A Word (or Two) About Public Sector Collective Bargaining

Source: Joseph Adler, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

Public Sector Collective Bargaining is a relatively recent phenomenon—its lifecycle can be traced to and indeed may be a lasting legacy of the “baby boomers” entering the public sector workforce in record numbers. Outside of a few traditionally union-friendly or politically progressive jurisdictions, union activity among government employees was virtually unknown and unheard of in the 1950s. During the next two-plus decades, however, union membership rates saw explosive growth so that by 1979 about 38 percent of public employees were either members of or represented by unions. Despite an occasional setback, public sector unions managed to stay close to this rate for the next 27 years. Ironically, the ascendancy of public sector unions almost mirrors the decline of private sector unions; at one time they represented more than one-third of America’s workers; today they represent less than nine percent.

At the initial stages of public sector union organizing there was a robust discussion among practitioners, researchers, and others concerning the changes unionization might cause to the body politic over resource allocation, the determination of public policy, the use of political pressure at the bargaining table and the role of the “public” in bargaining, plus the potential shift in power favoring unionized employees. Acceptance of collective bargaining in government has indeed resulted in changes both at the macro public policy/administration level, and the micro human resource administration level. It is hoped that this special issue rekindles the inquiry and debate both from an academic as well as a practitioner perspective.

The Myths and Realities of Consumer-Driven Health Plans

Source: Bill Tait, Employee Benefit Plan Review, December 2006, Volume 61, no. 6

Few will argue that health care costs have increased at a record rate over the last few years in America. While much has been written on consumer-driven health plans, concerns still exist as to whether they are the best strategy for controlling health care inflation and ensuring appropriate utilization of and access to the health care system on a sustainable basis. The following are some of the most common myths about consumer-driven plans, along with the reality. 1. Consumer-driven plans are merely a cost-shifting strategy for employers to save money at the expense of their employees. 2. Consumer-driven plans force members to deny themselves necessary treatment because they have to cover more of the cost of care. 3. Prescription drug compliance rates for effective management of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, will decline with the increasing prevalence of consumer-driven plans. 4. Consumer-driven health plans will attract “adverse selection,” with only younger, healthier consumers joining them.

Are Sick Days Contagious? Connecting the Relationship Between Employee Absence and Corporate Benefits

Source: Chris Navarro and Cara Bass, Employee Benefit Plan Review, December 2006, Volume 61, no. 6

When employees call out sick, medical illness may not be the only reason keeping them out of the office. Paid time off (PTO) is one of the most expensive employer-provided benefits, yet many organizations do not have a firm grasp on how much employee absences are really costing them. Just as each organization is unique, so are the factors that influence the rate of employee absenteeism. Armed with absence data, organizations are able to take a rigorous look at absence trends to uncover anomalies and patterns, such as days of the week when absence rates are accelerated, certain departments that experience an elevated rate of absenteeism, or other issues, in addition to illness, that contribute to employees missing work. By removing the administration of absence and attendance policies with an automated process, HR professionals are able to focus on addressing productivity issues and improving morale.

In New Orleans, Workers are Still Battered by the Flood

Source: Jane Slaughter, WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society, December 2006, Volume 9, no. 4

In New Orleans, as corporate profiteers scramble to benefit from the aftermath of the flood, the history of Black-Brown relations has been compressed into a volatile six months. As contractors welcome Latino immigrants, displaced Black New Orleanians find they neither have jobs nor homes to return to. Unions and grassroots groups, using different methods, are trying to build unity as they fight for a voice for workers in the city’s rebuilding.

More Mandates, Less Dollars: Emergency Management Agencies Focused on Standards

Source: PA Times, December 2006, Volume 29, no. 12

Lexington, KY–The just-released 2006 Biennial Report from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) reveals ever-increasing responsibilities for state emergency management agencies; an on-going struggle for adequate federal funding and states leading the way in continuous improvement for their emergency management programs.

While all states have homeland security functions, most are tasking significant homeland security responsibilities to their state emergency management agencies.

Customer Service is Just 3 Digits Away in San Antonio

Source: Cory Fleming, and Bryan Barnhouse, Public Management, December 2006, Volume 88, no. 11

Local governments exist to serve the needs of their residents, but determining the needs of these customers is not a simple task, whether in a community of a few thousand people or in a city with millions of residents. Defining and providing excellent customer service in local government also differs from these processes regarding customer service in the business community.

Local governments must provide equitable services to all residents, whereas businesses can vary their service levels based on a customer’s ability to pay. So, how do local governments determine customer needs and offer better customer service to their residents?

Worker Centers: Emerging Labor Organizations – Until They Confront the National Labor Relations Act

Source: David Rosenfeld, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 2006, Volume 27, no. 2

… Two new books dramatically illustrate the long-term failures of workers and their traditional institutions and effectively describe the efforts of the worker center movement to fill the void in advocacy for low-income workers. … Predictably, the employer filed a charge with the NLRB asserting that CULA was acting as a “labor organization” within the meaning of the NLRA and was engaged in illegal picketing. … Moreover, it would not seem likely that a worker center could easily shed the attachment of labor organization status without taking decisive steps to eliminate activity which reflected “dealing with employers.” … Thus, the worker center would have to cease dealing with every employer to stop acting as a labor organization. … The Board in CULA flatly rejected the suggestion that representation of employees before state agencies was “dealing” with employers and related to its labor organization status. … If the NLRB, the Department of Labor, or other agencies that enforce workplace laws determine that worker centers meet the test of “labor organization,” this would create a substantial impediment, if not an insurmountable barrier, to the growth of the worker center movement. … For low-wage immigrant workers, the activity may encompass walkouts, picketing, confronting the employer, demanding higher pay, and many other activities all without the involvement of any labor organization. … Morris has no choice but to accept full labor organization status since he is arguing for NLRA sanction for bargaining. …

Pregnancy in Pieces: The Potential Gap in State and Federal Pregnancy Leave

Source: Sarah Stewart Holland, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 2006, Volume 27, no. 2

… Pregnancy, childbirth, and bonding with a newborn are part of a continuous experience and should be treated as such under the Family and Medical Leave Act and complementary state leave laws. … As the Gerety decision shows, however, pregnant employees facing gaps in coverage have not always been successful when alleging disparate impact under anti-discrimination statutes. … The FMLA does not automatically cover a pregnant employee, like Gerety, who wants to use medical leave for illness related to gestation before childbirth. … While some employees, like Gerety, may be able to meet this higher standard because of the high-risk nature of their pregnancies, a pregnant employee attempting to receive medical leave for normal pregnancy-related illness would face a much stricter standard than a pregnant employee attempting to receive medical or parental leave for childbirth. … Specifically, Gerety would have exhausted her pregnancy-related illness leave two months before the birth of her twins, and she would have faced a larger gap without coverage then she actually faced under Hilton’s leave policy and the FMLA. … Second, courts continually refuse to see pregnancy as a medical condition unique to women and, therefore, that any leave policy affecting only pregnant women should be seen as per se discrimination as stated in the PDA. …

Shiftwork and the Law

Source: Robert C. Bird and Niki Mirtorabi, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 2006, Volume 27, no. 2

… Professors Bird and Mirtorabi examine and describe shiftwork, the growing practice of working non-traditional hours, particularly in the evening and at night. … ” Shiftwork weakens these bonds between parent and child by reducing contact time and requiring children to remain quiet when the shiftworker sleeps during daylight hours. … If the court in Witter can reject ADA coverage for an employee claiming a psychiatric disability not related to shiftwork, then a court likely will have little difficulty rejecting a pilot’s ADA claim based upon an impairment tied to a particular shift. … Furthermore, the employer’s actions changing the plaintiff to the night shift to accommodate a white employee constituted a component of the harassment leading to an intolerable work environment, and thus constructive discharge. … Without much discussion, the court concluded that “it could not be determined as a matter of law that a permanent transfer to the night shift cannot constitute an adverse employment action. … If at least one court can conclude that working in the face of unnecessary pain and injury can constitute a material disadvantage in employment, certainly transfer to shiftwork, with its host of physical and mental risks, can constitute an adverse employment action under conditions where the effect of shiftwork will be the most severe. …

Legal Protections for Atypical Employees: Employment Law for Workers without Workplaces and Employees without Employers

Source: Katherine V.W. Stone, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 2006, Volume 27, no. 2

… Professor Stone examines the legal consequences of the changing nature of employment relationships for the growing number of American workers who do not have traditional employment relationships or workplaces: temporary workers, independent contractors, and homeworkers. … That is, to be covered, a temporary worker has to prove she is an employee and not an independent contractor. … The proposition that the temporary agency rather than the user firm is the statutory employer of a temporary worker is based on a legal fiction. … When a temporary employee suffers discrimination on a job assignment, that employee can, in theory, sue both the user firm and the temporary agency. … Workplace discrimination will most likely come from the employer where a person works, not the temporary agency. … Hence a temporary worker has protection against employment discrimination but must complain to the temporary agency as well as the user firm if it wants to get the benefit of suing both entities. … However, when an employee works for a temporary or leasing agency and is placed with a user firm, questions arise as to which employer’s workers’ compensation insurer has responsibility for a workplace injury. … Some have held that both the user firm and the temporary agency are the “employer” for purposes of the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. … If the homeworker is actively engaged in work when the injury occurs, then it is more likely workers’ compensation will apply. …