Category Archives: labor unions

Factoring in a Freeze

In the wake of the Democrats political setback in November and concerns over the high government deficits, President Barack Obama caught some by surprise yesterday when he proposed a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers.  

“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama told reporters. The freeze would require Congressional approval.

As might be expected, Republican lawmakers applauded the announcement, noting it was a move in the right direction of getting the deficit under control, while union leaders criticized the freeze, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calling it “bad for the economy” and “bad for business.”

But however this ultimately plays out, there’s no denying the proposed freeze comes at an interesting time, as many government agencies continue to brace for an exodus of retiring baby boomers, who now have one more item to factor into their decision making.

Unions Hiring Nonunion Workers

“… even unions recognize that union workers are sometimes just too pricey for the job,” writes Brian Doherty on Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog, referring to the Wall Street Journal story about the carpenter’s union hiring nonunion workers — at minimum wage — to protest at a construction site.

Of course, this is not news to HRE readers. We wrote about the carpenter’s union outsourcing its picket-line duties about three years ago

In our story, we quoted Paul Salvatore, a partner with Proskauer, who was fairly blase about the whole issue, noting that the days of people refusing to cross picket lines for ideological reasons have mostly disappeared.

He also compared the nonunion picketers to ghost writers. “These are ghost picketers, if you will,” he said.

Back to the Board

The backlog of cases before the National Labor Relations Board grew by as many as 600 following the ruling issued today by the U.S. Supreme Court, which nullified all decisions made by the board when it had just two members.

“All of those cases were issued without proper authority,” says Peter Conrad, a New York-based partner at Proskauer. “All of those cases will have to be decided all over again.”

But, no worries. All of the 500 to 600 cases “were considered to be largely noncontroversial. … I don’t think any of them would be characterized as being far reaching in that they made new law.”

That was because, when the board had only two members for 27 months, one was a Democrat and one was a Republican. Now, there are three Democrats and one Republican following President Obama’s recess appointments in March of former union attorney Craig Becker and labor lawyer Mark Pearce.

One bright note: The backlog may make it more difficult to get to all of the other cases that have been waiting for board review.

And since the new board is considered much less friendly to employers than the one under the Bush administration, management might consider that that’s “probably a good development,” Conrad says.

Biggest Nursing Strike in U.S. History

There’s never a good time to get sick, but today would be an especially bad day to get sick in the Twin Cities, as more than 12,000 nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association stage a one-day walkout at 14 hospitals throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

The Star Tribune quoted one participating nurse, Laura Schuerman, who spoke on the need to protect the nurses’ retirement prospects:

An issue of primary concern for her, she said, was the hospitals seeking a one-third reduction in their contribution to the nurses’ pension fund.

“I do want to retire someday,” said Schuerman, who is 50 years old. “I work hard. I do a lot of lifting of patients. Can I do that at 65 or 70?”

So far this morning, comments on the Star Tribune‘s story seem to be divided pretty evenly between those voicing support for the unions and those against the walkout. Here’s hoping both sides can come to an agreement soon.

Fed Intern Program Comes Under Fire

The Office of Personnel Management’s internship program came under fire during congressional hearings yesterday.

A story posted on the Washington Post’s Web site reports OPM Director John Berry was the recipient of “pointed questions” pertaining to the government’s Federal Career Intern Program and its use by federal agencies to circumvent hiring practices.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told Berry she was “ ‘shocked’ to learn that almost half of the federal hires are done outside the normal competitive process,” according to the report. The story notes that the internship program is “designed to allow agencies to quickly hire for certain vacancies, without the need to follow rules that apply to competitive positions.”

Obama has instructed Berry and the OPM to evaluate the federal government’s internship program and suggest possible changes. Considering the grilling he received on Capitol Hill regarding this issue, perhaps the issue is now a bit higher on his priority list.

Obama’s Choice for the High Court

Elena Kagan— President Obama’s choice for replacing the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens—may not be as controversial a candidate as some previous Supreme Court nominees. But the current Solicitor General should still expect some tough questions when she comes before the Senate Judicial Committee, including maybe a few pertaining to military recruiting on college campuses.

In announcing the nomination earlier today, Obama described Kagan, 50, as someone “respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit—to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens—of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder.”

Critics, however, are expected to point to Kagan’s lack of judicial experience as a major concern.

Not much is known about Kagan’s positions on issues in the realm of employment law. But it’s quite likely committee members will bring up her decision as dean of the Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from using its offices. In an e-mail to students and faculty, she called the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “discriminatory” and a “profound wrong.” But in the face of losing federal funding because of the school’s violation of the Solomon Amendment—which allows the government to withhold money from universities that bar military recruiters—Kagan reversed her position on the ban.

No doubt proponents and opponents of her nomination will attempt to spin this incident to their own advantage. But while it’s not likely to make any difference in the eventual outcome—most expect the Kagan nomination to eventually be approved, unless something unforeseen happens—it does, at the very least, provide a hint into how she might approach some of the employment-discrimination issues that find their way to the High Court.

The Essential Nature of HR

HR may not be essential in some small companies as its transactional work can be done by other managers, but it is esential in the way it can add “considerable value” to an enterprise, suggests an essay, “Combatting Skepticism Towards HR,” in the Cornell HR Review.

The author, a student pursuing a master’s in industrial and labor relations and a founding member of the Review, compares HR to marketing — each function is “indisputably essential for the firm to stay afloat amid the competition over time.”

And sometimes, the value of HR can be seen, writes Joshua D. Rosenberg-Daneri, in what is not occuring within the business, instead of what is.

Think: unions.

Labor Professor Cletus Daniel Dies

Back in the day, labor relations was a crucial competency in organizations, with HR often subordinate. But, while organizations remain wary of unions, the movement’s influence today is mostly centered in public government.

One of those who chronicled the movement was Cletus E. Daniel, professor of American labor history at the Cornell University ILR School, who died on April 18.

Among his books were Bitter Harvest: A History of California Farmworkers, 1870-1941, The ACLU and the Wagner Act: An Inquiry into the Depression-Era Crisis of American Liberalism, and Culture of Misfortune: An Interpretive History of Textile Unionism in the United States.

Daniel, 66,  joined the ILR School faculty in 1973. He received the ILR Excellence in Teaching Award in 1979 and 1982 and the University Paramount Professor for Teaching Excellence in 1992. Since 1989, Daniel had served as director of the school’s Off-Campus Credit Programs.

Kathleen Asser Weslock, a Cornell graduate and chief human resource officer for SunGard Data Systems, noted that “Clete had been a professor of mine over 20 years ago; we renewed our friendship recently through the Cornell intern program.”

With even public-sector unions under growing pressure from unhappy taxpayers, it will be interesting to see whether labor relations will remain on the curriculum 20 years from now.