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November 2018

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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IBEW's Norcross Makes Case for Pro-Worker Reforms

A Folsom, N.J., Local 351 inside wireman and business agent before his 2014 election to Congress, Rep. Donald Norcross is more familiar than most U.S. House members with the roadblocks to economic security for tens of millions of American workers.

Now, Norcross and three of his House colleagues have detailed those obstacles and proposed solutions in a report that was two years in the making, "Future of Work, Wages & Labor."

"To make our economy work for all of us, not just the rich and powerful, working people must be able to stand and fight together for higher wages, better health care and a more secure retirement," Norcross said. "I know how important it is for workers to have a voice in the workplace because I lived it. I sat at the negotiating table fighting for working families for decades, and I know we need to take smart, bold actions to help lift up America's workers."

Norcross was assistant business manager of Local 351 and the longtime president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO. He and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan spent two years traveling the country, meeting with workers and consulting with policy experts to develop the report.

It examines the changing nature of work since the days when manufacturing accounted for one of every four jobs; long-term wage stagnation despite soaring worker productivity during the same time period; and the harm being done to all workers by endless legislative and court attacks on unions.

In their cross-country listening tour, Dingell said they heard how the "decline in collective bargaining, worker representation and the ability to form unions doesn't just hurt workers, it hurts our communities and our economy."

The report blames decades of assaults on organizing and collective-bargaining rights for dramatically shifting the balance of power in American workplaces, heavily tilting the scales in favor of employers.

"Finding the right balance of power is crucial," the report states. "It allows workers to better assert their rights to safe workplaces and fair compensation, often leading to workers feeling more invested in their work and their employer. This, in turn, can improve worker productivity, spur innovation, and provide pathways for upward mobility."

Costco is a prime example, the report says: "Among its accolades, the company offers health insurance, dependent care assistance programs, and 401(k) plans to its part-time staff, has starting pay well above minimum wage, and promotes almost exclusively from within. At the same time, Costco has seen its profits increase year-over-year."

Recognizing that most companies need a push in that direction, the report lays out ambitious goals. At the heart of them is overturning Citizens United and enacting other campaign finance reform, paving the way for working people to regain their voice in Washington and state and local governments.

"I can just hear people saying that it's impossible, that the things this report proposes will never happen," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "They're right — to the extent that nothing is going to change until we overhaul Congress. When we do that, when we elect people who will live up to their promises to fight for working Americans, anything is possible."

As outlined in the report, those possibilities include the Workplace Democracy Act to make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain contracts; the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act to deter unfair labor practices; worker representation on corporate boards; greater investment in job training programs; barring mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment; raising the federal minimum wage; and much more.

"Today's culture of unchecked corporate power and maximizing profits has come at the expense of America's workforce," Rep. DeSaulnier said. "The American worker needs help and they need help now."


Congressman and IBEW member Donald Norcross unveils the "Future of Work, Wages & Labor" report detailing obstacles to workers' economic security and proposing solutions. Norcross and three U.S. House colleagues spent two years on the project.

Court Victories for Nuclear Workers in
Illinois and New York

Two appeals court challenges to subsidies for carbon-free energy generation went up in smoke at the end of September.

The decisions follow a similar ruling in Oregon.

Federal courts handed crucial victories to so-called zero emissions credits, supporting the production of non-carbon-emitting energy generation in New York and Illinois, potentially saving nearly a dozen nuclear reactors — two of Illinois' seven reactors were set to be mothballed before the law was passed there — and created an incentive for solar and wind developers to get projects back on track.

"Nuclear provides clean energy to millions of people and good, middle-class jobs to thousands of people in the U.S. and Canada. I was extremely proud when New York and my home state, Illinois, passed this reasonable, bipartisan plan to keep nuclear, wind and solar viable," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

ZECs were created, in the words of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, "to prevent nuclear generators that do not emit carbon dioxide from retiring until renewable sources of energy can pick up the slack."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, coal and gas opponents sued. They lost in both states, but appealed both decisions. In Illinois, the appeal was to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and in New York, to the 2nd Circuit.

In both cases, plaintiffs argued that the states violated the law in how the ZECs were designed. The price of the ZECs was pegged to the price of energy on federally run wholesale energy markets. If energy prices rose high enough for carbon-free producers to compete, despite the regulatory costs, the credits paid to green energy producers dropped to zero.

Under the Federal Power Act, only the federal government can regulate wholesale energy prices. But the law gives states a great deal of leeway to regulate power producers within their own borders, even if the result "affects" prices.

Affecting prices: fine. Regulating them: not fine. It's a fuzzy borderland and a great deal of money rides on where exactly courts draw the line.

The zero emissions credits, the appellants argued, crossed the line into constitutionally forbidden regulation because lawmakers used the average price of power to determine the size of the ZEC.

The three-judge 7th Circuit panel, one Democrat and two Republican appointees, weren't having any of it.

"On this view, whenever Illinois, or any other state, takes some step that will increase or reduce the state's aggregate generation capacity, or affect the price of energy, then the state policy is invalid. That can't be right; it would be the end of federalism," they wrote in their unanimous decision.

States taking into consideration the price of energy regulated by federal agencies is, the court wrote, "an inevitable consequence of a system in which power is shared between state and national governments."

It was a comprehensive and encouraging defeat, said IBEW Political and Legislative Director Austin Keyser.

"The plaintiffs in these cases are 0-3; I don't see how they continue trying this in the courts," he said. "Only an electrical sector with a healthy nuclear industry can keep the lights on, support working families and reverse climate change. It is time to stop fighting the obvious."


The Quad Cities nuclear plant was scheduled for closure until Illinois passed a support system for non-carbon emitting power generation.

Credit: Exelon Corp.

NLRB Moves to Undo Joint Employer Standard

The Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board took a big step backward on Sept. 13 when it announced it was proposing a new rule on its joint employer standard, a decision that could negatively impact millions of working people, including some IBEW members.

"The joint employer standard was a well-considered decision," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Unnecessarily reopening this will only benefit large corporations, not working families."

The proposal seeks to reverse a rule issued in 2015 that came out of a case involving the Teamsters and Browning-Ferris Industries of California, a waste management company that contracted with a temporary staffing agency.

In that decision, the NLRB determined that any parent company exercising a significant amount of control over employment conditions with its subcontractors or franchises — like McDonald's Corp. or a franchised tree-trimming service — must also share in employer responsibility. In other words, a parent company can't shift blame to a franchise owner or contractor over labor issues, and it may have to engage in direct contract negotiations.

The rule, which was expected to affect close to 3 million contract and temporary employees, has been roundly derided by employers.

In December, the NLRB did in fact rescind the rule, but it had to reverse that reversal in February because of an undisclosed conflict of interest involving NLRB member William Emanuel.

The new proposed rule seeks to narrow the definition of what constitutes a joint employer, proposing a much tighter definition of an employer-employee relationship than the Obama-era rule.

"This just lets more corporations off the hook," Stephenson said. "They say it allows for more clarity, but what it really does is let big business shirk responsibility."

Joint employer status can affect union organizing not just in terms of contract negotiations, but whether employees can come together in union at all. A parent company can fire a contractor or end a franchise agreement if union activity is suspected. But, if that parent company is a joint employer, there could be legal recourse for doing so.

In a dissent on the new proposal, Democratic board member Lauren McFerran wrote, "There is no good reason to revisit Browning-Ferris, much less to propose replacing its joint-employer standard with a test that fails the threshold test of consistency with the common law and that defies the stated goal of the National Labor Relations Act: 'encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.'"

The comment period for the proposed rule is open for 60 days beginning Sept. 14.


The National Labor Relations Board is proposing a new rule for its joint employer standard, one that would hold fewer parent companies accountable.