Union Strike Rates Plummet Much Faster than Union Membership Rates Drop

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3 has been on strike against Charter Communications-Spectrum for many months. Roughly 1,800 workers walked off the job to protest what they call unfair disciplinary actions and a bare-bones benefits package. Eight months and $4 million in strike funds later, the service technicians are still out of work and their unemployment insurance is running out. “Many workers have retired and many have gone on to other jobs,” the union said.

This strike is rare. Over the last 25 years, the number of strikes shrank by nearly 90%. That is roughly six times faster than union membership’s decline in the same time period.

Thinning union ranks take a considerable toll on union power, but a drop in strikes is equally problematic for the labor movement’s future.

Corporate conglomeration has played a key role in the decline of strikes. With more industries being controlled by fewer companies, large corporations have deeper pockets to wait out strikes, and boycotting their products is a lot harder than it used to be.

But some think a decline in strikes is attributable to a more congenial relationship between management and union leaders. Throughout the 80s and 90s business schools began emphasizing the importance of working with union leaders. The US also took a page out of Japan’s playbook. Business owners started using a Japanese management style they called “kaizen,” roughly translated as a change for the better. The process emphasizes communication between workers and management.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Company Threats of Closure or Drug Testing Hands Union Organizing Victory without Election

Employees testified that immediately after the UE local filed an election petition with the NLRB supervisors at MTIL, Inc., the Company made comments to employees that the employer, which sanitizes plastic packing crates for another company, might close or relocate its plant if the union was elected. The NLRB also received testimony that supervisors told workers that MTIL might begin a drug testing program if the union was elected to represent the employee.

Threats of closure during a union organizing are unlawful. Actually closing is lawful, but threatening to do so is not. The threat to drug test is a little more grey to me. Drug testing may in fact be part of a yet-to-be-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. So the Company didn’t lie. But if the employee interpreted the comment as a threat (assuming that some employees would fail a drug test), then was unlawful.

This case is a perfect reminder of the thin line employers must walk when battling a union organizing campaign.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Nonprofit Museum Employees Strike Over Pay

Just before Plimoth Plantation’s busiest day of the year – Thanksgiving – union members are tyring to bring public pressure on their employer to agree to an initial contract. Plimoth, which uses the colonial-era spelling, is a nonprofit museum founded in 1947. Located near the original Plymouth Colony site in Massachusetts, the museum educates about daily life in the 1600s, with workers portraying Pilgrims and Native Americans inhabitants of the era.

The Society of Allied Museum professionals won a representation election a year ago to represent 70 of the museum’s 180 workers, including living history educators, artisans, and maintenance workers.

The union is asking for $13 per hour and for pay to reach at least $15 an hour in 2018. That was a nonstarter during negotiations. Per the museum, “Despite the fact that Plimoth Plantation, like more other living history museums across the country, is experiencing decreasing revenues, the United Auto Workers have proposed that employees receive economic increase as large as 36%, potentially adding almost $1 million to the Museum’s operating budget within the first year of the proposed contract.”

And since I know what everyone is thinking: No one work Puritan or Native American costumes while on the picket line.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Grocery Store Hit with $500K in Safety Fines

The bulk of the citations against Trade Fair Supermarkets in Astoria and Jackson Heights sections of Queens, New York allege repeated violations for blocked exits, unguarded vertical ban saws used in preparing meats, and inadequate safety information and training for hazardous cleaning chemicals, including bleach and liquid detergent. The company was cited for many repeat violations because other stores had similar violations four years ago.

This case is a marker for the agency’s increased emphasis on holding employers with multiple locations responsible for repeat violations when it cites similar violations at related workplaces. Prior to the Obama Administration, each of a company’s locations was treated separately. Under Obama, OSHA focused on treating multi-locations of a single employer as a single location.

Let this also be a reminder that OSHA generally looks back five years from the date of citation to determine whether the company has been cited for similar violations. Prior to the Obama Administration, OSHA looked back 3 years. The company here was cited for repeat violations since it had similar citations 4 years ago. No one yet knows whether Trump’s OSHA will reinstate a 3-year look back period of continue with Obama’s 5-year period.

OSHA’s repeat citations can cost a company up to $126,749 per violation. Saving a few hundred dollars from a small fine, only to be set up for a $125,000 fine a few years later, is not a good trade off. Through a smart settlement or litigation strategy, employers can get citation items withdrawn, problematic, cited standard, modified, or violation language re-written to eliminate or mitigate the risk of future repeat violations.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Union On Hook for Non-Member Worker’s Back Pay After Refusing to Represent Him

A discharged Cummins, Inc. plant worker who wasn’t a union member may be entitled to have the Machinists union pay his lost wages after the union refused to arbitrate his complaint contesting the firing.

Machinists Talbot Lodge No. 61 represents all of the production and maintenance employees at a Tennessee Cummins plant, but a union told a worker that it would not challenge his firing because he wasn’t a union member. The union presented testimony that its decision was because the claim lacked merit. The ALJ didn’t buy it. Amchan ordered the union to request reinstatement with back pay or arbitrate the firing.

Unions have a duty of fair representation to all employees in a bargaining unit regardless whether employees in right-to-work states, like Tennessee pay union dues.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

“A LOT OF GOOD REASONS TO JOIN THE TEAMSTERS” – MORE PROPAGANDA THAN PROOF

The Teamsters gathered in Detroit, Michigan to discuss how to educate workers about the value of their union membership. Detroit is home of the United Autoworkers union. Michigan is a Right to Work state. This was not a joint meeting or phony public relations stunt, either, which made choosing Detroit even more odd. No other city is so attached to one union than Detroit is attached to the UAW.

That didn’t stop Teamster leadership from standing up and proclaiming “Michigan is a union state, and it is a Teamster state.” Michigan is not a union state. It became a a Right to Work state a few years ago and union member has steadily declined ever since. Nor is Michigan a Teamster state. It is a UAW state. The UAW has its headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. The UAW, with hundreds of thousands of workers in Michigan dwarfs the number of Teamsters in the state.

The Teamster propaganda continued when it cited a recent Gallup poll and said, “There are a lot of good reasons to join a union like the Teamsters, and the American public is increasingly recognizing it. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll found that 61% of those polled approved of unions, the highest level since 2003.”

Support for unions has only once been below 50% (2009), so the “increase” to 61% is not that great of a feat. In fact, according to Gallup: “approval remained in the 60% range throughout the 2000s right up to the election of Barack Obama as president. After plummeting in 2009, union approval remained lower than in its heyday but began climbing.” It makes you wonder, if more than 50% of Americans consistently approve of unions, why are only 7% of non-government employees in unions?

Noticeably absent from the rally were references to the Teamsters’ Central State Pension Fund which is woefully underfunded and whose members – Teamsters who paid into the fund throughout their careers – will receive dramatic reductions in pension payments.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Unions Increase Effort to Organize Silicon Valley Contractors

In the past three years, union shave organized 5,000 people who work on the campuses of household named companies in Silicon Valley. For example, shuttle drivers for Apple, Tesla, Twitter, LinkedIn, EBay, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Facebook are now union. Likewise, security guards for Adobe, IBM, Cisco, and Facebook, along with cafeteria works at Cisco, Intel, and Facebook are union members. To be clear, though, the unionized workers are not employees of these companies; they are employed by the contractor companies providing shuttle, security, and cafeteria services to employees of those companies.

This is not a joint employer blog post. I’ve done enough of those lately. Rather, this post highlights the pressure unions put on tech giants to acquiesce to the unionization of the contractors the tech giants utilize. Silicon Valley Rising is a coalition of unions and civil rights, community, and clergy groups leading the organizing campaigns. According to an involved union organizer, “everyone knows that the contractors will do what the tech companies say, so we’re focused on the big guys.

In 2014 the Teamsters organized Facebook shuttle drivers employed by Loop Transportation by, according to the organizer, “beating up Facebook, not beating up Loop. We got press in Japan, Germany, and all over the world by saying Facebook. Nobody would’ve given a shit if I was saying Loop.” Facebook ultimately approved the union contract that hiked drivers’ average pay by half and for the first time provided for fully paid family health care.

Similar pressure put on other tech giants also resulted in their contractors unionizing. The culture in Silicon Valley, and in the tech space in general, is averse to agitation and bad publicity while favoring employee work-life balance and perks. I wonder if cities like Columbus (ranked 3rd best tech city in the country) and Raleigh and Baltimore will see similar strategies as their tech companies mature?

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.