'Friedrichs v. CTA' – What you need to know about challenge to union dues

Via Huffington Post The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association et al., a closely watched California-based lawsuit with major implications for the state’s teachers unions and potentially all Read more

Boston Is Growing Fast. So Is Ridership on the MBTA.

Via The Frontier Group By: Tony Dutzik on 01/18/2016 Transit ridership grew faster in the Boston area between 2008 and 2014 than in any of America’s other top 10 transit cities. Since 2000, MBTA ridership has Read more

Inside an IAM Member’s State of the Union Experience

Norb Balinski, a 30-year member of IAM Local 701 in Carol Stream, IL, and his wife, Gloria, were recently invited to Washington, DC to be personal guests of First Lady Michelle Obama during the Read more

‘Friedrichs v. CTA’ – What you need to know about challenge to union dues

Posted on by IAMLocal264 in Featured Posts | Comments Off on ‘Friedrichs v. CTA’ – What you need to know about challenge to union dues

Supreme_Court_US_2010-1Via Huffington Post

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association et al., a closely watched California-based lawsuit with major implications for the state’s teachers unions and potentially all public-employee unions. The lawsuit challenges the authority of the CTA and other public-employee unions to collect mandatory fees, a main source of their income and, by extension, their power. Here’s a crash course in the case.

WHAT IS FRIEDRICHS V. CALIFORNIA TEACHERS ASSOCIATION?

Friedrichs is a lawsuit brought by 10 California teachers and a teachers group, Christian Educators Association International, that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. The plaintiffs want the court to overturn a four-decades-old court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That ruling said states could require all employees represented exclusively by a public-employee union to pay “fair-share” or “agency” fees an equal portion of the bargaining costs related to wages, benefits and working conditions. Even employees who aren’t members must pay these fees, although if the plaintiffs prevail, dues and fees for members and non-members would no longer be mandatory. Dues that union members pay include an additional, voluntary amount that covers the union’s costs of campaigning for candidates who back the union and lobbying for issues that a majority of members view as important.

WHO WOULD IT AFFECT?

Half of the states, including California, have adopted laws establishing mandatory “fair share” or “agency” fees employees pay to unions. The remaining 25 “right to work” states either prohibit collective bargaining by public workers or ban mandatory dues. Although the case directly involves the CTA, and, though not a defendant, the smaller California Federation of Teachers, a decision could affect all unions representing public workers, depending how narrowly or broadly the Supreme Court rules.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Teacher Ken Tray, right, holds a sign at a Prop. 30 rally in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. The California Teachers Association, one of the state’s most influential political players, joins Gov. Jerry Brown for a weekend of rallies throughout the state in support of his November tax initiative and to oppose a separate initiative that would undercut union clout. (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

 

WHO IS FRIEDRICHS?

Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Rebecca Friedrichs, lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Rebecca Friedrichs is the lead plaintiff, an outspoken opponent of her teachers union who agreed to let her name become identified with the case. Friedrichs has taught elementary school for 28 years, mostly in the Savanna School District in Anaheim.You can listen to her discuss the case here, read a Q&A with her here, and read a commentary by her in the Orange County Register here.

WHY IS FRIEDRICHS SUCH A BIG DEAL?

A victory by the teachers who filed the suit could significantly sap the financial strength and undermine the bargaining and political clout of the CTA and other public-employee unions by making all union dues voluntary. Unions would have to persuade employees to voluntarily pay hundreds of dollars to a union that is legally obligated to represent both members and non-members.

About 29,000 teachers – slightly less than 10 percent of the CTA’s members – pay fair-share fees. If many of the remaining 90 percent of teachers stopped paying dues, the loss would jeopardize CTA’s ability to adequately serve its members as well as the tens of millions of dollars the CTA and other powerful unions spend campaigning for union-friendly school board members and legislators. Two years after legislators rescinded Wisconsin’s mandatory fees statute, in 2011, a third of that state’s teachers had stopped paying dues.

HOW MUCH OF DUES GOES TO POLITICKING?

For California teachers, about $600 of their average $1,000 annual dues goes toward their fair-share fees; it is divided among their local union, the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association for their expertise and representation. The remaining money pays for lobbying and campaigning at the local, state and federal levels. Public-employee unions have been a key supporter of the Democratic Party in California and nationwide.

WHO IS UNDERWRITING THE CASE?

The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm whose mission is “the defense of individual liberties against the increasingly aggressive and unchecked authority of federal and state governments.” It has pursued lawsuits seeking to ban affirmative action and racial and gender preferences, including California’s Proposition 209.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR OVERTURNING MANDATORY FEES?

Friedrichs and the other plaintiffs argue that agency fees violate their First Amendment rights, because bargaining with the state is no different from lobbying; it’s all “inherently political.” They say that the CTA doesn’t represent their interests on bargaining issues covered by fair-share fees. Therefore, the state shouldn’t force them to financially underwrite a union they disagree with. “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial,” states the Center for Individual Rights,which is representing the plaintiffs.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS OF THE DEFENDANTS, THE CTA AND THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA?

They say the court struck the right balance in Abood, in concluding that the state as an employer is well served when there is a stable and orderly system to convey the views of workers. Since unions must represent members and non-members, it’s appropriate to require all who benefit from negotiations to share the costs. The loss of money from “free-riders” – those who benefit without paying – would threaten a union’s ability to effectively represent employees.

Unions also argue that they represent the views of the majority and those who disagree have the ability to make their views known. The plaintiffs “are simply wrong in declaring that it ‘does not make a First Amendment difference’ whether speech is part of lobbying the Legislature to enact a law or of negotiating a contract with the public employer,” the CTA said in a brief to the Supreme Court.

WHEN WILL THE CASE BE HEARD?

The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for oral arguments, which means probably early next year with a decision no later than the end of June. Organizations and individuals supporting the plaintiffs have already filed two dozen amicus briefs.

WHO MIGHT BE THE DECIDING VOTE?

In this case, it’s not Justice Anthony Kennedy, who usually is the swing vote in 5-4 cases, but conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. In a related 1991 Supreme Court decision, he wrote that mandatory fees were a permissible solution to the problem of free-ridership. “Where the state imposes upon the union a duty to deliver services, it may permit the union to demand reimbursement for them; or, looked at from the other end, where the state creates in the nonmembers a legal entitlement from the union, it may compel them to pay the cost,” he wrote. Circumstances and the arguments haven’t changed much in the past 25 years, so Court watchers are wondering how Scalia would justify reversing his position.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at the University of Minnesota as part of the law school’s Stein Lecture series, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

 

Boston Is Growing Fast. So Is Ridership on the MBTA.

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MBTA_services_sampling_excluding_MBTA_Boat
Via The Frontier Group
By: Tony Dutzik on 01/18/2016

Transit ridership grew faster in the Boston area between 2008 and 2014 than in any of America’s other top 10 transit cities. Since 2000, MBTA ridership has grown nearly twice as fast as the region’s population.[1] On some parts of the MBTA system – especially the subway – ridership growth has been even more rapid, resulting in crowding that often makes riding the T an unpleasant experience.

So it was surprising to see the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB), in its annual report to the legislature (released just before the holidays) describe MBTA ridership as “basically flat.”

The FMCB has been tasked with getting to the bottom of the MBTA’s problems, and they’ve done an admirable job of bringing many of those problems to light. But for the FMCB to be effective, it has to be about more than squeezing every last penny out of the T; it also needs to lay the groundwork for developing a transit system that meets Greater Boston’s 21st century needs.  That means figuring out how to meet the increasing demand for transit being driven by Boston’s rapid growth.  The board’s misunderstanding of ridership trends is a worrying sign that it may be missing the forest for the trees.

*****

Not many people ride transit for fun. People ride because they need to get to or from work, school, shopping or a night on the town.

Since the Great Recession, the number of people who need to go places in Boston and surrounding urban communities has been increasing rapidly. According to the Census Bureau, the city of Boston added more than 40,000 new residents and more than 49,000 new jobs between 2008 and 2014.[2] Neighboring cities such as Cambridge have also seen growth. In percentage terms, Boston has added population faster since 2008 than at any other period since the early 20th century.

More people and more jobs are on the way. GE’s new headquarters in the Seaport district will bring 800 new jobs to the core, while the new development at the site of the Government Center garage will add more than 800 more housing units. Those are just the announcements that have been made since the new year began. Last year, the city of Boston issued the most residential building permits of any year since at least 1980, capping off several years of strong growth.

For many of those new residents and workers, the T is the best way – in some cases, the only practical way – to get around. So it should be no surprise that MBTA ridership has risen in recent years.

Rising ridership is a good thing – enabling the region to support more growth and activity without the downsides of increased traffic congestion and pollution. Increasing ridership also pumps more revenue into the system, even if it also imposes some additional costs (e.g., crowding).

It is curious that the FMCB, which often benchmarks the T against other agencies, didn’t compare ridership trends with systems in other cities. Making a valid comparison isn’t easy; as we’ve written before, the MBTA is an unusual agency in that it is the dominant provider of transit service throughout our region, whereas other cities have a multitude of transit providers, each focused on a specific service. (The San Francisco Bay region, for example, is served by 27 separate transit agencies.)

Fortunately, the National Transit Database provides us with a tool to compare transit ridership across all services within a given urban area. By that measure, the number of transit trips taken in the Boston area increased by 11 percent between 2008 and 2014 – faster than that of any of the nation’s other top 10 transit cities.[3] In absolute terms, Boston saw the addition of nearly 43 million transit trips during this period, second only to the New York area.

Figure: Change in Transit Ridership by Urban Area, Top 10 Transit Cities

 

The growth in ridership has not been spread evenly across all modes. Modes that primarily serve the urban core (subway and bus) have seen faster ridership growth – with heavy rail subway ridership up 5.8% in 2014 alone – while official statistics on commuter rail ridership (which are deeply unreliable) show that it has fallen in recent years.

It is safe to say, however, that the T has not been attracting lots of new riders by sheer force of its awesomeness. In fact, rising fares and deteriorating service are likely driving some new residents and workers who would otherwise ride the T to bike, Uber, carshare, drive, or Bridj instead. If the MBTA better connected new nodes of growth in the city, and did it more reliably, comfortably and affordably, you can bet that even more people would ride. The market is there.

Largely because of the T, Boston has avoided a massive increase in congestion amid its recent growth – only 7,000 of the more than 49,000 new workers commuting to jobs in Boston since 2008 get to work in a car. And the T will be even more important as the region grows as lower-income residents increasingly face the choice between expensive housing in the city and transit-inaccessible housing in the suburbs, as development spreads from the downtown core to new neighborhoods, and as the demographics and needs of the region shift.

The debate about the future of the T cannot be divorced from the larger discussion about how Massachusetts can get the greatest benefit from new growth, while minimizing its costs to our pocketbooks, the environment and our quality of life. The MBTA – until last winter, anyway – was a transit system experiencing rapid ridership growth in a rapidly growing city. Fixing the T is critical, but if Greater Boston is to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century, just fixing the T is not going to be enough.

[1] The population of the Boston metropolitan statistical area increased from 4.4 million in 2000 to 4.7 million in 2014, for a gain of 7.8%. MBTA ridership increased by 15%.

[2] American Community Survey 1-year data.

[3] Top 10 as measured by 2014 ridership, from National Transit Database.

Inside an IAM Member’s State of the Union Experience

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IAM Local 701 member Norb Balinski, right, and his wife, Gloria, met with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez as part of a trip to Washington, DC to see President Obama deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo: U.S. Labor Department)

IAM Local 701 member Norb Balinski, right, and his wife, Gloria, met with U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez as part of a trip to Washington, DC to see President Obama deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo: U.S. Labor Department)

Norb Balinski, a 30-year member of IAM Local 701 in Carol Stream, IL, and his wife, Gloria, were recently invited to Washington, DC to be personal guests of First Lady Michelle Obama during the President’s final State of the Union Address.

About a year ago, Gloria wrote a letter to Obama thanking him for bailing out General Motors, a move which likely saved Norb’s career during the 2008 economic downturn. Just before the President saved GM, Gloria had lost her job to outsourcing and Norb’s job at Castle Chevrolet in Villa Park was their sole source of income.

Like many Americans, the Balinskis were concerned what could happen if General Motors was allowed to fail. “The Republicans didn’t care if GM failed,” said Norb “I’m in my 50’s now, who was going to hire me if GM went under? Would I have to learn a new career?”

Norb Balinski, center, and his wife, Gloria, second from right, dine at the White House with other invitees to President Obama’s State of the Union address

Norb Balinski, center, and his wife, Gloria, second from right, dine at the White House with other invitees to President Obama’s State of the Union address

In 2012, the Balinskis were again reminded of the importance of the Presidents move to save GM when Norb suffered a heart attack, racking up over $400,000 in medical bills. With GM now back on its feet, Norb and Gloria still had insurance through his union contract. The Balinskis were saved from financial ruin.Shortly before Christmas, a White House official called the Balinskis to check in and wish them a merry Christmas on behalf of the President.

“At first I thought it was a scam or someone trying to sell us something,” said Norb, “It wasn’t until they started quoting lines from my wife’s letter that I realized it was real. Shortly before New Year’s, they called back to invite us to the State of the Union address. We were shocked. Why us?”

The White House flew Gloria and Norb to Washington, DC where they were treated to a private tour of the Capitol by an aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and met with Labor Secretary Tom Perez. On Tuesday afternoon, Norb and Gloria attended a White House reception, where they met Michelle Obama, along with her other guests.

“We met some amazing people and heard some amazing stories, I think that was our favorite part,” said Norb.

The Balinskis met Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill; the first woman Army Ranger; and a 12-year-old boy who started his own non-profit providing healthy meals to the homeless.

On Tuesday night, Gloria went to the State of the Union address at the Capitol and sat with Michelle Obama and the rest of her guests while Norb watched the address from the White House.

“It was an experience we will never forget,” said Norb. “It still hasn’t all sunk in.”

“Norb and Gloria represent the millions of Americans that benefited from the President’s move to save the automakers” said Bill LePinske, Norb’s Business Representative. “Their story is similar to many of our members’ stories whose families were saved by the bailout.”

Martinez Takes Helm as IAM’s 14th International President

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Former IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger, left, administers the oath of office to new International President Bob Martinez, Jr. (Photo by Bill Burke / Page One Photography)

Former IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger, left, administers the oath of office to new International President Bob Martinez, Jr. (Photo by Bill Burke / Page One Photography)

Bob Martinez, Jr., officially became the 14th International President in the IAM’s 127-year history after taking his oath of office at IAM Headquarters in Upper Marlboro, MD. Martinez takes over for former International President Tom Buffenbarger, who retires after more than 18 years as the IAM’s top officer.

Martinez will serve the remainder of Buffenbarger’s current four-year term, which concludes July 1, 2017. Former Southern Territory Special Representative Rickey Wallace was sworn in to take Martinez’s place as Headquarters General Vice President. Click here for photos of the ceremony.

“I am mindful that I stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Martinez, who was surrounded by Buffenbarger, former IAM International President George Kourpias, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and members of the IAM Executive Council.

Martinez thanked his predecessors, pledged to safeguard the interests of the IAM members and vowed to make the tough decisions necessary to propel the IAM into a future that promises to see a continuation of attacks on working people.

“Our greatness and potential as an organization arises from our membership,” said Martinez, a Texas native and 35-year IAM member who served in the U.S. Navy. “I will never forget that, nor where I came from.”

“We live and work in an incredibly difficult and challenging time,” continued Martinez. “From every corner, we and the work we do are under fire. The challenges we confront and real and they are substantial. However, I am confident about our future and our ability to do good work and make a positive difference in the lives of our members and working people across the United States and Canada.”

Buffenbarger made his mark on the IAM by committing to organizing, financial stability and making the IAM’s leadership team one of the most diverse in the labor movement. He steps down as the longest-serving International President in IAM history.

“I have been humbled to serve this great union,” said Buffenbarger. “The reason we’re here today is because the members of this union enabled us with the gift of leadership. This Executive Council takes that gift very seriously.”

AFL-CIO President Trumka was on hand to welcome Martinez into his new role.

“The leadership of the IAM is more needed now than it has been in decades because of the relentless and well-financed attacks on working people every single day,” said Trumka. “We need your leadership and we look forward to working with you and supporting you.”

You Don’t Want to Miss These “Worker Wins” Stories of 2015

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Working people won big in 2015. Whether it was coming together and voting “union yes,” or winning legislation for paid sick and family leave, we can say it was a very good year.

We’ve covered many of these “worker wins” stories over the last year on the AFL-CIO Now Blog. Here are some highlights you don’t want to miss:

Trump Las Vegas Workers Vote ‘Yes’ to Join Union: Workers at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas voted “yes” to be represented by Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 of UNITE HERE. More than 500 employees at the hotel will now have a union voice.

Tennessee-based Volkswagen Workers Vote to Join Union: Approximately 150 skilled trades employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted overwhelmingly to join a union earlier this month. The election, held under intense pressure from anti-working family advocates, is a critical step toward ensuring autoworkers and workers throughout the South have a greater voice in the workplace.

Huffington Post Workers Ask Management to Recognize Their Union: The Huffington Post continues the trend of new media unionizing, as the editorial staff asked management to recognize Writers Guild of America East as their union representative earlier this month. This move would make The Huffington Post the biggest digital news operation to opt for union representation. In the past year, working people have made significant gains in the media industry as The NewsGuild-CWA and Writers Guild of America East have scored major organizing wins, including Gawker, The Guardian US, ThinkProgress, Salon, Vice Media and Al Jazeera America.

UAW Members Ratify Contracts with Detroit’s Big Three: Workers at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler have ratified new contracts. The ratifications, representing approximately 142,000 American workers, give autoworkers better pay, better benefits and bonuses.

More Americans Back Worker Efforts to Speak Out: According to a Gallup poll released in August, nearly 6 in 10 Americans approve of labor unions. Efforts by working people to rally around issues ranging from raising wages to improving access to collective bargaining have led to the highest approval rating since 2008. In addition, millennials reported being more pro-union than any other age group, while the proportion of respondents who want workers to have more influence in public debate has risen 12 points since 2009.

Working People Score Major Sick Leave Win in Pittsburgh: Working people rallied the Pittsburgh City Council to pass sweeping paid sick leave legislation in August. The bill, which passed by an overwhelming margin, requires employers with 15 employees or more to provide as much as 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, while smaller companies must provide up to 24 hours per year.

Google Contract Workers Searching for a Union: Contract workers with Google Express announced that they would hold elections to form a union. The approximately 140 San Francisco Bay Area workers are fighting against poor working conditions and a lack of contract stability.

University Employees Speak Out and Organize: More than 600 clerical, paraprofessional, technical and administrative employees of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., announced the formation of a union, affiliated with AFSCME. The employees cited the need for a greater voice in the workplace, better wages and benefits.

Philadelphia Charter School Teachers Organize with AFT: Teachers and other staff members at Olney Charter High School voted to form a union, becoming the largest charter school in Philadelphia to organize. The teachers and staff will be represented by the Alliance of Charter School Employees, an affiliate of the AFT.

Virgin America Pilots Flying High with New Union: In June, pilots for Virgin America overwhelmingly voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association, International. The vote was the result of a yearlong campaign by the pilots to achieve a stronger voice in the workplace.

Envoy Air Joins CWA: Nearly 5,000 airline agents voted to join the Communications Workers of America for fairness, a safer work environment, job security and better wages.

Temple University Adjunct Faculty Win a Union Voice: In November, 1,400 adjunct professors won their union election.

NY Workers Press Lawmakers to Pass Landmark Equal Pay Law: Workers in New York secured a major win as the state Legislature passed a slate of equal pay protection laws that includes barring employers from telling workers they cannot discuss pay at work, and strengthening prohibitions on paying women and men disparately.

AFGE Makes History with 300,000 Members: 

 

Maryland Taxi Drivers Deliver Major Reforms: Taxi drivers organizing with the AFL-CIO’s newest affiliate – the National Taxi Workers Alliance – in Montgomery County, Md., in July helped deliver major reforms to the county’s taxi industry, which will serve as a win-win for drivers and passengers. The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed legislation that creates a worker-driven co-op, provides protections against predatory taxi companies, makes it easier for drivers to compete against online ride-sharing programs and provides dramatically improved services for people with disabilities.

Marine Base Contractors in North Carolina Vote ‘IAM Yes’: One hundred thirty-three workers for EMI Services LLC at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, NC, voted “IAM yes” for union representation.

Enroll Now for 2016 IAM EAP Classes at WWW Center

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The IAM has announced the 2016 dates for its Employee Assistance Program (EAP) classes at the William W. Winpisinger Education and Technology Center in Hollywood, MD.

The IAM’s EAP program equips assistance coordinators with the skills and resources to assist members who are seeking help for problems involving addictions and other psychosocial issues. The curriculum takes members from an introduction into the field to prospective certification.

This valuable program is fully recognized at the college level, within the workplace, in the employee assistance community, and throughout the IAM. All eligible Machinists are encouraged to participate.

2016 EAP classes will be held on the following dates:

EAP I: February 14–19, 2016

EAP I: March 6-11, 2016

EAP II: July 10-16, 2016

EAP III: May 22-27, 2016

Click here for the call letter and registration forms for each session.

NOTE: If you would like to attend the February 2016 EAP I program, the form must be returned no later than January 4, 2016.

If you have any questions, please contact Anna Georgallas at ageorgallas@iamaw.org or call (301) 967-4717.

A view from the top.

Posted on by IAMLocal264 in Featured Posts | Comments Off on A view from the top.

A sit down discussion with outgoing IAMAW International President Tom Buffenbarger, who will retire January 1 and has appointed Bob Martinez to fill the remainder of his term.

Think Outside the Box for Guide Dogs of America This Holiday Season

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12_15_2015_gda

Guide Dogs of America (GDA), the IAM’s favorite charity, invites you to think differently when gift giving this year. GDA asks that you open your heart and your wallet to give the gift of independence to the blind and visually impaired.

Please consider contributing to their Holiday Fund-A-Need campaign this giving season to help GDA’s amazing dogs and their partners. You can donate towards specific needed items, bid to spend a day with GDA’s trainers or even sponsor a litter of puppies.

Click here to view all the items on the list, or you can donate cash to help the school continue to provide guide dogs and training to blind men and women across North America. The independence they gain is a priceless gift.

There’s no need to struggle trying to decide what to buy someone you love. How about contributing to GDA in their honor? You will be helping the school with your donation and introducing your loved ones to a cause you care deeply about.

Please spread the word about GDA’s Holiday Fund-A-Need campaign to your friends and family. When you see something you like, share it via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail by clicking the links at the top of the page.

Guide Dogs of America was founded by a blind IAM member and provides guide dogs and instruction in their use, free of charge, to blind or visually impaired individuals across North America.

How a ‘Right to Your Job’ Law Could Help Unions Fight Back Against ‘Right to Work’

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Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union on strike sometime in the early 20th century. (Kheel Center, Cornell University)   Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union on strike sometime in the early 20th century. (Kheel Center, Cornell University)

The sword of Damocles hangs over the head of the American labor movement. This spring the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on Friedrichs vs. CTA, a case that could end automatic union membership in all government jobs. If this “right to work” effort goes the way the right wing hopes, it would be followed by an aggressive and well-funded direct mail and robo-call campaign to encourage public sector employees to “give yourself a raise” by dropping their union memberships and ceasing to pay dues or fees.

Misleadingly titled “right to work” laws prohibit unions in the private sector from negotiating fees for the services they are compelled to provide to all workers they represent. They are designed to reduce unions’ income and power. First introduced in 1947, these laws used to be limited to the former slave states of the Confederacy. But in recent years, a coordinated right-wing drive has expanded these laws to a majority of states, including union strongholds like Michigan and Indiana. Thanks in part to such laws, unions today represent only 7 percent of private sector workers. But factoring in the public sector raises total union density to 12 percent. Unions with substantial public sector membership—AFSCME, SEIU, the teachers unions—are the last remaining large, powerful unions in the U.S. Friedrichs is nothing less than an assassination attempt on the union movement.

Opening the doors to the union

Labor lacks a bulletproof vest, but unions are developing contingency plans. We can probably expect to see some unions begin to offer at-large memberships to supporters regardless of profession, employment status or bargaining rights. And why not? According to a recent Gallop poll, 58% of Americans support unions and want to see them strengthened. Research shows that one in three American workers would vote for a union at their workplace if an election were held today.

But a union election won’t be held today at most workplaces. Vicious employer resistance and retaliation, a broken legal process and declining union resources stand in the way of most workplaces winning the majority vote that is required in our all-or-nothing union representation system.

Of course, the workers who want a union want… a union. They want an organization that can help raise their wages and improve their benefits, protect them from arbitrary and capricious firings and gives them voice in how things get done at work. All that a union can provide an at-large member right now is discount AT&T cell phone plans and pet health insurance. At-large memberships are not likely to lead to millions of new union members.

But there might be a couple hundred thousand people willing to pay 10 bucks a month to belong to a movement. Potentially faced with the immediate loss of exactly that many current members, that’s an attractive proposition to unions. The key will be to actually bring a movement into people’s homes, and that means connecting at-large union membership with advocacy and legislative campaigns.

A “right to your job” movement

Opening up the labor movement and pursuing new rights for all workers would help get labor out of the box of thinking mostly about unionized workplaces and appearing to be a special interest. Unions’ recent embrace of ambitious efforts to raise state-level minimum wages to $15 has so far been at the heart of these efforts. Upwards of 24 million working people would receive a raise if the pathetic federal floor of $7.25 an hour was raised to just $10, so the Fight for $15 has a huge built in constituency beyond just fast food workers.

Unions should add to this a state-by-state effort to change the legal standard of employment relations to “just cause.” “Just cause” is the principle that an employee cannot be fired unless it’s for a good reason—basically, that the punishment (losing your livelihood) should fit the crime (stealing, lying, just not being good enough at the job). This often means that an employee has been given some advance notice of her supposed shortcomings and an opportunity to improve and/or be presented with the documentary evidence to back up the employer’s claims of sub-standard performance with an opportunity to contest it.

This is very commonly negotiated into union contracts. Non-union workers generally labor under an “at-will” standard of employment, a holdover from English common law that basically tells a worker, “Congratulations, you are not a slave. That means you are free to quit your job—and your boss is free to fire you.” It’s a kind of liberty, I guess, but not one that’s particularly appealing.

The only job protection that at-will employees currently have is to try to shoehorn their case into one of a handful of legally “protected categories” of workers: be a woman, be a racial minority, be over the age of 42, be disabled, be a whistleblower. And even if a case does fit in one of those categories, a worker can only receive some financial recompense—generally not retaining her job—if she can prove that she was fired because of their protected status. It’s a lousy framework, but the best that an at-will employee has.

Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit advocate for union activists to be added as a protected class through an amendment to civil rights laws. They do us a favor by getting unions to think outside of the National Labor Relations Act for labor law reform. But their proposal is still too limited. We should not merely be fighting for “special” rights for union activists. As union density has declined, the remaining unionized workplaces come to be seen as islands of relative privilege. Bosses and the media exploit this and try to whip up a degree of working-class support for stripping our last few rights away, seen most clearly seen in the public debate around teacher tenure protections (which is simply the just cause standard by a different name).

Imagine how quickly the debate would change if unions fought for and won meaningful job protections for all workers in a state! Call it a “right to your job” law. Such a law would lay bare just how cynically manipulative and hollow the so-called “Right to Work” laws are.

To be meaningful, such just cause laws would have to include some kind of a court in which to hear cases. This could be as simple as mandating private mediation and arbitration or as complex as creating new state regulatory agencies to hear such cases. If workers did have a court in which they could defend their employment, unions would have something real to offer at-large members as a part of joining the union. And with that offer comes the potential for substantial membership growth.

A radical departure for labor

Attempting to legislate job protections, pay and benefit increases for large groups of workers who probably won’t become dues-paying union members would be a radical departure for the American labor movement. Unions have, for historical reasons, preferred to make their gains in contract bargaining. The early labor movement, in the 19th century, did work to pass laws on wages, hours and factory conditions. They saw most of those laws overturned, as well as many of their strikes and boycotts enjoined, by conservative courts that viewed unions’ efforts as violations of private contracts and disturbances of interstate commerce.

As a result, unions across the political spectrum entered the 20th century with a profound distrust of government and political parties. While labor’s great upsurge of the late 1930’s did bring unions into the political arena, it coincided with the effective end of the New Deal and the inability to expand the welfare system with benefits like national health insurance. Unions turned to their own collective bargaining for employer-sponsored benefits instead of the government. Such efforts were initially a kind of stopgap measure, pursued in the meantime while hoping to eventually secure government-provided benefits. But when the government froze wages during World War II, unions bargained for more and more “fringe benefits” to make up for the loss.

The labor movement that emerged in the post-war era had won a massive private welfare system for its members. Union leaders considered this a “union advantage” that would help “sell” new organizing. The only major benefit that labor did work to legislate in that era was Medicare and Medicaid (After all, it’s pretty hard to bargain with employers for people who don’t work for them). With one in three workers in a union during the post-war period, even non-union employers had to try to match those benefits to remain competitive. This private welfare system worked for a generation, but it was all too vulnerable when less than one third of workers were organized to defend it.

The labor movements of other countries strike more of a balance between negotiating rights and benefits for their members and legislating them for all workers. This is particularly so in countries where unions formed labor parties or aligned with socialist parties. And when rights are enjoyed by all, they are defended by most. Think of France and the massive protests over austerity proposals to slash pensions and benefits in 1995 and 2010. Would you believe that French union density stands at a mere 7 percent?

Unions tend to think of legislatively gained rights and benefits as easily lost if the wrong governor gets elected or a bad mid-term flips control of a statehouse. We should instead view labor’s legislative agenda as another way of bargaining for the common good. It is a way of broadening our base, opening wide the doors of our movement, to win and protect a standard of living that we all deserve.

Machinists Union Announces Bob Martinez to Succeed Tom Buffenbarger as International President

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Washington, D.C., November 22, 2015 – The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) announced that General Vice President Bob Martinez, Jr. will succeed current International President Tom Buffenbarger, who steps down on Jan.1, 2016 after a 45-year career that spans service as a local IAM Shop Steward to more than 18 years as the IAM’s top elected official.

The announcement follows a vote by the union’s 11-member Executive Council, in accordance with the IAM Constitutional requirement for senior elected officials to leave office at age 65. Martinez, a 35-year IAM veteran will serve the remainder of Buffenbarger’s current 4-year term, which concludes July 1, 2017.

“There have been 13 International Presidents since the Machinists Union was founded in 1888,” said Buffenbarger. “The strength of this union has always been its ability to cultivate leaders who respect and reflect the values and goals of our membership. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of that heritage and I have full confidence that Bob Martinez is the right person to carry on that proud tradition.”

A native of Texas, Martinez served in the U.S. Navy before joining the IAM in 1980 as an aircraft assembler at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Ft. Worth, TX. Rising through the ranks, Martinez held numerous positions at the local and district level before assuming the office of Southern Territory Vice President in July 2003. In addition to his current position as Vice President in charge of IAM Headquarters, Martinez serves as a Trustee of the IAM National Pension Fund, and is Vice President on the National Executive Board of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).

Buffenbarger’s tenure as International President was marked by a commitment to organizing, financial stability and a recognition that diversity in local and senior leadership is a key to remaining relevant in the modern workplace. The current IAM Executive Council is now among the most diverse in the labor movement, including men and women of African American, Hispanic, Native American and European heritage.

The IAM is among the largest industrial trade unions in North America and represents nearly 600,000 active and retired members in aerospace, transportation, manufacturing, shipbuilding, woodworking and other industries. Visit www.goiam.org for more information about the IAM.