AP Photo
April 17, 2015

Falling Union Membership? The Governor Has A Theory About That ...

Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent much of his first few months in office talking about labor unions. He’s shared not only policy proposals, but also his ideas about the history of the union movement. Illinois Public Media's Brian Mackey wrote about the state of labor in the April edition of Illinois Issues magazine and decided to take a closer look at one the governor’s theories.

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University of Illinois
(David Mercer/AP)
July 10, 2014

U Of I Non-Tenure Track Faculty Union Certified

About 500 non-tenure track faculty at the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus have formed a union.  A U of I spokeswoman confirms a notice was filed with the school by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. 

The faculty members filed their petition to unionize in May. 

Kristina Riedel is a lecturer and Director of the Sub-Saharan African Languages program in the Department of Linguistics.

She also serves on the Academic Senate.  Riedel said the top issue of unionization for her is advancement.

“I think most people would tell you that that’s more maybe even more important than salary, then what exact salary you get, because you have space to grow, and of course, that also goes with changes in your salary, but also goes with other opportunities," she said.

Campus Faculty Association President Harriet Murav is tenure-stream faculty, and a professor in Slavic literature.  She called this move by visiting lecturers a ‘very positive’ influence on the efforts of others to unionize.    

"The really important thing is a greater and more serious voice at the decision making table, where we stop just being advisors, committees, that make recommendations, but actually are people that engage in meaningful debate and discussion with leadership of the campus to achieve consensus on issues."

Marav also said unions are responsible for at least temporarily stopping Illinois' new pension reform law from taking effect. 

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the university is currently reviewing the notice, and once that’s completed, will comply with the Educational Labor Relations Act, and recognize the new union as a bargaining agent.

May 16, 2014

Non-Tenured Faculty At U Of I Petition For Union

More than 400 University of Illinois faculty have filed paperwork to unionize.  Non-tenured track faculty submitted their petition this week to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Brian Dolinar, a visiting lecturer in the history department, said adjunct faculty are treated poorly, lacking appropriate salaries, opportunities for promotion, and multi-year contracts.  

He said that amounts to a lack of job security.

"We’re seeing the slow erosion of higher education, and the basic tenents that a previous generation accepted as standard," he said.  "And so we’re hoping that a union will help to restore the values of higher education.”

Dolinar says he expects administrators to fight the unionization effort.  He said he’s sympathetic to budget constraints, but non-tenured track faculty need some incentives in writing.

In a mass e-mail dated April 28, Urbana campus Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said leaders have determined it’s appropriate to set minimum salaries at $40-thousand a year for full-time, 9-month appointments but "we are working to implement necessary adjustments as soon as possible." 

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said as of Friday, the U of I had not received notice from the labor relations board that the petition was filed.

May 02, 2014

Unemployment Drops To 6.3 Percent, Lowest In 5 Years

The nation's economy added a robust 288,000 jobs in April, far more than forecast, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent, its lowest level in five years, according to the Labor Department.

The rate, which is the lowest since September 2008, was down from 6.7 percent in March.

Economists had forecast just 210,000 new jobs for the month, citing severe winter weather for the sluggish growth. April represents the largest burst of hiring in months. Figures for February and March were revised upward, giving an average for each of the 3 months of 238,000.

In its household survey, the Department said the number of people counted as unemployed fell by 733,000 to 9.8 million.

"We may be seeing an acceleration in job growth," Gus Faucher, senior economist with PNC Financial Services, Pittsburgh, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"It's sustainable to have a 200,000-plus job growth over the next 6 to 9 months," he says. "The drop in 800,000 in labor participation is concerning. I don't think that's a permanent event. We will see the workforce expand."

The labor force participation rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 62.8 percent in April.

Gains were seen in every major sector of the economy, with the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics says professional and business services were up by 75,000 positions, retail added 35,000 jobs, the food and beverage industry was up 33,000 jobs, and construction added 32,000. Health care grew by 19,000 and mining by 10,000.

Punching a time card: It's still one way of tracking hours worked. President Obama believes more workers need to be able to add overtime to their pay.
(Armin Weigel/dpa/Landov)
March 12, 2014

Reports: Obama Will Move To Expand Overtime Pay

The Obama administration's push to put income inequality atop the domestic political agenda has another battlefront.

According to The New York Times, the president "this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated."

The Wall Street Journal says that Obama "is expected to order a rule change this week that would require employers to pay overtime to a larger number of salaried workers, two people familiar with the matter said."

The announcement is expected to be made on Thursday. Obama would direct the Labor Department to make the rules changes.

"The directive is meant to help salaried workers, such as fast-food shift supervisors or convenience store managers, who may be expected to work more than 40 hours a week without receiving overtime pay," The Associated Press writes. "For example, the Labor Department could raise the pay threshold for workers covered by overtime rules. Currently, salaried workers who make more than $455 per week are exempt from overtime."

As the Times adds:

"Obama's decision to use his executive authority to change the nation's overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president's economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25. ...

"Obama's authority to act comes from his ability as president to revise the rules that carry out the Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress originally passed in 1938. [President George W.] Bush and previous presidents used similar tactics at times to work around opponents in Congress."

Critics, including many who represent business groups, say such an action would increase businesses' costs and discourage them from adding workers.

February 18, 2014

UIC Faculty Set for Two-Day Strike

Faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago say they're walking off the job for two days over the pace of contract negotiations.

Union officials say hundreds of faculty members will strike on Tuesday and Wednesday.
They say 18 months of contract talks have resulted in little progress on key issues.
Joe Persky is president of the faculty union. He says the school is refusing to pay professors what they're worth despite higher tuition and a big reserve fund.
He says the university and union bargained all weekend, but the union concluded its core demands won't be met without a strike.
Strikers plan to hold a rally and picket both days.

January 21, 2014

A Union For Home Health Aides Brings New Questions To Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in an Illinois case that could drive a stake through the heart of public employee unions.

At issue are two questions: whether states may recognize a union to represent health care workers who care for disabled adults in their homes instead of in state institutions; and whether non-union members must pay for negotiating a contract they benefit from.

To understand why a growing number of states actually want to recognize unions to represent home health care workers, listen to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan:

"The home services program has about 28,000 home care aides, and these people are working in homes all over the state. There isn't a centralized workplace, and the goal for the state is creating and retaining a professional group of home care aides to meet the needs of what is an ever increasing population of older people with disabilities."

Prior to the state recognizing the union in Illinois, turnover was huge, leaving large gaps in coverage for disabled adults. In the 10 years since unionization, however, wages have nearly doubled, from $7 to $13 an hour; training and supervision has increased, as well as standardization of qualifications, and workers now have health insurance.

It's no surprise then that retention has greatly increased. What may surprise many is that this arrangement is cheaper, with savings of $632 million, according to the state.

No one is forced to join the union, but non-union members — and there are three in this case — do have to pay the costs of negotiating and administering the contract. Under long-established labor law, when a majority of workers approve a union, those who do not join cannot be forced to pay for political activities of the union. But if the union is accepted by the state, as it was in Illinois, non-members still have to pay their fair share of the expenses of negotiating a contract. That's to prevent them from free riding on the dues of members.

For some workers, however, any fee is too much.

"They just don't want to deal with this organization whatsoever," says their lawyer, William Messenger of the National Right to Work Committee.

Or as Pam Harris, who cares for her son at home puts it: "I object to my home being a union workplace."

Harris, however, is part of a separate and much smaller group of workers, most of whom care for family members at home, who voted down union representation. So her only claim in this case is that she fears there will be another vote someday.

Those who care for the bulk of the disabled are quite different. Not only did they approve union representation, most care for people who are not relatives.

Those opposing any fair share fee have several claims. First, they say that the state is not their employer, since under this program, the individual patients, known as customers, hire and fire their own aides. The state replies that the program was designed that way because these workers would be in people's private homes. But the aides are trained and supervised by the state, equipped with supplies by the state, paid twice a month by the state, and the state can fire them.

The second claim by the objectors is their view of the union as little more than a lobbying group. "Wages paid to government employees should be deemed a matter of public concern," Messenger says.

Does that mean that public employees simply can't have a union because they are dealing with the government and the government, per se, involves political issues? "Yes, to a large degree. Yes," Messenger says.

In other words, Messenger views bargaining for wages and health care as a political act. "I reject the notion that the [Service Employees International Union] somehow got higher reimbursement rates for them," he says. "Illinois could raise the reimbursement rates unilaterally."

"[There are only] three people who are complaining here," counters lawyer Paul Smith, who will argue on behalf of the state and the union in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

"Not one of the plaintiffs has turned down the wages they have gotten as a result of union negotiations or even said there is anything that the union is trying to get for them that they don't approve of," Smith says.

And Smith notes that no one here claims that any of the fair share money has gone for improper purposes like lobbying or political campaigning.

Still, Messenger sees it differently. "The question is: Can individuals be forced to support a union if they don't want to? And our position is no," he says.

In the end, what makes this case remarkable is that the Supreme Court for decades has allowed public employee unions, and has allowed them to require mandatory fair share fees for non-members as long as those who do not join the union are not forced to pay for union political activities.

But the current conservative court has not been enamored with labor unions, hinting just two years ago that it might be time to revisit its decades of doctrine on this issue.

"If they say you can't have an exclusive representative union, that would be a stake in the heart of not just unions in the public sector but all unions," Smith says.

And if the court were to say unions could not have a mandatory fair share contribution to a recognized union, "you'd have a serious free rider problem," he says, because people "would have no incentive to pay their share of the costs if they can free ride on everybody else."

The bottom line, Smith says, is that an adverse ruling "would substantially weaken unions."


Sign of the times? A "help wanted" sign in the window of a Philadelphia business last year.
(Matt Rourke/AP)
January 10, 2014

Economy Adds Only 74,000 Jobs In December; Jobless Rate At 6.7 Percent

There were only 74,000 jobs added to public and private payrolls in December, but the unemployment rate fell to a 5-year low 6.7 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday morning.

It was a report that included several surprises for economists and raised questions about just how strong — or not — the labor market was as 2013 came to a close. But some of those experts cautioned against reading too much into the data, which may have been skewed by unusually harsh weather last month that might have depressed job growth. They also said the December data could be revised in coming months.

We'll have more on the news. Click your "refresh" button to be sure you're seeing our latest updates.

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET. Stock Market Down A Bit:

At the opening of trading Friday, stocks rose slightly. But after the first 45 minutes or so, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about a quarter of a percentage point and other indices have dropped similar amounts. You can track the markets here.

Update at 9:55 a.m. ET. "A Lot More Work To Do," White House Says:

"As our economy continues to make progress, there's a lot more work to do," Jason Furman, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, says in a statement the White House just posted here.

He continues: "Though December's job growth was less than expected, we continue to focus on the longer-term trend in the economy: 2.2 million private sector jobs added and a 1.2 percentage point decline in the unemployment rate over the course of 2013."

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. Boehner Blames Obama's Policies:

"Every American has a right to ask the question 'Where are the jobs?' " House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says in a statement emailed to reporters. "Today's disappointing report shows, once again, that the president's policies are failing too many Americans, many of whom have simply stopped looking for work."

The White House typically posts its analysis of each months jobs report here. We'll update with a highlight once it's available.

Update at 9:25 a.m. ET. Will Revisions Make December Look Better?

As it releases employment figures each month, BLS also revises the data from earlier months. On Friday, for example, it said that about 38,000 more jobs had been added to payrolls in November than previously thought.

Politico writes that:

"The surprising low payroll figures [released Friday] had some analysts predicting the number of jobs added in December will be revised upward in the coming month.

" 'I wouldn't pay any attention at all to these numbers. They're not consistent with anything,' Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi said on CNBC. 'We're going to get the benchmark revisions, and they're going to be all revised up and revised away.' "

Update at 9:15 a.m. ET. Fed Policymakers Have A Dilemma:

The Fed, as we wrote earlier, has said it thinks the economy is in good enough shape to allow the central bank to begin scaling back on the amount of money it's been pumping in to boost growth.

What does this jobs report mean for Fed policy?

"If you're the Fed, I don't know what you do with this except scratch your head," tweets Washington Post columnist and Wonkblog economics editor Neil Irwin.


Update at 9:05 a.m. ET. Did Bad Weather Skew The Jobs Data?

The BLS economists do adjust the data for seasonal factors — to, for example, smooth out some of the variations caused by such things as winter weather that really aren't tied to the economy's underlying health.

But Bloomberg News notes that "more than a quarter million Americans were not at work because of inclement weather, the most for any December since 1977, the Labor Department said." The standard "seasonal adjustments" may not have been able to compensate for that.

The Wall Street Journal writes that "the Lindsey Group's Peter Boockvar suggests that [the sharp, weather-related drop in employment] likely hurt construction employment. ... 'Bottom line, because ... this figure doesn't square with other labor market indicators seen, I'm really not sure what to make of it,' he says."

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. If Job Growth Was So Slow, Why Did The Jobless Rate Go Down?

The 74,000-gain in payroll employment last month was far below the 195,000-or-so that economists expected. But the unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage points, which also surprised the experts. They had thought the rate held steady at November's 7 percent.

Those figures often seem to contradict each other because they're based on different surveys. The job growth data come from surveys of businesses and government agencies. Those institutions are basically asked to report how many jobs they have on their payrolls. The unemployment figure, meanwhile, comes from a survey of households. People are basically asked if they were or were not working.

To understand what's going on, it's important to dig into the data behind the unemployment rate. According to BLS, there were 347,000 fewer people in the "civilian labor force" last month than there were in November. That group includes both those who have jobs and those who say they're looking for work.

Meanwhile, BLS says that 143,000 more people — a subset of the total labor force — reported they were working. When the total size of the labor force shrinks, but more people say they've got jobs, that brings the unemployment rate down.

A key issue: Why were there fewer people in the labor force? According to BLS, 917,000 individuals were classified as "discouraged workers" last month. That was up by 155,000 from November. Discouraged workers are those who would like to have jobs, but have given up looking for work because they don't think they can find any.

An increase in the number of discouraged workers is not a positive sign.

Our original post — Will Last Jobs Report For 2013 Offer Hopeful Signs For 2014? — previewed the news:

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases figures this morning about job growth and the unemployment rate in December, economists will sift through the data to see if the numbers add to the recent evidence of slow improvement in the labor market, NPR's Yuki Noguchi said on Morning Edition.

The BLS report is due at 8:30 a.m. ET. We'll be updating with highlights and reaction to the news. As we wrote Thursday, economists expect to hear that 195,000 or so jobs were added to public and private payrolls last month. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, likely stayed around November's 7 percent.

There's a growing sense among economists, Yuki said, that something of a "warm front" is sweeping across the economy and that job growth in 2014 might be able to continue at a 200,000-or-so monthly rate. If that happens, she added, the jobless rate could be down around 6 percent by year's end.

One caveat: As the Federal Reserve scales back on some of the stimulus it's been giving the economy, that could slow things down.

Our friends over at Planet Money, who track this sort of news all the time, offer this related post: Every Job In America, In 1 Graph.

December 19, 2013

Illinois Unemployment Drops To 8.7 Percent

Unemployment dropped in Illinois in November to 8.7 percent. It was the third straight monthly decrease but Illinois' unemployment rate remains one of the highest nationally.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security said Thursday that the addition of a net 10,300 private-sector jobs helped push unemployment down by two-tenths of a percent in November. The federal government said earlier this month that national unemployment dropped to 7 percent in November from 7.3 percent a month earlier.

According the monthly Illinois report, the state added 6,100 construction jobs in November and 6,700 jobs among trade, transportation and utility companies.
But the state's manufacturers cut payrolls by a net 10,300 jobs. And government employers cut 4,400 jobs.

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