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Labor Relations Advisor, June 2015

July 1, 2015

AT&T Workers Ratify Two Agreements Covering 16,500 Workers

AT&T and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) announced the ratification of two, three-year agreements on June 26, 2015.

According to the union, the LegacyT contract covering approximately 4,500 workers was ratified by a wide margin while the ratification of the AT&T Midwest agreement was a “close vote.” The Midwest agreement covers about 13,000 employees in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Both agreements are retroactive to April 12, 2015.

CWA District 4 Vice President Linda Hinton said the Midwest contract enhances both “employment security” and the “standard of living” for employees. According to the company, the agreements include a compounded wage increase of more than 8.4% and will provide employees “with expanded choice of [health care] plans and increases in employee contributions.”

A summary of the Legacy T contract released by the union upon reaching a TA, shows a 3.0% increase on April 12, 2015, a 2.25% increase in 2016 and another 3.0% increase in 2017. Regarding health care, employees will be able to choose from two plans, one with lower employee premium contributions and higher deductibles and the other with higher contributions and lower deductibles. Union-represented employees will also be able to participate in a company wellness program that was previously available only to management.

The complete summary document is available here.

NNU Nurses at MedStar Washington Hospital in DC Reach Tentative Agreement

On June 1, 2015, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), announced a tentative agreement (TA) with Medstar Washington Hospital Center. The hospital is the nation’s capital’s largest and the TA would cover approximately 1,900 registered nurses (RNs).

According to the union, the four-year agreement provides “economic improvements” which will “promote RN recruitment and retention.” RNs will receive pay increases of up to 12.6% over the duration of the agreement. In addition, RNs will receive a 1% ratification bonus.

Last year, the union organized a one day strike on December 22, 2014. In a press release prior to the planned strike, Grandess Orteza, RN said that “Poor staffing, substandard pay and unsafe working conditions” led to high turnover. 

MedStar’s statement regarding the TA said that the agreement “keeps Hospital Center nurses' compensation at the top of the market, and basically affirms many of the wage and benefit improvements that were implemented by the hospital for nurses in mid­November, including retention and professional development bonuses.”

Two Republican Senators Co-sponsor Bill to Amend Taft-Hartley Act and Allow States to Intervene in Port Labor-Management Disputes

On June 4, 2015, Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation to amend the Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA), commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act.

The proposed bill would provide governors with the power to intervene in port labor disputes, a power currently reserved for the president. In addition, the bill would broaden the circumstances under which such intervention could occur by allowing intervention in the case of a work slowdown. Currently, the LMRA’s emergency provisions only allow the president to intervene in a strike, lockout or potential work stoppage.

On his website, Sen. Gardner defends the proposed Act, called the Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act, by citing the recent slowdown in the West Coast ports. The Commerce Department said the labor slowdown actually contributed to the 0.7 percent fall of the real gross domestic product during that time.

Gardner said the slowdown at the West Coast ports “demonstrated the disastrous consequences that labor disputes at our ports can have on businesses, consumers, and the entire economy.” He said, “Labor union bosses should not be allowed

to hold the economy hostage, nor should they be allowed to use the livelihoods and jobs of millions of Americans as bargaining chips. This Act would empower local leaders, who are most affected by these port disruptions, to apply pressure to their state governments to bring these damaging disputes to an end.”

The Act would allow a governor to declare that “a threatened or actual strike, lockout or slowdown at one or more U.S. ports was affecting an industry engaged in trade or commerce orngaged in the production of goods for commerce and that if it were permitted to occur or continue, the work stoppage or slowdown could imperil national or state health or safety.” The governor would then request that the president appoint a board of inquiry to review the dispute. If the president did not act within 10 days, the governor could appoint the board him/herself, and, depending on the findings, seek injunction against the strike or lockout.

In 2014, President Barack Obama did not invoke the LMRA’s provision to appoint a board in the case of the dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the West Coast ports. Instead, Labor Secretary Tom Perez facilitated a deal ending the dispute several months later. The proposed Act could eliminate such delay by allowing the governor to appoint a board of inquiry.

In a related discussion, some have questioned the applicability of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to the ports. Recently, it has been argued that the Railway Labor Act (RLA), the act that oversees railroad and airline workers, may be better suited to govern the ports. Currently, under the NLRA, both sides have to agree to invite federal mediators to the table. Under the RLA, however, the National Mediation Board would be able to get involved after just one of the parties declares an impasse.

Whether it’s embracing the RLA over the NLRA or amending the Taft-Hartley Act as Gardner and Alexander have proposed, the situation in the West Coast ports negatively impacted the economy as a whole. It led Labor Secretary Tom Perez to say that the model for waterfront labor-management negotiations needs to be reformed. Politicians, shippers and even the unions probably agree.