Friday, October 14, 2011

Republicans attack on labor board is attack on labor rights

Labor Rights, Under Republican Attack


In the past month, the National Labor Relations Board has come under furious attack from Republicans in Congress, and decades-old workers’ rights are at risk. Backed by a well-financed lobbying and publicity offensive, Republicans are using a recent labor-law complaint against Boeing to achieve a radical goal that goes far beyond the legal issues in the case: unraveling workers’ rights that have been part of the fabric of our social contract since the Great Depression.

In April, the labor board’s acting general counsel filed a complaint against Boeing, alleging that the company retaliated against unionized workers by opening a nonunion aircraft facility in South Carolina, instead of using a facility in its home state of Washington. Citing multiple public statements by Boeing executives, the general counsel contended that the company decided to locate the plant in South Carolina in significant part to punish its Washington workers for having exercised their right to strike, enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Boeing has an opportunity at trial and in administrative and court appeals to disprove these allegations. It also may avoid the general counsel’s proposed remedy — an order restoring the aircraft production in question to Washington — if it can show that the order would be unduly burdensome.

But for Republicans, the legal process is beside the point. Representative Darrell Issa of California has disparaged the labor board as a “rogue agency,” and the presidential candidate Mitt Romney has called the general counsel’s complaint a “job killer” — even though the outcome of the case will determine only the location, not the number, of jobs. Last month, in an ambush against a federal agency’s powers in a pending case, the Republican-controlled House, voting almost entirely along party lines, approved a bill that would eliminate one of the paramount federal rights afforded workers for decades by prohibiting the labor board from ever ordering any employer to restore jobs illegally outsourced or relocated.

The attack against the Boeing complaint rests on three myths.

Myth No. 1: The general counsel has invoked an unprecedented legal rule. Apart from its unusually large scale (the location of an estimated 1,800 jobs is at stake), the Boeing case involves nothing legally new. The general counsel’s complaint is based on principles accepted by the labor board and the courts over many decades. In 1967, the future Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger (then a federal appellate judge) wrote a decision holding that an employer may not transfer work to punish employees for exercising National Labor Relations Act rights (like the right to strike). Likewise, the labor board has long had the authority to order restoration of work relocated as part of an unfair labor practice, and the appellate courts have approved such orders. In the absence of work restoration, any alternative remedy available to the labor board — like an order that Boeing post a bulletin-board notice promising to obey the law from now on — would be cosmetic.

Myth No. 2: The Boeing complaint means that the government can dictate the location of businesses. Everyone agrees that a company may legally locate its production anywhere it wishes and for any reason — except retaliatory ones. Imagine if Boeing had deliberately located a new plant in an area with a predominantly white labor force and then publicly stated that it did so because it was tired of listening to discrimination complaints made by African-American employees at its home plant. If the general counsel’s allegations are true, Boeing did something legally indistinguishable — unless labor rights no longer count as “real” rights.

Myth No. 3: The general counsel has discretion to drop the case in the name of economic policy. The general counsel is not a policy maker authorized to base decisions on what is good for employment in a particular region of the country. His discretion is confined to enforcing the policy already chosen by Congress in the National Labor Relations Act. If his investigation yields reasonable cause to believe that a violation occurred, his only legally proper course is to bring a case to be decided through the ordinary process. If the Internal Revenue Service determines that a South Carolina employer owes millions in unpaid taxes, should it drop the case if it believes doing so would help the local economy?

The Boeing case is not about jobs. Selecting one place rather than another to build planes creates no additional jobs. The general counsel did his job as the law requires. It would be tragic if his dutiful efforts provided an occasion for Republicans to extinguish decades-old workers’ rights.

Mark Barenberg, James Brudney and Karl Klare are professors of labor law at Columbia, Fordham and Northeastern University, respectively.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For-profit colleges target Britain despite being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice and fraud investigations in 18 states

By Hannah Richardson,BBC News education reporter

Minister David Willetts held at least 12 meetings with for-profit education firms before publishing his plans for university reform for England.

Meetings with representatives from two firms accused of recruitment or public loan fraud in the US were among them.

The universities minister published plans to make it easier for private providers to enter the sector in June.

The government said Mr Willetts had spoken to higher education providers "of all types" before doing so.

Mr Willetts has been up-front about his plans to open up England's higher education system to private providers to help increase the number and type of university places available and boost competition.

But his plans have drawn criticism from academics and opposition politicians who fear that it could lead to a fall in the quality of education available, with more learning being carried out online and in non-traditional ways.

Most of the meetings were revealed to the BBC in answer to a parliamentary question from Barry Gardiner MP.

He said the scale of the contact between these for-profit firms and Mr Willetts was "extraordinary and appalling".

In July 2010 Mr Willetts met one firm, the Education Management Corporation (EDMC), which is currently being sued for $11bn by the Department of Justice in the US over its alleged student recruitment practices.

The firm is accused of wrongly using federal education funds to pay bonuses to its student recruiters, a claim it vehemently denies.

Another firm Mr Willetts met, Apollo, has paid out millions of dollars over claims it improperly recruited students to the University of Phoenix.

Although Apollo admitted no liability in a whistleblower case in 2009, it settled saying it wanted to bring "closure to a long-running dispute" and avoid "uncertainty and further expense associated with protracted litigation".

Apollo is the parent company of BPP University College of Professional Studies, which gained university college status last year. It was the first private sector institution to gain this status for more than 30 years.

Vocational degrees

Mr Willetts met representatives of Apollo and BPP in May 2011. He also met BPP as part of wider meetings with higher education providers in December 2010 and January 2011.

A spokesman for BPP said of the meetings: "There was an exchange of views which centred on BPP University College's plans to grow its career-focused degree programmes."

Mr Willetts also met publishing giant Pearson five times. This includes three meetings in close succession in the run-up to the publication of White Paper on higher education in England, which pledged to "make it easier for new providers to enter the sector".

Mr Willetts, who spoke at a Pearson event in May 2010 about the future of higher education, also plans to allocate 20,000 places to degree course providers charging less than £7,500 a year.

These are expected to be mainly from further education colleges and the private providers, and have widely been seen as a means of addressing the fact that so many universities plan top-price fees of £9,000 a year.

Pearson, one of the world's biggest publishers, has made no secret of its plans to seek degree-awarding powers in England's education system.

After a meeting with Mr Willetts in December 2010, the firm announced that it was planning to start by offering four vocational degrees with a further education college at "very competitive" prices. These will be piloted from September 2012, when the new fees system beings.

It also said in June that it would be offering degrees in conjunction with Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, which would be the validating partner.

But it is still pursuing its aim of gaining degree-awarding powers itself, potentially working as a validating partner for England's further education colleges.

Continue reading the main story “Start QuoteThese are not chance meetings; they are ideologically driven ”
End Quote Barry Gardiner MP
A Pearson spokesman said: "Pearson provides and develops qualifications including BTecs, A-Levels and GCSEs as well as publishing support materials and offering technology products for schools, colleges and universities.

"As part of this work, we meet with teachers, education stakeholders and government representatives to discuss our plans and share ideas."

Mr Willetts also met a firm called Laureate, which has 55 higher education institutions in 27 countries. In England it runs online masters and doctoral degree courses accredited by the University of Liverpool.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said its ministers complied with the rules regarding disclosure of their meetings.

"In the run-up to the publication of the higher education White Paper David Willetts spoke to higher education providers of all types," he added.

'Fraught with danger'

But Mr Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, said: "The fact that there have been at least 12 meetings just shows what the focus of the higher education minister is with private sector providers and undermining the existing public sector provision. This is not what he should be focusing on.

"These are not chance meetings; they are ideologically driven meetings about what this government sees as the future of higher education on this country.

"It is not a pretty sight and it is not what the British people recognise. They want to Americanise the system."

General secretary of the UCU lecturers' union Sally Hunt said: "Events in America have shown the for-profit model is fraught with danger for students and taxpayers alike.

"Rather than meeting with the privateers, we believe the government should tighten up existing regulations and abandon any proposals that would further encourage for-profit companies in the UK.

"The companies being sued and investigated by the US Congress are the very same ones who are now eyeing up the UK."