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Labor Relations Advisor, January 2015

February 2, 2015

OSHA Continues to Investigate More Whistle-Blower Cases Each Year

According to a report from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency accepted and investigated more cases in fiscal year 2014 than ever before. OSHA completed 3,147 cases in 2014, a 2 percent increase from 2013.

Jerry Glass, President of D.C. labor relations consulting firm F&H Solutions Group, said, “In recent years, a handful of cases resulting in large settlements, especially in the railroad industry, have likely encouraged employees to pursue filing their own claims with OSHA.”

The outcomes of the majority of the cases, however, tend to dead-end for the employee. Of the 3,271 determinations (one case may have more than one determination), 51 percent were dismissed by OSHA and 22 percent were withdrawn by the complainant. This trend is consistent with the prior year where 49 percent were dismissed and 20 percent were withdrawn.

Here is the full break-down of the 3,271 determinations:

  • 51% (1,652) were dismissed;
  • 22% (710) were withdrawn by the employee;
  • 13% (441) were settled by the parties;
  • 9% (305) were determined  by authorities other than OSHA;
  • 3% (243) were categorized as “kicked out,” meaning the complaint was withdrawn and re-filed in federal court; and
  • 2% (64) were found to have merit by OSHA.

The most frequent whistle-blower claims (57 percent) were filed citing Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, which refers to safety-related issues. Employees filing under 11(c) claim retaliation by the employer against the employee for reporting safety or health hazards.

Despite an increase in cases, OSHA Administrator David Michaels expects even more cases to come through if Congress updates the law. In April 2014, Michaels recommended that Congress lower the threshold of the stand of proof requirement from a “motivating factor” to a “contributing factor.” He made several other recommendations including to extend the compliant filing deadline from 30 days to 180 days.

In recent years, OSHA has focused on the whistleblower issue and in 2014 established the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC), to “advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor and the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health on ways to improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA's administration of whistleblower protections.” WPAC is composed of members representing management as well as members representing labor.  Learn more here.

UNITE HERE airline food service workers rally as part of “nickel a ticket” campaign

On January 29, 2015, over 10,000 UNITE HERE members rallied at various locations across the country targeting airlines, demanding they increase ticket fares by a nickel to support the food service workers.

The largest turn-outs were at the headquarters of the “big three” U.S. airlines: American Airlines, Delta and United. According the Chicago Tribune, about 50 workers in Chicago marched to deliver a letter to United’s CEO Jess Smisek with their requests. The letter was addressed to all three CEO’s of the “big three” and says in part: "Quality health care is just a pie in the sky for us airline food workers … You, 'the Big Three' American airlines, can take the lead in changing this situation … No one wins when we, the tens of thousands of workers who cater your aircraft, come to work sick."

The participating employees work as cooks, dish cleaners, drivers and other service positions. They prepare meals and transport the food and beverages for thousands of flights each day at airports around the country. According to the Union, over 40 percent of the workers make less than $10.10 per hour and a quarter of the employees are uninsured.

United Airlines responded with a statement saying UNITE HERE does not represent United Airlines employees and “any questions concerning our vendors and their employees should be directed to the vendors.” According to UNITE HERE, the union represents “nearly 12,000 airline catering workers, employees of Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Group and LSG Sky Chefs.” 

American Airlines pilots ratify first joint deal post-merger

On January 30, 2015, pilots at American Airlines ratified an agreement covering all 15,000 pilots on both the American and US Airways sides of the fence.

Approximately 66 percent voted in favor and 34 percent voted against the proposed Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement (JCBA). Almost 95 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

While the agreement passed by a fair margin, the union’s briefing sessions where pilots discussed the proposal elicited “spirited debate” according to the Allied Pilots Association (APA). Many of the pilots, represented by the APA, were opposed to the JCBA largely because of its elimination of a profit-sharing plan. High airline profits made headlines in the past few quarters and pilots wanted a piece of that pie.

The JCBA does, however, increase pay by 23 percent retroactive to December 2014. In addition, pilots will receive three percent increases each year for the next five years. 

American President Scott Kirby said in a statement: “Today's results provide immediate and significant pay increases to our pilots, and represent another step forward in our integration.”

Due to a previously agreed protocol agreement, a failure to ratify the JCBA would have resulted in “cost–neutral” arbitration. According to an APA message to its pilots a cost-neutral arbitration would mean “forgoing immediate raises, retro pay and contractual improvements.” The JCBA, on the other hand, is expected to increase pilot compensation by $650 million in 2015.  

This seemly rich agreement, however, has not shifted the union’s focus from additional gains. In a statement announcing the ratification, the union said, “Our total compensation will still trail industry-leader Delta, while work rules affecting our pilots’ quality of life need meaningful improvement. There’s a lot of work remaining to achieve the industry-leading contract our pilots deserve.”

IUOE members ratify deal with Realty Board covering 4,000 workers in New York

On January 7, 2015, engineers represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) ratified a four-year contract with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, Inc. (RAB).

RAB is a multiemployer association that bargains on behalf of dozens of employers in the real estate industry in New York City and surrounding areas. The agreement covers members of IUOE Locals 94, 94A and 94B.

According to the RAB summary, engineers will receive a wage increase of 1.10 per hour, helpers will receive an increase of .86 per hour and chief engineers, mechanics and all other employees will receive a wage increase of 3 percent.

The agreement also provides for increases in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Engineers will receive hourly increases of $1.13, $1.17, and $1.20 in each respective out-year. Helpers will receive hourly increases of $0.88, $0.91, and $0.94 in each respective out-year. All other employees will receive 3 percent raises in each year.

Employee co-pays and deductibles for health care were not modified by the new agreement. The employers will also get a free pass in 2015 and will not have to contribute to the employees’ Taft-Hartley health fund in 2015. Company contributions will resume in 2016 at $8.00 per hour paid. The company contribution will increase by 46 cents in 2017 and by another 30 cents in 2018.

RAB’s complete summary is available here.