The Electrical Worker online
November 2019

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
IBEW Supports Nuclear Powers America Act

In an age of shrinking bipartisanship and climbing global temperatures, the Nuclear Powers America Act might just be the bipartisan legislation the country needs to cleanly and reliably power future generations.

"The challenges we face in terms of the climate and the security and reliability of our energy grid go beyond political persuasions because they will impact us all, and the Nuclear Powers America Act is a strong example of finding a common sense solution that works for Democrats, Republicans, environmentalists and everyone else who cares about clean energy production," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

The bill, introduced in April, calls for providing existing nuclear power plants with an investment tax credit, modeled after credits for other forms of clean energy like wind, geothermal and fuel cell.

While nuclear supplies 20% of the nation's electric generation — and 55% of the country's clean energy — many plants have become economically uncompetitive and are facing early closure. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that more than one-third of existing plants — 22% of total nuclear capacity — are unprofitable or scheduled to close.

Renewables like solar are growing rapidly but still account for only 2% of total generation. By contrast, nuclear reactors generate roughly 10 times that amount.

Climate change is receiving more and more attention, groups from all sides of the political spectrum are supporting nuclear power as part of the carbon-free clean energy mix needed to fend off the worst parts of a warming planet.

"The world probably can't solve climate change without nuclear power," wrote Eric Holthaus in Grist, an online climate change and sustainability publication.

Nuclear is the most reliable source of electric generation in the country, producing energy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It would take more than 800 wind turbines at a cost of $1.3 billion, or 15.8 million solar panels at a cost of more than $6 billion, to replace a single nuclear reactor, according to a Third Way analysis done for Axios.

"Our fleet of commercial nuclear reactors provides a crucial source of carbon-free, baseload electricity," said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, an original co-sponsor along with Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. "It is imperative that we keep these reactors operating — safely — while we continue to work on demand reduction, renewables, energy storage, and transmission grid resiliency."

New York, Illinois and Ohio have passed similar legislation to provide zero emissions tax credits to help plants in their respective states.

Many nuclear plants are the economic backbones of their communities, including in rural areas. Each facility employs between 400 and 700 people at wages well above the minimum wage. They also provide funding for community services like schools, infrastructure and law enforcement.

The IBEW is the largest union working in nuclear energy, with nearly 15,000 members working full-time in more than 55 facilities. Thousands more rotate through the plants performing maintenance and refueling support.

Members are encouraged to contact their representative in the House as well as their senators and urge them to support the Nuclear Powers America Act (H.R. 2314 / S. 1134).


The Nuclear Powers America Act aims to prevent economically suffering plants from shutting down prematurely, allowing them to continue supplying reliable, clean energy.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Tennessee Valley Authority


Anti-Worker Lawyer Eugene Scalia Confirmed as Labor Secretary

After decades spent attacking the rights of workers struggling for justice and safety on the job, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia took the helm of the U.S. Labor Department in late September.

Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, sailed through a GOP-controlled hearing and was confirmed a week later by the full Senate despite unanimous opposition from Democrats.

"If there's one consistent pattern in Mr. Scalia's long career, it's hostility to the very workers he would be charged with protecting, and the very laws he would be charged with enforcing if he were confirmed," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Scalia replaces Alex Acosta, who resigned in July amid controversy related to his earlier career as a federal prosecutor.

"Although we opposed Mr. Scalia's confirmation in the strongest possible terms, we are committed to working with him and Department of Labor staff, as always, in the best interests of our members and all workers," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "At the same time, we have no illusions about how difficult that is at a time when federal agencies, boards and the courts are increasingly stacked against working people."

As a partner at Washington, D.C.-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Scalia built a reputation for helping business clients run roughshod over employees. Early in his career he led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's battle against ergonomic rules in the late 1990s.

The DOL spent years developing the rules to reduce crippling injuries and illnesses brought on by repetitive motion at poorly designed worksites, from poultry plants and assembly lines to call centers.

"Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as 'junk science; and 'quackery' and suggested that unions supported the rules as a ploy to increase membership," the Economic Policy Institute reported in a summary of Scalia's key cases.

His views opposing worker health and safety protections were considered so extreme that senators blocked his 2001 nomination to serve as U.S. solicitor of labor, the official charged with enforcing the nation's labor laws. Scalia got the job anyway, serving temporarily after President George W. Bush installed him through a recess appointment.

Scalia's anti-worker résumé also includes:

  • Fighting rules opposed by delivery company UPS that would have required employers to pay for their workers' protective safety equipment.
  • Getting the Nevada Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that let casino workers keep their tips instead of sharing them with supervisors.
  • Unsuccessfully fighting OSHA charges against SeaWorld after a whale killed its trainer during a performance.
  • Prevailing for Wal-Mart against a Maryland law requiring that companies with more than 10,000 employees make small contributions toward their workers' health care.

More broadly, Scalia has a long history undermining the economic security of workers and consumers by helping Wall Street fight financial oversight.

"His advocacy has come at the expense of investors, consumers, the entire financial system, and all hardworking Americans and taxpayers, who had to bail out Wall Street during the 2008 crash," the organization Better Markets said. "The financial system today is more fragile and financial crashes are more likely as a result of the clients he chose, the arguments he advanced, and the tactics he used."

The AFL-CIO was more blunt, suggesting the appeal of Scalia's qualifications to a Senate majority that values corporations over people:

"After spending a lifetime attacking the rights and dignity of working people, Scalia is ready for another chance to ruthlessly advance corporate interests. His specialties include eroding labor rights, unraveling consumer protections, endangering Americans' retirement security and blaming workers for their own deaths."


Anti-union lawyer and new U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia testifies at his confirmation hearing Sept. 19.

Landmark California Law Offers New Protections,
Greater Economic Security for Misclassified Workers

A groundbreaking California law that IBEW members fought for will extend job rights and benefits to hundreds of thousands of workers long misclassified by employers as independent contractors.

"This bill gives millions of workers basic protections and fundamental rights in the workplace," Ninth District International Vice President John O'Rourke said. "This is a huge victory for all working people in California. I hope it sets the stage for the adoption of similar legislation across the country."

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill Sept. 18, a week after it passed with unanimous support from Assembly and Senate Democrats, and none from Republicans. The law goes into effect in 2020.

"Today, we are disrupting the status quo and taking a bold step forward to rebuild our middle class and reshape the future of workers as we know it," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill's author.

"Working Californians who have been kept off payroll as employees will gain access to basic labor rights for the first time, including rights to minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, paid sick days, paid family leave, workplace protections against harassment and retaliation, and the right to form or join a union," she said.

While other states have taken steps to address misclassification by extending jobless benefits and workers' comp to independent contractors, California's law is considered the most sweeping action yet. In addition to dealing more broadly with the gig economy, it gives the state and cities the right to override arbitration agreements by suing companies that misclassify workers.

Federally, Democrats in the U.S. House are taking on the issue through the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, which had its first hearing in September. "The evidence is clear that misclassification violates workers' rights, damages law-abiding businesses, and increases the burden on taxpayers," said Alma Adams, chair of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

An August ruling by the National Labor Relations Board makes congressional and state action more urgent. The board determined that a medical courier company had, in fact, misclassified workers as independent contractors but ruled that doing so didn't violate labor law. As Law360 reported, "The decision is likely to please the business community."

California's law was on the books less than three weeks later. O'Rourke anticipates that it will open new doors for unions in a way similar to the unexpected effect of last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.

"What we found out is that Janus has helped us, and I believe this will be another pivotal piece gathering workers together and empowering them to become union members," he said.

Anti-union activists and their billionaire backers expected Janus to break the backs of public employee unions by allowing workers to withhold the fees that cover contract talks, grievances and other costs of direct representation.

Instead, IBEW locals and other unions in California and nationwide turned the tables, increasing membership by educating workers about the dollars-and-cents value of solidarity and a voice at work.

The new law largely affects workers employed by contractors in California's $400-billion tech industry and by gig-economy companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. Taxi drivers, translators, medical workers and others wrongly classified in more traditional jobs will also benefit, although many industries won exemptions from the law or delays in adhering to it.

For IBEW members, O'Rourke expects the law to make it harder for construction companies to drive down wages by treating nonunion electricians as independent contractors.

Gonzalez said misclassifying workers has become an "illegal business model" that undermines the state's safety net for workers as well as fair competition with law-abiding companies. The California Division of Labor estimates the practice costs taxpayers $7 billion a year through lost payroll tax revenue.

The law codifies and clarifies a unanimous 2018 ruling by the state Supreme Court against a national package delivery company. The employer, Dynamex, reclassified drivers as independent contractors, requiring them to use their own vehicles and pay out of pocket for gas and related expenses.

The court set a strict test to determine a workers' employment status, which is now part of the law. In effect, workers are regular employees if their tasks are subject to a company's control and are central to its business.

The Los Angeles Times described it this way: "A solo plumber with his own company who is hired by a bakery to fix a leak can be an independent contractor. But a plumber working regularly for a plumbing company and sent out on jobs must be an employee."

Uber and other major gig-economy employers lost their fight to be exempted from the law, and are now seeking a ballot initiative in 2020. It is expected to ask voters to create a new category of workers who would be independent but qualify for some benefits and a guaranteed minimum wage.

Newsom said he plans to bring together leaders from the Legislature, labor movement and business community to "support innovation and a more inclusive economy by stepping in where the federal government has fallen short and granting workers excluded from the National Labor Relations Act the right to organize and collectively bargain."

His signing statement indicated that doing so is urgent.

"The hollowing out of our middle class has been 40 years in the making and the need to create lasting economic security for our workforce demands action," he said. "Assembly Bill 5 is an important step. A next step is creating pathways for more workers to form a union, collectively bargain to earn more and have a stronger voice at work."


Ninth District IVP John O'Rourke, left, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island Back
Public Employee Unions in Post-Janus World

Massachusetts and Rhode Island lawmakers took decisive action to lessen the impact of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The new laws provide greater protections for unions and their members, and it's thanks, in no small part, to IBEW efforts.

In Massachusetts, both the House and Senate overrode Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of a bill that allows unions to collect "reasonable fees," such as charging nonmembers for representation during arbitration and grievance hearings. The vote was 154-1 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate. The House and Senate had passed the bill last summer.

Federal law requires unions to provide those services to workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement even if they refuse to join the local union. But until this year, no state has moved to eliminate nonmembers' ability to free-ride on the services paid for by members of the union.

Among those voting "yes" was Sen. Paul Feeney, a member of Boston Local 2222, who called it "our best solution post-Janus."

Similar legislation was passed in Rhode Island, giving unions and their members there more avenues to deal with the Janus decision. That 5-4 ruling, which reversed more than 40 years of precedent, allows public-sector workers to opt out of paying union dues, even when they benefit from a collectively bargained contract.

IBEW members pushed hard for the change In Massachusetts. In 2018, Boston Local 103 withheld its traditional contributions to General Assembly members, most of them Democratic House members. The Democrat-dominated House failed to act on the post-Janus fix last year, Business Manager Lou Antonellis said, and it left many in labor frustrated.

Local 103 has about 1,000 members employed in the public sector, Antonellis said. All of them remained dues payers following the Janus decision, but many members were disappointed by the House's inaction on a variety of issues important to unions, even though organized labor is a major donor to most Democratic members, he said.

"Our frustration with the Legislature wasn't just born in one day," Antonellis said. "Our members have been very frustrated with politics as usual. Going down the same roads and expecting different results got old, and we certainly felt like we got their attention when we withheld $200,000 in donations. We were really at an all-time high frustration level with the people who are supposed to be our friends, the Democrats in the House."

The "reasonable fee" legislation also strengthens union leaders' right to meet with newly hired employees and to speak with other employees during breaks at work, and it allows union officials to communicate with members via public email accounts. Those emails are exempt from the state's public records laws.

Antonellis said Local 103 also wanted to stand in unity with the rest of the state's labor community, particularly with public-sector unions hit hardest by the Janus decision. The Second District staff also was active in contacting legislators urging them to support the bill, led by International Representative Ed Starr.

"The fees that unions lost from Janus were a significant amount," Antonellis said. "We made a point to get out in front of it because we knew what was at stake. We had to go back and almost do a re-organization drive after Janus, but we felt like our membership was well educated and they knew what was at stake."

"The Janus decision was looked at as a blow," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Boston Globe. "We wanted to send a message here in Massachusetts in response to that decision."

Rhode Island's law similarly allows public employee unions to assess non-members "a reasonable charge" when representing them in grievance and arbitration hearings. A second new law requires state and local government agencies to immediately inform public employee unions of new hires so the unions can educate them in a timely fashion about the benefits of membership. Both bills were signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo in July.


Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a law helping unions post-Janus. Her Massachusetts counterpart Gov. Charlie Baker had his veto overridden.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user A.Pliicci