News & Commentary

August 16, 2013

In a 2-1 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that the state’s Right-to-Work law does apply to unionized civil service employees, meaning state government workers will be able to opt-out of paying union dues when new contracts come into effect in January. State employee unions had filed suit arguing the new law was unconstitutional because their work rules are covered by the Civil Service Commission and therefore could not be altered by the Legislature. The Michigan Attorney General hailed the Court’s decision, while union leaders expressed disappointment and discussed plans to appeal.

Politico reports that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has touted his focus on “driv[ing] a wedge in the union movement.” In a closed-door speech to the Republican National Committee, Gov. Christie highlighted his accomplishments in “breaking the back” of public-sector unions while fostering endorsements from private-sector labor groups.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is facing a “messy confrontation” with union leaders and with his own City Council, reports the L.A. Times, after coming out in opposition to a proposed new contract with Department of Water and Power (DWP) employees. The four year deal had been supported by city officials as a compromise proposal, and contained three years of pay freezes, but Garcetti argues the proposal doesn’t do enough to change DWP’s “costly and inefficient work rules.” The Times highlights one rule Garcetti is targetting, a clause in the existing contract which requires the city to pay workers an overtime bonus when work that could have been performed by a DWP employee is contracted out to private companies.

Two Oregon blueberry farms are suing the Department of Labor, arguing that they were denied due process and coerced into signing settlements that imposed fines for alleged labor violations because the government had blocked shipment and processing of their crop. The lawsuit argues the farms had “the proverbial gun” held to their head, forced to choose between admitting wrongdoing or letting their blueberry crop rot.

In the New York Times, Stephen Richter argues that the collapse of Detroit is part of a larger problem of nationwide manufacturing decline, for which both employers and unions share the blame. He blames employers for their “fatal arrogance” in allowing worker pay increases that kept an easy labor peace and justified their own swelling executive salaries, while pointing the finger at unions for presiding over the gradual erosion of workers’ skills base.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein highlights “one irrefutable paragraph” that makes the case against tipping restaurant servers, showing it creates a system with discriminatory effects for both patrons and workers and does not lead to improved service. The full argument is posted on Slate, a column by restauranteur Jay Porter who ran a restaurant that banned tipping, an experience he found led to better food and better-paid and happier employees.

In labor politics, actor Ken Howard has been re-elected as President of SAG-AFTRA. Howard defeated his opponent Esai Morales, who ran as part of a ‘Membership First’ slate that had opposed the merger which created the organization, now Hollywood’s largest entertainment union.

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