Today’s News & Commentary — November 21, 2019
United Auto Workers (UAW) President Gary Jones resigned yesterday after the union’s executive board announced it would commence removal proceedings against Jones and another UAW official, Vance Pearson. Jones and Pearson are said to have been involved in a corruption scheme in which officials attempted to cover up their use of UAW funds for personal expenses. Jones assumed the presidency of the UAW only last year, but has been on a leave of absence since the start of this month. While the ongoing scandal has cast the UAW in a bad light, some see the executive board’s charges and Jones’s resignation as an example of union democracy at work.
Meanwhile, General Motors (GM) filed suit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that Chrysler bribed UAW officials in an effort to put GM at a competitive disadvantage with respect to labor costs. GM claims that the bribery resulted in Chrysler contracts with a greater number of lower-paid workers, a simpler grievance procedure, and fewer restrictions on the company’s use of temporary employees. The auto company says it suffered billions of dollars in damages as a result, forcing its planned merger with France’s PSA Group.
The New York Times reports that Google has hired IRI Consultants, a union avoidance consulting firm, to help it confront a growing wave of worker activism at the tech giant. Google’s engagement of IRI was discovered by employees who found the firm listed on internal calendar invitations. IRI has most often been involved with fighting union organizing campaigns at hospital and health organizations, such as at Yale New Haven Hospital in 2006. In the wake of the Google walkout last year, employees at the company have continued to engage in collective action around issues such as forced arbitration, government contracts, sexual harassment and retaliation, and contract labor. Full-time Google employees have considered the possibility of a union drive, though some feel that because they are relatively highly-paid and difficult to replace that a union is not necessary.
As I reported two weeks ago, the Seventh Circuit recently ruled against Mark Janus’s effort to claw back agency fees that he and other public sector workers paid to their unions prior to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME. Janus has now filed for a rehearing en banc. Bloomberg Law explains that while public sector unions have so far managed to defend against fee clawback attacks in the wake of the Janus decision, the battle is far from over. The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in one such clawback case two weeks ago, and the First, Second, and Sixth Circuits are expected to hear similar cases in December. Parallel suits are also making their way up to the Third and Fourth Circuits.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards said in a recent letter that it has “reason to believe” that Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, a worker center in Minneapolis, is a “labor organization” for purposes of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure, or Landrum-Griffin, Act. Classifying worker centers as labor organizations under federal law has been a longtime mission of anti-worker groups like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who consider worker centers to be union front groups. If OLMS’s ruling becomes official, worker centers will likely be required to file time-consuming and highly detailed financial disclosures that could bankrupt small, makeshift organizations lacking the steady dues income of traditional labor unions.