News & Commentary

June 2, 2015

In an opinion piece at the New York Times, Jonathan Smith examines the role that police unions have played in blocking reform of law enforcement practices.  Smith, who served as the chief of the special litigation section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, traces the unions’ efforts to its response to the Kerner Commission‘s investigation of urban riots in the 1960s and the police-focused civil rights litigation of that era.  Specifically, unions have lobbied state legislatures to pass law enforcement “bills of rights” and have crafted collective bargaining agreements to defang civilian oversight and the authority of police chiefs.  Smith advocates for greater transparency in policing as well as less byzantine disciplinary procedures, which he claims will help beat officers by improving their accountability to and standing within the communities they serve.

The AFL-CIO’s work to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in the house has heated up.  Politico reports that the union has targeted Representative Ami Bera of California for his support of the deal.  In addition to publishing advertisements and opinion pieces in local newspapers, union supporters have staged protests in California targeting Bera.  AFL-CIO spokesperson Amaya Smith described Bera as a “key target” and stated, “Working people will decide based on how he votes whether or not he deserves their support.”  For his part, Bera said that he considers himself pro-labor but believes the president should have the authority to negotiate the deal.  Commenting on the union, he said, “When I tried to have a discussion with them on the policy of trade, they’re unable to do that. . . . Really what they’re trying to do is bully me into something that’s wrong for my district.”

On the other side of the aisle, Politico has also provided a brief insight into the AFL-CIO’s hope that enough Republican representatives in the House will come out against the trade deal.  The article notes Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey as someone who has supported union-backed initiatives in the past, but the website expressed skepticism that LoBiondo would do any heavy lifting for labor by lobbying his conservative colleagues.

On Wednesday, employees of the new media company Gawker Media will vote on whether to join the Writers Guild of America, according to the Los Angeles Times.  In announcing the push, senior writer Hamilton Noah wrote, “Every workplace could use a union. A union is the only real mechanism that exists to represent the interests of employees in a company. A union is also the only real mechanism that enables employees to join together to bargain collectively, rather than as a bunch of separate, powerless entities. This is useful in good times (which our company enjoys now), and even more in bad times (which will inevitably come).  Responding to the unionization efforts, Gawker founder Nick Denton said he was “intensely relaxed” about the process, and the company and the union released a joint statement supporting the process.

Aaron Ross Sorkin looks at the toll that the financial industry’s long working hours have had on workers’ mental and physical health in the wake of several unsettling deaths in the industry as well as management responses to the problem in the New York Times.

The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago upheld a May 2011 ruling that adjunct professors at St. Xavier University who work outside of the school’s ministry institute were permitted to join a union, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  The decision follows the NLRB’s December 2014 board decision in Pacific Lutheran, in which the NLRB held that faculty at private religious schools not involved in ministerial activities were covered employees under the NLRA.  The school had no immediate comment but is expected to appeal the decision to the Board in the coming weeks.

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