Public-sector unions largely owe their growth to their authority to force non-joining workers to put money in their coffers. The Supreme Court believes this authority needs some restraint. By a 5-4 margin, the Court ruled on Monday, June 30, in Harris v. Quinn that nonunion private-sector home health workers cannot be required to support a public employee union even if their wages come from state Medicaid funds. The class-action suit originated in 2010 when several home care workers sued the State of Illinois and two unions, challenging two executive orders issued, respectively, in 2003 and 2009 classifying thousands of these service providers as state employees. The orders, wrote Justice Samuel Alito, violated worker freedom of speech. At the same time, the ruling did not overturn the 1977 decision that justified the public-sector union shop and applied it to non-members.
A fair election campaign operates on the principle of a "level playing field" - while neither side is guaranteed victory, each should have an equal opportunity to state its case. The National Labor Relations Board has an unusual interpretation. On February 5, the NLRB reissued a rule that would curtail the ability of nonunion employers and employees to oppose union organizing drives. This 'quickie' or 'ambush' election rule, is a near rewrite of its 2011 rule change that briefly made it onto the books before being struck down on procedural grounds by a federal court in May 2012. Here, as before, the allowable time frame for opponents of a union drive to express their views would be reduced from 42 days to as few as 10 days.
"Comprehensive immigration reform," like virtually any initiative containing the magic word "comprehensive," looks good on the surface. But the details of the comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate in June by a 68-32 margin reveal much wrong underneath. Oblivious to this, top union leaders are gearing up for an all-out blitz this fall to secure passage of a similar bill in the Republican-majority House of Representatives. Led by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (in photo), they are obsessed with providing 11 million or more persons illegally in this country with amnesty and eventual citizenship, and with enabling millions of family members to come here to join them.
The AFL-CIO normally is quick to defend the interests of its 57 member unions. But the Washington, D.C.-based labor federation seems happy to make an exception in the case of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council. And the reason lies with the union's objections to the new Senate proposal to grant amnesty to virtually all 11 million or more illegal immigrants and expand work visa availability. In its current form, argue council officials, the measure would hamstring ICE agents from protecting the public from dangerous criminals. Toward that end, Council President Chris Crane and nine other members last August filed suit against three top immigration officials in their carrying out of a June executive order by President Obama.
And now there are two dozen. This Tuesday, December 11, the Michigan House of Representatives passed, and Governor Rick Snyder signed, a pair of laws designed to protect employees from having to pay dues (or "agency fees" in lieu of joining) to a union in order to keep their jobs. The measures, one each applying to the private and public sector, make Michigan the nation's 24th state with "Right to Work" legislation. "We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," stated Gov. Snyder during an evening press conference following passage. Unions are taking the opposite view. About 12,500 opponents showed up at the State Capitol Building in Lansing to protest, with about 2,500, many of them shouting slogans, jamming the interior.
In the eyes of the AFL-CIO, a president can never lean too far leftward. But if President Obama hasn't made all the right moves, he's made enough of them to win its support. On March 13, the federation's 57-member executive council met in a closed-door session in Orlando, Florida to unanimously endorse Barack Obama for re-election. "We will continue to have disagreements with him (Obama)," said federation President Richard Trumka after the vote. "But we've never doubted one thing: We've never doubted he's a friend of working people and he's the best out there."
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.
For organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during the Obama years has become a de facto legislative body, issuing rules and rulings to give unions extra advantages in organizing and bargaining that Congress won't enact. Not surprisingly, union officials are dismayed over a vote in Congress last week to block a proposed NLRB regulation to shorten the time frame for holding representation elections and a board ruling expanding the leeway for forming workplace "micro-unions." Last Wednesday, on November 30, the House of Representatives by 235-188 passed the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (H.R. 3094), which, among other things, would counteract a "quickie" or "ambush" election rule unveiled by the NLRB in mid-year. Meanwhile, the Senate has come out with a similar bill focusing on the micro-union issue.
The Democratic National Convention early next September will be held in Charlotte. It's a city without a single union hotel. And it's located in Right to Work North Carolina. Union officials and partisans don't like this. The party's choice of convention site, then, can be seen as a symbol of a growing rift between the party and the unions. Union leaders, for all practical purposes, have nowhere else to go. And most rank and file still vote reliably Democratic. A schism is almost out of the question.