Union among those pushing for WV PSC investigation of Frontier

By Max Garland Staff writer
7 hrs ago

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is being called on to launch an investigation into Frontier Communications’ copper network, with a union and the PSC’s independent staff recommending it look into the condition of the company’s customer service, financial status, infrastructure and more.
The case has been open since March, when the Communications Workers of America requested the PSC initiate a general investigation into Frontier. CWA filed that request shortly before West Virginia Frontier employees represented by the union began a strike that went on for three weeks.
CWA pointed to “persistent, pervasive problems with the quality of service provided to customers,” such as long outages, long delays in repair requests and Frontier failing to fix the problem until a formal PSC complaint was filed as reasons for an investigation.
“The formal complaints come from people in urban Charleston and rural areas across the state,” the CWA said. “Many threaten public safety, as many customers say they have no cell phone, are disabled and rely on phone-enabled health monitors, care for disabled or elderly relatives with whom they must stay in touch.”The union pointed to increases in consumer complaints filed with the PSC that coincided with Frontier job cuts.

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American workers stand ready to demand change after Janus blow


Obviously, we’re disappointed with the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. A narrow five-justice majority, emboldened by a stolen seat, overturned four decades of commonsense precedent. It’s the latest misguided action by the most corporate-friendly court in our history.

On paper, the plaintiff was one man in Illinois. But in reality, a dark web of corporations and wealthy donors dead set on destroying unions and silencing workers were behind this case. Janus is part of a multipronged attack, spearheaded by corporate billionaires, to chip away at the progress working people have made for ourselves and our communities. This decision is a political stain on what once was the most honorable, independent body in the world. More importantly, it further empowers the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.

But make no mistake, I’m as optimistic as ever. I’ve been a proud union member for 50 years, so I’ve seen a lot. The labor movement has never depended on any politician or judge to decide our fate, and we aren’t about to start now. In the end, Janus will be a footnote. This moment in history is being defined by our organizing. Something is happening in America. It’s beautiful. It’s real. And it can’t be contained by five justices or 51 Republican senators, or even the president.

All over the country, workers are organizing and striking as we haven’t seen in years. In April, 15,000 workers joined or formed unions in a single week. That’s on top of the 262,000 new members who joined our ranks last year, and 75 percent of them are under the age of 35. This is despite the fact that too many of our labor laws have been written to undermine the freedom to organize. New research from MIT shows a 50 percent increase in the number of non-union workers who would vote to join a union today. Tens of millions of workers are ready to experience the transformational power of collective bargaining.

In many cases, all that stands in the way is a rigged system. Senate and House Democrats recently introduced key legislation designed to combat growing inequality and to strengthen the economic security of working people. The “Better Deal” labor law reform bills introduced in Congress — the Workers Freedom to Negotiate Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act — are a major step in the right direction.

Among other reforms, they would enact several key provisions expanding collective bargaining rights such as strengthening penalties against abusive and predatory corporations that violate worker rights, combating misclassification of workers as supervisors and independent contractors, strengthening our right to strike for the wages, benefits and working conditions that we deserve, creating a mandatory mediation and arbitration process to ensure that corporations and newly organized unions reach a first contract, banning state laws that undermine our freedom to join together and negotiate,  and protecting the integrity and fairness of union elections from employer propaganda.

We are proud to endorse these bills. Any candidate who wants the support of working people must do the same. Let me be clear: The Supreme Court is on the wrong side of history. What the justices did flies in the face of where workers want to go and need to go. It shows just how out of touch the Supreme Court is with our country.

Janus or no Janus, American workers are demanding a voice. We are standing up and speaking out for a better life. We are demanding a fair share of the wealth we help create. We are marching and organizing and bargaining and voting. And we simply will not allow a corporate-controlled Supreme Court to stop us from doing our job.

Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO. He previously was its secretary treasurer and is a past president of the United Mine Workers.

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Trump’s Support Among Union Members Plummets

After 2 years of attacks on organized labor, his approval rating has dropped 15 points among union households

by Kris LaGrange on
May 08, 2018

For the past year and a half readers of UCOMM have heard all of the ways that Trump has been attacking working people. From placing the deciding vote on the Supreme Court that will decide in favor of Janus making Right to Work a national law, to the Trump Coal Con, to his attacks on federal workers and the heartless deportation of harmless immigrants that has ripped families apart; the last 17 months have shown that Trump is no friend to working men and women.  Just a year ago, Reuters polled union members and found an astonishing 62% of them stupidly supported Trump. This was a huge increase from the 42% that voted for him just a few months earlier. However, as he has failed to deliver on any of his promises. He failed to create 1 infrastructure job and he hasn’t stopped the outsourcing of jobs to Asia and Central America. Instead, Trump childishly fought with union leaders and his white union male MAGA support has evaporated.
The Reuters poll, which was released Friday, shows Trump’s approval rating down 15 points since March of 2017 to just 47%. The poll also found that most of the union support that Trump has comes from members in red states with low union density.
The dip in support also comes as Trump has once again set his eyes on federal workers. Recently, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon proposed cutting $143.5 billion in wages and benefits for current and retired workers. He also proposed that these cuts be included not in the normal budget, but in a Defense Authorization bill. Prevailing wage attacks in Red States havent helped Trump’s numbers either.
Are union members finally starting to see through the long Trump Con? Or, are the polls lieing to us, just like they did in November 2016. We can’t fix stupid folks, we can only write about it for now.

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The Newest Weapons Against Unions Are Employees

U-Haul workers sent a flood of letters seeking to reverse an Obama-era rule. Most used very similar language, in part because the company wrote it for them.
By Josh Eidelson and Hassan Kanu
‎April‎ ‎2‎, ‎2018‎ ‎4‎:‎00‎ ‎AM‎ ‎EDT
Thomas Neill wrote the government a letter Jan. 23 asking that it reverse an Obama-era rule that could make it easier for unions to win workplace elections. “Repeal the current rules; reinstate the prior rules; revise the election process in a way that brings them up to date in a sensible, fair manner,” he wrote. So did Brian Picanco, Paul Smedberg, Zane Rowland and Jim Smith.

On the same day. Using exactly the same words.  The men, along with dozens of other people working for U-Haul, the self-storage company, seem to have taken an outsized role in the debate over whether the Trump administration should revisit the rule. They’ve been doing this by flooding the National Labor Relations Board with very similar comments. While at least one employee said workers got together on their own, labor experts contend that the campaign has all the hallmarks of a company-influenced effort. U-Haul agreed, saying that while it didn’t compel workers to take part, it did provide the language for them to use.

Over the past few months, the NLRB received at least 100 similarly worded submissions urging it to throw out the policy that shortens the time between when some employees decide to unionize and when a vote is held. More than 60—roughly one out of every 25 comments submitted so far—used names matching people who work at the self-storage and rental giant, according to a review of LinkedIn pages and recent company announcements. More than a dozen additional comments appear to come from people who worked for the company in the past.

The U-Haul staffers ranged from a clerk for one of its local marketing units to a vice president for government relations, Joseph Cook. (Cook and the five men above didn’t respond to requests for comment.) Another submission was by Sam Shoen, who shares the surname of Joe Shoen, chairman of U-Haul’s parent, Reno, Nevada-based Amerco. The company said two people named Sam Shoen have been associated with U-Haul, one a former official and son of the founder, who said the submission wasn’t his. The other Sam Shoen is a manager who currently oversees one of the company’s storage components and couldn’t be reached for comment. Also among the commenters was Assistant General Counsel Michelle Walters, whose LinkedIn biography says her work for U-Haul includes “union avoidance/positive labor relations.” Walters couldn’t be reached for comment, but company spokesman Sebastien Reyes said in a March 30 response to a request for comment that she drafted the language used by U-Haul employees in their letters to the NLRB .

“We encouraged them to submit comments, and we circulated sample language,” Reyes wrote. “Individuals decided whether to submit a sample comment, write their comment or elect not to submit comments at all.” He confirmed that the people identified by Bloomberg in a review of correspondence sent to the NLRB were in fact U-Haul “team members.”

Founded in 1945, U-Haul claims thousands of locations across the U.S. and Canada. In February, Joe Shoen announced bonuses of more than $23.6 million for almost 29,000 employees, telling them it was thanks to the Republican tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump.
The company has a history of disdain toward organized labor. An alert for U-Haul managers posted on the company’s human resources website (and since removed) emphasized the need to “harden our workplace against possible organizing” and mount a preemptive anti-union campaign that “begins now and lasts every single day.” The document, referring to an earlier legislative proposal, urged managers to participate in company “union avoidance” classes and instructed that the “preservation of our system members’ right to work in a union-free environment is management’s responsibility.” Staff, if treated well, “will keep the union bums out,” it said. (Reyes, the company spokesman, confirmed the document was an internal memorandum representing the company’s stance on organized labor, but added that it was taken down because it was mistakenly made public.)
After employees at two repair facilities voted 2-to-1 to unionize in 2003, the U-Haul Co. of Nevada shut down one of them, terminated 49 employees and allegedly refused to collectively bargain, arguing that the union election had been tainted by misconduct. A federal appeals court ruled against the company in 2007, and in 2008 the company agreed to pay $2.1 million to employees who the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers alleged had been illegally terminated for supporting the union. The company didn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.
But the workers declined to return to work there, and the IAM abandoned its efforts to secure a union contract, according to David Rosenfeld, an attorney for the union. “They were extremely vicious,” he said of the company. Of the employees, he added: “Nobody’s tried since then to organize them, as far as I know.” Reyes denied the 2003 firings were related to the union vote, declining further comment on the case or its aftermath.
“Companies are increasingly using their workers to change elections and public policy.”
The recent U-Haul employee comments to the NLRB come in response to a December invitation by the Republican-majority labor board. It seeks input on whether to amend or rescind the 2014 rule change by the Obama administration. The provisions included shortening the time between when workers petition for a vote on unionization and when the vote happens, leaving less time for companies to urge workers to stay union-free. The comments from people associated with U-Haul each urged more stringent rules, including a minimum “campaign period” of at least 40 days before a union vote. On March 14, the NLRB announced that it was pushing back the deadline for submitting comments, which had already been extended, to April 18.

The volume and similarity of comments raise questions as to whether there was a coordinated effort, said Paul Secunda, who directs the labor and employment law program at Marquette University. “These U-Haul employee comments to the NLRB smack of employee mobilization by the company itself,” he said, though encouraging employees to comment on proposed rulemaking is perfectly legal.
That companies urge employees to take part in campaigns for or against government regulations isn’t novel, but the tactic has enjoyed a renaissance of late. Employers and the business lobby have recently urged workers to fight various corporate taxes and support the recent tax legislation. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a political scientist at Columbia University who just wrote a book on the topic, recounted how a lobbyist bragged of helping a financial company get 100,000 letters opposing the fiduciary rule—the now-endangered conflict-of-interest regulation for financial advisers. Hertel-Fernandez said a telecommunications company interested in shaping a different debate established an internet portal for workers, providing letter templates they could tweak before sending.
“Companies are increasingly using their workers to change elections and public policy. This has become a key part of companies’ political arsenals,” Hertel-Fernandez said in an interview. “Workers who are most fearful of losing their jobs, or of retaliation from their employers, are most likely to respond to political requests made of them by their employers.”
When AT&T Inc. was fighting proposed net neutrality rules in 2009, its senior vice president for external and legislative affairs reportedly sent employees talking points to use in emails to the Federal Communications Commission, encouraging them to send messages from their personal email accounts. AT&T declined to comment.
There have been other alleged efforts to game the public comment system, both in and out of government, that have gone beyond coordinating employee letters. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that it had identified comments submitted to five agencies that were posted under the names of people who hadn’t consented. Some of those comments were sent to the Labor Department, professing opposition to the fiduciary rule. Last month, environmental groups cried foul over a Trump administration memo summarizing public comments on its reassessment of an Obama-era sage grouse conservation plan, which advocates say omitted almost 100,000 comments.

President Barack Obama in 2015 responding after the Republican-controlled Congress proclaimed its opposition to the NLRB union election rule.Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Although there are minor variations, an overwhelming majority of the submissions by persons appearing to be current or former U-Haul workers contain sometimes-identical comments on the proposed rules, as well an almost-mirror image list of recommendations to the NLRB. Many were submitted as PDFs with identical file names (such as “nrlb_response”) or names including the word “sample.” Dozens were submitted on a single day.
Those submissions typically begin with a sentence or two about unfairness to employers and a playing field slanted in unions’ favor. Almost all start with one of six phrases, such as “Any election should have integrity and be fair to EVERYONE involved, not just unions.” Most of those introductions urge the board to repeal the current rules, reinstate prior rules and further revise the election process. Phrases including the “repeal, reinstate, revise” language are present in almost all of the apparent U-Haul submissions.

Almost all suggest requiring in-person signatures on cards workers must sign to trigger a union election, rather than allowing electronic signatures; a 40-day minimum campaign period prior to the union vote; and a 14-day period to prepare for pre-election hearings. They also recommend that workers be allowed to restrict the sharing of their contact information with union organizers, and ask that the NLRB to guarantee post-election review in all elections.
Two U-Haul workers, when asked about their comments, directed the reporter to U-Haul. A third, Scott Lee, director of U-Haul’s storage program for college students, said U-Haul executives didn’t solicit employees to make submissions, but suggested that the comments were similar because employees got together on their own. “We kind of talked like, ‘Oh, we should,’” said Lee.
“The discretion that employers have over their employees’ political activities is almost limitless.”
While many U-Haul employees and managers may indeed oppose unionization, labor advocates say workers could feel compelled to comply if a company asks for help.
“The discretion that employers have over their employees’ political activities is almost limitless,” said Secunda, the law professor. That’s especially true since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision threw out rules restricting mandatory meetings aimed at urging staff to support management’s political agenda, he said. Workers who refuse requests from their bosses risk being perceived as disloyal and then punished. “Employees are very much at the mercy of their employers when it comes to making sure they do not offend,” said Secunda.

Meanwhile, Hertel-Fernandez warns that a key democratizing component of the American regulatory system is being corrupted by efforts to influence public comments. The process was “originally set up to allow a broader set of interests to shape the regulatory process,” he said. Now it’s being “subverted by businesses’ ability to recruit their employees in these coordinated campaigns.”

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