Supreme union buster?

“The threat of a union organizing effort or strike can be traumatic for any company — which is why you need an experienced partner on your side,” says the public relations promo material from Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers’ former law firm, Locke Liddell & Sapp. “Locke Liddell labor and employment law lawyers have extensive experience in union avoidance counseling. … For union-free companies, we provide union-avoidance advice and strategies in emerging situations,” the promo continues.

Miers’ former firm represents a large association of building owners that has been fighting SEIU-represented janitors in Houston who have been demanding union recognition.

Endangered species?

One case that could be making its way to the Supreme Court involves the giant inflatable rat, which has been an effective and even beloved tool of unions, used to embarrass companies employing nonunion labor. A union’s use of the rat may constitute unlawful picketing, according to an administrative law judge who ruled against the Laborers union in disputes with two companies, the Ranches at Mount Sinai and Concrete Structures. The union has appealed the decision to the National Labor Relations Board.

The outlook appears grim for the rat, reports Workforce Management, a magazine specializing in human resource issues.

“As a management lawyer, I would like to see this get decided by the Supreme Court because there are many employers that are impacted by this conduct,” Kathryn Davis, a San Francisco attorney told the magazine.

But even if the rat is exterminated, there are other animals than can fill the breech, said Lowell Peterson, who represents the Laborers Eastern Region Organizing Fund. “Some unions are already using skunks and cockroach balloons,” he said. “There are plenty of other animals.”

Letter carriers save lives too

Saving lives is nothing new for firefighters, police and EMTs — and it’s nothing new for letter carriers, either. That came through loud and clear when the National Association of Letter Carriers presented its Heroes of the Year awards Sept. 28 in Washington.

Willie Hayward, named Eastern regional hero, rushed into a burning apartment along his Miami route this past Jan. 31 and saved two of his elderly customers after calling 911. He banged on the door before Manuela Perez answered and Hayward pulled her outside. Hayward figured Perez’s husband was probably still inside, so he crawled back in underneath the smoke, got the sleeping husband out of bed and dragged him out the door by his feet.

Richard Bergonzi, the Western regional hero, rushed into a burning house in Moore, Okla., to rescue an 8-year-old child recovering from brain surgery. The family could not speak English well, but he got them away from the house and figured out that one woman repeating “smoke, smoke” meant someone else was still inside. Bergonzi raced in, “scooped up the youngster” from the floor “and carried him outside just as a large burst of black smoke billowed into his face.”

4-year delay fatal to union drive

In what The Newspaper Guild calls “the poster child” case for the Employee Free Choice Act, workers at the Chinese Daily News voted against the union by a 92-52 margin on Sept. 23. That came almost four and a half years after they voted for the union 78-63. The National Labor Relations Board, dominated by Bush appointees, sat on the case for four years, while the workers’ Los Angeles employer, the nation’s largest Chinese language paper, appealed and delayed and spent more than $1.6 million to keep the union out.

Finally, on the flimsiest of grounds, the NLRB upheld the company’s claim that one supervisor may have tainted the vote by supporting the union. It annulled the first vote and called for the rerun. The company fired one of TNG’s leaders a few weeks before the second vote. The delay was fatal.

The Chinese Daily News case “shows breaking the law and exploiting the NLRB’s evident lack of support of workers rewards unjust and illegal behavior,” TNG concluded.

Forced overtime hot issue

Steelworkers from U.S. Steel’s Clairton, Pa., coke plant are supporting state legislation that would prohibit forced overtime, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Working in a coke plant is brutal. Temperatures in the ovens are over 2,000 degrees, and the workers who work on top of the ovens’ lids deal with temperatures up to 150. Workers typically work in pairs, alternating 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off, but the plant’s 1,120 work force is down 400 workers. The 2003 contract eliminated 20 percent of the workers.

One coke plant employee was disciplined for refusing to work his third double shift in one week because he had to take his son to a doctor’s appointment, said USW Local 1557 President Andy Miklos.

State Sen. Sean Logan (D-Monroeville) is sponsoring the legislation. “It’s a safety issue,” he told the Post-Gazette. Even though anti-forced-overtime proposals have been turned down by the Legislature in the past, “I would hope the General Assembly would take a hard look” this time, he said.

Sweet victory for grape workers

Grape harvesters will receive $1.7 million in back pay as a result of a federal class action lawsuit arising out of United Farm Workers union organizing efforts. Kovacevich “5” Farms required its workers to show up every day at 6 a.m., but the first half hour they spent unloading wheelbarrows and supplies was considered off-the-clock or unpaid time. Under the settlement, covering the years 2000 to 2003, Kovacevich will pay 500 workers for all time worked.

Union for Oregon child care workers

Nearly 5,000 certified home child care providers will begin bargaining after the state’s governor, Ted Kulongoski, signed an executive order recognizing AFSCME Council 75 as their exclusive representative Sept 23. “We hope this gives a more professional look to child care workers,” Sue Mackey, of Salem, told the World.

Mackey cares for 7 children, aged 3 months to 11 years, from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in her home. She hopes the recognition eventually leads to health insurance. Mackey said the statewide group meets once a month in different locations to encourage participation of more providers.

Communicators coordinate

Ten AFL-CIO unions in the telecommunications, arts, entertainment and media sectors will work together to devise joint organizing and collective bargaining strategies in the federation’s first Industry Coordinating Committee, the federation’s newly elected Executive Council announced after its first meeting Oct. 6.

The unions, which represent nearly 1 million workers, include Communications Workers, Electrical Workers, The Newspaper Guild, Actors’ Equity, Musicians, Television and Radio Artists, Theatrical Stage Employees, Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Screen Actors and the Writers Guild.

Labor update is compiled by Roberta Wood ( PAI, Jim Gallo and Paul Kaczocha contributed.