Category Archives: unions

Haslam questions UAW dealings at Volkswagen, wants secret ballots

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a longtime critic of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to organize foreign automakers in the South, on Tuesday questioned the process by which the union qualified under a new labor policy at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee.

Volkswagen announced on Monday that an independent auditor had verified that the UAW had signed up at least 45 percent of workers at the plant, qualifying the union for the top tier of the labor policy guaranteeing access to plant facilities and to regular meetings with management.

Haslam told The Associated Press after a Farm Bureau speech that he wants all major labor decisions at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga made through secret ballots and not by counting union membership cards.

“We want the company to be consistent in what they’ve told us they are going to do,” Haslam said. “They’ve always said that if they have a vote that has ramifications for the company it would be the way we do votes in America, which is secret ballots.”

The policy does not grant the UAW exclusive representation of workers or address questions of collective bargaining, though the union plans to press for those in the future.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told reporters in a conference call earlier Tuesday that the pathway and timeline for exclusive representation remain unclear.

“But one thing’s for certain, we’re now discussing that with the company and not outside looking in,” he said.

Casteel said the union has signed up well over half of the blue-collar workers at the plant, but declined to give a specific percentage.

The UAW lost a contentious union election at the plant in February by a 712-626 vote after warnings from Republican lawmakers that state incentives needed to expand the plant could be threatened if the union won.

It was later revealed that the state’s $300 million incentive package offered to Volkswagen had contained the caveat that the money was subject to labor talks “being concluded to the satisfaction” of the state. Haslam at the time declined to specify which scenarios would have satisfied the state.

The UAW initially filed a challenge of the election outcome with the National Labor Relations Board on the basis of outside interference. But the union ultimately dropped its case after it said it had come to an agreement with Volkswagen to attain recognition without another vote.

“We’re not in any way, shape or fashion looking for another election,” Casteel said Tuesday, arguing that federal labor law would allow the company to voluntarily recognize the UAW as its exclusive bargaining partner at the plant.

Casteel praised Volkswagen for the labor policy that has for the first time given the UAW a formal role within a foreign automaker in the South. The union’s efforts at the Mercedes plant in Alabama and Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi have so far failed to make similar inroads.

“To have a company step forward with a policy this fair and open, and invite engagement, is unprecedented,” Casteel said. “It’s absolutely a one-of-a-kind situation.

UAW qualifies to represent workers at VW Chattanooga plant

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The United Auto Workers on Monday qualified for the top tier of a new labor policy at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, giving the union its first formal role within a foreign-owned auto plant in the South.

Volkswagen said that an independent auditor had verified that the UAW’s Local 42 had signed up at least 45 percent of workers at the Chattanooga plant. That will entitle the union to biweekly discussions with managers and to frequent access to the plant for meetings, notices and other organizing activity.

While the policy doesn’t address collective bargaining, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel called it a “starting point” for achieving that goal at the plant where he said the union already represents more than half the workers.

The UAW narrowly lost a union vote at the plant in February after a campaign that included warnings from Republican lawmakers that state incentives needed to expand the plant could be threatened if the union won.

Casteel said that negotiations with Volkswagen management later resulted in the union dropping a National Labor Relations Board challenge in exchange for later being recognized as the representative of its members at the plant without another vote.

“We believe Volkswagen made this commitment in good faith and we believe the company will honor this commitment,” Casteel said.

Under federal labor laws, a company is allowed — but not required — to recognize a union that has signed up at least half of all workers. UAW opponents like Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam have called on Volkswagen to require another secret ballot.
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TEA seeks 6 percent teacher pay raies; report says salaries not so bad now

The Tennessee Education Association Monday called on Gov. Bill Haslam to include a 6 percent pay raise for teachers in the next year’s budget while the National Council on Teacher Quality, a national advocacy organization, issued a report saying Tennessee teacher is low in actual dollars compared to most other states — but not so bad when cost-of-living factors are taken into account.

From The Tennessean:
(The report) shows it takes teachers in Nashville, Shelby County and dozens of other districts decades to reach the average maximum salary of $75,000 for teachers nationwide.

…Nashville and Shelby County came in near the middle for “lifetime earnings” over the course of the 30-year career: The report estimates a teacher in Shelby County earned about $1.9 million over 30 years, starting with a $42,300 salary and ending with a $72,900 salary. Nashville teachers start lower, at an average of $40,400 a year, and receive about $69,600 after 30 years, accounting for “lifetime earnings” of about $1.8 million, according to the report.

Those Tennessee salaries look considerably better when adjusted for 2013 cost-of-living data, produced by the national Council for Community and Economic Research. Shelby County’s adjusted earnings of $2.2 million, with an adjusted ending salary of $83,500, put the district at seventh out of 125 school districts in the report for districts where teachers “earn the most.”

Nashville teachers also fared much better on the “adjusted” scale: Their $2 million annual earnings and $78,000 annual salary helped the district come in 17th out of the 125 districts examined.

…In a statement Tuesday, the Tennessee Education Association called on Haslam to increase teacher pay by 6 percent during the upcoming legislative session, with additional increases scheduled in the next few years. Union executive director Carolyn Crowder referenced Haslam’s promise in asking the governor for the salary increase.

“This proposal represents an investment in our state’s teachers and their students, but it also represents an investment in communities across Tennessee struggling to meet their budgets. We’re simply asking Governor Haslam to honor his promises and make investing in public schools a priority,” Crowder said in a news release.

Haslam denies that he’s not committed to raising teacher salaries, and has promised to focus on education during his second term. However, he recently said any pay raises this year would also be unlikely: Haslam is asking state agencies to prepare budgets with a 7 percent cut while fending off legislative efforts to repeal or reduce some of the state’s main sources of tax revenue.

The Chattanooga TFP has further comment from Haslam:
“Well obviously, as you know, last year one of my priorities was to fund a pay increase for teachers,” Haslam told reporters after Tuesday’s round of department presentations. “We’d like to do that. We’re asking more of them than ever. They’re producing better results than ever.

“But again,” Haslam cautioned, we’re restricted by budget funds what we can do. It’s too early to say this year what we’ll have funds to do. But I don’t think it’s any secret that funding a pay increase for teachers is one of my priorities.”

He added that “obviously, we’ll have to wait and see and it’ll depend on the revenues.”

Revenues are running about $91 million above projected estimates in the current budget year.

The TEA says teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011, Haslam’s first year in office, when compared with the Consumer Price Index. Factoring in rising insurance premiums, Crowder said, some teachers’ salaries “are worth less now than they were when Haslam took office.”

AP story on union developments at Volkswagen in Chattanooga

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — In rival camps located about a mile apart, both supporters and opponents of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize their first foreign auto plant in the South say a new labor policy at the Volkswagen factory is going to help them.

The new policy, known as “Community Organization Engagement,” establishes formal rules for labor groups at the plant for the first time. What the effects will be is still up for debate.

To some, the policy may open the door to the union eventually representing all workers in contract negotiations. To others, it may undercut the union by giving an opposing group an official voice at the plant.

The outcome is being closely watched in the U.S. and abroad. Other German and Asian automakers in the South are keenly monitoring developments, as are anti-union Republicans.

And the company, with perhaps the most to say, isn’t saying much at all.

“Let’s let this play out and see how it goes,” said Volkswagen Chattanooga spokesman Scott Wilson.

The policy works like this: Groups that can sign up at least 15 percent of workers get access to plant meeting space and regular meetings with management. Groups that sign up to 30 percent or 45 percent of employees get more access.
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Teachers union chief finds ‘surprising common ground’ with Alexander

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, visiting Nashville on Monday, said her organization has “some surprising common ground” with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, according to The Tennessean.

She singled out his support of national board certification for teachers as well and opposition to the way Obama has handled No Child Left Behind waivers.

“I think there’s room for us to move on teacher-quality issues and on really the local-control issue,” Eskelsen García said. “Congress, I think, was way out of line in saying, ‘We’re going to act like a super school board for the entire nation.’ ”

Alexander, who is on track to become chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the new Republican-controlled Senate, last year introduced a rewrite of the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind bill that he has hailed as transferring “100 percent” of decision-making on items such as Common Core academic standards and other policies to states.

He has dubbed Obama’s No Child Left Behind approach — and the use of giving federal Race to the Top money to encourage other policy changes — a trend toward a “national school board.”

But while Eskelsen García supports a rewrite of No Child Left Behind that would do away with that waiver approach, NEA has long drawn a hard line against school vouchers and charter schools — two areas that Alexander has promoted legislatively.

“The senator seems to be enamored with privatization when the jury is no longer out on that,” she said. “Whether you’re talking about franchised charter schools or vouchers, there’s nowhere in the world where anyone can say, ‘Look, we did it.’ … All the studies show there’s really no difference.”

Haslam: Latest VW union developments no big deal

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is downplaying the significance of a new policy that the United Auto Workers has characterized as an avenue toward union recognition the Chattanooga Volkswagen factory.

Haslam, one of the more vocal Republicans critical of the UAW’s efforts to represent workers at the plant, told reporters Tuesday that his administration has been in talks with Volkswagen about the new policy, but declined to give details pending an official announcement.

“I don’t think there’s really any new news in this beyond what they said before, but we need to let them speak for themselves on this,” Haslam said.

Volkswagen has so far declined to comment.

UAW leaders in Chattanooga predicted in a Monday letter to members that the new policy could lead the company to recognize the union as a bargaining partner without another divisive plant-wide union vote. It would be the first foreign auto plant in the South with UAW representation.

Members of a group of workers who opposed the UAW in the February election have formed their own organization called the American Council of Employees to represent both salaried and blue collar workers at the plant.

Both the UAW and the group expect the Volkswagen policy to outline the company’s plans to interact with community and labor groups at the plant.
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Way cleared for UAW to represent VW workers in Chattanooga

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An upcoming policy change by Volkswagen would clear the way for the United Auto Workers to become the first union to bargain on behalf of employees at a foreign automaker in the South, the UAW said Monday.

Volkswagen and the union reached an agreement last spring, according to a letter to members of Local 42 in Chattanooga obtained by The Associated Press. The UAW said that it would cooperate with efforts to win production of a new SUV in Chattanooga, and that it would drop its National Labor Relations Board challenge of a February union vote.

In return, Volkswagen committed to recognizing the UAW, which would give it the authority to bargain on behalf of both members and non-members, according to the letter signed by Mike Cantrell and Steve Cochran, the president and vice president of Local 42. Tennessee’s right-to-work laws mean that no worker can be forced to join a union, though the UAW says more than half of eligible workers have signed up.

The UAW in February lost a contentious union election at the Volkswagen plant by a 712-626 vote amid warnings from Republican politicians — including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam — that $300 million in incentives for expansion could be imperiled if the union won. Workers who oppose the UAW have formed a chapter of what they call the American Council of Employees in hopes of preventing the union from being recognized by Volkswagen.

Corker drew the ire of the UAW for repeatedly suggesting before the February union vote that he had inside information that the rejection of the union would result in the company deciding to expand the plant within two weeks.

It was later revealed that the state’s $300 million incentive package offered to Volkswagen had contained the caveat that the money was subject to labor talks “being concluded to the satisfaction” of the state. Haslam declined to specify which scenarios would have met the state’s satisfaction.

Volkswagen ultimately announced in July that it will invest $600 million to expand the factory to build a new seven-seater SUV as it seeks to reverse flagging U.S. sales. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The automaker wants to create a German-style works council at the Chattanooga plant to represent both salaried and blue-collar workers. But the company’s interpretation of U.S. law indicates that it must work with an independent union to operate a works council.

The UAW’s case at the Tennessee plant has been bolstered by support from labor representatives who control half the seats on the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker’s supervisory board. The UAW, its German counterpart IG Metall and the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council in September signed an agreement outlining their joint efforts to gain labor representation at the Chattanooga plant.

Organizing foreign-owned auto plants has been seen as key for the UAW to revive its fortunes. Union membership stood at about 391,000 at the start of this year — a far cry from its 1979 peak of 1.5 million.

And even though the Detroit Three have hired thousands in the past four years as auto sales have recovered, the new hires are paid only two-thirds of what veteran workers get, keeping dues revenue down. The union agreed to the lower wages and became more cooperative seven years ago to help the companies survive the recession.

Judge rules Memphis can cut city retirees health care subsidies

A judge ruled Friday that the city of Memphis may cut subsidies for retiree health care starting Jan. 1, reports the Commercial Appeal. That was a setback to unions and pensioners who wanted the court to temporarily stop the cuts from taking effect.

But the ruling by Shelby County Chancery Court Judge Walter L. Evans doesn’t stop a trial challenging the cuts from taking place at some point in the future.

The judge’s action means the city can continue with plans to start open enrollment for health insurance for retirees over 65 on Monday — they’ll have access to new alternative insurance plans. The city is scheduled to start open enrollment for retirees younger than 65 on Nov. 10.

“We believe everybody has access to good, reasonably priced insurance,” city finance director Brian Collins said.

In many cases, the insurance will cost more than the plans the retirees have now. The price depends on many factors, including ages of retirees and the type of coverage they choose.

Two of the retirees who filed the suit, Jimmie Music and Swayne Merrell, showed no reaction as the judge read the ruling.

Outside the courtroom, Merrell, a 73-year-old whose hair and mustache are white, said he worked as a police officer for 33 years and is now receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer. The judge’s conclusion “is going to adversely affect us,” he said. “It’s gonna take money out of my pocket that I don’t really have.”

The ruling also means the city’s spending plans can remain in effect. The City Council voted June 17 to pass a budget that cut most retiree health care subsidies and shifted an estimated $23 million to the city’s troubled pension fund. The government faces a legal mandate to boost pension contributions.

Today’s Ball-bashing news release from TNGOP

News release from Tennessee Republican Party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Elvis Presley once stated, “The truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time but it ain’t going away.” The truth about Gordon Ball is slowly coming to light.

On the heels of yesterday’s discovery that Democratic Senate nominee Gordon Ball has plagiarized a substantial portion of his website from liberal Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, comes the revelation that Ball hid from cameras behind union thugs last Friday. Why? Because there were things being discussed they didn’t want Tennesseans to hear, confirmed union head and former state legislator, Gary Moore.

The TNGOP released a new web video highlighting Gordon Ball’s visit to an AFL-CIO rally in Nashville last Friday. (Link: HERE. It’s apparently filmed by a GOP ‘tracker.) The event was “open press” according to a posting on the event but was quickly closed down by Ball and union allies upon arrival.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney remarked, “What is Gordon Ball hiding? While the media hasn’t picked up on the fact he’s running dual campaigns, we’ve been calling him on it from day one. This copy-and-paste liberal talks conservative to voters but, apparently, another way to his Big Labor backers behind closed doors. With confirmation of his plagiarism scandal and the fact he’s hiding behind union thugs, Gordon Ball should immediately cease his dual-personality campaign and withdraw from the U.S. Senate race. Tennesseans deserve better.”

TNGOP swats at Ball for union support; AFL-CIO swats back

Below are two news releases, the first from the state Republican party , the second a response from the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council:

News release from Tennessee Republican Party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—An extensive ground game and targeting Senator Lamar Alexander. That’s the roadmap for unions in the upcoming November election.

Last night, on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” two union bosses highlighted their plans to push Democrats to the polls in the fall.

Leo Gerard, of the steelworkers union, and Larry Cohen, of the communications union, made the comments in response to the host’s question about what unions plan to do. In particular, Cohen discussed making Senator Alexander — who would be chairman of the Senate labor committee in a new Republican Senate majority — the “poster-child” against their efforts because of his strong anti-union stances in the U.S. Senate and defense of Tennessee’s right-to-work laws.

The TNGOP captured the conversation. (Note: It’s a Youtube video, HERE.)

With the news today of his “F-rating” on the 2nd Amendment from the National Rifle Association, Tennessee Democrats’ nominee for the Senate, liberal personal injury lawyer Gordon Ball, is going to need the help from unions in his attempt to defeat Senator Alexander. The AFL-CIO has already endorsed Ball, and now it’s clear union bosses plan to make Lamar Alexander a target this fall.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney stated, “Liberals are already starting to circle the wagons—in Tennessee and beyond. They know Senator Alexander is going to be a leader in the new Republican Senate majority and they’re desperate to get their base engaged. Unfortunately for Gordon Ball, this information just proves once more he’d be a vote for the Obama agenda in Washington.”

Background
• The TNGOP released ObamaBallAgenda.com to expose Gordon Ball as another vote for Barack Obama’s liberal agenda.
• Gordon Ball is endorsed by AFL-CIO, and called for another vote for Big Labor at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant after workers rejected unionization.
• While he says he’d defend our 2nd Amendment rights, Gordon Ball just received an “F-rating” from the NRA due to his support of universal background checks on law-abiding citizens and further gun restrictions.

News release from Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council
NASHVILLE, TN – It’s now clearer than ever. Senator Lamar Alexander is truly out-of-touch with the people of his own state.

The Tennessee GOP recently came out swinging at Gordon Ball, Senator Alexander’s opponent in the November election. The party alleges that Gordon will simply be another vote for “Obama’s agenda.”

However, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Gordon is focused on his own extensive agenda, which includes protecting working families in our state,” said TN AFL-CIO President Gary Moore. “Senator Alexander and members of his party are beginning to become concerned as they realize that Gordon is a very viable and strong candidate for U.S. Senate.”

This comes just as Senator Alexander introduced the “National Labor Relations Board Reform Act” last week. The truth of the matter, however, is that his ultimate goal is to eventually do away with the NLRB.

“These changes are being introduced by the same person who wanted to do away with the minimum wage and is a strong advocate of Tennessee’s right-to-work laws,” said President Moore. “At the end of the day, Senator Alexander will never have the interests of middle class Tennesseans in mind.”

“Once again, Senator Lamar Alexander proves he is out of touch with working Tennesseans,” said Ball. “He is so busy focusing on attacking me that he has forgotten the people who put him in office the first place. Wall Street did not put him in office, Main Street did.”

As Election Day gets closer, more and more Tennesseans are ready for a much-needed change in Washington.

“As we’ve said before, Gordon has made it very clear that he will represent every citizen of this great state,” said President Moore. “We are committed to helping him ensure that the truths are told about his goals and agenda, rather than false assumptions or generalizations.”