This Week In Labor: July 21

Gov’t agency a union buster

A watchdog is needed to keep an eye on the government’s “watchdog.”

Mirroring private sector union-busting tactics — but paid for with our tax dollars — the Government Accountability Office has hired a private counsel and a union-busting firm to help the agency fight a unionizing drive by more than 1,400 analysts who want to form a union with the Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE).

In May, workers at GAO headquarters in Washington, D.C., and in field offices filed for a union election when a majority of them signed and turned in union authorization cards.



House panel OKs union rights for public safety workers

In yet another indication of the changed tone in Congress, or at least in the House, for workers’ rights, the House Education and Labor Committee voted in late June by a bipartisan 42-1 margin to extend collective bargaining rights to public safety workers in every state.

Currently, public safety workers such as firefighters, police and EMTs have only partial collective bargaining rights in 18 states, most of them in the South, and none at all in Virginia and North Carolina.

The bill specifically gives state and local public safety workers the right to join unions, the right to have their unions recognized by their employers, the right to bargain collectively over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, and the right to a mediation or arbitration process if there’s an impasse in talks. Unions could also go to court to enforce the bill’s provisions.

The legislation will pass in the Democratic-run House, but the Senate is another matter. The bill is a top priority for the Fire Fighters union, who pushed for it in 2002, just after 343 New York firefighters and their priest were killed on 9/11 while trying to rescue victims from the collapsing Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

A Senate GOP filibuster that year stopped the bill, and Republicans have 49 of the 100 senators, enough to successfully continue another bill-killing talkathon.



More immigration raids at meat plants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided four unionized Swift and Company meatpacking plants again on July 10, the United Food and Commercial Workers said. The massive effort rounded up only four people who were booked on charges of identity theft.

The union issued a statement that read, in part, “Worksite law enforcement around identity and immigration issues is a symptom of a failed immigration system, and is no substitute for comprehensive reform.”



Judge orders hotel to reinstate Rochester 19

In a doubly rare move during President Bush’s tenure, the National Labor Relations Board’s top Minnesota regional official asked, and a federal judge ordered, the Holiday Inn Express in Rochester, Minn., to reinstate 19 workers fired just before last Christmas and recognize and bargain with their union.

The workers, who’ve come to be known as the “Rochester 19,” were fired last Dec. 21 when new owners took over the hotel and openly proclaimed their opposition to unions. Unite Here Local 21, which has represented the hotel’s workers for more than 20 years, sought recognition by the new owners, CPMJ Enterprises, but was rejected.

On July 2, just weeks after a two-day hearing on the case ended in Minneapolis, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis issued an injunction ordering the Holiday Inn Express to offer the 19 workers reinstatement to their jobs and ordering the hotel to recognize and bargain with Local 21. The injunction was sought by the board’s top local official, Minneapolis Regional Director Robert W. Chester.

In doing so, Davis took advantage of a rarely used part of the National Labor Relations Act, the 10(j) injunction, “to provide immediate protection when irreparable harm may occur” to workers and to the board’s power to enforce the law, the judge said.

In his ruling Davis noted “substantial evidence demonstrating anti-union sentiment on the part of the hotel owners led directly to the illegal firings.” The firings were illegal, Davis noted, because virtually nothing else at the hotel changed except the workforce.

This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org).