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January 2020

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Southern Labor Allies Win Big

November's elections brought three important victories for allies of working families across the South — and with them a chance to create real change in a region traditionally hostile to the labor movement.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards beat back a challenge from nonunion contractor and former head of longtime IBEW-opponent Associated Builders and Contractors Eddie Rispone.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin lost his reelection bid after launching three years of relentless attacks on unions and working families, including signing right-to-work into law.

And in Virginia, Democrats took over both state houses, putting labor allies in a position to do something that has never yet been done: repeal right-to-work.

In the three years since the 2016 election, pro-labor candidates have regularly won at the ballot in special and regular elections in every part of the country. November's elections were another show of strength.

"From Scott Walker to Matt Bevin, voters across the country have been sending an unmistakable message to their elected officials: fight for working families or find another job," said Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser.

Edwards was the first Democrat to win statewide office in Louisiana in a decade after winning a run-off election against Sen. David Vitter four years ago. His 13-point win was large, but Vitter was a weak candidate and only one year later the state went for President Trump by 20%.

His opponent was a political newcomer, Eddie Rispone, but a familiar face to the IBEW. Rispone not only runs one of the nation's largest nonunion contractors, he is the former national chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors, an anti-union trade association.

"We felt we had enough support to get close. We might lose, but we would be close," said Baton Rouge Local 995 Business Manager Jason Dedon. "Whether it was our positive message or negative undertones of our opponent, we saw a surge of new and returning voters. I talked with some people who voted for a Democrat for the first time in their life."

And for labor in Louisiana, it was personal with Rispone, Dedon said. Rispone had worked as a helper for Local 995 before quitting the IBEW and going on to run the largest nonunion electrical contractor in the state and the third largest in the country.

"Edwards told me, 'Labor has to get me a certain number of votes to get me to this win.' It was initially a shock number. It looked huge," Dedon said. "We doubled what he wanted."

It helped that Edwards' first chief of staff was former Bogalusa Local 1077 Business Manager Ben Nevers.

Edwards' victory was narrow: 51.3% to Rispone's 48.7% but in the Deep South that counts as a resounding victory, said Fifth District International Vice President Brian Thompson.

"We've been with Gov. Edwards since before he announced because he has always been with us," Thompson said. "His re-election changes the conversation about unions in Louisiana and the South. We couldn't have done it without a tremendous effort from our locals, and especially the members who worked so hard for a good friend to working people."

In Kentucky, Bevin was elected to office four years ago. With his time in power he championed and adopted a right-to-work law, eliminated prevailing wage laws, gutted workers' compensation laws and tried to raid the state pension system. Bevin even issued an executive order doing away with the independent board that oversaw worker safety programs.

"It all just backfired on Bevin," said Kentucky political coordinator and Fourth District International Representative Frank Cloud. "The people he'd been [attacking] for three years just didn't vote."

State Attorney General Andy Beshear had been fighting some of Bevin's more legally questionable policies in court before deciding to challenge him at the ballot. Beshear, a labor ally in a Southern state with a strong history of unionism, rode his reputation for looking out for working families to a narrow 5,000-vote win Nov. 5.

Cloud said the exit polls told the story. There were 100,000 fewer voters for governor than other statewide offices. People may not have been able to pull the lever for a Democrat, but they didn't want four more years of Bevin. Nine counties that had been reliably red went blue for the governor's race.

Despite Bevin's attempt to make the election a referendum on the president, Beshear kept the focus on working families in Kentucky.

"Keeping it local is why he won," Cloud said.

Virginia's governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, was not on the ballot in November, but every seat in the state House and Senate was.

Democrats nearly seized control of the lower House of Delegates in 2017, until a three-judge panel ruled that a single confusing ballot was meant for the Republican, not the Democrat, leaving the race a dead heat. The winner was chosen by picking a name out of a bowl.

There was no confusion this time. Pro-union candidates flipped two seats in the Senate to give Democrats a 21-19 majority and seven seats in the House of Delegates to take a commanding 55-45 majority.

With two years left in his term, Gov. Northam has the opportunity to pursue long delayed and ignored pro-worker legislation.

"We have a real chance to make some very important changes," Jeff Rowe, business manager of Newport News Local 1340, said leading up to the election. "Real progress on prevailing wage, on wage theft, on getting rid of the Comstock rule that prohibited project labor agreements on state-funded projects, a real chance to do something about the minimum wage and finally we have the opportunity to address right-to-work."

The new legislative majorities also likely spell the death of repeated attempts to devalue the title "journeyman" by weakening training and licensing standards and reducing the ratio of journeymen to apprentices on construction sites.

"It is unfortunate that so few members of the outgoing majorities listened to working-class Virginians. We spoke loud enough to be heard on Election Day though," said Fourth District International Vice President Brian Malloy.

Malloy lauded the IBEW members who showed up throughout the state on labor walks, phone banks and other grassroots organizing through the long campaign.

"They couldn't have won what they did without us," he said. "Now they have the power they asked for. Our message to the new majority is the same as the message to the old: We will work for you as long as you work for us."


Baton Rouge Local 995 Business Manager Jason Dedon, left, with re-elected Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, one of the major victories for labor allies in the November elections.

NLRB Workers Forced to Fight for
Their Own Rights Against Union-Busting Bosses

The National Labor Relations Board's own workers rallied in November against management abuses affecting their union's ability to represent them, signaling new depths of the agency's union-busting agenda.

"This is an agency dedicated to promoting collective-bargaining and protecting workers' right to organize, so it is especially shameful to see our leadership engage in such blatant conduct," Karen Cook, president of the NLRB Professional Association said, in a statement.

Protesting outside the NLRB's Washington headquarters, career staffers called out board Chairman John Ring and General Counsel Peter Robb for unprecedented attacks on two employee unions, Bloomberg Law reported.

The conduct is in line with escalating action by the board's GOP majority that is targeting private-sector workers nationwide. Decisions and new rules allow employers to eject union organizers from public spaces, more easily withdraw union recognition, discriminate against union members in the workplace, thwart protests and undermine the rights of employees at subcontractors and franchises, among other rollbacks.

The latest challenge for workers inside the NLRB, at headquarters and in satellite offices nationwide, are two Trump administration executive orders designed to break federal unions and make it easier to fire employees.

Union leaders charge that management has exceeded the already-hostile scope of the orders, which, among other things, allow agencies to curtail the paid time and access to physical space at worksites that make effective representation possible.

"They're doing it because they think they can get away with it. There's no recourse," Michael Bilik, the legislative co-chair of the NLRB union, told Politico. "Going beyond the executive orders is an abuse of power that undermines the civil service."

NLRB staffers also take issue with the agency's failure to spend its full budget the past two fiscal years, suggesting it is another sign of animus toward both federal employees and aggrieved private sector workers who seek justice through the board.

Bloomberg reported on the budget surpluses earlier in November, writing that Ring and Robb "recently implemented a number of changes to the way that the agency investigates unfair labor practice cases and how the five-member board issues decisions in those cases. … The Board has also offered staff buyouts and left certain open positions unfilled, citing anticipated budget cuts."

The leftover funds at the end of fiscal year 2019 on Sept. 30 amounted to $5.7 million, out of the $274 million that has been allocated to the agency each of the past six years. Federal law generally requires agencies to spend their allocated resources as directed by Congress.

Last year's surplus raised enough eyebrows that the Government Accountability Office investigated, but it closed the probe without issuing a public report of its findings.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who joined the rally along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, told Bloomberg Law that Democrats plan to investigate further.

"It's a misuse of funds," said DeLauro, who serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and chairs its subcommittee on labor agencies. "We're taking a very hard look into all that."

NLRB workers have protested the cuts previously and don't buy claims that unspent funds are merely a matter of increased efficiency, the explanation a board spokesman gave Bloomberg in an Oct. 31 email.

The union responded: "For two years, the steady drumbeat from our leadership has been that employees need to make sacrifices to satisfy the president's looming austerity budgets, which, predictably, has greatly undermined employee morale. So when we learn that, for the second year in a row, the agency has failed to spend the money that it was appropriated by Congress, the vague explanations in the email do not soften the blow."

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said it's all part of a disturbing pattern at the NLRB.

"There appears to be no end to the ways that the board majority and general counsel are pushing their anti-worker agenda and harming the rights and economic security of millions of working Americans and their families — now including their own staff," he said.

"The only way to change course is by changing the politicians who appoint and confirm NLRB members. It's more urgent than ever that we do that at the ballot box next November."


U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro speaks in support of National Labor Relations Board employees who protested in November against management abuses against their own union, an extension of the agency's escalating hostility toward private sector workers and unions nationwide.

Finalized Overtime Rule Leaves Out
Millions of Working People

The Trump administration announced its final overtime rule on Sept. 24, ending a yearslong process that sought to undo the original, more generous, 2016 rule.

"This was an unnecessary exercise in watered-down rule-making," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "While a lot of families will benefit from this, many more will not, and for no good reason."

The finalized rule expands the threshold under which workers can be eligible for overtime pay from $23,000 a year to $35,568. This increase means that 1.3 million more working people can now earn 50% more when they work more than 40 hours a week. The change went into effect on Jan. 1.

It's far below the original rule though, which would have raised the threshold to $47,476 and indexed it to inflation, allowing for increases as the cost of living goes up.

The original rule came out of the Obama administration in 2016, but business groups and 21 Republican-controlled states sued and a district court judge in Texas stopped it from going into effect.

As the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz noted, the Trump administration didn't need to create a new rule. It could have defended the 2016 one, which was exhaustively researched. But it didn't.

"While the administration may be trumpeting this rule as a good thing for workers, that is a ruse," Shierholz wrote. "In reality, the rule leaves behind millions of workers who would have received overtime protections under the much stronger rule, published in 2016, that the Trump administration abandoned."

Shierholz estimates that roughly 8.2 million working people would have benefited from the 2016 version but are now left out. EPI also noted that if the rule had simply been adjusted for inflation since 1975, the threshold would be about $56,500. In 1975 more than 60% of full-time salaried workers qualified for overtime. By 2016, that number had plummeted to only 7%.

"President Trump reversed a good policy and took away money from 8.2 million middle-class workers today. That's cruel," said Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey. "Currently, Americans with modest salaries are working unlimited hours with limited salaries. While President Obama set out to raise the threshold, today, thanks to Trump, millions will remain uncompensated for their labor."

Norcross is a member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351.

The overtime rule is the latest in a series of Obama-era regulations that the Trump administration has rolled back. The Department of Labor has delayed the fiduciary rule, which required financial advisors to act in the best interest of their clients, and rescinded the persuader rule, which granted more transparency to union election campaigns. The National Labor Relations Board has been on a similar tear, throwing out pro-worker rulings left and right — including five in just one week.

"At every turn, it seems, this administration has sided with corporate interests at the expense of working families," Stephenson said. "Whether it's overtime pay, the right to organize your workplace or the right to get sound retirement advice, this administration is making it very clear where its interests lie, and it's not with average Americans."

The overtime rule came just days before Eugene Scalia was confirmed as the new Secretary of Labor. Scalia, the son of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has spent his career working to safeguard corporate interests, oftentimes in opposition to the rights of working people.