Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been rightly criticized for how he has handled the water crisis in Flint. In his State of the State speech earlier this month, he had a chance to take the crisis head on and failed to do so. Working people, on the other hand, are stepping up where Snyder has failed.
Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, responded to Snyder’s speech:
The people of Flint deserve answers and accountability, but the governor didn’t provide either tonight. Until the governor waives his [Freedom of Information Act] exemption and releases all materials on the Flint water crisis—including those from his senior staff—his promise to release a handpicked number of emails is hollow. To help the people of Flint start to heal and ensure a disaster like this never happens again, the governor needs to be fully transparent with the public and start telling the truth.
Sam Muma, president of the Greater Flint Central Labor Council, agreed:
It seems pretty clear that Rick Snyder still doesn’t get it. Our city needs sustained, long-term resources from the state to clean up the mess that Snyder created, and on that front, the governor’s speech fell short. All I heard were more empty promises from a politician who’s desperate to dodge the blame. Snyder needs to start being straight with people and show real leadership if he’s ever going to help Flint recover.
Meanwhile, union members have been helping out Flint residents. UAW and LIUNA members have volunteered to help out, and now Plumbers and Pipe Fitters members are going door to door to help residents install filters that will make their water a lot safer. Focusing on seniors and people with disabilities first, the plumbers have helped instill more than 1,000 filters since last week. Residents like Lucia Chapman, who was deeply concerned about the safety of her brother who has a disability and her grandchildren, have been thankful for the efforts of the union members. “I don’t have to worry about if I’m drinking bad water. Everything will be alright because we got people like him,” she said, in reference to plumber Tony Slatton, who changed her faucet and installed her filter.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist. Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek. He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.
WASHINGTON. D.C.—Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress—but barely mentioned unions. The president did touch on a number of issues important to workers—such as increasing manufacturing in America, taxing the rich more equitably, increasing education funding and increasing enforcement of trade laws—but said nothing about increased attacks on workers’ rights around the country during the last 12 months.
This despite 2011 being the a year in which unions (especially those representing public-sector workers) have been under unprecedented attacks in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.
The only time Obama explicitly mentioned a union was in reference to “Master Lock’s unionized plant” in Milwaukee, which he said is now running at “full capacity” because the company brought back jobs from overseas.
At the beginning of his speech, Obama said: “At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.” However, he did not mention the fundamental role that unions played in building that middle class. Unions represented nearly one-third of all workers in the decade following World War II.
One of the only times that President Obama did indirectly to address union issues was in what could be interpreted to be a reference to wanting more “flexibility” in contract language “to replace teachers.” Obama said:
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.
While some could interpret this language as attacking the contract clauses of teacher union contracts, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten did not see this as an anti-teacher union statement, telling In These Times, “I heard a different tone about what teachers and students need—as well as what he has always said about teacher accountability.” Weingarten further praised the speech, saying that it was about “fighting for the middle class, for economic fairness, taking on the banks, telling others to stop bashing and leading with accountability—it’s an important populist message for the times we are in. I think the president deserves that acknowledgement.”
The only other time that Obama referenced an event involving a union was in speaking about the role of workers (represented by the United Auto Workers union) in helping to revive the auto industry. Obama said: “In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We got workers and automakers to settle their differences. We got the industry to retool and restructure. Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker.”
While praising GM’s return to profitability, Obama did not mention how, despite the auto industry returning to profitability, the industry has done nothing to eliminate a two-tier wage system that was implemented as part of the bailout. The UAW did not return request for comment on the president’s section of the speech.
“There is little or nothing in this speech to oppose what most employers are doing; cutting jobs, busting unions, slashing wages, liquidating benefits, and running roughshod over workers in every way possible,” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “As for workers, we are forced to work for a poverty existence at a “competitive wage” until we tipple into the grave. How inspiring is that?”
Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, criticized the speech for failing to emphasize the importance of protecting living standards and workers’ rights. “We need a national jobs policy that creates enough jobs for all those who are able to work, raises core standards around living wages and family-supporting benefits, stops and deters wage theft, and ensures that public and private sector workers have the right to collective bargaining,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
But despite the lack of positive references to the role of unions and organized labor, the speech did receive good reviews for Obama’s calls to renew America’s manufacturing sector, enforce trade laws more fairly, crack down on Wall Street, and reform tax laws to tax wealthy people at higher rates. (Billionaire Warren Buffet’s secretary was actually present for the speech to symbolize America’s dysfunctional tax code; her boss actually pays a lower tax rate overall than she does.) Specifically, he called for the creation of a “Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
President Obama’s speech tonight shows that he has listened to the single mom working two jobs to get by, to the out-of-work construction worker, to the retired factory worker, to the student serving coffee to help pay for college. …And tonight he made clear that the era of the 1% getting rich by looting the economy, rather than creating jobs, is over—what a contrast to the vision presented by presidential candidates squabbling over how much further to cut the taxes of the 1%.
The call for reviewing manufacturing and cracking down on unfair trade practices drew particular praise from United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard. He said:
President Obama has listened to us as American workers and laid out a vision of the America we want and need, one that creates jobs and prosperity for us and not the 1% who have looted the economy….The President’s commitment to discourage job outsourcing and promote insourcing is a ticket to a better economy.
We especially applaud the announcement to renew his policy to get tough on trade enforcement with a new unit to bring together resources and investigators from across the government to go after unfair trade practices in countries around the world, including China.
The GOp chose Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to deliver the party’s response to the State of the Union address. Daniels has spearheaded the effort to pass “Right-to-Work” legislation in Indiana, which would weaken private-sector unions. On its website, the AFL-CIO said the choice of Daniels sends a “clear signal the party is making attacks on working people a top priority in the 2012 elections.”
Surprisingly, though, Daniels didn’t say anything about unions. At least from my perspective last night, it was as if the massive fights for collective bargaining rights we witnessed in Wisconsin and Ohio last year (which, of course, continue in Wisconsin) never even happened.
Full disclosure: the UAW and USW are In These Times sponsors.
This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on January 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Mike Elk is a labor journalist whose investigative work has been cited on the front page of the New York Times and debated by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on ABC’s The View. Elk won a Sidney Award for his coverage of how corporations crafted legislation to exempt prison labor from U.S. minimum wage laws. Elk has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters and The Nation and is currently a reporter at Politico.
You may have heard something about the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The main thing you need to know is that this is an attack on working people’s freedom to come together and form unions, plain and simple. These are the nurses who make sure their patients have what they need to get well and the teachers who advocate for their students and class sizes.
Here’s a handy graphic you can share with your friends and family.
This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on January 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.
About 150 Muslim workers at a meat processing plant have been fired for refusing to show up for work during an ongoing dispute over prayer accommodations.
The controversy began on December 18, when 11 Somali Muslim workers at the Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado requested to visit the building’s prayer room at the same time. Administrators asked the workers to go in smaller groups to keep production flowing, expressing concerns over work stoppages. But while the workers initially complied, 10 resigned at the end of the day, citing disapproval with the policy.
As news of the incident spread, roughly 200 workers — most of whom are Muslim and all of whom are represented by the Teamsters Union — staged a walkout in solidarity with the Muslim workers, many staying home from work for three days. Cargill representatives claim they initially attempted to resolve the issue, but eventually fired workers who didn’t return to the production line.
Cargill insists the issue centers around a “misunderstanding,” and that they need to limit the number of people who can pray at one time because the beef processing plant has to meet USDA regulations.
“At no time did Cargill prevent people from prayer at Fort Morgan,” Michael Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, told the Denver Post. “Nor have we changed policies related to religious accommodation and attendance. This has been mischaracterized.”
But the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group which is representing around 100 of the workers who lost their jobs, told reporters that while the prayer policy may have been accommodating in theory, it was far more rigid in practice.
“The workers were told: ‘If you want to pray, go home,’” CAIR spokesman Jaylani Hussein told the Denver Post.
Reports of the exact number of workers fired vary, ranging from 150 to 190. But all of those let go will face steep hurdles if they want their jobs back: Cargill policy requires fired workers to wait six months before reapplying for their jobs. CAIR is reportedly in talks with Cargill to get the six-month stay waived, so employees can return to their jobs on the plant’s fabrication floor.
CAIR noted in a press release that a similar issue of religious accommodation for Muslims occurred at Swift meat processing plant in nearby Greeley, Colorado in 2008. That incident focused on prayer policies for the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, and resulted in the firing of 100 Muslim workers when hundreds staged a walkout. However, that dispute was “successfully resolved,” according to CAIR.
The Cargill plant still employs around 400 Somalis, many of whom are Muslim, and 2,000 workers overall.
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on January 3, 2016. Reprinted with permission
Jack Jenkins is the Senior Religion Reporter for ThinkProgress. He was previously the Senior Writer and Researcher for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, and worked as a reporter and blogger for the Religion News Service. His stories and analysis have appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics, National Catholic Reporter, and Christian Century, among other publications. Jack got his bachelor’s in history and religion/philosophy from Presbyterian College and holds a Master’s of Divinity from Harvard University. He also plays harmonica and ukulele.
On December 15, 2015, the United Auto Workers (UAW) International Executive Board (IEB) nullified the resolution passed last year by members of UAW Local 2865, the 13,000 teaching assistants and student-workers at the University of California system, that called on the International to endorse the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel by withholding their financial investments in companies “complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.
The decision to nullify the BDS resolution, which had made Local 2865 the first American local union to endorse a boycott, was the outcome of an appeal filed by a member of Informed Grads, a group of local union members who opposed BDS. Stephen Brumbaugh, a Local 2865 member at UC Los Angeles, took his case up with the International’s executive board after Local 2865 had previously dismissed it in May 2015, failing to find merit in its claims.
The IEB went through a period of fact-finding, gathering testimony and evidence from Informed Grads and Local 2865 before issuing the decision. While UAW IEB admitted that the December 2014 vote on the BDS measure was democratic and free of any misconduct, producing a turnout higher than previous elections held by the local, the IEB concluded that in its view the resolution violated the International’s constitution by “lead[ing] to a direct economic deprivation for members of the UAW, as well as other organized members by, categorically interfering with the flow of commerce to and from earmarked companies” at Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, ITT, Northrop-Grumman and Raytheon, the firms targeted by BDS advocates.
Brumbaugh’s attorneys on the appeal are associated with Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, a global law firm known for providing for big business, including Walmart in a 2011 landmark civil action discrimination suit. “We are very pleased by [the UAW] International Union’s forceful rejection of BDS, which sets a powerful precedent for other labor unions and national organizations,” said Scott Edelman, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, in a statement by Informed Grads.
At one August hearing, Brumbaugh and his attorneys introduced several letters sent by “prominent labor union advocates” to UAW International to condemn BDS, including Randy Cammack and Rome A. Aloise, both International Vice Presidents with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and J. David Cox, Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“We would find it difficult to ask our members to support your union in a labor dispute with the University of California so long as you are engaged in activities that are fundamentally hostile to their interests,” Cammack and Aloise say in their letter. “Unlike the members of your union, who are graduate students and therefore union members for a short period of time, our members are working in jobs that must support them for a lifetime and it is our job to protect them for all of their working lives.”
Another letter submitted by Brumbaugh came from Jonathan D. Ginzel, the Director of Labor & Employment Relations at Caterpillar (one of the corporations targeted by BDS resolutions for its alleged role in the demolition of Palestinian villages), who tells a UAW International executive that the company “outright rejects any suggestion that Caterpillar is engaged in or complicit in any human rights violations anywhere in the world” and asks the International to “void this Resolution and take whatever additional steps are necessary to confirm that the UAW does not support an effort to divest from Caterpillar or Israel.”
Kumars Salehi, a UAW 2865 member and BDS caucus member at UC Berkeley, calls the IEB’s claims of potential economic deprivation a “model of business unionism,” the union model that eschews engagement with broader social issues beyond its members’ day-to-day needs.
“This is clearly an argument that is from the perspective of the employers rather than of workers. This is the sort of argument that could be used against any boycott,” Salehi says. “There are people within UAW and the labor movement in general that critique the assumption that the interests of employers and ‘the flow of commerce’ are the same as the interests of workers.”
The IEB uses these letters later in their report to support their conclusion that by passing the BDS resolution, Local 2865 broke its constitutional obligation to work together with other unions for the “solidification” of the labor movement. But UAW members claim that their local began organizing around BDS after a call for boycott was made by Palestinian trade union confederations in July 2014 in the midst of the 50-day assault waged by the Israeli military that left 2,100 Palestinians dead.
“Citing ‘the solidification of the labor movement’ in order to justify negating the will of our members is pretty sinister and hypocritical,” says Salehi, adding that in the eyes of the IEB, it seems the rule is that Palestinian trade unions are not a part of the labor movement.
The IEB also ruled in favor of Informed Grads on the charge that the BDS resolution violated the union constitution’s ethical code, saying the resolution was “suggestive of discriminatory labeling and a disparagement” of its Israeli and Jewish members.
“The local union’s attempt to address the predicament of the Palestinian people appears to be accomplished through biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members, and the scorning of the state of Israel and all alleged entities complicit in actions against Palestine,” the IEB said in report of the decision.
David McCleary, UAW 2865 Northern Vice President, speaking on behalf of UAW 2865 Executive Board, told In These Times, “We firmly reject accusations of antisemitism, and the evidence presented during the appeal process clearly supports this view. As one of many Jewish members of UAW 2865 who supported this divestment campaign, I can say that the accusation is personally hurtful and I expected better of our International Executive Board.”
“While this decision nullifies our non-binding resolution, it does not erase the voices and efforts of the countless rank-and-file members of our union, passionate about equality and justice for Palestinians,” McCleary added.
Unted Electrical Workers (UE) and the Connecticut AFL-CIO have followed Local 2865’s lead on a BDS endorsement over the course of the past year but have met opposition. UE’s resolution has been challenged through the National Labor Relations Board by an Israeli non-governmental organization on the grounds that it amounts to illegal secondary boycotts (aproduct of the Taft-Hartley Act). In California, as Glenn Greenwald has written for the Intercept, UC administrators and state lawmakers have been vocally supportive of expanding hate speech definitions to include criticism or “demonization” of Israel, which would conceivably limit BDS activism at least in theory.
“No letter from the IEB can erase the educational and organizational work we have done over the past year—work we will continue to do, energized no doubt by the IEB’s undemocratic, business-friendly attempt to nullify this vote,” the BDS caucus says in a statement. “We are part of a growing movement for union solidarity with the people of Palestine and for a democratic and visionary U.S. labor movement.”
At New York University, graduate worker and UAW member David Klassen, says he was “excited” about the BDS campaign in California because it was everything he felt was missing in the UAW: “a long period of education, open debate” followed by “an open referendum in which members can actually decide what the policy of their union will be.”
Klassen is a member of the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union within UAW, a new wave of graduate student workers who say they aim to reform the International in more progressive directions, and says he is invested in ensuring that UAW has “venues in which people can forward their voices and have open debate” rather than important union decisions being made “quietly, in backrooms.” Klassen says that the nullification decision is the “perfect example” of closed-door decision-making that the International needs to break from.
While the IEB may have halted the BDS resolution from Local 2865 for the moment, Klassen says that AWDU members have learned from the effort in California and have launched their own BDS campaign at NYU. While he admits the common assumption is that members would want to shy away from a “controversial” or “divisive” issue, he says members have seemed to prefer democratic debate over the issue.
“People want to know that their union is a place where they can have debates about the world that they live in—that collectively, they can negotiate not just for [their] narrow, material interests at work, but also the world in which they live.” he says.
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.com on January 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at [email protected]
A sustained campaign on behalf of Senate cafeteria workers – including a 63-year-old employee who was homeless because he could not earn enough money to afford an apartment – has succeeded this week in getting these workers a desperately needed boost in pay and benefits.
Thanks to the organizing efforts of Good Jobs Nation and other allies, Senate officials signed a new contract with the workers that raises their minimum pay to $13.30 an hour and brings the average pay to workers close to the $15 an hour that the workers were demanding.
The Senate cafeteria workers were held up as a prime example of the kinds of poverty-wage jobs held by people under federal contracts. The company with the contract to manage the Senate cafeteria, Restaurant Associates, is part of a multinational corporation that boasted inits 2014 annual report that it had done well enough to offer to increase its dividend payments to shareholders by 10.5 percent as well as return 1.5 billion pounds – more than $2 billion – to shareholders via share buybacks and other means.
There was plenty of room to give a raise to stockholders, but not to the Senate cafeteria workers – at least not until the Senate cafeteria workers put their own jobs on the line to call attention to their plight. Their bold decision to hold one-day strikes, lead demonstrations and tell their stories led to several Democratic senators – including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – and their staffs announcing a boycott of the cafeteria every Wednesday until the demands of the cafeteria workers were met.
The pressure on behalf of the workers appears to have made an impression on Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who when signing the new contract said that he was “glad their concerns were heard and taken into consideration in the new contract.”
One concern, though, remains unaddressed: the workers’ demand for the ability to form a union. Restaurant Associates remains subject to complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board that they have improperly interfered with the ability of the cafeteria workers to organize. Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the cafeteria workers “won’t stop fighting until they get a voice on the job.” And neither should we.
This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on December 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.
Companies like Uber and Lyft consider their drivers to be “independent contractors,” which is all about freedom—specifically, the company’s freedom to not pay for things like workers comp, unemployment, or even the minimum wage. That’s a system facing significant court challenges in some places, and now another form of challenge in Seattle. The Seattle City Council on Monday night passed a bill giving drivers union rights.
Under the bill passed Monday, “for-hire drivers” would be legally entitled to seek out “exclusive driver representatives” for the purpose of collective bargaining — i.e., labor unions. If a majority of drivers at a particular company designate a union as their representative, then by law the company will have to bargain with the union within the city of Seattle.
The law has implications well beyond Uber and Lyft. Many traditional taxi drivers are classified as independent contractors as well, and would have new rights under the law.
At least, they would if the law ever goes into effect. Uber and others in the industry are expected to challenge the law in two possible ways: by claiming that it conflicts with federal labor law, and by arguing that it runs afoul of antitrust law.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he won’t sign the law, but he can’t block it. Despite the delays the law will face thanks to legal challenges, the pressure is growing—on multiple fronts—for Uber and Lyft and other gig economy companies to quit using the weakness of American labor law to exploit their workers.
This blog originally appeared in DailyKOS.com on December 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Chaos, in other words—and just the sort of chaos that this attack on unions deserves in response.
Friedrichs and labor’s response
The First Amendment is at the heart of the Friedrichs case. It is a right-wing argument that public sector employers (in other words, the government) violate individuals’ First amendment rights by compelling employees, through contracts negotiated with unions, to pay a fee to a union. Currently, unions that are certified to represent a group of employees in a bargaining unit are legally compelled to represent all of the employees in that unit. That means not just bargaining on their behalf, but expending significant resources on grievances, meetings, communications and everything else that goes into running a union.
But union membership, including the payment of dues, is completely voluntary. That’s why unions negotiate agency fees into contracts. These fees are calculated through complicated formulas to only represent the true cost of bargaining representation. Agency fees do not pay for things like political activity (unions usually have separate voluntary political funds).
But the Friedrichs case argues that any interaction that a union has with the government, including bargaining, is inherently political. Agency fees, therefore, are compelled political activity.
This ridiculous argument is only before the Supreme Court now because Justice Samuel Alito inserted the issue into last year’s otherwise unrelated Harris Vs. Quinn case. That case was only a partial defeat for unions, as Alito lacked the fifth vote to totally do away with agency fee in the public sector. In his written decision, Alito basically solicited for someone to bring a case with exactly Friedrichs’ set of facts, and it has raced up to the Supreme Court. This is the stuff of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Unions have mounted an excellent legal case, backed up by a broad array of supporting briefs. A ruling against the unions would reverse a 37-year-old precedent. The Supreme Court is supposed to be guided by the principal of stare decisis, which is essentially to let long-settled precedent stand. And finally, the case will be decided in the middle of a presidential election that is already turning on questions of inequality and workers rights. In his handling of the Obamacare and gay marriage cases, Chief Justice Roberts has shown that he does seem to care about his legacy. Would he support such a nakedly partisan political move by his Court in this election cycle?
So, on the facts, on the law and on the politics, unions really ought to win this case. And, to be clear, agency fee and exclusive representation are worth defending. They create the conditions for tremendous worker power at workplaces that have both.
But if unions lose agency fee, then exclusive representation no longer makes sense. This is not simply because of the free-rider problem that will drain union resources. It is because exclusive representation is essential to labor peace, and a Friedrichs ruling that guts union rights is the clearest signal that the billionaire class does not want—nor does it deserve—any kind of peace.
Labor’s First Amendment rights
If the Supreme Court rules that every interaction that a union has with its government employer is inherently political, Heather Whitney argues in her article, then that would open the door to unions claiming their own First Amendment right—to choose who they represent. In other words, if agency fee is compelled speech, then the duty of exclusive representation imposed on unions is also compelled speech.
Imagine a group of registered nurses at a public hospital who want to bargain for much larger raises than the rest of the members of the bargaining unit. Or imagine a group of young workers who want to bargain away pensions in exchange for larger salaries in the here and now. (Forget for the moment that both scenarios are just bad unionism.) Once these contract demands are considered by the Court to be political speech, then the fact that these workers are compelled by the government to represent workers who disagree with them, and who could outvote them, is a violation of their First Amendment rights!
I’ll also point out that unions’ rights to freely engage in actual political speech is already impeded by the duties of exclusive representation. Unions are politically cautious and loathe to wade into non-economic controversies for fear of alienating a segment of their bargaining unit. For instance, most unions were slow to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for fear of alienating bargaining unit members who were veterans or who had children in the military. Even in a so-called “Right to Work” state, those people may not be members but they could still express their displeasure by voting to decertify the union. Does that not coerce unions into more limited political activity?
This is not an abstraction. The day after the Friedrichs decision, if the Court kills agency fee by making all public sector union work “political,” does anybody doubt that the first time a non-member walks into a union office with a grievance that she will be told, “Join the union or get the hell out of our office?” And then we’ll be off to the races with a case that will go to the Supreme Court to revisit exclusive representation in the public sector without agency fee.
Then, the only question would be whether the government has a “compelling interest in requiring unions to negotiate and grieve their nonmembers’ complaints without receiving just compensation.” And here scholarship would demonstrate that it has been the employers’ preference to deal with one exclusive representative because it is easier for them, and, as Whitney writes, “convenience is no response to whether exclusive representation is properly tailored to the government’s legitimate interest.”
Breaking the peace
So far, we’re just talking about public sector unions because having the government as employer, Alito’s right-wing conspirators argue, converts all of the activities of those unions into inherently political acts. But if thisFriedrichs logic takes hold, then arguably having the government—in the form of the National Labor Relations Board—compel unions to represent workers they would choose not to (and perhaps vice versa) might become unconstitutional as well.
Currently, the NLRB will only certify unions as exclusive representatives of all of the workers in a bargaining unit, and only if the union can win a majority vote. This is often an insurmountable threshold for unions to reach in the face of intense employer opposition. In his 2005 book The Blue Eagle at Work, law professor and labor law expert Charles J. Morris documented that in its early history the NLRB used to certify minority unions as the bargaining agent for their members only. Morris argued that this pathway was still technically open to unions to gain a foothold at a workplace and legally compel an employer to recognize a non-majority union.
The modern NLRB has dodged efforts by unions to get an advisory ruling on Morris’ theory. But if the Friedrichslogic holds, private sector unions may have a First Amendment challenge to the NLRB’s continued refusal to grant certifications for just the members they choose to represent.
And that, if you’ll follow me down this rabbit hole, could spell the end of contractual no-strike clauses. They would simply be unenforceable in an environment of competing, non-exclusive, members-only unions. Workers would simply drop their union memberships to participate in wildcat job actions. Or else join new workplace organizations that have not signed agreements committing to labor peace.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any fantasy of some huge wave of potential strike actions that would occur tomorrow if only the enraged working class would stop being “repressed” by current union leadership and our current collective bargaining agreements. But these no-strike clauses go well beyond total shutdowns of production to include all manner or slow-downs, work-to-rule and refusal to carry out selective duties.
Any experienced union rep reading this can recall at least one incident of having to talk his members off a ledge—out of refusing a new duty or clocking out for lunch at the same time. These actions would be concerted protected activity in a non-union workplace, but under a “no-strike” contract could result in all participants legally getting fired. How the hell are we supposed to get workers who don’t enjoy union protection fired up about taking action against their bosses, when their unionized peers can’t set any kind of example in terms of actually enjoying their supposed protections?
It’s funny that the First Amendment could make this possible. Union rights in this country are not constitutionally rooted in the First Amendment, but in Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce—which is one of the reasons that our labor laws make no damn sense. So, yes, Friedrichs could be a useful tool for labor by finally connecting our work to our rights of free speech and free assembly.
But if you’ve followed me down this rabbit hole and are starting to get a little excited about a possible post-Friedrichs world, let me give you an “on the other hand.” Heather Whitney’s First Amendment argument for ending the duty of exclusive representation would come before a Court that would not be weighing it against a long-established precedent as Roberts’ Court is considering Freidrichs. It will be weighing the argument against a very recent Court decision.
If labor successfully causes enough chaos of the nature I’m driving at—or even poses a credible threat to do so—don’t be surprised if the Supremes try to put the lid back on Alito’s can of worms.
This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on December 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.
Another story about working people in the South successfully organizing comes our way via Chattanooga, Tennessee, where skilled trades employees at Volkswagen’s plant in the town voted overwhelmingly to be represented by UAW Local 42. More than 70% of workers who cast ballots voted for the union.
Mike Cantrell, president of UAW Local 42, said:
A key objective for our local union always has been moving toward collective bargaining for the purpose of reaching a multiyear contract between Volkswagen and employees in Chattanooga. We have said from the beginning of Local 42 that there are multiple paths to reach collective bargaining. We believe these paths will give all of us a voice at Volkswagen in due time.
Ray Curry, director of UAW Region 8, commended the workers after the vote:
Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga have had a long journey in the face of intense political opposition, and they have made steady progress. We’re proud of their courage and persistence. We urge Volkswagen to respect the decision of its employees and recognize the local union as the representative of the skilled trades unit.
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of UAW, urged Volkswagen to drop plans to appeal the election:
It’s overdue time for Volkswagen to refocus on the values that made it a successful brand — environmental sustainability and meaningful employee representation. The hardworking members of UAW Local 42 stand ready to assist in the Volkswagen comeback story. Our hope is that the company now is ready to move forward in the German spirit of co-determination.
This blog originally appeared at AFLCIO.org on December 7, 2015. 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 Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
After two days of voting in a National Labor Relations Board election, a majority of workers at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas have voted “YES” to be represented by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165 of UNITE HERE. Over 500 employees of the hotel are in the union’s bargaining units and were eligible to vote.
Trump Las Vegas workers voted in the NLRB election on December 4 and 5 at their hotel. This victory for workers at the luxury non-gaming hotel co-owned by businessman Donald Trump and casino owner Phillip Ruffin, comes nine months after workers at the Trump International Hotel Toronto voted to join UNITE HERE, and one week after the Trump Toronto workers ratified their first contract.
According to NLRB charges filed by the union, five hotel workers were “unfairly suspended for exercising their legal right to wear a union button and organize their coworkers” last year (they were eventually reinstated with back pay, along with an agreement to post workers rights publicly and not interfere with future organizing). Last June, the union filed new charges alleging the management “violated the federally protected rights of workers to participate in union activities” including “incidents of alleged physical assault, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats by management.” The workers charged the managers with blocking organizers from distributing pro-union literature in the workers’ dining room, while stealthily allowing anti-union activists to campaign during work hours.
So, Donald: Here are some workers in your own hotel fighting to make American jobs better. Tell us how you feel.
This blog originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on December 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.