THE SACRAMENTO BEE: ‘Fair share’ union fees struck down, delivering blow to California labor

California’s public employee unions were handed a serious blow in a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that forbids them from collecting fees from workers who benefit from their representation but do not want to join them.

In a 5 to 4 ruling, the court determined that public sector unions’ so-called “fair share” fees violate “the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

The decision in Janus vs. AFSCME effectively makes California a “right to work” state, ending a 41-year precedent that allowed public sector unions to levy these fees on workers who don’t belong to labor organizations.

To unions, the fees ensured that employees don’t get a “free ride” by gaining raises and representation in workplace disputes without paying for those services.

But to critics inside and outside labor groups, the fees trampled the First Amendment rights of workers who believed the charges subsidized inherently political organizations that they opposed.

Read more here. 

PERSONAL LIBERTY DIGEST: Employees working with companies to stop corrupt unions

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shows that corruption in union offices across the nation is rampant. Over 300 union locations in the last two years have discovered embezzlement of millions of dollars in union funds (that is just the ones who got caught).

In the past, it was unions fighting against companies, but today, while corporations are indeed engaged in all manner of nefarious activity, it seems that employees prefer that plus getting paid over the way unions currently operate. The movie Four Brothers is a good representation which depicts the corrupt unions in Detroit. But while the UAW continues to be the leader in union corruption, the DOL reported cases involving unions representing a wide range of groups from firefighters to nurses to musicians to plumbers to postal workers.

The mainstream media would have you believe corporations use employees as weapons in their efforts to thwart unions… but it’s employees who are joining with their employers to thwart union corruption.

U-Haul workers are now lobbying the government to address regulations that would make it difficult for unions to organize. According to labor “experts,” this initiative by the workers has all the signs of a company-backed effort. U-Haul has said it did not force workers to participate in this campaign against unionizing, but it supported them by providing the language to use.

In recent times, the business lobby and employers have urged employees to show their resistance against numerous corporate taxes as well as show their solidarity towards recent favorable tax legislation. Columbia University’s political science expert Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, who has just written a book on the topic, said that apart from influencing business policy, corporations are also now increasing using the power of their workers to impact public policy and elections.

Of course, unions have a huge amount of leeway in how, when and where they can solicit employees, make promises and “organize,” while employers are much more restricted, so a company’s ability to “weaponize” an employee is limited.

Workers certainly do not want to lose their jobs and may fear retaliation from the employer, true, but many today don’t want their money used to promote — with ads and donations — political positions they don’t support. In fact, the Supreme Court is going to make a decision on this soon, which could affect public sector unions since they have been notorious in taking people’s money and spending that money on political ads many of their members are not proud of.

Read more here.

NJ.COM – Ex-union president admits role in health benefits fraud

A former union official accused in a scheme that allegedly defrauded Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield out of about $6.6 million faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a less serious offense.

Former Passaic resident Sergio Acosta, 65, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Trenton to one count of theft/embezzlement of funds from an employee welfare benefit fund.

Acosta, who now lives in Utuado, Puerto Rico, also faces a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced Sept. 21, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey said in a statement.

 Acosta served as the president of Edison-based United Auto Workers Local 2326 and was responsible for overseeing the local’s benefit plan during his time as president, federal officials said.

As the trustee of the union’s health plan, Acosta failed to collect money from the local union for four to five employees who were covered by the plan. He didn’t admit to personally receiving any money, his attorney Alan Sibler said.

Acosta’s alleged co-conspirator Lawrence Ackerman, 53, of Old Tappan, created two shell companies — Atlantic Business Associates and Atlantic Medical Associates — that he used to market healthcare insurance to people who weren’t actually employed by the companies.

Read more here.

ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL: Teacher bonuses dependent on union OK

For the first time, teachers rated “exemplary” under New Mexico’s controversial grading system are in line to get bonuses of up to $10,000 next year.

But there’s a catch: Approval by a union – if the teacher is covered by one – would be required before the money could be doled out by districts or charter schools.

And union leaders say the evaluation system for teachers is too flawed to be the basis of compensation. In fact, the head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation says they will not participate.

Executives under Gov. Susana Martinez argue that every exemplary teacher ought to get the award, as part of a multipronged effort to keep high-performing educators in the profession.

Debate over accepting the bonuses will unfold district by district across New Mexico, as local union groups decide for themselves how to respond.

The new program is possible because state lawmakers agreed this year to include $5 million for it in the state budget – at Martinez’s request – but with the provision requiring union approval.

Lida Alikhani, spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department, said the union language was inserted into the bill at the eleventh hour.

“Bottom line: Every teacher should have the opportunity to earn this award,” she said.

Union leaders, by contrast, say the state’s evaluation system is too unreliable to be tied to financial incentives, and they object philosophically to merit pay.

“Quite frankly, we think this provision is insulting to teachers,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association New Mexico. “It sort of implies that teachers are holding something back and will do more if they get more money.”

The negotiating teams for each NEA local union group are expected to decide how to respond to the bonus offer, perhaps after surveying their members.

Read more here.

THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE: Employees of Riverside County Dial-A-Ride vans for seniors, disabled to go on strike

Many senior citizen and disabled residents could be left without transportation by a planned strike of drivers and employees of the Riverside Transit Agency’s Dial-A-Ride service.

The local chapter of SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, voted Jan. 25 in favor of a strike by a 94-percent margin, said Tom Pate, general chairman for the union.

No strike date has been determined, but the vote allows members to do so at any time, he said.

The service — which is separate from the agency’s normal bus routes — offers seniors and the disabled door-to-door rides that must be booked in advance within its 2,500-square mile service area in Riverside County.

The union represents 166 drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and call center operators for RTA’s 110 Dial-A-Ride vans that run across Riverside County. About 1,700 passengers use it daily, RTA spokesman Bradley Weaver said.

The labor dispute comes as a new contractor is getting ready to take over the the service on Saturday, Feb. 3.

Read more here.

FIREHOUSE: Pregnant FL Firefighter Denied ‘Light Duty’ Assignment

A Florida firefighter who is seven-months pregnant is being told she will have to carry out her normal duties until she gives birth.

Nicole Morris, 35, said she is struggling to endure 24-hour shifts as she nears the end of her pregnancy, TC Palm reports.

But the 2016 contract between the International Association of Firefighters Local 2201 and the Indian River County Emergency Services District prohibits her employer from assigning her to modified duty.

“Right now I’m scheduled to work until the day before my C-section,” Morris told TC Palm.

Morris, a 10 year veteran of the fire department, has about 500 hours–or two months–of paid time off saved, which she plans to spend with her newborn baby once it arrives, TC Palm reported.

She’s been given no accommodations, which her doctor insists is unhealthy both for her and the baby.

Read more here.

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Nurses move to kick out SEIU from UPMC McKeesport

In 2018, union nurses at UPMC McKeesport will begin negotiating a new three-year labor contract with the hospital.

But the Service Employees International Union that represents the nearly 200 nurses there faces a more immediate, existential challenge — one brought by some among its own ranks.

A group of union nurses is seeking to kick out the SEIU, which has represented employees at the hospital for decades. The nurses filed a petition in December with the National Labor Relations Board, asking for an election that would determine whether members still want to be part of the union.

The federal labor board, which requires at least 30 percent of all employees in a workplace to agree to an election, approved the petition and set the date for Jan. 30, according to labor board filings.

The attempt to decertify comes as the labor organization has been actively organizing health care workers at other workplaces across the region.

The SEIU has won 20 of 24 union elections in its push to organize hospital workers in Western Pennsylvania, according to a review of elections certified by the labor relations board office in Pittsburgh. In the summer of 2015, SEIU captured one of the biggest prizes of any union in this region when it organized about 1,400 service, technical and office employees at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.

Read more here.

AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION: Do Strikes Kill?

Hospitals now represent one of the largest union sectors of the US economy, and there is particular concern about the impact of strikes on patient welfare. We analyze the effects of nurses’ strikes in hospitals on patient outcomes in New York State. Controlling for hospital specific heterogeneity, the results show that nurses’ strikes increase in-hospital mortality by 18.3 percent and 30-day readmission by 5.7 percent for patients admitted during a strike, with little change in patient demographics, disease severity or treatment intensity. The results suggest that hospitals functioning during nurses’ strikes do so at a lower quality of patient care.

Hospitals are one of the most important employers in the United States. 35 percent of US health care workers, and 3.61 percent of all US workers work in hospitals.

Due to the importance of hospitals in providing health care to our nation, and fears that work stoppages could place patient health in jeopardy, hospitals were excluded from collective bargaining laws for almost three decades after other sectors were allowed to unionize. Once allowed to do so in 1974, however, hospitals quickly became one of the most important sources of union jobs in the United States. Over 15 percent of hospital employees are members of a union,2 representing six percent of all union employees in the United States.

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FOX 9: Nurses union holds garage sale for striking Minnesota nurses American

Behind the satisfaction of a purging items at a garage sale in Bloomington, Minn., there is plenty of stress.

“The open ended strike is a worry,” Hanna Shibeshi, a nurse at Abbott Northwestern for the past nine years, says. “I have my kids in daycare and I want to hold their spot. I’m paying for daycare but I’m not pulling in an income. I’m lucky I have a husband who is working, but it is still a financial drain.”

Shibeshi had the idea to put together a garage sale specifically aimed to help the Minnesota Nurses Association nurses on strike. Part of the profits made will help with the finances for nearly a dozen nurses who brought items together to sell. A portion of the profits, including some donations, will go towards the MNA strike fund.

Continue reading at Fox 9…

PRAIRIE BUSINESS: Striking nurses to lose health insurance coverage Oct. 1

If the open-ended nurses strike at Allina Health’s Twin Cities hospitals continues through Oct. 1, striking nurses will have to begin paying for the full cost of their health care coverage.

No new negotiations have been announced as the Minnesota Nurses Association’s strike stretched into its third week. Allina, meanwhile, has said about 500 staff nurses have crossed picket lines, joining some 1,500 replacement nurses to staff the five area hospitals, which include United Hospital in St. Paul.

Thousands of nurses walked off the job on Labor Day, striking largely over issues related to Allina’s plan to end their union-only health plan and transition the nurses to the corporate plan that covers other Allina employees.

Allina’s September contribution to those union plans ends Oct. 1. After that, if Allina’s striking nurses want to stay on their current plans, they have to sign up for COBRA and shoulder the entire cost of their health care until they return to work.

Minnesota Nurses Association spokesman Rick Fuentes said the union cannot tell how many nurses would decide to go back to work because of the higher cost, but “(coverage) is a concern, and the nurses are talking about it.”

Nurses’ health insurance has been the major point of conflict in contract negotiations between the MNA and Allina Health, which began in February. This, along with workplace safety and staffing issues, also led to a weeklong strike in June, which cost Allina $20 million.

Shortly before the current strike began, union negotiators agreed to phase out the nurses-only plans by 2020. But sticking points remained.

Minneapolis-based Allina expects many nurses to return to work at or by Oct. 1, though not specifically due to health care or economic necessity, company spokesman David Kanihan said. “The number (of returning nurses) has grown pretty steadily since the strike began, really, and I think what that indicates is that a growing number of nurses do not support this strike as a way to settle our differences,” Kanihan said.

About 375 staff nurses have worked through the entire strike and an additional 128 have returned to work in the past two weeks, Kanihan said. Union spokesmen have questioned that number, saying that they cannot verify it.

But “we know it down to the single digit,” Kanihan said. That’s because Allina has to track every employed nurse who decides to work, because they have to be put back on the schedule and payroll. “There’s no reason the union should have that information or need to verify it.” Since the open-ended strike began, Allina has continued to run its five striking facilities at normal capacity using staff and replacement nurses, Kanihan said.

According to union spreadsheets, individuals on the most popular union-only plan going on COBRA would pay $1,060 a month for coverage, while families would pay $2,545. The usual monthly premiums on these plans are $144 for an individual and $456 for a family.

On Allina’s most popular plan — one of three they say they want nurses to choose from — the monthly premium is $86 for a single employee and $434 for a family, according to union spreadsheets. This is what the nurses would pay if they were on the corporate plan and not on strike.

Although the premiums are cheaper on the corporate plan, the problems for the nurses union stem from higher deductibles, fewer provider choices and other issues, the union says.

Other options for striking nurses could be to go onto a spouse’s insurance plan — if possible — or buy temporary insurance through the MNsure health care exchange or a broker, Fuentes said. “Essentially, they have a choice,” Fuentes said. “It’s not like October 1 they have a huge deadline.”

COBRA coverage, once purchased, is also valid retroactively for up to 60 days. So, some nurses may choose to gamble that they will stay healthy, waiting until the day they head into a doctor’s appointment to begin paying for insurance through COBRA, Fuentes said. “It’s very likely some will try to do that. … But some, obviously, won’t want to take that chance and will (purchase coverage upfront) anyways,” Fuentes said.

Nurses are eligible for a special enrollment period through MNsure because their employer sponsored coverage is ending, according to a union handout to help nurses decide what health care options are best for them if still on strike at the end of the month.

For Allina to continue covering their share of the nurses’ health care costs, now-striking nurses must work at least one shift before Oct. 1, Kanihan said.

Continue reading at Prairie Business…