The FAA held a public hearing Thursday, August 8th to hear comments from the public. Also in attendance were an alliance of labor unions gathered in San Bernardino to fight for a community benefits agreement at EastGate that would guarantee good jobs for local residents against air and noise pollution that the development would cause. Eastgate is being developed by Hillwood, the same company that recently developed a regional air hub for Amazon in Ft. Worth, Texas. POWER TO THE PEOPLE! Watch Hearing Click Below
Thank you to everyone who attended the Amazon Organizing meeting today. Special thanks to IBT Organizer Shaun Martinez for educating us and giving us the tools to help Amazon workers. Unity in Strength ??
Congratulations to Brother Ernesto Ontiveros on his 50th year with Coca Cola. Shop Steward Joe Rangel presented him with a watch. Thanks Brothers!
Justice for Port Truck Drivers Teamsters Port Division
TEAMSTERS, NFI WORKERS CALL ON NEW JERSEY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY TO RESCIND NFI’S $80 MILLION TAX BREAK
Teamsters, NFI Workers, Community Allies Speak Out at NJEDA Board Meeting; Deliver Petition Calling for Freeze of NFI’s Tax Giveaways (TRENTON, N.J.) – Today, Teamsters and NFI workers called on the NJEDA Board at its monthly meeting to rescind tax breaks to NFI, a lawbreaking company that stands to benefit from nearly $80 million in tax breaks at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers through the Grow NJ Program, which is under intense scrutiny. Teamsters International Vice President At Large and Port Division Director Fred Potter joined NFI/Cal Cartage Express port truck drivers Jesus Maldonado and Jose Garcia, and representatives from a number of worker and community advocacy organizations, in calling on the NJEDA to freeze NFI’s tax breaks. “NFI lied in its application to get state benefits. NFI failed to disclose its prior conviction for three counts of wire fraud, and lawsuits that were pending at the time of its application alleging wage and hour violations. This is a company that violates the law and workers’ rights and has stolen workers’ wages. NFI doesn’t deserve a tax giveaway,” Potter said. “This is a company that has a criminal history and avoids paying taxes and what it owes workers. Why should this company be rewarded with millions in tax breaks off the backs of 55,000 New Jersey Teamsters and the residents of this state? Now is the time for leadership. We urge you to take this opportunity to rescind NFI’s tax windfall.” Jesus Maldonado has worked as a port truck driver at NFI/Cal Cartage Express in California for 10 years and says he has been exploited the entire time he has worked for the company. “We’re only asking for what’s fair. We’re asking for a living wage, to be properly classified as employees and to have dignity and respect on the job. We have a petition with over a thousand signatures supporting us in this fight. NFI/Cal Cartage Express abuses its work force, yet gets rewarded with $80 million in tax breaks. We call on the NJEDA to take action and stop rewarding lawbreakers,” Maldonado said. “I, too, have experienced the same abuse, intimidation and misclassification at NFI/Cal Cartage Express, like my co-worker Jesus described,” Garcia said. “This company has stolen millions in wages from workers and is lining their pockets off our hard work. I’m here to speak out against this abuse and ask the NJEDA to stop rewarding this company,” Garcia said. To view and sign on to the petition Teamsters and NFI workers delivered to the NJEDA, visit: http://ibt.io/NFIpetition. Representatives from Working Families Alliance, Make the Road, Workers United and SEIU 32BJ also called on the NJEDA to freeze NFI’s tax breaks. Rescinding NFI’s tax breaks would not be unprecedented. Potter noted that another corporation with a large Grow NJ reward was recently found to have serious deficiencies in its application, and the NJEDA took decisive action, suspending its tax breaks while a full investigation could be completed. A June 17 NJEDA Task Force report validated concerns raised by the Teamsters over NFI’s tax breaks. Those concerns were raised by the Teamsters in a letter sent to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and NJEDA Ethics Liaison Officer Frederick Cole urging them to investigate, prosecute and sanction NFI in connection with its application through the Grow NJ program. The letter was signed by Potter, who is also President of Teamsters Local 469 in Hazlet, N.J. In the letter, the Teamsters provide evidence that demonstrates NFI, a national third-party logistics provider headquartered in New Jersey, lied in its application for taxpayer funds. The letter states that NFI’s history of violating workers’ rights should bar it from receiving state financial assistance. The company has violated laws governing hours of labor and minimum wage standards, avoided paying legally required overtime compensation, and illegally misclassified hundreds of port workers in California by claiming they are independent contractors. By misclassifying its employees, the company avoided its responsibility to cover social security, workers’ compensation and other business expenses. As a transportation and logistics company, NFI must comply with laws governing “occupations of regulated industries,” as referenced in the NJEDA’s regulations. In the year preceding NFI’s Grow NJ application, the company was cited for more than 100 violations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. During that year alone, NFI violated driving safety standards, state and local speed limit laws, and hours-of-service standards, which are intended to limit the operation of commercial vehicles by drivers who are sick or tired. ###
Uber and Lyft try to blunt a court ruling that their drivers are employees
By Michael Hiltzik Jul 11, 2019 | 7:10 AM
It was clear almost from the first that the California Supreme Court, in a ruling in April 2018, threw the business models of Uber and Lyft companies for a loop. The thrust of the ruling was that drivers for those companies had been improperly classified as “independent contractors” when in fact they’re employees, entitled to most of the benefits and legal protections employees receive. Things only looked worse for the companies when the Legislature started considering a bill to enshrine the court ruling into law. So the companies are trying to blunt the court decision and water down the bill. They argue that treating their drivers as employees will be bad for the drivers — and, sure, for themselves too. We’re not interested in and haven’t been engaged in anything that would undermine the court decision or AB 5 when it passes. Bob Schoonover, SEIU Share quote & link It’s a bad argument, rationalized by some flagrantly misleading claims. You’ll be hearing these claims quite a bit in coming weeks as the measure, AB 5, makes its way through the state Senate. (It was passed by the Assembly on May 29 and the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday.) Don’t be snowed. The question underlying the court decision and AB 5 may be the paramount issue confronting the working class in America today: the trend toward eviscerating workplace rights by classifying workers as independent contractors. Such classification — misclassification, labor advocates assert — deprives workers of such traditional workplace rights as wage and hour safeguards, compensation for on-the-job injuries, health and retirement benefits, and the right of collective bargaining (that is, unionization). As was predicted, Uber’s IPO means you’ll be paying higher fares for your rides May 31, 2019 | 9:40 AM Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft aren’t alone — lots of start-ups have sprung up in the gig economy to provide occasional work — but they’ve been at the forefront of the movement. In fact, their business model is dependent on circumventing the responsibilities of employers toward the hundreds of thousands of drivers who provide services to their customers, the passengers. Not only do they avoid the pay and benefit standards of traditional employers, but they force drivers to cover daily expenses such as fuel, wear and tear on their vehicles, and insurance. The companies are candid about how much they rely on what is, at heart, a sham. “It’s no secret that a change to the employment classification of ride-share drivers would pose a risk to our businesses,” Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Lyft Chief Executive Logan Green and Lyft President John Zimmer wrote June 12 in an unusual joint op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. The risk in California would be especially dire for the newly public companies, both of which lost more than $1 billion in the first quarter of this year alone. Uber has disclosed that Los Angeles and the Bay Area are two of its top three markets in the U.S. California’s initiative, moreover, might well be followed by actions in other states. They proposed that “we update century-old employment laws” — carving out exceptions that plainly would benefit their own companies. They’ve put this notion forward in meetings attended by California labor officials, but labor sources say no one has placed any sort of formal proposal on the table. The unions say that any change aimed at undermining the right of collective bargaining and the application of existing employment regulations is a nonstarter. “We’re not interested in and haven’t been engaged in anything that would undermine the court decision or AB 5 when it passes,” says Bob Schoonover, president of the state council of the Service Employees International Union. Flexibility: Uber drivers (gray) tend to work more off-hours and weekends than conventional workers (red). But how much is that flexibility worth? (Chen et al, NBER) The argument by Uber and Lyft that employee classification will harm drivers centers on a claim that it will deprive them of “flexibility” to set their own hours, which the companies say is the paramount attraction of their work. Instead, they say, an employee structure would require them to slot drivers into set shifts. Yet there are grounds for questioning how much drivers really value “flexibility,” or how much they’re willing to give up in exchange for it. “Our flexibility has always been under threat,” says Nicole Moore, a Lyft driver in Los Angeles and an organizer of Rideshare Drivers United, an independent group. “They can and they do change the flexibility of our work all the time” by changing fares to prompt drivers to drive at certain times and in certain locations. “Now they’re using it to protect themselves from being obligated to pay us a living wage and to follow basic labor rules.” In any event, nothing in state or federal law requires drivers to give up their “flexibility” if they’re classified as employees. There’s certainly no dearth of employers who accommodate “flex-time” arrangements for workers; the structure of part-time work is infinitely variable. “Lyft and Uber today decide whether or not these workers are flexible,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the sponsor of AB 5, told the Senate Labor Committee during a hearing on her bill Wednesday. “That is in their hands, not in the law.” Lyft’s IPO disclosure shows it’s not close to profitability and has no good way to get there Mar 07, 2019 | 6:15 AM It may be true that flexibility under an employer-employee arrangement would be inconvenient for the employers. But it’s hardly impossible. The companies’ “flexibility” argument is merely being bootstrapped to support their desire to pay drivers as little as they can get away with while saddling the drivers with their own expenses. The debate in California centers on the state Supreme Court's so-called Dynamex decision. The case is named after Dynamex International, a package and document delivery company that in 2004 abruptly reclassified all its drivers as independent contractors, not employees. Dynamex didn’t change the drivers’ work responsibilities, but removed them from the jurisdiction of California wage and hour rules. From then on, the drivers were required to provide their own vehicles and pay for all their own expenses, such as fuel, tolls, wear and tear on their vehicles and insurance, including workers’ compensation insurance. They no longer received overtime pay. There was no doubt about the reason for the change: “Such a conversion would generate economic savings for the company,” the Supreme Court observed. Wage and hour rules should not be lightly discarded, the court said, since “workers’ fundamental need to earn income for their families’ survival may lead them to accept work for substandard wages or working conditions.” The Dynamex ruling enshrined the “ABC test” into California law as a guide to the difference between employees and independent contractors. The test says workers are employees unless they’re (A) independent of the hiring entity’s control and direction about how they perform their work; (B) engaged in work different from the hiring entity’s business; and (C) conducting an independent business in the same field as the work they’re doing for the hiring entity. In other words, a plumber hired by a clothing store to fix a leaky bathroom: independent contractor. A driver picking up passengers for Uber: employee. Though they might start and end their workday when they like, Uber and Lyft drivers are subject to numerous corporate rules about their conduct on the job, the condition of their vehicles, the rate at which they accept or reject proffered trips and other issues. Their work is manifestly central to the employers’ business, and the companies themselves acknowledge that many drivers are earning income to supplement other jobs. The Dynamex ruling left a few loose ends, some of which would be tied up by AB 5. The measure would apply the ABC test to a wide range of workplaces and to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage, in addition to wage and hour rules alone. It also would carve out a roster of professions from the test, including doctors, real estate salespersons, securities and insurance brokers and hairstylists who rent their booths from salon owners. Employers say gig workers should have better retirements — as long as they're not 'employees' Feb 12, 2018 | 11:10 AM What AB 5 can’t do is guarantee drivers the right of collective bargaining. That’s because the National Labor Relations Board, through its general counsel’s office, ruled in April that Uber drivers are independent contractors and therefore ineligible to unionize. The NLRB memo took an opposite tack from the way the Obama-era board was heading. “I think the drivers are really employees under the National Labor Relations Act,” argues William B. Gould IV, chairman of the NLRB under President Clinton and an emeritus law professor a Stanford University. “But that door is shut for at least the next two years” because of the general counsel’s decision, which is unreviewable in court. That may be one reason the unions are willing to talk to the companies at all, in search of a representation formula that resembles unionization. The unions say, however, that a possibility raised by the companies of an “association” that could parley over issues such as standards for banning drivers from their network but not over pay, and without the right to strike, falls short of what they’re seeking. What’s really needed in the gig economy isn’t a new definition of work, but enforcement of the rights enjoyed by employees. In terms of compensation, the ride-hailing industry is among the most top-heavy in America. Uber’s Khosrowshahi collected $45.3 million in 2018; Green and Zimmer about $42 million each in 2017, according to the companies’ financial disclosures. Meanwhile, drivers are collecting pay close to or below minimum wage after expenses. The driver community site Ridester says its driver survey indicates that half of all Uber drivers collect less than $10 an hour after expenses. A study done for the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission by Michael Reich of UC Berkeley and James Parrott of the New School placed median hourly pay for Uber and Lyft drivers in 2017 at roughly $14 an hour, net of expenses. (Lyft says its drivers earn an average of $30.84 an hour from the time they accept until they drop off a passenger, but that’s before expenses.) “We have companies where CEOs are making $45 million a year … and their drivers are sleeping in their cars,” Gonzalez said at Wednesday’s Senate hearing. “There is something fundamentally wrong when we have allowed this situation to get to this point.” California’s unions must recognize that at the moment, they are operating from a position of strength. AB 5 would allow them to consolidate that position, and any thought of compromising with the gig economy companies should be rejected out of hand. Should we sympathize with the lament of Uber and Lyft that making their drivers employees would kill their business model? Karen Heisler doesn’t think so. The co-owner of Mission Pie in San Francisco described at Wednesday’s hearing how she struggles to compete with app-based services that use “independent contractors” to deliver food, while she pays a living wage and benefits that keep her employees off taxpayer-funded safety net programs. “If you have a business model that intrinsically exploits workers and endows you with a competitive advantage based on shirking responsibilities and violating law,” she said, “maybe you need to reevaluate that model.”
Justice for Port Truck Drivers Teamsters Port Division
PRESS RELEASE FOR: Wednesday, June 19, 2019
TEAMSTERS CALL ON N.J. EDA TO IMMEDIATELY SUSPEND NFI’S $80 MILLION TAX BREAK Governor’s Independent Task Force Report Found NFI was Awarded $80 Million in Tax Breaks Despite “Potentially Fraudulent” Application for Benefits (HAZLET, N.J.) – The Teamsters Union is calling on New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) to suspend nearly $80 million in tax breaks given to NFI, L.P., through the Grow NJ tax incentive program. This request follows Monday’s release of the Governor’s Task Force report on EDA Tax Incentives, which affirms union members’ concerns over misrepresentations by the company in its application for tax benefits. In the report, the Task Force found that “. . . at the crux of the matter, NFI’s application contained potential misrepresentations and a potentially fraudulent CEO certification.” On Thursday, June 13, the Teamsters Union sent Attorney General General Gurbir Grewal and New Jersey Economic Development Authority Ethics Liaison Officer Frederick Cole a letter, requesting that they investigate, prosecute and sanction NFI, L.P., in connection with its application for state benefits. The letter was signed by Fred Potter, Teamsters International Vice President At-Large and Director of the Teamsters Port Division. Copies of the letter were also sent to the Governor’s Task Force on EDA Tax Incentives. “We raised serious concerns about NFI’s misrepresentations to the state of New Jersey and the company’s long track record of violating labor laws across the country. This Task Force report is further confirmation that NFI is an irresponsible company that lied to get a tax giveaway to the tune of nearly $80 million. This is hard-earned taxpayer money, and NFI is a law-breaker that is not deserving of this benefit,” said Teamsters International Vice President Fred Potter, who is also President of Teamsters Local 469 in Hazlet, N.J. “The EDA has already shown that when there are serious questions regarding the truthfulness of a company’s application, it’s appropriate to suspend the tax break. We are demanding that the EDA take immediate action to suspend NFI’s tax breaks while this matter is investigated by the Attorney General.” More than 55,000 Teamsters live and pay taxes in New Jersey, working in critical industries, including transportation, logistics and public services. New Jersey Teamsters believe that their state’s limited resources should not be used to benefit irresponsible, law-breaking employers. NFI, a national third-party logistics provider headquartered in New Jersey, lied in its application for taxpayer funds when it failed to disclose its prior conviction for three counts of wire fraud and failed to disclose pending legal proceedings alleging violations of wage and hour laws to the state’s Economic Development Authority, which administers the Grow NJ program. The Teamsters’ letter states that NFI’s history of violating workers’ rights should bar it from receiving state financial assistance. The company has violated laws governing hours of labor and minimum wage standards, avoided paying legally required overtime compensation, and illegally misclassified hundreds of port workers in California by claiming they are independent contractors. By misclassifying its employees, the company avoided its responsibility to cover social security, workers’ compensation and other business expenses. “NFI has a history of violating workers’ rights, from California to Pennsylvania and around the country. Companies that contract with NFI need to be aware of the operational risks that come with doing business with a law-breaking company that is under public scrutiny for its fraudulent behavior,” Potter said. ###
President Ronald Reagan signing 1983 legislation that he negotiated with the House’s top Democrat, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., behind his left shoulder, to preserve Social Security.CreditGetty Images Image President Ronald Reagan signing 1983 legislation that he negotiated with the House’s top Democrat, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., behind his left shoulder, to preserve Social Security.CreditCreditGetty Images By Jeff Sommer June 12, 2019
Chris Isidore June 9, 2019 CNN The Volkswagen plant would boost UAW's flagging membership, way down because of plant closings and automation. It represented more than 1 million people at auto assembly plants in the 1980s, but only 155,000 at GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler today. , The membership and influence of the United Auto Workers union has been shrinking for decades. In the latest effort to reverse that trend, the union will try to win a vote this week at Volkswagen's only US plant. More than 1,700 hourly workers at the Volkswagen (VLKAF) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will get to vote Wednesday, Thursday or Friday on whether they want the union to represent them. The union narrowly lost a similar vote five years ago. A win for the union would be historic. Foreign automakers, such as VW and Toyota (TM), own 31 factories and produce nearly half of the cars built in the United States. None of those foreign-owned plants have ever been unionized. Workers there are generally paid less than workers represented by the UAW. The Volkswagen plant would boost UAW's flagging membership. It represented more than 1 million people at auto assembly plants in the 1980s, but only 155,000 at GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler today. Plant closings, automation, the shift of production to Mexico, and the rise of foreign companies have taken their toll. The UAW desperately needs to break through at a so-called transplant factory. "It is important for the UAW to nab one of the plants to rebuild membership as well as clout," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Cox Automotive. "But I'm not optimistic it's going to happen." The timing matters, too. The UAW faces tough negotiations with General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) on a new round of labor deals later this year. Jobs will be a big issue. GM, for example, is closing four American plants. Looming in the background are competitive pressures from the nonunion transplant factories. The ability of the UAW "to set wages for the industry is shrinking," said Kristen Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics for the Center for Automotive Research. "When the Detroit automakers lose share, the UAW loses share." The UAW says the average worker at the Volkswagen plant makes about $21 an hour, compared to $28 an hour at a unionized auto plant. Volkswagen said annual pay, including overtime and bonuses, at the Chattanooga plant came to an average of $54,700 last year. "We are among the best paying employers in the region," the company said in a statement. Krebs said the gap between unionized and nonunion plants is shrinking. A decade ago, the union made concessions to help keep GM, Ford and Chrysler alive in the face of lower-cost competition from foreign automakers. And it has never fully recovered. Gaining a foothold in a transplant factory would give the UAW an edge. "If all the plants were UAW represented, they'd have more power over the automakers," she said. But that hasn't been the case for the US auto industry since the early 1980s when the transplants first started opening. As GM's Lordstown plant idles, an iconic American job nears extinction. The VW plant in Chattanooga would seem to be one of the UAW's better opportunities to win a vote. A member of the German autoworkers union sits on VW's board of directors. More than 100 VW plants worldwide employ union-represented workers — everywhere but in China and at the Chattanooga plant. "Chattanooga workers deserve this vote," said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. During the last vote in Chattanooga five years ago, the union narrowly failed, getting support of 47% of the employees who voted. Some Republican politicians in Tennessee, a state known for its tough anti-union policies, felt that VW had been too solicitous of the workers. After that vote, the UAW commended the company for trying to "provide an atmosphere of freedom to make a decision." But this time around, the two sides have clashed far more. Each side has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, which will oversee this upcoming vote. Most of the foreign-owned auto plants are located in the South, which has a far lower level of union membership than in the industrial Midwest, where most of the unionized plants of the Detroit automakers are located. It also means the UAW faces an uphill battle, even if it wins the vote at VW. "I don't know if it necessarily translates to making it easy to win over workers with anyone else," said Dziczek. "It would be an important win, but not sufficient."
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Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, in Manhattan in 2008. He immersed himself in the sounds of his native New Orleans from a young age.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times Image Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, in Manhattan in 2008. He immersed himself in the sounds of his native New Orleans from a young age.CreditCreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
By Tim Canova May 20, 2019 05:39 PM, Updated May 20, 2019 07:51 PM Read more here:
Fwd: Meyerson on TAP: With Uber’s Stock Tanking, Trump’s NLRB Rides to Its Rescue
With Uber’s Stock Tanking, Trump’s NLRB Rides to Its Rescue. “Uber Has Poisoned an IPO Market That Was Sick Anyway,” a Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed this morning. When the market closed Monday, two days after the company had first listed its stock, Uber’s shares had declined by 18 percent from its IPO listing of $45. To deter Uber’s owners from hurling themselves off of Airbnb high-rises, however, the Trumpified National Labor Relations Board endeavored to come to their rescue today. With stories like the Journal’s declaring that Uber ownership was a fool’s errand, the Board chose today to release an April 16 “Advice Memorandum” from the office of its general counsel which emphatically concluded that Uber drivers were independent contractors with no right to form a union or bargain collectively. For a company like Uber, which has never yet shown a profit, a guarantee that it will never need to give its drivers a raise is as close as the company can get to something resembling good news. To reach the conclusions it reached, the general counsel drew on a Board ruling from earlier this year which found that Super Shuttle drivers were independent contractors, too. As Moshe Marvit pointed out in a Prospect article he wrote on that decision, the basis for Board’s ruling came down to the fact that if Super Shuttle drivers incurred losses while working for the company, they had to cover those losses themselves—a situation the Board’s ruling creatively characterized as “an entrepreneurial opportunity.” That the Board’s general counsel has now consigned Uber drivers to worker hell, then, is hardly surprising. What does raise eyebrows is the timing of the release of the counsel’s memo—a timing so egregious that it almost makes you wonder if Trump’s appointees to the NLRB have shares in Uber that they’re frantically trying to unload. In the Anything-Goes presidential administration of Donald Trump, the egregious has become so normalized and so stupidity commonplace that the Board’s action not only stinks to high heaven but should be investigated by House Democrats. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON
Robbins: Orange County Board of Supervisors Blocks Public Comments | Voice of OC
NYTimes: Short of Workers, U.S. Builders and Farmers Crave More Immigrants
Skimpy health plans touted by Trump bring back familiar woes for consumers - Los Angeles Times?
FW: Californians disapprove of Republican tax law | The Sacramento Bee
State needs new housing strategy Los Angeles Times 25 Mar 2019 In sacramento Allen J. Schaben Los Angeles Times
THE CALIFORNIA ranch-house lifestyle, founded on sunshine and ample backyard space, worked when the state’s population was 12 million in the 1950s and 22 million in the ’70s. But now its population is 40 million. You don’t need to be a Nobel physicist to figure the direction California must go to solve its acute housing shortage — up. Stop expanding sideways, and become more like New York City — and less like us. Those words are painful to write for a native Californian who grew up on a small orange ranch in Ojai and worships wide-open spaces. But it’s inevitable. The California ranchhouse lifestyle — founded on sunshine and ample backyard space for a pool — has become increasingly unaffordable for middle-class families in urban areas where most jobs exist. Living space has tightened and become impossibly pricey for too many. It was wonderful when our population was only 12 million in the 1950s and 22 million in the 1970s. But now we’re at 40 million and headed to 50 million by 2050. For many, the economics of supply and demand are making the California Dream a nightmare. Fortunately, state legislators are awake and trying to fix it. So is Gov. Gavin Newsom. They’ve been pushing housing development away from traditional ranch-home suburbia and toward densely populated, multi-story living near transportation centers. And they’re planning a lot more of that this year. The massive Centennial project near the Tejon Pass in wildfire country is a conspicuous outlier. It was approved by L.A. County supervisors in December. California prides itself on being the nation’s leader in many things, but we’re far behind the curve on creating housing easily accessible to commuter rail. The Washington, D.C., regional Metro system with its nearby apartment complexes and townhouses puts California to shame. “We set up our land-use patterns for a much smaller state,” says state Senate Housing Committee Chairman Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). “Jobs are in major urban areas and housing has been built further and further out, forcing a lot of sprawl. “We have people com- muting by car up to two and a half hours each way and that’s not the California Dream. Freeways have become almost impossible to use. We need more sustainable land-use patterns.” Wiener adds: “We should put the right state standards in place so we don’t continue to gobble up farmland and open space, which is part of the California DNA. And we’re also forcing people to live in wildfire zones. “We have a 3.5-million housing deficit and people can’t afford to live here anymore.” Over the decades, the ranch-style home has expanded, devouring open space and pushing up prices. “The average size ranchstyle home has grown tremendously,” says Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Beall (D-San Jose), a former San Jose city councilman and Santa Clara County supervisor. “The home I grew up in [during the 1950s] was 1,300 square feet. There were eight kids. When we got to 10, we moved into a house with 1,800 square feet. Now these home-builder guys are going out in suburban areas and building 2,500and 3,000-square-foot homes.” Families have gotten smaller but the houses have ballooned. Why? “You know why,” Beall replies. “Houses got bigger because they’re making more money off them. You can make more money building one big house than you can two smaller ones. And quite frankly, they’ve priced themselves out of the market for most people in California.” Unaffordable homes and unbearable commutes are the two main factors driving housing away from suburban sprawl and toward urban transportation centers. Another motivation for Democrats is to meet their ambitious climate change goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes. There are several housing bills now entering the legislative process. Some make cities and counties jittery at the prospect of losing control to the state. “We need to work collaboratively with the state as a partner,” says Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities. “We’ll get further working together than we will by some other means.” “Other means” includes Newsom suing Huntington Beach over allegedly violating state housing laws, and threatening to withhold gas tax money from cities he deems aren’t doing enough to spur home building. One of the most controversial current bills is Wiener’s SB 50. It would attempt to boost home building near transit. Developers could build up to five-story apartment and condo complexes around rail stations. Minimum parking space requirements would be waived. Wiener praises L.A. and Oakland as role models for what he’s attempting. Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has a bill that would declare a statewide housing emergency and require local governments to expedite their permitting of home building. “The bill says, ‘Local government, do what you’re doing, but do it faster,’ ” she says. “Fast-track it.” Cut the red tape. That’s what Republicans have long advocated. Skinner’s a dedicated liberal. Beall and Assembly housing committee chairman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) have similar bills to create new, cleaner versions of redevelopment agencies that were killed in 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature. They thought the agencies were unhinged money-wasters and a bit corrupt. But the agencies spent $1 billion annually to build affordable housing. The new entities would have a tighter state leash. Another Chiu bill would incentivize building of highdensity, affordable rentals for low-income people near transit stations. It’s a proposal to keep people working and off the street. The California ranchhouse lifestyle was great in the last century. But for the poor and middle class, it’s an endangered species that needs to adapt.
Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. speaking at a news conference in Trenton in 1984 in advance of the New Jersey primary as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination. It was one of his eight campaigns for the White House as a fringe candidate.CreditWilliam Sauro/The New York es
Attorney General Becerra, California Labor Commissioner’s Office File Petition Before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to Defend California Meal and Rest Break Rules
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office today announced the filing of a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, challenging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) efforts to undermine the state’s meal and rest break rules. The FMCSA’s action comes in response to a petition by the American Trucking Association (ATA), incorrectly claiming that California labor protections for truck drivers are preempted by federal law.
“It is well within a state’s rights to establish standards for the welfare of our workers,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Truck drivers, like every other person protected under California’s labor laws across hundreds of different industries, deserve adequate meal and rest breaks.”
“California takes seriously the health and welfare of truck drivers, who have a right to basic worker protections that include meal and rest breaks,” said California Labor Secretary Julie A. Su. “Under the George W. Bush administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had determined that these very same worker rights were not preempted by federal law. In this reversal, the federal government would have drivers work up to 12 hours a day without breaks. We refuse to sit back and allow workers to be treated that way in California.”
The FMCSA’s authority to preempt state standards is limited to review of laws and regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety. Yet, the provisions targeted by the ATA and the FMCSA are broadly applicable workplace regulations that are not laws and regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety within the meaning of federal law. Specifically, in California, workers are generally entitled to a 30-minute meal break for shifts of five hours or more and a 10-minute break per four hours of work. In 2008, when faced with similar lobbying, the FMCSA rejected the petition, concluding that meal and rest break provisions were not regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety.
A labor advocate and a San Francisco political operative have accepted positions in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s new administration.
Angie Wei, a Capitol insider with deep ties to organized labor in California, will serve as a chief deputy cabinet secretary with a focus on policy development.
As a legislative director and chief of staff at the California Labor Federation, Wei has represented more than 1,200 unions and 2.1 million workers in Capitol fights over a host of policy issues including drug pricing transparency and paid family leave.
The governor-elect also tapped Jason Elliott, a policy advisor to Newsom during his time as mayor of San Francisco and a chief of staff to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, as another chief deputy cabinet secretary overseeing executive branch operations.
Elliott and Wei will serve under Ana Matosantos, Newsom’s previously announced cabinet secretary.
The Bureau of Cannabis Control proposes to reject the California Police Chiefs’ and League of California Cities’ position and permit home delivery of weed to people age 21 and older. A 15-day comment period is underway.
Two companies—Weedmaps, which advertises cannabis delivery services, and Eaze, which delivers cannabis—contributed $257,250 to California politicians and parties this year, and spent $315,000 on lobbying in the first half of 2018.
California's signature property tax initiative turns 40 this year.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Proposition 13, the landmark property tax initiative that reshaped how state and local government works in California.
Critics blame Prop. 13 for California ills from struggling schools to the affordable housing shortage.
Supporters say Prop. 13 protects Californians from runaway taxation and keeps homeowners in their homes, and remains overwhelmingly popular with voters for a reason.
CALmatters teamed up with public radio stations across California to tell the story of how Prop. 13 shaped one block in North Oakland. The winners and losers may surprise you. For a closer look at this fascinating project, part of the California Dream collaboration, click here.
CA labor takes a hard line on gas tax
Proposition 6 would repeal California's gas tax and eliminate road repair funding.
Earlier this month, Orange County Democrat Katie Porter, challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in one of the nation’s most hotly contested congressional races, lost the endorsement of the Laborers’ International Union of North America for opposing California’s gasoline tax.
Now, the California Labor Federation, the umbrella for organized labor, is abandoning Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar’s campaign to unseat indicted Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter in San Diego. The issue? Again, the gas tax, on which Campa-Najjar has taken an ambiguous stand.
Federation spokesman Steve Smith: “We made the decision that it’s not a district that California Labor Federation will be engaged in.”
In both races, labor’s decision turned on how the candidates framed their answers to perhaps the biggest question facing Californians in the Nov. 6 election: how to pay to repair California’s rutted highways and bridges.
Follow the money: Organized labor has spent $17.1 million to defeat Proposition 6, the initiative that would repeal the 12-cent per gallon gasoline tax approved by the Legislature last year. The tax generates $5.2 billion a year to pay primarily for road and bridge repair.
Labor’s share represents 42 percent of $42.7 million raised so far to kill the initiative. Construction companies and their consultants have given the bulk of the rest, $23.4 million, my analysis of campaign finance filings shows.
This fight wasn't only about 357 Rite Aid stores across Southern California.
It wasn't only about the 5,900 men and women who chose to form a strong union with UFCW, and who chose to fight for fair wages, continuous healthcare coverage for workers and retirees, fair scheduling that employees and their families count on.
The fight wasn't only about UFCW 770 members and the union they worked to build with their Rite Aid sisters and brothers in Locals 135, 324, 770, 1167, 1428, 1442.
This fight, like all of our fights, is about winning and protecting quality of life and workplace power for workers everywhere.
You there when we needed you. We'll need that solidarity again...
Hours after mass civil disobedience at Port of LA highlightingTPS crisis...
Federal judge blocks federal government from deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants in US legally on TPS program
***Photos and video available upon request***
PORT OF LOS ANGELES, CA – Today, supporters of striking port drivers and warehouse workers took defiant action to protest the illegal and exploitative working conditions at America’s largest port complex – and to call attention to the looming crisis at the Ports with the cancellation of the “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) program, which – if not resolved – will result in the deportation of approximately 1,400 port truck drivers. Even more drivers beyond the ports will likely be affected, including intermodal rail drivers that move containers to and from rail yards near the ports.
64 immigrant rights activists, labor leaders, and members of the clergy sat down at the busy intersection of South Figueroa Street and West Harry Bridges Boulevard at the Port of Los Angeles and were arrested when they quietly refused to get up.
“I am really happy that the court has blocked the government from deporting port truck drivers like me who have been here legally, played by the rules, and developed deep roots here in this great country. I am thankful to the Teamsters and community groups who have supported. I am hopeful that with such support my family will not be separated and I’ll be able to keep providing for them,” said Cesar Rodriguez, a 46 year old father of five from El Salvador, who immigrated to America 21 years ago with his wife to escape the violence in his home country and has been living here legally pursuant to the TPS program. Cesar is misclassified by his employer, XPO Logistics (NYSE: XPO), and went on strike Monday morning to demand his employee rights.
Cesar Rodriguez (TPS Holder)
Port Truck Driver, XPO Logistics
Drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been challenging their misclassification as “independent contractors” and exercising their rights as employees by engaging in collective action in the courts, in their truck yards, and at the ports – including 15 strikes in the last five years. It is estimated that there have been legal misclassification claims pursued on behalf of at least half of the misclassified drivers at America’s largest port complex, either by drivers filing individual wage claims or being part of class action lawsuits. Upon investigating the facts, multiple agencies and courts at both the state and federal levels have determined that drivers are, in fact, employees and therefore protected by employment and labor laws. Read more
XPO Logistics (NYSE: XPO) is a global logistics company with revenue in excess of $15 billion. XPO Port Services, which specializes in moving goods to and from the ports, and XPO Cartage, which moves goods to nearby intermodal rail yards, are together among the top trucking companies servicing the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. There are approximately 280 alleged misclassified drivers working for both companies in their LA-area locations and about 160 additional drivers in XPO Cartage’s San Diego facility. XPO and its subsidiaries are facing multiple legal and enforcement agency actions for alleged wage theft due to misclassification of their drivers as independent contractors. Read more
NFI Industries is one of the largest goods movement companies in America, with warehouses and port trucking operations across the U.S. In 2017, NFI purchased the California Cartage family of companies, which were – and continue to be – the largest drayage and warehousing operating at the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach.
The NFI/Cal Cartage family of companies includes five major trucking operations at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. The four largest - K&R Transportation California LLC; Cal Cartage Transportation LLC, Container Freight Transportation LLC, and CMI Transportation LLC – have been facing multiple claims in the courts and government agencies for misclassifying their drivers. Combined, more than 600 alleged misclassified drivers work for these companies. Cal Cartage Container Freight Station in Wilmington is a warehouse and freight center on Port of LA property and employs approximately 500 workers, with 40-50 percent of the workforce being employed through a temp agency. The company has been cited for serious health and safety violations twice in the past three years, and workers face serious retaliation resulting in unfair labor practices charges and five strikes. Read more
Justice for Port Drivers: With the dedicated support from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, plus many other labor, community, and faith allies, we are fighting to change the port trucking industry so we can win justice for ourselves and our families. More than 75,000 strong, we haul our country’s imports and exports for retail companies, for manufacturers, and for the U.S. Military. We are proud to be professional truck drivers and proud of the service we provide. Without us, America would stop.
U.S. Department of Labor Orders NFI Industries’ California Cartage Warehouse to Repay Workers $3.5 Million in Back Wages and Benefits
PORT OF LOS ANGELES/LONG BEACH– On September 13, 2018, the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) announced that California Cartage Company, LLC – owned by National Freight Industries (NFI) and based in Long Beach, California – must pay $3,573,074 to more than 1,400 employees (permanent and temporary) after the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division found the company violated federal contract provisions of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act by failing to pay prevailing wages, as well as health and welfare benefits, to employees at NFI/Cal Cartage’s Carson warehouse. Click here to read the USDOL press release.
NFI/California Cartage, based in Long Beach, CA, with warehousing and drayage operations at property owned by the Port of Los Angeles, in Carson, and across the U.S., is one of the largest goods movement companies in America. The California Cartage family of companies was recently acquired by New Jersey-based National Freight Industries and continues to be the largest trucking operation at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by a wide margin. The company has been the subject of significant regulatory action and litigation due to persistent exploitation of the company’s drivers and warehouse workers serving America’s largest port complex.
Click here for a current summary of regulatory action and litigation facing NFI/Cal Cartage.
Click here for an up-to-date summary of regulatory action and litigation facing the port trucking industry at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“This company steals wages from drivers and warehouse workers every day, and they use every trick in the corporate playbook - many illegal, all unethical - to divide workers and slash employee costs: misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, staffing warehouses with permanent temporary employees, paying workers less than the required minimum wage, and forcing employees to toil off the clock. They think they can get away with it because most of us are immigrants, but those days are over - we’re fighting back and taking the fight to NFI’s customers, including Lowes, Amazon, Puma, and others. NFI/Cal Cartage warehouse workers and port truck drivers are united and we won’t stop until we get justice,” said Juan Lara, a port truck driver fighting for his employee rights at NFI’s California Cartage Express division.
"NFI/California Cartage has shown that they don’t care about the law,” said Jose Rodriguez, a warehouse worker at NFI/California Cartage. “They think they can silence us warehouse workers and truck drivers by disrespecting us, making us wait every day to see if we are going to get any work, steal our wages, and retaliate against us for speaking up. We won’t be silenced. This type of wage theft and the company ignoring the laws is why we have gone on strike five times and we will continue to stand up and take action until Cal Cartage follows the law and respects our rights.”
“As a market leader at the ports, NFI/Cal Cartage’s persistent illegal and unconscionable business practices have made it very difficult for companies that have determined that it’s in their best business interest to follow U.S. labor laws to compete and thrive. The USDOL’s determination sends a strong message to workers that standing up for your rights pays off, and to companies that they are not above the law. It’s past time for NFI and other companies to clean up their business model by complying with the rules of the game,” said Fred Potter, Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Director of the Teamsters Port Division.
Warren Sees New Conflict in NLRB Bid to Unravel Obama-Era Worker Rules
Democratic U.S. senators led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts urged a Trump administration labor board appointee to recuse himself from a case that could end up being a big victory for corporations trying to make it harder for workers to unionize.
The case before the National Labor Relations Board deals with the right of companies to restrict workers’ online organizing efforts. In a letter sent to NLRB Chairman John Ring, a Trump appointee, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin joined Warren in demanding the recusal of NLRB member William Emanuel.
The NLRB invited input last month on whether it should use the case, Caesars Entertainment Corp., to reverse an Obama-era precedent in which employees at a company called Purple Communications won the right to use work email to organize. Emanuel had previously worked as an employment law attorney at Littler Mendelson PC. While the management-side law firm isn’t directly involved in the Caesars case, it does represent Purple, which appealed its 2014 defeat to a federal court, where it’s pending.
“Thus, member Emanuel’s participation, in any form, in Caesars Entertainment Corp. would present a clear conflict of interest and put him in the position of using the power of his office to influence the interests of his former employer—exactly the scenario that federal ethics regulations are designed to avoid,” the senators wrote in their Monday letter to Ring.
An NLRB spokesperson said Ring would respond to the letters, and declined further comment. Management-side advocates have argued that Democrats are applying a double standard on ethics issues in an effort to derail the agency’s ability to pursue pro-business precedents.
The letter “is a continuation of the long-game to attempt to prevent the board from having an operating Republican majority,” said Roger King, a management-side attorney for the HR Policy Association.
The Democratic senators contend the email case echoes an earlier controversy, one in which Emanuel joined the majority in a 3-2 party line vote to reverse another Obama-era precedent, the so-called joint employer rule. In that case, the Republican majority voted to make it harder for companies to be held legally responsible for alleged mistreatment of workers ostensibly employed by their contractors or franchisees. After the NLRB’s inspector general concluded that Emanuel shouldn’t have participated because Littler Mendelson represented a party in the Obama-era case that established the rule, the other members of the NLRB voted to throw the new decision out. That left the Obama-era rule in place.
The NLRB is now moving to undo that precedent through its regulatory process, issuing a proposed rule last week.
Democrats have also urged NLRB member recusals from a pending decision in the “Fight for $15” movement’s conflict with McDonald’s Corp. They argued that Emanuel and Ring shouldn’t participate because their former law firms were brought in by the fast-food company to advise franchisees on how to respond to the union-backed campaign.
In August, Ring wrote that he found it “distressing” that Democratic Senate staff had contacted his agency’s inspector general about that issue, rather than go through the NLRB’s congressional affairs office. The top Republican and Democratic members of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions issued a bipartisan response, defending staffer communications with the inspector general as “common practice.”
TEAMSTERS LOCAL 952 RATIFIES CONTRACT WITH DURHAM SCHOOL SERVICES
New Agreement Includes Substantial Increases in Wages, Benefits
(ORANGE, Calif.) – Durham School Services Drivers and Monitors represented by Teamsters Local 952 have voted overwhelmingly to ratify their latest contract with the company. The more than 300 members provide student transportation services for school districts in Irvine, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Laguna.
“Congratulations to all of our members at Durham School Services who worked hard to get a fantastic collective bargaining agreement,” said Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer Patrick B. Kelly. “I especially want to thank Shop Stewards Walter Raymundo, Lee Pflug, Joe Dicostanzo, Lori Nowak, Guillermo Garibay and Rickquana Ball as well as Business Representatives Almeta Carter and Jeff Sweet. I also want to thank General President James P. Hoffa and Vice President Rick Middleton, whose leadership has been essential in accomplishing victories like this throughout the country. In addition to this, I want to note that decisive and determined political action and DRIVE participation by Teamsters and retirees help make these victories possible.”
The agreement, which is effective through December 31, 2020, includes a number of improvements for the workers. The minimum starting wages have been elevated to $19 per hour for drivers and $15 per hour for monitors. The workers will also receive an increase of at least 30 percent for paid time off, with the most senior drivers and monitors receiving up to 80 hours of paid time off per year. The contract also increases paid training and premiums for driving certain vehicles. The starting wage for drivers when the yard first organized with the Teamsters seven years ago was only $10.25 per hour.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.
The "Labor Question" Is Back, Big Time. That term came into use around the turn of the 20th century; it was a shorthand way of asking: What should be done about the abysmal conditions in which American workers were compelled to labor, and about the smoldering discontent those conditions engendered? The anger was palpable, made manifest in waves of worker revolts that stretched from the nationwide rail strike of 1877 through the general strikes of 1919.
Not all the battles were fought in the plants and in the streets. Progressive state legislatures in the early 20th century enacted laws setting minimum wages and limiting the hours women and children could be compelled to work; the courts routinely struck them down, and just as routinely short-circuited strikes by imposing jail sentences on strikers.
It was the New Deal, and the rise of unions that the New Deal facilitated, that rendered the Labor Question seemingly moot. In the three decades following World War II, when unions were strong and prosperity broadly shared, the term receded into the history books alongside other phrases—like, say, “slaveholder”—that evoked a dark and presumably buried side of America’s past.
For the last several decades, however, it’s the largely (if imperfectly) egalitarian spirit of the New Deal that has receded into the shadows. The economic inequality that preceded the New Deal is back with us; the Labor Question has returned.
At the core of the problem is the imbalance of economic power, which takes the form of booming profits and stagnating wages. The Financial Times recently reported that the share of company revenues going to profits is the highest in many years, which necessarily means that the share going to the main alternative destination for company revenues—employees’ pockets—has shrunk.
Nor is this a short-lived phenomenon brought about by the Republican tax cut. In 2011, the chief investment officer of JP Morgan Chase calculated that three-quarters of the long-term increase in U.S. companies’ profit margins was due to the declining share going to wages and benefits. A study last year by Simcha Barkai, then an economist at the University of Chicago’s Stigler Center, found that labor’s share of the national income has dropped by 6.7 percent since the mid-1980s, while the share of the nation’s income going to business investment in equipment, research, new hires and the like has also dropped by 7.2 percent. Correspondingly, the share of the nation’s income going to shareholders (the lion’s share to the very wealthy, among them the CEOs who are compensated with shares) rose by 13.5 percent. That shift has put American workers at a double disadvantage, as their wages and the private-sector investment that creates jobs and boosts productivity have both hit the skids.
Like slowly simmering frogs, Americans have required some time to grasp just how dire their situation has become. On Labor Day 2018, however, it’s clear that most of them now realize the need to reshuffle the power structure. A Gallup poll released on Friday showed support for unions at 62 percent, the highest level in 15 years, with majority backing from every demographic group except Republicans, and even they are evenly split, 45 percent to 47 percent.
The overwhelming public support for striking teachers this spring in such red states as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona was no fluke; another recent poll, this one from the venerable education pollster PDK, found 73 percent support for teachers’ strikes, and a remarkable 78 percent support from parents of school-age children. The 2-to-1 rejection of a right-to-work law this summer by Missouri voters is further evidence of a pro-labor shift in public opinion, as are the successful unionization campaigns over the past year of such not-easily-fired workers as university teaching assistants and journalists (including those at such venerable anti-union bastions as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times).
As was the case during the years when the Labor Question was first before the nation, the chief instrument the right relies on to diminish worker power is the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision this June in the Janus case, which was meant to reduce the membership and resources of public-sector unions, was just the latest in a string of rulings to advantage corporate and Republican interests. During the past year, however, progressives have put forth some of the most far-reaching proposals in many decades to rebalance economic clout, including bills from two Democratic senators—Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin—that would require corporations to divide their boards between representatives of workers and representatives of shareholders.
Since conservatives and business interests began pecking away at the New Deal’s handiwork in the 1970s, class conflict in America has been largely one-sided. On this Labor Day, however, it’s clear that the battle has finally been joined. The Labor Question is before us and remains to be resolved. ~HAROLD MEYERSON
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America's Severe Trucker Shortage Could Undermine the Prosperous Economy
LAKE MILTON, Ohio — Bob Blocksom, an 87-year-old former insurance
salesman, needs a job. He hasn’t saved enough money for his
retirement. And trucking companies, desperate for workers, are willing to
give him one.
Age didn’t matter, they said. If Blocksom could get his “CDL” —
commercial driver’s license — they would hire him for a $50,000 job.
One even offered to pay his tuition for driver training school, but there
was a catch: Blocksom had to commit to driving an 18-wheel truck all
over the United States for a year.
So far, that has been too big of an ask for Blocksom, who doesn’t want to
spend long stretches of time away from his wife of 60 years. “The more I
think about it, it would be tough to be on the road Monday through
Friday,” he said.
As the nation faces a historically low level of unemployment, trucking
companies are doing what economists have said firms need to do to
attract and retain workers: They’re hiking pay significantly, offering
bonuses and even recruiting people they previously wouldn’t have
But it’s not working. The industry reports a growing labor shortage —
63,000 open positions this year, a number expected to more than
double in coming years — that could have wide-ranging impacts on the
Nearly every item sold in the United States touches a truck at some
point, which explains why the challenges facing the industry, including
trucking companies rapidly raising prices as they raise wages, have
special power to affect the entire economy. Already, delivery delays are
common, and businesses such as Amazon, General Mills and Tyson
Foods are raising prices as they pass higher transportation costs along
to consumers. On a recent call with investors, a Walmart executive called
rising transportation costs the company’s primary “head wind.”
Technology leaders such as Elon Musk hold out driverless trucks as a
solution, but industry insiders say that is many years away. For now the
industry simply can’t find a way to move goods as fast and cheaply as
they have in the past. This logjam will be especially perilous, economists
say, if competition for truckers pushes up prices so quickly that the
country faces uncontrolled inflation, which can easily lead to a recession.
“This is slowing down the economy already,” said Peter Boockvar, chief
investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “If it takes me a week
instead of two days to ship products from point A to B, I’m losing
At TDDS Technical Institute, an independent trucker school in Ohio
where Blocksom has considered enrolling, veteran teachers say they
have never seen it this bad. They say there may be closer to 100,000
truck driver openings.
“As long as you can get in and out of a truck and pass a physical, a
trucking company will take a look at you now,” said Tish Sammons, the
job placement coordinator at TDDS, whose desk is full of toy trucks and
fliers from the companies that call her daily begging for drivers. “I
recently placed someone who served time for manslaughter.”
There’s only one option right now for most trucking companies: Give
substantial raises. Recruiters who show up daily at TDDS are offering
jobs that pay $60,000 to $70,000, with full benefits and a $4,000
In interviews with more than 60 trainees, recruiters and people who
explored trucking but decided not to take the job, most said they feel
that higher pay will help but that the industry’s problems are much
deeper than that.
A harsh life
Trucking remains one of the most dangerous professions in the country.
There were more than 1,000 fatalities among motor vehicle operators in
2016, according to the Labor Department, meaning being a commercial
driver is nearly eight times as deadly as being a law enforcement officer.
“It takes a special breed to be a trucker. It’s a tough job,” said Rick
Rathburn Jr., the owner of TDDS, a school his late father started in the
early 1970s. A trucking company recently tried to buy the entire school. The community around TDDS is full of shuttered factories and bars
named “Lucky Inn” and “Horseshoe.” The steel mills closed in the 1980s,
and a GM factory just announced more than a thousand layoffs. One of
the only industries growing in the area is trucking, yet locals are hesitant
to become truckers.
One man, a janitor, hanging out at Larry’s Automotive repair shop in
nearby Warren, said his uncles were truckers and told him they would
“kill him” if he ever got into the harsh business. The owner of the shop
said he had thought about becoming a trucker but decided it wasn’t
feasible after he had children.
Trucking jobs require people to leave their families for weeks at a time
and live in a small “cabin” with a hard bed. Divorces are common,
veteran drivers say, and their children forget them. A life on the road is
often costly and unhealthy. Drivers sit for hours a day in diesel trucks
and pull into truck stops that typically serve greasy hot dogs and chili.
Weight gain and heart disease are common, says Gordon Zellers, an
Ohio physician who spends half his time examining truckers and
administering drug tests, which increasing numbers of CDL applicants
fail. He advises the TDDS students to see a nutritionist, but he knows
Alex Thomas and Rob Neal are two of the youngest students at TDDS —
Thomas is 26 and Neal is 28. As they sat in a truck in the TDDS parking
lot practicing, they joked with each other about which one would be the
first to develop a “trucker’s belly.”
Thomas and Neal had construction jobs before they enrolled in the 16-
week course at TDDS.
Trucking often competes with construction and manufacturing for
workers. Both of those industries have been on a hiring spree lately, as
well — and unlike trucking, construction and factory jobs typically don’t
require additional schooling. To get a commercial driver’s license, an
applicant needs to attend several weeks of school, which can cost about
$7,000 before financial aid.
The two young men who switched into trucking say they’re doing it for the
money and, they hope, more freedom. But many of their friends were
surprised by the move.
“I used to work in a sand-and-gravel pit. Workers in the pit called the
truckers scum,” said Thomas.
Poaching and quitting
As it has trouble recruiting new workers, the industry also is struggling to
hold on to drivers. Turnover in the trucking industry has skyrocketed to
94 percent, according to the American Trucking Associations, meaning
most drivers at the major trucking companies don’t spend more than a
year in their jobs.
That reflects a combination of poaching and quitting. (A new government
requirement went into effect in December that requires all drivers to
electronically log their hours, meaning they can no longer cheat
regulations by driving more than 11 hours a day.)
People with CDLs suddenly seem as coveted as computer programmers.
Trucking company recruiters descend daily on the United States’ truck
driver training schools — roughly 500, according to the Commercial
Vehicle Training Association — to fight for new graduates.
“These guys are like diamonds right now,” said Jason Olesh, a vice
president at Aim Transportation Solutions who left his family vacation to
rush to TDDS to talk to students. “We’re down 90 drivers across our fleet
Olesh gave his best pitch to the students: He offered them jobs that pay
$70,000 a year with full benefits and regional routes hauling water to oildrilling
sites that would have them home most nights.
“I’m offering you a regular job with a 10- to 12-hour shift so you can see
your kids,” Olesh said.
He never used to recruit drivers right out of school because his jobs are
the coveted ones in the industry that don’t require drivers to go “over the
road,” trucker-speak for being away from home for at least a month. But
he started coming to TDDS this year because the company needs drivers
so badly that it is lowering the bar for new hires.
At the end of his session, a few students gave Olesh their contact
information — but not enough to make even a dent in the job openings
Lately the industry has tried to broaden its appeal, but women still make
up just 6 percent of drivers, and African Americans 10 percent. Still, trucking can be a pathway to a middle-class life. TDDS alumni often stop
by, including many Somali refugees who’ve been trained there.
But while members of the TDDS faculty love trucking and serve as
cheerleaders for the industry, most of their own children have gone to
college and now work desk jobs.
“Trucking is seen as a last resort if people can’t find another job,” said
Otto Smith, an admissions representative at TDDS. “We’re a hidden
diamond for people looking for work.”
I didn’t know Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain but saw familiar threads in their suicides, as my mother took her own life at age 51.
Spade had spoken to her father the night before and was looking forward to a trip to California. Bourdain was in one of his favorite countries, France, working on his television show. My mother, struggling through her third and failing marriage, had arrived at a plan to get back on her feet, supported by friends and family.
People were shocked when Spade and Bourdain hanged themselves, she in her New York apartment, he in a hotel room in Strasbourg. No one saw it coming when—a day after expressing optimism about her future—my mother drove into the desert, connected a hose to her pickup’s exhaust pipe, strung it through the cab’s back window and died of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Spade left a note, reportedly telling her 13-year-old daughter it wasn’t her fault. My mother wrote a letter, expressing pride in her five children, telling her grandchildren she loved them, and absolving her family for her decision.
These final messages won’t assuage the irrepressible sense of guilt and shame that family and friends feel after a suicide: I should have known. If only I had paid attention. I should have done something.
Except you aren’t responsible. Suicide is the most personal, solitary decision a human being can make. Whether the culmination of a long decline or a shock like a thunderbolt on a clear day, suicide is often driven by depression, anxiety, drug addiction or other mental disorders. Yet it is among the most preventable causes of death in the U.S. today.
Shortly after I wrote about my mother’s death in a memoir, I received a gracious email from David Axelrod. We had never met, but it turned out we had more in common than working in the White House, he for Barack Obama and I for George W. Bush. David’s father died by suicide when David was 19, and police came to his college dorm room to ask him to identify the body.
David later wrote a beautiful tribute to his father, offering the insight that his dad “was impacted by the sense, so prevalent in our society, that depression is somehow a character flaw rather than an illness.” He believes that’s what kept his father, a psychologist, from seeking help, along with many others.
Spade talked about a continuing sadness, family members said. My mother wrote in her suicide note that she was “very tired, deep inside tired.” A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that many people resorted to suicide after problems in a relationship, or amid stress over work, physical health or finances. Substance abuse is also a major trigger. Such challenges may bring on depression or make an underlying depression worse.
The stigma surrounding mental illness keeps many with depression from seeking treatment. Who would refuse treatment for any other life-threatening disease if a physician could say: “We’ve caught it in time, we can deal with it and you don’t need to die from it”?
On the practical front, anyone who feels suicidal should ask for help before taking an action from which there is no return. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans can then dial 1. People are available 24 hours a day. The website SpeakingOfSuicide.com offers important resources. If you or someone you know feels suicidal, talk to a doctor or mental-health professional. Call family, clergy or friends. Dial 911 if necessary.
The smart woman from Kansas City with a wonderful smile created joy for many with her stylish, sophisticated handbags. The tall cook with curly gray hair and a jutting jawline introduced millions to the world’s food and drink. We know their stories, but must not forget that 863 other Americans—most of them less famous, but no less valuable as human beings—died by suicide last week too, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
To those who contemplate suicide, realize the world won’t be better for your absence. There will be a child, spouse or parent, a colleague or co-worker, neighbor or friend who will miss you more than you know. Despair can be overwhelming, but it is not permanent. We all need others to walk beside us in difficult moments. And remember, you are precious in the eyes of God and those who love you.
The largest union representing federal workers took the Trump administration to court Thursday to block a new executive order that severely restricts the time employees may spend on union activity, claiming the president’s action violates the First Amendment and oversteps his constitutional authority.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District by the American Federation of Government Employees ratchets up labor-management tensions that have simmered at federal agencies since President Trump took office.
“This president seems to think he is above the law, and we are not going to stand by while he tries to shred workers’ rights,” J. David Cox Sr., national president of the AFGE, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“This is a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Cox said. “No president should be able to undo a law he doesn’t like through administrative fiat.”
The White House referred questions about the case to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
The restriction on what is known as “official time” — which will ultimately have to be bargained through collective bargaining contracts at federal agencies — was one of three orders the president signed late Friday before the Memorial Day weekend to roll back long-held civil service protections for federal employees.
Under official time, federal employees who also serve as union officials are permitted to work on-duty time to represent employees who have filed grievances claiming unfair labor practices by management or who are appealing disciplinary action against them.
These officials, who spend anywhere between half and all of their time working on union matters, also negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Their responsibilities are limited to representing employees in the workplace and do not include internal union business, such as collecting dues, soliciting membership or elections.
The other executive orders Trump signed instruct agencies to crack down on unions in contract negotiations — with the goal of less union-friendly agreements — and to move more aggressively to fire employees with records of misconduct or poor performance.
Administration officials say these changes, which build on successful efforts in several states to weaken public employee unions, will make government smaller and more efficient by weeding out bad apples and rewarding employees who play by the rules.
But the most controversial change has turned out to be to the official time guarantee that Congress gave federal employee unions four decades ago. That guarantee allowed union representatives to use some of their work timeto negotiate for workers on everything except pay, which is determined by Congress through the General Schedule.
Conservatives in Congress have tried unsuccessfully for years to restrict official time. The administration, which says the work of public employee unions should not be heavily subsidized by taxpayers, estimates that reducing the practice to 25 percent will save taxpayers as much as $100 million a year.
AFGE, which represents about 700,000 federal workers, argues in its lawsuit that the Trump administration has violated the union’s right to freedom of association, guaranteed by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims the administration has singled out labor organizations for disparate treatment.
The union is using language from the executive order to make its point: The order prohibits union employees from using official time to represent other federal workers in grievance or disciplinary proceedings, but it provides an exception for employees working on their own cases.
“There is no valid basis to distinguish grievances brought by the union [on behalf of the] union or grievances in which a union representative seeks to represent another employee from grievances brought on an employee’s own behalf or instances in which an employee is to appear as a witness in a grievance proceeding,” the lawsuit says.
By singling out unions for what it calls “disparate treatment,” the lawsuit says the executive order “unlawfully restrains and retaliates against AFGE and its union-member representatives, separately and collectively, in and for the exercise of their rights to expressive association.”
AFGE also says that mandating the number of hours agencies may authorize for employees’ use of official time to 25 percent illegally changes a provision of the law Congress passed in 1978 — the Civil Service Reform Act — that governs collective bargaining and determines that official time is lawful.
“Congress passed these laws to guarantee workers a collective voice in resolving workplace issues and improving the services they deliver to the public every day — whether it’s caring for veterans, ensuring our air and water are safe, preventing illegal weapons and drugs from crossing our borders, or helping communities recover from hurricanes and other disasters,” Cox said.
“We will not stand by and let this administration willfully violate the Constitution to score political points.”
Leaders of the National Treasury Employees Union, the second-largest federal labor organization, with about 150,000 members, said they are still studying what the executive orders mean for existing collective bargaining contracts , weighing legal action and communicating with their members.
“Our basic message [to our members] is that the administration has made it very clear they think federal workers are dispensable, that they don’t respect and value front-line employees,” said Tony Reardon, the NTEU’s national president.
Los Angeles City Council Unanimously Vetoes Preferential Operating Agreement Granted to Law-Breaking Trucking and Warehouse Company Approved by Port of LA Harbor Commission
Los Angeles, CA – Today, the Los Angeles City Council, which oversees the largest container port in North America, unanimously vetoed the Foreign Trade Zone Operating Agreement (FTZ) granted by the Port’s Harbor Commission to California Cartage’s warehousing and port trucking operations located on Port property in Wilmington, CA. The FTZ designation provides a clear competitive advantage to NFI/Cal Cartage, the largest trucking and warehousing operation at the port, by providing tax breaks to its retail clients. The Los Angeles Harbor Commission approved the FTZ for Cal Cartage, which was purchased by NFI Industries in October 2017, despite the ongoing pattern of violations of health and safety, employment, and labor laws at the company (see list of legal and regulatory action below).
For the past three years, NFI/Cal Cartage warehouse workers and port drivers have persistently demanded that the LA Harbor Commissioners address the enduring law-breaking at the company’s warehousing and trucking facilities, which are located at 2401 East Pacific Coast Highway, which is owned by the Port of Los Angeles. This site includes the NFI/Cal Cartage warehouse and two related trucking companies, K&R Transportation and California Cartage Express.
“We entrust our City authorities with ensuring compliance with all City contracts, especially when these agreements give corporations like NFI/Cal Cartage a competitive advantage,” said Eric Tate, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 848, in a letter to Councilmembers in advance of the vote. “Given the sheer volume of government findings, ongoing investigations, and unmistakable evidence that Cal Cartage is a recidivist law breaker, it is overwhelmingly clear to us that the Harbor Commission failed to ensure that Cal Cartage meets the necessary requirements in the Operating Agreement.”
“Time and again I have told the LA Harbor Commission that NFI/Cal Cartage is breaking the law by misclassifying me as an independent contractor yet they continue to give sweetheart deals to the company,” said Gustavo Villa, a misclassified port truck driver employed by Cal Cartage Express. “I am so grateful that Councilmember Buscaino stepped in to block this sweetheart deal for a company that has shown no regard for the laws of the land.”
“For the past four years, I have worked at the Cal Cartage warehouse and have been outspoken about the unsafe conditions there. There are forklifts that don't brake and the high heat is a problem. A co-worker got sick because of the over 100 degree heat inside the container and management said to just cover him with boxes,” said Bruce Jefferson, a Cal Cartage temp warehouse worker. “Every job at the ports should be a good and safe job, and I’m glad that the City Council agrees that no special tax breaks should be given to companies that are breaking the law.”
“We should never give incentives, like the Foreign Trade Zone Permit, to law-breaking companies where abuse and pressure to work quickly are common, where faulty brakes on forklifts are left unrepaired, and where truck drivers continue to drive for 18-20 hours per day for pennies,” said Alice Berliner, Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (SoCalCOSH). “When the Harbor Commission renewed the NFI/Cal Cartage Foreign Trade Zone Permit, they sent the message that it’s okay to pay workers poverty wages, it’s okay to steal drivers’ wages, it’s okay to allow occupational injuries, and in some cases fatalities, on City property. And most importantly, when the Harbor Commission renewed NFI/Cal Cartage’s FTZ Agreement, it sent the message that the City of Los Angeles condones this abuse. Today’s Council veto of the Agreement reverses this unjust decision and sends a strong message that worker health and safety matters.”
On April 5, 2018, the LA Harbor Commission approved a one-year Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) Operating Agreement with the company. On April 17, 2018, the LA City Council approved a motion filed by Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino to assert jurisdiction over the matter, and on May 1, 2018, the Trade, Travel, and Tourism Committee recommended that Council veto the Harbor Commission’s approval of the FTZ agreement. Today, the full City Council voted to veto NFI/Cal Cartage’s FTZ Operating Agreement.
Background: Regulatory Action and Litigation at NFI/California Cartage
California Cartage, based in Wilmington, CA, is one of the largest goods movement companies in America, with warehouses and port trucking operations across the U.S. Referred to herein as “NFI/Cal Cartage,” this family of companies was recently acquired by the New Jersey-based National Freight Industries (NFI). Previous to this acquisition, Cal Cartage was owned and managed by Robert Curry, Sr. and his family. NFI/Cal Cartage represents the largest trucking operation at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by a wide margin.
Port Trucking Operations
The NFI/Cal Cartage family of companies includes five major trucking operations at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. The four largest - K&R Transportation, California Cartage Express, ContainerFreight EIT and California Multimodal LLC (CMI) – have been facing multiple claims in the courts and government agencies for misclassifying their drivers. In several instances, agencies have already determined that drivers were, in fact, employees. K&R and California Cartage Express operate out of the same property as the Cal Cartage warehouse (described in the following section), CMI operates out of a nearby Wilmington yard, and ContainerFreight operates out of a yard in Long Beach. Combined, more than 600 alleged misclassified drivers work for these companies.
Agency Investigations and Determinations
California Labor Commissioner
Over the past two years, there have been at least 12 decisions issued by the California Labor Commissioner in individual claims filed by NFI/Cal Cartage drivers working for K&R Transportation, Cal Cartage Express, ContainerFreight, and CMI. All of these claims found that the drivers were, in fact, employees, and not independent contractors. Together, those decisions ordered NFI/Cal Cartage to pay those 12 drivers a total of $1,419,102.62for Labor Code violations including unlawful deductions and unreimbursed expenses. NFI/Cal Cartage has appealed twelve of these cases, settling eight of them, while one remains pending in Superior Court.
There have been an additional 28 Labor Commissioner claims that drivers have filed against NFI/Cal Cartage, all of which appear to be pending (of these, 15 were filed by K&R drivers and 12 by CMI drivers). 10 of the K&R drivers had their hearings in December 2017, and a decision is pending. There are hearings scheduled beginning May 7, 2018 in the claims of 10 CMI drivers. The total liability for those 28 claims is over $5 million.
California Employment Development Department (EDD)
At least four K&R drivers have been determined to have been employees – not independent contractors – by the California EDD in individual benefits determinations.
In June and September of 2017, the California EDD filed at least two tax liens against K&R Transportation.
Los Angeles City Attorney
On January 8, 2018, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that his office had filed lawsuits against Cal Cartage Express, CMI, and K&R Transportation for violation of Unfair Competition Law by misclassifying port truck drivers as independent contractors and evade paying taxes and providing benefits to drivers.
In recent years, NFI/Cal Cartage has faced four class action lawsuits in California Superior Court for multiple Labor Code violations, including willful misclassification, unlawful deductions, unreimbursed expenses, unpaid minimum wages, and failure to provide meal and rest breaks, along with violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law. In December 2017, the last pending case settled for $3.5 million and a motion for final approval is scheduled for May 2018. The company recently settled three similar suits.
NFI/Cal Cartage also recently settled two “mass action” lawsuits for misclassification and wage theft in CA Superior Court involving 55 drivers.
Cal Cartage Container Freight Station in Wilmington, CA, is a warehouse and freight center on Port of LA property and employs approximately 500 workers, with 80 percent of the workforce being employed through a temp agency. While Cal Cartage warehouse workers once had good paying jobs that provided benefits, they have not had representation from a union in over 30 years and conditions have suffered. Workers are now paid the state minimum wage with little or no benefits (even though they are entitled to a higher wage under the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance), and work in health and safety conditions that are deplorable. The company has been cited for serious health and safety violations twice in the past three years, and workers face serious retaliation resulting in unfair labor practices charges and five strikes.
Health & Safety
The warehouse facility has health and safety issues. The building was built in the 1940s and is poorly maintained. Several workers have been hurt just trying to walk around the facility due to potholes and poor infrastructure. The machines, including forklifts, are not maintained and often have faulty brakes and horns—leading to accidents. Workers filed a formal complaint with Cal/OSHA in June 2015, triggering an investigation at the facility. In November 2015, over $21,000 in citations were issued—4 serious and 6 general penalties. It was noted in these citations that the chipped paint at this facility contains lead.
Cal/OSHA reinvestigated the facility a year later, resulting in additional serious citations in November 2016 amounting $67,150 for the warehouse and $51,275 for the staffing agency. Citations included not providing workers with steel-toed boots, not properly attaching shipping containers to the dock, and repeat violations for unsafe brakes on forklifts. The investigation regarding the company’s abatement of these citations is still active. Workers filed a third Cal/OSHA complaint in November 2017, and the investigation is still pending.
National Labor Relations Board
On February 28, 2018, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ariel Sotolongo issued a decision finding that California Cartage and its subsidiary Orient Tally violated workers’ rights at the 2401 E. Pacific Coast Highway, warehouse, including by engaging in unlawful interrogation, implied threats of termination, and confronting workers in a physically aggressive fashion. This decision ordered the company to cease and desist the unlawful behavior, and was issued following a hearing held in June 2017. The case arose after Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board issued a March 2016 Consolidated Complaint (Cases: 21-CA-160242 and 21-CA-162991) against California Cartage for unfair labor practice (ULP) charges.
In 2016, workers at the same warehouse filed additional ULP charges with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters against California Cartage for several unfair labor practices including then company owner Bob Curry threatening to close the warehouse if workers unionized. These charges are pending.
On December 17, 2014, workers from the California Cartage warehouse on Pacific Coast Highway at the Port of Los Angeles filed a class action lawsuit alleging millions of dollars in wage theft. The workers, many of whom are paid the state minimum wage and have worked through a staffing agency for years, are entitled to the benefits of the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance because the warehouse where they work is operated on City of Los Angeles property. Despite this, the workers at the warehouse have not been paid the applicable living wage rate in the 18 years since the ordinance passed.
Under the City of Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance, Cal Cartage is currently required to provide each worker with either $12.52 per hour for an all-cash wage or $11.27 per hour plus $1.25 per hour in health benefits and as of July 1, 2017, it will go up to be $12.73 all-cash wage or $11.48 plus $1.25 in health benefits. Further, each worker is entitled to 12 paid days off per year. The law extends the obligation to any staffing agencies that are contracted by Cal Cartage and that directly employ more than 50 percent of the workers in the warehouse facility.
The case is currently in mediation proceedings.
NFI/Cal Cartage’s key customers include: Lowe’s, Amazon, TJ Maxx, Home Depot, Kmart, and Sears, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense.
It’s hardly new for politicians to wrangle over the National Labor Relations Board. This time, though, partisan warfare has penetrated the agency itself. | Jon Elswick/AP Photo
A federal agency that regulates labor unions is engaged in something close to civil war as political appointees, career bureaucrats and its inspector general battle one another.
The agency is the National Labor Relations Board, created in 1935 to promote collective bargaining and adjudicate disputes between businesses and workers. An independent agency insulated — in theory — from partisan politics, the NLRB under President Donald Trump is consumed to the point of paralysis by fights over personnel policies, ethics rules and legal decisions that stem from ancient political disagreements over the proper balance of power between employers and workers.
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The in-fighting is bad news for workers who seek the NLRB’s help to organize unions and increase corporate accountability for labor law violations — and also, paradoxically, bad news for employers who want to fight unionization and limit corporate liability by reversing pro-labor rulings issued under the Obama NLRB.
“This is like when Yugoslavia broke up,” said one employment lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You’re fighting over things that happened 10,000 years ago — you killed my ancestor so I’m going to kill you.”
At the center of the controversy, which has pitted civil servants against political appointees, conservatives against liberals and, on occasion, conservatives against other conservatives, are Peter Robb, the NLRB’s bare-knuckled general counsel, and board member William Emanuel, a controversial Trump appointee with deep ties to business.
Robb outraged the NLRB’s career staff in January by proposing a restructuring that would demote regional directors, whom the business lobby considers too pro-union. That prompted revolt from the NLRB’s employee unions. “Peter Robb is considering measures to ‘streamline’ the NLRB that will only make it harder to remedy federal labor law violations,” read a flyer that three New York union locals distributed at an event Robb attended in February.
Nearly 400 NLRB employees followed up March 15 in a letter sent to members of Congress that said Robb’s changes “strike us as unlikely to generate cost savings for the agency. What they do seem likely to achieve is the frustration of our efforts to provide members of the public with high quality, thorough investigation.”
The second and more elaborate NLRB controversy concerns Emanuel's decision not to recuse himself in December from Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, a pro-business ruling in which the NLRB’s inspector general later concluded Emanuel had a conflict of interest. After the inspector general issued his report, the NLRB vacated the ruling.
The two story lines crossed this month when Robb issued a legal opinion that said he “does not agree with the conclusions reached in the IG report,” and accused three NLRB members of breaking the law. Robb faulted the members — including the Republican chairman — for vacating Hy-Brand without consulting Emanuel, and urged the board to reinstate Hy-Brand. It’s highly unusual for an NLRB general counsel to criticize the board’s judgment so harshly. The White House, signaling apparent agreement with Robb, replaced NLRB Chairman Marvin Kaplan last week with the just-confirmed board member John Ring. (Kaplan will remain as board member.)
Meanwhile, the NLRB’s inspector general, David Berry, is investigating a second NLRB member, Mark Pearce, who is one of the board’s two Democrats. (By law, two of the NLRB’s five board members are chosen by whichever party does not occupy the White House.) Berry is following on a complaint filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative nonprofit, based on a Wall Street Journal editorial that accused Pearce of alerting in advance attendees at an American Bar Association meeting in Puerto Rico that Hy-Brand would be vacated. Pearce did not answer a request for comment.
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Berry, in turn, stands accused by the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, the legal arm of the anti-union National Right To Work Committee, of disclosing confidential board deliberations improperly in his report on Emanuel, and in a follow-up report issued one month later. The right-to-work group asked an umbrella group, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, to investigate. Berry did not answer a request for comment.
“It’s sort of like 'Game of Thrones,'” said Roger King, a friend of Emanuel’s and senior labor and employment counsel for the HR Policy Association.
Or maybe three-dimensional chess. The National Right to Work Committee is a natural ally to Emanuel, but, remarkably, it’s come to regard Emanuel as a problem that must not be replicated in future NLRB nominations, lest pro-labor Democrats gain an upper hand through additional recusals.
In its March newsletter, the group revealed that the Trump administration ignored its advice “not to choose … another management attorney who would have to recuse himself or herself potentially from vast numbers of cases involving clients of the attorney’s former employer.” That advice, the newsletter complained, “went unheeded” when Trump nominated Ring, a partner at the management-side law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, “whose client list is even longer than Littler Mendelson’s.” The Senate confirmed Ring last week.
“For the next year and a half,” warned National Right To Work Committee vice president Matthew Leen in the newsletter, “two of the three NLRB members who aren’t profoundly biased in favor of forced unionism may have to recuse themselves from multiple cases.”
In effect, Leen was saying that the Trump administration was so blatantly anti-labor that it may be unable to fulfill its anti-labor objectives.
It’s hardly new for politicians to wrangle over the NLRB. In 2012, the board made headlines when President Barack Obama tested the limits of his executive power by bypassing Congress and granting three recess appointments to the NLRB even though the Senate was technically in session. Obama ended up losing in the Supreme Court.
This time, though, partisan warfare has penetrated the agency itself.
General counsel Robb sent senior agency staffers reeling after he announced in a Jan. 11 conference call that he wanted to consolidate the agency’s 26 field offices into larger “districts” overseen by officials hand-picked by him. Under Robb’s plan, regional directors would lose their classification as members of the Senior Executive Service — the civil service’s highest rank — and be replaced by a new layer of officials who'd be answerable to Robb.
The title “general counsel” makes Robb sound like a lawyer for NLRB management, but in fact it’s arguably the agency’s most powerful position. The NLRB general counsel is the agency’s gatekeeper, a sort of prosecutor who brings cases before the board. The vast majority of NLRB cases are processed at the NLRB’s 26 field offices and never reach the board. The field offices are staffed by career officials who don’t typically agree with the pro-management outlook of Robb, to whom they report.
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In a letter to Robb shortly after the January conference call, the regional directors called his proposed changes “very major” and complained that they hadn’t “heard an explanation of the benefits to be gained.” They also warned that enacting such changes might prompt senior directors and managers to retire en masse — a clear shot across the bow.
In reply, another official from the general counsel’s office proposed by email additional restrictions on the decision-making power of regional officials, such as requiring all cases go through headquarters for initial review.
Robb declined to comment for this story and, according to a source familiar with his thinking, is upset that the controversy spilled into public view.
Marshall Babson, a former Democrat appointee to the NLRB, said that Robb’s proposed changes risk making the NLRB less efficient. “If you’re talking about injecting another level of review, that could slow things down,” he said.
Jennifer Abruzzo, who was acting general counsel before Robb, agreed. “I think that’s a mistake,” she said. “I think the regional directors know what they’re doing.”
Shifting rationales for the changes have intensified the career staff’s suspicions about Robb’s motives. At the March ABA meeting in Puerto Rico, Robb’s deputy John Kyle said they were intended to bring the agency in line with the White House’s proposed 9 percent budget cut for the agency. But the $1.3 trillion spending bill signed into law last month by President Donald Trump, H.R. 1625 (115), rejected that cut and maintained funding at current levels.
“It certainly undercuts the general counsel’s rationale for restructuring,” said Karen Cook, president of the NLRB Professional Association. “He will try to move forward with his plan, though, on the basis that he expects a severe cut to the 2019 budget.“
The budget picture grew more complex Tuesday when the White House budget office alerted NLRB that the agency should spend only $264 million of the $274 million it received in the spending bill, a 3.6 percent reduction. Such a rescission, were it to become permanent, would require congressional approval under the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.
“I am unaware of a single instance in the past wherein the White House or OMB subjected the NLRB to the budget rescission process,” said Marshall Babson, a former board member.
Fevered though the Robb Revolt is, it hasn’t yet engulfed members of the board itself. The same can’t be said about the controversy surrounding Emanuel and his participation in the December Hy-Brand decision.
Hy-Brand narrowed the circumstances under which a business could be classified a so-called joint employer, jointly liable for labor violations committed by its contractors or franchisees. It reversed an earlier ruling in Browning-Ferris Industries, a 2016 decision by the Obama NLRB that broadened the circumstances under which a business could be classified a joint employer. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s were outraged by Browning-Ferris because it put them on the hook for maltreatment of employees over whom they didn’t necessarily maintain direct control.
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Hy-Brand was rushed out along with several other pro-management decisions shortly before a Republican NLRB member’s term was about to end in December, leaving the board deadlocked, 2-2. The overturning of Browning-Ferris took many by surprise, because Hy-Brand wasn’t a case that had much to do with the joint-employer issue.
“It was a rush to judgment,” said Wilma Liebman, a Democratic board member under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
One week after the Hy-Brand ruling, congressional Democrats accused the NLRB of loading the dice by allowing Emanuel to participate. Emanuel’s former law firm, Littler Mendelson, had represented a party in Browning-Ferris, noted a Dec. 21 letter to Emanuel from Senate HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and others. In the letter, the six Democrats posed several questions to Emanuel about his participation in Hy-Brand.
In his response, first reported by ProPublica, Emanuel said he wasn’t aware at the time of the ruling that his firm had been involved in Browning-Ferris, noting Littler’s very long client list. Unfortunately for Emanuel, he’d already noted his firm’s participation in Browning-Ferris on a questionnaire submitted during his confirmation hearing. Emanuel scrambled to revise his response, but the damage was done, and inspector general Berry opened an investigation. The first report, issued Feb. 9, was scathing, finding “a serious and flagrant problem and/or deficiency in the board's administration of its deliberative process.” Emanuel, Berry concluded, should have recused himself from the decision to overturn the Obama-era standard.
The NLRB’s other three board members, including Trump-nominated chairman Marvin Kaplan, were persuaded by Berry’s reasoning and vacated Hy-Brand, waiting to act until after Emanuel departed for the ABA conference in Puerto Rico. Emanuel was stunned when a fellow attendee pulled up the ruling on a cellphone, according to a source who was present at the conference.
“You should have seen the look on his face,” this person said. “He had no knowledge of it in advance. He was totally floored.”
Emanuel, who declined to comment for this story, hired Zuckerman Spaeder, a prominent white-collar law firm that previously represented former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Emanuel’s defenders insist he did nothing wrong because his firm wasn’t directly involved in Hy-Brand. Zuckerman Spaeder Chairman Dwight Bostwick argued in a letter to Berry that he'd evaluated Emanuel under an unusually strict standard that “has the potential to bedevil and frustrate this agency for years to come” and “‘weaponize’ the ethics rules for purposes of improperly excluding presidential appointees from doing the jobs they were sworn to do.”
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Bostwick also wrote that one month after the Hy-Brand decision, the NLRB’s designated ethics official told Emanuel that she didn’t believe Emanuel should have been required to recuse himself in that case. According to the letter, Emanuel asked for that opinion in writing, but the request was denied at the OIG’s request.
Emanuel’s allies have cried foul, noting that former Democratic NLRB member Craig Becker participated in cases involving local chapters of the Service Employees International Union despite having previously been counsel to SEIU. In that instance, Berry raised no red flags. Becker declined to comment on the record.
The conflict-of-interest charge is “based on a house of cards and not a very strong one at that,” said King, the attorney with the HR Policy Association. “We see a long-term game plan to destabilize and undermine the NLRB.”
In his second inspector general report on Emanuel, issued March 20, Berry concluded that Emanuel violated the Trump administration’s ethics pledge, which states: “I will not for a period for two years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients.” But in his letter to Berry, Bostwick said he “respectfully disagree[d] … with the determination the member Emanuel violated his presidential ethics pledge.”
Berry acquitted Emanuel of the most serious charge: lying to Congress about whether he was aware of a possible conflict of interest. But that did little to cool Congress' fury. After Berry issued the report, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called on Emanuel to resign, saying he “no longer has the credibility” to serve.
Portman at Today’s Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pensions Plans Hearing: “The Status Quo is Unacceptable”
WASHINGTON, D.C. —At the second meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer PensionsPlans today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) made the case that the panel must work together on solutions that address the multiemployer pension crisis and deliver results, saying that, “the status quo is not acceptable.”Portman is hopeful that his colleagues on both sides of the aisle can come together to achieve a comprehensive and permanent solution that protects earned pensions, protects taxpayer dollars, prevents the insolvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and alleviates pressure on employers. The focus of the hearing was on the legal structure and history of the multiemployer pension system, and Portman focused his questions on funding rules for plan sponsors and employer withdrawal liability, which are important issues in ensuring that plans can improve their solvency without placing an undue burden on contributing employers.
The Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans consists of 16 members of Congress: four Republicans and four Democrats in the both the House and Senate. The deadline for the Committee to vote on a statement of findings and recommendations, and propose legislation to carry out these recommendations, is November 30th.In order to successfully report out legislation, a minimum of five out of the eight members of both parties must support it.
Transcript of the questioning can be found below and a video can be foundhere.
Portman: “The information that you are able to provide us is critical to helping us figure this out, and it is complicated, and there are different rules from multiemployers as we’ve talked about today. I think there’s a consensus around the table, I hope, that the status quo is not acceptable and that was your first summary comment, Mr. Goldman. I think, also, there is a deep interest in figuring out what we could do going forward to not just provide some solvency for Central States plan and PBGC that could otherwise go insolvent as soon as 2025, but also to put rules in place going forward that could solve some of the problems that have occurred, and one is withdrawal liability. You talked about that a little bit, Mr. Goldman, it was your third point, you said, ‘The status quo is not acceptable, many plans remain healthy’ and you talked about withdraw liability. Your point was that it keeps employers from being able to effectively help solve the problem, right?”
Mr. Ted Goldman, Senior Pensions Fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries: “Yes.”
Portman: “The key question I think we need to spend a lot of time on figuring out is the extent to which this insolvency is going to drive more employers into bankruptcy and create more issues, and one of the issues that concerns me is for the roughly 200 employers on Ohio and Central States, they would be reducing contributions for other multiemployer plans too, right? Creating a contagion effect, as you all call it. That threatens to compound the entire multiemployer system. There are many ways this could happen under current laws as evident from reading your report. The withdrawal liability issue and the possibility of a mass withdrawal, once Central States becomes insolvent. On page 46 of the Joint Committee report that we got, you noted, Mr. Barthold that the amount of an employer’s withdrawal liability is in theory determined by the plan’s sponsor and generally based on the employer’s portion of the plans unfunded, vested benefits. However, it is my understanding that the amount of withdrawal liability that employers actually pay is calculated based on their previous contributions to the plan and is payable with interest in annual installments and that those can last up to a maximum of 20 years and can also be paid in a lump sum based on that present value at 20 years, or it can be a negotiated solution between the plan sponsor and the employer. Can any of you comment on how often employers pay the full withdrawal liability, pay it off within the 20-year period, versus having some of the withdrawal liability forgiven at year 20?”
Mr. Tom Barthold, Chief of Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation:“Senator Portman, I do not know the answer.”
Mr. Goldman: “It is not uncommon for employers to not pay that full liability. There is a mechanism that has a 20-year payment cap, and after you’ve paid those 20 years, you’re done. It doesn’t always necessarily align with the total amount you should have paid, so that’s another sort of leakage from the process and sometimes there is a negotiation up front and a lump sum settlement that is often well below the total value of that withdrawal liability, mostly dependent on the ability of the withdrawing employer to be able to pay, so it is better to get something than nothing.”
Portman: “It’s not uncommon, you’re saying, in that year 20, for you to have that withdrawal liability forgiven, causing leakage, and that money never comes back in. How would employer withdrawal burden change in the event of a mass withdrawal once a plan becomes insolvent?”
Mr. Goldman: “In the mass withdrawal, I’m blanking out on how that works. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
Portman: “I think when there’s a mass withdrawal there’s no 20-year cap on the payment.”
Mr. Goldman: “That’s right, there’s no 20-year cap and everybody has to pay up at that point.”
Portman: “Right, which is very hard to imagine, right? We have lots of issues here but one is, what is the current law, with regard to withdrawal liability, doing to make these plans even riskier and take away some of the possibility of us solving this problem? Another question that I’m not going to have time to ask but I would like to get an answer in writing if I could is, on the rate of return, what do we assume the rate of return is, which is really the discount rate---and I think in multi-employer plans is really seven to eight percent---and how often has that been true? In other words, is part of our problem here just that we have just estimated that there be a much higher return on investment then there actually has been?”
Mr. Goldman: “Yes, and by the way on the cap, you’re right, the cap goes away and a payment is in perpetuity in theory. On the interest rate, one thing to keep in mind is this is a very long-term pension plan and it does have a long timeline, a long investment horizon so you’re funding for people when they join the plan in their twenties and projecting out when they’re actually going to get their last payment at death. So, the long-term rate reflects long-term expectations and also reflects the investment mix of a plan so it is unique to a plan and each plan has to go through a process of assuring that the rate they select is defensible and appropriate.”
Portman: “If you could give me some comments in writing on how many times this seven or eight percent has been achieved, that would be great, thanks.”
Dear Union Leader,
Something is happening in America. A growing number of working people are recognizing that the best way to raise our own standing is by standing with the person next to us. Collective action is on the rise.
Building power for working people was the focus of our district meetings held from coast to coast over the past several weeks. Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and I were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm local unions brought to each of these gatherings.
We talked about the threats of Janus and right to work and our power to overcome them. And we made some important asks like assigning local union coordinators, identifying elected officials who are union members and incorporating Common Sense Economics into your outreach.
We are bringing our vision of a robust, diverse and politically independent labor movement to life. Since our final district meeting April 10, more than 10,000 new members have joined our movement. Flight attendants at JetBlue (TWU), utility workers at Atlanta Gas Light (IBEW), registered nurses at Stanford Valley (CNA/NNU), health care workers at UMass Medical (AFSCME), personal support workers and registered nurses at Spectrum Health (IAM), editorial staff at the New Republic (TNG-CWA) and teaching and research assistants at Harvard University (UAW), just to name a few.
WASHINGTON -- TIME named Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to the 2018 TIME 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The list, now in its fifteenth year, recognizes the activism, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. The TIME tribute to Congresswoman Waters, written by Yara Shahidi, is below:
Congresswoman Maxine Waters of the 43rd District of California, a.k.a. Auntie Maxine, has made my generation proud to be nieces and nephews. She is adored and admired by people who care about social justice and is oh so eloquent in letting the world, particularly the white men of Congress who dare test her acumen, know that she is not here for any nonsense. From “reclaiming my time” to leading a movement to “impeach him,” she says what many of us are thinking. And she reminds us that we are worthy of any space we occupy.
You would think that 41 years of public service would make Congresswoman Waters tired, but her laser focus is unmatched. When other policymakers criminalize protests, she is there, verbalizing our pain. She fights for funding to support neglected communities. And she takes to Twitter to raise her voice on our behalf, whether or not Congress is in session. In this time of sociopolitical unrest, Congresswoman Waters has been the brilliant, tenacious representative of the people that we all need.
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