The AFL-CIO will mount its most expensive and earliest ever effort to influence elections this year to elect Senator John Kerry, a "working family’s candidate." In what will be the union’s most expensive and earliest-ever effort to influence a presidential election, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is hoping to get a record number of union members to the polls. The most prominent issues for organized labor will include overtime, jobs and health care.
New union, UNITE HERE, spawned from merger of textile and apparel, and hotel and restaurant employees’ unions. Bruce Raynor will become the new General President and John Wilhelm will become President/Hospitality Industries at a special UNITE HERE joint convention in July. Raynor is currently President of UNITE (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees), which was formed in 1995 through a merger of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. UNITE has about 180,000 members. John Wilhelm is currently president of HERE (the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union), which has about 260,000 members. Both organizations, members of the AFL-CIO, have had major losses in membership since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The attacks severely damaged the hospitality industry, and UNITE has had ongoing losses, as textile and apparel employment has declined by more than 200,000 in the last two years alone. Both unions are currently each spending about 50% of their budgets on organizing.
The National Labor Relations Act was violated by an employer who asked employees to report "harassment" during a union organizing effort. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals enforced an NLRB Order against a company whose employees were told during a management speech to inform management if they were "harassed" about signing a union card with the Laborers’ International Union. The court found that the announcement had a potential chilling effect upon the union effort: "Considering that the speech was made immediately upon finding out about the Union’s presence, without any knowledge of threats or harassment from the Union, and targeted only union supporters, it was not unreasonable for the NLRB to conclude that the speech encouraged employees to report unionization efforts," according to the Court.
Overnite Transportation Company may proceed with a claim for damages against Teamsters Local 480 in Nashville for alleged civil contempt of injunctions governing strike conduct at the Nashville terminal. Reversing a lower court which had dismissed the Company’s petition, the Appeals Court ruled that "even if the contemptuous conduct has ceased, the doing of the forbidden act has not been ‘rectified,’ i.e. made right, until damages have been paid to make whole the party against whom the forbidden act was committed." The contemptuous conduct occurred during a nationwide strike that began in October 1999 and lasted three years. All of the Overnite terminals in which the Teamsters had won recognition have now been decertified, and Overnite is once again a union-free company.
The proportion of employees in the United States who belong to labor unions continued to decline in 2003, dropping to 12.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the private sector, membership fell in percentage terms to 8.2%, down from 8.6% the year before. Public sector unions also lost membership though the rate of unionization fell from 37.3% in 2002 to 37.2% in 2003.
The Department of Labor will soon publish the final version of changes to the overtime rules. Democrats will file a proposal to rescind the rule under the 1996 Congressional Review Act. Under that Act, Congress may veto new or revised rules of a federal agency within a limited time. While the much-needed changes in overtime exemptions have required years to achieve and are unlikely to affect many unionized employees, organized labor has shamefully misled the public as to the loss of overtime eligibility that might be incurred, according to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
A North Carolina newspaper violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening, suspending and firing a pressman who accused his supervisor of not treating all pressmen equally and called him a racist. According to the NLRB, the employee was suspended for this conduct and upon using "stronger language" was discharged. The NLRB held that the threat, suspension and discharge all constituted unfair labor practices because the employee was engaged in a protected concerted activity.
The handbook of a gambling casino in Colorado was found to contain a policy that violated the National Labor Relations Act because it restricted employees’ communications with each other and the press about wages, grievances and other terms and conditions of employment. The NLRB found that the prohibition of such discussions in "public areas" of the casino’s property other than the casino floor was a violation of the Act. Employee "gag rules" are seldom found valid.