Labour bites

Vale Andrew Casey

Regular readers of this column will be aware that for more than a decade it has reached far and wide in its scope of national and international news items all with a trade union flavour. Some might also be aware that my source for the majority of these stories is the LabourStart website The most prolific contributor to the Australian LabourStart page was committed trade unionist Andrew Casey.

Andrew, aged 64, collapsed and died suddenly in Sydney on 1 February. Among the thousands of tributes ACTU Secretary Sally McManus described Mr Casey’s death as “an immense loss to the union movement”. “Andrew was the kind of unionist we all aspire to be — he lived union values every day, giving his experience, his wisdom and his time to improve the lives of working Australians,” she said.

A former journalist, media adviser and political activist, Andrew spent his early career as a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, becoming well known as the paper’s industrial relations reporter and later served as education reporter. He went on to the ACTU in 1988 as its inaugural media officer when Bill Kelty was the organisation’s secretary and served under successive ACTU presidents Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson as the man behind them as public spokesmen for the organisation.

In recent years Andrew retired but he remained committed to online reporting for international labour networks. He will be remembered as a true believer who was devoted to trade unionism and human rights causes. (Source: The Australian)

Spotless wage thieves

In a landmark ruling, the Federal Court has found today that a Spotless subsidiary failed to meet its obligations under the NES to provide notice and severance pay to employees – some with 15 to 20 years service – when it lost a longstanding services contract at a major shopping complex.

The company claimed that it escaped the severance pay obligation because of the exception that applies when employees become redundant and “this is due to the ordinary and customary turnover of labour”. However Justice John Reeves ruled against the company’s construction of the provision.

He said the company would be required to pay notice and severance pay to the employees, plus interest.

United Voice, which brought the case, says the employees missed out on $200,000 in total and the longest serving employees will be entitled to payouts of up to 21 weeks, plus interest, the union says. (Source: Workplace Express)

Massive wealth v trade unions

A 20 year campaign by right wing billionaire donors to undermine trade unions and strike a blow at the progressive movement in America comes to a climax soon, in a hearing at the US supreme court.

The nine justices of the nation’s highest court will hear arguments in Janus V AFSCME, a case that has the potential to strip unions of a major source of income. Should the court rule against the public sector unions – as many fear it will – they stand to suffer a decline in their 7.2 million-strong membership, and with it the withering of their political strength.

Conservative activists and think-tank’s, backed by corporate donors including the Koch brothers and the Bradley Foundation, have long been preparing for this moment, as part of a larger campaign to tilt the democratic process to the right. In just the past four years, the supreme court has considered three challenges to public sector unions.

At the heart of the Janus case is whether trade unions can legitimately charge all public employees a portion of the costs of collective bargaining, on grounds that every worker, and not just union members, benefits from negotiated higher wages. Such ‘fair-share’ fees are currently allowed in 23 states, and were approved by the US supreme court in 1977 in Abood v Detroit Board of Education.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the Bradley Foundation’s aim was to create “a monopoly on economic and political power. They want the playing field entirely to themselves”. (Source: The Guardian)

John Quessy