— Posts About Unions

Patterson Harkavy supports fast food workers in national day of action

On Thursday, May 15, thousands of fast food workers across the globe went on strike for higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to form a union without fear of retaliation. They were joined by fast food workers in nearly a dozen North Carolina cities.  Many of North Carolina’s fast food workers only earn the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and are often forced to rely on public assistance programs.  Many also complain of regular wage theft, where their employers fail to pay them for all of the hours they work.

The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of workers to engage in concerted activity, including strikes and rallies such as those held last week.  However, many are nonetheless subjected to retaliation or intimidation for their conduct.    Patterson Harkavy attorneys Mike Okun and Paul Smith worked with North Carolina’s activists to help ensure that their rights are protected, with Mike coordinating the civil and criminal legal coverage across the state and Paul working on the ground at demonstrations in Mt. Olive, Goldsboro, and Raleigh.

The global fast food organizing movement has been covered by national press, including the New York Times and Time Magazine.  North Carolina’s protests generated local press across the state, including in the Raleigh News & Observer, the Greenville Daily Reflector, and the Greensboro News & Record.

 

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Employers Using Lockouts More Frequently

The New York Times reported recently that companies are using lockouts more frequently against their unionized employees to force the employees’ hand in negotiations.  American Crystal Sugar, the nation’s largest sugar beet processor, locked out its 1,300 workers last summer.  That year the company was making record profits, but still demanded that their employees pay for a larger percentage of their health coverage and accept more outsourcing among other demands.  The employees rejected these demands, given the record profits, and the company responded by locking them out.  The company then attracted non-union replacement workers with higher pay and negotiations have not succeeded since.  Many workers believe this is a poorly veiled attempt to break the union, though the company denies this claim.

“This is a sign of increased employer militancy,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. “Lockouts were once so rare they were almost unheard of.  Now, not only are employers increasingly on the offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but they’re backing that up with action — in the form of lockouts.”

Two decades ago there were 6 times more strikes by unionized employees, but while strikes have sharply declined last year, at least 17 companies used lockouts against their employees.  Hopefully this trend will change and soon; the last thing workers need in a down economy is the threat of a lockout hanging over their heads.

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NLRB to Speed up Unionizing Elections

On December 21, The National Labor Relations Board voted 2-1 in favor of new steps to increase the speed of union elections.  The Board hopes to keep election and campaign time to less than 21 days.  Often, there are long delays to unionizing elections because of legal challenges brought by the employer.  The Board wants to require that these challenges be postponed until after the employees have voted for or against the union.  These changes were first proposed in June and the NLRB held public hearings and reviewed thousands of public comments.  The new rules will likely be challenged by employers in court.  More coverage here.

This was the Board’s last major policy decision before it lost one member, which leaves it without a quorum to act.  President Obama has nominated Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to the Board.  Ms. Block is currently deputy assistant secretary of Congressional affairs with the Labor Department.  Mr. Griffin has served on the board of the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee since 1994 and is general counsel to the International Union of Operating Engineers.  Republicans may well block these nominations in an effort to prevent the Board from functioning at all.  More coverage here.

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New Report Out on Economy and Young Workers

The public policy research group Dēmos and the non-profit Young Invincibles, published a new report which came out last month.  The report analyzes the economic status of the “Millennial Generation” as compared to previous generations.  ”The analysis reveals the failure of public investment and public policy to provide young people with the means to achieve economic security and sustain the middle class.”  The report can be found here.

Introduction to the Jobs and the Economy section:

“Our nation has experienced profound economic change over the last three decades. Globalization, new technologies, and deliberate public policies shifted our economy from the production of goods to the production of knowledge and services. As millions of unionized factory jobs moved overseas, our nation lost a primary source of middle-class jobs for people without college degrees. Less-educated workers now have few options outside of non-unionized, low-wage service occupations.”

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Machinists’ Union and Boeing Work to Extend Contract

Last, week, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and Boeing reached a tentative agreement which would extend the Union’s contract for four years and, when ratified, will increase wages, maintain and improve traditional pensions and add new jobs.  The Union and Boeing have been in a troubled relationship recently since Boeing decided to build a new plant for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina where unions are weak.  The National Labor Relations Board filed a suit claiming that Boeing had decided to build the new plant in South Carolina in illegal retaliation against the Union for striking.  That case now looks like it may be dropped if the new contract is ratified by the Boeing employees.   Additional coverage here.

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Briefs in IBEW 289 Arbitration Case in Federal Court

In International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, Local Union No. 289 v. Verizon South, Inc., the Union has filed suit in federal court (Middle District of North Carolina) to compel the company to engage in arbitration regarding the termination of an employee.  On behalf of the Union, Patterson Harkavy has filed this response brief and this reply brief.  Mike Okun and Narendra Ghosh are representing the Union.

This is a summary of the Union’s argument:  Because national labor policy strongly favors arbitration as the means for resolving labor disputes, courts must apply a presumption of arbitrability to collective bargaining agreements that contain arbitration provisions, and direct the parties to arbitrate unless the parties have expressly agreed not to arbitrate a particular matter.  Any doubt or ambiguity regarding arbitrability is to be resolved in favor of arbitration. 

Here, the parties’ collective bargaining agreement and separate settlement agreement for grievant Brian Pollard require arbitration of the grievance regarding Pollard’s termination because Pollard was not a “new employee” when he was rehired in 2010.  Moreover, to the extent the settlement agreement is ambiguous about permitting Pollard’s grievance to be arbitrated, that ambiguity must be construed in favor of arbitration.  Therefore, defendant’s motion to dismiss should be denied, and plaintiff’s motion to compel arbitration – filed this same day – should be granted.

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ATU 1328 Prevails in Arbitration Case in Federal Court

In, Cape Fear Public Transit Authority v. Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1328, the Wilmington transit authority is challenging a labor arbitration in favor of the Union, which ordered a terminated employee be put back to work.  This case is before federal Judge Boyle in the Eastern District of North Carolina.  Yesterday, Judge Boyle ruled for the Union, concluding that there were no grounds to reverse the arbitration decision.  Finding the city’s lawsuit to be “without justification,” Judge Boyle also awarded the Union its attorneys’ fees for defending this case.  Here is the opinion.  Mike Okun and Narendra Ghosh are representing the Union.

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Briefs in ATU 1328 Arbitration Case

In, Cape Fear Public Transit Authority v. Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1328, the Wilmington transit authority is challenging a labor arbitration that was in favor of the Union, and which ordered a terminated employee be put back to work.  This case is before Judge Boyle in federal court (EDNC).  On behalf of the Union, Patterson Harkavy has filed the following brief, response brief, and reply brief.  Mike Okun and Narendra Ghosh are representing the Union.

Here is a summary of the Union’s position: 

First, plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed for failure to timely effect service because plaintiff did not properly serve defendant before the 120-day deadline elapsed, and had no good cause for its failure to do so.  Second, plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed because plaintiff CFPTA was not a party to the arbitration decision that it seeks to vacate, has no standing to challenge the decision, and has provided no relevant authority to demonstrate that it is permitted to bring this suit under 28 U.S.C. § 185. 

Third, plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed for failure to state a valid claim to vacate the arbitration decision.  The arbitrator correctly determined that Professional Transit Management of Wilmington, Inc. (“PTM”) violated the controlling collective bargain agreement (“CBA”) in terminating the grievant, and to the extent there was ambiguity in the operative language of the CBA, the arbitrator’s interpretation cannot be disturbed by the Court.  Under the standard enunciated by the Supreme Court, plaintiff has also failed to show how the arbitrator’s decision to reinstate the grievant violates any clearly established public policy.  For all these reasons, the Court should award defendant its reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in this litigation because plaintiff’s motion to vacate the arbitration award has no arguable basis in the law.

 

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Millions to Lose Unemployment Benefits, Even if Extension Passes; New Course of Action Needed

Even if Congress manages to extend emergency unemployment benefits for more the millions of workers who could receive them, about four million others will see their benefits end over the next year, unless an entirely new program is created.  This is according to a report recently issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.  So, the crisis facing some now is going to be experienced by even more later, unless serious job-creating actions are taken.

You would think that the latest, terrible monthly jobs report would convince those in power that the Great Recession continues unabated, doing terrible damage to working families.  Those unemployed for long periods face especially long odds of finding work in today’s economy.  And, even for those with good jobs, wages are continuing to be cut as even profitable employers take advantage of the ongoing crisis for workers.

Misguided worries about the budget deficit are allowing Republicans and the Deficit Commission to pursue Social-Security-cutting, Medicare-slashing, job-destroying agenda instead of a program that can end the Great Recession and put people back to work.  A new course of action is needed, and responsible policy options are out there.  For instance, check out the program set out by Our Fiscal Security, a collaborative effort of Demos, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and The Century Foundation (TCF).

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Mott’s Strike Highlights Pressure on Workers

A strike at the Mott’s apple juice plant in New York highlights a significant issue besides the pay for these particular workers, as noted by this New York Times article: “The union movement and many outsiders view the strike as a high-stakes confrontation between a company that wants to cut its labor costs, even as it is earning record profits, and workers who are determined to resist demands for wage and benefit givebacks.”

The parent company here, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, is not alone in making large profits even as workers earn less and less.  Our economy, however, cannot start growing again on a sustainable basis unless workers’ wages increase.  The Great Recession shows that families need higher wages to prosper in the long run instead of relying on more and more debt.

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