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Verizon Communications Inc., with roots in the old Bell monopoly and one of the largest employers in the U.S., is taking one of the most aggressive moves in decades with its labor unions. As it starts talks to replace three-year union contracts set to expire Aug. 6, Verizon wants to tie pay increases more closely to job performance, make it easier to fire workers for cause, halt pension accruals this year and require union workers to contribute to health-plan premiums.

 About 30% of Verizon’s nearly 200,000 employees are unionized. The vast majority of those workers serve as field technicians or in call centers in the so-called wireline side of the business, which has struggled as consumers have switched to cellphones and cable providers have encroached on phone-company turf by offering voice and Internet services along with television. Verizon says that the average union technician makes $75,000 a year, plus $50,000 in benefits.

 In addition, Verizon executives say they are calling for job-security measures to be lifted because they need more flexibility to manage the work force, not because they are planning major layoffs in the near future. But the wireline business is still struggling. Verizon’s wired access points fell to 26 million last year from 31 million at the end of 2008.

 The company’s push for concessions follows rollbacks of union benefits in the airline, auto and municipal work forces. Some union locals are gearing up for a contentious round of talks and holding strike-authorization votes this month, saying Verizon, which reported $10.2 billion in profit last year, isn’t under financial stress. 07-13-2011. Wall Street Journal.

WorldatWork, a global human resource management non-profit firm, has recently released initial results for
its annual Salary Budget Survey conducted in April 2011 with more than 2,200 U.S. firms. The Survey’s results are showing that salary increases will remain tight through 2012 at below 3.0%.

 Prior the Financial Crash of September 2008, average salary increases were typically running around 4.0% for several previous years. Although salary budgets tumbled dramatically in late 2008 and throughout 2009, 2010 witnessed a recovery for salary budgets. Budgets, however, have remained below 3.0% for both 2010 and 2011. With the WordatWork results, it appears salary budgets will still be staying somewhat below 3.0% for 2012.

The projections for 2012 are up slightly from 2011′s actual salary increase figures which are currently coming in at 2.8% (mean) and 3.0% (median) in every category except the non-exempt hourly non-union where the mean increase actual is at 2.7%.

In general, as long as the economic recovery continues to be slow and uncertain, employers are going to continue to be very conservative when it comes to increasing salaries and giving raises. Also, although the situation where significant numbers of employees are not receiving any pay increases appears to be over for now, a quick return to pre-2008 budget levels seems unlikely given the modest rate at which budgets are recovering. 07-09-2011. Summarized from WorldatWork 2012 Salary Budget Survey.

A few months ago, the Department of Labor (DOL) released its semi-annual agenda of regulations that are selected for review or development into the coming year. One of the proposed rules is to require employers to notify workers of their rights under the FLSA and to provide workers with information regarding hours worked and wage computations. Employers that seek to exclude workers from FLSA coverage would be required to perform a classification analysis, disclose the analy­sis to the affected worker, and retain the analysis for review by DOL enforcement personnel who might request it. The proposal will also address the burden of proof when employers fail to comply with such recordkeeping and notice requirements. It may be a good practice for employers to begin completing and maintaining an exempt analysis worksheet for every exempt job position.

 It is the DOL’s stated position that employees have the right to know the employer’s analysis with respect to FLSA exempt or non-exempt requirements, as well as the basis for treating an individual as an independent contractor. Other FLSA issues under scrutiny include timekeeping/rounding off policies, and hours of work issues related to meal periods, break times, stand-by time, travel time, and use of iPhones, Blackberrys, PDAs, and mobile devices by non-exempt employees during off-duty time.

 And speaking of the use of mobile devices, the DOL in June released a mobile app for workers to independently keep track of their hours worked, wages earned and breaks taken. According to their press release, “This app will help empower workers to understand and stand up for their rights when employers have denied their hard-earned pay.”  This may raise a concern for employers that they may soon find themselves in dispute with their employees over conflicting time records on their workers smart phones versus their records. 07-07-2011.

South Carolina and North Carolina have become the latest states to enact measures requiring employers to participate in the federal E-Verify identification system. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) June 27 signed a bill that requires all public and private employers that are required by federal law to complete and maintain federal employment eligibility verification forms or documents to use E-Verify, and public employers must verify that all contractors do the same. In North Carolina, businesses and other organizations with 25 or more employees will be required to use E-Verify under a bill signed on June 23 by Gov. Bev Perdue (D). The new North Carolina law also will require counties and municipalities to use E-Verify for new hires. Other states that recently enacted measures requiring at least some employers to use E-Verify include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Virginia.  07-05-2011, BNA.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently informed 1,000 employers throughout the U.S. that ICE will audit their hiring records to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws. According to ICE notices of inspection were issued to employers of all sizes and in every state. Any employ receiving a notice of inspection from ICE generally has three days to gather all I-9 documents and related materials that are requested. Some of the typical documentation required in an audit include: (1) Original I-9 Forms for all current employees hired after November 6, 1986; (2) Original I-9 Forms for all terminated employees terminated within last 3 years; (3) A list of all current employees and terminated employees from last 3 years, containing SSNs, hire dates, termination dates; (4) Copies of quarterly wage and hour reports and/or payroll data for all employees noted above for the last four quarters; (5) Quarterly tax statements (IRS Form 941) for the last four quarters; (6) Business information, including:  Employer Identification Number, Tax ID Number, owner’s SSN, owners address, email address and articles of incorporation; (7) and Copies of any and all correspondence from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to employer regarding mismatched or no match SSNs (“no-match letters”). 07-05-2011.

In a case that is causing regional, political and business controversy, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Boeing of illegally setting up shop in South Carolina because of past strikes by the unionized workers at its main manufacturing base in the Seattle area. The NLRB is asking a judge to order Boeing to move the plant production and associated jobs to Washington State. This, of course, is despite the fact that Boeing has spent $750 million building the new plant near Charleston, SC and is preparing to open the plant which is the size of 12 football fields and will employ 1,000 workers in just a few weeks to build the new 787 Dreamliners.

 

Although companies in the U.S. can generally move their operations anywhere they choose, federal law under the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA) bars them from doing so if a move involves punishing employees for exercising their federally protected right to unionize or strike. In this particular situation, Boeing management has mentioned past strikes as a reason for the move to South Carolina.

 

The legal action by the NLRB was filed in April on behalf of Boeing’s principal union and the controversy over it is escalating to the point where Republican presidential candidates have denounced it and President Obama has been pressured to respond to the case. So far, although Mr. Obama has stated that he did not want to discuss the details of the case because the NLRB is an independent agency, he has stated that “as a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate” and further stated “We can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we’re competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to see goods around the world.”

 

The outcome of this case may not be decided for some time as it winds its way through NLRB proceedings and likely court appeals. If Boeing loses, it could be ordered to move its Dreamliner assembly line from South Carolina to Washington State. Summarized from NYT article, “Boeing Dispute Becomes Political Football in South Carolina,” 06-30-2011, HRM Partners, Inc.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) dates back to the mid-1930s when the U.S. was a more heavily industrialized country and unions represented approximately one-third of the workforce. With union membership now hovering around 12%, we don’t typically hear much about the NLRA and the independent federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board created by the NLRB. However, recently the NLRB brought the NLRA into the modern world of Twitter and Facebook when it accused a company, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. (AMR) of violating Section 7 when it terminated an employee for allegedly criticizing her boss on Facebook. 

AMR’s social media policy prohibited employees from making disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments about the company or its employees. In the complaint against AMR, the union argued that the company had been interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in exercising their protected rights under Section 7 of the NLRA. Section 7 of the NLRA protects “concerted activities,” which include circumstances where employees seek to “initiate or induce” group action for “mutual aid or protection.” In today’s workplace, activities such as blogging, or posting messages on social networking websites, can be considered concerted activity, and unless the activity falls within one of the exceptions to the NLRA’s protections (e.g., confidentiality breaches, extreme disloyalty, etc.), the law limits an employer’s control over what employees may write and post.

The parties reached a settlement before the trial began, and required AMR to clarify and narrow its policy. Based on this, it is no longer a good idea to have a social media policy that prohibits individuals from identifying themselves as employees of the employer; prohibits employees from making comments regarding their employment, including disparaging comments; and prohibits employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment. However, post-NLRB v. AMR, here are a few things your revised social media policy should include: (1) The policy should define its scope, explaining that it includes all Internet-based communications, including — but not limited to — personal blogs, message boards, microblogging sites such as Twitter, social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn as well as other websites and “chat” forums; (2)  The policy should remind employees, per new FTC guidelines on use of endorsements and testimonials, of their obligation to disclose that they are an employee of their employer whenever they communicate information about the employer. When employees identify themselves in this manner, they should be encouraged to make it clear that the comments reflect their own thoughts and opinions and not those of their employer; (3) The policy should remind employees that they are prohibited from disclosing the employer’s confidential information or its customers’ private information. In addition, it should also remind employees that they are prohibited from dis­closing trade secrets, copyrighted or trademarked information; (4) The policy should inform employees that they may discuss their wages and other terms and conditions of employment; (5) The Policy should caution employees that online comments not only reflect upon the employer but also upon the em­ployee, individually, and his or her coworkers. As such, employers may ask that employees carefully consider what they say in any social media forum and how those statements may impact others; and (6) A disclaimer that states the company understand and respects every employee’s NLRA protections.

In addition to the needed changes to the social media policy, any discipline policy within an employee handbook that threatens discharge or discipline for the use of social media to communicate regarding an employee’s work may also create problems and needs review. 06-30-2011. HRM Partners.