Author Archives: Joe Doc

Around The USA: Labor board orders L.A. Council to rescind pension cuts for workers

By David Zahniser

- A five-member panel that handles labor complaints at Los Angeles City Hall handed a stinging defeat to the city’s political leaders on Monday, voting to strike down Los Angeles’ bid to rein in retirement costs for civilian employees.

The Employee Relations Board voted unanimously Monday to order the City Council to rescind a 2012 law scaling back pension benefits for new employees of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, on the grounds that the changes were not properly negotiated. That law, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti when he was a councilman, was expected to cut retirement costs by up to $309 million over a decade, according to city analysts.

Ellen Greenstone, a lawyer for the labor coalition, described the vote as a “huge, big deal” — one that shows the city could not unilaterally impose changes in pension benefits on its workforce.

Coalition chairwoman Cheryl Parisi said in a statement that the reduction in benefits, which included a hike in the employee retirement age, “devalues middle-class city workers and their dedication to serving the residents of Los Angeles.

“It’s appalling that city officials continue to try to make city workers pay for the city’s bad financial decisions,” Parisi said in a prepared statement.

Garcetti is on vacation and his spokesman has refused to say where he is. A lawyer in City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office could not immediately say how the city would respond. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, a high-level budget advisor, said the 2012 cuts had been a critical part of “bringing the city back to fiscal stability.”

“The city will explore all of its options,” he said.

The city’s labor board is a quasi-judicial body that reviews complaints from unions, managers and individual employees. Under the city’s labor ordinance, the panel has the power to invalidate decisions by the council, said the board’s executive director, Robert Bergeson.

If council members do not agree with Monday’s decision, they can file legal paperwork seeking to have a judge overturn it, Bergeson said.

City officials have previously argued that changes in the retirement benefits of future employees do not need to be negotiated. The 2012 law rolling back benefits applied only to employees hired after July 1, 2013. Budget officials had hoped that the reductions would trim the city’s retirement costs by more than $4 billion over a 30-year period.

The board’s decision comes as the city’s contributions for civilian employee retirement costs have climbed from $260 million in 2005 to an estimated $410 million this year, according to a recent budget report.

Garcetti and council members could now find themselves attempting to negotiate cuts in pension costs at the same time they are also trying to reach salary agreements with coalition representatives. The city has been trying to keep a lid on raises — yet another strategy for containing growing retirement costs.

The coalition’s contract expired on July 1.

Source –

Congressman Wants To Give You The Right To Sue Union Busters

By Dave Jamieson

- If your boss tramples on your right to organize in the workplace, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) believes you should be able to sue for damages in federal court. He plans to introduce a bill in Congress next week that would grant you that very right.

“Union busters are on the march and are aggressive,” Ellison, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told HuffPost. “I think the [legal] options that are offered by the current process are not adequate.”

Under U.S. labor law, workers have relatively limited recourse in the face of union busting. When workers are fired for union organizing, they can file what’s known as an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces labor law. If the board pursues the charge against the employer, the worker can win back pay and reinstatement, but not the sort of damages associated with, say, sexual discrimination in the workplace.

As he explained it, Ellison’s plan, first reported by MSNBC, would amend the National Labor Relations Act to make labor organizing something akin to a federal civil right. Within 180 days of filing a charge with the labor board, the worker would have the right to file a claim against the employer in federal court. There, the worker would be entitled not only to damages, but also attorney fees, drastically increasing the potential liability of an employer who runs afoul of the law.

That, Ellison said, is the underlying idea of the legislation — to create a greater disincentive for companies to punish pro-union workers.

“If you have to worry about getting sued and paying real damages, and perhaps going through a discovery process, which might unearth some ugly tactics, then maybe you will rethink retaliating against and firing workers,” Ellison said.

Ellison said his proposal’s lead backers will include Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). But because the proposal would significantly change labor law and serve as a boon to the thinning ranks of organized labor, it would have approximately zero chance of passing the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn’t respond to a request for comment on the proposal, though it could be expected to lobby hard against the measure — if it ever got close to the House floor.

Despite its long-shot odds in the current Congress, the bill could be reintroduced in subsequent sessions and may prompt a discussion about U.S. labor law and the need for it to protect workers.

That’s the hope of Moshe Marvit, an attorney and fellow at the Century Foundation, who in 2012 co-authored a book with Richard D. Kahlenberg and Thomas Geoghegan called Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right.

“I’m just hoping it’s one of those things that keeps getting reintroduced and spurs a conversation,” Marvit said of the bill. “These things take a long time. I’m hoping it changes the nature of how people think about labor rights.”

Ellison said Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right served as the foundation for his proposal.

The book argues that ossified labor law has contributed to the shrinking union density of the U.S., where less than 7 percent of private-sector workers now belong to a union. Making organizing a protection under the Civil Rights Act, the authors write, would not only deter union-busting, but change the way Americans understand workplace rights.

Ellison said his bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act so as not to “open up” more ideological fights surrounding the Civil Rights Act. But the measure would grant workers a recourse similar to that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids employers from discriminating based on gender, race and religion.

Marvit said that granting workers a private right to sue may have an additional consequence: Encouraging more attorneys to specialize in collective bargaining law on behalf of workers, potentially leading to more such lawyers assuming judgeships.

“Right now if you’re an attorney [in this area], unless you work for a union, there’s no work for you,” Marvit said. “No worker is going to go out and hire an attorney for an NLRB case.” As a consequence, he added, “the number of judges who have experience in this area is really slim.”

The NLRB itself has been a political flashpoint during the Obama years. GOP leaders and business groups have pilloried the decisions of the board’s Democratic majority as being too union-friendly. Unions, meanwhile, say the board is simply carrying out its mission, which is to protect workers’ rights and investigate unfair labor practices.

Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs, said that the NLRB serves “a very useful function,” but in the end its powers are limited. The labor federation supports Ellison’s proposal and consulted with his office as it was crafted.

“The protections are really completely inadequate,” Samuel said of current law. “They haven’t kept pace with the increasing viciousness of anti-union efforts. It can take years for a worker who’s been illegally discharged to get his or her job back. The only penalty is a portion of the back wages, offset by what the worker earned, and reinstatement, which is not always a good option for someone who’s moved on with their lives.”

Drawing a line between falling union membership and stagnating wages, Ellison said he believed the proposal could ultimately help close the income gap.

“Can you credibly do something about income inequality without strengthening the right to organize?” Ellison said. “No way.”


Chris Christie is breaking his own pension promises: ‘Welcome to the real world, folks’

By Laura Clawson

- In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie made a big push to cut pensions for New Jersey’s public workers, a push that included the promise that from now on, the state would do its part to keep the pension system funded after years of failing to meet its obligations. Now, as he says that the state once again can’t contribute its share to its workers’ pension fund—even though the workers are now contributing more and getting less—here’s Christie’s explanation:

“Promises were made that can’t be kept,” Christie said of the state’s public-employee pension system. “Welcome to the real world, folks.”

Yes, promises were made. By Chris Christie. Welcome to the real world of what happens when you take Chris Christie at his word, folks.

With his state’s budget a mess and his eyes still on 2016 despite being under investigation in the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal, Christie clearly sees targeting public workers again as a way to win some conservative love and posture for the media about his willingness to make “tough” choices:

“The easiest thing in the world for me to do now would be just to say: ‘The heck with it. I tried. We got a little bit. I couldn’t fix the whole problem, but I’m gone in three years,’ ” he said at the town hall. “I wouldn’t have to take the heat. I wouldn’t have people yelling at me.”

Christie, of course, wants everything to come down to people yelling at him, and him yelling back, showing what a tough guy he is. It’s a strategy that’s worked for him in the past, distracting from the real issues and focusing attention on his personality. It may not work as well now that, thanks to the bridge scandal, people have started to realize that “tough guy” really means bully, in Christie’s case. Not to mention that now he’s not just talking about breaking the state’s basic promise to its workers that they will get retirement they earned, but is planning to break—bragging about breaking—his own promise to public employees. And while the Republican base might get behind stealing pensions from public workers, who really wants to vote for a politician who can’t be trusted in 2014 to live up to the promises of a law he fought for in 2011?


55th Community Services Institute focuses on strengthening communities, building alliances with community partners, political and legislative action


- President Bloomingdale welcomed over 100 delegates to the opening general session of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO’s 55th Community Services Institute in Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening. He thanked those union activists in the room for their hard work in building stronger communities through their community services activities but also for helping to defend against the attacks being waged on workers in Harrisburg by right-wing politicians and groups.

“You know the right-wing sees this as their opening. They don’t want us grow again and get strong again. In the past six months, you – along with thousands of local union leaders and workers – have shown our legislators that we are more united than has been witnessed in years. You’ve taken that massive rally held on a very cold morning in January – a moment in history – and turned it into a movement of workers. You and your union brothers and sisters went back home and told your legislators’ offices to support workers and stop the attacks on our jobs, on our pensions and on our rights to strong unions,” Bloomingdale said.

“We cannot separate community services from politics and legislation. They are all connected,” he emphasized. “We are all fighters in this room we don’t run and hide from a fight, we stand up and fight back, that is who we are. We will need to fight just as hard over the next six months as we did in the past six months to protect our jobs our unions while we continue our partnership with the United Way and while we conduct our campaign to elect Tom Wolf for Governor and our endorsed friends to the legislature,” Bloomingdale said.

Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder will be joining the group on Saturday to deliver remarks at the Institute’s graduation luncheon.

Jack Shea, President of the Allegheny County Central Labor Council, said that community services is just as important an organizing tool as all of our other programs and activities we do. Jack, who is an organizer, said that people are more likely to remember you for helping them with a personal or family problem than winning a grievance or arbitration award. “From now until November we need to put everything we have into electing Tom Wolf Governor. We’ll have somebody to play shortstop so we won’t have to spend so much on just defending what we already have,” Shea said.

David Fillman, AFSCME Council 13’s Executive Director, urged the 15 freshman delegates to take this important opportunity provided by their unions to learn as much as they can over the next few days and share it with their unions and their membership. “If your union is not already involved in helping people in their community through local union community services, now is the time to start.” Fillman recognized a list of projects conducted by AFSCME members and locals over the past year in which several provided help to veterans who served and defended our country. The Governor’s budget cuts have created additional needs that we must fill. He noted that his union and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO have made early and unanimous endorsements of Tom Wolf for Governor. “I’m asking you to resolve that making Tom Corbett a one-term Governor is your most important Community Services project for this year,” Fillman said.

Father Jack O’Malley gave the invocation, reciting a statement composed by the workers who participated in a week-long hunger strike in protest to the low wages paid by UPMC. The workers are trying to organize to improve their lives and living standards of the community. Father Jack also noted that we should be protecting the children who are crossing our borders into our nation. “We are a nation of immigrants. I don’t see any Native Americans in this room and there are very few in this country,” he observed.

The Institute which runs through noon on Saturday is also conducting a book drive for underprivileged children. Workshops and general sessions are also focusing on promoting literacy programs in for elementary and middle school students.


11,000 US Airways union workers approve new deal with American Airlines

By Jared Shelly

- American Airlines (which recently merged with US Airways) has reached collective bargaining agreements with approximately 11,000 maintenance training specialist, fleet service and mechanic and related employees.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers approved new contracts by 96, 86 and 67 percent respectively. The three-year accords provide significant wage hikes and industry-best job security while retaining affordable health insurance and preserving defined-benefit pension plans at the carrier, the union said.

American said the agreements will stay in effect for the US Airways workers until a joint collective bargaining agreement covering the 30,000 employees of the new American can be reached, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

American merged with US Airways back in December.

“We are now well situated to begin joint contract talks with our Transport Worker Union (TWU) sisters and brothers to achieve the best contracts in the airline industry at the world’s largest airline,” said IAM Transportation General Vice President Sito Pantoja.


Covering Up Unemployment In Pennsylvania

BY FRANK A. SIRIANNI, President of the Pennsylvania State Building Trades Council

- Lately we have all been reading that Gov. Tom Corbett is taking credit for the alleged “relatively low” unemployment rate here in Pennsylvania. As he runs for reelection, he says it is one of the lowest unemployment rates in the USA!

The percentage of unemployed Pennsylvania workers, according to the Pennsylvania Dept. of Labor & Industry, is claimed to be right around 6%, depending on where you live. That is the lowest since before 2008 and the Great Recession.

Well, as everyone knows, you can get any number you want from the Dept. of Labor, especially if you are running for reelection as Governor of an administration with a failed economic policy. All you have to do is call the Secretary of Labor that you appointed and tell her to do it.

The fact of the matter is the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is significantly higher than what is reported to the media by the Department that works for the Governor/candidate trying to get reelected.

That way, the candidate doesn’t become part of the bogus unemployment statistics that his pay-to-play appointees are reporting. To understand the real numbers, you have to add a few people who were conveniently, or possibly intentionally, overlooked.

First, you have to add back into the numbers the 44,000 workers who were made ineligible to qualify for Unemployment Insurance by Gov. Corbett’s Act 60, even though they and their employers faithfully paid their premiums into the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

That alone should be considered a crime! Can you imagine what would happen if you paid into a life-insurance policy yet your family couldn’t collect the benefit when you passed away? Well, 44,000 working citizens here in Pennsylvania, and their employers, are getting just that result. They pay in and they cannot collect; and the number will double, every single year, over the next decade, while out-of-state Marcellus Shale workers take home our unemployment funds.

Second, another number that was conveniently overlooked and not considered in Corbett’s announced bogus unemployment rate, are the roughly 100,000 people who had their Unemployment Insurance terminated by their government just before Christmas 2013.

The sad thing about this whole situation is: While we have a Governor who has lived off the taxpayers most of his entire adult life, right down to the taxpayer-funded SUV, to every steak and bottle of wine he and his family eats and drinks, yet he has the gall to now portray himself as a man of compassion!

So I want to give the Governor the credit he deserves. Way to go, Tom! You have successfully removed the food from the tables of over 150,000 working families in Pennsylvania.


Postal Workers Visit City of Their Genesis For National Convention

By John Ostapkovich

- PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Convention Center is buzzing this week with members of the postal workers’ union, who are attending their biennial meeting, through Thursday.

About 8,000 members of the National Association of Letter Carriers are here, many with family members.

“This is a great town and we’re just happy to be here,” said Kevin Card of Portland, Ore., 27 years a letter carrier and now helping his colleagues injured on the job get health care and worker’s compensation.

He says convention sessions cover a wide range of topics: “Basic contract knowledge for our contract, but also political organizing, what’s happening in our community efforts to work with our food drive, and also anything having to do with the life of a letter carrier, whether it’s retirement, whether it’s health care, any of those things we cover in a very extensive manner.”

Card says the US Postal Service is not a dinosaur but doing very well, thank you, thanks to the huge upswing in package deliveries from online shopping. He says USPS finances dip into the red only because Congress ordered it to pre-pay 75 years of expected retiree medical benefits in ten years.

(In 1775 in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress founded the United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin the first postmaster general.)


Rep. Keith Ellison wants to make union organizing a civil right

By Ned Resnikoff

- DETROIT – Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison plans to unveil legislation that would make unionization into a legally protected civil right, the congressman said on Saturday.

The bill, which he plans to formally introduce on July 30, would make it easier for workers to take legal action against companies that violate their right to organize.

It is already illegal to fire workers in retaliation for union activities, but enforcing workers’ right to organize can be a tricky process under current law. Currently, wrongfully terminated employees must file an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which will then determine whether to represent the worker in a legal fight against the employer.

But workers are not able to directly sue their employers for anti-union retaliation, and the process of bringing forward a successful unfair labor practice claim can take years.

Ellison’s legislation would maintain the unfair labor practice system, but also allow workers to individually sue their employers over allegations of illegal retaliation.

“If it’s a civil rights action, it’s vindicating your personal right, first of all to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,” Ellison told msnbc Saturday at the Netroots Nation conference here. “And it’s your individual right to say what you want. Whether or not there’s ever even a vote, you shouldn’t be fired for expressing an intent to support union activity.”

Ellison said he got the idea for the bill from a book called Why Labor Organizing Should Be A Civil Right, written by Century Foundation fellows Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit. Shortly before the book’s release in early 2012, the two authors presented a synopsis of its core argument in an op-ed for The New York Times.

“Our proposal would make disciplining or firing an employee ‘on the basis of seeking union membership’ illegal just as it now is on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin,” they wrote in the op-ed. “It would expand the fundamental right of association encapsulated in the First Amendment and apply it to the private workplace just as the rights of equality articulated in the 14th Amendment have been so applied.”

The full details of Ellison’s bill remain to be seen, but the proposal set forward by Kahlenberg and Marvit would “provide that after 180 days, a plaintiff can move his or her case from [the NLRB] to federal court.” That’s how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission currently operates with regard to accusations of workplace discrimination.

Kahlenberg told msnbc that he was “delighted” by Ellison’s announcement.

“I think it’s a terrific development and Congressman Ellison’s the right person to advance this idea,” Kahlenberg said. “He has a strong record on civil rights and a strong record on labor.”

Ellison had not spoken directly with either Kahlenberg or Marvit about the idea, but Kahlenberg said he had been in contact with Ellison’s staff. According to Ellison, a recent Supreme Court decision has made it more important than ever to strengthen collective bargaining rights.

“In the aftermath of Harris v. Quinn, there’s no doubt that organizing rights are under as much threat as ever,” he said. “And now even from the Supreme Court.”


A Message from District Council 33 President Pete Matthews

Sisters and Brothers,

The trial of the City’s unilateral implementation lawsuit took place in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Friday, presided over by Judge Idee Fox.

In February 2013 the Mayor asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to grant the City the ability to “unilaterally impose” the City’s “final offer” in our contract negotiations, which would have significantly reduced your overtime pay, cut your pensions, and let the City furlough each and every one of our members 15 days every year, without limit on who could be furloughed or when. The “imposed” offer, forced on the Union by the Mayor, is his attempt to end our right to negotiate a fair contract.

District Council 33′s lawyers’ strong opposition to the City’s request led the Supreme Court to deny the City’s plea last June. The Supreme Court’s ruling sent the City’s lawsuit back to Common Pleas Court for trial, and Judge Fox held trial on Friday, July 18. Lawyers for the City and District Council 33 argued the case before the Judge.

Our Executive Board members who attended were very encouraged by her questions and reaction to our lawyer’s arguments. Our lawyer, Sam Spear, submitted a 54-page brief describing why we are right and why the City’s anti-union attack, if successful, would decimate all public sector unions’ collective bargaining rights throughout Pennsylvania.

At the close of the trial and at the request of the City, the Judge allowed both sides 30 days to submit additional written findings for her consideration. Due to the complex nature of this case, the Judge’s decision is not expected to be issued for at least several months after that.

We were all extremely encouraged by what took place in the courtroom and believe we will again beat back this attempt by the City to destroy our contract and take away our members’ collective bargaining rights. On Tuesday July 22 we will continue contract negotiations with the City, fighting for our proposals to win a fair contract for all members of District Council 33.

In Solidarity,

Pete Matthews

Note: Below is a link to a story from KYW radio that gives an in-depth report of the trial.

Go To:

Ed Rendell calls out politicians for not investing in infrastructure

By Jared Shelly

- Ed Rendell had some harsh words for politicians that don’t want to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.

“We have politicians that just worry about their own survival,” the former Pennsylvania governor said during a panel discussion with the Atlantic’s Washington Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons at the National Constitution Center on Wednesday. “The frustrating thing is that we know what to do, we just don’t have the will to do it.”

Rendell, who has made infrastructure one of his main areas of focus since he left office in 2011, said the current political landscape doesn’t allow the country to make necessary repairs to roads and bridges.

“We’ve stopped investing because of this idea that when government spends money it’s bad,” said Rendell, who referred to notes on his iPad during the presentation. He argued that infrastructure investments mean people get jobs, and structures (like roads and bridges) get the critical repairs they need.

Sponsored by Seimens, the Atlantic magazine event “Building the Future” also focused on manufacturing, something Rendell touted as a burgeoning industry — and a great career path.

“There are still 600,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled in the United States,” said Rendell, noting that many employers can’t seem to find workers with the right skill sets.

“Do you want a great job? Do you want to be in demand? Become a manufacturing engineer,” he said.

And for those that think manufacturing is done in a dirty, smoke-filled factory are simply misinformed. These days, manufacturing is highly-skilled work, often done in clean rooms and resulting in technically advanced products. (Rendell repeatedly touted a manufactured knee replacement as a good example.)

The stereotype of dark hands and black lungs is so 1940s.

“It’s not blue collar, it’s white collar or no collar,” he said.

Another stigma also needs to be removed: The idea that science is nerdy, uncool and not for a career for women.

“If you’re a young girl going into science, don’t worry about being called a nerd,” he said. “As Bill Gates said the nerds wind up running the world.”