Category Archives: Labor Unions

How do we ensure the next generation of workers isn’t worse off than the last?

Source: Thomas Kochan, The Conversation, December 10, 2015

…The central challenge we face is to update our employment policies to catch up with changes in the economy, workforce and employment structures. How can we do it?…

Here are three of the tough questions that need to be front and center in these discussions, each of which will call for big changes in labor, business and government strategies.
How do we rebuild worker bargaining power?….
How do we get more employers to take the high road?….
How do we end 30 years of labor policy gridlock?….

On the Road to Nowhere: Uber drivers are getting creative in their fight for basic workplace rights

Source: Steven Greenhouse, American Prospect, Winter 2016

….Uber has also become the foremost symbol of the on-demand economy, with a super-convenient app that consumers love because it often gets them a car faster than it takes to find a taxi. The company sees and depicts itself as offering a cool, new, flexible employment model that is being copied by other companies, including Lyft, Handy (housecleaning), Caviar (food delivery), Postmates (on-demand delivery), Washio (dry cleaning), and Luxe (parking your car).

To many, however, Uber has become the foremost symbol of something else—something unlawful. Many labor advocates view Uber as the leading practitioner of illegal worker misclassification because it insists that its 400,000 U.S. drivers are independent contractors rather than employees. Uber says its drivers—it calls them “partners”—are their own bosses who have the flexibility to drive whatever hours they want and even drive for competitors like Lyft and Sidecar…..

How Walmart Keeps an Eye on Its Massive Workforce – The retail giant is Always watching.

Source: Susan Berfield, Bloomberg Businessweek, November 24, 2015

In the autumn of 2012, when Walmart first heard about the possibility of a strike on Black Friday, executives mobilized with the efficiency that had built a retail empire. Walmart has a system for almost everything: When there’s an emergency or a big event, it creates a Delta team. The one formed that September included representatives from global security, labor relations, and media relations. For Walmart, the stakes were enormous. The billions in sales typical of a Walmart Black Friday were threatened. The company’s public image, especially in big cities where its power and size were controversial, could be harmed. But more than all that: Any attempt to organize its 1 million hourly workers at its more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. was an existential danger. Operating free of unions was as essential to Walmart’s business as its rock-bottom prices…..

Internally, however, Walmart considered the group enough of a threat that it hired an intelligence-gathering service from Lockheed Martin, contacted the FBI, staffed up its labor hotline, ranked stores by labor activity, and kept eyes on employees (and activists) prominent in the group. During that time, about 100 workers were actively involved in recruiting for OUR Walmart, but employees (or associates, as they’re called at Walmart) across the company were watched; the briefest conversations were reported to the “home office,” as Walmart calls its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark…..

….The details of Walmart’s efforts during the first year it confronted OUR Walmart are described in more than 1,000 pages of e-mails, reports, playbooks, charts, and graphs, as well as testimony from its head of labor relations at the time. The documents were produced in discovery ahead of a National Labor Relations Board hearing into OUR Walmart’s allegations of retaliation against employees who joined protests in June 2013. The testimony was given in January 2015, during the hearing. OUR Walmart, which split from the UFCW in September, provided the documents to Bloomberg Businessweek after the judge concluded the case in mid-October. A decision may come in early 2016….

Which Parts of Their Collective Bargaining Agreements Do the Friedrichs Plaintiffs Oppose?

Source: Andrew Strom, OnLabor blog, November 24, 2015

The theory of the Friedrichs case is that requiring the plaintiffs to pay fair share fees imposes a “severe and ongoing infringement” of their rights to free speech. Their Complaint asserts that each plaintiff “objects to many of the unions’ public policy positions, including positions taken in collective bargaining.” The fair share fees that are at issue in the case do not go to fund the unions’ public policy initiatives. Instead, they only fund activities that are germane to collective bargaining. And because of the way the case has been litigated, the plaintiffs have not identified which specific provisions in their collective bargaining agreements they oppose.

In their Supreme Court brief, the Friedrichs plaintiffs argue that wages and benefits for teachers can be controversial, and they assert that collective bargaining involves matters relating to education policy, but they never assert that they personally oppose their union on any issues addressed by their own collective bargaining agreements. While the brief is full of generalized assertions about collective bargaining agreements, it never addresses any of the specific collective bargaining agreements that apply to the plaintiffs. ….

….The unwillingness of the Friedrichs plaintiffs to identify the specific collective bargaining activities that they find objectionable is at odds with the heated rhetoric in their lawyers’ Supreme Court brief. While their lawyers assert that the Friedrichs plaintiffs are being forced to contribute money “for the propagation of opinions which [they] disbelieve[],” in fact, it appears that their agency fees are going to fund negotiation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements that directly benefit them…..

Massive Rolling Strikes Shut Down Quebec

Source: Sonia Singh, Labor Notes, November 23, 2015

After provincial bargaining stalled, 400,000 public sector workers across Quebec walked out in October and November on rolling one-day strikes.

The government is proposing pension cuts and only a 3 percent salary increase over five years. Since coming to power in April 2014 it has already begun cuts to services, including slashing health and education funding.

The Common Front, a coalition of Quebec public sector unions, is coordinating the strikes, which include teachers, health care workers, and government employees. Members voted to authorize six days of strikes per union. These began with one-day strikes, staggered by region. The Common Front vowed that if no agreement was reached, all members would strike at the same time December 1-3.

Labor Notes interviewed Benoit Renaud and Philippe de Grosbois, who have both been on strike. Renaud is an adult education teacher in the city of Gatineau and a member of the La Fédération Autonome de L’enseignement. de Grosbois teaches in a pre-college program in Laval and is an executive of his local, which is part of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux.

At the time of the interview, a December general strike was still planned. However, the Common Front recently announced it’s postponing the strike while negotiations continue…..

Political Entrenchment and Public Law

Source: Daryl Levinson & Benjamin I. Sachs, Yale Law Journal, Vol 125 no. 2, November 2015

Courts and legal scholars have long been concerned with the problem of “entrenchment”—the ways that incumbents insulate themselves and their favored policies from the normal processes of democratic change. But this wide swath of case law and scholarship has focused nearly exclusively on formal entrenchment: the legal rules governing elections, the processes for enacting and repealing legislation, and the methods of constitutional adoption and amendment. This Article demonstrates that political actors also entrench themselves and their policies through an array of functional alternatives. By enacting substantive policies that strengthen political allies or weaken political opponents, by shifting the composition of the political community, or by altering the structure of political decision making, political actors can achieve the same entrenching results without resorting to the kinds of formal rule changes that raise red flags. Recognizing the continuity of formal and functional entrenchment forces us to consider why public law condemns the former while ignoring or pardoning the latter. Appreciating the prevalence of functional entrenchment also raises a broader set of questions about when impediments to political change should be viewed as democratically pathological and how we should distinguish entrenchment from ordinary democratic politics. ….

…..[P]olitical actors intent on entrenching their preferred parties or policies need not resort to manipulating the formal rules of the Constitution, elections, or legislation. Consider recent changes to public-sector labor law. Labor unions generally provide support to Democratic candidates, mobilizing pro-Democratic voters and funding the logistical and organizational infrastructure of Democratic campaigns. Seeking to defend their hold on power against Democratic challengers, Republican officeholders have enacted restrictive labor legislation for the purpose of weakening unions. In 2011, for instance, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature overhauled the state’s collective bargaining laws to profoundly curtail unions’ ability to participate effectively in politics. In case the purpose of these measures was not apparent, the new restrictions exempted all the unions that had endorsed the Republican Governor in the previous election. The goal, it seems, was to selectively incapacitate the Republicans’ political opponents, and not just at the state level: as Wisconsin’s Republican senate majority leader put it at the time, “[I]f we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions . . . President Obama is going to have a . . . much more difficult time getting elected . . . .” Wisconsin Republicans intent on undermining their political opposition and entrenching their party in office did not need to resort to disfranchisement or gerrymandered electoral districts. They used labor law instead……

The Perfect Storm for Labor Reform: Past, Present, and Possibilities for the National Labor Relations Act

Source: Kevin L. Burton, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 41 no. 3, Winter 2015
(subscription required)

In this article, the author discusses why it is imperative that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) be amended to resolve the issue of employers purposely employing undocumented workers with no threat of penalty, to rectify the inability to punish for proven unfair labor practices, and to add minimum percentage requirements for American citizens in the workplace. Part one of the article lays out the legislative history and economic climate which gave rise to both the NLRA and the Taft-Hartley Amendments. Part two provides an in-depth analysis of the judicial and structural weaknesses of the Act. Part three offers detailed solutions, including a draft bill, to eradicate the weaknesses and a step-by-step plan to turn the solutions into law. Part four will discuss the proposal from a public policy perspective.

Legal Challenges to Interest Arbitration: Evidence From Canada

Source: Joseph B. Rose, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 66 no. 3, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

Although interest arbitration in Canada is used in a variety of contexts, its widest application involves the settlement of disputes in essential services. For groups such as police, firefighters and hospital workers compulsory interest arbitration is a substitute for the right to strike. In some sectors of the economy where strikes are permitted, but could potentially pose a hardship or significant inconvenience, senior governments have intervened or threatened to intervene to preempt strike action or order striking workers back to work. In these circumstances, the disputes are usually referred to binding arbitration.

As in the United States, economic and political pressures have posed a threat to the efficacy of interest arbitration and contributed to calls to reform interest arbitration schemes in Canada. This paper examines recent legal developments involving the regulation of interest arbitration and assesses the relative strengths and weaknesses of these approaches to dispute resolution. The first section examines some attributes of an effective interest arbitration system and briefly reviews several controversies surrounding interest arbitration. Next, we assess the impact of recent legislation on interest arbitration. The ascendancy of government austerity policies following the global economic crisis has led to restrictive labor laws regulating public sector bargaining and limitations on the right to strike in the private sector. The impact of government intervention focuses first on temporal limits (wage restraint laws and policies) and permanent changes to interest arbitration statutes. This is followed by referrals to interest arbitration associated with ad hoc, back-to-work laws. Changes affecting interest arbitration have included format (conventional arbitration or final offer selection), the selection process for arbitrators and arbitral criteria. In the final section, we consider both the potential and future of interest arbitration….

Repeal Section 14(b) of Taft-Hartley: A Strategy to Counter the Attacks on American Labor Unions

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 66 no. 3, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

… The time is now to repeal Section 14(b). As the 2016 national elections gear up, conservative candidates will run on platforms of weakening labor unions. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker attracted considerable attention when he boasted that facing down union activists qualified him to deal with international terrorists. In fact, Walker’s performance in Wisconsin has yielded abysmal results in terms of economic growth as the state’s enactment of a right to work law and generous corporate subsidies did not lead to improved job creation. Overwhelming empirical evidence disproves the basic claims of right to work proponents about economic development. What such laws do accomplish is lower union density and lower wages. Over the past four decades, American workers have experienced greater immiseration and a declining share of productive wealth. Through the power of collective bargaining, those trends can be reversed. The starting point is to correct the fundamental flaw of right to work…