Unions — Not Corporations — Stand for Freedom of American Workers

Freedom is one of the most cherished American principles. But freedom means more than the ability to speak your mind, practice your religion, or choose your own democratically elected leaders. Our freedoms don’t end with the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Freedom is also the ability to enjoy economic security and stability. And that means more than making a decent living and having enough to pay the bills. It’s about both financially supporting our families and having time to be there for them. Freedom is the ability to take your mom or dad to a doctor’s appointment, to attend a parent-teacher conference, and to retire with dignity.

Unions provide the power in numbers that allow workers to secure and protect these freedoms.

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Unions champion policies that benefit all Americans. They fight for affordable healthcare for all, especially now, as Congress is considering legislation which would inexplicably throw millions of people off the insurance rolls.

Unions fight to improve the quality of public services. Union member Tyrone Wooten is an environmental technician at a medical facility in Flint, Michigan. He knows firsthand the devastating impact of the water supply contamination in his community. And he traveled 14 hours by bus last year to Washington, to protest the testimony of the Michigan governor, whose austerity policies led to the water crisis in Flint.

Unions are also on the front lines when it comes to retirement security participating actively in protecting public pensions and safeguarding Social Security.

RELATED: The Pros of Joining A Labor Union

It’s hard to believe anyone could be against pregnant women and infants having quality health services, families having clean drinking water, or retirees having rock-solid Social Security benefits. But many people actually are. The privileged and powerful — CEOs, massive corporations, and the wealthiest 1 percent — do not just oppose these freedoms. They rig the rules to undermine them and they spend billions of dollars lobbying against them.

And because Unions fight for these freedoms, the moneyed interests have made Unions a target. They want to use the courts to chip away at the rights and protections Unions have won for everyone. They have now petitioned the Supreme Court to take a case called Janus v. AFSCME, in which the plaintiffs seek to impose “right-to-work” as the law of the land in the public sector.

Right-to-work threatens the ability of working people to stand together in a strong Unions, drives down wages and weakens workplace protections, while redistributing wealth upward. Moreover, right-to-work has its roots in the Jim Crow south, where segregationists pushed it to restrict the labor rights of African Americans and keep them from finding common cause with their white coworkers. Right-to-work, in other words, was created to inhibit freedom.

RELATED: What Are The Common Topics In Most Union Contracts?

Americans value their freedom, and they define it broadly. It is the ability to earn a decent paycheck without sacrificing family life. It is the opportunity to live in a safe community and send your kids to a decent school. It is the peace of mind of knowing that an injury or illness won’t ruin you financially and that you can live in some modest comfort in your golden years.

The labor movement believes in — and are the guardians of — all of these freedoms. So, as the corporate special interests gear up for another well-funded attack, let us do everything in our power to protect and defend our freedom to join together in a union.

YOUR TURN

How is your Union taking a stand to protect and defend the freedoms and rights of American Workers. We want to hear your story. Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly UNION STRONG email newsletter. You may unsubscribe at any time.

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2016: Year in Review

Here’s looking back at some of 2016’s biggest #UnionStrong moments. We stand with you Sisters and Brothers!

NATIONAL…

scalias-death-ends-friedrichs-threatScalia’s death ends Friedrichs threat
In a case known as Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, the U.S. Supreme Court was getting ready to impose so-called “right-to-work” status on all public employees in the United States — making dues strictly voluntary and thus weakening unions considerably. But the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February resulted in a 4-4 deadlock on the case. The threat to labor could return, however, if a similar case is filed after another anti-union justice is appointed.

unions-count-verizon-strike-as-a-winUnions count Verizon strike as a win
America’s biggest strike in four years took place in April and May as 39,000 members of CWA and IBEW struck Verizon’s East Coast landline operations rather than accept contract concessions at the highly-profitable company. The strike ended after 45 days with a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on terms the union called a win, including 10.5 percent raises over four years, and protections against outsourcing of call center jobs.

Clinton loses in the electoral college
In the general election, Hillary Clinton had the support of nearly every labor union in the country, and she won nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. But she lost where it mattered: The electoral college, thanks to narrow Trump wins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

trans-pacific-partnership-dead-at-lastTrans-Pacific Partnership, dead at last
For the first time since NAFTA, a corporate-written trade deal died on the vine. The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnerhip (TPP) was one of Obama’s top priorities, but broad public hostility to the deal — and the defection of some Republicans over industry concerns — prevented ratification in Congress. Trump’s election sealed its fate.

IN YOUR STATE…

Top legislative win: Minimum wage
With unions prepared to put minimum wage increases on the ballot, the Oregon Legislature stepped up to do the job and put the minimum wage on track to 12.50 to 14.75 by 2022, depending on the region. That amounts to an hourly raise of $3.25 to $5.50 an hour for hundreds of thousands of Oregon workers.

Biggest ballot defeat: Measure 97
Despite $16 million in local and national union money, a proposal to raise taxes on the biggest corporations doing business in Oregon was rejected by voters. As a result, instead of new investment in schools, health care and senior services, the state of Oregon faces a budget shortfall next year, once again.

Biggest union organizing wins:

  • 886 support workers at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 793 PSU grad students joined AFT/AAUP.
  • 310 hospital technicians at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center joined AFT.
  • 165 workers at Boeing paint contractor Commercial Aircraft Painting Services joined IAM.
  • 80 DirecTV workers joined CWA Local 7906.
  • 61 alcohol and drug treatment workers at Volunteers of America joined AFSCME.

Biggest union organizing losses:

  • 205 workers at a Jeld-Wen door plant in Chiloquin rejected the Machinists union in a 52-137 vote.
  • 179 workers at Portland Specialty Baking rejected the Bakers union in a 38-123 vote.

oregon-bernie-voteOregon Bernie vote: a mandate for bolder action by Democrats?
Hillary Clinton won among Democrats nationwide, but in Oregon, Democrats showed an appetite for a bolder kind of politics — backing a candidate who rejected Wall Street money and called for universal health care, free public college tuition, and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. In Oregon, Bernie Sanders packed arenas and outpolled Clinton by over 70,000 votes, 56 to 44 percent.

Minimum wage and sick leave
Raise the minimum wage to $13.50, and give workers the right paid sick leave? Voters did it, approving union-backed I-1433 by 59-41 percent.

sound-gets-serious-transit-investmentSound gets serious transit investment
Another ballot victory was voter approval for an ambitious 25-year plan to make $54 billion worth of transit improvements in the Puget Sound region, including 62 miles of light rail and new bus and heavy rail service to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The project will mean union jobs, less congestion, and a cleaner environment.

Madore is no more, in Clark County
Flamboyantly anti-union Clark County Commissioner David Madore — who once pushed unsuccessfully for a local “right-to-work” ordinance — lost reelection in the August primary. In the general election, union-backed candidate Tanisha Harris lost to John Blom, but local unions were still pleased to see their nemesis go.

berry-boycott-ends-with-union-dealBerry boycott ends with union deal
A three-year union boycott against Sakuma and Driscoll berries ended in September, when Skagit Valley agri-giant Sakuma Berries agreed to allow a union election and recognize and bargain a contract with the farmworkers union.

YOUR TURN

What were some of your biggest #UnionStrong moments of 2016? Sound off on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or on our Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly #UnionStrong email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.

Learn the Common Topics in Most Union Contracts

Every union contract is different. Workers decide how issues are addressed and negotiated with the company. Union members decide what makes sense for the them. Contracts are also called Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) or Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs). Contracts are negotiated for a period of time, usually between 1 and 6 years.

Negotiator’s Advantage: Comprehensive Software to Manage the Collective Bargaining Process

Common topics in most union contracts include:

Just Cause (protection against unfair discipline or firing) is one of the most important protections workers get from a union – protection against unfair discipline or firing. It says that you cannot be fired or disciplined without “just cause.” It means that a boss has to prove that there was a good reason to fire or discipline you.

Seniority sets how decisions are made when more than one worker wants a shift or job assignment, wants to work overtime (or when no one wants to work overtime), etc. For example, the contract may state that if there are layoffs, the newest workers must be laid off first. Different contracts have different types of seniority clauses.

Pay Rates and Raises The contract will set rates of pay for all workers, including when workers get paid a “premium,” for overtime, shift and weekend differential, working in a higher classification, or being on-call. Workers often negotiate for a minimum number of hours of work, so they can’t just be sent home with no pay if there’s no work. Workers know when and how much raises will be during the contract.

Time Off and Benefits includes what holidays and how many sick and vacation days workers get — and fair rules for taking them. It can also set an employers’ payments to health and welfare and pension funds. Benefit levels may be set by the amount of time you have on the job.

Bargaining Power Inc. has developed Bargaining Power® Software, which saves Labor Unions time and money as they conduct all of their cost analyses.

Grievance Procedures makes sure that workers get a fair hearing by setting how problems will be worked out. Usually, grievances are filed when the boss has broken a contract rule, violated your rights under the law, ignored a company rule or procedure, or changed a past practice (what has always been done, if it’s a bad change or not done fairly for everyone). Grievances can also be filed for any unfair situation that management has the power to correct, even if there is no contact language, law, or company procedure. When a grievance or discipline cannot be worked out, most contracts say that an independent arbitrator (like a judge) will make a decision which both sides have to live with.

It is important to file grievances quickly. The contract will have timelines which must be followed. Usually the deadline is a certain number of days from when the problem happened – or when you (or the union) knew about it.

grievance-manager-union

Grievance Manager: Custom Grievance and Arbitration Software to Manage the Grievance Process Quickly and Efficiently

Fair rules for many situations are negotiated so that scheduling, job bidding, vacation bidding, and many other issues are done fairly. Common examples include if a worker bids into a new job, a rule that says that he can go back to his old job if it doesn’t work out; a fair system for scheduling, including posting the schedule in advance; how vacations are scheduled; “reporting pay” – a minimum number of hours you must be paid if you are called in to work; posting of empty jobs so that interested workers can bid for them; making sure workers have the equipment and supplies to do their jobs well and safely.

Legal Protections which are also law. These protections are included in the contract because it is often easier and faster to enforce the rights under the union contract.

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Verizon Strike Shows Corporate Giants Can Be Beat

Thirty-nine thousand Verizon strikers returned to work June 1 with their heads held high, after a 45-day strike in which they beat back company demands for concessions on job security and flexibility, won 1,300 additional union jobs, and achieved a first contract at seven Verizon Wireless stores.

“Walking into work the first day back chanting ‘one day longer, one day stronger’ was the best morning I’ve ever had at Verizon,” said Pam Galpern, a field tech and mobilizer with Communication Workers Local 1101. “There was such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. People were smiling and happy. It was like a complete 180 degree difference from before the strike.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) won a 10.5 percent wage increase over four years, increased contributions to their pensions, protections against outsourcing of call center jobs, and a reversal of the sub-contracting of some pole work.

Verizon will also eliminate the hated Quality Assurance Review system, an effort to micromanage the workday. Managers would bring techs in for two- to three-hour interrogations about their daily activities and dish out 30-day unpaid suspensions. In the months leading up to the strike, QAR infuriated technicians in New York City.

On top of this on-the-job harassment campaign, Verizon provoked the strike by proposing to shut down U.S. call centers, outsource work to low-wage locations abroad, cap pension contributions at 30 years, and drastically expand its ability to send employees on assignments far from home.

This was despite the unions’ granting $200 million in concessions on health care benefits—before the strike. These concessions, which include higher premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses, remain in the new contract, though the wage increases will help soften their impact.

“The company could have done this two months ago,” said network tech Pat Fahy of IBEW Local 827 in New Jersey. “They could have done it [when the contract expired] in August … and we would have taken it.”

Instead, he said, “they forced us to work without a contract for eight months and to be on strike for almost two months. Many of us have resentment two miles long.”

verizon-strike

“I’ll never forget what this company tried to do to me and my family,” said Ray Ragucci, a Queens FiOS tech and member of CWA Local 1106. “It didn’t have to be like this. They chose to do this. They’re very greedy.”

STUCK IT OUT

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez helped facilitate the deal, intervening in mid-May to restart negotiations between the unions and Verizon.

But the real battle was won on picket lines from Massachusetts to Virginia. Strikers picketed daily outside Wireless stores, and hounded scabs and company executives wherever they went.

And they didn’t waver, even when the company cut off their health insurance on May 1. “The company didn’t think we would last two weeks—especially with the health care,” said Ragucci.

Though this strike was the fourth or fifth for many Verizon workers—nearly all have been with the company for over 15 years—it was the first time since 1989 that the company cut strikers’ health insurance.

“I didn’t know if our membership was going to be able to handle this,” said Ragucci. “In my head, I thought people might cross.”

Instead, “I think it really pissed people off,” Ragucci said. “And being that our lines stood strong, everybody took a positive attitude, and felt like we’re going to win this thing.”

“There were stages of fear, optimism, depression, anxiety, a swelling of pride,” said FiOS tech Dennis Dunn, a chief steward with CWA Local 1108 on Long Island, describing his feelings six weeks in. “I have never been more proud to be a union member—despite the fact that I am financially in ruins.”

Dunn said not a single member of Local 1108 had crossed the picket line. “Our members, they really get it,” he said. “It’s not because we want to be rich. We started here with the impression that it was a career. It used to be a great career at the phone company, and we want to maintain that.”

STILL GOT IT

The risk going into the strike was that the workers might not have much leverage, given the company’s growing focus on its wireless division. Verizon seemed willing to walk away from much of its traditional wireline business.

But the strike showed that telecom workers still wield real power. The company was so behind on FiOS installations that new customers were told they would have to wait until July or August for service.

That information was revealed to the union by call center employees in the Philippines, who also said they were fielding a lot of calls to disconnect service because of the scabs’ lack of professionalism. (A delegation of U.S. Verizon workers visited the Philippines in May, after call center workers there reached out to CWA through Facebook.)

“The very same managers that ride us, that are constantly on us about our productivity every time we blink,” Dunn said, “they have no clue how to do our job. It’s comical.”

Strikers followed managers and scabs around and picketed the poles, manholes, and buildings where they’re working. Safety violations were rampant, they said—and even put the public at risk. Pictures and videos circulated widely on Facebook.

One financial analyst predicted the strike would cut Verizon’s profits this year by $200 million. Another reduced a wireline revenue forecast for the company by $826 million, thanks to the rapid decline in FiOS installations due to the strike.

Before the strike began, Verizon was pulling in $1.8 billion a month in profit. “There was no reason for this strike, because we weren’t asking for anything more,” Dunn said. “Why do you need to take anything from us when you make this much money? In the end, it’s all about just breaking the union.”

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Rich Corrigan, a field tech and steward with CWA Local 1101 in Manhattan, during the strike. “They’re just turning around and saying, ‘You’re not worth what you were worth last contract.’”

Still, after months of “corporate bullying” via harsh disciplinary policies leading up to the strike, Corrigan said, “getting out onto the picket line was a relief.”

Strikers’ spirits were also buoyed by public support. The highlight for Corrigan was day one, when 150 union members got front-row seats for a Bernie Sanders speech in New York’s Washington Square Park. “We were greeted at that rally like conquering heroes,” he said. “The sense that I got was, ‘Thank God somebody’s doing something.’”

“The public support was overwhelming,” Dunn said. “You don’t feel like you’re alone. We had bagels delivered almost daily on the picket line, pizza from other unions, contributions from retirees… It helps when you don’t have people driving by yelling, ‘Get a job! Go back to work!’”

SCAB WAKE-UP CALLS

Instead of dispatching its scab field technicians from its regular garages and central offices, the unions say, Verizon used hotels. The scabs in Manhattan drove rented vans and other unmarked vehicles.

“The amount of money they spent in suspending their operations, renting out hotel rooms, renting out dispatch locations, renting out Enterprise vans—it was a slap in the face,” said Al Russo, a CWA Local 1101 vice president.

“It’s astounding that a company of this size, with this reputation, was dispatching a scab workforce throughout Manhattan as an underground operation in order to avoid mobile picketers,” said Galpern.

In response, a number of CWA and IBEW locals organized “scab wakeup calls” outside hotels where workers were being dispatched.

These rowdy pickets got several hotels to kick out Verizon’s dispatch operation. But they also got the locals hit with restraining orders in New York City and Boston, on the grounds that the tactic counts as a secondary boycott.

Undeterred, CWA and IBEW locals found other ways to keep the heat on Verizon. Five hundred strikers protested CFO Fran Shammo at an investor conference in New York. Eight hundred greeted CEO Lowell McAdam at a conference in Boston.

Verizon Wireless retail store employees, on strike for the first time at six stores in Brooklyn and one in Everett, Massachusetts, toured the picket lines.

The unions sent a delegation to Verizon’s shareholder meeting in Albuquerque, where 15 strikers and supporters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience outside. And 250 strikers from Local 1101 appeared on Good Morning America, wearing red and holding union signs.

It also helped that the strike started in the midst of the New York primary. Vocal support from Senator Bernie Sanders drew media attention and helped frame the strike as a clear fight against corporate greed.

‘THEY’RE BEHIND US’

By the end, members may have been tired, but their resolve never flagged.

“We’d like to get back to work as soon as possible,” said Local 1101 steward Kim Marshall in the final week. “But we sacrificed this long, and if they keep demanding expensive givebacks, we’ll be out for as long as it takes.”

RELATED: 5 Key Reasons to Back the Working People at Verizon

The day before the agreement was announced, 200 strikers greeted a Verizon executive outside a tech conference at New York University. In upstate New York, there were plans for a big protest outside the board meeting and convocation ceremonies at Cornell University, where McAdam is a trustee.

And health care unions were planning a June 1 day of action to draw attention to the one-month anniversary of Verizon cutting off health benefits. June 2 was to be another national day of action.

In the last week of the strike, CWA Local 1102 began leafletting outside the Staten Island Ferry. Members collected several hundred petitions from commuters who pledged to cancel their service if Verizon didn’t agree to a contract by June 10, and not to buy new Verizon products until the strike ended.

“People that get up every day and get on that boat to go to work, they know what it’s like to struggle,” said steward Christine Cannavale. “They’re behind us.”

The union was also buoyed by the growing number of groups “adopting” Verizon Wireless stores for weekly pickets. “Every day, unions and community groups were approaching us to adopt a store,” Galpern said. “Individual passersby were stopping by picket lines every day bringing pizza, water, coffee, asking what else they can do.”

‘CORPORATE GIANTS CAN BE BEAT’

Verizon, meanwhile, kept adding insult to injury. The company mailed workers a letter explaining how to scab and FedEx-ed them a copy of its “last, best, and final offer.”

“In the last 22 or 23 years, since I’ve been with this company, I’ve never seen such an effort to try to break the union,” said Chuck Simpson, a customer service rep and president of CWA Local 2204 in Virginia. “Upper management coming to the picket lines and telling us something totally different than what the bargaining committee was saying, spreading rumors that replacement workers would be permanent …”

In response, Local 1108 held a “Burning the Bullsh!t” rally. “We brought all the scab letters and the final proposals and we did this big barrel barnfire,” said Dunn. “We had so much stuff, I had to burn the rest the next day at the union hall.”

For Fahy, the worsened health plan is the deal’s main downside. “If you use the health care, you’re going to pay a lot,” he said. “We need national health care—and the unions should really get in front of that one. Health care is a loser. It’s going to keep sucking value out of our contracts.”

Still, he said, “in this climate that we’re living in, just standing up and holding your ground against a company making $1.8 billion a month is a victory.”

Ragucci hopes other workers will be inspired by the Verizon example. “I think us doing what we did just lays the groundwork for other unions to say, ‘You know what? No.’ These corporate giants can be beat if we fight them.”

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #447, June 2016.

FMLA Doctor’s Notes: What You Need to Know

Since its passage in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers – union and nonunion.

The law prevents employers from discharging or disciplining workers who miss work time for serious medical reasons or to care for family members. In most cases, eligible employees can take up to 60 days of leave (12 workweeks) within a 12-month period. The law can also be used to bond with new children.

FMLA Benefits
Not surprisingly, employers – and the so-called “specialists” they hire to run their FMLA programs – frequently misapply the law to deny leaves or impose discipline.

A common practice is to claim that the worker failed to submit a timely or adequate medical certification. When doing so, employers often ignore the regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Here’s what the rules actually say… A Summary of the Law

  • An employer can demand a certification from a health care provider when an employee requests FMLA leave for his or her own condition or to care for a family member. Most employers use a form prepared by the Department of Labor. Authorized providers include physicians, chiropractors, clinical psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
  • The initial demand for certification must be put in writing and delivered individually to the employee, generally within five business days of a request for leave or notice that an absence is for an FMLA reason.  It is not enough for a handbook or benefit plan to state that medical reports must be submitted in all cases.  The certification request must inform the employee what consequences to expect if the certification is inadequate.
  • The employer must allow the employee at least 15 days to submit the report. Additional time must be allowed if, despite the employee’s diligent efforts, the doctor or other provider does not complete the certification on time.
  • If the certification is submitted late, and there are no extenuating circumstances, the employer may count absences between the deadline and the late certification as unexcused—but not absences before the deadline.
  • If the medical certification is insufficient, the employer may not deny FMLA leave.
    Instead, it must notify the employee of the missing information and allow the employee at least seven days to submit a new certification or a letter from the provider. If the provider is unavailable, additional time must be allowed.
  • When a medical certification certifies a need for a leave of a particular duration or intermittent absences of a particular frequency, the employer must approve the request even if the employer has doubts about the doctor’s opinion.
  • The only way to challenge an employee’s health care provider is to arrange for two additional providers who do not regularly do business with the employer to examine the employee or the family member.  Both must find fault with the first provider before the employer can reject the original certification.  If the initial certification verifies a need for intermittent leave for a particular period up to six months, the employer cannot ask the employee to submit a new certification or “doctor’s note” following an absence until the period is over, unless the employee significantly exceeds the number of estimated absences per week or month (an exception may apply if the absence qualifies for paid leave).

Tips for Successful FMLA Form Submission

  • Review the certification form to familiarize yourself with the questions and to make sure the employer properly listed your job title, schedule, and job functions. Ask the employer to correct any mistakes.
  • Deliver the form to your provider immediately and explain what you are seeking: a continuous leave to recover from an accident, for example, or intermittent leave because of an anxiety disorder.  For intermittent leave, the provider must estimate how often and for how long you are likely to be absent. When appropriate, encourage the provider to estimate a substantial duration such as six months or a year and an ample number of expected flare-ups.  If you, or your family member, has a chronic condition, make sure the provider says that at least two treatment visits a year are needed for the condition.
  • If the first provider you ask fails to complete the form despite your best efforts, ask another provider to take over.
  • Be cautious when using a chiropractor. Chiropractors are only authorized to fill out FMLA certifications when performing spinal manipulations after reviewing an X-ray showing a “subluxation” (misalignment of a vertebra). If your chiropractor does not have an X-ray, make sure to obtain one.
  • Instruct the provider’s office to fax or send you the completed form.  If there are mistakes or omissions, ask the provider to make corrections.
  • Fax or deliver the form to your employer, keeping a copy for yourself.
  • If it appears that your certification will be late, explain the circumstances to your employer before the deadline, including your efforts to overcome the delay, and ask for an extension.

 

 

 

Source: LaborNotes