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Senate rejects resolution to overturn union organizing rule at airlines (Read More…)

Sam Hananel Associated Press 09/23/10

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday failed in their bid to overturn a new rule making it easier for unions to organize workers in the airline and railroad industries.

The Senate voted 56-43 against a GOP resolution that would have prevented the Obama administration from enforcing the rule.

The new rule, approved by the National Mediation Board in May, changes how votes are counted in union representation elections. It allows employees to unionize if a majority of those voting support the union.

Under the old rule — in place for more than 75 years — a majority of all workers in a unit had to favor union representation. That meant workers choosing not to vote were treated as “no” votes.

Advocates say the change makes elections more democratic and brings airlines and railroads in line with other industries, where the outcome is decided by majority vote.

But Republicans called it political payback to unions and argued that such a dramatic change in the way votes are counted should rest with Congress, rather than a politically appointed board.

“There is no sound legal or policy basis for hastily changing a rule that has been in place and upheld repeatedly for over 75 years,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor were the only Democrats to join all 41 Republicans in voting to overturn the rule.

Opponents claim the rule change will lead to more labor strife, lower pay and burdensome work rules. Republicans also argued that a higher threshold for counting votes was reasonable for airline and railroad workers because rules governing those industries do not allow workers to vote out, or decertify, a union once it is in place.

Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, of Iowa, said the 75-year history of the old rule was irrelevant in evaluating its fairness.

“Our country has rightly eliminated many flawed election rules when circumstances change, and it is time to discard this one too,” Harkin said.
The main impact of the change is at Delta Air Lines Inc., where unions are trying to organize thousands of flight attendants, gate agents and ramp workers. Delta voted down six unionization drives since 2000 under the old rules, but union officials are optimistic about votes taking place later this year.

“The Obama Administration has chosen to tilt the outcome of unionization elections at Delta in favor of the transit unions,” said Isakson, who hails from the state where Delta is based.
President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the resolution if it passed. But it was always considered a long shot in the Senate and it is unlikely to come up in the House.

In June, a federal district judge rejected a challenge to the new rule by an airline industry trade group. Most major airlines are already uni

Posted by Admin on 09/23 at 11:17 AM

Medical marijuana growers join Teamsters union (Read More…)

By Associated Press |  Monday, September 20, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif.  As organized labor faces declining membership, one of the country’s most storied unions is looking to a new growth industry: marijuana.

The Teamsters added nearly 40 new members earlier this month by organizing the country’s first group of unionized marijuana growers. Such an arrangement is likely only possible in California, which has the nation’s loosest medical marijuana laws.

But it’s still unclear how the Teamsters will safeguard the rights of members who do work that’s considered a federal crime.

“I didn’t have this planned out when I became a Teamster 34 years ago, to organize marijuana workers,” said Lou Marchetti, who acted as a liaison between the growers and Oakland-based Teamsters Local 70. “This is a whole new ballgame.”

The new members work as gardeners, trimmers and cloners for Marjyn Investments LLC, an Oakland business that contracts with medical marijuana patients to grow their pot for them.

Their newly negotiated two-year contract provides them with a pension, paid vacation and health insurance. Their current wages of $18 per hour will increase to $25.75 an hour within 15 months, according to the union.

Historically, the Teamsters are no strangers to entanglements with federal law enforcement, from the infiltration of the union by organized crime to the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. If the federal government decided to crack down on Marjyn, Marchetti said the union was still figuring out how it might intervene.

Growing marijuana outdoors is not hard — the nickname “weed” is well-earned. Indoor growing operations require more know-how and more work. But the most labor-intensive part of the process comes at harvest time, when growers rely on small armies of trimmers to clip the plant’s resin-rich buds.

The work can be difficult and the hours long — and trimmers cannot count on federal labor regulations to protect them while doing work banned under federal law.

Michael Leong, assistant regional director for the Oakland office of the National Labor Relations Board, said he did not know of any case in which the federal government had been asked to mediate a dispute involving a business that was blatantly illegal under federal law.

He also said it wasn’t clear if the new Teamsters would count as farmworkers, which would put them outside the NLRB’s domain.

Michael Lee, general counsel for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, said the growers probably would qualify as agricultural workers. Any conflict between workers and the union would likely fall under his board’s jurisdiction, but contract disputes between workers and management would have to be decided in state court.

Even within the state, marijuana cultivation has remained in the shadows as retail dispensaries have flourished because California’s medical marijuana law provides no clear rules for growing the plant.
The Oakland City Council sought to change that dynamic in July by making the city the nation’s first to authorize industrial pot cultivation. More than 260 potential applicants have expressed interest in competing later this year for four permits for large-scale growing operations, said Arturo Sanchez, an assistant to the Oakland city administrator who will ultimately issue the permits.

Union membership will not be a requirement for receiving a permit, but labor standards are one of many factors that will be considered. The union organizing effort and contract negotiations went smoothly at Marjyn, which hopes to win one of the permits.

“There was no strife between employees and management at all,” said a Marjyn worker who would only identify himself as Rudy L. because he worried about his personal security if it became known that he grew marijuana for a living. He said he was not worried about getting arrested because he believed Marjyn was operating in compliance with state law, though the threat of a federal crackdown is never far from anyone’s mind.

About 100 workers in Oakland’s retail medical marijuana dispensaries joined the United Food and Commercial Workers in May. The Teamsters have never tried to organize dispensary workers, because retail has never been an industry in which they have been traditionally involved, Marchetti said.

The Teamsters have long vied with the United Farm Workers and other unions to represent agricultural workers. So far, no other unions have competed with the Teamsters for the membership of medical marijuana growers.

Marchetti said the union would not have gotten involved with the growers if it didn’t believe the business was legitimate under state law.

“The Teamsters would never organize an illegal business,” Marchetti said.

Posted by Admin on 09/20 at 08:57 AM