Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be charged for the cost of collective bargaining and related activities.

In a 5-to-4 decision, a majority of the Court noted in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, that “agency fees” violate, “the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

As we have reported before, this case stemmed from an Illinois public sector employee who challenged a requirement that government workers who opt out of a union still have to pay partial dues (known as an “agency fee”) to cover the union’s cost of negotiation and other functions associated with policing and enforcing the contract.  This decision overrules the Court’s own 41-year-old precedent, which said workers did not have to pay for unions’ political activities but could be required to contribute to other costs of representation, such as negotiating wages and benefits and processing grievances.  The Court’s decision frees those non-members from having to pay the fees. Continue Reading Janus Decision Expected to Weaken Public Sector Unions and What You Need to Know

A much anticipated decision was released last week in which the U.S. Supreme Court was deadlocked (4 to 4) on a challenge to so called “service fees” charged to employees who opt out of union membership.  The lawsuit was based upon a lawsuit brought by a number of California teachers who objected to being required to pay the fee (typically almost the same cost as union dues) if they chose not to join the union.  While the plaintiffs have announced their intent to request re-argument once a new justice is appointed replacing deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, for now the decision stands, meaning public sector unions may continue to require that non-members pay a “service fee” in states that allow it, including Connecticut.

While significant inroads have been made in implementing defined contribution plans for new hires in Connecticut municipal negotiations, police and fire unions have continued to resist such changes, citing, among other things, the greater likelihood a cop or firefighter may become disabled on the job than other municipal workers.  Nonetheless, while still in the minority, the list of police contracts that provide a defined contribution plan for new hires continues to steadily grow.

The latest to add a defined contribution plan for new hires is Trumbull.  In a labor contract settlement negotiated by Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C.’s Floyd J. Dugas and Jeffrey P. Mogan, in addition to a wage freeze for the first year of the contract and switching to a CompMix health insurance plan, starting in 2014, new hires will no longer be eligible for the Town pension plan, rather will only be eligible for the Town’s new defined contribution plan.  It is expected that in the long term, this will help the Town address the underfunding of its pension plans.

Employers of persons who operate a commercial motor vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license (“CDL”) should know that they are subject to the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”), Federal Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regulations.  The regulations, commonly known as “Part 40,” require commercial motor vehicle operators to be tested for drugs and alcohol under certain, specified circumstances. 

What employers may not know is the wealth of information that the DOT, Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance, provides on its website. Even employers that are well versed in drug and alcohol testing requirements and procedures are advised to review the numerous guidance documents and sample forms that are provided.

The following are links to information and documents that employer might find particularly helpful in administering their drug and alcohol testing program:

The Federal Regulations (49 CFR Part 382)

FMSCA Implementation Guidelines

Part 40 Q and A

DOT “Best Practices” for Random Drug and Alcohol Testing

DOT “Release of Information” Form

Employer Record Keeping Requirements

Of course, the DOT regulations, and many guidance documents, require legal interpretation and employers should consult an attorney if issues arise.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, a California jury recently awarded a hospital employee $168 million, including $125 million in punitive damages, to a female physician assistant who endured two years of sexually inappropriate behavior and then was fired for reporting the harassment as well as patient care violations.  The perpetrators included cardiac surgeons.  The plaintiff claimed the hospital tolerated their behavior because of the large revenues they generated. 

The verdict, one of the largest ever recorded in a sexual harassment case, highlights the need to conduct regular training and education, to take seriously and investigate complaints, and to think long and hard about terminating or taking other action against an employee who has filed a sexual harassment complaint. 

In what will no doubt be viewed as a landmark decision, an interest arbitration panel has issued an award which will allow the New Haven Public Schools to privatize 86 of the 186 positions in its custodial and maintenance union, and in the process save nearly $4 million dollars.

Faced with skyrocketing pension and health insurance cost which are expected to outpace the growth in revenues over the foreseeable future, the City of New Haven and its Board of Education were forced to look for ways to substantially cut operating costs.  Having already laid off nearly 300 employees over the last two fiscal years, the Board and the City began to look at other options.

Among the options considered was outsourcing services that could continue to be provided at a substantial savings.  An option that emerged was the outsourcing of school custodial and related services, which cost the Board $16 million per year.  As a result of an RFP, the Board found a national firm willing to perform the same services for just $8 million, which would mean a net savings to the budget of $8 million per year. 

Continue Reading Arbitration Panel Awards New Haven the Right to Privatize a Substantial Portion of School Custodians

Attorney Jeffrey Mogan will be presenting a seminar for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) on “Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations for Supervisors” on November 16, 2011 in New London.  Attorney Mogan will discuss the DOT testing regulations, including removal from safety-sensitive functions and return to duty requirements, as well as other legal considerations implicated by drug and alcohol testing.  The seminar fulfills the DOT regulatory requirements for supervisor training.

Effective July 1, 2011, all cases before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities Office of Public Hearing were suspended, see pdf, as the Governor failed to appoint new referees for the term beginning July 1, 2011.  To date, new referees have yet to be appointed.  This all comes as a result of Connecticut’s current budget crisis.  At this time it remains to be seen if, and when, new referees will be appointed and public hearing proceedings will be recommenced.  Stay tuned for updates. 

Apparently Connecticut Is No Wisconsin.  Despite ground breaking legislation in Wisconsin, Michigan and other locales aimed at providing relief for cash strapped municipalities, none of the initiatives proposed in Connecticut have found any traction in Committee.  Among the reforms sought was one which would have kept interest arbitration intact, but provided minor relief, such as in the way arbitrators are picked.  Under the current system, the neutral arbitrator is mutually agreed to by the parties.  Some critics feel this system places pressure on arbitrators not to issue awards that are unduly harsh to one side or the other.  The proposed changed would have made selection random. 

Other seemingly minor changes were proposed.  The failure of these initiatives provides ammunition to those who feel the General Assembly is too union friendly for any meaningful reform to take hold in Connecticut.