Union Members Allowed to Protest on Property Not Belonging to their Employer

Musicians should have been allowed to stand on private property while they protested a ballet company’ use of recorded music inside a performing arts center. This decision shows that the right of employees to engage in peaceful and non-disruptive labor activities may trump the interest of an employer to control access to its private property.

The company said the musicians could not hand out leaflets on sidewalks outside the building where they normally play music.

The Tobin Center leases performance space to the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Ballet, San Antonio Opera. AFM Local 23 has a collective bargaining agreement with the symphony. Union musicians perform live music for some, but not all, of the ballet company’s performances.

The ballet group was scheduled to perform Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” with recorded music. Union members stood on a sidewalk near the auditorium entrance and handed out leaflets before the performance urging the public to demand live music. “You’ve paid full price for half of the product,” Local 23 argued in the leaflets.

Tobin Center staff told the union members they had to leave the center’s private property. The Local 23 members moved across a handed out several hundred leaflets to arriving spectators. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging the center violated the National Labor Relations Act by expelling them from the front of the auditorium.

The musicians were not employees of the Tobin Center, the ALJ said, but they regularly worked in the performance arts center and barring their leafleting violated the NLRA.

There was no evidence of overcrowding or disruption at the Tobin Center, and no support for the center’s argument that if it is a “soft target” for terrorists, the ALJ said. The musicians were not carrying backpacks that might conceal explosives, and sending the union members across the street from the Tobin Center would not likely reduce any danger from terrorism, he said.

Terrorists? Really? I’ve heard some lawyers make outlandish arguments – especially when the law is not on their said, but comparing violinists to terrorists for passing out paper…..

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.

Fight for $15 Workers Finally Join a Union, But Not the One Paying their Salaries

Employees of the labor-backed social justice campaign Fight for $15 have joined a union themselves. The organizers joined the United Media Guild via card check. Comically, a majority of workers signed authorization cards desiring union representation. I’m left wondering why all workers did not sign cards. Apparently even when you work for a union, you don’t want to be in a union.

No time is set to begin bargaining.

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 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.

Ideas for Broken Pension Plans

Federal lawmakers are trying to come up with a way to protect the pensions of more than one million union workers. Several options have been offered, none have been accepted. The latest offer comes from union crony Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal. Their bills came the same day the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation – the federal agency that insurance pension plans – released a report saying the agency is running a $65.1 billion deficit and will be bankrupt by 2025.

Legislation by Brown and Neal is called the Butch Lewis Act. It would create a Pension Rehabilitation Administration, a new federal office within the Treasury Department (making government bigger) that would sell bonds to financial institutions to raise money to fund loans to financially troubled plans.

The UPS Loan Proposal is another option. UPS has a proposal that would provide up to three successive low interest long-term federal government loans to troubled pension plans to cover their cash flow shortage or 5 years each.

A third option is the New Design from NCCMP (National Coordinating Committee on Multi-employer Plans). There, the loan program would lend funds to qualifying “critical and declining” status pension plans at 1% interest for 30 years. The loans would be interest only for the first 15 years, and then require a level payment of principal and interest for the remaining 15 years.

Another option is funding from credit union profits. This proposal comes from the American Families for Pension Security nonprofit group. The group wants to create a federally chartered special-purpose credit union for the more than 10 million members of multi-employer plans and their families. The credit union would use its profits from loans and credit card operations to build a reserve pool to help plans repay and secure the loans.

There are drawbacks to each of the proposed plans. None have been accepted, and there is no telling whether any for of any of the plans will be implemented.

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.

Transit Workers Threaten to Strike During Super Bowl

The union representing about 2,500 bus and rail operators in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the site of the 2018 Super Bowl, authorized a strike for Super Bowl week when the city will be bursting with football fans.

The union would strike for a 10-day period ending February 4, the actual date of the Super Bowl.

The union objects to a proposal that would eliminate the current 30-hour cap for part-time bus drivers and another that would require employees to pay more toward the cost of tools, with only a small increase in the current tool allowance.

Ending the 30-hour limit is problematic because it could allow Metro Transit, which operates the transit system for the Twin Cities, to get full-time work from bus drivers with part-time benefits. Some part-time bus drivers also don’t want to work additional hours.

“We have bus drivers that get assaulted, spat on, have stuff thrown at them,” not to mention verbal assault.” (I hadn’t realized all the similarities between my job as a management-side labor lawyer and a bus driver.) The union wants the transit system to address this issue by creating safety barriers for bus drivers.

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.

Vox media is the latest online news and entertainment company where employees are looking to unionize. Several hundred employees across Vox’s eight sites are looking to join the Writers Guild of America, East. The company owns and operates offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, New York City, and Austin, Texas.

The organizing committee said the employees want management to increase transparency and communication and to promote workplace diversity.

This announcement comes a month after workers at the Los Angeles Times announced they are looking to join the NewsGuild. Other recently organized media groups that we covered can be found here.

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.

NLRB Employee will Spend 52 Months in Prison for Embezzling Back Pay Awards

A National Labor Relations Board compliance office was sentenced to serve 52 months in prison for stealing more than $400,000 from back pay funds intended for employees involved in unfair labor practice cases.

As a compliance officer, Hector Martinez was responsible for disbursing back pay to employees in NLRB cases, but the government alleged he created fictitious employee names in real cases and diverted payments to at least eight personal bank accounts he opened to further his theft. The payments represented back pay amounts that nine different employers had turned over to the NLRB in unfair labor practice cases.

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.