December 16th, 2014
By Rick Karlin
In a move that has sent shock waves through the state’s unionized workforce, the Cuomo administration on Monday sent notices to about 1,000 members of the Public Employees Federation telling them the state is seeking to reclassify the recipients as non-union workers.
The notices went to people in more than three dozen state agencies, including the departments of Environmental Conservation, Labor, Health, Housing and Motor Vehicles, the Office of General Services, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and more.
Affected job titles range from attorneys to auditors, program specialists, parole hearing officers and tax law judges.
The notices said that the state has filed with the Public Employment Relations Board to reclassify the jobs as managerial/confidential rather than unionized positions.
Employees who were handed the notices were asked to sign them on the spot to acknowledge that they received them, although not everyone complied.
“We were just handed this,” one union member said of the notices.
PEF officials later in the day emailed members saying they will resist the attempt to pull the workers out of the union.
“Be assured we will be fighting this,” union President Susan Kent told members in an email.
Under state Civil Service law, the state can seek to reclassify unionized workers but needs permission of the appointed Public Employment Relations Board to do so.
“The state has determined, upon review of the titles contained in its petition and the job duties that these positions perform, that they meet the criteria for designation as management confidential,” said Edward Walsh, spokesman for the Department of Civil Service, in an email.
Such reclassifications aren’t unknown, especially as a union’s contract draws to a close. State officials are supposed to seek reclassifications within eight months of an expiring contract. PEF’s current contract expires at the end of March.
The scope and number of positions that would be affected by this request was unusually large. It also comes weeks after an Albany County State Supreme Court ruled that 250 managerial-confidential jobs should fall under union protection.
The Cuomo administration and PEF had been disputing the status of those jobs since March 2013, and PERB eventually ruled for unionization. The state then sued but lost in trial court. The state could appeal and if that happens the status of those employees may not be decided until next year. Some on Monday wondered if the move was in retaliation for that battle.
Another theory about the latest move centered on whether the state is simply trying to weaken PEF by reducing the union’s approximately 54,000 members by 1,000.
Others wondered if the governor is angry at PEF’s endorsement in September of Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law school professor who challenged Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
December 15th, 2014
In a landmark 3-2 decision, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) reversed its own precedent and found that employees now have a presumptive right to use their employer’s email system to engage in communications relating to concerted activity protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act—including union organizing—during nonworking time. Purple Communications, Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126 (Dec. 11, 2014). According to the Board, an employer may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that special circumstances necessary to maintain production or discipline justify restricting employee rights, although the Board stated that these exceptions will be “rare.” The ruling is the latest pro-union decision from the Board, and carries significant consequences for employers everywhere because of the importance of workplace email and the prevalence of policies restricting the use of business email for nonwork purposes.
The NLRB previously held in Register Guard, 351 NLRB 1110 (2007), that an employer may prohibit nonwork-related use of its email system, so long as the employer does not discriminate against concerted activity. In Purple Communications, the Board considered a policy that was lawful under Register Guard and prohibited employees from using “the computer, internet, voicemail, and email systems . . . in connection with . . . activities on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the Company” or from “sending uninvited email of a personal nature.” The Board overruled Register Guard and found that the employer’s policy was illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. In doing so, the Board primarily relied on an almost 70-year-old Supreme Court case, Republic Aviation, 324 U.S. 793 (1945), which found that employees had a right to solicit one another for Section 7 purposes (including union organizing) on nonworking time, absent special circumstances. The Board found that this same rule applied to employer email systems, so that employees can presumptively use email for Section 7 purposes on nonworking time, “absent a particularized showing of special circumstances regarding the employer’s need to maintain production and discipline.”
The Board emphasized that the special circumstances exception to justify a complete ban on nonwork email use “will be the rare case.” The Board did find that employers are still free to implement and enforce uniform and consistent controls, “such as prohibiting large attachments or audio/video segments, if the employer can demonstrate they would interfere with the email system’s efficient functioning.”
In its decision, the Board also distinguished a long line of cases that previously had found that employees did not have a Section 7 right to use employer property such as bulletin boards, telephones, fax and copy machines, and public address systems. The Board held that “employee email use will rarely interfere with others’ use of the email system or add significant incremental usage costs” and that “email systems function as an ongoing and interactive means of employee communication in a way that other, older types of equipment clearly cannot.” More ominously, the Board refashioned the “broad pronouncements” in those cases as nonbinding dicta, and stated that the reasoning which prohibited employee use of the telephone system was also “unpersuasive,” though the Board left that issue for another day.
The most vexing issue for employers going forward, as pointed out by NLRB member Philip A. Miscimarra’s dissent, is likely differentiating between “working” and “nonworking” time for sending emails. After all, due to the very nature of email, employees frequently intertwine nonbusiness emails about sports, shopping, and family life with work emails to colleagues. Drawing the line between the two is challenging and far different from the types of nonworking-time solicitations in Republic Aviation, which usually take place in a defined area like an employee break room or cafeteria. The very notion that “working time is for work” appears to be under attack by the Board’s ruling.
Employers should immediately review their employee handbooks and policies for rules that are inconsistent with the NLRB’s decision. The NLRB has long held that the mere promulgation of an unlawful work rule violates the NLRA, even if the rule is never enforced against an employee. Indeed, in Purple Communications there was no allegation that the work rule in question was used to discipline an employee. Instead, the case originated in connection with a union’s objections to an unsuccessful election.
Purple Communications again demonstrates the Board’s aggressive pro-labor agenda. As a result of this decision, employers can expect union organizers to encourage employees to send work emails advocating for labor unions and then file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB if the employer disciplines the employee for doing so, even if the employer believes that the email was sent on working time. Employer policies previously lawful under Register Guard also will be the subject of charges from the Board. As a result, it is critical that employers work closely with their labor counsel to develop appropriate policies consistent with the new rule and implement a proactive labor relations approach that prevents unnecessary NLRB litigation.
If you have any questions about this alert or how it may impact your business, please contact any member of BakerHostetler’s Labor Relations team.
BakerHostetler’s Labor Relations Team
December 8th, 2014
By Eliza Shapiro, Sally Goldenberg and Clifford Michel
Continuing a pattern of salary raises it established with the United Federation of Teachers, the de Blasio administration has settled a thorny dispute with the principals’ union in its nine-year contract, an $891 million deal with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (C.S.A.)
The contract will cover the period from 2010 through 2019 and be offset, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s aides, by $147.5 million the union is required to come up with in health care savings, as well as money from an existing reserve known as the “stabilization fund.”
De Blasio announced the deal at the C.S.A.’s annual conference at a Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday afternoon.
“This is a good contract, this is a fair contract,” de Blasio said Saturday. “Given the hard work you do, you will get fair pay. … At the same time, we will protect the city’s fiscal health.”
The announcement followed a contract dispute between the administration and the union involving retroactive pay for some principals who had been promoted from teaching positions. Logan made the details of the dispute public in September, sending a memo to his members calling on the city to resolve what he called the “major stumbling block” of back-pay for 1,900 principals who were promoted from teaching positions to principal positions since 2009.
In a show of the strained relationship, Logan declined to join de Blasio on his five-borough tour of pre-kindergarten centers on the first day of school.
De Blasio was met with thunderous applause on Saturday when he announced that the newly settled contract includes retroactive pay for those 1,900 employees.
“Over these months Ernie [Logan] has driven a hard bargain,” de Blasio said, to applause from the audience. “There was always at the same time a spirit of partnership.”
The deal offers a total of 8 percent raises retroactively for 2010 and 2011—the years the union did not receive two 4 percent increases under the previous administration because of stalled negotiations. In addition, the workers will receive 10 percent in wage increases dating back to September 6, 2013 and ending October 6, 2018.
Those will be granted in the following installments: two increases of 1 percent a year for 2013 and 2014, a 1.5 percent raise in 2016, a 2.5 percent raise in 2017 and a 4 percent raise in 2018. In 2015, salaries will remain flat, according to figures provided by the mayor’s office. The principals will also receive a $1,000 signing bonus.
The retroactive pay—which the city calls “restructured payments,” because they are only afforded to those still in the workforce or retirees, and not those who quit or are fired—will be doled in installments. In 2016, union members will receive 12.5 percent of the total. They’ll get another 12.5 percent in 2018 and 25 percent each year in 2019 through 2021. In addition, they will get the back pay restored into their salaries over four years, at 2 percent a year, beginning in 2015 and ending in 2018.
Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, public advocate Letitia James, City Council education committee chairman Daniel Dromm, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and other elected officials also attended Saturday’s conference. Fariña delivered brief remarks, thanking principals for their hard work.
“We’re not fighting each other,” she said. “We will have disagreements, that is the nature of the game, but the amount of conversations we that have around substantial issues because we all want to build a legacy that says we left the city and our schools in particular better than when we found them.”
The contract provides supports for pre-existing educational initiatives, several of which were created in the U.F.T. contract.
As a supplement to the “ambassador program” created in the U.F.T. contract, which pairs experienced teachers with struggling schools, the C.S.A. contract will provide bonuses of $15,000 to principals and $10,000 to assistant principals to help turn around struggling schools.
De Blasio cited this principal ambassador program when he unveiled the city’s plan to support low-performing schools.
The contract will also provide more support for the city’s “Prose” schools, a select group of 200 schools that can operate outside of certain union regulations.
The contract also creates “model” and “master” principal roles, based on similar roles for experienced teachers created in the U.F.T. contract.
Highly experienced principals and assistant principals will be offered between $10,000 and $25,000 bonuses to coach their fellow school leaders in effective management.
The principals’ union had been without a contract since March 2010, and negotiations for this contract have been ongoing since the summer. De Blasio said the contract had been finalized Friday night. There are approximately 6,000 principals and assistant principals in the union. The contract still needs to be approved by the union’s membership.
With this deal, the administration has now reached labor agreements with 67 percent of its workforce, de Blasio’s office said. When he took office on Jan. 1, every municipal union was operating under expired contacts after a breakdown in talks with the Bloomberg administration.
The mayor and his labor commissioner, Bob Linn, reached an agreement with the U.F.T. in May. Every contract since has followed that pattern of raises and, for unions like the U.F.T. and C.S.A., the 8 percent back pay has been awarded in full.
Linn faces an uphill battle with the uniform workers—namely the police and fire unions that did receive the 8 percent under Bloomberg and are upset with a contract that keep their wages flat for 18 months. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is in binding arbitration with the city, meaning a three-member panel established by the state will now settle the dispute.
Other unions are holding off on settling their contracts, in hopes that the P.B.A. will alter the pattern.
December 5th, 2014
As 2014 draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, I’m reminded of how we came into this year with so much excitement and room for hope. We had a new progressive government for our city, which I’ve been honored to be a part of, and we finally began to work through some long-neglected issues of social justice and fairness, beginning with reforming stop and frisk.
Yesterday’s terribly unjust decision from the Grand Jury regarding the death of Eric Garner, however, reminds me of how much work remains to be done, and how far we remain from the constructive relationship of trust that we so desperately need between our law enforcement officers and communities of color throughout our city. As the first African American woman elected to citywide office, this has been an especially poignant and troubling moment for me.
I was saddened and angered yesterday, as were many of you, and my thoughts and prayers remain first and foremost with Eric Garner’s family, who are now forced to relive this trauma anew, and have had their grief compounded by a profound sense of injustice. With them, with civic and community leaders nationwide, and with the thousands of protesters who have peacefully taken to the streets, I look forward to the outcome of the Federal civil rights investigation announced yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder.
For all of us, the most important thing we can do right now is to channel our anger and frustration into constructive action. A routine street encounter between an unarmed civilian and the police should never, ever result in that civilian’s death—period. My office will continue to push for reforms that will not only bring similar abuses to light but help to ensure accountability and avoid yet another miscarriage of justice. I urge you to join with me on this crucial endeavor and to continue to make your voices heard—peacefully, constructively, but loud and clear.
November 26th, 2014
By Gloria Pazmino Nov. 25, 2014
The City Council overwhelmingly voted to approve a massive redevelopment project in the Queens waterfront on Tuesday, the first major land-use approval under Mayor Bill de Blasio.
City Council members touted the deal during a press conference near City Hall Park.
“We have a project that is much more in-tune, and represents community-oriented development,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This is the way that we should be going.”
The details of the Astoria Cove deal, which was announced two weeks ago, include 460 units of affordable housing in the 1,723 apartment complex, or 27 percent—a high number when compared to deals reached under the previous administration.
The Council deal only requires 5 percent of the units to be at or below 60 percent of A.M.I. Another 15 percent of the units would be at 80 percent of A.M.I., with the remaining 7 percent of the affordable units priced for 125 percent of the Area Median Income, or around $104,875 for a family of four. The city agreed to subsidize just 34 units, or about 2 percent of the project, by providing about $4.8 million.
The agreement between the city and Alma Realty, the developer behind the project, also guarantees union labor for both the construction phase of the project and the service jobs that will become available once construction is completed.
During the press conference, Councilman Costa Constantinides celebrated the amenities that will be built for the community as part of the agreement. Both the city and the developer will provide funds to build a ferry dock and upgrade a local senior center and the neighborhood library. In addition, the developer will build a supermarket, a public school and a waterfront park.
Capital reported last week that several real estate industry insiders were skeptical of Astoria Cove’s potential profitability after the concessions, and Alma Realty approached a major developer about buying a stake in the project.
Despite that, Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the council’s Land Use Committee said that even if the project was sold to another developer, the buyer would still be required to abide by the agreement that was reached by the city.
“I think that anytime that you do a project of this magnitude in New York city, you’re looking at something that has some significant challenges,” Greenfield said. “The developer actually has told us that he is interested in developing it, and we take him at his word, but if he’s interested in shopping it around, that’s certainly his right.”
November 24th, 2014
The New York Observer
The de Blasio administration is still hoping to raise revenue through new taxes next year, despite Republican opposition unfriendly to his progressive agenda.
Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said on Friday that the administration wants to raise new revenue for their affordable housing plan–and is optimistic the GOP-controlled State Senate will be receptive to controversial, revenue-generating proposals like a pied-à-terre tax.
“What we’re talking about is, to the extent that we can identify a particular revenue source that would go directly towards housing, I think that there’s real interest in that amongst a really wide variety of stakeholders that wouldn’t necessarily be the kind of people who you would think would come together for such an important thing,” Ms. Glen said on NY1 in response to a question about Republican opposition to new taxes.
The de Blasio administration is seeking to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over a decade, erecting new neighborhoods and infrastructure to support the higher density. Though the city’s fiscal health, at least at the moment, is sound, more revenue will be needed to back the kind of building growth Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, introduced a bill in September that would levy higher taxes on high-end apartments owned by non-city residents. The pied-à-terre tax, backed by Democrats in the state legislature from New York City, is strongly opposed by the real estate industry. Senate Republicans have always enjoyed a close relationship with the real estate lobby and will be hostile to new real estate taxes, observers say.
Ms. Glen, like Mr. de Blasio, was open to the bill without explicitly backing it. She did say the city would definitely need “additional revenue” in order to successfully implement the affordable housing plan. “We’ve looked at a variety of different potential revenue proposals. We’ve begun to lay out some basic concepts for that as we get ready to go to Albany and I think there is some general consensus that, for the City of New York to really do what we need to do for the public and to have the housing stock that we need, that to be able to capture some portion of this extraordinary real estate market is an appropriate way to go,” she said.
Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, would face resistance from a state legislature filled with upstate and suburban Republicans in just about any session. Last year, a State Senate partially controlled by Republicans blocked Mr. de Blasio’s push to raise taxes on high-income earners to fund his prekindergarten expansion.
Mr. de Blasio’s 2015 may be especially rough, despite Ms. Glen’s optimism. The mayor aggressively tried and failed to put Democrats in the majority, angering the Republican Conference–it’s not clear the GOP will have any incentive to make the implementation of Mr. de Blasio’s progressive agenda any smoother.
Workers Compensation Alliance White Paper Releases Recommendations to Improve the NYS Workers’ Compensation System for Injured Workers
November 24th, 2014
For immediate release
Robert Grey, Chair of the Workers Compensation Alliance
New York, NY-The New York Workers’ Compensation Alliance (WCA) released a White Paper that made a series of recommendations to reform the NYS Workers’ Compensation system. The paper was cross-endorsed by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), and the National Economic Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), two organizations that have been advocating to improve the workers’ compensation system for years.
“This report lays out a landscape of abuses and almost criminal indifference to the needs of workers injured or made ill on the job. It is a sobering reminder that we face a system mired in failure with regard to what should be its primary purpose: protecting the human right to health and basic security of injured and ill workers. We cannot continue to ignore this toxic and dangerous landscape as thousands of workers go without the care and support they need. This should be taken as a call to action for change,” said Cathy Albisa, NESRI’s Executive Director.
– Improving benefits by increasing the maximum compensation rate, indexing the minimum benefit rate, modifying or eliminating the caps on permanent disability benefits, and making use of “safety net” provisions in the law.
– Improving access to medical care for injured workers, while encouraging quality health care providers to participate in the system.
– Bringing clarity and transparency to insurer profits and expenses in workers’ compensation coverage.
– Reforming the administration of the Workers’ Compensation Board to reduce or eliminate barriers that prevent workers from obtaining benefits.
The white paper can be downloaded here:
“The workers’ compensation system no longer supports the needs of injured workers. Instead of insuring that workers are able to easily access a fair system, the system is focused on reducing employer costs and increasing the profits of insurance companies at the expense of workers themselves,” said Lee Clarke, Chair of the NYCOSH Board of Directors.
“We’re hoping that this report can serve as a guiding document for improving the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board for injured workers,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of NYCOSH.
NYCOSH is a non-profit organization that advocates for the right of every worker to a safe and healthful workplace.
November 20th, 2014
November 19, 2014
New York, NY—The long anticipated City Council hearing to learn more details of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on Monday proved “squishy” as the commissioner of the housing agency couldn’t provide exact numbers on the number of units targeted for preservation.
The commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, Vicki Been, provided some details of how the city will be able to preserve and/or build 200,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, Chair of the Council’s Department of Housing and Buildings, was trying to learn from Ms. Been how is the agency calculating the exact number of 120,000 units the City wants to set aside now for preservation using a wide variety of programs the City has historically relied upon to preserve affordable housing units.
For example, Commissioner Been provided information on four programs providing assistance to New Yorkers—a low- income housing tax program, the Housing and Urban Development multi-family program, Mitchell-Lama housing and project-based Section 8 assistance.
“These are our main preservation programs that provide tens of thousands of units per year, up to about 50,000 units,” said Been.
But when Councilmember Williams asked how many units can the City expect to preserve from other programs so that the City can get to 120,000 units today, Been said she didn’t have a specific number.
“It’s a very hard number to come up with…..It’s maybe like 30,000 units, but it’s a very squishy number……,” said Been.
Councilmember Williams expressed his frustration that the commissioner didn’t have the numbers for Monday’s meeting.
“We waited a very long time to have this hearing. I pushed it back a few times because we were told that we would have that information by the time we had this hearing. I would like to have squishy or non-squishy numbers to my questions because we waited such a long time with anticipation that these numbers would be ready,” Williams said.
Ms. Been seemed equally annoyed and told the Council why she didn’t provide exact numbers.
“Numbers are a great thing, but they can be used in ways that I don’t think you are sufficiently appreciating. That is, if I give numbers for each and every program they become leverage points because when I’m trying to close deals, a developer may say you projected that there would be, say, 1,326 units in this category this year, but you’re short,” she said. “[This] becomes a constant source of tension when there are lots of little numbers that add up to the big total. For that reason we didn’t release numbers for each and every program [because] it’s never been our practice because we need the flexibility.”
But Councilmember Williams wanted to make sure that Ms. Been appreciated the Council’s efforts to facilitate the Mayor’s affordable housing plan.
“We appreciate what you’ve said, but I’m not sure if you appreciate that we want to help to put the plan together and we believe, for the same reasons you gave, we need the numbers so that we can make sure we are on track and we can put as much pressure or non-pressure as needed to help achieve those goals; it’s hard to talk about a plan if we don’t have numbers, squishy or not,” he said.
In an interview, we asked Councilman Williams about his frustration with the lack of specific numbers at the hearing.
“They didn’t seem to have certain numbers, goals and projections for some of the categories. In order for us to do our job we have to have information. We pushed this [hearing] back a few months with the understanding that we would have the information [by the time of] the hearing.”
He had to get back to the hearing’s afternoon session where he hoped more specific numbers would be forthcoming.
November 19th, 2014
by Thomas B. Edsall
A paradox of American politics is that Republicans take organized labor more seriously than Democrats do.
The right sees unions as a mainstay of the left, a crucial source of cash, campaign manpower and votes.
“Unions are the largest player in American politics and they will be for some time,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, declared in March at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Fourteen million Americans have to pay union dues. If they average $500, and that is a low estimate, that’s a $7 billion slush fund for the left.”
Democrats are happy to get labor’s votes and money, but they have done little to revitalize the besieged movement.
“The unions basically have become an A.T.M. for Democrats,” Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., told me in a phone conversation. “There is a sense of taking unions for granted, no place else to go, don’t need to do much for them.”
Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.
Unions the right has targeted include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, appearing at the same C.P.A.C. event as Norquist, boasted that in Wisconsin the successful drive to render public sector unions impotent was the result of a coordinated effort between the party and the conservative movement:
We had total and complete unity between the state party, Americans for Prosperity, the tea party groups, the Grandsons of Liberty, the 9-12ers were involved. It was a total and compete agreement that nobody got the credit, that everyone was going to run down the track together.
The anti-union alliance between the Republican Party and movement conservatives got a big boost on Nov. 4. The heroes of this anti-union drive, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, and Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, were re-elected in states with a long history of strong labor movements. Prospects for the enactment of additional anti-labor legislation also improved as Republicans made substantial gains in legislatures and governor’s races across the country.
After the 2010 election, Republicans had complete control (governor and both legislative branches) in 21 states, almost double the 11 states with complete Democatic control. Now, 24 states are fully in Republican hands; Democrats dominate in just 7.
Continue reading the main story
The election of Republicans is indicative of the degree to which the voters have turned on the unions. There was once a time, two decades ago, when candidates to the governor’s officer sought the endorsement of major unions in his or her state; now they run on being anti-union crusaders. Quite a reversal of fortunes. The public sector was, for fifty years, the engine of union growth in America. This will happen no more. The brake on union decline is gone. The victory of Republican governors shows how much unions have lost their political power – now they are vulnerable to attempts to strip them of their power at the state level. Every new governor seems to be a Chris Christie, ready for a fight.
By 2013, 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers were covered by unions, down from 23.4 percent in 1983.
Republicans have good reason to target public sector unions. Without them, the share of the work force represented by unions would be even smaller than it is now. By last year, union coverage of private sector workers had fallen to 7.5 percent, from a high of roughly 35 percent in the mid-1950s. Government workers today make up 15.8 percent of the total work force, but union representation of this sliver has grown from less than 10 percent in the 1950s to 35.3 percent.
Norquist told the C.P.A.C. conference that conservatives hadn’t taken on public employee unions in the mistaken belief that “you can’t do anything about the public sector. The rules are set, and they elect the guys who set the rules.” But Walker’s success in winning a recall election, and in getting re-elected, has permanently changed thinking on the right, Norquist declared. By this reasoning, Walker’s survival and ultimate triumph demonstrates that changing the rules to make it more difficult to organize public workers, to collect dues and to bargain over wages and fringe benefits is politically viable, even in a Northern state.
In 2011, when Walker first took office, 37 percent of the nation’s 21-plus million public sector employees were union members; by 2012, this dropped to 35.9 percent; and last year, it fell to 35.3 percent.
If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.
In fact, the Obama administration has undermined the bargaining leverage of the most successful unions by imposing a 40 percent excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare. The provision, which covers what many of labor’s enemies call “Cadillac plans,” has provoked an angry response from labor leaders. They see the tax as threatening the continued survival of key health insurance benefits that unions have won as part of total employee compensation packages.
In an email to me, Joel Parker, national vice president of the merged Transportation Communications International Union and International Association of Machinists, wrote about the consequences of the new excise tax:
The result is a nightmare for union workers at large companies, and even worse for non-union workers. For the latter, companies will simply unilaterally cut benefits and/or shift to high-deductible plans. Institutionally, the bill weakens unions, one of the remaining core groups in the Democratic coalition. Private sector unions’ main selling point to non-union workers was superior health and pension plans. The health insurance advantage, if the excise tax is allowed to survive, will gradually disappear.
Democrats neglect the union movement at their peril. Not only does organized labor provide millions of dollars – the Center for Responsive Politics reports that unions spent $116.5 million on politics in 2013-14 – but union members are a loyal Democratic constituency. On Nov. 4, the 17 percent of voters who come from union households supported Democratic House candidates by a margin of 22 points, 60-38, while the remaining 83 percent from non-union households supported Republicans 54-44.
Rosenthal, the former A.F.L.-C.I.O. political director, has compiled 2008 exit poll data showing that white men, white weekly churchgoers, gun owners, veterans and whites without college degrees who were union members cast majorities for Obama, while members of these usually strongly Republican groups who were nonunion backed John McCain, often by large margins.
Gun owners, for example, backed McCain over Obama 62-37, while gun owners who were members of unions backed Obama 56-44. White men chose McCain over Obama 57-41, but white men who were members of union households backed Obama 59-41.
The Democratic percentage among union voters has stayed consistently in the 60 percent range for the past two decades, but the absolute number of labor votes has dropped as membership has fallen. Organized labor’s share of the electorate has shrunk, according to Rosenthal’s data, from 27 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2014.
Rosenthal was struck by the comment made by one man during a focus group that he organized in New Brunswick, N.J., in late 2012. At the time, the state’s governor, Chris Christie, had been attacking both the state teachers union and public employee pension funds.
“This guy stood up and said ‘My father is a cop, my brother is a cop. They have pensions, I don’t, and it really pisses me off,’ ” Rosenthal recounted. “Damn it, this guy was talking about his father and brother. He was pissed that his own father and brother had pensions.”
The comment reflects the success of the Republican strategy of pitting those who see themselves as taxpayers against public sector unions, viewed by many as takers.
Christie has called the New Jersey Education Association “a group of political thugs,” a union that has become “fat and rich and entitled.”
Walker, who was re-elected governor of Wisconsin with 52.3 percent to his opponent’s 46.6 percent, explicitly summarized the strategy when he first took office in January 2011:
We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.
If, as many Democrats privately acknowledge, unions remain an important linchpin in the party’s coalition, Democrats have their work cut out for them. The Republican drive to victory in state and local elections continues in defiance of large-scale demographic trends that are supposed to benefit Democrats.
A vast majority of gubernatorial elections — 39 states’ worth — are held in nonpresidential years when the electorate is smaller and more conservative than it is in presidential years, and it is at the state and local level where decisions crucial to the future of organized labor are made. Figure 1, a map of Republican and Democratic House districts in the aftermath of the 2014 elections reflects the scope of Republican domination.
The economic forces working against unions, especially private sector unions – globalization, the shift of income from labor to capital, foreign imports, automation, the decline of manufacturing jobs – are inexorable. The Republican Party recognizes this vulnerability and is taking steps to go in for the kill. For both Walker and Christie, attacks on public sector unions – confronting teachers is a specialty of both men — are crucial to their potential bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Democrats themselves — President Obama and members of Congress – recognize that the odds are against them. Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier.
Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.
At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.
But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.
November 18th, 2014
Posted on November 18, 2014 at 2:17 pm by Casey Seiler, Capitol bureau chief in Sheldon Silver
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday that the Legislature could take up a number of issues if it returns before the end of the year — including an infrastructure investment package using funds from the bank-settlement-driven surplus that’s now worth more than $5 billion.
Speaking briefly in the Assembly chamber before heading into orientation sessions for new members (“I’m on my way to class”), Silver said he wanted to settle the investment package before budget season begins in January.
“I don’t want it to get into the budget — I want it to be a one-shot,” he said. “It’s a one-shot revenue, it should be a one-shot expenditure, and we should invest in infrastructure.”
Asked how much of the package should go to covering the cost of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, Silver said, “I think that should be the subject of discussion.”
He reiterated his support for a legislative pay raise, something else that’s likely to be on the agenda if lawmakers return.
“I believe the members work very hard — both sides of the aisle — and I believe they’re entitled to one after 14 years,” Silver said.
Despite the pleas of progressive advocates, Silver was not insistent that a raise in legislative pay should be linked to a boost in the minimum wage: “We raised (the wage) last year; I’ve been the advocate for (an additional increase); I have the bills for it. And we didn’t wage the members’ pay when we did the minimum wage.”
He added that the salaries of state commissioners “should be adjusted accordingly,” as well.
He said he was “fine” with reforming the current per diem system for members. “There are a number of ways to do it, and I’m obviously open to suggestions on how we do it,” Silver said.
The Speaker emphasized that there are no settled plans for members to return.
“I have no idea at this point. … If it works it works; if it doesn’t it doesn’t,” he said.