NLRB: Dems say toMAYto, Boehner says toMAHto

Ah, where would we be without all the glorious political rhetoric in Congress? What’s that, you say… “making actual progress?” Oh, but that would take all the fun out of it.

Today’s case in point: The House today voted 238-186 to pass HR 2587, the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act.” The bill would limit the National Labor Relations Board’s authority by preventing the board from “ordering any employer to close, relocate, or transfer employment under any circumstance.” As the Washington Post puts it:

At the heart of the House measure is a months-long dispute over whether Boeing unlawfully retaliated against its union employees in Washington state by transferring a production facility to South Carolina after a series of strikes. The NLRB in April ruled that by moving the facility to a right-to-work state, Boeing was in violation of federal labor laws.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, issued a news release saying the bill would remove the only meaningful legal remedy available to workers if a company illegally moves operations or eliminates work because workers engage in protected activities like forming a union or collective bargaining.

“The Republican bill sends a message to employers to retaliate against employees who may demand a piece of the American dream,” Miller said. “We should be working to create jobs, not send American jobs overseas. We should be working to strengthen the middle class, not tear it down. We should be working together to send the message that, during these most difficult economic times, Congress is on the side of the middle class.”

Miller said that under this bill, if a company closes an entire U.S. plant or part of a U.S. plant and moved the work to China because the U.S. employees organized a union, the NLRB no longer would have the power to order the work to be kept in or returned to the U.S. Republicans voted down an amendment that would have let the NLRB return jobs to America that were illegally sent overseas.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, spoke against the bill today on the House floor:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says… toMAHto!

“Today the House voted to remove another obstacle to private-sector job creation and long-term economic growth. This bill blocks the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board from telling businesses where they can and can’t create new jobs,” Boehner said. “It’s absurd that the federal government would stop American employers from creating new jobs here at home when millions are out of work and the unemployment rate exceeds nine percent. Under this Administration, American companies are free to create jobs in China but they aren’t free to create them in South Carolina. I’m hopeful that the Senate will join us in taking swift action, and help give American job creators the certainty they need to plan and put Americans back to work.”

Despite Boehner’s “hopeful” demeanor, the Democrat-dominated Senate is likely to kill the bill deader than a doornail.


Measure to ice union spending gains $$$, steam

There’s a lot of money piling up behind the proposed ballot measure to ban unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes, including $70,000 in the past week.

In all, I see just short of $1.5 million banked by the “Californians Against Special Interests” campaign committee since the end of April – just over a million by midyear, and almost $493,000 since July 1. The Citizen Power Campaign, which had launched and then abandoned a similar measure early last year, has kicked in $225,000 for this measure, while various Lincoln Clubs have anted up more than $136,000. The biggest individual donor so far, at $200,000, is Edward Bloomfield Jr. of Manhattan Beach – I’m pretty sure that’s laundry-and-real-state mogul William Edward Bloomfield Jr., a prolific contributor to Republican candidates and causes.

The measure, according to its official summary, restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes; the same restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. It would still allow an “opt-in” – voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly in writing. Unions and corporations would be barred from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees, although other political spending would remain unrestricted – including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by the payroll deduction prohibition.

The proponents have until Oct. 24 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put this measure on the ballot next year. If it does go on the ballot, watch the unions commit enormous resources to defeat it, maybe even enough to push it past the proposed repeal of the “Amazon tax” to become 2012’s costliest initiative battle.


Local 21 fights imposed contract threat

IFPTE Local 21 members in Contra Costa County delivered tough words this morning to the board of supervisors, which could impose a contract with hefty pay and benefit cuts.

Read the story here.

If you are curious — and I was — you can type the names of those testifying into the Bay Area News Group’s public employee salary database and see what they earn. (For example, public health nurse manager Sue Guest earned in 2010 pay and benefits worth $188,669; network administrator Scott Hutchinson, $144,266; and public health biostatician Juan Reardon, $147,774.)

Check out the video of the testimony.


Building trades union targets Safeway

The Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council calls Safeway “The Local Job Molester” in a flyer it will hand out this weekend. (See below)

The trades council is aggrieved over what it describes as Safeway’s decision to hire out-of-town workers and contractor, Tilton Pacific Construction of Rocklin, to build a new super Safeway in El Cerrito.

“Unfortunately, it seems profits are more important to Safeway than local people and local jobs,” the flyer reads. “Yet they want you to spend your hard earned dollar at their store. Safeway’s annual revenue is $42.3 billion.”

Anti-Safeway flyer


Legislative battle over self-checkout alcohol sales

Your quick trip to the supermarket for a six-pack of brews or a bottle of vino might take a bit longer if the state Senate approves a bill that would bar retailers from letting customers buy alcohol through self-service checkouts.

self-checkoutAB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is based on the argument that self-checkout alcohol sales make it easier for minors or already-intoxicated customers to buy, and increase chances of theft. The Assembly approved AB 183 on a 48-26 vote May 26, sending it to the state Senate.

Similar bills have been offered twice before, both by former Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. His 2007 bill didn’t make it past the Senate Governmental Organization Committee; his 2009 bill was approved by the Legislature but was vetoed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said there’s “no legitimate evidence to suggest that self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. … Thus, it is unclear what problem this bill seeks to address.”

Among AB 183’s supporters are the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – somewhat strange bedfellows, given they took ardently opposite sides on last year’s marijuana legalization just a few months ago. Other supporters include several police organizations as well as anti-drug and anti-alcohol groups.

“We believe it is imperative that our youth be taken out of harm’s way in regards to underage drinking,” Michael Henneberry, communications director for San Jose-based UFCW Local 5, said Thursday. “AB 183 is a common-sense fix to the issue and will swiftly mitigate against the major problem of youth using self check to procure liquor. The law applies to union and non-union stores alike and is equitable despite the claims of some retailers.”

Nonetheless, the move toward more self-checkouts means a shrinking need for supermarket labor, the UFCW’s potential members. The union for years has been trying to organize clerks at Fresh & Easy supermarkets, which happen to use an all-self-checkout model; most recently, the UFCW has staged an informational picket line outside that company’s new store in Modesto.

The UFCW, always a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns and causes, spent $15,000 last year just to lobby for De La Torre’s bill. The union’s Western States Council spent $15,348 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter, but Ma’s bill isn’t listed among those the union has tried to influence.

Opponents of AB 183 such as the California Grocers Association say self-service checkout stations already have a lock-out or “freeze” mechanism that requires a clerk’s intervention to verify age before finalizing all alcohol purchases. They also say studies consistently show that most of the time, minors get alcohol by getting adults to buy it for them.

“When this same legislation was vetoed last year the reason was clear – there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that assisted self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. The same holds true today,” CGA President Ron Fong said Thursday. “Our stores have solid protections in place against minors purchasing alcohol and we see this bill as a solution in search of a problem.”

The California Grocers Association – also a prolific campaign contributor that leans Republican, and gave significant amounts to Schwarzenegger’s committees – spent $60,251 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter on dozens of bills including AB 183.


Senate delays FedEx labor showdown

The U.S. Senate this week delayed debate on legislation that shipping giant FedEx says would endanger some of the 2,000 jobs it provides at Oakland International Airport, but local lawmakers say the company just doesn’t want to lose an advantage over its workers and competitors.

FedExWorkers at FedEx Express – the air-oriented rapid delivery division of Memphis-based FedEx Corp. – are covered by the Railway Labor Act, which lets them unionize but curbs their right to strike. A section in the House version of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, HR 915, would amend the RLA to cover only pilots, aircraft maintenance workers and aircraft dispatchers, meaning most of FedEx Express’ employees would suddenly have strike rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

That provision isn’t in the U.S. Senate version of the bill, but the chamber briefly took it up for debate this week – and FedEx went to the mattresses to try to stop it – before the bill was postponed for another three months.

“This provision was inserted in a backroom deal in the dark of night without a hearing, public input or economic study,” FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said Monday. “It changed 70 years of labor law which has been serving employees under the RLA well by having 10 times the amount of unionization than the NLRA … so this move is actually an antiunion move, in reality, if you look at the bigger picture.”

The Teamsters disagree. The union and UPS, FedEx’s arch-rival, convinced House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., to insert and champion the provision. They call the current situation a loophole that treats FedEx differently from all its competitors and deprives workers of labor rights.

Lane says UPS is bigger and older than FedEx but does more of its shipping by truck and entered the air freight business a decade after FedEx, yet structured its operations in such a way that packages are moved by a chain of workers “contaminated” with a mixture of RLA and NLRA labor rules; FedEx Express workers always have been covered only by the RLA.

“They could’ve set their company up smart like we did but they chose to take a shortcut and they’re paying for it now because of a costly labor contract they signed two years ago,” he said. “This is not about leveling the playing field, this is about them wiping us off the playing field and getting a legislative bailout to fix a broken economic model.”

Lane noted FedEx Express has 12,000 employees in California, about 2,000 of whom work in a hub at Oakland’s airport. Giving local workers the power to strike means decreasing FedEx Express’ reliability, he said, citing a 1997 strike that stilled UPS for 16 days. Less reliability means less customers and less revenue, he said, and that means letting workers go.

“There seems to me to be no reason for FedEx to have a special exemption from the normal labor laws that govern that industry,” countered Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is the only Bay Area member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, though he wasn’t yet in office when the House passed its version of this bill last May.

Garamendi said Northern California’s business is “crucial” to FedEx and the company surely won’t curtail operations here. “UPS operates in the Bay Area very successfully with a union and they’re not pulling out, so I think it’s an anti-union attitude of FedEx that’s in play here, but the reality is quite different.”

Oakland International Airport falls in the 13th Congressional District represented by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont. His staff said he supports the provision because it would treat FedEx the same as its peers and protect workers’ labor rights.

The consensus among staffers for both of California’s U.S. Senators is that the provision won’t be inserted into the Senate version of the bill, so it’ll become an issue for the conference committee working out differences between the House and Senate versions. A spokeswoman for Barbara Boxer said she supports the provision as a means of “leveling the playing field for all of our workers;” a spokesman for Dianne Feinstein said she has taken no position on the provision.