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Working In These Times

Monday, Feb 25, 2013, 11:30 am

CA Country Club Workers Win Contract; Gov’t Safety Delay Killed 6; Did SCOTUS Prompt Union-Busting?

BY Mike Elk

At Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton. Calif., 61 workers illegally locked out of their jobs for two years have at last gotten what they wanted: an affordable healthcare package.   (denn0def/Panoramio)

After a nearly three-year struggle that included an unlawful lockout, Castlewood Country Club has comes to an agreement with its union. From the Contra Costa News:

Although locked out workers returned to the job in October, members of Unite Here Local 2850 voted 44-1 to approve a new contract Feb. 13. It resolved an impasse that began in February 2010 over workers' health care contributions and included a two-year lockout.

On Aug. 17, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board found that Castlewood management had maintained an unlawful lockout of the 61 workers. The judge recommended the club reinstate all displaced employees as soon as possible as well as pay them back wages and benefits.

The new contract does not include back benefits and wages but has a signing bonus and a health care package with a substantially reduced cost, said union spokeswoman Sarah Norr. "The workers determined that was their priority," she said.

Earlier this month, Working In These Times reported on the group firing of 22 Cablevision workers involved in union contract talks. Now Communication Workers of America (CWA) is arguing that firing of these workers stemmed directly from employer confidence that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been weakened in its ability to punish union-busting, in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating a series of NLRB decisions.

From a CWA statement emailed to Working In These Times:

The Brooklyn Cablevision story–as egregious as it–is only one piece of a larger and underreported anti-worker story that is unfolding: the evisceration of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and any pretense of protection for workers organizing unions in the United States. Indeed, Cablevision’s confidence in its strategy of illegal firings and the lockout of workers in Brooklyn stems in part from a recent judicial ruling in Washington and is part of a larger anti-worker strategy that is on the offensive in conservative circles.

 In its January 25th Noel Canning ruling, a three-judge panel of Republican appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) unfair labor practice decision because the Court deemed that three NLRB Members who helped to decide the matter ascended to their positions due to unlawful recess appointments by President Obama in January 2012.

The Noel Canning ruling destroyed the NLRB’s ability to enforce US labor law; as a result, the Cablevision’s firings were executed without fear of reprisal. Cablevision is merely the first company to recognize and act on the fact that the Noel Canning ruling can be exploited by anti-worker corporations. As Widener University School of Law Professor Michael J. Goldberg explains, “if employers don’t like the outcomes of those unfair labor cases or the results of those representation elections, they have no worries. All they need to do is refuse to voluntarily comply, and then seek judicial review in the D.C. Circuit. Under Noel Canning, the NLRB will be powerless to compel compliance until the Board has a quorum of Senate-confirmed members.”

While the manhunt for ex-LAPD officer and accused cop killer Christopher Dorner generated massive headlines, Mark Ames of NSFWCorp notes that most of the reporting failed to mention the root of Dorner's anger–workplace intimidation. From NSFWCorp:

The LAPD is a textbook example of one of the most abusive public sector employers in America today—and this context, along with the details of Dorner’s firing and his appeals, are the real missing pieces in the puzzle.

Noted civil rights attorney Dan Stormer, who has sued the LAPD on numerous occasions over wrongful terminations, discrimination and civil rights abuses, tells me, “Dorner’s case looks like a garden variety example of these types of cases.”

Dorner’s problems began with race, and escalated to his firing over his allegations against a fellow police officer of kicking a suspect in the face. “They don’t like it when you report abuse,” Stormer says. “If you complain, they punish you.”

Just over a decade ago, 109 serving and former LAPD officers filed a class action lawsuit accusing the police department of retaliating against whistleblowers and employees who dared to report police abuse.

In 2010, the Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed a rule that would force coal companies to put sensors on moving cards underground to prevent workers from getting crushed by moving machines. However, MSHA delayed implementation, and since then six workers have been killed in the type of accidents the sensors are designed to prevent. From Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal:

In response, the MSHA considered issuing an emergency temporary standard in March 2011, which would have required that sensors be installed quickly, without a public comment period. The agency changed course in the face of concerns by the industry that the time frame was unrealistic, and instead pursued a longer regulatory process. The rule is now scheduled to be completed in May.

Mr. Main, in an interview Thursday, defended the decision not to adopt an emergency rule, saying it wouldn't have been practical, given the complexity of developing the technology and retrofitting existing continuous mining machines. "This was not something that you were going to snap your fingers and get done right away," he said.

He also noted that MSHA is already moving forward on the rule and has worked with companies to install sensors on 207 continuous miners, about one-fourth of machines currently in use.

Last week New York City School Bus Drivers ended a month long strike without getting a new contract. Worried that workers would lose their jobs if they stayed out much later, they decided to return to work. From Labor Notes:

National transit union president Larry Hanley said the Democratic mayoral candidates, who worked to resolve the strike, agreed the rising transportation costs did not come from the workers’ wages and benefits. “There are so many ways they are wasting money,” said Jean-Baptiste of the bus companies and the city.

Bloomberg and the Department of Education have publicly stated their commitment to bringing down costs, but many are skeptical.

“They don’t talk about how much money the companies make, and the contractors,” said Jean-Baptiste. “Whatever money they make, they aren’t paying us that much money.”

With an uncertain future, union members are hoping that any new mayor is better than Bloomberg. ATU President Hanley said in a statement, “It is significant to us that the next mayor of New York has already recognized the principles of fairness that are required to govern a city, and that those we employ to serve our children deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Finally, several unions are hoping that talks about a European Union–U.S. trade deal could lend leverage to labor-law reform in the U.S. From The Hill:

Germany and other European nations have stronger union protections than does the U.S., and labor believes the trade talks could pressure U.S. officials into strengthening U.S. laws.

“People in labor see this as an opportunity, not as a threat,” said George Kohl, a senior director at the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

Business groups support the U.S.-EU negotiations, which could create a $5 trillion free-trade area, but worry that labor will try to use the talks to alter U.S. union laws.

“It would be inappropriate to try to alter U.S. labor law through the back door,” said John Murphy, vice president of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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