SCOTUS Hears Fiery Arguments In Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

From NPR News:

The Supreme Court heard fiery arguments Monday in a case that could remove a key revenue stream for public sector unions.

A sharply divided court could be poised to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision that would further undermine an already shrinking union movement.

Attorneys for Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, argue that people like Janus, who choose not to join a union, shouldn’t be compelled to pay partial union fees. The union argues that he should because he benefits from collective bargaining negotiations. The Supreme Court agreed in 1977, but that could change with the new conservative tilt of the court.

When a decision is reached, expected in June, all eyes will be on Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was uncharacteristically quiet in Monday’s proceedings. He asked no questions and is likely to be the deciding vote, given that the other justices split 4 to 4 in a similar case in 2016. That case was decided just after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the balance didn’t seem to change Monday.

“You’re basically arguing, do away with unions,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued at one point in questioning the attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, William Messenger.

On the other side, conservatives sympathized with Janus’ argument that the unions are political, and people shouldn’t have to join a union they disagree with on politics.

Chief Justice John Roberts argued that what unions do affects policy and therefore makes them political. “How do negotiation over wages not affect the state budget?” he asked.

Justice Anthony Kennedy asked David Frederick, the attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Illinois affiliate, whether a ruling against AFSCME would reduce its political influence.

Frederick agreed that it would.

“Isn’t that the end of this case?” Kennedy asked.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned against the potential breadth of the decision, which would affect 23 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, which have similar laws on the books.

“Thousands of municipalities would have contracts invalidated,” Kagan warned. “Those contracts probably cover millions, maybe up to over 10 million, workers.”

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS conservatives set to strike down union fees on free-speech grounds

From today’s LA Times:

Paying union dues and baking a wedding cake may not seem like classic examples of free speech—except perhaps at the Supreme Court.

This year, the high court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the 1st Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.

Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 “blue” states.

Like Citizens United, the union case is being closely watched for its potential to shift political power in states and across the nation.

The legal attack on the campaign funding laws was brought by conservative activists who hoped that the free flow of money from wealthy donors would boost Republican candidates. And since 2010, the GOP has achieved big gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation.

Conservatives also believe the attack on mandatory union fees has the potential to weaken the public sector unions that are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

“This is a big deal,” Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said in September on the day the Supreme Court said it would hear the lawsuit that he initiated. A court victory would be “transformative for the state of Illinois, transformative for America and the relationship between our taxpayers and the people who work for our taxpayers.”

Read the complete article here.

LA Times Newsroom Votes on Whether to Unionize, Tronc tries to suppress it

Here is an object lesson in why workers at the LA Times newsroom voted to unionize. Below is the “story” that appears in the LA Times about this historically significant event, in a time of digital transformation, job displacement, and mismanagement of news sources. The second article below is from the New York Times, and provides extensive coverage of both the background and context of yesterday’s vote by LA Times reporters. No wonder they are making a serious effort to unionize—their own management apparently wouldn’t even let them cover their own important story. Shame on Tronc for this selective editorial heavy-handedness.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Newsroom employees of the Los Angeles Times voted Thursday on whether to form a union.

Employees began casting ballots at 10 a.m. at The Times’ offices in downtown Los Angeles and Fountain Valley in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board. Those who work outside those offices were to able vote by mail.

Election results are expected to be announced Jan. 19. If a simple majority votes for the union, nearly 400 journalists would be represented.

A group of more than 40 Times journalists launched efforts last year to have the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America represent employees in collective bargaining.

Organizers are calling for regular raises as well as improved benefits and job protections. The management of The Times had urged employees to vote no, arguing a union would not benefit employees.

From the New York Times:

Newsroom employees at The Los Angeles Times began casting ballots Thursday on whether to form a union, in what they believe is the first time journalists have held a union vote in the newspaper’s 136-year history.

Workers — who are calling for more competitive salaries, equitable pay for women and minorities, more generous benefits and improved working conditions — began voting at 10 a.m. in a first-floor community room at The Times headquarters in downtown Los Angeles and at the company’s offices in Orange County. Those who work remotely or who are on assignment will be able to vote using mail-in ballots.

A tally of the vote is expected to be announced on Jan. 19; forming a union requires a simple majority of votes cast.

The unit would include roughly 380 employees. People familiar with the process said they believed the organizing effort had the votes to join the NewsGuild, which represents 25,000 reporters, editors, photojournalists and other media workers at news organizations across the United States.

The union vote affirms something of a shift at The Times, where a bombing by union organizers in 1910 helped shape a historically anti-union stance. The organizing effort has also exacerbated tensions between newsroom employees and the newspaper’s executives.

Times employees, who have seen repeated management and ownership turmoil over the years, have long expressed skepticism over their top leaders, but a wave of recent changes further strained their relationship.

Over the last several months, Tronc, the Times’s Chicago-based corporate parent, installed a new publisher, Ross Levinsohn, and editor in chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, who has vowed a “digital transformation” that has left some in the newsroom anxious. A dispute between The Times and the Walt Disney Company also raised tensions between the paper’s employees and its new top management, with some employees questioning how Mr. D’Vorkin had handled the paper’s response.

Management typically counters efforts to organize employees, but many in The Times newsroom — especially against the backdrop of already tense relations — said they felt that those in charge have been unduly aggressive in the attempt to thwart the union effort.

Read the complete article here.

Head of AFL-CIO explains, “Why I Quit Trump’s Business Council”

From the New York Times “Opinion” Section, August 16, 2017 by Richard Trumka:

On Tuesday, President Trump stood in the lobby of his tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and again made excuses for bigotry and terrorism, effectively repudiating the remarks his staff wrote a day earlier in response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. I stood in that same lobby in January, fresh off a meeting with the new president-elect. Although I had endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, I was hopeful we could work together to bring some of his pro-worker campaign promises to fruition.

Unfortunately, with each passing day, it has become clear that President Trump has no intention of following through on his commitments to working people. More worrisome, his actions and rhetoric threaten to leave America worse off and more divided. It is for these reasons that I resigned yesterday from the president’s manufacturing council, which the president disbanded today after a string of resignations.

To be clear, the council never lived up to its potential for delivering policies that lift up working families. In fact, we were never called to a single official meeting, even though it comprised some of the world’s top business and labor leaders. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. joined to bring the voices of working people to the table and advocate the manufacturing initiatives our country desperately needs. But the only thing the council ever manufactured was letterhead. In the end, it was just another broken promise.

During my January meeting with President Trump, we identified a few important areas where compromise seemed possible. On manufacturing, infrastructure and especially trade, we were generally in agreement. Mr. Trump spoke of $1 trillion to rebuild our schools, roads and bridges. He challenged companies to keep jobs in the United States. He promoted “Buy America.” He promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here’s the thing: Working men and women have been promised the moon by politicians. Year after year. Campaign after campaign. Republican and Democrat. Too often, those promises have ended up being hollow; election year sound bites are often discarded as quickly as they are made. I told President Trump that this time must be different. I made clear that we would judge his administration on its actions.

Nearly seven months in, the facts speak for themselves.

President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill is nowhere to be found. And according to an analysis from the University of Pennsylvania, even if Mr. Trump did bring such a plan forward, his own budget proposal would wipe it out, leading to a net loss of $55 billion for highways, water facilities and public transit. President Trump has also remained silent on the future of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires contractors on federally assisted construction projects to pay their employees at rates prevailing in the communities where they perform the work.

What about Nafta? First, President Trump promised that the United States would withdraw. Then his administration sent a letter to Congress indicating the treaty needed only minor tweaks. Now renegotiation is underway with no clear principles for reform or negotiating goals in sight. Meanwhile, Nafta remains firmly in place.

Although President Trump has promised to protect the social safety net, his budget would slash $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, $59 billion from Medicare and up to $64 billion from Social Security over 10 years. It would strip funding for workplace safety research by 40 percent, even though about 150 workers die each day from hazardous working conditions. And it would force the people who make our government work to endure a 6 percent pay cut.

President Trump championed the Republican plan to gut health care and raise taxes on working people to line the pockets of the rich. And his executive orders that deport aspiring Americans and impose a religious litmus test for refugees are both morally bankrupt and bad economic policy.

Finally, rather than “draining the swamp,” President Trump has filled his cabinet with the authors and beneficiaries of our broken economic rules. He has elevated an anti-worker judge to the Supreme Court and appointed union-busting lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board.

His response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was the last straw. We in the labor community refuse to normalize bigotry and hatred. And we cannot in good conscience extend a hand of cooperation to those who condone it.

In some ways, President Trump presented himself as a different kind of politician, someone who could cut through the gridlock in Washington and win a better deal for American workers. But his record is a combination of broken promises, outright attacks and dangerous, divisive rhetoric. That’s why we opposed him in the campaign. And that’s why he is losing the support of our members each and every day.

Strong Unions, Strong Democracy

From yesterday’s New York Times “Opinion” by By Richard Kahlenberg

IF the questions that came up during oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association on Monday are any guide, the ruling bloc of conservative justices appears ready to render a decision later this year that would significantly weaken public sector labor unions.

By stripping these unions of key financial resources — their fair share of fees provided by nonmembers — the court would upend a longstanding precedent. A decision in favor of the plaintiff would effectively slam the door on an era in which some conservatives joined liberals in recognizing that vibrant unions help make our democracy work. This is radicalism, not conservatism.

Public sector unions — representing teachers, firefighters and the like — are the remaining bright spot in America’s once-thriving trade union movement. In the case before the Supreme Court, Rebecca Friedrichs, a dissident teacher in Southern California, argues that she should be able to accept the higher wages and benefits the union negotiates, but not help pay for the costs.

Relying on the First Amendment, Ms. Friedrichs says that she shouldn’t be forced by the government to support political causes with which she disagrees. But almost four decades ago, the Supreme Court came to a sensible compromise on this issue, written by an Eisenhower appointee, Justice Potter Stewart:

No public sector worker can be compelled to join a union or to pay for its political efforts. However, the state may require that every worker pay fair share fees to support the costs of collective bargaining over bread-and-butter issues like wages, benefits and working conditions.

That 1977 ruling appears in real danger of being overturned. Doing so, David C. Frederick, a lawyer representing the union, told the court, “would substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country.”

Continue Reading Full Article Here.

Fast-food protests: Dozens of workers are arrested in strike for higher pay

From LA Times September 4 by Shal Li, Tina Susman, and Tony Perry.

Dozens of fast-food workers from Los Angeles to Manhattan were arrested as they escalated a fight for better pay Thursday with strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience.

Police took 10 people into custody after the protesters linked arms and sat down in front of a McDonald’s in downtown Los Angeles. The sit-in capped a midday march through the urban core by hundreds of workers and their supporters.

In San Diego, 11 marchers were arrested for blocking an intersection in the blue-collar neighborhood of City Heights. They were cited for unlawful assembly and released.

Ralllies and sit-ins occurred outside McDonald’s restaurants across the country, including Rockford, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Boston; Philadelphia; Atlanta; and Miami. Elsewhere, 19 fast-food workers were arrested in New York; 42 in Detroit; 23 in Chicago; 11 in Little Rock, Ark.; and 10 in Las Vegas.

In downtown Los Angeles, protesters seeking wages of $15 an hour staged a lunchtime march before converging in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway. To the sounds of a beating drum, they cycled through chants such as “We want 15 and a union!” and “Si se puede!”

After police warned the crowd to stop blocking traffic lanes, nine fast food workers and a minister remained seated. They were arrested and led away, their hands bound with plastic zip-ties behind their backs.

It was just one of several demonstrations that were planned in the Southland.

Before dawn, more than 100 workers converged on a McDonald’s in L.A.’s Exposition Park to join the nationwide protests. They went inside the store for 10 minutes as workers stood stone-faced behind the cash registers.

The protesters held up signs and chanted slogans like “Get up! Get down! Fast-food workers run this town!” near a scrum of media trucks outside the McDonald’s.

Fanny Velazquez, 36, said she was participating in the protest to fight for better wages to support her family. A single mother with three children, ages 11, 14 and 16, she said she struggles to make her $9.34-an-hour pay cover all the bills.

The South Los Angeles resident has been working at McDonald’s for eight years doing a variety of jobs, usually working 20 hours a week, she said. But lately, Velazquez said, the company has often cut her hours to 15 a week. She also qualifies for welfare and food assistance.

“It’s difficult, it’s not enough to pay my bills,” she said.

A series of protests funded in part by the Service Employees International Union and local activist groups have sought to spotlight the plight of low-wage workers and push for higher pay by staging protests and walkouts in more than 100 cities in the one-day demonstration.

Read the entire article here.

Some Retail Workers Find Better Deals With Unions

From NYT September 7 by Rachel Swarns:

By now, the hardships endured by retail workers at clothing stores across New York City are achingly familiar: the frantic scramble to get assigned enough hours to earn a living on painfully low wages; the ever-changing, on-call schedules that upend child care arrangements, college schedules and desperate efforts to find second jobs.

Workers and government officials around the country are increasingly pushing for change. But for an example of more humane workplaces, there is no need to jet to Sweden or Denmark or Mars. We need look no farther than Midtown Manhattan, no farther than Herald Square.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right onto the escalators and glide on up to the sixth floor. Allow me to introduce you to Debra Ryan, a sales associate in the Macy’s bedding department.

For more than two decades, Ms. Ryan has guided shoppers in the hunt for bedroom décor, helping them choose between medium-weight and lightweight comforters, goose-down and synthetic pillows, and sheets and blankets in a kaleidoscope of colors.

But here is what’s truly remarkable, given the current environment in retail: Ms. Ryan knows her schedule three weeks in advance. She works full time and her hours are guaranteed. She has never been sent home without pay because the weather was bad or too few customers showed up for a Labor Day sale on 300-thread-count sheets.

This is no fantasy. This is real life, in the heart of New York.

“I’m able to pay my rent, thank God, and go on vacation, at least once a year,” Ms. Ryan said. “There’s a sense of security.”

So what makes this Macy’s store so different? Its employees are represented by a union, which has insisted on stability in scheduling for its members. (Union workers enjoy similar scheduling arrangements at the Bloomingdale’s, H&M and Modell’s Sporting Goods stores in Manhattan.)

Now, I know the term “union” is a dirty word in some circles, even in this city, where labor still has considerable clout and has catapulted many workers into the middle class. But no one can deny that these union workers savor something that is all too rare in the retail industry right now: guaranteed minimum hours — for part-time and full-time employees — and predictable schedules.

This is no accident.

Read the entire article here.

Labor meeting stresses immigration reform, reaches out to non-unions

At one of the largest annual gatherings of union workers nationwide, overtures are being made  to reform the labor movement by forming official alliances with non-union progressive causes including that of immigration and the environment. Sunday in Los Angeles the AFL-CIO kicked off its largest annual convention of union members, and called on unions across America to innovate by expanding membership to include non-union members or risk losing more ground.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said of the call for reforming union membership and alliances:  “”We have to create an economic, political and legislative climate where our members can succeed. Our opposition is well-financed and determined.…We’re too small to do it alone.”

The AFL-CIO is a 12-million-member that will now be aligning itself with progressive groups such as the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and the National Council of La Raza to strengthen political voices of the left. This will help consolidate the myriad viewpoints that are represented within the Democratic Party while drawing attention to some basic problems with American society that must be addressed, including declining unions, stagnating wages, high unemployment, and contingent work.

Union membership in the U.S. has slipped to 11%, from 35% in the 1950s, and currently sits at historic low point.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke yesterday to workers gathered at the annual convention, citing the need for expanding union membership, enforcing labor laws, and reforming immigration, an increasingly difficult problem to reconcile with American workers’ interests in protecting their jobs.

“Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty,” he told union leaders. “As we work together, we will build a better America. As we work together we will bring the middle class to thrive again. As we work together, we will make sure that everybody has the ladder of opportunity to climb.”

Fast food workers walk off jobs and demand living wage, fair treatment

Today fast food workers at several of the nation’s largest chains including McDonald’s and KFC are walking out to draw attention to low-wage jobs, demand better pay for their hard work in the industry, and advocate for the right to form unions without retaliation.

Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward organized strikes in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Mo., and Flint, Mich., to protest the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Organizers and workers are demanding an increase to $15 per hour, a more realistic wage that will make it possible for fast food workers to live decent lives on the wages they make.

The nation-wide protest follows earlier walkouts in New York City last spring in which hundreds of workers walked off the job to draw attention to the poor wages and benefits of the hundreds of thousands of fast food service employees. Although no immediate changes followed these earlier actions, a notable result was that no workers were fired for their actions.

Labor organizers say this is the beginning of a movement to unionize service employees more generally, a task long thought impossible that now appears increasingly possible as workers everywhere are feeling the financial woes of the economic recession and demanding more fair treatment. Researchers project that over the next ten years, seven of the 10 fastest-growing jobs will be low-wage positions such as store clerks, laborers, and home health aides.

The plight of fast food workers also highlights the growing income disparity between workers and executives within the industry and across the economy. Fast food service employees in New York earn merely 25 percent of the money they need to survive, according to Fast Food Forward. What is more, executives in the fast food industry earn $11.9 million a year on average, while full-time employees earn a mere $15,080, according to the group.

NLRB dispute may lead Senate majority to change rules for filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has done the unthinkable by proposing rule changes in the Senate to restrict filibusters. The proposed change has been considered before by both parties at different times but rejected on the grounds that lacking an effective procedural tool like the filibuster would make it impossible for the opposition party to stop, or least constrain, the ruling party from doing anything it likes. The political winds of fortune change, so for the sake of fair play, filibuster rules have been left alone.

No longer. The proximate cause of the proposed change by the Democratic leadership is an opposition party that is not only uninterested in governing, but positively antagonistic about bipartisan compromise for the sake of it. As a result, the Senate remains a legislative body ground down by gridlock with tempers flaring on both sides of the aisle.

The immediate cause is a prime example of the Republican Party’s intransigence, however. Party loyalists in Congress have publicly declared they will do everything in their power to frustrate Obama’s presidency out of sheer (sometimes racially motivated) animus. In the Senate the filibuster has been used time and again to block executive appointments made by President Obama, ranging from federal judges to independent agencies like the National Labor Relations Board. For Obama’s entire presidency the NLRB has functioned without full membership because Republican Senators have misused and abused the power of the filibuster to deny hearings for his nominees. This means, in effect, that for the last five years hundreds of labor disputes have gone unmediated, which is the principle role of the board.

Republican opposition to the NLRB intensified in 2011 following its ruling against Boeing’s attempt to move large swaths of its manufacturing from Washington to South Carolina where unions are not as strong and labor laws are more permissive. The ruling angered Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC-R), who is anti-labor and pro-business. He claimed the NLRB is “the Grim Reaper of job creation,” even though we all know from the Great Recession that the real killer of jobs in this country is Graham’s own deregulatory economics. Opposition to Obama’s nominees to the NLRB is fundamentally about the Republican Party’s mission to dismantle much of the progress made by New Deal policies following the Great Depression, including laws that regulate the financial sector from doing its part in causing the Great Recession.

Craig Becker is a labor lawyer for the AFL-CIO and former board member of the NLRB:  “There’s a breakdown of what used to be a consensus that the workers should have a right to organize, that this should be protected by the government, and that collective bargaining is a good thing for the country.”

The politics of labor runs both ways, however. Democrats used similar means during George Bush’s presidency to deny political appointments to the NLRB, fearing Bush’s anti-labor appointments would hurt American workers. Now that the tales of have turned, Democrats are understandably tired of taking the blame for America’s problems, a theme Republicans are constantly harping on but bear much responsibility for as well. The stakes are much higher in the current showdown because if nominees are not appointed the board will stop functioning.

Eric Schultz, a White House spokesperson, put the point this way:  “Republicans want to make this an ideological fight in an effort to dismantle the agency. If the Senate fails to act, the board will lose a quorum in August and be unable to function, which is exactly what Republicans are seeking.”

Sen. Reid’s announcement marks a sharp reversal from the Democratic Party’s usual cowardice and glad-handing. This is an important stand to take as the NLRB protects workers’ rights, and is one of the few means workers, unions, and corporations have for mediating and resolving disputes. Without the oversight of the board, how will disputes get settled? Perhaps Republicans want to return to the pre-NLRB era when disputes were settled by cat strikes, walkouts, and violence. The party is pro-forma in favor of settling disputes with the gun, and without laws to protect their rights, perhaps workers should demand employers respect their rights by arming themselves. How would this change Republicans’ views on gun control?