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Labor Relations News Update September 30, 2014

Today’s Labor Updates:
Never cross a picket line
UAW gets backing from German unions to organize VW
The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary’s.
Interesting to see a college student’s perspective.
Never cross a picket line
Billy McMahon | Tuesday, September 30, 2014
It’s not that uncommon. It might be outside a factory or an office or a store. You might be a customer or another employee. You will have to know what to do — so never cross a picket line.
It is the strongest action workers can take in an economy that is otherwise stacked against them. By going on strike, employees shut down the jobsite by refusing to work. Even if it doesn’t seem like you have a stake in their fight, you probably do.
The labor movement is not what it used to be. Union membership in the U.S. is down to 11.2 percent, from a high of 35 percent in the 1950s. Many people wonder why they should care. Unions may have once been necessary, opponents claim, but they’re not important now. They’re corrupt and greedy, run by “union bosses” who are ruining the economy. The underlying assumptions of these accusations are telling.
There is no hope in claiming that unions never did anything good for working people. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, union members fought and sometimes died for livable wages, decent working conditions, child labor laws, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, social security and the civil rights movement. The only hope of bosses seeking to break the might of the labor movement has been to claim that unions are now unnecessary.
Solidarity, however, is not something that goes out of style. Now, as always before, labor unions bring up wages not only for union workers but for all workers in their industries. They set standards for working conditions and act as a mechanism to enforce fair treatment for workers. Anything a boss gives workers can be taken away just as easily. Organizing gives workers a seat at the table to negotiate and make their demands heard.
The union, at its best, is an injection of economic democracy. It is run by its rank-and-file members with elected union leaders beholden to recall and the will of the membership. Different unions have achieved varying levels of success. No human organization is perfect, and whenever imperfections occur, bosses and owners are quick to jump on them in an attempt to show how corrupt and anti-democratic these unions actually are. In reality, the owners are just projecting.
“The union bosses are greedy.” When the owners making this claim are operating vast financial machines designed to extract every bit of value from the labor of millions of people, the accusation falls a bit flat. Owners fight to maximize profits, unions fight to maximize wages. What does it tell you that the worst slur they can hurl at union leaders is to call them “bosses”?
“The union is anti-democratic.” At their worst, unions are imperfect democracies that bicker amongst themselves. At their best, they are solidarity incarnate. Is there anything less democratic than the economic dictatorship of the boss over the workplace? Those who labor to produce all things have little control over the conditions or the fruits of their labor. The union is there to help them push for a bit more.
If one accepts that the unions are good for the working-class, there is one last hurdle — am I a worker? From the lowest paid employees being told that they are “associates” or “contractors” to the highest paid employees being told that they are “professionals,” much effort has been put into obscuring one simple fact. Everyone who labors for a wage has the same economic interests — a greater share of the fruits of their own labor and more employee control over working conditions. For this vast working-class, any union anywhere is in their interest, as unions drive up wages and working conditions throughout the whole economy.
A strike reveals something fundamental about the world — that the working-class makes the wheels turn. We have lesson after lesson showing us that workers can run industry in the absence of owners: the syndicalist revolution in Spain in the 1930s, mass factory take-overs in Argentina, the MONDRAGON Corporation run cooperatively by its 74,000 employees. On the other hand, those whose only claim to wealth is an abstract concept of property ownership enforced by state power need the workers. Without a host, the parasite withers.
So if you make your living by capital ownership and investment, disregard what I say. But if by the force of your brain and muscle you sell your labor for a wage, know where your interests lie. They may be waiters or steelworkers or physicians, but when union members are on strike, know that they are fighting for you too. When you see them, remember — never cross a picket line.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
UAW gets backing from German unions to organize VW
Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press
September 29, 2014
The UAW has gained two German allies in its bid to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn.
German union IG Metall and the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council signed a letter of intent Sept. 9 with the UAW to “Organize Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee workers as a UAW-represented facility and to begin the process of formation of a works council there.”
A spokesman for Volkswagen declined to comment on the letter.
The letter is the latest step in the UAW’s campaign to organize its first non-U.S.-owned assembly plant.
“This is an alignment between the three institutions and to my knowledge there has never been an agreement such as this,” said UAW Secretary Treasurer Gary Casteel. “It gives us the support of one of the main foundations of the VW system and that is the Works Council.”
The UAW, whose membership has fallen to less than 400,000 from 1.5 million in 1979, has tried and failed several times to organize Japanese-owned plants in the U.S.
Volkswagen’s works council and IG Metall has supported the UAW in Tennessee for several years. The works council is an group of employee representatives that works with Volkswagen management to resolve issues in the workplace. IG Metall is an influential labor union in Germany that represents manufacturing employees in a range of industries.
“We lost one battle, but we did not lose the entire fight….I promise, we will go on,” Frank Patta, general secretary of Volkswagen’s Global Group Works Council said in June when he spoke at the UAW’s convention in Detroit.
The UAW suffered a major setback in February in Chattanooga when Volkswagen workers voted 712 to 626 to reject union representation.
That vote came amid a tense battle between the UAW, elected Republican officials and groups opposed to labor unions.
Volkswagen was neutral in the election. There is union representation in all of its other assembly plants in the world.
Gary Klotz, an attorney with Butzel Long who represents companies on labor issues, said the UAW’s letter of intent should be viewed as “organizing activity,” and violates an agreement between the UAW and Volkswagen in January that barred the union from organizing activity for a year if it lost the election.
“It is proof that the UAW and IG Metall have been working behind the scenes together to help the UAW organize the plant,” Klotz said. “It is also another violation of the UAW ‘s election agreement with UAW. But VW has no interest in enforcing it.”
In July, the UAW established a local unit in Chattanooga and invited workers to join. Workers are promised full membership rights without paying dues until or unless Volkswagen recognizes the union and a contract is ratified.
That prompted a group of Volkswagen workers who oppose the UAW to form the American Council of Employees. About 200 Volkswagen workers have signed that group’s petition, according to its website.
Casteel said a majority of Volkswagen hourly workers have joined UAW Local 42, which is planning to hold elections soon and have a leadership team by early October.
“I am confident that UAW will be recognized as the representative of these members,” Casteel said.
The Sept. 9 letter sets out two goals:
·       Provide workers a choice free of interference for worker representation by UAW at Chattanooga.
·       The establishment of an effective co-determination structure for Chattanooga workers.
The UAW also is working to organize a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Michael Brecht, who took over as head of Daimler’s works councils in April, is planning to visit Alabama later this week to talk to local Mercedes-Benz officials and meet with workers who support the UAW.
NLRB: Overbroad “no-disruptions” rule and CEO’s coercive speech require new union elections
By Joy P. Waltemath, J.D.
Leaving for another day a decision on the lawfulness of an electronic communications policy that prohibited employees from using Purple Communication’s email system for any nonbusiness reason, a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board set aside representation elections at two of the employer’s sites because of campaign speeches given by Purple’s president/CEO and its maintenance of an overbroad no-disruption policy that could have discouraged employees from engaging in many types of permissible campaigning. Two new elections were ordered (Purple Communications, Inc, September 24, 2014).
CEO speeches. During the weeks before union elections were held to represent interpreters at the sign-language interpretation provider, the president/CEO made speeches to large groups of interpreters at each of the seven call centers where an election was to be held. Although he did not have a script, the topics he covered included Hostess Bakery’s then-recent bankruptcy filing; Purple’s financial difficulties and its belief that revenues would soon decrease; the elections; and the company’s expenditures in opposing the union campaigns. He also discussed the productivity standards and asked the interpreters to give Purple a chance to address their concerns before they brought in a union.
Productivity standards. The election campaign had focused significantly on productivity standards, which Purple had increased a couple of months earlier, shortly before the union filed election petitions. These new productivity standards affected both the physical demands on the interpreters and their eligibility for bonuses. Less than a week after the CEO’s speeches, Purple notified interpreters that it was easing its enforcement of the standards. But even after the downward adjustment, the standards remained higher than they had been before the increase.
Promises. The Board found that in his speeches, the president/CEO implicitly promised improvements in the productivity standards and implicitly threatened the interpreters by telling them that the money Purple had spent to oppose the union could instead have been spent on employee bonuses. Although an employer’s “generalized expressions” asking for another chance or more time typically are within “the limits of permissible campaign propaganda”  so long as an employer does not make any “specific promise that any particular matter would be improved,” the Board did not consider the statements here just “generalized expressions.”
In the Board’s view, his implied promises of improvements were directly linked to the increased productivity standards – a central issue in the elections and a significant physical and financial concern for interpreters. The president/CEO said that the productivity standards might have been raised too high; said that he “regretted” it; and said that that Purple was “looking into” “recalibrating” the standards. While this was not an “express promise to take specific action on the matter,”  he indicated that action was being contemplated, and even was likely, to respond to the interpreters’ concerns. These implied promises had the tendency to interfere with employees’ free choice in the elections and were objectionable.
In a footnote, the Board noted that three days after the speeches and about a week before the election, Purple modified the productivity standards to reduce the burden on interpreters. At approximately the same time, the union notified Purple that it would not file unfair labor practices about the standards if Purple would lower them and, in fact, the union did not do so, nor did it file election objections regarding the modifications. But the Board said the coercive effect of what the CEO had promised several days earlier was a separate issue.
Threats. Also found objectionable and coercive were the president/CEO’s statements about the money the company had spent opposing the union campaign and how it could have been used to give bonuses to the interpreters. Citing numerous cases, the Board found the statements would reasonably have communicated to employees that their union campaign had potentially cost them bonuses and might continue to do so. It also found objectionable the president/CEO’s statement at one site that he could make improvements only at the facilities that did not have elections pending.
Elections set aside. Parting ways with the ALJ, the Board concluded that the objectionable conduct, considered together or separately, could have affected the election results and required setting aside elections at both challenged sites. The ALJ had found  it appropriate only to set aside one election, where the vote was 15 for representation, 16 against, and 2 challenged ballots; the Board also set aside the other election, where the vote was 10 for, 16 against, and 1 challenged ballot.
“No-disruptions” rule. The Board specifically rejected the ALJ’s conclusion that the unlawful no-disruptions rule was insufficient, standing alone, to require new elections. The rule had applied to all employees for approximately the past six months, and the Board found it extraordinarily broad: It prohibited employees from “[c]ausing, creating or participating in a disruption of any kind during working hours on Company property,” which could have discouraged employees from engaging in many types of permissible campaigning.
Although acknowledging that the testimonial evidence of the rule’s dissemination to employees was “somewhat limited,” the Board emphasized that Purple stipulated that the employee handbook containing the rule has been “in effect and applied” at both facilities. Characterizing both elections as close (saying that at one, changing only three employees’ votes could have reversed the election’s outcome, depending on the challenged ballot; while at the other, a single changed “no” vote would have made the difference), the Board would not conclude that it was “virtually impossible” that the no-disruptions rule affected the election results at either. As the same was true for the president/CEO’s implied promises and threats, the Board set aside both elections.


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