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Union-Busting Republicans Lick Their Lips at Possibility of Federal Right-to-Work Law (Read More…)


Just about every congressional session, Republicans unveil what’s known as a “right to work” bill. Under the guise of liberating workers, these measures make it harder for unions to collect dues, limiting their power on the job and in the political arena. Championed by business lobbyists and loathed by organized labor, the federal version, which covers the private sector, is typically seen as pie-in-the-sky legislation not worth getting too riled up about on either side.

But the latest iteration — introduced by Congressmen Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Steve King (R-IA) earlier this month — is triggering an emphatically different reaction within union ranks.

“I can’t remember a time when it was this serious of an attack,” labor lobbyist Ken Zinn told the Voice. Zinn has worked in Washington for over three decades and is currently political director for National Nurses United, a labor union that represents approximately 185,000 registered nurses across the country. “It’s certainly something we and everyone else should be extremely worried about.”

A national right-to-work law — versions of which are already on the books in 28 different states — would eliminate “union security” clauses, a standard part of labor contracts, that require workers to pay fees to labor organizations that bargain on their behalf. When in place, they solidify a key source of revenue for unions. Right-to-work strangles that revenue.

The measures ultimately affect the entire workforce, union and non-union alike: Workers in right-to-work states earn 3.1 percent less than those in other states, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The workplace fatality rate also tends to be higher in states with such laws.

The current Republican-dominated government has created arguably the most favorable landscape for national passage since the measures first cropped up in the South in the World War II era. Since their introduction, the laws have had a sordid history.

The first right-to-work push kicked off in Texas in 1941, against the backdrop of a national wave of union organizing wins and New Deal reforms that brought the labor movement to the doorstep of the largely union-free South and Southwest. Anxious about the rapidly changing tide, a group of conservative small-business owners, under the banner of the Christian American Association, began to lobby against mandatory union dues. Heading the group was Vance Muse, a former oil industry lobbyist later described by his own grandson as a “white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter” who opposed women’s suffrage and child labor laws. He warned the local press of a “red radical scheme to organize Negro maids, cooks, and nurses in order to have a Communist informer in every Southern home.”

By the end of the decade, Texas and eleven other states had passed right-to-work laws, and more mainstream trade associations had adopted the cause. More recently, as the GOP has seized control of state governments and labor’s clout has waned, a flurry of states have passed similar laws, including Kentucky and Missouri this year. Labor has also dodged some bullets: The U.S. Supreme Court seemed poised to institute public-sector right-to-work before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year. New Hampshire legislators also narrowly voted down right-to-work last Thursday, bucking the state’s new Republican governor.

Contemporary supporters of right-to-work, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and a constellation of conservative think tanks, see the issue as one of individual liberty. The measures lead to “increased worker freedom,” said Representative Wilson, perhaps best known for disrupting President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009 by shouting, “You lie!” “Nothing in this legislation prevents people from joining unions or prevents unions from operating.”

Opponents counter that the fees exist to combat the so-called free-rider problem: Under U.S. labor law, unions are obligated to represent every member covered by the contracts they negotiate. Mandatory dues ensure that everyone pays for the benefits they receive. For union leaders, the objective of eliminating this requirement is clear: Right-to-work is about starving the labor movement of resources, diminishing its ability to defend its membership and progressive causes at large.

“This law is an attempt to disable the only movement of working people in America so that corporations can come in and exploit them,” said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents 190,000 workers across the U.S. and Canada. “It’s hard to explain that in three words like ‘right to work,’ but that’s really what it is. It is a coup d’état against working people.”

House Republicans can probably pass Wilson and King’s bill easily. Matters are more complicated in the Senate, where Democrats enjoy the ability to filibuster, although Republicans have the ability to change Senate rules and begin adopting laws by a simple majority.

The wild card at the top is President Trump. Despite portraying himself as an ally of American workers and campaigning, in part, on classic union themes like opposition to outsourcing and free trade agreements, he has also said he supports national right-to-work.

“How serious they want to push this is the question, and I just don’t think we know the answer to that,” said Zinn. “Everything we’ve seen so far with the president of the United States is that he’s a very unpredictable person,” but nevertheless, “we have to treat it like they’re serious.”

Trump has also made overtures to the most conservative wing of the labor movement, the building and construction trades. Last month, he invited its leaders into the White House, wooing them with talk of infrastructure development and earning their praise for an executive order approving the Keystone XL pipeline. National right-to-work risks disrupting this courtship and the prospects of a future alliance. (Representatives from the Laborers’ International Union of North America and North America’s Building Trades Unions, an umbrella group, did not respond to requests for comment.)

In spite of the circumstances, Hanley, the ATU president, remains optimistic. “I take a longer view,” he said. “This could be the administration that permanently turns America to the left, because most of what we see is so inherently anti-American.”

Posted by Admin on 02/21 at 01:19 PM

Union organizing campaign crashes in Boeing vote (Read More…)

By Meg Kinnard - February 16, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Boeing workers’ overwhelming anti-union vote at the aviation giant’s 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina is a big victory for Southern politicians and business leaders who have lured manufacturing jobs to the region on the promise of keeping unions out.

It’s also a win for the company that will host President Donald Trump at its North Charleston facilities on Friday.

Nearly 3,000 workers were eligible to vote Wednesday on representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers. According to Boeing, nearly 74 percent of the more than 2,800 votes cast were against representation.

It was a massive victory for union opponents, in line with longstanding Southern aversion to collective bargaining. At 1.6 percent, South Carolina maintains the lowest percentage of unionized workers in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Its neighboring states, North Carolina and Georgia, hover slightly higher but still in low territory, at 3.0 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Other large-scale Southern unionization efforts haven’t met recent success. In 2014, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., turned down representation by the United Autoworkers. For years, organizers have campaigned for representation among Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi, but no vote has been scheduled.

Boeing came to South Carolina in part because of the state’s minuscule union presence.

“I think a failed vote isn’t that big of a deal because that’s frankly the norm in the South,” said Jeffrey Hirsch, law professor who specializes in labor relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The culture here, at least in recent memory, has not been pro-union.”

Had the results at Boeing been reversed, Hirsch says, the ripple effect could have been dramatic. Politicians such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — who, directly and via her labor secretary Catherine Templeton, adamantly spoke against the need for unions here — would be forced to rethink business recruitment strategies, and corporations also might think more carefully about locating in South Carolina.

“We’ll make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina,” Haley said in a 2012 address. She has since been appointed ambassador to the United Nations by President Donald Trump.

During her 2014 re-election campaign, Haley said she and others “discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.”

Union opposition in this heavily Republican state is tied to politics, given Democrats’ longstanding ties to organized labor. Any lenience toward unions could be seen as giving Democrats a toehold in the state, where both legislative chambers and the governor’s office have long been controlled by Republicans.

“If they were successful it would be huge, I think,” Hirsch says. “The numbers by themselves are not going to move the dial nationally in a substantive way, but the symbolism of it would be quite large.”

Boeing workers will have to wait at least a year before voting again, and Machinist organizers have said they’ll wait and see about their next steps. Despite more manufacturing jobs coming to the state, South Carolina saw the largest drop in union members as a percentage of employed workers over the past decade, according to BLS data.

It’s not all bad news for unions in the South, however. In the face of falling union membership nationwide, six of the 11 states that were part of the old Confederacy saw more modest losses in that time. Mississippi, Florida and Virginia even saw gains.

Boeing’s massive win gives the company a boost for Friday’s visit from Trump, who blasted the manufacturer during last year’s presidential campaign for the cost of building a new Air Force One.

“Costs are out of control,” Trump tweeted in early December. “Cancel order!” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met with Trump two weeks later. — (AP)

Trump’s visit will also be his first since naming law school dean R. Alexander Acosta as his pick to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, following the withdrawal of troubled nominee Andrew Puzder. Acosta has served on the National Labor Relations Board and as a federal prosecutor in Florida and was an assistant attorney general for civil rights under President George W. Bush. — (AP)

In a statement on the union election, Boeing vice president and general manager Joan Robinson-Berry looked past the decisive vote to Trump’s visit.

“It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event,” she said. — (AP)

Posted by Admin on 02/17 at 12:07 PM