Crissy Brown

Michigan’s new right-to-work law and the state of organized labor in both the private and public sectors dominated discussion Thursday at “The State of Labor” panel discussion, co-hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heritage

Matt Patterson, senior fellow in CEI’s Center for Economic Freedom and its lead labor policy analyst, moderated the event, which also featured James Sherk, Heritage’s Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics, CEI Editorial Director and Labor Policy Analyst Ivan Osorio; Timothy Lee, Vice President for Legal and Public Affairs at the Center of Individual Freedom; and Brett McMahon, Vice President for Business Development at Miller and Long Inc.

The labor experts agreed the move in Michigan was a good one — that it expanded freedom and economic opportunity for the people of the Wolverine State. As Sherk, a former Michigan resident, put it:

Why is right to work a big deal for Michigan economically? We find that right to work states are much more attractive for businesses. Union organizing goes down when employees have the choice to opt out of supporting a cause they don’t support; and companies are far less likely to end up like Hostess – and so many other great American companies [driven out of business by a union].

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Wisconsin’s largest teachers unions may be joining forces. The WEAC, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and the AFT-Wisconsin, affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, are discussing a merger.

Why? Both unions report about a 30-percent decline in membership since passage of the state’s new collective bargaining law, Act 10. The law, spearheaded by Governor Scott Walker, prohibits bargaining over employee working conditions or benefits, and also stipulates that union dues are no longer mandatory. Prior to the enactment of Act 10, WEAC members paid between $600 and $1,000 in state and national dues.

It is clear that Walker’s effective reforms have driven the unions into each other’s arms for solace. Kenosha teacher Michael Orth admits as much, “It’s about building local union power.” Since the collective bargaining overhaul, the unions have been forced to target their influence at the local level — campaigning for change through the school board rather than their historic practices of hefty campaign contributions and lobbying at the state level. “Our business model has been busted up,” WEAC Executive Director Dan Burkhalter lamented. “We can’t play on the field we’ve been playing.”

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A labor demonstration orchestrated by the Service Employees International Union brought delays of up to 90 minutes to Thanksgiving travelers at Los Angeles International Aierport.

According to the Orange County Registe, union leaders say the demonstration was a consequence of the “400 airport workers [that were] left without a contract earlier this year when Aviation Safeguards, a unit of Command Security Corp. of Parsippany, N.J., terminated contracts with the Service Employees International Union and withdrew all health insurance.”

But there may be other motivations on the part of SEIU. Aviation Safeguards employees voted to sever their affiliation with the union and were not part of the planned demonstration. According to Frederick McNeil of the contractor group:

We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended. And now they’re bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays. It’s ridiculous. People need to understand that SEIU doesn’t speak for the employees at Aviation Safeguards.

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As the union-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making a Change at Walmart gear up to make a statement this Black Friday, the company took action — and filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union creating the stir is the United Food and Commercial Workers, which defines it self as “America’s neighborhood union – standing together to improve the lives and livelihoods of workers, families, and communities.” UFCW is encouraging Walmart workers to walk off the job on Black Friday — perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year — to picket for better wages, hours, and health benefits.

The union, started in 1979, claims 1.3 million members in 400 locals throughout the United States and Canada. Most work in the grocery, retail, meat packing, and food processing industries, and the union seeks to grow by becoming the No.1 bargaining agent for Walmart’s 1.4 million employees.

“The more than 1 million members of the UFCW across America know the need for real change at Walmart,” said Joe Hansen, international president of the UFCW. “We’re  incredibly proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these courageous associates who are taking action to demand that Walmart workers can, and should, be able to speak out for real change without fear of retaliation.”

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On Monday, Hostess Brands asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York for permission to close and liquidate all assets. But at the insistence of  Judge Robert Drain, the firm agreed to negotiations with the striking union — The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International (BCTGM). If the two sides can’t reach agreement, liquidation will resume.

“My desire to do this is prompted primarily by the potential loss of over 18,000 jobs as well as my belief that there is a possibility to resolve this matter,” said Judge Drain.

Neither side seems hopeful. Hostess attorney Heather Lennox advised the court last week’s strike served to weaken the company beyond salvation. “At this point … our customers know we’re going out of business. It would be very hard for us to recover from this damage … even if there were to be an agreement in the near term.”

And, according to Bakers Union attorney Jeffrey Freund, the union has made its demands “crystal clear” by reiterating them “again and again and again and again.”

Today’s mediation is the final hope to revive the 85-year-old iconic wholesale baker. Some are optimistic Hostess Brands can be saved. Nick Kalm, a communications consultant who specializes in labor relations,says the discussion could make both sides more willing to cooperate. “It makes it much more likely that the company will put forward something that is less draconian… and the union will take it,” noted Kalm. “The union realizes they are out of options.”

If today’s unexpected mediation can bridge the expansive divide between management and the union, Hostess and its employees may yet go on to see another payday.

They are messing with our Twinkies.

Upset over cuts to pensions and salaries brought on by a new collective bargaining contract, employees of Hostess, which makes Twinkies, Wonder Bread and other iconic snacks, are on strike. The workers, members of Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), walked out Nov. 9 to send the message recent changes to their compensation package are “outrageous.”

Hostess promises to liquidate the company if the strike doesn’t cease by end of day today. The company’s CEO Gregory Rayburn in a statement Wednesday said:

We simply do not have the financial resources to survive an ongoing national strike. Therefore, if sufficient employees do not return to work by 5 p.m., EST, on Thursday to restore normal operations, we will be forced to immediately move to liquidate the entire company, which will result in the loss of nearly 18,000 jobs.

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Talk about having your negotiating adversary over the barrel.

Pepco and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers’ Maryland-based Local 1900 had been in contract gridlock for months. With the old contract set to expire in May, just as the summer storm season would be heating up, the company had to find a way out.

But after they voted down a collective bargaining contract Pepco called its “last, best and final offer” in September, members approved a four-year pact on Oct. 18 that provides wage increases of 2.25 percent the first year and 2.5 percent the next three. The union has received salary increases of at least 2 percent every year since 1999. The union agreed to forego retractive pension and salary increases but members will receive a lump sum payment to cover some of the increase.

James A. Griffin, president of IBEW Local 1900, said the union’s unease with the “last, best and final offer” wasn’t over money but rather changes Pepco sought to make to members’ health and welfare package in exchange for a different appeals process. the union’s ability to enact changes to health and welfare plans that Pepco was seeking to eliminate in exchange for a different appeal process.

The quarrel involved Pepco employees who are crucial to restoring service in outages, a fact the union used to its advantage in negotiations. Pepco has been under fire for years for its poor response to storms, particularly the powerful derecho that hit the area last June. It had little choice but to find a way to settle.

In a letter to IBEW members, the negotiation committee boasted about its contract victory:

Your show of solidarity was clearly the difference. Things changed dramatically once Pepco realized you would not stand for the take-aways they wanted. Health and welfare language now gives us the protection we wanted. We were also able to negotiate limited increases in out of pocket medical costs.

Pepco, meanwhile, said it is “happy” with the agreement but would not go into further detail.

This week, Greek officials and monetary lenders continued negotiations over the austerity measures the country must implement to save itself from economic collapse.

Greece must pass a proposed measure that would cut public spending by 13.5 billion Euros in order to receive the next installment of its 173 billion euro bailout from international creditors: the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — known collectively as the troika. It’s crunch time in Greece; they are expected to be out of money by November so they must reach an agreement with lenders by the end of this month.

Rumor has it that negotiations have gone fairly well. Reuters quotes IMF Mission Chief for Greece Poul Thomsen saying late Tuesday that both sides came to agreement on “most policy issues.”

The lone holdup? Labor.

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Prompted by the Newspaper Guild, New York Times union employees carried out a brief walkout on Tuesday.

At 3:35 pm, as many as 400 employees stood outside the Midtown building to demonstrate their message of discontent. The walkout followed a meeting where 200 staff members attempted to hash out a collective bargaining contract to no avail.

Many are puzzled that the union employees have gone the last 18 months without being able to reach a collective bargaining agreement, as the Times has historically and loudly favored unions. So long as they don’t have to deal with them, it seems.

The disputes between the Guild and management are over compensation. Negotiations are stalled over matters of employees’ salaries and pensions, and those regarding the Times’ proposal to have separate contracts for digital and print journalists.

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Post image for Suffocating Athena: Public Sector Unions Kill Greek Salvation — Again

On October 1, the Greek government unveiled an austerity package that aims to reduce public spending by $15 billion (11.5 billion euros) for 2013-2014, which includes cuts to welfare as well as salaries and pensions of government employees.

The reductions are necessary to receive a 31.5 billion euro installment from the 130 billion euro (second) bailout that has been keeping Greece’s head above the wine-dark sea. The International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and the European Central Bank, collectively referred to as the Troika, have assured that no more money will be given without credible steps being taken to ensure a sound investment.

As necessary as the measures are, unions are pitching a fit at the thought of decreased government funding. Two of Greece’s largest unions called for a 24-hour strike in late September in anticipation of the proposed austerity measure. The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Confederation (ADEDY), which represent half the nation’s work force, mobilized 50,000 teachers, lawyers, civil workers, and other Greek employees to protest in Athens, promising more to come if the cuts are implemented. This is the third strike this year, but perhaps one of the most significant Greece has had in a while, as it has brought together people of varying political beliefs who collectively oppose austerity.

Union officials want to negotiate with the government for fewer salary and pension reductions, and they don’t seem to care how the government gets the money to pay them. Sotires Martalis, a high school physics teacher in Athens who was on the National Council of the Public Employees Union Federation, spoke to Labor Notes in 2010, claiming:

“The rank and file is so angry,” he said. “Their main idea is ‘we don’t pay for your crisis, not even one euro. Take the money from the rich.’ So the leaders of the federations have had to support and call strikes.”

Greece’s finances are spinning out of control. If nothing is done, public debt could reach 179.3 percent of GDP by next year. But this does not concern unions. They are fighting the austerity measures that could give Greece its first budget surplus in 10 years.

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