Today's News and Commentary–December 17

Published December 17th, 2014 -  - 12.17.141


Three Kentucky counties have begun the process of enacting county-level right-to-work laws, including Warren County, home of the UAW-organized Corvette plant in Bowling Green. In Warren County, a “final reading” of the right-to-work law—the last step in the enactment process—is scheduled to take place on December 19. The Nation has explained that the National Labor Relations Act, which allows a “State or Territory” to pass a right-to-work law, may preempt action at the county and municipal level. On Labor has covered this matter in some detail. It is also not clear that counties are empowered to enact right-to-work legislation under Kentucky law. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, will issue a legal opinion on whether Kentucky law allows such actions. These measures are the beginning of a coming sustained and widespread push by conservative groups, including ALEC and the Heritage Foundation, to enact local right-to-work legislation.

The NLRB may issue decisions in the widely anticipated Browning-Ferris and Northwestern University cases as early as today. On Labor has covered both cases in detail. In Browning-Ferris the Board is deciding whether to expand its definition of “joint employer” so that businesses may be held responsible for labor violations committed by their franchisees or sub-contractors when the businesses exercise a sufficient degree of control over the franchisees or sub-contractors. Reuters has a short explainer here. In Northwestern University, the Board will consider whether football players at that university are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act, with implications for other ambiguous relationships at academic institutions.

Employees at a Sysco location in Atlanta voted to join the Teamsters yesterday. The vote was 220 to 141 in favor of unionization. The vote comes as Sysco, the world’s largest industrial food service provider, attempts to acquire U.S. Foods, the second largest. The proposed merger has drawn intense scrutiny from federal and state authorities.

Among its many provisions, the massive “CRomnibus” legislation recently approved by Congress loosens restrictions on the number of hours truck drivers can spend driving in a week. Under the existing 2013 rule established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, truck drivers could drive a maximum of 70 hours per week and were required to take a certain amount of rest and to take part of that rest during the early morning hours. With the CRomnibus, Congress increased the maximum number of weekly driving hours from 70 to 82 (the pre-2013 maximum) and suspended the requirement that drivers rest during the early morning hours. Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post covers the changes in detail. The Department of Transportation, the Teamsters, and Public Citizen all argued against loosening the restrictions, while large trucking companies and drivers operating as independent contractors supported the change.

Four Chicago unions allege in a lawsuit that scheduled changes to pension plans for many of that city’s public employees violate the Illinois constitution, which provides that public pension benefits “cannot be diminished or impaired.” The challenged law would increase employee contributions while reducing benefits. The suit challenging the Chicago pension reforms comes as the Illinois Supreme Court considers a separate suit challenging similar changes to the pension plans of state workers. A lower court recently declared the changes to the state workers’ plans unconstitutional. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has championed the Chicago pension reform bill and defended its constitutionality.

In In These Times, Douglas Williams questions whether proposed German-style works councils would benefit U.S. workers. Professor Sachs has discussed the possibility of a works council to help improve employment conditions in the fast food industry in On Labor.

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