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Working In These Times

Sunday, Aug 4, 2013, 9:31 pm

AFL-CIO Invites In La Raza, NAACP; The ACLU’s Labor Practices; Detroit’s 10% Pay Cuts

BY Mike Elk

ACLU supporters march in Washington state. Despite having some roots in the American labor movement, the ACLU's recent restrictions on worker power have left some in the labor movement worried.   (Michael Hanscom / Flickr / Creative Commons)

This week, civil libertarians applauded Edward Snowden being allowed a one year asylum in Russia, but at home, workers for the biggest civil liberties organization in the country say that their employer, the ACLU, is limiting their freedoms in the workplace. From Dissent magazine:

The nonprofit insists on removing a number of decades-old protections from the contract—such as “just cause” language in the case of firings, and the right to a hearing before a neutral arbitrator before termination—that the workers’ negotiating committee has refused to surrender.

The job protections are not the only issue in dispute—management is also asking workers to give up two paid holidays, to increase the amount of time temporary workers can work before taking permanent positions, and for employees to begin paying monthly health care premiums, which were previously paid for by the ACLU. But it is the disagreement over job security that has most upset workers, for whom the civil rights tribune is refusing the very policies it publicly promotes.

Policies such as opposition to wrongful discharge are well known to the public. Less conspicuous is the ACLU’s opposition to at-will employment, that bête noir of the labor movement, which gives blanket justification for most fires, leaving the burden of proof for unjust termination on the recently unemployed rather than the former employer. The ACLU’s website acknowledges that “employers have frequently exercised this discretion [to fire] in an arbitrary and unfair way.” “The magnitude of the problem is enormous,” it continues, concluding that “[t]he answer to this injustice is legislation providing that all employees can be fired only for just cause.” Yet the ACLU has moved to strip its unionized employees of common-law just cause protections, greatly reducing their job security.

AFL-CIO leadership is set to propose a plan that would give outside non-profit groups like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza decision-making power within the AFL-CIO. From the Wall Street Journal:

The centerpiece of the strategy, which was hashed out with union presidents in Washington this week and is expected to be unveiled to union members at a convention in September, involves bringing large grassroots groups, such as the NAACP, the Hispanic civil-rights group National Council of La Raza and the Sierra Club, under the federation's umbrella and giving them decision-making power.

Top labor officials this week discussed ways to partner with the grassroots groups on voting rights and immigration, as well as on issues of special concern to a number of big unions, including altering provisions of the Affordable Care Act that affect union-sponsored multi-employer health plans and providing relief for severely underfunded union pension plans.

A big issue at the upcoming AFL-CIO convention is expected to be how organized labor should handle its growing disappointments with ObamaCare. From Labor Notes:

UFCW, UNITE HERE, and the Teamsters have gone round and round with the administration about their multi-employer “Taft-Hartley” plans, which provide insurance to 20 million workers, including part-timers, retirees, and workers between jobs, in the construction trades, trucking, hotels, and grocery.

In a strongly worded letter to Democratic congressional leaders, the presidents of the three unions let fly: “Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it,” they wrote. “Our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies.

“Even though non-profit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies,” the union leaders wrote. “Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable.”

In July, Detroit declared bankruptcy. Now an emergency financial manager is seeking to impose a 10 percent pay cut on some public employees in Detroit. From the Detroit Free Press:

City officials told the union representing Detroit Police Department lieutenants and sergeants today that the city will impose 10% wage cuts along with other benefits reductions, a top union official confirmed.

The city separately imposed the 10% pay reduction on about 400 members of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association who had fought the city’s earlier attempts to cut their wages, according to emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s office.

Another strike of BART workers in the San Francisco Bay Area is looking increasingly likely. From the AFL-CIO Blog:

After nearly a month of mediated negotiations Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) management held a news conference this week to proclaim it hadn’t budged an inch from its contract proposals that forced some 2,500 workers to strike last month. If an agreement isn’t reached soon, union officials say workers may be forced to hit the picket lines Monday morning.

Following the four-and-a-half-day strike, state mediators brought BART and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and SEIU back to the table for 30 days.

While the unions report they have made a new economic proposal, BART announced Tuesday it had not moved on wages, health care or pensions. Earlier, Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, which represents 945 train operators and station agents, said BART’s offer would result in about a 3–4% decrease for workers.

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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