The International Franchise Association (IFA) is flying fast food store owners and other franchisees into Washington on Tuesday to drum up congressional opposition to a recent legal decision that could make corporations liable for how franchise employees are treated. The trade group expects more than 350 business owners from both the franchisee and franchisor sides of the business model to show up at its event this week, according to The Hill. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and former Republican Governors Association head and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are scheduled to speak to the group, and the paper reports that top Senate Republicans will introduce legislation targeting federal labor regulators in general later this week.
The top attorney for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined in July that McDonald’s exerts so much control over how franchisees operate that they are responsible for labor law violations committed by franchise owners. That finding has yet to be tested in court, but if it holds up and is applied beyond the nation’s largest fast food chain, it would make it much harder for industries that rely on franchising to stymie workers’ attempts to exercise their labor rights.
IFA President Steve Caldeira said the board’s decision about McDonald’s franchisees “would essentially take away their autonomy to run their own business.” But franchisees enjoy little autonomy under the restrictive agreements they sign with the corporation now.
McDonald’s sends both formal company inspectors and secret shoppers into some of its stores to verify that the owners are keeping up with the exacting requirements of its contracts. It installs a computer system that monitors the money coming in and going out of each store at all times, automatically alerting managers if their labor costs get too high — an occurrence that can trigger labor law violations such as requiring workers to clock out but keep working or remain on-site without pay until the computer system reports that the store is back in the black.
Nine in 10 fast food workers report wage theft. The industry pays corporate CEOs 1,200 times more than it pays the typical worker. McDonald’s made $5.6 billion in profit on $28.1 billion in total revenue last year.
Most fast food companies require franchise owners to demonstrate a personal net worth in the millions of dollars before they are eligible to run a store. McDonald’s won’t entertain franchise applications from anyone who doesn’t have at least $750,000 in non-borrowed assets.
The eagerness of IFA members to take up McDonald’s cause against the NLRB indicates that many other companies fear they are vulnerable to the same arguments about corporate control over franchise workplaces, and would ultimately face the same consequences for labor violations that the board’s lawyer believes McDonald’s should face.
It also signals that franchise owners and their corporate bosses are more afraid of workers’ power than of the enforcement mechanisms that are supposed to punish wage theft. While workers have won several multi-million-dollar wage theft settlements this year, the legal systems that govern wage and hour violations around the country are generally ineffective. In California, where labor law is robust, workers have a less than one-in-five chance of recovering lost wages even when they prove they were robbed and win a judgment for restitution from the state. Wage theft steals more money each year than every bank robbery and store holdup in America combined.
VICTORY!! NLRB Ruling Holds McDonald’s, Not Just Franchisees, Liable for Worker Treatment - The New York Times
The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for workers at its franchisees’ restaurants, a decision that if upheld would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.
Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees over the last 20 months, he found that 43 had merit on such grounds as illegally firing or threatening workers for pro-union activities.
In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the fast-food company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.
McDonald’s said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships.
The N.L.R.B. ruling is wrong, according to a statement by Heather Smedstad, a senior vice president for McDonald’s, because the company does not determine or co-determine decisions on hiring, wages or other employment matters. “McDonald’s also believes that this decision changes the rules for thousands of small business, and goes against decades of established law,” Ms. Smedstad said.
Throughout the debate to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, alongside the efforts by fast-food workers and labor advocates to pressure McDonald’s and other restaurant chains to adopt a $15 wage floor, the companies have often said that they don’t set employee wages, franchise owners do. That defense would be weakened considerably by the workers’ push to have them declared joint employers.
In a statement, Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and work force policy for the National Restaurant Association, called the ruling another example of the Obama administration’s anti-small-business agenda. The ruling, he said, “overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States, erodes the proven franchisor/franchisee relationship, and jeopardizes the success of 90 percent of America’s restaurants who are independent operators or franchisees.”
If upheld, the general counsel’s move would give the fast-food workers and the main labor group backing them, the Service Employees International Union, more leverage in their effort to unionize McDonald’s restaurants and to increase hourly wages. The average fast-food wage is about $8.90 an hour.
Mr. Griffin said in a letter that of the 181 cases filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees since November 2012 – the month the first one-day strike was conducted against McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants — he dismissed 74. Of the 107 other cases, he said he was still investigating 64, while his office found 43 had merit.
The Associated Press first reported the ruling on Tuesday. Ms. Smedstad told The A.P. that the labor board had notified the company of the ruling on Tuesday.
David French, senior vice president with the National Retail Federation, called the decision “outrageous.” “It is just further evidence that the N.L.R.B. has lost all credibility as a government agency established to protect workers and is now just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor, which has fought for this decision for a number of years as a means to more easily unionize entire companies and industries,” he said.
The fast-food workers movement has argued that McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer because it owns many of the franchisees’ restaurant buildings and requires franchises to follow strict rules on food, cleanliness and hiring. McDonald’s has even warned some franchisees that they were paying their workers too much.
The cases were brought on behalf of workers who assert, among other things, that they were wrongfully fired, threatened or suspended because of their campaign for a $15 a wage and to unionize McDonald’s.
“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the N.L.R.B. shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer in New York who filed some of the cases against McDonald’s. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”
The next stages for the cases could involve Mr. Griffin’s trying to seek a settlement. But the cases more likely will be argued before an administrative law judge.
This is a major victory for workers, and a sad day for lobbyists such as the National Restaurant Association.
h/t: Steven Greenhouse at The New York Times
BREAKING: SCOTUS has ruled narrowly and unanimously to limit President Obama’s recess appointment powers
Breaking: Supreme Court rules NLRB recess appointments invalid, narrows presidential recess appointment powers http://t.co/tYCeEMbSEk— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ)June 26, 2014
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner)June 26, 2014
1st SCOTUS Op: recess appointments - Recess appointments of NLRB only because the pro forma sessions were valid— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog)June 26, 2014
— Justin Gibson (@JGibsonDem)June 26, 2014
The key to the appointment power will be the senate calendar — so long as the senate says it is in session, recess appointments are blocked— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog)June 26, 2014
On Friday in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University football players voted on the question of whether or not to form a union, which would be the first of its kind for collegiate athletics. While this vote is significant, it is but one step in what promises to be a lengthy and exhausting process for all parties.
Due to Northwestern University’s predictable appeal of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) decision to classify college athletes as employees, the ballots will be automatically impounded for an indefinite period of time. This time frame will be determined by the length of the appeals process, which is likely to be substantial.
The months in between the historic NLRB ruling and players vote have been wrought with endless lobbying and politicking from both sides of the argument. Obviously, the NCAA has publicly stated its opinion on the subject and openly called for a vote against the measure. However, there is also significant pressure coming internally in the Northwestern locker room, where Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald has advised the players to vote against unionization.
The union movement was first broached in January by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, and at the time it appeared that most players would support the effort. However, in the weeks leading up to the vote, a number of players indicated there was some confusion regarding the specifics of the union agenda.
”When the union talk initially started, it wasn’t very clear what was going on,” said Northwestern safety Davion Fleming. ”I think they didn’t understand the implications. They just want this to be over – and to focus on football.”This comment echoes the sentiments of other players, including Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian, who is the favorite to take over for Colter as the Wildcats’ starter. Siemian has publicly stated his intent to vote against the formation of a union, and suggested there were other players who shared his opinion. These comments have cast some doubt on the outcome of the vote, which appeared to be a foregone conclusion a few months ago. While Fleming and Siemian have taken exception to certain elements of unionization, they are pleased that the movement has opened the door to public debate on the subject of rights and conditions for college athletes.
Over the past few months, some observers have introduced the possibility of Northwestern players being influenced by the NCAA or the university. While players like Fleming and Siemian claim there was some initial confusion regarding the issues surrounding unionization, Ramogi Huma, a former college football player and current president of the College Athletes Players Association, has suggested other factors are at play.
Huma, who has been integral to the unionization movement, advocating for it along with Colter, claims Northwestern has used a misinformation campaign, both privately and publicly, to distort facts regarding the possible consequences of unionization. This includes a 21-page document sent to the players that detailed issues that could potentially arise if a union was formed, a ploy that Huma has questioned:
”They’re looking at anything and everything to invoke fear in the players. We feel like some of the tactics are scare tactics.”
The NCAA, along with its member institutions, has glaring ideological and financial motivations against the very concept of organized labor as it pertains to college athletics. The document provided to the players, and subsequently obtained by the media, is practically littered with provocative language in reference to possible scenarios involving unionization.
One statement reads in part, ”the tension created in such a situation would be unprecedented and not in anyone’s best interest.” Another states, ”there is no question but that the presence of a union would add tension in terms of creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ feeling between the players it would represent and those it would not.”
While these predictions may very well come true if a union is eventually formed, the language seems to speak in absolutes and appears to be designed to steer Northwestern players away from the union movement. For its part, the university has stated its handling of the situation has been beyond reproach and completely by the book:
”I would say strongly that Northwestern has conducted an election campaign … according to the procedures and the rules of the NLRB,” explained Vice President for University Relations Alan K. Cubbage.
A total of 76 players were eligible to participate in Friday’s vote, and while the results will be enlightening, they will only serve to shed light on the inner workings of one school. The decision that will ultimately shape the direction and discussion of unionization for college athletes going forward is the NLRB ruling on the Northwestern appeal. Unfortunately, it will take some time to render this decision, and until then, we can only speculate as to the results of the player’s vote and the future of the unionization movement in general. However, it does seem clear that profound change is coming to the NCAA, in one form or another.
Hopefully the Northwestern players are successful at getting a union formed
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — United Auto Workers lawyers issued subpoenas Wednesday for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Bob Corker and key members of the Haslam administration to testify at an upcoming hearing over the union’s efforts to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.
Economic and Community Development (ECD) Commissioner Bill Hagerty, ECD chief-of-staff Will Alexander, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson and Rep. Gerald McCormick were among the 20 individuals or organizations to receive subpoenas.
Corker’s chief-of-staff Todd Womack and press secretary Micah Johnson were listed on the subpoena list, along with conservative activists Grover Norquist and Matt Patterson.
The subpoenas call for them to testify before a National Labor Relations Board hearing later this month, where the UAW is challenging a vote that it narrowly lost at the VW plant. It asks those officials to bring all documents relating to economic incentives offered to Volkswagen.
Documents recently leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates show the Haslam administration wanted a say in the automaker’s deal with organized labor — in exchange for $300 million in economic incentives to help VW expand its Chattanooga operations.
The governor had emphatically denied rumors heard by Democratic lawmakers that state incentives were tied to Volkswagen rejecting the UAW’s role on its workers council.
But the documents, marked confidential, stated that the proposed incentives were “subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”
Emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates also showed that Corker’s staff was in contact with anti-union activists and then shared that information with members of the Haslam administration who were in charge of the incentives.
UAW President Bob King explained the union’s motives in a statement.
"The purpose of the NLRB’s investigation is to determine the truth concerning the third-party interference in the February election at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant," he said.
"The NLRB’s rules call for the use of subpoenas as part of this truth-seeking exercise. The UAW hopes that all parties who receive subpoenas will fully comply by providing the NLRB with the requested documents and with their testimony."
Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, reacted strongly to the news.
"After a stinging defeat, rather than respect the workers’ decision, the UAW is trying to create a sideshow," he said. "We’ve referred this matter to legal counsel. We hope other people who might be inclined to consider the UAW will take this development as a cautionary tale."
Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said, “It would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.”
Emails Show Sen. Corker’s Chief of Staff Coordinated with Network of Anti-UAW Union Busters - Working In These Times
Leaked documents obtained by Nashville TV station NewsChannel 5 WVTF reveal communications between the employees of two Tennessee Republicans—Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam—and a network of prominent anti-union professionals during the United Auto Workers’ union drive at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga earlier this year.
Sen. Corker and Gov. Haslam have been blamed by the union for contributing to the drive’s defeat by making public statements against the UAW. Prior to the election, Corker claimed that the plant would add an additional SUV assembly line if workers voted against the union, while Haslam implied that businesses had told him that they might not relocate to Tennessee if workers at Volkswagen voted to join the UAW.
There was no direct evidence, however, that these politicians were coordinating with the various anti-union forces that had gathered in Chattanooga to oppose the drive, although In These Times reported in November 2013 that Washington, D.C.-based anti-union campaigner Matt Patterson had bragged about developing anti-UAW messaging with “politician [sic] and businessmen” in Tennessee. The documents by NewsChannel 5 provide the first direct proof of such coordination. In addition, In These Times magazine has obtained documents and conducted interviews with a top anti-union consultant that shed new light on the origins of the anti-union videos referenced in the communications.
Chain of evidence
The documents released by NewsChannel 5 show that, just before the union election, Sen. Corker’s chief of staff and one of Gov. Haslam’s cabinet members were part of an email chain with both Chattanooga-based and national anti-union consultants about efforts to draw attention to three videos produced to fight the UAW at Volkswagen. The videos feature testimonials from workers at previous UAW plants claiming that the UAW destroyed Detroit and led to the closure of a former Volkswagen auto plant in Westmoreland County, Pa. (Full disclosure: This author’s mother worked at the Westmoreland County Volkswagen plant until it closed, and was a member of UAW.)
In a February 10 email with the subject line “Video views so far today,” Peter List, the CEO of the anti-union labor-relations consultant group Kulture LLC and editor and chief blogger of LaborUnionReport.com, boasted of the videos’ web traffic. The email was addressed to, among others, Sen. Corker’s chief of staff, Tony Womack; Maury Nicely, the head of the local Chattanooga anti-union group Southern Momentum; Charleston, S.C.-based anti-union consultant Jim Gray; and former Volkswagen plant manager Don Jackson, whose role in campaigning against the UAW has been previously detailed by In These Times. Also on the chain was Tim Spires, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers’ Association, which promoted anti-UAW events, and Ron Harr, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
The next day, Corker’s Chief of Staff Todd Womack forwarded List’s email to Tennessee economic and community development commissioner Bill Hagerty—a member of Gov. Haslam’s cabinet—and Hagerty’s chief of staff Will Alexander (who is the son of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander) with a message saying “If you would, please don’t forward this version, but this is the video I mentioned. Thanks much, Todd.”
Womack did not return request for comment about what level of coordination Senator Corker’s office had with anti-union consultants. Likewise, Peter List refused to answer questions about why he was emailing Senator Corker’s staff, stating in an email to In These Times, “It seems you’ve fallen into the trap that people actually pay attention to what politicians say.”
The other major revelation of the NewsChannel 5 investigation is a document titled “Project Trinity,” dated August 23, 2013 and labeled “confidential,” in which Haslam offered $300 million in incentives to Volkswagen if the company would bring a new SUV line to its Chattanooga plant and add 1,350 jobs. At the time, the UAW and Volkswagen were discussing the process by which the company would recognize the union and how the UAW would interact with a potential German-style works council being at the plant. In the “Project Trinity” document, Haslam’s office informed Volkswagen that the “the incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”
In remarks in Chattanooga today, Haslam denied that he was attempting to use the incentives to influence the union vote. However, the emails show that top Haslam staffers conducted an extensive legal analysis of how quickly the union election could occur at Volkswagen once either the union or the employer filed for it. (Unions tend to advocate quick elections, since they believe that delaying organizing drives deflates their momentum.) In a February 4 letter to the Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations CEO Frank Fisher, Haslam also voiced concerns about union organizers being granted access to the plant.
Who’s behind the videos?
Through an interview with prominent “union avoidance” consultant Jim Gray and a leaked document from an anti-union consulting group, In These Times has learned the source of the videos discussed in the email chain. Gray, who was sent the email, tells In These Times that he played a large role in developing the videos, in conjunction with Southern Momentum, whose head, Maury Nicely, was also on the email chain. Gray says that he helped write the script for the video and “helped point towards” Projections Inc., a prominent anti-union consulting group, as a possible producer.
A document from Projections’ UnionProof.com website titled “Case Study: Volkswagen and the UAW” that is available to the site’s “insider members” reads, “On February 3, the call came in to Projections’ Union Proof Team from the Southern Momentum non-profit group. … When Volkswagen asked for a fast vote on February 3, the Union proof Team immediately went to Chattanooga to begin drafting a communications strategy. Scripts were written, testimonials shot, and in plant footage was recorded.”
Projections states that it in a matter of four days, it was able to produce three “highly professional” videos against the UAW and even traveled to Westmoreland County, Pa., to film a former Volkswagen worker who claimed that the UAW forced the plant there to close in 1988.
The videos were then made public at meetings organized by Southern Momentum on February 8 and 9, just a few days before the February 12-14 union election, and uploaded to www.no2uaw.com, a website run by anti-UAW workers at the plant.
The Case Study document quotes Projections CEO Walter Orechwa as saying, “The truth is, regardless of the timeframe, powerful employee communication is always key to remaining union-free.”
The legal ramifications
After the union defeat, the UAW filed a case with the National Labor Relations Board charging that outside political interference by Corker and the state GOP leadership prevented workers from receiving a fair election. On Tuesday, the UAW used the NewsChannel 5 report to file a supplemental brief with the NLRB, alleging that the leaked documents provide even greater evidence that government officials coordinated their efforts to hinder the union drive. “Doubtless there is more evidence of such coordination in addition to this particular leaked email chain, given the tone of familiarity among the email recipients,” wrote the UAW in the brief.
Also, the UAW cited the new connection in the email chain between the anti-union group Southern Momentum and government officials to challenge the NLRB’s decision to grant Southern Momentum “intervenor status” to participate in the NLRB hearings. In an unusual move in March, Southern Momentum petitioned for standing in the case, arguing that it was a group representing anti-union workers involved in the dispute. The NLRB agreed, which will allow Southern Momentum to bring in its own legal team to make arguments. Southern Momentum has deep pockets: Previously, In These Times quoted No 2 UAW anti-union VW worker committee activist Mike Burton as saying “not one of us [workers] raised a penny” of the $100,000 raised by Southern Momentum to fight against the UAW drive. The UAW however, argues that the email chain provides further evidence that Southern Momentum is tied to outside special interests rather than workers and that its intervenor status should be revoked.
According to labor lawyer Moshe Marvit, a fellow at the Century Foundation, the case has far-reaching legal implications, since outside groups with dark money sources are rarely allowed to fight unions in NLRB cases.
However, Marvit notes that “there is an irony to the Board’s granting intervenor status to outside groups” because “the hearing is only necessary because outside groups became involved in the election in an improper way. Now, the Board is affirming that these groups have a legal interest in the proceedings, and is thereby affirming their position as parties.”
The NLRB trial is set for April 21 in Chattanooga, Tenn. While it’s unclear whether the NLRB will be swayed by the new evidence to call for a do-over election at Volkswagen, to one local activist these documents represent something startling.
"When a billionaire governor, a millionaire senator, and the local Chamber of Commerce all unite to kill jobs in reaction to the mere possibility of one union local being organized at one factory in one city in the state of Tennessee, the full extent of the corrupting influence of the business community in our state government becomes clearly visible,” says Chris Brooks, an activist with the pro-UAW community group Chattanooga for Workers. “What chance do workers have to organize a union when they are pitted against our state’s most powerful politicians who coordinate their attacks in secret with a shadowy corporate cartel composed of everyone from the local Chamber to out-of-state anti-union consultants?"
VW Isn't Fighting Unionization-- But Leaked Docs Show Right-Wing Groups Are | Activism, What Matters Today | BillMoyers.com
After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was flabbergasted.
“For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. “They will become the object of many business school studies — and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways — if they inflict this wound.”
Corker isn’t the only right-winger out to halt UAW’s campaign. In the absence of any overt anti-union offensive by Volkswagen, conservative political operatives worried about the UAW getting a foothold in the South have stepped into the fray.
Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them.
“Everyone is definitely looking at this fight,” the anti-union consultant, Martin (not his real name), told In These Times. “This is the union fight going on right now and everybody [in the anti-union world] is looking to play their part and get compensated for playing their part.”
The last VW plant where workers don’t have a voice
As the only major VW plant in the United States, Chattanooga is also the only plant whose workers have no opportunity to join German-style “works councils” — committees of hourly and salaried employees who discuss management decisions, like which plant will make specific car models, on a local and global scale.
Organizing with the UAW, workers say, would help them to both form new works councils and gain representation at existing ones — which, in turn, would attract more jobs to the area.
“I personally feel like not having a union and not participating in a works council is going to do more damage for future expansion and new product development in Chattanooga than any unionization would do,” says Volkswagen employee Justin King. “The way VW works on the international level, [management] almost expects to work with a union. Now, we aren’t able to say, ‘Hey we would like to build that new SUV, or we would like to hire some new workers.’ We are only hurting ourselves by not going union.”
Workers also say having a union would help the plant be more efficient. “On the assembly line, the process changes each year because [of] new models,” says worker Chris Brown. “A voice in the company would help smooth the process from year to year.”
Beyond this, VW employees feel that organizing could help address their problems with corporate policy, including the fact that nearly one-fifth of workers at peak times in auto production have been temporary employees. Temporary employees’ starting wages are more than two dollars an hour lower than full-time employees’, and their healthcare and retirement benefits are much less robust, says the UAW.
According to Brown, approximately 200-300 “temps” are currently employed in the VW factory — and the UAW says they can remain classified as temporary even if they work at VW for years.
“I am friends with these people, and they want a job. Some of these people have been there for 18 months as a temp and that’s just … wrong,” says Brown. “If this is a job that I do, they should be making the pay that I make. [They] should have the same job security that I have as an employee.”
Fellow employee Lauren Feinauer agrees that a union would improve workers’ communication with management. “We heard a lot in the beginning about how VW works with their employees: close relationships and a lot of communication. I know there is a lot of that going on, but I think some of the VW way got lost in translation,” she says. “This is why we want a union.”
This September, the UAW announced that a majority of VW workers have signed up to join the union. But according to the UAW, it and VW still have yet to agree on a process for recognizing the union. That has left time for outside anti-union forces to try to dissuade workers from joining the UAW — time that many of those groups have capitalized upon.
Anti-union consultants get in the game
In a proposal dated Aug. 23, 2013, which was presented to a prominent anti-union group before being leaked to In These Times, Washington, DC-based consultant Matt Patterson outlined a vision of how anti-union forces can work with community groups to persuade VW workers that organizing is not in their long-term economic interest.
In the report, Patterson explained his approach thus far to laying the groundwork for an anti-union campaign, which he calls the “Keep Tennessee Free Project,” in Chattanooga. From last May to August, he said, he “leveraged a $4,000 budget into a deep and effective anti-UAW campaign that received national media attention, pressured politicians to issue public statements against unionization, forced the union to expend resources to counter our efforts, developed an extensive intelligence network that stretched from Chattanooga to Germany to Detroit and brought the terrible economic legacy of the UAW to the forefront of the debate.”
Patterson claimed that during the summer, he generated 63 stories denouncing the UAW effort in Chattanooga. In three months, he said, he was able to build a media echo chamber that now hammers Chattanooga with anti-union messaging on a regular basis.
And such remarks aren’t idle boasting. The fruits of Patterson’s anti-organizing crusade have appeared in the National Review, Forbes and local Chattanooga TV station WDEF 12, in addition to a host of smaller conservative talk radio shows.
But he didn’t stop there — he also gathered grassroots support. “Within a few weeks,” he wrote, “I had organized a coalition consisting of members of the Tea Party, Students for Liberty, former VW employees, politician and businessmen to craft and deliver a consistent message that has shaped public opinion.”
WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed all five of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, marking the first time in a decade that the agency has enjoyed a full slate of confirmed board members.
It was no simple feat. The board, which enforces labor law on companies and unions, was headed toward a shutdown in August, leading Senate Democrats to threaten use of the so-called “nuclear option” to break a Republican filibuster over nominees. Republicans ultimately agreed to let Obama’s labor board picks proceed in order to avoid a potentially historic change of Senate rules.
The vote Tuesday assures that the board will continue to function and mediate labor disputes, even though some board critics on the right have said they’d rather see it inoperable. While many Americans aren’t even familiar with the board or its duties, the NLRB has become a lightning rod in the broader fight over collective bargaining rights in the U.S. workplace.
The Senate confirmation places three Democrats and two Republicans on the five-member board, in keeping with the tradition of a three-member majority hailing from the president’s party. The Democrats are Mark Pearce, the current chairman; Nancy Schiffer, a labor lawyer from the AFL-CIO; and Kent Hirozawa, who’s served as chief counsel to Pearce. The Republicans are management-side labor lawyers Harry Johnson III and Philip Miscimarra.
The last time a full board had been confirmed by the Senate was 2003. And until recently, it appeared highly unlikely that Senate Republicans would give Obama’s nominees a stamp of approval.
Republicans have assailed the board under Obama for its rules and decisions seen as friendly to organized labor, even moderate-seeming ones, such as a requirement that employers hang posters notifying workers of their rights under labor law. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the board’s staunchest critics, once declared that an “inoperable” board could be “considered progress.
Nuclear Option Averted: Senators Strike Tentative Deal To Confirm Nominees Without Reforming Filibuster | TPMDC
Senate leaders struck a tentative deal in the 11th hour to confirm seven presidential nominees to executive positions without the use of the nuclear option.
In short, Republicans would confirm nominees to all seven positions, a big concession for the GOP. But in a concession for Democrats, they would replace two recess-appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, pictured below — with new nominees under the following condition: Republicans pledge to confirm any two replacements by President Obama to the board by Aug. 27.
The nominees who would be confirmed in the deal are Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez for the Labor Department and Fred Hochberg for the Export-Import Bank. Under the terms of the deal outlined by Reid’s office, Mark Pearce would be confirmed to the NLRB while Block and Griffin would be replaced.
“Right to work” is the most dishonest phrase in American political discourse. It sounds like it’s defending people’s right to earn a living. But as used by its supporters, it means making it impossible for workers to form an effective union, couched in the language of “freedom” and “choice.”
Specifically, it means laws banning “union shops,” in which everyone in a workplace has to join the union or pay a fee to cover the cost of union representation. Twenty-four states have such laws. All were in the South and West until last year, when Indiana and Michigan enacted them. Michigan’s law was rammed through the Republican-dominated legislature in a lame-duck session last December.
The Michigan law was “pretty devastating for the labor movement,” says Erin Johansson of American Rights at Work. It came in the state where the United Auto Workers’ six-week occupation of General Motors plants in Flint in 1937 won the victory that opened the doors for unions throughout American industry, the state whose union labor defined the working-class prosperity of World War II to the 1970s.
Both Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Dick DeVos, the heir to the multibillion-dollar Amway fortune who bankrolled the campaign for the law, stuck to the party line about “freedom.” Snyder said the law would give workers “the freedom to choose” and unions “an opportunity to be more responsible to their workers,” because instead of automatically collecting dues, they’d have to show workers “a value proposition.”
“Absolute horseshit,” responds Ed Ott, former head of the New York City Central Labor Council. “This is a total offensive against workers. They don’t want workers to have any say. After workers vote for a union, they don’t want them to maintain membership.”
This year, “right to work” measures were introduced in 17 states, according to Peggy Shorey, director of state government relations at the AFL-CIO. Ten were defeated, including those in Missouri, Kentucky, and New Hampshire, where Gov. John Lynch vetoed one in 2011. Republicans in the Ohio legislature introduced one in early May, but the state senate president said he didn’t want to give Democrats an issue to raise funds on. (Ohio voters overwhelmingly overturned draconian limits on unions in 2011.) Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced one in January, but it hasn’t gotten a committee hearing.
“It’s striking that they were not successful in passing it in Missouri,” says Shorey. The most significant measures still pending, she says, are in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, House Speaker Thom Tillis proposed making the state’s “right to work” law and a ban on public-worker unions an amendment to its constitution, after declaring that he wanted to keep North Carolina “the least unionized state in the United States.” In Pennsylvania, the sponsor is Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chair of the State Government committee, who also sponsored the state’s voter-ID law and fulminates against “illegal alien invaders.”
Neither measure has made it out of committee, but “after Michigan, anything could happen,” warns Ott.
The Michigan and Indiana laws came as part of the 2011–’12 offensive against worker rights in the upper Midwest, but the concept emerged after the great union victories of the late 1930s. The phrase “right to work” was coined in 1941 by William B. Ruggles, an editorial writer at the Dallas Morning News who didn’t want to join a union. His bosses feared that federal laws and regulations backing union rights were forcing unions down the throats of employers and socializing industry. Ruggles proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to work with or without union membership.
Lobbyist Vance Muse, founder of an organization called the Christian Americans, picked up the campaign—but realized that it would be much easier to win state laws than a constitutional amendment. Without such a law, he argued. “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” He also said the law would help “good niggers, not these communist niggers.”
He won support from business groups, and Texas outlawed the union shop in 1943. Arkansas followed in 1944. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which restricted strikes and banned communists from being union officials, specifically allowed states to pass such laws, in its Section 14(b). By 1960, 18 states had done so, and Wyoming, Louisiana, Idaho, and Oklahoma trickled in over the next few decades.
In 1961, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “right to work” a “fraud,” saying that it “provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ …Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.” In 1965, the high-water mark of liberal power in Congress in the last 70 years, the House voted to repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, but a filibuster in the Senate preserved the provision.
In today’s network of anti-union think tanks and lobbying groups, the two most concerned with right to work are the National Right to Work Committee and its offshoots, based in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in Michigan.
The National Right to Work Committee, founded in 1955, has grown to include a legal offshoot, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. Reed Larson, who headed NRTWC for 45 years, touts the Foundation, established in 1968, as the nation’s first conservative litigating organization.
The committee proclaims that it is “dedicated to the principle that all Americans must have the right to join a union if they choose to,” but its masthead motto is “No one should have to be forced to pay tribute to a union boss to get or keep a job.”
Asked what these organizations have done to support the right to join a union, spokesperson Patrick T. Semmens says that there’s no risk that union membership will be outlawed, but “the right not to join or associate with a union…is not currently the law and therefore is our focus.”
In practice, responds Erin Johansson, if a worker complains to the National Labor Relations Board that she was illegally fired for union activity, it can take eight or nine years to get her job back. “We have nothing now. We don’t have a functioning NLRB,” she adds.
Republicans in the Senate have filibustered President Obama’s nominees to the NLRB for years, to prevent if from having a majority that recognizes workers’ legal rights. If the vacant seats are not filled by August, the board won’t have a quorum. In January, a federal court said Obama’s recess appointments were unconstitutional, and voided rulings they participated in. The National Right to Work Foundation filed an amicus brief in that case, the result of a lawsuit filed by the Chamber of Commerce-backed Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.
The Foundation has won several Supreme Court decisions banning unions from using dues collected from nonmembers for activities not directly related to collective bargaining—that is, supporting pro-union candidates or legislation. It’s also represented people who don’t want to join unions or pay dues, and calls strikebreakers “courageous individuals.”
The Foundation’s list of “Big Labor’s Top Ten Special Privileges” includes just about anything that would make a union effective.
It claims that union “monopoly bargaining” is “depriving employees of the right to make their own employment contracts.” In other words, it denies them their right to ask for a raise on their own and not get one—or to undercut the union by agreeing to work for less.
It claims that unions have the privilege to “strong-arm employers into negotiations,” because “unlike all other parties in the economic marketplace, union officials can compel employers to bargain with them.” As opposed to employers’ right to ignore workers or tell them, “you’re fired, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
It claims that union workers have the privilege to “refuse to work while keeping their job,” because they can’t be fired for going on strike. This isn’t exactly true. Employers can’t fire workers striking against unfair labor practices, but they can legally “replace” workers striking for more money. The union movement of the mid-20th century was strong enough so employers rarely did that until after 1981, when President Ronald Reagan fired striking air-traffic controllers. And if employers can fire striking workers, that makes it next to impossible to have a successful strike.
If one wants proof of the union slogan that “right to work” really means “right to work for less,” it’s in a book excerpt posted on the National Right to Work Committee’s Web site. In Stranglehold: How Union Bosses Have Hijacked Our Government, Reed Larson blames the New Deal for establishing the plague of “compulsory unionism.” He writes that the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, by setting minimum wages in various industries, “trampled the rights of workers” by denying them the freedom to make a contract to work for less money.
The “right to work” network’s other main argument is that weakening unions stimulates job growth, that jobs are increasing in states with right-to-work laws. As companies often prefer to move to places with the lowest wages and the weakest safety regulations—witness the garment industry’s migration from the Triangle Shirtwaist Company to the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh over the last century—this makes sense, although Armelagos says, “companies are still moving out of Indiana.”
It’s harder to sell low wages to the public. In 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly wage for union workers was $943 a week, compared to $742 for nonunion workers. To get around this, they argue that per capita income in “right to work” states, adjusted for the cost of living, is equal to, almost equal to, or more than it is in “forced union” states.
WASHINGTON (AP) — In an embarrassing setback for President Barack Obama, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday that he violated the Constitution in making certain recess appointments and moved to curtail a chief executive’s ability in the future to circumvent the Senate in such scenarios.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board because the Senate was officially in session — and not in recess — at the time. If the decision stands, it could invalidate hundreds of board decisions.
The court said the president could only fill vacancies with the recess appointment procedure if the openings arise when the Senate is in an official recess, which it defined as the break between sessions of Congress.
The ruling threw into question Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray’s appointment, also made at the same time, has been challenged in a separate case.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Obama made the recess appointments on Jan. 4, 2012, after Senate Republicans spent months blocking his choices for an agency they contended was biased in favor of unions. Obama claims he acted properly because the Senate was away for the holidays on a 20-day recess. The Constitution allows for such appointments without Senate approval when Congress is in recess.
The three-judge panel, all appointed by Republican presidents, ruled that during one of those pro forma sessions on Jan. 3, the Senate officially convened its second session of the 112th Congress, as required by the Constitution.
"Either the Senate is in session, or it is in recess," Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote in the 46-page ruling. "If it has broken for three days within an ongoing session, it is not in "the Recess" described in the Constitution."
Simply taking a break of an evening or a weekend during a regular working session cannot count, he said. Sentelle said that otherwise “the president could make appointments any time the Senate so much as broke for lunch.”
The Obama administration is expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. But if the ruling stands, it means that hundreds of decisions issued by the board over more than a year would be invalid. It also would leave the five-member labor board with just one validly appointed member, effectively shutting it down. The board is allowed to issue decisions only when it has at least three sitting members.
Obama used the recess appointment to appoint Deputy Labor Secretary Sharon Block, union lawyer Richard Griffin and NLRB counsel Terence Flynn to fill vacancies on the NLRB, giving it a full contingent for the first time in more than a year. Block and Griffin are Democrats, while Flynn is a Republican. Flynn stepped down from the board last year.
The court’s decision is a victory for Republicans and business groups that have been attacking the labor board for issuing a series of decisions and rules that make it easier for the nation’s labor unions to organize new members.
WASHINGTON (AP) — After two years of getting pummeled in Wisconsin, Indiana and other battleground states, leaders of the nation’s big labor unions were beaming on election night.
Labor’s massive voter turnout effort played a major role in helpingPresident Barack Obama win Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin, according to exit polls, and its leaders are now looking for a more liberal, pro-union agenda from the White House.
"There are things the president can do, and we’ll be expecting that leadership from President Obama," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters after the election.
Topping labor’s wish list — for now — is a push to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and discouraging Obama from agreeing to any deal with Republicans over the looming “fiscal cliff” that cuts into Social Security and Medicare.
But unions are also pressing for new measures that might help boost their sagging membership rolls. New investment in infrastructure would bring construction jobs for trade unions. Immigration reform — and a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Latino immigrants — would create a vast new pool of potential union members. And new regulations could remove some obstacles to union organizing.
Business groups that have vigorously opposed efforts to help unions draw new members say they will keep playing defense.
"My primary concern is in the regulations," said Randel Johnson, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for labor issues. "We are afraid that on employment issues, the administration will stay firmly to the left and follow the lead of the unions.”
A new rule expected from the Labor Department would force companies to reveal relationships with so-called union-busting consulting companies even if the companies have no contact with workers. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to start work on a rule that would force businesses to turn over workers’ phone numbers, emails and shift times to union organizers.
The Obama administration might even consider a plan that would give an advantage in bidding on government contracts to companies that offer workers a higher living wage and generous benefits.
Unlike four years ago, unions have not made passage of card-check legislation a centerpiece of their agenda. The long-stalled measure that would require companies to recognize a union once more than half its eligible employees signed union cards instead of putting the question to a secret-ballot vote went nowhere in Obama’ first term, to the chagrin of many union activists.
Card check remains a dead end with Republicans in firm control of the House. Amy Dean, a former head of the AFL-CIO in California’s Silicon Valley, said unions are being more realistic about what they can get.
In addition to measures that may help increase union numbers, labor leaders are also expecting the Obama administration to issue more regulations targeting workplace safety. Proposed rules to protect workers from cancer-causing and lung-damaging silica, often found in the dust at construction sites and glass manufacturing operations, have languished at the White House for more than a year. The administration also has delayed new standards for combustible dust that can cause explosions.
Business groups have opposed the regulations, saying they overreach and would raise employers’ costs by millions of dollars.
h/t: Yahoo! News
President Obama is planning to announce today that, in addition to his recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he will also use his recess appointment powers to place Department of Labor Attorney Sharon Block, labor lawyer Richard Griffin, and NLRB counsel Terence Flynn to the National Labor Relations Board.
Like the CFPB, Republicans have spent the past year blocking nominations to the NLRB in an effort to keep the agency from functioning. Those efforts would have paid off soon, since after Craig Becker’s term on the board expired this week, the NLRB would have been reduced to two members, which is the number it had for more than two years from 2008 to 2010. This effectively shuts down the board, since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that two members does not constitute a legal quorum, and thus, a two-member board can’t make binding rulings.
Obama’s appointment of Block, Flynn, and Griffin is important, too, because it boosts the board’s membership to five, protecting its quorum even if member Brian Hayes follows through on his threats to quit. Preserving its right to quorum ensures that its rulings will not be thrown out on legal challenges, as more than 600 cases were by the Roberts Court in 2010.
Republicans have shown outrage at Obama for using his recess appointment powers with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray, and similar outrage is likely to follow the news of the NLRB appointments. But the past three Republican presidents also made recess appointments to the NLRB. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each made three recess appointments to the NLRB, while George W. Bush made seven such appointments.
H/T: Travis Waldron at ThinkProgress Economy.
Updated: Nov. 30, 4:30PM
Despite threats from the sole Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board that he’d quit over a controversial union elections law, the board voted two-to-one on Wednesday to advance part of a rule that union leaders said would decrease delays in the elections process.
The board only voted on portions of the rule that would limit litigation surrounding elections. But GOP member Brian Hayes said that the board’s decision to advance the rules went against tradition.
“I deeply believe that whatever one’s view of the need for election rule revisions may be, a final rule should not be issued in the absence of three affirmative votes to do so,” Hayes said.
“Regardless of whether a two member majority has the technical authority to act or whether there is no internal rule expressly applicable to this situation, I believe the change in current law and procedure without three affirmative votes would be contrary to the spirit of the board’s deliberative traditions, established and honored over decades… and that such actions will ultimately cause harm to the agency and the constituents that we serve,” Hayes continued.
Hayes noted that the upcoming expiration of another board member’s recess appointment would reduce the board to two members, denying them quorum for an indefinite period.
“With all due respect, this is not an emergency situation,” Hayes said. “Board members come and go under our statutory plan. Their timely replacement is a matter for the president and the United States Senate to arrange. In fact, two board member nominations have been pending in the Senate since January of this year. Inaction or disagreement on the nominations is not by itself a justification for preemptive or perceptive rule-making action by two of three sitting board members.”
“Further, no matter how passionately my colleagues believe that the proposed rule will right some fundamental wrong, I trust that they are fully aware that on some quadrennial occasion, the partisan pendulum will swing and the very precedent that they established by changing the law with only two votes may facilitate reversal of that law, presuming Congress does not act first,” Hayes said.
As the Associated Press reported, Hayes absence would have brought the board to a standstill:But the board’s lone GOP member, Brian Hayes, has threatened to quit the agency over his objection to the planned rules, an unprecedented move that would render the board powerless to approve any new measures at all. The board needs at least three members to make any decisions.
If Hayes leaves, only two members — both Democrats — would remain instead of the five members it’s supposed to have. Congressional Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama from filling the other two vacancies at the board.
The board hasn’t yet finalized the rule, and a resignation by Hayes would still effectively block the measure. But he indicated Wednesday that he’s weighed and rejected that option.