Tag Archive for Labor Day

Happy Holidays: News Coverage of California Labor Issues on Labor Day 2012

It seems to me that Labor Day news coverage focusing on labor union issues in California was much less in 2012 than in past years. I have a big file of Labor Day press clips from when unions were flying high during the years of Governor Gray Davis (1999-2003), but this year’s news coverage is fairly sparse.

Here’s various Labor Day 2012 news stories, opinion pieces, and press releases about labor unions and labor policy issues in California:

Los Angeles Daily News article (On Labor Day, Trying Times for Organized Labor – Los Angeles Daily News – September 2, 2012) reports that unions are on the defensive in politics, in commerce, and in collective bargaining for government employees.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council‘s annual Labor Day picnic in Santa Cruz. Quotes from attendees mainly refer to the legislative accomplishments of unions from 125 years ago. The Vice President of the Labor Council is quoted as saying, “Who had ever heard of a weekend before the unions came along? People assume it’s there and always has been there, and it hasn’t.” See Picnic Draws Union Members to DeLaveaga Park – Santa Cruz Sentinel – September 3, 2012.

As reported in the Sacramento Bee, unions provided food for the homeless on Labor Day and received some positive press coverage: Unions Supply Volunteers for Labor Day Lunch at Loaves & Fishes – Sacramento Bee – September 3, 2012. Many of the 75 comments about the article cynically accuse the unions of a public relations stunt.

KQED in San Francisco posted a blog providing a brief history of union power in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Labor Day Special: The San Francisco Waterfront Strike of 1901 – KQED – August 31, 2012.

Los Angeles Times pro-union columnist Michael Hiltzik provided a positive union perspective through a report on the rigors of apprenticeship training for the Ironworkers Union Local No. 416 and Ironworkers Union Local 433 in Southern California. (Ironworkers Union Gives Skills to Members, Public Safety to All – Los Angeles Times – September 2, 2012.) This column relies on the old image of labor unions: a brotherhood of men centered around tough, dangerous work in the construction trades. It also acknowledges some of the shortcomings of unions, including the result of the Ironworkers union having a monopoly on state-approved apprenticeship training for the trade:

Getting into the ironworkers apprenticeship program isn’t a snap. It may help to have a relative, or even a well-wishing neighbor or family friend, in the Ironworkers, but that’s not a prerequisite, nor is it enough. Applicants, who have to be at least 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent, must line up a construction contractor willing to sponsor them with at least six weeks of employment before they can start. That explains why, with the local construction market still soft and the building trades still suffering from about 40% unemployment, there’s a waiting list of about 5,000 applicants looking for sponsors right now.

So there’s a waiting list of 5000 people for how many spots? And nepotism is still important to get in? This is an example of how apprenticeship programs can be used to control who and how many people enter the construction workforce.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters took a more relevant and contemporary view on the influence of labor unions in California. Here are excerpts from California Unions Hold Power but Face Peril – Sacramento Bee – September 3, 2012:

Anyone who was paying attention to the California Legislature during the hectic final days of the 2012 session last week could see the political clout of the state’s labor unions.

Countless union-backed bills whipped through the Capitol and onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Although union lobbyists lost a few battles, they could count many more victories.

With the Legislature’s Democratic majority utterly beholden to unions for political sustenance and with a governor, Jerry Brown, whose 2010 campaign relied on union financing, unions and their 2.4 million members are at the apogee of political influence.

Finally, a writer for the leftist San Diego Free Press asks this ridiculous question on September 3, 2012: Is This California’s Last Labor Day? This article focuses on Proposition 32, a statewide measure described on the November 6, 2012 ballot as follows: “Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees.”

This doesn’t seem unreasonable, but recognize that labor unions, big corporations, and government contractors are all in cahoots in California to perpetuate Big Government, at the expense of individuals and small businesses. Proposition 32 would stop some of that special interest money funding state and local political campaigns, while unions and their cronies in business are determined to keep the status quo by convincing a majority of voters to reject it.

In 2012, Election Day is more important to California unions than Labor Day. Perhaps that’s why there was little news coverage.

The Original Federal Labor Day Law, Along with Some Other Reliable Historical Labor Day Information on the Web

A September 5, 2011 blog post entitled “Celebrating Labor” on the Library of Congress web site includes a link to the text of the bill signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894 making Labor Day a legal holiday. Here is the original federal Labor Day law, a bill introduced in the United States Senate in 1893 as S. 730, passed by the 53rd Congress. It’s the “day celebrated and known as Labor’s Holiday.”

Here’s a link to a Google e-book called Labor Day Annual, 1893 that includes the status of Labor Day in the states as an official holiday. The list of states is on pages 12-14. “The agitation, begun in New York, extended to other States with most gratifying results.”

The U.S. Department of Labor has a Labor Day History page.

The latest 2012 summary of union members from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics:

In 2011, the union membership rate – the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union – was 11.8 percent, essentially unchanged from 11.9 percent in 2010…The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million, also showed little movement over the year…Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (37.0 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.9 percent).

The Union Membership and Coverage Database is an Internet data resource providing private and public sector labor union membership, coverage, and density estimates compiled from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly household survey, using BLS methods.  Economy-wide estimates are provided beginning in 1973; estimates by state, detailed industry, and detailed occupation begin in 1983; and estimates by metropolitan area begin in 1986.

According to the data in the Union Membership and Coverage Database, these are the union statistics for California in 2011:

  • 17.1% of all workers belong to a union and 18.2% are represented by a union
  • 56.9% of government workers belong to a union and 60.0% are represented by a union
  • 9.0% of private sector workers belong to a union and 9.7% are represented by a union
  • 16.9% of construction workers belong to a union and 18.2% are represented by a union
  • 6.4% of manufacturing workers belong to a union and 6.7% are represented by a union
  • 56.1% of union workers in California work for the government

Obviously, the political power of unions in California is dependent on government employment.

David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation near Washington, D.C., prepared these charts indicating the declines in the unionization of the construction workforce in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles basin, and the San Joaquin Valley (home of Phase One of the future California High Speed Rail):

Decline of Construction Unions in California: San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles Area, and San Joaquin Valley (home of the High Speed Rail)