Labor News Round-Up: DNC Asks Unions For Money, ‘Right-to-Work’ Stalled in MN, Miners Win Victory

Mike Elk

At the end of each week, Working In These Times highlights important labor struggles and protests that contributors weren’t able to cover.

This week Alec MacGillis of the New Republic reported that IBEW President Edwin Hill told the AFL-CIO Executive Committee about his conversation with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz regarding the Democratic National Convention. After Hill told Wasserman-Schulz of the union’s decision to boycott the convention because it was being held in the right-to-work” state of North Carolina, Wasserman-Schultz apparently responded to Hill’s complaint by saying, No one cares about you.”

Now it appears that Democrats do care about getting unions to fund the DNC. From Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama’s political advisers are pressing labor unions to contribute to the Democratic convention in September to cover a fundraising shortfall resulting from their self-imposed ban on corporate donations, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Democratic officials gave representatives of the major U.S. unions, including the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Auto Workers, a tour of the convention sites in Charlotte, North Carolina, April 23 in advance of a request for donations, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal strategy.

—It appears that a measure to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to make Minnesota a so-called right to work” state has died. Earlier this year, I reported from Minnesota that labor leaders there were worried that if a right to work constitutional amendment got on the ballot, it would pass. From Minnesota Public Radio:

The Minnesota House tabled a measure that would have let voters decide if union membership and the payment of union dues should be voluntary for all workers. Rep. Mark Buesgens made a motion to send the proposal to the Rules Committee. He told reporters before he took the action that he wanted to get the bill moving again.

It’s obviously not getting a hearing where it’s at,” Buesgens told reporters. It is very important to a large amount of my constituents. In fact, I heard more on this issue in the crowds that I hang around with than a stadium bill.”

Buesgens also told reporters that he believed his motion would be the last chance for the House to vote on the issue this session.

If they vote against this procedural motion, they have voted to kill Right-to-work for this session,” he said.

The House voted 118 – 9 to table the bill.

Minnesota AFL-CIO Communications Director Chris Shields appeared optimistic about the chances of the bill not moving, telling In These Times, Won’t know for sure until session ends, but it’s on life support and fading fast.”

—Also, more good news for miners this week. The Mine Health and Safety Administration has announced that it is going to phase out defective emergency breathing devices. The Charleston Gazette reports:

Federal regulators on Thursday announced plans to phase out the coal industry’s use of a defective model of emergency breathing device, giving the nation’s mine operators up to 20 months to replace nearly 70,000 units.

The move by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration comes more than six years after the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster, where survivor Randal McCloy said four units failed the 12 miners who died after being trapped deep underground following a powerful explosion.

MSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health acted only after a two-year investigation that started in February 2010 when the maker of the devices, Pittsburgh-based CSE Corp., reported an oxygen starter problem similar to that described by McCloy.

—This week, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new rules that would make it more difficult for employers to discriminate against ex-convicts. From the Huffington Post: 

As of 2010, a quarter of ex-felons were African American, according to a recent study, which is twice their percentage of the general population. More than ever employers are using a criminal record as a criteria to disqualify prospective applicants. Some 90 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks, up from 51 percent in 1996, according to the National Employment Law Project.

But this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its policy on criminal background checks to make it harder for employers to use such checks systematically to disqualify applicants with criminal records.

The commission, which adopted the new policy in a 4‑to‑1 vote on Wednesday, said that while employers have a legal right to consider someone’s criminal record when making a hiring decision, National data supports a finding that criminal record exclusions have a disparate impact based on race and national origin.”

—A new study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that workers have not benefited from productivity growth in over three decades. According to the report:

…examining market-based incomes one finds that the top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income — 59.9 percent of the gains from 1979 – 2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share: 36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent” (Mishel and Bivens 2011).

A key to understanding this growth of income inequality — and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation and middle-class incomes — is understanding the divergence of pay and productivity. Productivity growth has risen substantially over the last few decades but the hourly compensation of the typical worker has seen much more modest growth, especially in the last 10 years or so. The gap between productivity and the compensation growth for the typical worker has been larger in the lost decade” since the early 2000s than at any point in the post-World War II period. In contrast, productivity and the compensation of the typical worker grew in tandem over the early postwar period until the 1970s.

—Finally, this week Labor Notes has an excellent long piece on the challenges that face reform-minded trade unionists once they take over a union. According to the story, which you really should read from start to finish:

[S]ome reformers fail. Either they don’t accomplish much, and they get voted out. Or they do achieve something, and still get booted. Too many don’t know how to step off the path of least resistance, and they slide into the ways of their predecessors. Members don’t notice a difference.

Sometimes these slates come into office divided — not every new officer truly wants to see the members involved or to stand up to the company. Or reformers may have gotten elected simply because members wanted to throw the incumbents out. They don’t have a strong base or a common vision.

They may face opposition from their international and they will certainly take flak from management. The economic and political climate — where union” is a dirty word — will color everything they do.

What’s almost certain is that they’ll have little experience running a local.

As Don Trementozzi chuckled, Savor the moment you get elected because it’s downhill from there.”

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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