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.

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.

Union Unnecessarily Strikes for Better Healthcare

Thirty truck drivers and warehousemen represented by the Teamsters Union at Independent Pipe and Supply Corp. in Canton, Ohio stopped working for 60 days. The strike, as usual, necessitated regular police detail. The Canton police responded to more than a dozen disputes and disturbances at the picket line and charged five individuals with crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to assault and battery.

The workers receive $25.56 per hour plus $5.69 per hour in pension contributions. Prior to the strike, the Company proposed a $0.70 per hour wage increase and increases in the pension contribution. Notably, the Company also proposed to maintain the workers’ current health insurance plan (the same one the rest of the company is on), continue to pay 85% of the premium for that plan, and provide dental and vision benefits. This wasn’t enough.

The Union insisted that the Company provide health insurance through the Union’s health and welfare fund and pay family plan premiums for all employees even for employees who do not select a family plan. The Teamsters officials maintained that the Company’s healthcare proposal was not acceptable, and went on strike in an effort to force the Company to agree to the Union’s exorbitant and pricy healthcare proposal.

This reiterates that Unions will strike over anything, oftentimes silly things, and sometimes just to harm a Company instead of gain anything for their membership. Here, the workers made a good wage and had good healthcare, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough for the Teamsters.

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 Sues Member for $24,000 for Crossing Picket Line and Reporting to Work

In 2016, 40,000 Verizon workers walked off the job and went on strike during contract negotiations. The Communications Workers of America union spent 6 weeks on strike. After the strike ended, the CWA sued one worker who, kept working during the strike. According to the lawsuit, that employee “continued to work throughout the strike and earned considerable compensation including regular time compensation, overtime compensation, incentive compensation, and health care and other benefits.”

Per the union’s Constitution, it held its own trial where a jury of her brotherhood ruled that she owed the CWA over $24,000. Since she refuses to pay the penalty, the union filed suit asking a real federal court to uphold the fine imposed by the union’s kangaroo court.

All of this because an employee wanted to work.

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) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

 

Stark Reminder that Non-Union Employees are Usually Allowed to Strike

On December 20, a supervisor told three non-union employees at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing that on December 22 instead of working their normal 6 AM to 2 PM shift they would work a 6:30 AM to 3 PM shift. When the schedule change was not posted, and those employees were told to stay until 3 PM, they walked off the job at 2 PM in protest.

The employees returned to work the next day and were interviewed by management. They were interviewed separately but asked identical questions including whether they talked with each other before leaving. The employees continued to work until January 11 when they were given identical termination letters that said they voluntarily resigned when they walked off the job on December 22.

The employees filed an unfair labor practice charge over their termination. The Administrative Law Judge ruled that the manner of the interviews and questions asked during the interviews were unlawfully coercive. Huh? You can’t interview employees separately anymore? Further, the ALJ ruled that the walk-off was protected concerted activity because they were protesting a term or condition of employment, i.e. a changed schedule.

This case is a lesson for all my clients and audience members at seminars who don’t believe me that non-union workers are generally allowed to walk off the job or go on strike. Hyundai’s penalty for unlawfully claiming the employees voluntarily quit their job when they walked off is to rehire them with back pay, which means paying the employees their salary, benefits, and any ancillary items for the past 16 months.

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 call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Striking Employee: No Need to Pay Them, But Can You Cancel Their Health Insurance?

The National Labor Relations Act is 81 years old. Nearly 70 years ago, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed that an employer has no obligation to finance a strike against itself by paying wages to employees during a strike. Relying on this, labor practitioners have routinely stopped wages, health care, and other perks of employment when employees go on strike. I know I have done this for several of my clients over the years. When done, strikers usually go on the union’s health care plan so long as they pay their premium and spend time walking the line. Is anyone surprised that the current NLRB changed the law last month and ruled that stopping health care during a strike may now be illegal?

In Hawaiian Telcom, Inc. (Feb. 2017), the two Democrat Members of the Board concluded that an employer’s right to stop benefits is a matter of contract interpretation. That is, unless the collective bargaining agreement says an employer can do it, an employer cannot do it. Specifically, in Hawaiian Telcom, the contract provided medical insurance for all employees covered by the Agreement, with no exceptions, except for termination of employment. Strikers have not terminated their employment, so the NLRB decided that medical benefits could not be stopped during the strike, even though the collective bargaining agreement had expired.

This decision adds yet another layer of complexity to negotiations. Management negotiators must be prepared to clog up a collective bargaining agreement by including extremely detailed nuances of when contract clauses apply and when they do not apply. This is bad news for both labor and management and erodes one of the tenants of the intent of the National Labor Relations Act – to provide for labor stability.

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 call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

2016 Work Stoppages Tell a Funny Tale

In 2016, there were 15 major work stoppages, defined as either a strike or a lock out. This is an increase from 12 major work stoppages in 2015. These stoppages involved 99,000 workers (the most since 2012) and resulted in 1,543,000 days idle (the most since 2008).

In summary, there were more stoppages, involving more workers, and more missed workdays. So why is this funny? Because last year also saw a record low number of workers in unions. This confirms what I have been telling my clients and audiences – while union density is shrinking, the remaining union supporters are aggressive. Unions are agitating more than before; they are “working to rule” more than before; they are more confrontational than before, and the laws protect unions more than ever before. Labor unions know their backs are against the wall. They dusted off their playbooks from the strike-heavy 1970s.

Companies: Now is not the time for complacency. Are you prepared for a walk-out? Can you operate during even a short term strike? Do you have a strike contingency plan?

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 call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.