News & Commentary

May 5, 2019

The NLRB granted a win to Volkswagen Friday when it ordered a stay on Chattanooga workers’ election to unionize.  This action arrived unexpectedly in a one-sentence no-reasoning opinion from NLRB Chairperson John Ring (R) and Member Marvin Kaplan (R).  NLRB Member Lauren McFerran (D) dissented, stating that VW did not meet its burden to demonstrate that this “extraordinary relief” is necessary.   United Autoworkers’ current election effort, if successful, will result in the third election at the Chattanooga plant since 2014, when in a full-plant vote the nays won out narrowly.  2015 saw attempt 2, when a smaller unit of 160 skilled workers voted yes in the wake of the NLRB’s 2011 Specialty Healthcare ruling – since overruled –  which recognized the possibility of smaller bargaining units.  VW now argues election 2 imposed a one-year waiting period for the next election, but that the one year has not started ticking since bargaining never began — that is, since VW refused to bargain while it pushed the smaller-unit question through court and then awaited a Trump NLRB.  However the NLRB decides, attempt 3 will not go unnoticed: anti-union organizations are eager to keep UAW out of the “right-to-work,” low-represented South.  As Bloomberg reported earlier, VW pledged “neutrality” in the campaign, though it has sought to delay the election and has expressed a no-union preference.

In Kentucky, the State Labor Cabinet is attempting to move to federal court a fight over its power to investigate teacher protests.  The Cabinet recently issued subpoenas to 10 school districts for the names of teachers involved in a sickout.  Attorney General Andy Beshear filed in Franklin County Circuit Court for both a temporary and permanent injunction to block the subpoenas.  Beshear argues that these subpoenas are unlawful because the sickouts did not give rise to an illegal work stoppage, per state law, and the Labor Cabinet therefore is without authority to compel the information.  But the Cabinet under Governor Matt Bevin removed the case to federal court, arguing that First Amendment federal questions are in play, and insisting that arguments based only on state law are merely Beshear’s clever ploy for a friendlier court.  Judge Phillip Shepherd, who was randomly assigned to the Franklin County case, has not been friendly to Bevin’s labor measures in the past.  In a ruling later upheld by the state Supreme Court, Judge Shepherd  struck down a 2018 bill that altered teachers’ pension plans, and he continues to express skepticism at revised plans.

Beshear believes that “Matt Bevin and his allies will stop at nothing in their attempts to intimidate and attack teachers,” the Associated Press quotes.  Recent polling shows that Bevin is the “most unpopular” governor in the country.  Last month Bevin suggested that protesting teachers were responsible for an accidental shooting, wherein an 11-year-old boy wounded his 7-year-old sister, who was home – and under supervision of her legal guardian – rather than at school that day. (The shooting occurred after regular dismissal time, however.)  Politico discusses what’s at stake in Bevin’s reelection campaign, which celebrates Trump.  Bevin’s first campaign ad aired yesterday during the Kentucky Derby.

The Teamsters and the Economic Policy Institute are among those to endorse the Protecting Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced on Thursday by House and Senate Democrats.  Sarah Jones in the New York Magazine briefly describes the bill’s support, and also anticipates concerted opposition from well-funded right-to-work organizations.

The New York Times reports that in December Hungary instituted a “slave law,” which allows employers to mandate overtime and delay pay.  A severe labor shortage is burdening Hungary’s manufacturers and threatening to stall its rapidly growing economy.  Per Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “fierce nationalist” commitments, the nation is not loosening its rigid immigration policies in order to expand the workforce.  Instead, via legal slavery, employers can demand up to 400 hours of overtime labor from their employees and yet withhold pay for three years.

Bay Area housing costs have shut out wide bands of U.S. earners.  A new study reveals that a family with a $100,000 income cannot afford to live in 72% of Bay Area neighborhoods.  A family earning $64,000 cannot afford to rent in any neighborhood at all.   According to The Price They Pay, a joint effort from Mercury News and East Bay Times, these 2018 figures represent a drastic shift from 2012 – while then the area certain wasn’t cheap, at least $100,000 income got a family access to 70% of neighborhoods.  Today families face tough decisions and long commutes.  The report features memorable graphic representations of the rise of this severe inequality, as well as poignant glimpses into the lives of those who have been priced out of their hometowns.

Worker strife at Google should be everyone’s problem, comments UC-Hasting Law professor Veena Dubal in the Guardian.  Because regulators have largely bowed to the expansive, expanding, and mind-bending powers of big tech to disrupt and rearrange our lives and monetize our every behavior, we on “the outside” should care deeply about the power of those on “the inside” to expose and then shift firm norms.

And it’s a sad day for the free press.  The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, 182-years-old, recently sold by the Newhouse family to a successful wholesale grocer who also owns the competitor paper the New Orleans Advocate, will lose its entire newsroom staff.  New owners John and Dathel Georges laid off all 161 workers before the Georges will merge the two papers’ brand names.  Nationally, more than 1 in 5 local papers have closed in the past 15 years.

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