On the picket line

New labor regs speed up unionization process

The National Labor Relations Board issued a new set of rules on Dec. 12 to streamline the process for workers who want to join unions. While previously, workers filing for union representation had to wait as long as a month before union elections could be held, the new regulations eliminate the waiting period. Joseph T. Hansen, president of the Food and Commercial Workers union, praised the decision: “Too often, anti-worker employers use every trick in the book — including filing frivolous litigation — to delay union elections as they work behind the scenes to sabotage the outcome. When a majority of workers want to form a union, they should be able to do so in a fair and timely fashion.” (New York Times, Dec. 13) Another new NLRB regulation affirms workers’ freedom of communication. Management must allow workers to use company email to conduct union-organizing activities on their own time. (NY Times, Dec. 12)

Strong public support for USPS

Despite rampant budget cuts, mass layoffs and continued attempts to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, a recent Gallup poll shows that the vast majority of people in the U.S. hold a positive image of the USPS. The poll asked respondents to rate the job performance of 13 major government agencies. Of those examined, the USPS received more “excellent” or “good” ratings than any other. While the majority of respondents in every age group rank the USPS highly, young people, ages 18 to 29, did so overwhelmingly at 81 percent. Joe Piette, a retired postal worker in Philadelphia, says the workers see this as a testament to living wages and strong unions in public sector jobs. The USPS is the country’s second-largest employer, with more than 90 percent of the workers unionized. (Gallup.com, Nov. 21)

N.Y. public sector union jobs under attack

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced its intention to reclassify at least 1,000 government jobs held by members of the Public Employees Federation as non-union positions. More than three dozen state agencies could be affected by the reclassification, including departments tasked with overseeing labor relations, environmental conservation, public housing and health. The Cuomo administration will need approval from the state’s Public Employees Relations Board before the reclassification can go into effect. Susan Kent, PEF president, told the union’s more than 54,000 members: “Be assured we will be fighting this.”

This latest union-busting move comes only weeks after the N.Y. State Supreme Court affirmed that 250 public managerial jobs qualify for union protection, despite Gov. Cuomo’s attempt to strip those workers of collective bargaining rights in March 2013. (Albany Times Union, Dec. 16)

Supreme Court disses workers in pay dispute

In a unanimous and far-reaching decision on Dec. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers are not entitled to payment for time spent going through security screenings at the end of their shifts. The lawsuit was filed by workers employed by a temp agency at an Amazon.com shipping warehouse who, according to court documents, spend as much as an unpaid half hour a day going through anti-theft security before being allowed to leave the facility. The workers filed for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages arising from back pay and overtime due to lengthy screenings. This anti-worker ruling affects as many as 400,000 workers who are forced to undergo similar screenings without pay at warehouses contracted by such companies as CVS and Apple.

This court ruling is a blatant example of anti-worker bias embedded in U.S. labor law. Here’s the logic behind the ruling: “The screening process is not a ‘principal activity’ of the workers’ jobs under the Fair Labor Standards,” so to be paid, the screening had to be “an intrinsic element” of the job. The screening may not be a “principal activity” for the worker, but it is for the boss. To be fair, the worker must be compensated for all time he or she is required to be at the work site. It will probably take a revolution to get rid of this anti-worker law! (Reuters, Dec. 9)