Union Recruitment of Minority and Women Workers

As the country recovers from the Great Recession, an increasing number of unions have turned their attention to those left behind by the recovery. In particular, many unions are now developing programs to attract and train minority and women workers. These programs provide “students” with skills and a job and employers with trained employees. While some of these programs predate the recession of 2008, many have been formed more recently to assist minority and women workers, the most vulnerable members of the workforce and those disproportionately harmed by the recession. This piece highlights two examples of recent efforts to incorporate minority and women workers into the workforce.

One example is United Here Local 26, a hospitality workers’ union that represents about 7,000 workers in Boston. Union members staff hotels, university dining halls, restaurants, and even Logan International Airport. This summer, Local 26 launched a program to reach out to the African-American community in an effort to diversify the hospitality industry. The program is in part an effort to bring jobs to minority and low-income communities, which have been disproportionately hurt by the economic downturn. In 2013, the unemployment rate among blacks was 10.6% in Massachusetts, while the rate was 6.6% for whites, and 7% for all workers. According to the 2010 Census, nearly 25% of Boston residents are black.

The program centers on workforce development and job-preparedness. Students are first selected through interviews and drug testing. Once the union recruits selected “students,” it puts the students in a four-week classroom course on hospitality training. Successful completion of the course involves job shadowing, and allows students to learn hands-on skills at some of Boston’s best hotels. After graduating, the students become full-fledged union employees and are placed into hotel jobs. These jobs normally pay about $18 an hour, and workers have access to low-cost health care, paid vacation and sick time, pensions and 401(k)s, and housing and legal services.

However, the program is not without its costs. Although the student-employees do not have to pay for training, Local 26 must pay $3,600 to $4,200 per person. Because these programs are so expensive, unions often cannot shoulder the costs themselves. Local 26 has applied to the city of Boston for funding.

Another example is Building Pathways, a program devised by the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District to attract “nontraditional” employees to the plumbing, painting, and other construction trades. Though open to all who wish to apply, the program expressly states that “[w]omen and minorities are encouraged to apply.”

Other examples of unions increasing recruitment for low-income communities either by themselves or in conjunction with other groups include the Green Justice Coalition and the project-specific “priority apprenticeship program” that was created in conjunction with the Sacramento-Sierra Building and Construction Trades Council.

The federal government encourages similar apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs usually also involve classroom instruction and hands-on training, but they are paid. Passed in 1937, the National Apprenticeship Act §50 states that “[t]he Secretary of Labor is authorized and directed to . . . to bring together employers and labor for the formulation of programs of apprenticeship.” Lastly, states also support such programs. For example, the Massachusetts government’s website links to a guide for apprenticeships in the building and construction industries complete with application timelines.

Despite these gains, union programs and apprenticeships have a long way to go in achieving a critical mass of minority and women workers. In a December 2013 report, the Center for American Progress (CAP) states that the “percentage of low-skill workers who received employer-provided training between 1995 and 2001 dropped from 22 percent to 20 percent,” while increasing resources were used to train those with a bachelor’s degree. Unions have played an important part, and “joint programs with union participation have higher enrollments of women and people of color and significantly better performances as measured by attrition and completion rates.” Thus, the decline in union membership also means a decline in quality training programs.

Moreover, although some programs hope to draw in more women, the majority of the nation’s more than 1,000 apprenticeable occupations are in “traditional, male-dominated fields.” CAP notes that women made up only 6% of the active apprentices in the U.S. in 2012. The top ten apprenticed occupations in 2012 were traditional skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, construction, and pipefitting. These statistics are in stark contrast to those in England, where women made up the majority of new apprentices in 2012, primarily due to the inclusion of service sectors such as business administration and retail.

Today’s News & Commentary – September 29

A Los Angeles Times editorial analyzes the possible effects of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) NLRB Reform Act, which would increase the size of the National Labor Relations Board from five to six members.  The new NLRB would consist of three Democrats and three Republicans, each nominated by the president after consultation with the Senate leader from the opposite party.  Board decisions would require four yes votes, “which in today’s hyper-partisan Washington means an evenly divided board of political appointees who would be unlikely to make any final determinations in politically freighted cases.”  The LA Times editorial board believes that this “gridlock” offer voters “a taste of what sorts of policies a Republican-led Senate might pursue.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Japanese companies are turning to Southeast Asia’s “frontier markets” in search of cheaper labor.  Japan is “stepping into territory that until now has been firmly in China’s sphere of influence,” but Japan is leveraging aid and investment in Southeast Asia to counterbalance China in the region.  Japan’s push is mimicking its strategy in Thailand in the 1980s and 90s, when Japan helped finance development of Thailand’s infrastructure.  Japanese companies now account for over two-thirds of foreign investment in Thailand.

The Detroit News reports that Michael Brecht, the head of Daimler’s works councils and as deputy chairman of the board, considers it “unacceptable” that the German automaker’s Mercedes plant in Alabama stands alone among the company’s factories around the world without union representation for its workers.  In a phone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Brecht said that he supports the United Auto Workers’ efforts to gain recognition at the plant located near Tuscaloosa.  “It should be normal that we have a union at each of our plants,” Brecht said. “In India we are in the process of founding a union for our plant there, and we have the support of the company that will happen.  But in the USA, in the South, it is being resisted.  It is unacceptable to me how the company is acting here.”

Weekend News & Commentary — September 28 & 29

The New York Times reports that Air France’s pilots union has ended its 14-day strike. The pilots went on strike two weeks ago over the proposed labor conditions for Air France’s new low-cost affiliated airline, Transavia. The strike had grounded nearly half of Air France’s flights. After recent negotiations, there is still no deal, but the pilots union is wiling to come back to the negotiating table.

In other airline news, the Washington Post reports that earlier this week Lufthansa pilots threatened a new strike. The pilots union and the airline are in an ongoing dispute over early retirement benefits. The pilots union has already staged three brief strikes, each lasting several hours, over the past several weeks.

The New York Times reports on a new grant from the Department of Labor to three states and the District of Columbia to help them implement paid family and medical leave policies. Washington, Massachusetts, Montana, and the District of Columbia. each received funding to “evaluate the effectiveness of the state’s existing program” and “raise . . . awareness about the fund and its benefits to residents.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that technology companies in China are increasingly relying on student labor. Some students at vocational schools have reportedly been told that they must work in factors over the summer to graduate. The work is typically 12-hours per day for 6-days per week, which violates China’s labor laws for workers under 18. These factories supply parts for companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Apple.

Today’s News and Commentary — September 26

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor posted a video that compares the paid leave policies of the U.S. with other nations, highlighting that the U.S. is one of the only nations in the world with no paid maturity leave. In a country with more than 30 million working families with young children and more than 25 million workers providing unpaid care for elderly family members or loved ones, the Labor Department appeals that America has to do more to help working families. Although 60 percent of U.S. workers are eligible to take unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, many can’t afford to take it because the impact of a loss of a couple weeks, let alone months, pay would be devastating. That is why Secretary Perez has said, it’s time for America to lead on paid leave.

New York City Mayor de Blasio this week canceled a $82 million food service contract with Maramont Corp., a supplier of prepackaged meals that in June a judge held had been committing wage theft against its workers for more than a decade, New York Daily News reports. In July, few weeks after the first ruling, a second judge in a class-action of workers against Maramont Corp. ordered the company to pay $88 million in back wages to employees. Despite the rulings, in August the city’s Department of Education awarded the company a five-year $82 million contract to supply meals to New York City schools. In response to tough questions raised by journalists following the public announcement of the contract, the Mayor ordered the Department of Education to cancel the contract. “This doesn’t reflect our values,” mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell said after New York Daily News raised questions.

As Election Day nears, Republicans in some tight races are moving toward the middle, at least in their speeches, on the issue of raising the minimum wage, NPR reports. For example, Bruce Rauner, who is running for governor of Illinois, has said in the past that he believed the minimum wage could be eliminated. But now, Rauner says, in exchange for policy change in other areas like taxes, he would support raising the state and federal minimum wage. In Arkansas and Alaska, where minimum wage referendums are on the ballot this November, Republican Senate candidates Dan Sullivan (AK) and Tom Cotton (AR) say that while they were formerly opposed to a minimum wage hike, they would vote in support of the state initiatives. Some Democrats are “crying foul on these tactics,” since it was Republicans that blocked a federal minimum wage hike earlier this year, and see this is an example of Republicans “acting out of political expediency rather than out of convictions and courage.” Republican strategist Sarah Fagan told NPR that this is just good politics paired with what the Republicans consider to be good policy. “Remaining opposed to a federal wage hike but supporting a state hike allows them, says Fagen, to be true to ‘their economic philosophy but still be reasonable to voters who are demanding that the minimum wage be increased.’”

Today’s News & Commentary — September 25

As the national debate continues over raising the minimum wage in the fast food, retail, and hotel industries, a new poll suggests that a majority of hiring managers believe that the minimum wage should be higher than the current figure, according to Forbes. Managers who work in industries with a high rate of minimum wage employees were the most supportive of raising the rate. Several Republicans, especially in battleground states, have also expressed support for raising the minimum wage, NPR reports.

The German union Verdi is attempting to organize employees at Amazon, the Wall Street Journal reports. The internet retail giant has been unresponsive so far. “From my point of view, Verdi and Amazon don’t go together,” said Robert Marhan, General Manager for an Amazon warehouse in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. Amazon employees in five job sites went on strike earlier this week, but the strike has ended without the company agreeing to wage talks. Verdi has applied the term “Wild West” to refer to Amazon business practices, a disparaging expression in Germany to describe the U.S. corporate model.

In Venezuela, workers at one of the country’s nationalized steel plants are on strike, accusing President Nicolás Maduro’s administration of delaying contract renewals and paying low wages. The Wall Street Journal reports that the government has responded to union protests with military troops, while clashes between government-sponsored unions and independent unions have resulted in violence.

Hotel Bauen, an Argentine hotel run by a worker cooperative that took over management during the country’s financial crisis, is facing a new challenge. A judge recently ruled that the 130 worker-owners must return the building to the original owners, the New York Times reports. Hotel Bauen is symbolically and practically important to the country’s worker cooperative movement: the hotel has iconic status and also serves as a meeting place for members from other national and international cooperatives. Workers initially received temporary expropriation authority, but efforts to pass national legislation for permanent expropriation have failed.

Today’s News and Commentary — September 24

The Los Angeles Times reports that the L.A. city council is set to vote this week on a measure that would increase pay for thousands of hotel workers to $15.37 per hour.  Labor groups have praised the plan as a way to “pull hotel workers’ families out of poverty and inject more spending into the local economy.”  Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also supports an increase in the citywide minimum wage to $13.25 per hour, has promised to sign the law if it is passed by the council.

An arbitrator has ruled in favor of the American Postal Workers Union, deciding that the U.S. Postal Service violated its agreement with the union by filling some reduced-hour positions with part-time employees rather than union members, according to the Washington Post.  As a result of the decision, at least 9,000 jobs will become union positions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the U.S. Department of Labor has sued a Philadelphia-based farm labor contractor for failure to pay minimum wages to 125 temporary agricultural workers.  According to the Inquirer, the “Labor Department seeks $146,100 in penalties for willful and repeat violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.”

In international news, the Wall Street Journal reports that 47,000 members of Hyundai’s workforce walked off the job on Tuesday, with further strikes planned later in the week.  Wage negotiations broke down in the wake of Hyundai’s decision to spend over $10 billion on a plot of land in Seoul, “three times the property’s assessed value.”  A union spokesman sharply criticized the purchase, calling it “ridiculous” that “[t]he company has rejected our demand, saying it will lead to a surge in costs,” while at the same time “spend[ing] an astronomical amount of money on buying a plot of land.”

Today’s News and Commentary — September 23

The EEOC has sued restaurant franchise Doherty Enterprises, Inc., for unlawfully violating an employee’s right to file charges of discrimination. Doherty Enterprises requires each prospective employee to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement as a condition of employment, mandating that all employment related claims be submitted to binding arbitration. The EEOC claims that this practice prevents the filing of discrimination claims, thus violating Section 707 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and constituting a pattern or practice of obstructing Title VII rights. Doherty Enterprises owns over 140 franchise restaurants, including Applebee’s and Panera Bread branches, through Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and New York. The case is EEOC v. Doherty Enterprises, Inc., Civil Action No.  9:14-cv-81184-KAM, and more information can be found in the EEOC’s press release.

Labor and advocacy groups are pressing for an investigation into whether Wal-Mart has violated federal election laws. For the last decade, Wal-Mart has solicited employees for donations to its political action committee in exchange for charitable contributions to a fund that helps Wal-Mart employees in need. U.S. companies are prohibited from compensating contributors for PAC donations. A complaint will be filed with the Federal Election Commission, asking the FEC to evaluate the legality of this arrangement. The Wall Street Journal reports.

The L.A. Times reports that Warner Bros. Entertainment has appointed Hank Lachmund to head its recently restructured labor relations department. Lachmund will oversee all aspects of labor relations, and be involved in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates labor contracts with all major Hollywood unions.