– By Jeff Monahan Dockers’ strike narrowly avoided The U.S. was hours away from seeing fourteen of its largest ports on the east and gulf coast shut down but the International Longshoremen’s Association agreed to extend its previous contract extension …

Walton Pantland

– By Jeff Monahan

Dockers’ strike narrowly avoided

The U.S. was hours away from seeing fourteen of its largest ports on the east and gulf coast shut down but the International Longshoremen’s Association agreed to extend its previous contract extension until February 6. The union had authorized a strike because the employers association demanded a cap on royalties the dockworkers could earn for unloading special containers. The union is concerned that the employers will eventually try to eliminate royalties altogether. They also anticipate the widening of the Panama Canal in 2015 which could increase the tonnage of container imports. By agreeing to a cap they would be forfeiting future revenues.

The employers, on the other hand, do not seem to have a reason for imposing the cap. The dockworkers were portrayed as greedy and corrupt in big-business media leading up to the December 28 strike deadline. The main concern is how a strike could impact the U.S. economy, and some are even calling for President Obama to exercise his emergency authority to keep ports open in the event of a strike. If one were to occur, however, the ports would not shut down completely. Only container cargo that does not involve perishable food, military cargo, and mail would be affected.

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NLRB rules that dues checkoff provision remains even if a contract expires

An important National Labor Relations Board decision came out last month that will have a positive impact for unions. The Board overturned a previous ruling that allowed employers to stop honoring “checkoff provisions” of an expired collective bargaining agreement while a new contract is being negotiated.

For convenience, checkoff provisions require employers to take union dues out of paychecks as opposed to putting the onus on the employees to write their own checks. Thus, employers could gain an advantage if a union had trouble collecting dues from its members.

The Board ruled that checkoff provisions are a mandatory subject of collective bargaining because they are related to wages, and since an employer is required to maintain the status quo once a CBA expires, it must continue to abide by the checkoff provisions. This result eliminates a tactical move that employers could use while negotiating a new agreement.

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Hostess blames union for business failure

There was a lot of gripe about unions in November when Hostess, the popular American snack food brand, shut its doors and moved towards liquidating assets. The company blamed the bakers union’s strike as the reason it went out of business but court records show that Hostess began looking into liquidation well beforehand – they hired a consultant in the summer of 2011 to estimate the value of its assets if it were to opt for liquidation.

This obviously pokes a huge hole in arguments placing blame on the bakers’s union for the company’s collapse. Hostess had been mismanaged for over a decade and underwent multiple changes in CEOs that lead to its demise.

Regarding the liquidation, Wal-Mart and Kroger are among the notable bidders for the assets being sold to Hostess. Since Wal-Mart’s refuses to recognize or even collectively bargain with a union, here’s hoping that Kroger can make the most use of Hostess’ assets.

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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