Today’s News and Commentary – April 18

In Tennessee, the dispute over the United Auto Workers’s unsuccessful election at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant continues in the lead up to a hearing before the NLRB on Monday, April 21. TN Attorney General Bob Cooper filed motions yesterday asking the NLRB to revoke subpoenas issued by the UAW to Governor Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwel, and other high ranking officials. NewsChannel5 reports that the UAW has issued the subpoenas to learn more about the governor’s office’s use of taxpayer funds to thwart the unionization effort at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant. The subpoenas come in the wake of the leaking of internal government documents stating that future support for new VW plants in Tennessee were “subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” The Washington Examiner reports that ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. George Miller, sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday asking for all communications between the Governor’s office, Volkswagen, and “other third parties” relating to the Chattanooga plant. In additional news, according to the Washington Examiner, the NLRB ruled Wednesday that plant workers backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation who voted in opposition to the union drive have the right to present evidence before the NLRB at this Monday’s hearing.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a contract agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents New York City’s bus and subway workers. The New York Times reports that the transport workers had been without a contract for two years as the MTA insisted that its long-term future depended on seeing no increase in labor costs over a three year period.

Indiana warehouse workers filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB yesterday, alleging that the Wal-Mart-owned warehouse fired two workers after they asked their colleagues to sign a petition asking for higher wages, a path to full time employment, and safer working conditions. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two fired workers are members of the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, which is funded by the United Electrical union.

According to Bloomberg News, Disney has offered to increase its theme-park staff’s wages to $10 an hour in the course of contract negotiations with the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups. Currently, Disney’s position is offset by its demand to stop offering pensions to hourly employees starting in 2016.

Newsday reports that the New York Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has reached a $1.7 million settlement with six Long Island restaurants for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The restaurants were accused of paying their workers below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, failing to pay overtime, and failing to keep records of hours worked.

In international news, the Associated Press reports that nearly 2,000 workers have ended their two-week strike at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also in the Associated Press, the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions has offered to mediate between striking Chinese workers and Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings), Ltd., which makes shoes for Nikes and Adidas. The strikers began their protest upon learning that Yue Yuen was not contributing to social security.

DNAInfo reports that lawyers for CareOne Management, a health service provider embroiled in labor disputes with SEIU Local 1199, have subpoenaed two NYU Law School students for their emails after they circulated a petition raising concerns about CareOne’s treatment of its workers. CareOne, which is owned by NYU Law Trustee Daniel Strauss, has faced numerous charges in front of the NLRB, elaborated on in the students’ petition. Following receipt of the subpoenas, student groups issued a petition stating that “forcing students to turn over emails and other private communications in litigation that does not concern them can chill free speech on campus.”

In the opinion pages, David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times writes a piece lambasting executive compensation while lamenting the decline of the labor movement.

In the Washington Post, Catherine Rampel calls for the criminalization of wage theft, the employer practice of deliberately paying employees less than they are owed under the law. This can take the form of cutting hours on a paycheck, not paying overtime, or paying below the minimum. Quoting Michael Rubin, an attorney at Altshuler Berzon, LLP, she explains the underlying forces behind wage theft: “If you keep coming with this directive that labor costs must be lowered, there are only a finite number of ways that can be done, most of which are unlawful. The lawful ways get exhausted quickly.” She ends by calling for harsher penalties, writing, “thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.”

In Challenges to Mandatory Union Dues, Massachusetts Is Latest Target

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging a Massachusetts law that provides for the unionization of certain family childcare providers, such as nannies and nurseries. The suit is the latest of several recent challenges the NRTW has brought against state unionization schemes, including an Illinois case, Harris v. Quinn, now pending before the Supreme Court.

The unionization of state employees is an issue of state law, and several states over the past five years have passed legislation expanding the definition of “state employees” to include publicly subsidized workers in nontraditional workplaces, such as home healthcare workers or live-in nannies. Many of these workers receive state vouchers or public payments when they care for low-income families. The purpose of the various state unionization laws is to allow these workers to collectively bargain with the state over voucher rates through unions, rather than require the workers to bargain over rates individually. But to avoid the free-rider problem that might result if a union improved voucher rates for all workers but only received dues from some of them, the state laws contain “union security” or “agency shop” clauses that require all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues — regardless of whether they wish to join the union.

The Supreme Court upheld this practice in a 1977 case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Public Education, writing that union security clauses are essential for “labor peace.” But recently, in 2012′s Knox v. SEIU, the Court suggested that Abood may not have paid sufficient attention to the First Amendment problem of compelling a worker to pay dues to a particular organization.

The NRTW has taken advantage of Knox‘s suggestion, bringing cases against union security clauses in CaliforniaIllinois, Minnesota, and Texas. Yesterday, the NRTW brought Massachusetts into the picture. In 2012, Massachusetts enacted legislation that defines “public employees” to include family childcare providers — including family childcare homes, relative care providers, and in-home care providers — who receive payment from the state for providing childcare services to low-income and at-risk children. If a majority of family childcare providers in a bargaining unit indicate their support to unionize, the law calls for the state to certify an exclusive representative for all workers in the unit to bargain over training opportunities, recruitment, and the rate structure for payments. The law also authorizes union security clauses. Earlier this year, the state and SEIU Local 509 entered into a collective bargaining agreement that includes such a clause, leading the NRTW to bring its case, D’Agostino v. Patrick.

In substance, the complaint is nearly identical to the case pending before the Supreme Court, Harris v. Quinn, which we have covered extensively on this site. The plaintiffs, individuals who operate childcare businesses in their homes, argue that the Massachusetts law violates their First Amendment right to choose with whom they associate to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Accordingly, the federal district court in Massachusetts will likely wait until after Harris is decided before issuing its own legal conclusions, as other lower courts have done.

Edit (4/17 at 3:48): An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested that Harris could be dismissed as unripe. While one group of plaintiffs in Harris have not yet been subject to a union security clause, a second group is subject to such a clause and has presented a claim that the Seventh Circuit heard on the merits.

Today’s News and Commentary – April 17

According to the New York Times, President Obama is focusing on job training and immigration reform in a campaign to help Democrats retain control of the Senate.  As part of this effort, the President announced $600 million in new grants for apprenticeship programs and skills training at community colleges. The article also describes the widely-reported phone call between President Obama and Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) about stalled immigration reform legislation.

The Los Angeles Times reports that President Obama is considering allowing bond hearings for immigrants who would otherwise remain in detention waiting for their deportation hearing.  Not only would the move allow the immigrants to leave jail, but it could also slow the pace of deportations because incarcerated immigrants are currently fast-tracked through the deportation system.   Meanwhile, the editorial board of USA Today urged President Obama to maintain a balance between enforcing immigration laws and humanitarian considerations and  “not to go soft for political reasons.”  The editorial is concerned that the President may begin to ignore immigration law in order to curry favor with left-leaning political groups.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has announced that Mayor Michael Nutter issued an executive order amending the city’s policy of detaining immigrants and ending its cooperation with federal immigration officials.  The city will no longer hold immigrants who would otherwise be released from jail on request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless ICE receives a warrant from a judge.  The city will not even alert ICE that an immigrant is about to be released unless that person has been convicted of a violent felony.

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Today’s News and Commentary – April 16

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed legislation giving unpaid interns the right to sue if they’re harassed or discriminated against by their employer.  As the New York Times explains, the bill is the latest chapter in the ongoing debate over the implications, both legal and moral, of unpaid and low-paid internships.

Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post argues that unionization of college athletes is the wrong tool to fix inequities in college sports.  Her core concern is that the gains that collective bargaining might yield for athletes participating in revenue-generating sports would merely be redistribution from other quarters of the college community. 

Detroit has reached a tentative deal with its two pension systems that could be an important breakthrough in bringing its historic bankruptcy to a close.  As both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal report, workers are facing far less severe cuts than had been tabled in the past.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board explores the contrasting economic policies that have been pursued by states in the Great Lakes region. The piece focuses on how tax policy and the role of public sector unions in governance have yielded differing economic outcomes.  Continue reading

Today’s News and Commentary – April 15

The Wall Street Journal reports that Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro recently sent a “letter to all the presidents of NCAA Division I football schools” regarding the unionization efforts by members of the school’s football team. The letter notes that Northwestern is prepared to pursue its legal appeal of the regional NLRB ruling that players can unionize all the way to the Supreme Court, and asserts that Northwestern plans “’to fully exercise’ its right to campaign against the union.”

The Washington Post reports on a somewhat counterintuitive phenomenon: the manufacturing sector of the American economy is improving, but it is not generating more jobs or better pay for workers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that “SAG-AFTRA, the union representing about 165,000 actors and other performers, said it will begin negotiations with Hollywood’s major studios on a new film and television contract May 5.” Observers say these talks will be significant “as they mark the first time the union has bargained on a film and TV contract since SAG merged with its smaller rival union, AFTRA, two years ago.”

In other entertainment news, the Los Angeles Times also notes a new report from the Writers Guild of America, West that found “female film writers continue to lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to earnings and employment.” Specifically, “women remained underrepresented by a factor of more than 3 to 1 among screenwriters” and “earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers in 2012, down from 82 cents in 2009.”

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Paid Sick Days: A Backgrounder

Last week, New York City joined five other cities and the state of Connecticut in mandating that employers provide their employees with paid sick days. The legislation comes at a time when almost 40 million workers, constituting nearly 40 percent of all private sector workers, lack the right to even a single paid sick day. Because these workers are largely concentrated in low-wage jobs, they often face serious economic consequences if they have to miss a day of work for illness. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that “a typical family of four with two working parents who have no paid sick leave will have wiped out its entire health care budget for the year after just three days of missed work.” In spite of these stark figures, most cities and states do not require employers to provide employees with paid sick days. But, if the last year or two is any indication, that may be changing. This backgrounder examines state and city-level legislation around paid sick days, looks at who the key players on both sides of the debate are, and explores the arguments for and against paid sick day mandates.

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Today’s News and Commentary – April 14

The Boston Globe reports that Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 718 have reached a tentative deal on a collective bargaining agreement. The fire fighters will vote on the contract, whose terms are currently undisclosed, this week and then the contract will go before the City Council. This is the first time since 2001 that the firefighters and Boston administration reached an agreement without going before arbitrators. 

The California Chamber of Commerce has released its annual “job killers” list, reports the Los Angeles Times. The list includes 26 mostly workplace-related bills that the Chamber argues are a threat to economic growth. These include a bill raising the minimum wage and one in support of paid sick days.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board argues that debates over teacher seniority and “last in-first out” policies distract from real education reform. The Board argues that teacher unions are failing low income students by continuing to support contracts that allow senior teachers to transfer from school to school while the District is partially to blame for failing to reduce class sizes down from an average of 37 students and hire more aids to support teachers. The Board ultimately argues that the District should cap the number of senior teachers who can leave low-income schools in any given year.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity have alleged that Chunji Knit Ltd. factory employees have attacked and raped organizers engaged in a unionization campaign. A recent Human Rights Watch report suggests that such attacks are pervasive following a survey of workers at 21 factories. It quotes one employee as saying, “managers intimidate and mistreat employees involved in setting up unions, including threatening to kill them.” International attention has honed in on Bangladesh after a factory complex outside Dhaka collapsed last April, killing over 1,100 people. 

Washington Square News reports that New York University student organizers as well as Bangladeshi activists are pushing NYU to consider Bangladesh workers’ rights in its investment decisions. The Student Labor Action Movement argues that NYU should cut its ties with JanSport so as to compel JanSport’s parent Company, VF Corporation, to sign on to an accord that would allow independent safety investigations of Bangladesh factories.