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October 2019, Volume 25, Number 4

UFW, ALRB, Unions

ALRB. The ALRB issued several decisions in summer 2019 before losing its third member. In Gerawan 45 ALRB 7, the Board upheld an ALJ decision that Gerawan unlawfully failed to recall four seasonal workers because they supported the UFW. Crew leaders recruit their crews, and the ALJ-ALRB found that the reasons offered for not recalling the UFW supporters were pretextual.

In Reveille Farms, 45 ALRB 6, the ALRB agreed with an ALJ decision that Reveille unlawfully fired five workers who had engaged in protected concerted activities, and that the employer's stated reasons for the firings were not credible.

In David Abreu Vineyard Management, the ALRB agreed with an ALJ decision that that David Abreu unlawfully fired two workers who had engaged in protected concerted activities and provided no valid business reasons for the firing.

DOL. Eugene Scalia replaced Alex Acosta as Secretary of Labor in September 2019. Scalia is expected to be more aggressive than Acosta in rolling back labor regulations.

Acosta opposed efforts to weaken unions and labor protections to avoid alienating blue-collar workers and to reduce union opposition to the revised NAFTA agreement, the USMCA. Scalia was previously a lobbyist for the Northern Mariana Islands, where sewing factories imported Chinese and Filipino workers and had them sew Made-in-USA clothing.

Some 50,000 workers employed by 34 General Motors plants around the US went on strike September 16, 2019. The United Auto Workers called its first strike since 2007 to win higher wages and benefits for auto workers, who made concessions during the 2008-09 recession. GM has been sharing some of its profits with workers, an average $11,000 a year over the past three years when GM had $35 billion in profits. GM says that it must keep labor costs low to develop electric and self-driving cars.

GM has a two-tiered labor force. Workers hired before 2007 earn $31 an hour and have defined-benefit pensions, while those hired after 2007 start at $17 an hour and reach $29 after eight years. The third of GM workers who were hired after 2007 have 401(k) retirement accounts rather than defined-benefit pensions. By October 2019, the strike was in its fourth week.

Los Angeles may be ground zero for labor organizing and strikes, including a six-day strike by teachers in January 2019. Many of the organizing efforts among workers who design video games and work in other non-traditional industries do not involve traditional unions. Some critics want the AFL-CIO to re-direct contributions from politicians to organizing more workers.

Journalist Steven Greenhouse devotes a chapter in his new book to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), which was started by two ex-UFW organizers. Greenhouse also praises the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which aims to improve conditions for Florida farm workers.

Greenhouse, Steven. 2019. Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor. Knopf.