In this issue:
- Backlash To Conservative Swing
- A Strike on Strikes?
- Will Blockchain Save Unions?
- SEIU Watch, Teamster Beat, Sticky Fingers and more…
The bottom of each story contains a link to the individual post on our site.
Labor Relations Insight by Phil Wilson
Will Blockchain Save Unions?
If you’re reading this then you, like me, must have missed your big Bitcoin payday. Or else you’re reading this on your own private island. In that case the only explanation is that you’re overcome with heat sickness.
Bitcoin (and several thousand other so-called cryptocurrencies) are built on top of something called blockchain technology. I will quickly get out of my depth here, but blockchain basically works like this:
You want to pay someone out of a file of transactions. You’re a “node” and your file is a “ledger.” When you attempt payment other computers (“miners”) that have your same “distributed” ledger race to confirm your transaction. Why? Because the first to confirm it gets paid – everyone else loses out. The first to confirm you can afford the payment lets everyone else know (called “proof of work”) which ends the race. Your payment is confirmed and they “mine” some coin. This whole process works on “blockchain” technology.
Here are the keys to blockchain. First, the “distributed” part. If you just wanted to trade something with someone you know you don’t need any help – you find them and trade. But for anything other than direct trade or barter you need a market. Markets require trust. And that trust is often built on intermediaries.
The blockchain is all about distributing the market so it works more like barter or trade, cutting out intermediaries. In the example above we’re talking about cutting out banks. That’s who confirms ledgers today. But not just anyone can become a bank. And where you have a limited number of people doing anything you have a built-in inefficiency in the system which almost always leads to “rent-seeking” behavior. In other words, the banks demand a slice of the pie for confirming your transaction.
But blockchain isn’t only about payment transactions. Any transaction or event that can be tracked on a ledger can be disrupted by blockchain. Any situation where an intermediary is stepping in to represent another party in a transaction is a place ripe for disruption. Especially where those intermediaries don’t act on behalf of their constituents and are overpaid for the value they deliver.
A very interesting article in The Weekly Standard asks whether labor unions might be transformed by blockchain. It suggests:
In a blockchain-based union, the good teachers in a school system, for example, could vote to kick out the ineffective teachers while simultaneously protecting the rights of the high performers and the group as a whole. Do not be surprised if we see an Initial Coin Offering for a decentralized union organizing platform. In this model, membership would be represented by crypto-tokens and, as the union actually delivers meaningful benefits to its constituents, the value of those tokens increase. The increase in the value of the token further incentivizes new members and provides tangible evidence of the value associated with collective organization and action.
I encourage you to read the entire article. I’ll admit that I don’t think this blockchain teachers union thing is fully baked, but I’ve been talking about the idea of a distributed union for a long time and this is exactly the sort of thing that would facilitate such a change. Most importantly it solves one of the biggest problems with a “distributed union” model which is how it is monetized.
If coins are “mined” based on actual value created by this new association (in terms of problems solved, items negotiated, etc.) and the tokens rise in value as the total value created goes up, blockchain could be the answer.
We already live in a distributed world. Twitter and other social media have blown up traditional media (and are being used more and more in organizing efforts). Disruptive technologies have zapped intermediaries in all kinds of businesses including retail, taxis, logistics, hotels, housing and many service-related businesses.
Advancements in AI, self-driving vehicles and robots, and distributed energy and manufacturing (solar and 3D printing) will become mainstream in the next few years. As they do, more and more intermediaries will be ground to dust. I have a hard time believing unions will be the last intermediary standing.
Union Bailout Update
The NLRB has signaled its intent to undo or revise the Obama board’s Ambush Election rule, and is currently accepting comments until March 29th. To contribute your comments, Instructions on how to submit them are contained on the NLRB’s website.
In other good news, the board will revisit a set of work rules deemed illegal by the Obama board. Under scrutiny in the Grill Concepts Services, Inc case are rules or portions of rules related to the following:
- Employee relations/positive culture rule
- Timekeeping rule
- Employee conduct while representing the business
- Online communications
- Progressive discipline
Tribal employers had a bit of good news, when the House passed a bill reversing a 2004 law placing tribal operations under the purview of the NLRA. It will be difficult for the bill to pass the Senate, as Big Labor has already attacked House Democrats that supported the bill by cutting off some campaign funding.
A California judge ruled that GrubHub food-delivery drivers are considered independent contractors, which will please companies like Uber and Lyft.
In a late January email, the NLRB General Counsel signaled it may change procedures for processing unfair labor practice charges (ULPs). The most significant impact would be the requirement for “institution” charging parties (unions or employers) to file a position statement, which must include a recitation of facts, identification of relevant witnesses, names of all alleged discriminatees, names and titles of relevant managers/supervisors/employer agents, the remedy sought, and relevant documents such as collective bargaining agreements and relevant grievances.
The NLRB enforced the concept of “protected concerted activity” and lawful union-initiated boycotts when it dismissed a lawsuit by an Alaskan hotel, and required the hotel to pay the union’s legal expenses. Although the allegations in the lawsuit were most likely true (that the union defamed the hotel by claiming it was “illegally firing” employees), the court found the suit legally deficient.
We mentioned last month that the board was considering restructuring its field offices. In a further development, the board GC Peter Robb announced there may be headcount reductions required to match the realities of reduced board funding.
Backlash To Conservative Swing
Although most of the news coming out of the DOL and the NLRB would be considered positive by employers, when such agencies have become Republican-controlled in the past, unions have resorted to other tactics, and specifically corporate campaigns, to attempt to get what they want from employers. On top of this, the rise of populist movements like #metoo create additional tools for Big Labor to leverage. Bottom line: don’t get complacent!
This article provides a reminder of the types of tactics unions like to employ in corporate campaigns, and a quick list of recommended employer actions, including:
- Conducting OSHA, wage and hour, and antitrust compliance audits
- Engaging in positive employee relations training and messaging
- Conducting up-to-date anti-harassment training
- Evaluating pay equity within the company
- Creating an effective internal and external communication system in relation to potential and actual union activity
- Assembling a dedicated team of inside or outside counsel to respond to filings at the NLRB, such as unfair labor practice charges and representation petitions
A Strike on Strikes?
Last year, there were only seven strikes involving 1000 or more employees. This was less than half the amount of similar strikes for the prior year and made it the second lowest year on record since 1947, according to data from the Department of Labor. The total number of strikers in 2017 was 25,000, with 2009 being the lowest on record with 13,000.
Here’s a quick comparison out of the LRIRightnow database libraries:
THE DOL IS LATE AGAIN POSTING STRIKE DATA. WE’LL SEND THE SCOREBOARD ALONG WHEN THE SITE IS UPDATED…
SEIU-UHW filed ten ballot initiatives this year. Three were statewide (California), seven local. It’s not abnormal for the SEIU’s Dave Regan (or other unions) to spend money on proposed ballot initiatives as a “tactful” way to get what they want from the employers whom they work with. In this case, Kaiser Permanente.
The two initiatives that would have affected Kaiser were “one to prevent health insurers with high reserves from raising premiums, and another that would tax millionaires to help fund safety-net hospitals and clinics.”
However, according to an internal memo from Kaiser to its employees, Regan has dropped the initiatives. Did Regan get what he wanted? Doubtful. Did he spend a lot of dues money in the process? Yep.
It’s All Academic
Local 33 UNITE HERE has officially withdrawn its petition to represent graduate students at Yale University after years of organizing efforts. Columbia University hopes to be as lucky.
Currently, the university is refusing to bargain with a UAW local affiliate while their objections to the original election, having to do with the status of graduate students as employees, are reviewed in federal court.
In Pennsylvania, that argument currently lands on the union side of the pendulum as the PA labor board ruled recently that graduate assistants are employees and can therefore vote to be unionized if they wish.
Moving away from unions in higher education, a new report shows that charter schools are actually less likely to be unionized than they were six years ago. Additionally, the report found that more than 60 percent of unionized charter schools are located in four states. Dive in here.
New York Teamsters members are being trained on how to respond should a raid be conducted on their workplace or if an individual is approached regarding the immigration status of a fellow member. Some are calling these endeavors an effort by the Teamsters to become a “sanctuary union,” prioritizing solidarity amongst the members ahead of immigration laws.
In current contract negotiations with UPS, the Teamsters are requesting that the company “agree not to move toward logistics models based on drones or autonomous vehicles, that it hire 10,000 more workers and that it ban deliveries after 9 pm.” Click here to read why one consultant believes the union is being unrealistic and by not embracing technology, they are simply putting off the inevitable and are risking losing business to those willing to embrace such technology.
Union hierarchy works based on length of time a person has been employed at a particular location. The longer you’ve been somewhere, the more you make and the more your voice matters. Most people who join a union know this going in, but that doesn’t mean that they are okay with having no say at all. When one member at a Teamsters local decided he was fed up with not having a voice during contract negotiations, he put together a petition that requested that members on the lower end of the totem pole be included in discussions regarding current negotiations. How did the union respond? By creating a local Facebook group that welcomed some members, but excluded others. Namely, those who had signed the petition.
Months ago, it came out that former Chicago Teamsters boss John T. Coli, Sr. allegedly extorted millions of dollars from the union. In the time since, Coli has maintained his relationship with the union. That is, until he refused to answer questions during an internal investigation with union officials. As of earlier this month, Coli been officially booted out. Members are encouraged to have no contact with him whatsoever.
Fight for $15
The effect of an increased minimum wage is starting to come to light in the restaurant industry in Tucson, Arizona,.
JJ Esquibel, owner of Wings Over Broadway, upped his prices by ten percent.
“Stores, restaurants, everything that’s locally owned — if they stay filled, it really helps us to maybe not have to increase prices,” Esquibel described.
That’s the challenge though. As some people who work minimum wage gigs see the prices go up, they choose to stay home. Otherwise, the two increases cancel each other out.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of organized workers in Kentucky fell from 11.1 percent in 2016 to 9.6 percent in 2017. This, after right-to-work went into effect in the state in January of last year.
The UAW is gaining ground outside the auto industry. Check out this article to see how their organizing endeavors are developing on college campuses.
A few updates on the Fiat Chrysler/UAW scandal:
- Many UAW members are calling for the union and the Big Three auto companies to renegotiate their contracts in the wake of the scandal. Members are also pushing for a complete overhaul of UAW’s leadership;
- The wife of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield faces up to 27 months in prison after it came out that she used her charity to launder money given to her husband by FCA.
- More than $30,000 in training funds meant for UAW members was spent on a lavish party for Norwood Jewell, one of the UAW leaders implicated.
For more insight from the union’s perspective, here’s an interview with former UAW Local 1700 President Bill Parker.
Labor Around the World
The AFL-CIO, in conjunction with Mexico’s National Workers Union, have filed a labor complaint against the Mexican government. Currently, Mexican unions and employers are able to negotiate contracts without any input from an organization’s workforce.The complaint asks that employees be allowed to freely elect representation of their choosing and be more involved in creating the contracts under which they are required to work. Due to current NAFTA renegotiations, all parties hope to have the issue resolved by March.
The Canadian labour world continues their struggle to find hope and solidarity in the wake of Unifor’s decision to leave the Canadian Labour Congress. Click here for the update.
As we reported last month, IG Metall, one of Germany’s strongest unions, was in the midst of negotiating an agreement that would allow workers to reduce their working week from 35 hours to 28 hours for up to two years in order to care for sick family members. They succeeded. Click here to dive into what this might mean for the larger labor movement as a whole.
Lastly in international news, forced labor is still very much a reality. “About 25 million people globally were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization and rights group Walk Free Foundation.” This article gives details on how the Thai fishing industry plays a large role in contributing to that number.
Current charges or sentences of embezzling union officials:
- Joan Matthews - Charleston Building & Construction Trades Council: $183,667
- Cheryl Angell - USW: $98,711
- Angela Parrish-wilson - RWDSU: $38,057
Labor Relations INK is published semi-weekly and is edited by Labor Relations Institute, Inc. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone you think might enjoy it.
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Contributing editors for this issue: Phillip Wilson, Greg Kittinger, and Meghan Jones
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