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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1

ALRB, DOL, Unions

Filipino Larry Itliong called the 1965 grape workers strike that was soon supported by Cesar Chavez and what became the United Farm Workers union. Itliong immigrated to Seattle in 1929 at age 15, and became active among Filipinos seeking higher wages and better working conditions in the western states. Itliong disagreed with some of Chavez's priorities, and left the UFW in the 1970s.

DOL. President Trump in 2017 announced plans to expand apprenticeships that link employers and secondary schools, with employers paying student workers while they gain on-the-job experience. There were about 633,625 apprentices in programs registered with DOL in 2019, half in construction, compared with 13.3 million students enrolled in four-year colleges. Other apprenticeship programs link college students with paid work that are not registered with DOL, so there are estimated to be a million Americans in some type of apprenticeship program.

Both Democrats and Republicans want to expand apprenticeships to "new collar" jobs in cybersecurity, financial services, information technology and health care. Many US employers are unwilling to invest in training new workers who may decide to work elsewhere.

Unions. A 40-day UAW-GM strike that idled 49,000 workers at 34 plants ended in October 2019 with an agreement to raise wages to a peak $32 an hour and to pay covered workers an $11,000 signing bonus, provide a path to full-time employment for temporary workers, and not increase the amount workers contribute toward health insurance. Workers currently pay about three percent of the cost of their health insurance.

The agreement allows GM to close three US plants. The cost of labor in a typical car or light truck is about eight percent of the cost of the vehicle. The UAW has 400,000 active members, down from 1.5 million in 1970.

UAW President Gary Jones resigned during an FBI investigation of financial wrongdoing, including expenditures of over $1 million for cigars, meals and golf outings. Jones and former UAW President Dennis Williams are accused of spending member dues on entertainment for themselves in Palm Springs and elsewhere. The UAW's 1,000-acre Black Lake Walter P. and May Reuther Family Education Center includes a cabin built for Williams. Only union-made vehicles are allowed into the center, which rents rooms to the general public.

Europe has too many auto plants. Peugeot maker PSA Group announced plans to merge with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in October 2019 to create a global auto concern. Peugeot sold almost four million cars in 2018. Volkswagen and Toyota produce the most cars, almost 11 million each in 2017, followed by seven million each for GM and Hyundai and six million for Ford.

Global auto sales may have peaked, which could mean more auto plant closures. Japanese auto sales peaked in 1990, EU car sales peaked in 2000, and US auto sales peaked in 2016. Auto sales in China and India fell in 2018. Most forecasts conclude that a combination of gig-based car sharing apps and electric vehicles are likely to shrink the share of autos in global GDP from the 2018 level of six percent.

The US Supreme Court?s Janus decision in June 2018 held that public sector employees could not be required to join unions in order to keep their jobs, invalidating laws in 25 states that allowed contracts that required public sector workers to join unions and maintain membership. About 34 percent of public sector workers belong to unions, compared with six percent of private sector workers.

Many of the workers seeking changes at tech firms and fast-food restaurants have embraced solidarity unions, which are worker-led groups that are not certified as exclusive bargaining agents under the federal NLRA and do not need to win majority support in NLRB-supervised elections. Business unions, by contrast, win majority support in NLRB-supervised elections that compel employers to bargain in good faith with them for collective bargaining agreements.

Democratic candidates for their party's presidential nomination favor union positions on labor issues. Most have pledged to end non-compete agreements that prohibit ex-employees from working for competitors and to ban mandatory-arbitration clauses that prohibit lawsuits against employers. Most favor making gig workers who are now considered independent contractors to be employees, and most would make it easier for workers to unionize, strike and boycott to pressure employers to raise wages.

One idea borrowed from Europe is sectoral bargaining, which would establish wages and benefits by industry or sector rather than employer by employer, so that all workers, including those not represented by unions, receive the negotiated wage and benefit package. One purpose of sector-wide bargaining is to take wages out of competition by requiring all employers in a sector to pay the wage negotiated by a union that may represent only 20 or 30 percent of the workers in the industry.