Boston Passes Strong Trust Act

The Greater Boston Labor Council worked closely with a number of its affiliated unions and a host of Boston-based immigrant rights advocates in lobbying the Trust Act ordinance through the Boston City Council, which unanimously passed the Boston Trust Act in August.

Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, whose union helped spearhead the effort to protect immigrant workers, praised Walsh and the Boston City Council.

Unions unite around attorney general candidate Warren Tolman, but split in the governor’s race

BOSTON – State treasurer Steve Grossman on Thursday stood in front of a rally of around 100 Logan Airport workers who were fighting to unionize and led the room in a chant.

“We will win!” Grossman chanted, sounding more like a union organizer than a Democratic candidate for governor. “Si, se puede,” he repeated in Spanish. “Let’s speak truth to power!”

“Just as I’ve been on picket lines as treasurer, as governor, I will not hesitate to stand in a picket line or be in an informational picket if I can stand with the workers who are not being treated fairly and equitably,” Grossman told The Republican/

Minutes after Grossman left the stage, Attorney General Martha Coakley, also a Democratic candidate for governor, walked into the building. “I’ve spent the last eight years as attorney general making sure our laws are enforced fairly, that workers are treated fairly, that their rights to organize, their employment rights are protected,” Coakley said as she headed to the rally.

Over the last couple of years, unions have proven to be an effective organizing force for liberal candidates and causes. Unions helped propel Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats, to victory in U.S. Senate races. In 2013, unions were the driving force that helped Marty Walsh, the former head of a building trades union, win the Boston mayor’s race. This year, unions pushed the issue of raising the minimum wage, leading the state legislature to agree to a wage hike. Unions are valuable to candidates because of the work they do holding signs, distributing literature, educating members and turning out voters.

Strong union support also raises questions about how beholden a candidate will be to labor. Walsh, during his mayoral race, had to consistently answer questions about whether he could be independent in labor disputes. That issue could be particularly important for the attorney general, whose office enforces state labor laws.

With the 2014 primary approaching, Democratic candidates in contested races are vying for union support. The candidate benefiting the most from early union enthusiasm is attorney general candidate Warren Tolman, who is a former paid adviser to SEIU 1199 and whose brother Steven Tolman runs the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. In the governor’s race, unions are split, with many unlikely to get involved until the general election.

The AFL-CIO is the most powerful Massachusetts union, representing 750 local union chapters and 400,000 workers. So far, the only candidate it endorsed who is facing a contested primary is Warren Tolman, though it could endorse other candidates after a meeting on Monday.

Chrissy Lynch, political director for the AFL-CIO, said the union’s choice had nothing to do with Steven Tolman. “(Warren Tolman) has got a long history dating back to his time in the legislature in the 90’s as being a champion for workers rights and prioritizing things that we and our members care about, like wage theft and workplace conditions,” Lynch said.

Warren Tolman said he was endorsed by the AFL-CIO when he ran for lieutenant governor in 1998. “My brother wasn’t calling around on my behalf, I was calling around on my behalf,” Tolman said. “I have a record to stand on in this regard.”

Tolman is also backed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the State Council of the SEIU, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts and other unions.

James Wells, legislative vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, part of the AFL-CIO, said Warren Tolman’s connection with his brother has an effect. “Coming from that Tolman family, he’s a solid labor guy,” Wells said. “Everything we need, he’s there for us.”

But Tolman’s supporters say their allegiance is not just due to family ties. “He has experience as a legal counsel for unions. He has a sterling record as a lawmaker,” said Rich Rogers, secretary/treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

Brian Lang, president of UNITE Here Local 26, which represents food and hospitality workers, said the union endorsed Tolman on the basis of interviews with Tolman and his Democratic opponent, Maura Healey, a former bureau chief in the attorney general’s office, who oversaw the fair labor division. “Both candidates I think would support us on the issues that are important to us, but what tipped us in favor of Warren Tolman…was that as well as being a good lawyer, we think that he would be a very strong policy advocate,” Lang said.

Because Tolman and Healey signed a People’s Pledge barring outside groups from advertising, the unions cannot make independent expenditures. But they can educate members through phone calls, union meetings and door knocking. Unions are also allowed to donate more money to candidates than individuals or political committees can. So far, unions have given Tolman roughly $30,000 in contributions that exceed the $500 individual contribution limit, according to filings with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Mike Firestone, Healey’s campaign manager, said Healey never expected to get labor endorsements, though she did get one from Teamsters Local 25. But she has gotten support from progressive groups, women’s rights activists, the gay community and the legal community. Healey, he said, has been able to build “a grassroots activist based campaign.”

“That’s why despite all of these unions endorsing Warren Tolman, along with the rest of the political establishment, we got our 10,000 signatures into the secretary of state’s office almost two months before Warren Tolman did, it’s why Maura took over 48 percent of the vote at state convention in a room full of long-time party insiders, and it’s why we’ve been able to raise more money than any down ticket first time statewide candidate ever raised,” Firestone said.

Since January, Tolman raised $1 million to Healey’s $730,000. Tolman has previously run for governor and lieutenant governor.

Peter Ubertaccio, an associate professor of political science at Stonehill College, said the same types of questions about impartiality that Walsh faced could be asked of Tolman as the race continues. “I think it’s a reasonable question can someone who has benefited so immensely from the support of powerful unions act in an impartial way, whether they’re negotiating contracts or enforcing labor laws,” Ubertaccio said.

Tolman said he has a record unions like – his support for an increased minimum wage and earned sick time, his work on consumer protection, a history of “speaking out against corporate greed” and “standing up when needed to speak truth to power.” But Tolman said some unions disagreed with him on things like supporting tougher gun laws and supporting a buffer zone around abortion clinics. “I’ll tell the unions when they’re wrong as I work with them when they’re right,” Tolman said.

In the gubernatorial primary, labor is split between Grossman and Coakley. The other Democratic candidate, Don Berwick, has not gotten any labor endorsements. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is not expected to endorse, which means it will be up to local unions which candidate they support in the primary.

UNITE Here was among those unions that could not agree on an endorsement in the governor’s race. “There were things about every candidate that were appealing, but no one candidate stood out to our committee,” Lang said.

Grossman and Coakley have each been endorsed by about a dozen local unions. Grossman’s family runs a marketing company, and its workers are unionized.

Wells, of the machinists’ union, said his union asked Grossman to join them on an informational picket earlier this year, and Grossman came. “Steve was there with us. He’s a man of his word,” Wells said.

Jim Durkin, director of legislation and political action for the public employee union AFSCME, said his union chose Coakley because she made a commitment not to change public retirees’ pensions retroactively. She also worked with the union to stop the closure of Taunton State Hospital. Although, Durkin added, “There are three good Democrats in this race.”

Ubertaccio said unlike in the attorney general’s race, where Tolman has a long relationship with unions, none of the gubernatorial candidates have united labor support. At the same time, the Democratic candidates have relatively similar views on labor issues.

“I can’t imagine they’re thinking they have to defeat one or another at all costs, which is probably why you haven’t heard much in the governor’s race,” Ubertaccio said.

Another statewide race where unions could have some impact is in the treasurer’s race, where Deborah Goldberg, State Rep. Tom Conroy and State Sen. Barry Finegold are competing for the Democratic nomination. Finegold has dominated in fundraising, and both Conroy and Finegold are better known within the political world than Goldberg. But Goldberg has received support from several labor unions, largely due to the relationship her family had with unions as the founders and former owners of Stop and Shop.

D. Taylor

Seven Things You Should Know About Our International President

D. Taylor, president of the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here, was in Boston recently for the organization’s convention, held every five years. While he was here, Taylor, 57, participated in a picket line in front of the Hilton DoubleTree Suites on the Charles River and talked to reporter Katie Johnston about the role of unions in today’s economy.

National Union Members Descend on DoubleTree for Protest

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston last Wednesday to advocate for the unionization of the hotel’s workers. Many on hand noted that the rally was by far the largest yet in support of the workers.

The protesters included hotel employees, Harvard students, Cambridge city councillors, and hundreds of visitors who were in Boston for a convention of UNITE HERE!, the labor union that DoubleTree workers are seeking to join. The union already represents many of Harvard’s dining hall workers.

While the hotel is not operated by Harvard, it is located in a building it owns, causing many protesters to direct their criticism at the University.

“What Harvard is doing, hiding behind essentially a subcontractor and saying that they do not have responsibility in this matter, is in my opinion completely wrong and cowardly on their part,” Cambridge City Councillor Marc C. McGovern said.

In April, the Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to support a boycott of the hotel and to back the workers’ efforts to unionize using a process that involves the open signing of authorization cards that state an individual wishes unionize. Hilton has thus far has insisted that employees vote through a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Protesters said they hoped that it would bring attention to the what they consider the lack of a fair process being offered to workers.

“We think that Harvard on campus has some of the best labor relations and contracts around,” said Gabriel H. Bayard ‘15, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement. “DoubleTree workers deserve the same respect that workers get on campus, and we’re here to fight for it.”


Bayard and other activists contended that the secret ballot proposal allows management to manipulate the votes of workers by only scheduling anti-union workers for shifts on voting day and scheduling meetings to intimidate individual workers.

“I think you see a lot of people disenfranchised in certain voting practices,” Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said. “I think its important when you see this big showing that management recognizes the right of workers to organize in specific ways.”

Though the protest and hotel are located across the river from Harvard’s Cambridge campus, protesters and union leaders said that the University still has a responsibility as the hotel’s landlord to aid the employees.

Janice Loux, executive vice president of UNITE HERE!, said that the union took time from its conference to protest at the hotel “to help the Hilton workers and to fight Harvard.”

“It’s unconscionable that Harvard has not settled this issue,” Loux said. “They have a commitment to helping those less fortunate than themselves. Where I come from, the landlord is always in charge.”

Though protesters urged Harvard to intervene in support of the workers’ unionization efforts, University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke maintained that the University will support whichever voting process the hotel management and employees agree to.

Sodexo Cafeteria Workers Regain Health Coverage

A giant food service company unexpectedly reversed course Thursday after bumping thousands of college cafeteria workers from its health plan earlier this year and pointing a finger at President Barack Obama’s overhaul.

Sodexo’s experience could serve as a cautionary tale for other employers trying to pin benefit reductions on “Obamacare.” The company’s cutbacks fueled a union organizing drive and campus protests.

Julie Peterson, Sodexo’s vice president for benefits, said the company will make changes for next year to restore eligibility for many of those affected.

“We think that overall this is going to result in about the same number of employees being eligible as in the past,” Peterson said. The latest shift grew out of a regular review of company policy, she added.

“We’ve realized we can change the way we are determining eligibility and still remain competitive in the market,” Peterson explained.

Among those who lost their coverage through Sodexo this year was Julie Pemberton, a cashier at Curry College, a liberal arts institution near Boston.

Pemberton puts in more than 40 hours a week during the academic year. She’s paying over $200 a month more in premiums since she switched to a plan from the Massachusetts health insurance exchange.

“I’m actually looking for a new apartment because this is just draining any savings I have,” said Pemberton. “I can’t just keep paying and paying and paying.”

UNITE HERE, a labor union trying to organize Sodexo workers, said the company’s initial cutback was facilitated by what it calls a loophole in federal regulations carrying out the health law’s employer coverage requirement.

The Obama administration responds that the employer, not the health care law, was to blame.

French-owned Sodexo is a multinational service company with U.S. headquarters in Maryland. It operates many college cafeterias and also provides other campus services. In January, Sodexo reclassified some of its workers as part-time by averaging their hours over a 52-week calendar year. That affected about 5,000 of its 133,000 U.S. employees.

Sodexo said it was acting to align itself with the health care law, which requires that employers with 50 or more workers offer coverage to those averaging at least 30 hours per week, or face fines.

Company official Peterson said Thursday that for benefits purposes, the company will now credit campus employees during the summer break with the hours they would have worked during the academic year.

The UNITE HERE union says federal rules require colleges and universities to essentially do the same thing for their faculty employees. But those rules don’t apply to contractor employees in cafeterias.

“There is nothing in there that says contract workers are protected,” said union spokesman Ethan Snow.

At least one college that examined the issue agreed with the cafeteria workers. Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, recently amended its contract with Sodexo to require that the employees be offered coverage.

“Sodexo’s classification system was not consistent with the practices of other vendors, or with Earlham’s policies,” said Sena Landey, vice president for finance at the Quaker-founded liberal arts institution.

Landey said it looks like a slip-up on the part of federal regulators.

“I just don’t understand why you would benefit faculty and not those on the lower end of the pay scale,” Landey said. “I don’t see the logic in it.”

The Treasury Department, which enforces the health law’s employer coverage requirement, declined requests for an interview. Spokeswoman Erin Donar said in a statement:

“Nothing in the Affordable Care Act requires an employer to eliminate health coverage for any employees or penalizes an employer for offering health coverage to all employees. An employer that eliminates health coverage is doing so by choice, not by requirement.”

The mandate that larger employers provide health coverage is one of the most complicated parts of the health care law. Lawmakers intended it mainly as a safeguard against companies shifting their traditional responsibility for health insurance to taxpayers.

But employers across a range of industries have cited the mandate as justification for everything from limiting workers’ hours to scaling back coverage for spouses. Supporters of the law saw the requirement will have a negligible impact, since more than 90 percent of larger employers already provide coverage.

Originally scheduled to take effect this year, the mandate has been delayed twice. Companies with 100 or more workers must comply starting next year, while businesses with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016. Smaller companies are exempt.

The law also requires individuals to carry insurance or risk fines, and that provision took effect this year.

On another issue, Sodexo and the White House are allies. This spring, the company earned official recognition by pledging to add more nutritious options to its vending and K-12 lunchroom programs in support of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity.