No Mass Transit Grants for California, Biden Administration Rules

“the U.S. Department of Labor has denied California $12 billion in transit funding, including grants from the recently signed infrastructure bill. The reason? A 1964 federal law requires the labor department to certify that the state agencies seeking any mass-transit grants are “protecting the interests of any affected employees,” The Fresno Bee reported.

So, the Biden administration is claiming that California—the state that provides its public employees with unparalleled pay and pension benefits, and provides collective-bargaining rights unheard of anywhere else—is being mean to its “affected” public employees because the state passed a 2013 law, authored by Democrats, that infinitesimally reined in pension benefits.

As SFist summarized, “Biden is withholding giant amounts of federal money from California public transit because the state’s public-employee pension system is apparently not paying people enough.””

How Many Union Members Does It Take To Operate a Train?

“Labor unions such as the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers have been lobbying federal regulators to mandate that all freight trains operate with two-person crews in the cab. That’s long been the standard industry practice for safety reasons. The engineer drives the train, while the rail conductor handles equipment inspections and monitors track signals. Unions worry that advanced automation will allow railroads to run safely without a second person in the engine—and they want the government to step in to protect those jobs.

This dreaded automation is indeed occurring. All major rail systems in the U.S. now use positive train control (PTC), essentially a computer-based override system that monitors speed and track signals to avert collisions. The adoption of PTC—mandated by Congress since 2008—has helped dramatically reduce rail accidents. Data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), an industry group, show accidents are down 30 percent since 2000, while employee injuries have fallen by more than 40 percent. Railroading is safer now than it has ever been, in large part due to those technological advances.

With PTC systems handling many of the in-cab duties that were formerly the rail conductor’s responsibility, railroads are seeking to reassign some of those workers. Because rail conductors typically do equipment inspections and perform other duties before trains depart from rail yards and after they return, some will continue to work in that capacity. But any changes to the employment structure have to be approved as part of collective bargaining.”

“without clear and convincing evidence that two-person crews are necessary for trains to operate safety—and with PTC doing a better job of preventing accidents than humans used to—there’s no compelling reason for the government to get involved in this dispute. Private railroads and unions can make their own arrangements.

If Biden needs more convincing, he should check in with his beloved Amtrak. The government-run passenger rail system dropped its own two-people-in-the-cab mandate back in the 1980s.”

L.A. Teachers Union Leader: ‘There’s No Such Thing As Learning Loss’

“It is brutally unfair that thousands of parents have no alternative but to entrust their kids’ education to a system in which people like Myart-Cruz hold the power. Union officials who want to keep employees at home for as long as possible—and don’t care how little math is being taught to students—do not have the kids’ best interests in mind. They are demanding tremendous sacrifices from everyone else, and they have no reason to compromise because there’s zero accountability.

This is why all families deserve school choice: If education officials simply refuse to give students what they need, students should have every right to go elsewhere—and take their share of the system’s education funds with them. No educator who shrugs at the idea of kids falling behind in reading and math is entitled to tax dollars.”

3 winners and 3 losers from the just-completed Supreme Court term

“Roberts has spent much of his career crusading against voting rights, specifically the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark civil rights law that ended Jim Crow practices disenfranchising Black voters and prohibiting race discrimination of all kinds in elections.

As a young Justice Department lawyer, Roberts fought unsuccessfully to convince President Ronald Reagan to veto an important 1982 amendment to the law, which overturned a previous Supreme Court decision making it very difficult to win Voting Rights Act lawsuits. As a justice, Roberts wrote the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which neutralized much of the law. He also joined two other opinions severely weakening the rest of the law — the latter of which, Brnovich v. DNC, was decided on the last day of this term.

The practical impact of this trilogy is that the Voting Rights Act is barely alive. Under Brnovich, for example, states are likely to have carte blanche to roll back early voting and absentee voting, as well as other, similar innovations that became common in the last four decades. And most challenges to the latest wave of Republican voter suppression laws are likely to fail.”

“in a term gravid with extraordinarily aggressive arguments made by right-wing lawyers, conservatives and Republicans had an exceptionally good run. They convinced the Court to hobble the Voting Rights Act, to open a new line of attack on donor disclosure laws, to expand property rights, to attack unions, and to rewrite the rules governing when religious objectors are exempt from the law.

And that’s after just one term with a 6-3 Court. Next term, the Court will hear a case that could overrule Roe v. Wade.”

The Supreme Court just handed down disastrous news for unions

“Cedar Point is a sign the radical new conservative regime that many Republicans crave and that liberals fear could actually be upon us. The Court fundamentally reshaped much of American property law in Cedar Point. It did so in a party-line vote. And it did so in a case involving labor unions — institutions that are often celebrated by liberals and loathed by conservatives.

The case involves a nearly half-century-old California regulation, which gives union organizers limited, temporary access to farm worksites. Under this regulation, a union may enter such a worksite for up to 30 days at a time, and it may invoke this right up to four times a year. On the days when the union is permitted to enter, it may only speak to the workers for three hours a day — the hour before the start of work, the hour after the end of work, and the workers’ lunch break.

Thus, union organizers are allowed on a farm’s property for a maximum of 120 days a year, and for a total of only three hours per day. And the union also must notify the employer when it wishes to invoke this right.

But the right of unions to enter onto a California farm to organize workers is now in deep trouble. In an opinion penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court held that California’s longstanding regulation violates the Constitution’s “takings clause,” which provides that no one shall have their property taken from them by the government “without just compensation.”

And, in order to reach this result, Roberts rewrites decades of law interpreting that clause.”

“Under the new rule announced in Cedar Point, any law or regulation that “appropriates a right to invade” private property amounts to a per se taking. If California allowed union organizers to enter an employer’s land for a single minute, then California committed a per se taking.
“The right to exclude is ‘one of the most treasured’ rights of property ownership,” Roberts writes. And much of his opinion suggests that any intrusion on this right to exclude amounts to a taking.”

“One problem with Roberts’s expansive view of the takings clause is that it could prevent the government from performing very basic functions, such as health and safety inspections.

Suppose, for example, that a restaurant has a disgusting, rat-infested kitchen that violates numerous local health ordinances. The restaurant’s owners obviously do not want these violations to be discovered, so they refuse to admit any government health inspectors. Under Roberts’s reading of the takings clause, it’s not clear why the restaurant owner should not be allowed to do so — or why it shouldn’t be able to, at the very least, demand compensation from the government before health inspectors can be allowed on their property.

After all, if “the right to exclude is ‘one of the most treasured’ rights of property ownership,” why should an employer be allowed to exclude union organizers but not health inspectors?”

“Roberts’s opinion recognizes that it would be untenable to hold that health and safety inspections violate the Constitution, so he carves out a special rule allowing such inspections to stand. “The government may require property owners to cede a right of access as a condition of receiving certain benefits,” such as a license to operate a business, Roberts writes, so long as that condition “bears an ‘essential nexus’ and ‘rough proportionality’ to the impact of the proposed use of the property.”

Those are some very large and very vague words, and it’s not entirely clear what it means for an inspection requirement to be roughly proportional to “the impact of the proposed use of the property.” Nor is it clear why, if the government can require restaurants to admit health inspectors as a condition of doing business, it can’t also require that restaurant to admit union organizers as a condition of employing workers.

The Court has simply made a value judgment here. It views health inspections as sufficiently important to justify creating an exception to its new understanding of the takings clause, but it doesn’t view protecting a worker’s right to organize as important enough to justify a similar exception.”

“the Court has revolutionized its understanding of the takings clause. And it did so in an opinion that applies an extremely skeptical rule to pro-union regulation while it simultaneously creates carveouts for regulations that the Court’s conservative majority supports.”

What American Workers Really Want Instead of a Union at Amazon

“After an intensive, months-long election, only one-eighth of the workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted in favor of a union. More than twice as many voted against. Roughly half didn’t vote at all.

The election’s losers are incredulous that they could have fallen short on the merits. Challenges are already underway, accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices such as positioning a mailbox improperly. And to be sure, Amazon appears to have behaved obnoxiously, and perhaps even unlawfully in some instances.

But when nearly 6,000 workers have two months to cast ballots, and the union secures fewer than 750 “yes” votes, the idea that it has what workers want looks a bit ridiculous.”

“Workers have shown that they dislike the hyper-adversarialism and political activism that American unions bring into their workplaces but are eager for more representation, voice, and support than they can achieve individually. What they want, and need, is a middle ground that neither side is offering.

Research has borne this out. In a landmark 1994 survey, Harvard professor Richard Freeman and University of Wisconsin professor Joel Rogers asked more than 2,400 nonmanagement workers whether they would prefer representation by an organization that “management cooperated with in discussing issues, but had no power to make decisions” or by one “that had more power, but management opposed.” Workers preferred cooperation to an adversarial stance by 63 percent to 22 percent, a result that held even among active union members.

In 2017, MIT professor Thomas Kochan conducted a similar survey and found that interest in joining a union had grown and workers wanted a wide range of services that a union could provide to them, including: collective bargaining; health, unemployment, and training benefits; legal assistance; input into work processes; and representation in management decision-making. On the long menu of options, the two that stood out as making workers less likely to join are exact the ones that seem to get union activists most excited: politics and strikes.”

Why major unions are wary of the move to wind and solar jobs

““The fossil fuel industries were unionized in long struggles that were classic labor stories,” said University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis. “Now, they’re in decline and you have these new industries. But a green capitalist is still a capitalist, and they don’t want a union.”

About 4 percent of solar industry workers and 6 percent of wind workers are unionized, according to the 2020 US Energy and Employment Report. The percentage of unionized workers in natural gas, nuclear, and coal power plants is about double that, around 10 to 12 percent unionized (although still not a huge amount). In addition, transportation, distribution, and storage jobs — which exist largely in the fossil fuel sector — about 17 percent of the jobs are unionized. Still, the solar and wind unionization rates are in line with the albeit very low national rate of unionized workers in the private sector, which is about 6.3 percent.

This is one of the big reasons there’s a real hesitancy on the part of many unions and workers to transition from fossil fuel to renewable jobs: They are worried the jobs waiting for them in wind and solar won’t pay as well or have union protections. This has long been a tension point between environmental groups and labor”

How the Police Bank Millions Through Their Union Contracts

“One town’s police contract guaranteed a retiring lieutenant $121,000 for unused sick time. Another’s promises officers six months pay with no work required as a parting retirement benefit. In another contract, cops get paid $109 an hour for side gigs like monitoring traffic at construction sites.

Despite attempts to rein in police union contracts in New Jersey, costly provisions remain common, an unprecedented analysis by the Asbury Park Press and ProPublica found. The news outlets identified contract clauses throughout the state that protect officer payouts that cost the public hundreds of millions of dollars.”