• Union organizing results were mixed in 2002, with AFL-CIO unions, excluding the Teamsters, winning 59.5 percent of the elections in which they participated. The Teamsters had the largest number of elections, winning 45.6 percent and increasing the number of workers organized by almost 5,000. The Wal-Mart campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers emerged as the largest single organizing effort. This "corporate" campaign by UFCW has resulted in NLRB charges for "violating workers' rights" in 25 states, wage-hour lawsuits in 38 different courts alleging forced "off the clock" work, and litigation which could become the largest gender discrimination lawsuit ever. In late November, demonstrations occurred at more than 100 Wal-Mart stores that are said to have included other unions and "community, student, religious and women's groups."
  • A new National Labor Relations Board has taken office, after a year of political wrangling, and has served notice that states may not invade its turf by pro-union legislative or executive action. Republican Chairman Robert J. Battista is joined by new Republican appointees Peter Schaumber and Alex Acosta. Democrat appointees Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh round out the full five-member Board. The new Board and its General Counsel, Arthur Rosenfeld, have also addressed new laws in New York and New Jersey that should be preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. New York's pro-union legislation allegedly would prevent the "misuse of public funds on anti-union campaigns by employers." A neutrality requirement is believed in conflict with "federal policy favoring free speech in the context of union organizing drives." In New Jersey, an Executive Order was issued in mid-year which required state vendors and their contractors and subcontractors to be neutral in organizing efforts and "agree to voluntarily recognize the union when a majority of workers have signed cards authorizing union representation." Earlier last year, a California federal court decided that a comparable California law was preempted.
  • The United Auto Workers' Solidarity Magazine issues its predictions about the new Congress, including the following: (1) more conservative judges in federal courts, (2) permanent tax cuts "for the wealthy," (3) a weak prescription drug plan backed by the pharmaceutical industry, and (4) partially privatized Social Security -- all of which Democrats are said to hate. The UAW also has grave expectations regarding labor issues: Bush's insistence on denying basic union rights and civil service protections to employees of the new Department of Homeland Security starts a sustained attack on workers and their unions. Look for Republicans to take another run at weakening the 40-hour work week and overtime protections with the "comp-time" and "bonus" bills, and to cut back the Family and Medical Leave Act. Also on the agenda: prohibiting card-check recognition in union organizing drives, imposing  burdensome -- and costly -- new financial reporting requirements on unions, and passing "pay-check deception" legislation aimed at weakening union members' voices in politics.
  • Consumer Price Indexes rose by 2.4% during 2002. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Index for "urban wage earners" (CPI-W) -- most commonly used for tracking cost-of-living provisions in labor agreements -- rose at the rate of 0.1% in December. The CPI-U Index for "all urban consumers" rose by the same percentages, with medical costs accounting for most of the increases.
  • Efforts by employers to require employees to share the costs of medical insurance remains one of the principal issues in labor negotiations and demonstrations. A two-day walkout in January at General Electric, sponsored by the United Electrical Workers and the International Union of Electronic Workers (an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America), involved as many as 20,000 members. A scheduled increase in GE employee contributions for certain health services went into effect the first of this year, and the walkout was designed to challenge cost-sharing proposals expected in this year's contract renewal negotiations. In a similar vein, the Teamsters have cited proposals by trucking employers to share health and welfare costs by employees as cause for a breakdown in National Master Freight Agreement negotiations. GE asserts its total health care costs have increased by 45% in the past three years, and health care costs for unionized freight carriers were raised substantially last summer for Teamster-sponsored health and welfare funds.
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