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Posts Tagged ‘union busting’

This Lawyer Helped Reagan Bust the Air Traffic Controllers Union. Now Trump Wants Him on the NLRB.

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Former President Ronald Reagan had a long history of clashing with organized labor, but his most infamous moment came in 1981, when he busted the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) and fired more than 11,300 air traffic controllers who were on strike. This act weakened the power of U.S. unions and set the stage for an all-out assault on organizing rights.

Thirty-six years later, Reagan’s lead attorney in the air traffic controllers case is poised to make decisions about thousands of unfair labor practices throughout the country.

As anticipated, President Donald Trump has nominated the management-side labor attorney Peter Robb, of Downs Rachlin Martin in Vermont, to serve as general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This is a four-year position, and the individual who holds it is responsible for investigating unfair labor practices. Obama administration general counsel Richard Griffin’s term expires this November and, if confirmed, Robb would take over the position.

In 1981, Robb filed unfair labor practice charges against PATCO on behalf of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) after a court ruled that the air traffic controllers’ strike was illegal. The FLRA case led to the decertification of PATCO, and Reagan subsequently banned most striking workers from federal service for their rest of their lives.

Reagan’s move set a new precedent for employers, emboldening them to attack labor more openly. In an interview with The Real News Networkfrom 2014, Joseph McCartin, Georgetown history professor and author of Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed Americaexplained the long-term impact. “When Ronald Reagan replaced the air traffic controllers [in] 1981, it was still not common for American employers in the private sector to deal with strikes by trying to break them and by permanently replacing workers who’d gone out on strike,” said McCartin, “Employers saw that Reagan was able to do this and, in effect, get away with it. Many private-sector employers took a similarly hard line when workers went out on strike in the private sector.”

Robb’s connections to union busting certainly don’t end with the landmark PATCO case. In 2014, he was hired by the Dominion Nuclear power plant when the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) began organizing workers. The Downs Rachlin Martin website contains a blurb boasting that Robb “represented a major national corporation in a National Labor Relations Board representation case proceeding, which had 34-days of hearing over 3 months to resolve 80 contested classifications covering hundreds of employees.”

In an interview this September, John Fernandes, a business manager for IBEW Local 457, told Bloomberg BNA that Robb represented used “scorched earth” tactics to thwart the organizing efforts. Fernandes says the plant added workers to the proposed unit in order to water down the union vote and sent videos of managers explaining the dangers of unionizing to the homes of employees. Ultimately, the plant was able to add more than 150 workers to the original petition and defeat the organizing drive.

“[Robb] handled most of the direct examinations, and his witnesses were well-schooled in advance—he’d ask one question and they’d go on forever,” Fernandes told Bloomberg BNA. “I was at a disadvantage, not being an attorney, but [the legal fees] would’ve been overwhelming for our local to pay … we certainly viewed it as union busting—it was a very long case.”

Robb also has previous connections to the NLRB. He worked as an NLRB field attorney in Baltimore during the late 1970s. He returned to the agency in 1982 as a staff lawyer and chief counsel for former member Robert Hunter. As a Republican, Hunter was an important ally to then-Chairman Donald Dotson, a staunchly anti-union member. In 1985, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told The Washington Post that Hunter had been the, “most loyal supporter of Donald Dotson in the transformation of the NLRB into a fundamentally anti-union entity.”

More recently, Robb’s firm harshly criticized the Obama-era NLRB, as captured in a slideshow compiled by Robb and Downs Rachlin attorney Timothy Copeland Jr. The presentation took aim at some of the pro-labor positions made by the NLRB under the previous administration. “The [Democratic] NLRB majority continues to narrowly define NLRB supervisory status, sometimes defying all common sense,” one slide reads. New Republican members are “likely to agree that the Obama board went too far,” the slideshow explained.

One of the decisions that Robb objects to is a 2014 rule that cuts back the amount of time between the filing of a unionization petition and the union vote to 11 days. The GOP has been attempting to extend the number of days to at least 35. This move would give businesses more time to construct a plan to stomp out union activity, like the aforementioned Dominion Nuclear strategy.

“The NLRB has made it clear that the intent of the new regulations is to run an election as quickly as possible which, of course, will give the employer the shortest period of time to respond to a union election petition,” Robb and three other Downs Rachlin lawyers wrote in a 2015 advisory.

The Trump administration has already quietly laid the groundwork for the NLRB to emerge as a much more business-friendly entity. This reality was underscored in August, when Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced that Ronald Reagan would be inducted into the department’s hall of fame. Trump’s previous NLRB nominees all have connections to union-busting, and the expected nomination of Robb would effectively make the NLRB—responsible for enforcing labor law—an anti-labor agency.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Trump is about to make America much crueler to unionized workers

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Since Election Day, unions have lived on borrowed time. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has exclusive authority over many key questions of labor law, is still controlled by Democrats?—?thus shielding workers and their unions from attacks that became far likelier the moment Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 election.

But this period of interregnum is about to end. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) began the process of confirming the first of Trump’s two nominees to the NLRB on Monday. When both nominees sit on the Board, a swift rollback of union rights is likely.

As soon as this week, the Senate is likely to vote on Marvin Kaplan, the first of these two nominees. A former GOP Hill staffer, Kaplan drafted legislation—strongly supported by business lobby groups—which would have made it easier for employers to fight unionization campaigns.

Trump’s other nominee, William Emanuel, is a veteran management-side lawyer who touts his “particular expertise with laws concerning union access to the private property of employers.” He’s also filed briefs in three cases claiming that employers can force workers to waive their right to bring class actions and similar lawsuits.

The NLRB is an unusual agency that functions very much like a judicial body. It is the only agency that can enforce certain portions of federal labor law, which protects the right to unionize, to engage in collective action within the workplace, and to have one’s employer actually bargain with a union in good faith.

While the NLRB employs lawyers who investigate and prosecute certain violations of labor law, the board members themselves function much like judges?—?sitting on individual cases and handing down precedential opinions interpreting the rights of workers, unions, and employers.

In recent years, however, the Board has grown increasingly partisan. By design, it has five board members, and three of those seats are typically controlled by the party that also controls the White House. For this reason, the Board’s understanding of labor law often lurches to the left and then to the right as control of the presidency changes hands.

During the second Bush administration, for example, the NLRB determined that workers with fairly minimal authority over their co-workers count as “supervisors” under federal labor law?—?and thus do not enjoy a legal right to unionize. The Board’s current Democratic majority, by contrast, appears much less eager to strip employees’ collective bargaining rights by declaring them “supervisors.”

Yet, while partisanship has shaped the NLRB’s decisions for quite a while, if Kaplan and Emanuel are confirmed, the Board will have a Republican majority for the first time in the post-Tea Party, take-no-prisoners era of GOP politics that began shortly after the Obamas moved into the White House.

The new majority on the board is likely to confront, and possibly reverse, a number of Obama-era decisions on important matters such as whether graduate students with significant work responsibilities should be allowed to unionize.

But the GOP’s recent approach to unions suggests that the party will not be satisfied with simply rolling back union rights to where they stood in the Bush era. Last year, the Supreme Court came within a hair of defunding many public sector unions based on an aggressive reading of the First Amendment?—?the suit failed only due to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, and a similar suit is likely to prevail soon now that Neil Gorsuch occupies Scalia’s seat.

Republican governors like Scott Walker crusaded against unions in their states. Senate Republicans even attempted to shut down the NLRB entirely during the Obama presidency?—?an action that would have rendered much of federal labor law unenforceable?—?by refusing to fill vacancies on the Board.

It is likely, in other words, that the NLRB’s incoming majority will push much harder against the right to organize than even President Bush’s appointees to the Board. They are creatures of a very different era.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Ian Millhiser is Justice Editor for ThinkProgress and author of Injustices: SCOTUS’ History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. 

Republicans Working Against Workers

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.

Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.

This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.

Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.

The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.

The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.

In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.

Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.

Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.

Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.

Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.

It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.

At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.

When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.

The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.

In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”

They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted  unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”

That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.

Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.

And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.

In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.

If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.

And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Working People Need to Know If We Can Trust Donald Trump’s NLRB Nominees to Protect Our Freedoms

Monday, July 17th, 2017

President Donald Trump chose two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board whose commitment to the freedom of working people to come together and negotiate is seriously in doubt. These two men, Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel, have records of actively trying to strip working people of their freedoms.

Republicans are rushing to get these nominations through, but it is imperative that the Senate uses upcoming hearings and meetings to find out whether these nominees will side with working people or the richest 1% of Americans. NLRB decisions and actions have a real impact on the lives of working people, particularly the ability to join together with co-workers to advocate for positive change.

Of the nominations, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Marvin Kaplan has never practiced labor law, and his experience comes from crafting legislation for politicians that rigs the rules against working people. William Emanuel has a long record of practicing labor law on behalf of employers, most recently at one of the most infamous union-busting law firms in the country. On their face, the resumes of both nominees appear to be in direct conflict with the mission of the NLRB.

Emanuel, a member of the staunchly anti-working people legal organization,  the Federalist Society, has extensive experience representing employers in collective bargaining, union elections and unfair labor practice proceedings under the National Labor Relations Act. Recently, he filed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that employers should be allowed to require employees to waive their right to file class-action lawsuits or any other method of joining with others in seeking relief for rights violations. Emanuel has directly worked on numerous issues currently before the NLRB, raising serious questions about his ability to be impartial on those cases.

Kaplan hasn’t ever practiced labor law. His only related experience is in staffing a couple of Republican, anti-worker committees in Congress and helping run a series of oversight hearings criticizing the NLRB under President Barack Obama. He drafted legislation to overturn several NLRB actions that strengthened the freedom of working people join together. Like Emanuel, Kaplan has actively worked on numerous issues he would have to rule on if confirmed to the NLRB, calling into question his own impartiality on those cases.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on July 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily KosAlternet, the Guardian OnlineMedia Matters for AmericaThink ProgressCampaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Duquesne’s NLRB Filing Reads as a Brazen Threat To Adjunct Union Organizers

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

photo_321703[1]Union busting has become big business in America. It’s so common that the run-of-the-mill variety hardly raises an eyebrow. Employers regularly hire anti-union consultants and hold captive audience meetings laced with subtle and not-so-subtle threats of disciplinary action or firings.

But every once in a while, employers try a novel union-busting tactic. In Pittsburgh, in a case that some have suspected is destined for the Supreme Court, Duquesne University has pushed the boundaries of employer intimidation.

On April 29, adjunct professors Clint Benjamin and Adam Davis testified under oath at a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The topic was Duquesne University’s unwillingness to recognize the union that their colleagues overwhelmingly voted for three years ago. After the hearing, the regional director of the NLRB held that Duquesne had to negotiate with the union the adjuncts voted to represent them, United Steelworkers (USW). (Full disclosure: I teach a course at Duquesne Law School, which is a part of Duquesne University, but was not part of this bargaining unit.)

As expected, Duquesne appealed the decision, prolonging the NLRB process and delaying bargaining. However, deep in Duquesne’s appeal—footnote 16 on page 42, to be exact—Duquesne did something radical: It used the brief as a means to openly union-bust by sending out a clear message that anyone who opposes the University in this organizing campaign risks losing their jobs.

The brief read, “Today, Duquesne reserves the right not to rehire both professors and replace them with professors willing and/or better able to incorporate Duquesne’s Catholic, Spiritan mission into their courses.”

As the bottom rung of the faculty, adjuncts have virtually no job protections, so Duquesne would be free to terminate any adjunct for any legitimate reason. It appears, then, that this threat of firing was meant to serve a different purpose than merely preserving some abstract right to fire them: It seems clear the comment was meant to threaten them and all other adjuncts that dare to stand against Duquesne in its anti-union efforts.

Such comments, made informally by a supervisor or anti-union consultant, are fairly common in the workplace during a union drive, though they may be illegal. The fact that Duquesne would feel brazen enough to submit them in a legal document to the NLRB is a slap in the face to the workers and a dare to the federal agency tasked with protecting labor rights.

When asked how he read the Duquesne’s footnote, Benjamin responded, “The threat was pretty bone-chilling.”

I reached out to Duquesne’s attorneys to inquire as to what legitimate explanation they could have had for the threatening footnote, and they did not respond to the request for comment.

There’s a reason the brief specifically cited the university’s religious mission. The NLRB hearing was to determine whether Duquesne, as an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church, was under NLRB jurisdiction. After initially agreeing to the union election in 2012, Duquesne changed course and argued that the NLRB had no jurisdiction over the university. The case has been going up and down the NLRB for three years now, raising significant issues about the Board’s jurisdiction.

The specific question at the hearing was whether the university “holds out the petitioned-for faculty as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining the university’s religious educational environment.” Benjamin and Davis’s testimony was critical. Benjamin testified that he teaches two core English composition courses at Duquesne, and Davis testified that he teaches a history of science course in the History Department. Both testified that they have never been asked about their faith, never been told how to promote Duquesne’s religious mission and never been disciplined for failing to live up to Catholic teachings. Benjamin, who also teaches a composition course at a community college, testified that the way he teaches his course at both institutions is identical.

Benjamin’s and Davis’s testimony that as adjuncts they had no role in Duquesne’s religious mission, and that they were never expected to help promote that mission, was damning to Duquesne’s case at the NLRB. Their testimony revealed that they answered advertisements for the adjunct positions, were hired without any questions about religion, and have never been given any religious directions. Benjamin explained that aside from the various crucifixes adorning the campus, religion is not a concern in his class.

Therefore, they were taken aback by Duquesne’s assertion in the brief professors mustincorporate Duquesne’s Catholic, Spiritan mission into their courses.”

In an interview with In These Times, Benjamin said that he is not even sure how he would incorporate religion into a basic composition course. “I guess we’d involve more reading of scripture?” he says. “The mission itself is to serve God by serving students. It’s pretty open-ended as to what that means.”

University of Wyoming College of Law Professor Michael Duff explained that Duquesne would have trouble arguing that it was simply reaffirming its rights to fire adjuncts who did not adhere to its religious mission. “The problem with the footnote, however, is its superfluity: there was simply no reason to make the declaration,” Duff explained, “and in the context of the footnote you could make a pretty strong argument that it was targeted specifically to the employee witnesses.” The footnote’s only purpose, in other words, was to intimidate the two professors and any other professors who may consider taking a stand in the future.

Duff, who worked at the Board for nine years, further explained that such statements in a legal filing are extremely rare.

“Typically this would occur before an employer had retained a lawyer and had gone off kind of “half-cocked” in anger,” Duff explained. “In my experience, it would be very unusual for a sophisticated law firm to make statements in a formal legal document that even arguably violated the law.”

Duquesne’s attorney, Memphis-based Arnold Perl, is indeed sophisticated in his labor practice. He has been involved in a variety of “union avoidance” (often code for union busting) for decades, and until shortly after he became Duquesne’s counsel in May 2012, he bragged in his bio that he had “extensive experience counseling organizations on remaining union free.” (In late 2012, he changed his bio to read that he has “extensive experience counseling organizations on positive employee relations.”)

Dan Kovalik, the USW attorney who has been representing the Duquesne adjuncts, explained that the purpose of the footnote was immediately apparent.

“It really is tantamount to them threatening to fire them for testifying,” he says. “Because as we showed at the hearing, adjuncts aren’t told they have to incorporate the mission in their teaching, and these guys certainly weren’t told to do that. And now because they testified truthfully about that, they’re being threatened to be fired.”

Reflecting on the irony of including this threat in a brief that is filled with so much religious doctrine and sanctimony, Kovalik said, “They’ve carved out the moral low ground in the name of carving out the moral high ground.”

Duquesne’s case is filled with such ironies. It is arguing that Catholic doctrine—which has traditionally been supportive of labor rights—provides the university an excuse not to recognize the employees’ duly elected union. And, in case that argument stalls, it has decided to use, as a vehicle for union busting, a legal filing to the federal agency tasked with protecting employees’ labor rights.

The techniques that everyone has come to expect in anti-union campaigns did not appear all at once, fully formed. Rather, some employer, management-side attorney, or anti-union consultant decided to test the waters with a new approach If the NLRB does nothing in response to Duquesne’s use of the Board’s proceedings to intimidate workers, then the message to other employers will be clear—and it won’t be long until this approach becomes the norm.

This blog originally appeared in InTheseTimes.com on August 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

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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