Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Neutrality Agreements

Source: Jenny Brown, Labor Notes, November 13, 2013

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether “neutrality agreements” are really just a bribe from the employer, and therefore illegal.
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Scalia’s chance to smash unions: The huge under-the-radar case A Supreme Court case being argued Wednesday could take away a tactic that’s kept unions alive
Josh Eidelson, Salon, November 13, 2013

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an under-the-radar case that could deal a major blow to already embattled U.S. unions. As Harvard labor law professor Benjamin Sachs told the New York Times, the case now facing Antonin Scalia and company could be “the most significant labor case in a generation.” The case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, involves the constitutionality of “card check neutrality agreements” between unions and companies they’re trying to organize. ….. “Because essentially all successful union organizing campaigns today are conducted” under “alternative ground rules,” professor Sachs wrote Tuesday, “the case could effectively outlaw union organizing (at, at least, outlaw effective union organizing).”

Supreme Court Enters the Union Battles
Source: Noah Feldman, Bloomberg, November 12, 2013

Fights over forming unions are hardball — which is why the decision process is more heavily regulated than almost any other act of association in American life. One popular technique favored by unions is to promise management something in exchange for a promise to stay neutral and even allow organizers access to the workplace. Now a federal appeals court has essentially banned these neutrality agreements, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide whether a side deal between a union and management is a form of illegal bribery or just part of the game. …But even if neutrality agreements are not an option, unions won’t simply go away. Instead, they’ll employ the pressure tactics legally available to them, including picketing. In short, unions will try to impose costs on management in the hopes of coercing employers to back down. The two sides just won’t be able to negotiate a deal ex ante — before the unionization fight takes place. Some employers might therefore actually prefer to have the option of signing a neutrality agreement that would spare them the cost of union efforts and buy them something in return, such as Unite Here’s support of a gambling initiative. The case can’t really be resolved on legal language alone. Sure, a neutrality agreement has “value” to the union — that’s why it’s part of the negotiation. So the company probably wins on literal meaning divorced from context. And yes, the Taft-Hartley Act probably had in mind more ordinary forms of bribery, like Cadillac cars, when it prohibited “delivery” of “a thing of value.” So the union should win on original legislative intent. Each side therefore has a plausible statutory argument. …

‘Labor is back?’: The AFL-CIO during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, 1995–2009

Source: Timothy J. Minchina, Labor History, Volume 54, Issue 4, 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This article assesses the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, which lasted from 1995 until 2009. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including press accounts and the AFL-CIO’s own papers, it provides one of the first scholarly assessments of the entire Sweeney presidency. Sweeney won office in the first contested election in the AFL-CIO’s history, and he came into power promising to revitalize the Federation, which is the largest labor federation in the Western world. Under Sweeney, the AFL-CIO invested an unprecedented amount of resources into both organizing and political mobilization, two key areas. In the early years of his presidency, Sweeney oversaw some important gains, particularly in the organizing arena, but the 2000 presidential election proved to be a turning point. After 2000, Sweeney’s reforms were undermined primarily by external factors, particularly mounting corporate opposition, deindustrialization, and a hostile political climate, although internal resistance and division also played a role. As a result, a major campaign to secure labor law reform fell short, and union density continued to decline, yet the rate of decline was slower than it had been in the 1980s and early 1990s. Overall, although the results of Sweeney’s efforts were mixed, the important role that the AFL-CIO played in electing Barack Obama partly justified Sweeney’s emphasis on political mobilization.

Land Use Implications of the Living-Wage Debate

Source: Maureen McAvey, Urban Land, October 25, 2013

The living-wage issue is rife with complexities. On its face, it sounds both like a terrific idea and a terrible idea. On the positive side, who wouldn’t want to reward someone’s work with a wage and benefit structure that allows an individual or a family to live without government assistance, at least at a modest level? On the negative side, this is another government intrusion into business that does not factor in all the complexities affecting the bottom line. Of interest to the real estate community, of course, are the implications for land use. What effect does the minimum wage have on retailers and, in turn, their demand for real estate? The answers are important to anyone involved in creating thriving, walkable, multiuse urban centers where people can afford to live—and shop….

…After looking at impartial academic studies, one can conclude that raising the minimum wage is not the crucial factor in the success of a business; local market forces and demand are more important. In high-demand areas, increasing the minimum wage did not affect business success, and the local jurisdiction often continued to outdo its neighbors with lower wage scales. From a retail perspective, the old mantra of “location, location, location” still applies.

There is no question that retailers these days face a host of challenges ranging from the internet to lower household incomes. But raising the minimum wage—if done in a fair and rational manner—may actually boost the revenues of retail and hospitality vendors by providing their customers with higher incomes and higher spending potential….

Cities, states look to increase minimum wage

Source: Derek Prall, American City and County, November 6, 2013

Efforts to raise the minimum wage at a federal level are at an impasse, so some communities across the country are looking to tackle the issue locally. …In the most recent case, New Jersey voters decided to raise the state’s minimum from $7.25 to $8.25 on Nov. 5. The Associated Press reports the new hourly minimum will go into effect Jan. 1, and cost of living adjustments will occur every September. The measure had the support of 61 percent of voters. 3 percent of New Jersey’s workforce, or 50,000 workers, are paid minimum wage. A total of 19 states (as well as D.C.) have mandated a wage higher than the federal minimum. The Huffington Post reports that at least 8 more are considering increases. …

Discrimination against Law Enforcement Officers on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: 2000 to 2013

Source: Brad Sears, Amira Hasenbush, Christy Mallory, Williams Institute, November 2013

From the press release:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in law enforcement face pervasive discrimination, according to a new study from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Currently, there is no nationwide comprehensive nondiscrimination law that protects workers from employment discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and only a patchwork of inconsistent laws protect workers from such discrimination at the state and local level. … The new report updates a 2009 Williams Institute report on discrimination in public employment, which found that over 40 percent of the reported cases of discrimination occurred against law enforcement and corrections department personnel. This updated report reviews evidence of discrimination against 95 law enforcement and corrections employees since 2000. …

OSHA Weaknesses Force Workers to Choose: Report Safety Violations, or Keep Their Jobs?

Source: Mike Elk, In These Times, Working ITT blog, November 1, 2013

According to a report released last week by the Center for Effective Government (CEG), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspects only 1 percent of workplaces in the United States in a given year. In the absence of inspections, that means more of the burden to report safety abuses falls on individual workers themselves. However, the CEG study shows that due to weak protection laws, many workers find themselves choosing between reporting a safety violation and keeping their jobs—creating a vicious cycle that can lead to workers too fearful to report potentially deadly workplace hazards. …

… Workplace safety and health advocates cite several problems with the current regulations. First, the statute of limitation on when workers can file a complaint for retaliation is too short, they say. Because workers only have 30 days to file a claim under 11(c), the section of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act that concerns retaliatory measures, workers unfamiliar with the law or uncertain of how to proceed may miss the window.

Furthermore, 11(c) states that OSHA will investigate all claims of retaliation within 90 days of their filing. According to the study, however, it takes OSHA an average length of 150 days to complete an investigation. That’s in part due to OSHA’s limited funding—the agency employs only 96 whistleblower retaliation investigators to look into more than 1,500 annual complaints…

The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012

Source: Gordon Lafer, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #364, October 31, 2013

From the summary:
Over the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers. This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.

This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country. Specifically, the report seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country….

What happened to workers in 2011 and 2012

Securing the Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace: Improve State Laws to Protect Workers

Source: Katie Weatherford, Center for Effective Government, October 2013

From the press release:
A study released today by the Center for Effective Government calls for better protections for workers who report health and safety hazards on the job. … As another Center for Effective Government study released in August reported, while the number of workplaces in the U.S. doubled between 1981 and 2011, the number of OSHA inspectors in 2011 was lower than in 1981. … As a result, it is even more important for workers to be the eyes and ears of OSHA and report health and safety problems in factories, laboratories, construction sites, and other workplaces. ” “But too often, when workers raise concerns about health and safety hazards on the job, employers retaliate with reduced hours or dismissal, even though doing so is clearly illegal,” noted Katie Weatherford, regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government and the author of the report. …
What’s At Stake: Austerity Budgets Threaten Worker Health and Safety
Source: Nick Schwellenbach, Center for Effective Government, August 2013

How Domestic Workers Won Their Rights: Five Big Lessons

Source: Amy B. Dean, Yes!, October 9, 2013

After decades of exclusion, home care workers are finally covered by federal minimum wage laws. Anyone who works for social change can learn from how they did it….

Here are five lessons that the wider progressive community can draw from the victories.
1. Local struggles can have national impact. …
2. Crunch your own numbers. …
3. Put working people front and center. …
4. Find allies beyond the usual ones. …
5. Victory begets more victory. …

The Light and the Dark: Taking Stock of the Year in Labor

Source: Ari Paul, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 3, September 2013
(subscription required)

…It is all but certain that traditional labor is in store for more pain, whether it comes in the form of new antiunion legislation at the state level or simply a widening of the gap between what corporations and unions can spend to influence electoral politics.

But the lessons from the fast food strikers or the Chicago teachers is not so much how a union can campaign against an employer, but how it can promote broad political demands for this economic landscape, demands that may include universal basic income or real health care reform, as well as demands to restrain the financial sector, like reviving the Glass–Steagall Act, which would separate commercial and investment banking. It should not be that only marginal institutions like the Industrial Workers of the World are campaigning for a shortened workday, something that has not happened in more than a century.

Standing in the way of this is an unwillingness to change and the provincialism of specialized unions. At a meeting of labor journalists in New York this spring, in response to the question of why unions have been unable to fund new think tanks or media organizations to counter antiunion institutions, several people responded that labor leaders “don’t speak the same language”; they are constrained by serving their members directly and thus unable to settle on any kind of grander agenda. The building trades, retail, and public sectors are just too different from each other, the logic went, so they are unable to put aside differences and collaborate on long-term projects.

To put it bluntly, this is nothing more than the narcissism of small differences. The reluctance of older labor leaders, lulled into complacency by their hefty salaries and access to Democratic Party officials, to break from tradition will only make next year’s report card for labor more dismal than this year’s. Or, hopefully, the energy and imagination on display in Chicago and elsewhere spreads. …