critical agencies, and ultimately, will damage the staff’s effectiveness. In Richards’s view, UN workers’ rights have been quietly deteriorating amid a trend toward privatization: While agency budgets are threatened by deep cuts, the UN’s military missions increasingly rely on controversial private contractors like UK-based security firm G4S. Many staff have chafed at the administration’s restrictive “mobility policy,” which governs staff members’ freedom to change positions within the organization.

The situation is especially precarious for local field office workers. In conflict or disaster-stricken areas, Richards says: “For those who are locally employed… those [UN jobs] are about the only reliable kind of jobs you can get, especially if you have some kind of education.” But they are vulnerable to violence and the volatility of geopolitics. In Iraq, for example, if the UN withdraws foreign personnel and local workers are left behind, Richards warns, “Who looks after them? Are they going to be retaliated against?… There’s no current way of negotiating with [the management] on that.”

Ironically, the labor dispute has emerged just as the UN revisits a historical moment of crisis facing its workers: Last month the UN marked the tenth anniversary of the bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 staff members. Ban’s commemoration speech, quoted in the New York Times, specifically referenced the need to address security threats to field staff : “We have learned from our losses… We are changing the way we operate around the world.”

But the UN staff’s advocates see the loss of collective bargaining rights as a change in exactly the opposite direction—a measure that will make staff physically, as well as economically, less secure, in working conditions that are by definition fraught with instability.

Given its symbolism on the global stage, Richards says, “The UN is supposed to set an example to the world. Right now on labor rights, it isn’t.”

This article was originally printed in Working In These Times on September 16, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Authory: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica’s WBAI.

Honeywell Plant Freezes Summer Vacations

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Mike ElkAt a time of year when many workers are taking family vacations, uranium workers at Honeywell’s plant in Metropolis, Ill. won’t have that option. On July 27, the company announced a vacation freeze. United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents workers at the plant, claims that the decision is just another salvo in a three-year-long battle by Honeywell to bust the union.

Honeywell is currently in the process of rehiring several hundred operations workers at the uranium plant who were laid off in July of 2012 when the plant shut down for earthquake-safety improvements requested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Earlier this year, Honeywell began slowly rehiring the laid-off workers—both hourly union employees and non-union salary employees—to restart the plant. Now all but 21 of the 200 union employees have been rehired as the plant moves toward full operationality. But instead of rehiring the final 21 union workers, Honeywell is proceeding short-staffed and calling in workers on their days off to make up the gap.

In order to put pressure on the company to rehire the 21 laid-off union members, some union employees are refusing to work any overtime (and passing up the time-and-half pay). In response, Honeywell announced that because of the staffing shortage, no workers can take a vacation this summer.

In a July 27, 2013 email to employees, Honeywell Metropolis Operating Manager Jim Pritchett wrote:

Effective immediately, all vacations are cancelled and no further vacations are to be granted in operations including individuals’ days—that includes all hourly and salaried staff. The purpose is to assure we are staffed to support operations and to continue to get the remaining units on line so we can support our customers. … I am disappointed it has gotten to this but we have no choice due to employees not responding to call ins and taking care of their responsibilities…. This vacation freeze will be lifted as soon as the business needs of the plant are being effectively met by people coming when they are called.

The union speculates that Honeywell has an ulterior motive for not hiring the remaining 21 workers: It doesn’t want to rehire Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech. Under the union contract, Honeywell is obligated to rehire all of the laid-off union employees according to a mutually agreed upon list developed according to workers’ qualifications and seniority. The next person on the list is Lech.

“It’s directly targeting me for my work as union president,” says Lech, who thinks that Honeywell is trying to send a message about the length that the company is willing to go to crush the union.

The union says that instead of following the list, Honeywell has told the final 21 workers that they must compete against outside applicants and reapply for their jobs as if they were new hires directly off the street.

“It’s a violation of the contract,” Lech says. “How can Honeywell do it? Well, Honeywell does whatever they want.”

“It will take six months before the case even gets before an arbitrator and another six months before the arbitrator rules,” he says.

Workers are refusing overtime in the hopes that they can resolve the issue sooner. Many were planning family vacations and were outraged by the vacation moratorium.

“It’s a morally bankrupt company that punishes their employees for staffing shortages it created out of spite,” reads a text message to Working In These Times by one Honeywell employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being fired. “Two years ago we took their lousy contract and they’re still kicking us.”

Honeywell did not respond to request for comment for this piece.

Lech says that despite being laid off, he is undeterred from his work for the union.

“This absolutely will not stop me from doing my job,” says Lech. “Heck, I got more time than ever to work as union president.”

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

Tax Credits for New Jobs, but Really for Union Busting?

Friday, June 8th, 2012

mike elkA California-based company called VWR is busting its union, moving work to a non-union workforce a few hours away and receiving both federal and state tax incentives to do it. The scandal is yet another example of how companies can game the tax systems while hurting workers, and the government does little to stop them.

In Brisbane, Calif., 183 workers, members of Teamsters Local 853 that work at VWR, will lose their jobs at the end of the year when their scientific chemical warehouse closes. VWR, which is owned by Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, is moving the warehouse 230 miles away to Visalia, Calif. At the warehouse in Visalia, workers will be non-union and are expected to make half of what the current workers in Brisbane earn, according to the Teamsters.

The job losses will devastate local workers, many of whom are close to retirement age and will have difficulty finding jobs elsewhere. It will also devastate the city of Brisbane. A study conducted by the Federal-State Inquiry into Job Losses and Misdirected Tax Policy, chaired by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, found that the warehouse closure will result in the loss of 183 direct jobs and 83 indirect jobs among the suppliers and surrounding community in the Brisbane area. The loss of jobs will also reduce the City of Brisbane’s tax revenue by 18.5 percent.

The company, though, will benefit financially not only from halving workers’ salaries, but from a large amount of federal and state incentives to move. The City of Visalia, where the warehouse is being moved to, has received $2 million in federal Department of Commerce grants to do infrastructure improvements to the industrial park where the new warehouse will be located. VWR will also receive a total amount of $30,000 over a five-year period in tax credits from the state of California for every new worker hired.

“They aren’t creating new jobs, all they are doing is union busting,” says VWR worker John Thomas. “It’s a shame they are getting our tax dollars to destroy good middle-class jobs.”

This isn’t the first time VWR has used the new hire tax credits intended for job creation to simply move jobs from one place to another. Recently, the company received tax credits from Monroe County, N.Y., to move jobs from one warehouse in Towanda, N.Y., to another warehouse in Henrietta, N.Y. The move resulted in the layoffs of 41 warehouse workers in Towanda.

“I think this is a formula that union and non-union companies are using to abuse federal funds. You are not creating new jobs. You are really just transferring jobs and getting paid to screw these people out of their employment,” says Teamsters International Vice President Rome Aloise. “There should be some restrictions on how federal funding is provided to not allow this kind of transfer to occur.”

There are supposed to be “non-relocation” laws in place at the federal level to prevent corporations from receiving federal tax dollars for moving jobs from one area of the country to another area of the country. Teamsters are upset that the Department of Commerce is still providing a $2 million dollar infrastructure improvement grant for a project that will facilitate union warehouse jobs being moved from Brisbane to Visalia. The Department of Commerce counters that it has not violated “non-relocation” laws since the grant was intended to facilitate the creation of other jobs besides VWR ones in Visalia’s industrial park. Furthermore, the Department of Commerce claims it didn’t know about the VWR facility when issuing the $2 million grant.

“The site of the VWR facility was not contemplated as part of the project, nor was it included in any job creation estimates. Moreover, the City advises us that it had no knowledge of VWR’s interest when it applied for EDA funds and that it did not solicit or court the company to relocate,” wrote Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez in a letter to Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, Jr.  “As the decision should be clear from the above, the decision to the Plaza Driver project was entirely independent of the VWR matter.”

However, in a written response to the Commerce Department, Hoffa Jr. argued:

Just as VWR is dealing in bad faith with employees and the City of Brisbane by refusing to explore viable alternatives, VWR and the City of Visalia are dealing in bad faith with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration and U.S. taxpayer about how will benefit from this public financing. The $2 million grant awarded to the City of Visalia in April 2011 to make infrastructure improvements to Plaza Driver will benefit VWR in its relocation efforts according to city documents and news reporters. However VWR was omitted from the list of companies, Visalia identifies as beneficiaries in its EDA grant application.

As evidence of Visalia’s bad fatih, the Teamsters point to an August 2010 newspaper account that quotes the Visalia City community development director saying that “the planned widening of Plaza… and improvements to Riggin Avenue… (and) the Betty Drive interchange… were big selling points to (VWR).“ But it appears that regardless of whether Visalia told the truth in its application for the $2 million grant, the city will receive the money and Brisbane’s workers will lose their jobs.

Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, says such schemes are intrinsic to programs that give tax credits to companies hiring new workers.

You inevitably run a risk with new hire credits that most of the hires would have occurred even without the credit,” says Baker. “In those cases, you’re giving money for nothing. Obviously the story is worse when what you’re giving money for is a union-busting scheme. As a practical matter, this can be hard to prevent since there will always be some way to game the system.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on June 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

Clean Energy Company Treats Workers Like Dirt

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Covanta Energy operates 30 incinerators in the U.S. that convert waste to energy. The company’s holdings include Hennepin Energy, an incinerator that employs members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Minneapolis, Minn., Local 160.

Covanta, which increased its earnings in 2008 to $50 million, prides itself on being an innovative, “green,” responsible employer. But the vast majority of Covanta’s U.S. plants are nonunion. And the company, which is seeking to develop new projects in Canada, China, Ireland, the U.K. and the Netherlands, intends to keep it that way.

In 2008, the Utility Workers Union of America organized 130 workers at one of the company’s waste incinerators in Rochester, Mass. Soon after the National Labor Relations Board certified the union as the bargaining agent in Richmond, Covanta instituted new work rules. The regulations ban any solicitation or distribution of “unauthorized” material anywhere on company property or company time.

Employees are also told not to provide any information about Covanta to the news media, government officials or other “outside representatives” without management’s approval.

The utility workers filed a charge with the NLRB, contending that the rules, published in the employee handbook, violate the National Labor Relations Act. The same charges were filed in every NLRB region where Covanta operates a facility.

On May 22, The NLRB issued a complaint charging Covanta Energy with violating labor law at 46 Covanta locations across the U.S.

In April, OSHA issued citations against Covanta for violating fire safety rules and for “maintaining” electrical equipment with duct tape and cardboard. The citations–based on an October 2008 inspection of the Rochester plant requested by the utility workers–found that Covanta had improperly stored oxygen and fuel cylinders side-by-side on a welding cart with no barrier between them.

The labor board and OSHA findings don’t surprise Thomas Koehler, business manager of Local 160, who says that Covanta has historically operated with a heavy hand leading to high worker turnover. With Local 160′s contract with Covanta expiring next summer, Koehler hopes that government scrutiny will help force Covanta to be more responsible for employees and rethink its hostility to unions.

The utility workers are taking their campaign for worker justice at Covanta across the globe. In the U.K. the national Trades Union Congress has requested that unions spread the word about Covanta’s hostility to unions in four communities where new projects are proposed. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and national unions in Canada have voiced similar support.

This article originally appeared in Working Life on June 3, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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