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Labor Relations News Update April 23, 2014

Today’s Labor Updates:

Fracking Foes Cringe as Unions Back Drilling Boom

Australia: Bill Shorten’s sweeping Labor reform plan to reduce union influence

NLRB Orders Employer to Repay Union’s Bargaining Costs


Fracking Foes Cringe as Unions Back Drilling Boom

PITTSBURGH April 20, 2014 (AP) By KEVIN BEGOS Associated Press

After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they’re now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.

That vocal support from blue-collar workers complicates efforts by environmentalists to limit the drilling process known as fracking. “The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families,” said Dennis Martire, the mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Laborers’ International Union, or LIUNA, which represents workers in numerous construction trades.  Martire said that as huge quantities of natural gas were extracted from the vast shale reserves over the last five years, union work on large pipeline jobs in Pennsylvania and West Virginia has increased significantly. In 2008, LIUNA members worked about 400,000 hours on such jobs; by 2012, that had risen to 5.7 million hours.

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says total employment in the nation’s oil and gas industry rose from about 120,000 in early 2004 to about 208,000 last month. Less than 10 percent of full-time oil and gas industry workers are represented by unions.

Alex Paris, head of a Pittsburgh-area contracting firm founded by his grandfather in 1928, said many of the jobs in the early years of the boom went to out-of-state workers, perhaps because the biggest drilling firms come from Texas and Oklahoma. Now there’s been a shift to hiring local contractors that use union labor.  “It has created more work for our business. There’s jobs here for the first time in many, many years. Legitimate, good-paying jobs,” Paris said of a region that was hit hard by the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s and ’90s.  The increasing use of union construction labor has given energy companies a powerful ally as drilling is debated in communities nationwide. Many Republicans have been pro-drilling, but now some unions traditionally associated with Democrats are using their political clout to urge politicians to reject bans on pipelines or drilling.

For example, LIUNA has urged members of Congress to support liquefied natural gas exports and regional gas pipeline expansions, and union members plan to participate in a pro-drilling rally in Pennsylvania’s capital next month.  “The unions are powerful and influential,” said David Masur, director of Penn Environment, which has been critical of the drilling boom.

The Marcellus and Utica shale fields, rich in natural gas and oil, lie deep underneath large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and more than 6,000 new wells have been drilled there over the last five years.  In the early days of the shale drilling boom, there were complaints about the number of local jobs. In 2010, one union leader told a Pennsylvania House Labor Relations Committee that local people had little or no success in getting work from the industry. And even now some powerful unions are withholding judgment. Anthony Montana, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers, declined to comment on how much drilling is helping that industry.

But others say the trend toward more local jobs is clear.  Mike Engbert of the Ohio Laborers District Council said that while some companies still use a lot of out-of-state labor, “Across the board, job gains have really shot up.”  For some, the drilling-related work is a big improvement over low-wage service jobs.  “I’ve probably worked 15 jobs, and none of them nearly as stable as this one, or nearly as interesting,” said Amy Dague, 38, of Wheeling, W.Va. She’s worked for a pipeline construction and maintenance company for a little more than a year.  “It’s definitely changed the way I see my future. I see this as long-term employment,” Dague said.

Some energy companies say they’re happy with local workers, too.  Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources of Fort Worth, Texas, wrote in an email: “We are in need of reliable, consistent, quality work at a reasonable price and the local trades have stepped up in a significant way.”  Some environmental groups worry that what’s happening in the region is a repeat of the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline, when some major unions and green groups took opposite sides. Penn Environment has called for much stronger regulations and a ban on drilling in some areas, such as state forests.

“I understand the dynamic at play. It feels fairly short-sighted,” Masur said of how workers and unions are embracing oil and gas drilling. “This could leave the same sort of legacy as coal.” He urged more investments — and thus jobs— in wind and solar power.


Australia: Bill Shorten’s sweeping Labor reform plan to reduce union influence

Mark Kenny  Published: April 22, 2014 – 4:15PM

Bill Shorten will use a landmark speech on Tuesday to propose sweeping changes to the ALP to weaken the influence of unions, extend direct election of candidates, broaden policy formulation, and attract thousands of new members.

Relying on what he will call ”my mandate as the first member-elected leader of the Australian Labor Party”, his radical plan involves the most significant cultural shift in Labor internal structures in decades including an end to Labor’s longstanding requirement on prospective members that they be members of a relevant union.

”I believe it should no longer be compulsory for prospective members of the Labor Party to join a union, and I have instructed our national secretary to have this requirement removed from Labor Party rules,” his speech notes say.

He also has flagged a sharp reduction in union say in Labor’s supreme policy making body, its triennial national conference, by constructing its membership in future through ”a mix of people directly elected from and by Labor members, and those elected by state conferences”.

That could see union representation at national conferences – the next one being scheduled for 2015 – dropping from as high as 70 per cent to as low as 25 per cent.

The ambitious democratisation push is aimed at modernising the face and the body of Labor by breaking the grip of unions and factional chieftains and delivering the ALP from the pernicious influence of back-room players and so-called faceless men.

The moves could face stiff resistance from those very quarters, especially because Mr Shorten believes the challenges facing his party go much deeper than mere presentation.

Declaring ”today is the day to face up to some hard truths,” the rookie Labor leader will lead off his argument with the admission that it was not Tony Abbott who had sent the ALP packing into opposition at the last election but the voters themselves.

”Unless we change, it is where we will stay,” he will argue in the address to Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre.

But to drive the change, Mr Shorten also has a message for the legions of Labor detractors – erstwhile supporters in the broader electorate who had become some of the party’s chief critics in office: ”If you think the system is broken, help us fix it”.

”If you opt out, if you choose the ‘plague on both your houses’ option, then you are depriving the country of your talents,’ he will say.

He believes the removal of the compulsory union membership rule is more than mere symbolism.

”’This change makes it plain that in 2014, Labor is not the political arm of anything but the Australian people,” his speech notes say.

With the government’s controversial royal commission into union corruption preparing for its first hearings, it is clear the Labor leader, who himself once headed one of the country’s more powerful unions, wants to more clearly delineate Labor from unions, many of which are struggling from declining membership, and a perception of being career advancement vehicles for would-be Labor MPs.

In a blunt vindication of the conservative attack on Labor’s close relationship with trades halls, Mr Shorten will call for his party to ”write a new democratic contract” admitting the part of unions in Labor had ”developed into a factional, centralised decision-making role”.

As previously reported by Fairfax Media, Mr Shorten will also propose a 20 per cent increase in direct election of candidates in lower house seats where ALP branches have memberships above 300.

”In Victoria, this will mean a 70:30 split in favour of local party members,” his speech says.


I sent out a short blurb on this subject last week.  The following provides additional information regarding this case.  Billy

NLRB Orders Employer to Repay Union’s Bargaining Costs

By Brennan W. Bolt on April 22, 2014

On April 14, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board issued an order in Fallbrook Hospital, 360 NLRB No. 73 (2014), modifying the remedy for an employer’s bad-faith bargaining conduct. The administrative law judge recommended, among other things, a 6-month extension of the certification union, but declined to grant the union’s request for reimbursement for its negotiation expenses. The Board, however, disagreed:

Having examined the record evidence of the [employer’s] bad-faith bargaining conduct, we find … that both a full 1-year extension of the certification year pursuant to Mar-Jac Poultry, 136 NLRB 785 (1962), and an award of negotiating expenses are necessary to fully remedy the detrimental impact the Respondent’s unlawful conduct has had on the bargaining process.

The basis for the Board’s award was the fact that the employer “deliberately acted to prevent any meaningful progress during bargaining sessions that were held as:

·       the employer’s bargaining team failed to provide any proposals or counter-proposals during the first eight bargaining sessions until it received a full set of proposals from the Union;

·       left a bargaining session abruptly and without explanation;

·       left another bargaining session 3 minutes after arriving;

·       although the employer proffered some proposals during the next three bargaining sessions, it subsequently threatened that it would not continue bargaining if the Union persisted in encouraging employees’ use of the Union’s assignment despite objection (ADO) form;

·       the employer then falsely claimed that the nurses’ use of the ADO forms caused the parties to be at impasse, refused to bargain further, and left the meeting after about 15 minutes; and

·       thereafter, the employer reaffirmed its refusal to bargain when it refused to respond to the Union’s requests for future bargaining dates.

As a result, the Board found that the employer’s misconduct:

infected the core of the bargaining process to such an extent that its effects cannot be eliminated by the mere application of our traditional remedy of an affirmative bargaining order. In these circumstances, requiring the [employer] to reimburse the Union’s negotiating expenses is also “warranted both to make the (Union) whole for the resources that were wasted because of the [employer’s] unlawful conduct, and to restore the economic strength that is necessary to ensure a return to the status quo ante at the bargaining table.”

Member Johnson disagreed with Chairman Pearce and Member Hirozawa’s award of negotiation expenses to the union, finding that the employer’s conduct was not so “unusually aggravated” as to “have infected the core of [the] bargaining process” as the misconduct of the employer in Frontier Hotel & Casino, 318 NLRB 857 (1998), where the Board similarly awarded negotiating expenses. The Board, however, unanimously agreed that requiring the employer to reimburse the union for its litigation expenses was not warranted, “as the defenses raised by the Respondent, although found to be without merit, were not frivolous.”

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