In this issue:

  • A.I. = Worker Apocalypse?
  • Politics and (Union) Money
  • Leaning On Millennials?
  • SEIU Watch, Insight, Scoreboard and more…

The bottom of each story contains a link to the individual post on our site.


Labor Relations Insight by Phil Wilson

Aaron Levenstein once said “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” February isn’t a great month for bikinis, but it is a great month for union statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced its annual union membership survey. And here at LRI we released our annual NLRB Elections Report. And this year’s statistics are revealing, suggestive, and vital.

First, the big picture. The BLS reported that union membership is basically stagnant and continues to decline. Overall private sector membership dropped to 6.4% (it was 6.5% in 2017). Only 14.7 million people belong to unions. Compare that to 1983 when 17.7 million people belonged to unions - which at that time was over 20% of the private sector workforce. Public sector workers have much higher member percentages (33.9%) but they continue to slide as well.

What do these statistics reveal? One interpretation is that unions are doing nothing to increase membership. If you look at our most recent NLRB Elections report from LRI RightNow you’ll see that unions had 22% fewer elections in 2018 than they did in 2017. And 2017 wasn’t a banner year for organizing. In August and September of 2018 unions participated in over 40% FEWER elections than the year before. If you judge based on election activity it’s seems obvious that overall representation should be heading only one direction - down.

These statistics are very suggestive. Judging by the number of elections you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that union membership was stagnant. If you also knew that over a quarter of all union members are over 45 (true), or that the Supreme Court basically gave a green light to quitting union membership in the public sector (also true), you’d certainly be excused if you predicted that overall union membership substantially declined.

However, as Levenstein predicts, these statistics also conceal a different story. What do they conceal? If you dig a little deeper into our LRI RightNow election statistics you’ll find that unions actually organized 42% MORE workers in 2018 than in 2017. That’s right. While they held over 20% fewer elections, the ones they won counted. Unions organized over 20,000 more new members in 2018 than they did in 2017. Even counting workers lost in decertification elections, unions gained over 40% more members in 2018.

If you are on the ground in election campaigns as much as we are you also notice a shift. Unions are experimenting in non-traditional units and industries. We are seeing many more pre-petition efforts in retail, digital media, education, and the like. Unions are still heavily focused on traditional units in manufacturing, health care, and logistics, but they are definitely spending time off these well-worn paths.

The impact of Janus on public sector membership also appears to be muted. While there are certainly examples of unions losing members, it appears that Janus has also energized unions to engage and prove their value to members. Ironically this may help unions in the long run - who knew that actually providing value to your customers can get them to continue to pay you money?

I also think the decline in elections in 2018 is an anomaly due to the 2018 mid-term elections. Not surprisingly the biggest drops in union elections last year coincided with the huge mid-term election campaigns that delivered a Democratic majority to the House.

Last summer any organizer worth their salt was deployed to organize in House districts (not companies). If you pull these months out of the election statistics 2018 doesn’t look much worse than 2017. And I’m sure unions and the politicians they support would gladly trade a few thousand more members for the House seats they picked up last November.

I’m not ready to predict that unions have finally stopped the bleeding. I still don’t think their message (or more important their results) are that compelling to the average worker. There is no question that union representation remains a last resort for most American workers, an option you only consider if things are really bad and you can’t (or don’t want to) leave for a better situation. Most companies do all they can to provide a good work experience for their employees, which takes away any advantage to a union.

Nevertheless, the statistics do reveal a bit more than they conceal. Judging simply by number of new members organized you have to call 2018 a victory for unions. The bets they’ve made on political organizing, Fight for $15 and immigration may be paying off with rank-and-file workers. The situation remains unclear but for the first time in a long time, from a union organizers perspective, I think the glass is half full.

Link & Comments


Union Bailout Update

Mark Pearce

Mark Pearce, the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, has announced that he will not seek another term on the board.  A renomination by the Trump administration at the expiration of his last term in August of 2018 surprised many and irritated pro-business groups. Pearce’s nomination expired at the end of the year, and he announced this month that he has decided to head back to academia. The board remains at a 3-1 Republican majority at the moment.

The DOL addressed worker privacy protection in a recent OSHA ruling impacting employers of 250 or more. As stated by the January 24th bulletin:

By preventing routine government collection of information that may be quite sensitive, including descriptions of workers’ injuries and body parts affected, OSHA is avoiding the risk that such information might be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This rule will better protect personally identifiable information or data that could be re-identified with a particular worker by removing the requirement for covered employers to submit their information from Forms 300 and 301. The final rule does not alter an employer’s duty to maintain OSHA Forms 300 and 301 on-site, and OSHA will continue to obtain these forms as needed through inspections and enforcement actions.

Worker privacy was again protected in a board ruling - this time in the case of a bargaining unit informant. When the union asked the employer to reveal the name of an informant in the case of a violation of a “family night” work stoppage, the employer refused. Although the board ruled that a summary of the information relayed to the employer by the informant should be disclosed, the privacy of the informant, and the list of supervisory personnel to whom the information was distributed, was inconsequential to the information request by the union.

The Obama NLRB was famous for ignoring context in the prosecution of alleged violations of board rules, particularly when its interpretation of the rules would favor Big Labor. The new board is moving back toward sanity. In a recent decision regarding unlawful interrogation, in the course of a conversation with a fired employee, the employer asked if the employee “had seen the organizer.” Although the General Counsel issued a complaint of interrogation, the ALJ and the NLRB affirmed that in the context of the situation, the question didn’t qualify as interrogation.

With the SuperShuttle decision of January 25th, the NLRB returned to its traditional definition of independent contractor status - a boon for employers. The move provides employers that make use of contingent workforces or franchisees with greater certainty regarding the employment status of their workforces.

According to an economic impact study by the International Franchise Association (IFA), the Obama-era joint-employer standard initiated by the Browning-Ferris decision of 2015 “has cost the American economy $33.3 billion per year, led to 376,000 fewer job opportunities and resulted in a 93% increase in lawsuits against franchise businesses.” Further action by the board to remedy this situation is expected soon.

Link & Comments


A.I. = Worker Apocalypse?

Much of the energy at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, centered around the promise of artificial intelligence for bottom-line impact. According to a New York Times article, company executives “are racing to automate their own workforces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.”

According to article author Kevin Roose, “Few American executives will admit wanting to get rid of human workers, a taboo in today’s age of inequality. So they’ve come up with a long list of buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being ‘released’ from onerous, repetitive tasks. Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re ‘undergoing digital transformation.’

It is expected that by next year, 72% of companies will start using machines to do work formerly done by humans. One AI technology expert estimates that 40% of the world’s jobs will be eliminated by A.I. within 15 years. Other experts are predicting an opposite trend.

The challenge for employers is navigating the conversation between the rails of political unrest and anti-elite movements on both sides of the political landscape. That’s no easy task.

See these two articles (here and here) for examples of both the positive attributes of AI implementation, and some of the misfires.

Link & Comments


SEIU Watch

Andy Stern

SEIU never disappoints in setting an example of how Big Labor can come up with new ways to climb into the pockets of the private sector. This time, Andy Stern has joined the Board of Cambier Education, a California-based organization funded by the venture philanthropy group New Schools Venture Fund. At a time when SEIU is pushing hard to organize independent charter schools, this is quite significant.

For a deep dive into one of Stern’s last ‘great decisions,’ check out this article on SEIU’s trusteeship takeover of the United Healthcare Workers, and the ramifications of the last decade.

Speaking of SEIU-UHW West, another one of its units has voted to decertify.

SEIU Local District 1199 may be facing a similar fate over at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where 90 caregivers and union members are missing out on a pay raise.

Link & Comments


Politics and (Union) Money

Mayor Walsh

Massachusetts is considering a new campaign finance law that would restrict unions (and other nonprofits) to the same campaign contribution limits that individuals are subject to. Big Labor is of course pushing back. In the 2013 Mayoral race, now-mayor Martin Walsh received $329,000 from just 22 donations from labor unions, while other candidates on both sides of the aisle have profited similarly.

In Washington state, the Attorney General is facing a lawsuit by the Freedom Foundation, charging him with collusion with the SEIU and AFSCME, and then trying to cover it up.   In an interesting side note to this, the SEIU just settled another Freedom Foundation campaign-finance lawsuit filed in the state. Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe accused the Attorney General’s Office of letting SEIU “off for pennies on the dollar.” A look at the financial connections would prove informative.

Philadelphia provides another example of just how strong the ties are between elected officials (in this case, the city council) and Big Labor. The chart below indicates how indebted the council members are to union interests, particularly in the construction industry.

To underscore the state of corruption in Philadelphia involving unions, politicians, and money yanked from the pockets of hard-working Americans, here is a list of the indictments brought on January 30th by the Department of Justice against Local 98 of the IBEW and co-conspirators:

John Doughtery, Local 98 business manager:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • 34 counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets;
  • 23 counts of wire fraud thefts from Local 98;
  • two counts of wire fraud thefts from a political action committee;
  • two counts of falsification of annual financial reports filed by a labor union;
  • two counts of falsification of financial records required to be kept by a labor union;
  • five counts of filing false federal income tax returns;
  • one count of conspiracy to accept unlawful payments from an employer;
  • eight counts of accepting unlawful payments from a union contractor;
  • one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and federal program bribery;
  • 11 counts of honest services wire fraud; and
  • one count of honest services mail fraud.

Robert Henon, Philadelphia City Councilman:

  • one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and federal program bribery;
  • 14 counts of honest services wire fraud;
  • one count of honest services mail fraud; and
  • four counts of federal program bribery.

Brian Burrows, Local 98 president:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • 14 counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets;
  • two counts of falsification of annual financial reports filed by a labor union;
  • two counts of falsification of financial records required to be kept by a labor union; and
  • five counts of filing false federal income tax returns.

Michael Neill, Training Director of Local 98’s Apprentice Training Fund:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • four counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets;
  • one count of theft from an employee benefit plan; and
  • four counts of filing false federal income tax returns.

Marita Crawford, Local 98 business agent and political director:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • four counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets;
  • three counts of wire fraud thefts from Local 98;
  • two counts of wire fraud thefts from a political action committee;
  • one count of falsification of an annual financial report filed by a labor union; and
  • one count of falsification of financial records required to be kept by a labor union.

Niko Rodriquez, Local 98 employee:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • six counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets; and
  • six counts of wire fraud thefts from Local 98.

Brian Fiocca, Local 98 employee:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • five counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets; and
  • five counts of wire fraud thefts from Local 98.

Anthony Massa, Owner of Massa Construction:

  • one count of conspiracy to embezzle from a labor union and employee benefit plan;
  • 14 counts of embezzlement and theft of labor union assets;
  • one count of theft from an employee benefit plan; and
  • one count of making false statements to the FBI.

Link & Comments


It’s All Academic

Of the twenty major work stoppages in 2018, education strikes overwhelmingly dominated - with the total number of work days lost sitting at 1.5 million for the industry. This surge of educators rallying together around their unions doesn’t appear to be dying down anytime soon; and in many ways, sets the stage for continued growth in other unions in the education sector. Namely, at charter schools and among graduate students and faculty on college campuses. Specifically, over the past month, two Harvard Unions are attempting another merger and grad students at CU Boulder are rallying.

Link & Comments



Who are the winners (and losers) of the labor movement? Don’t guess, just check the LRI Scoreboard

View this month’s scoreboard (archives also located here).

Download a PDF of this month’s scoreboard


Alt Labor

Of the nearly 700,000 private-sector employees who joined a union in the past decade, almost two-thirds were unionized in shops with fewer than 250 workers.

This is an important figure because it highlights one of the primary strategies of labor unions for the new age; that is, smaller units. In the past, unions found their most success in organizing huge groups. Now, the focus on micro units is strong. And in many cases, it’s working. In fact, “in the typical small-unit election, unions win 80 percent of the “yes” vote. For larger units, this number drops to under 60 percent.”

So what’s changed? One thing that we know hasn’t is that unions need money, thus their historic focus on larger units - more people, more money. But today, social media and online organizing have streamlined the process of reaching ‘more people’ and allows unions to market ‘big data’ aimed at peaking the interest of those in smaller workplaces, or at least those whose titles fall under a micro unit.

Technology has given rise to a new set of tools—targeted ads to reach disillusioned workers, text blasts to engage them, online petitions to make demands clear.

Link & Comments


Leaning On Millennials?

Due to the growing percentage of the workforce they represent, labor pundits seem to frequently reassess the ability of millennial activists to “save” the labor movement. Although recent survey data seem to indicate the millennials are more favorably disposed toward unions than the older generations, most of what labor pundits suggest unions could offer as enticement to engage them on behalf of Big Labor could also be used to engage them - period.  It remains to be seen who is more innovative in making the stronger connection with millennials.

Link & Comments


Teamster Beat

For about as long as the Hoffa cadre reign has endured at Teamsters International Headquarters, there have been rank and file members gunning to push them out. Every attempt so far has failed, but there appears to be extra energy around a current movement. This opposition slate came together last year after the union ratified a national UPS contract, despite a 54% no vote among members.

John Ulrich, former Vice President of Teamsters Local 812, is under the microscope of U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, as he faces four counts of bribery for his influence in the solicitation of tens of thousands of dollars on behalf of his union.

Link & Comments


Fight for $15

Early this month, New Jersey became the fourth state to raise its hourly minimum wage to $15. The new rate will phase in with gradual increases over the next five years. Meanwhile, Illinois is one step closer with its own bill, proposing to make the same increase by 2025. The legislation just passed the State Senate and now it heads to the House.

Maryland lawmakers are still debating the issue, and they aren’t the only ones. Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf ,is making it clear that a base salary discussion will be at the center of his second term in office.

Link & Comments


Labor Around the World

The Global Commission on the Future of Work’s “Work for a brighter future” report is out. The Global Commission is a 27-member group of global figures, established in 2017, that look at key issues affecting the global economy of work. These issues include things such as “new forms of work, the institutional ramifications of the changing nature of work, lifelong learning, greater inclusivity and gender equality, the measurement of work and human well-being, and the role of universal social protection in a stable and just future of work.” Get the report here.

Labor strikes across the world are spilling into the global supply chain.

Major labor disputes between farm workers on Honduran plantations and their employers may impact U.S. fruit imports. Meanwhile, manufacturing plants in Mexico reportedly lost  “$50 million a day in unfulfilled international contracts” due to striking workers across multiple industries. In Bangladesh, reportedly more than 11,000 workers in the country’s garment sector have been laid off. This comes as protests continue over implementation of the country’s new minimum wage laws. Bangladesh is the second-largest clothing exporter in the world.

In Britain, unions are demanding that Theresa May drop all opposition to their current proposal of allowing electronic voting in union elections. In return, Labour MPs say they will support the current Brexit deal.

Organized labour in Canada is taking a strong stance against the “federal government’s decision to embrace Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido over the regime of Nicolas Maduro — which has been accused of human rights abuses and of winning the last election through vote-rigging.”

Meanwhile, France’s Yellow Vest protest movement appears to be losing steam. Maybe Macron’s month-long listening tour is doing the trick?

Link & Comments


Sticky Fingers

Current charges or sentences of embezzling union officials:

  • Kevin Crownover - IAM:  $50,879
  • Steven Kristopher Perry - UBC:  $20,458
  • Edward Cranston - SMART:  $28,220
  • Christy Coppin - AFGE:  $52,738


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