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Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

California Teachers Brace For Impact
By Blake Neff, November 4, 2014, Daily Caller
The expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction may have the biggest education impact of any election Tuesday. Regardless of its outcome, the race will send shockwaves across the country and set the national tone for how strong unionized teachers remain in an era of rapid change for public education. The showdown is between incumbent superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, both Democrats. Torlakson easily won the primary over the summer, taking 46 percent of the vote to Tuck’s 29 percent (California uses a nonpartisan primary in which the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party). Since then, however, the gap has narrowed tremendously, and the final outcome is completely uncertain. (read article)

California School Superintendent Race is State’s Most Expensive
By William Begelow, November 4, 2014, Breitbart
An inner split within the Democratic Party has gone public, as the race for the post of California state superintendent of public instruction is pitting labor groups, notably the nations’ teachers’ unions, against education-reform supporters. Tom Torlakson, the current superintendent, opposes the Vergara decision that ruled California’s teacher tenure and seniority laws as unconstitutional, thus eliciting support from the California Teachers Association and its union friends nationwide. The CTA has spent almost $7 million supporting Torlakson. Marshall Tuck, Torlakson’s opponent, a former charter school executive, supports the Vergara decision, and is backed by civil rights organizations, parents’ groups and hi-tech Silicon Valley supporters. Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent 2014 offered Tuck the most support; other contributors include real estate developer William Bloomfield Jr., Broad Foundation founder Eli Broad, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The amount of money spent on the race has been staggering, according to Reuters; a total of $30 million, roughly triple what has been spent in the state’s gubernatorial election. The intraparty battle between labor and hi-tech does not bode well for the Democratic party in 2016, even though the post itself does not carry any real political power. What concerns the teachers’ unions is that the ripple effect of the race could affect teachers’ unions around the country. (read article)

Voters at polls in low-drama California election
By Christopher Weber, November 4, 2014, Albany Times-Union
Californians are going to the polls to pick a governor and members of Congress in an election with so little drama that some analysts were predicting near record-low turnout. A handful of controversial local issues could push turnout in some counties and cities, but the statewide races failed to generate much buzz. A Field Poll report predicted a 46.1 percent turnout, meaning only 8.2 million of the state’s 17.8 million registered voters will cast ballots. That means just one out of every three eligible adults will vote. Outside of a brick church in San Diego, William Mannix, an executive chef, said he didn’t know what the results of this midterms would be, but he votes religiously. “A lot of people believe voting won’t make a difference, but people are dying in other countries to do what we do. You gotta vote,” he said. (read article)

San Bernardino Votes on Pay Link to Other Cities
By Ed Mendel, November 4, 2014, Public CEO
The city charter has forced San Bernardino to give police two pay raises since declaring bankruptcy, one costing $1 million and the other $1.3 million. Now voters are being asked Tuesday to change the charter and prevent a third automatic pay raise. Under a charter provision adopted in the 1950s, San Bernardino has a unique twist on a common practice: Using the pay and benefits offered by similar employers as a benchmark during labor contract bargaining. In San Bernardino, pay for police and firefighters is not bargained. It’s set at the average of pay in 10 cities of population between 100,000 to 250,000, selected by management and labor taking turns crossing one city from the list until only 10 remain. Measure Q, which would replace Section 186 with bargaining, was placed on the ballot by a 4-3 vote of the city council. The ballot argument for the measure said the charter provision contributed to the city’s budget problems. “Every other city has a unique economic situation, and every other city negotiates salaries within collective bargaining,” said the argument. “San Bernardino is locked out of this option.” (read article)

Dems decried big money in campaigns — and then caught up fast
By Michael Isikoff, November 4, 2014, Yahoo News
One of the striking features of this year’s midterms is the degree to which Democrats have embraced the brave new post-Citizens United world of big-money super PACs (groups that take unlimited cash from wealthy donors, corporations and labor unions) to the point where they are now pretty much equal players with their GOP counterparts. Take Senate Majority PAC, the super PACs with close ties to Reid (its co-chair is his former chief of staff). It’s the No. 1 biggest spending outside group in this year’s congressional elections, pumping in $47 million, according to recent analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The Reid super PAC fueled with six-figure checks from liberal megadonors (hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner have chipped in $5 million a piece) has blasted out more than 45,000 ads in Senate races, mostly skewering GOP candidates. The group was responsible for one in every 20 ads that have run this year, according to the Center for Public Integrity. And they’re not alone. The No. 2 spending super PAC is — surprise — House Majority PAC, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s backed counterpart of Senate Majority PAC, which has spent $29.4 million. Indeed, of the top 10 spending super PACs, exactly half are backing Democrats, half Republicans. (read article)

Reno lawyer: Firefighters trying to handcuff the city
By Anjeanette Damon, November 4, 2014, Reno Gazette-Journal
Local governments across the state have a “major, major problem” if they are forced to undertake a lengthy arbitration process to lay off employees once they’ve run out of money to keep them employed, a lawyer for the city of Reno argued before the Nevada Supreme Court today. State law gives government employers the exclusive right to reduce their workforce in the face of budget constraints, deputy city attorney Mark Dunagan argued. And the Reno City Council has the “ultimate right and responsibility” to decide whether that money is available or not. But a lawyer for the Reno Firefighters Union Local 731 argued the city essentially gave up that right by including language in its labor contract with the firefighters that says it can only lay off employees if it doesn’t have the cash. That clause gives firefighters the right to challenge the city’s claim that the money isn’t there, their lawyer Thomas Donaldson argued. That means the city must first prove its case to an arbitrator before it can lay off firefighters. “The city didn’t have to put (that language) into the contract,” Donaldson told the justices. “But it did.” At issue is Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger’s decision to lay off up to 35 firefighters after Reno lost a significant federal grant that had funded those firefighting positions. The firefighters union sued to stop the layoffs, convincing District Court Judge Lidia Stiglich to block the layoffs temporarily until an arbitrator could decide the labor contract dispute and determine whether the city really has the money or not. (read article)

California State GOP might forestall supermajorities
By Steven Greenhut, November 3, 2014, San Diego Union-Tribune
Heading into Election Day, most polls show Republicans likely to pick up enough seats to take control of the U.S. Senate. There’s good news for Republicans in California, too, provided one keeps in mind 18th century British poet Alexander Pope’s words: “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” The GOP has little chance of grabbing any of the statewide constitutional offices, but it might do fairly well in state legislative races. If the stars align, Republicans could deprive Democrats of supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly, thus providing the GOP with some check on any proposals to raise taxes. That’s a fairly low bar to set, but these days that’s about all the party can hope for. Some of the targeted races are so close that it might take days to figure out the party’s legislative status. But here are the races to focus on Tuesday night. (read article)

Winning the Senate is 1 thing; governing and dealing with Obama is another
By Charles Babington, November 3, 2014, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Republican control of the U.S. House and Senate seems tantalizingly close, so leading Republicans are turning to a matter often overlooked in campaigns: how to actually govern. They say it will be crucial to show the GOP can legislate, lead and solve problems after years of lobbing political grenades at President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats. If they add Senate control to their House dominance, Republicans say they will pass some bills that Obama is sure to veto, as they try to highlight their ideological differences with Democrats. But they also will push for changes in taxes, trade, regulations and other policies that both parties might accept. “We have to prove in two years the Republican Congress can govern,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. Republicans know their new majority might last only two years — assuming, that is, they first obtain it this fall by picking up at least six net seats, as many predict they will. The 2016 Senate election map is far more favorable to Democrats. The contest to replace the term-limited president will add further distractions and uncertainty. (read article)

In States Voting on Minimum Wage, Even Critics Sound Like Supporters
By Steven Greenhouse, November 3, 2014, New York Times
In state after state, labor unions and community groups have pushed lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, but those efforts have faltered in many places where Republicans control the legislature. Frustrated by this, workers’ advocates have bypassed the legislature and placed a minimum-wage increase on the ballot in several red states — and they are confident that voters will approve those measures on Tuesday. In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, binding referendums would raise the state minimum wage above the $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government. These measures are so overwhelmingly popular in some states, notably Alaska and Arkansas, that the opposition has hardly put up a fight. “These groups have noticed that minimum-wage increases can easily pass — they have seen this in the past few years,” said John G. Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. “They can’t get it through the legislatures in these red states, so they do it this way.” (read article)

Seven Unions Top Kochs in Super PAC Spending—and That’s Just the Money We Know About
By Bill McMorris, November 3, 2014, Washington Free Beacon
Seven labor unions have given more money to super PACs than the Koch Brothers. The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, has spent more than $22 million on super PACs in the midterm elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The NEA trails only radical environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer in terms of super PAC donations, according to the Huffington Post. The NEA’s “dark money” spending is also five times higher than that of liberal bêtes noire, the Koch brothers. The NEA isn’t alone; the AFL-CIO, Carpenters & Joiners Union, AFSCME, Steelworkers, Laborers, and the American Federation of Teachers have all topped the Koch Brothers’ super PAC spending. Nearly all of that money was spent on behalf of Democrats. Labor unions represented just 11 percent of the nation’s workforce in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 20 percent in 1980. However, unions accounted for 17 percent of all outside spending, according to Center for Responsive Politics, which draws data from the Federal Election Commission. (read article)

The Little Union That Could
By Alana Semuels, November 3, 2014, The Atlantic
If the term “labor union” conjures up the image of older white guys stepping off the assembly line and into the bar, you might be confused by the scene in RoseAnn DeMoro’s office. Four women, all dressed in red, sit in a semi-circle, moving in hyperdrive as they prepare for a strike they’ve just announced. Then there’s the radio ad that needs to be released on California’s Prop. 45, and banners to be chosen for the afternoon’s press conference. “You can do it, you’re a Jill-of-all-trades,” DeMoro tells one woman, who is dispatched to prepare for a rally. “I used Mom organizing,” another jokes, about her strategies of getting people to arrive on time. This is the hub of one of the smallest, but most powerful unions in the country. Just 190,000 members strong, National Nurses United is growing while other unions across the country are shrinking. When the autoworkers were agreeing to have some members’ pay cut in half, the nurses fought Arnold Schwarzenegger on patient-to-staff ratios—and won. While public employee unions in states like Michigan and Wisconsin were getting decimated by laws restricting their collective-bargaining rights, the nurses were pushing bills in the California legislature that eventually became law. (read article)

Republicans hope to make union holdout Kentucky a right-to-work state
November 03, 2014, FoxNews.com
As the hard-hitting contest between Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes hogs all the attention in Kentucky, another potential battle is brewing at the state legislative level that could change the labor landscape in Coal Country. Kentucky is one of the last remaining pro-union holdouts in the South that does not have a so-called right-to-work law — or law allowing workers not to pay union dues if they don’t want to. But if Republicans do well in the state legislative races in Kentucky, the Bluegrass State could become the new face of the right-to-work movement. The GOP holds a majority in the Kentucky Senate and needs to win only five House seats to secure a majority in that chamber. If that happens, Republicans are poised to push through a list of stalled conservative measures — including a “right to work” bill, telephone deregulation and anti-abortion legislation. Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer has already gone on the record to say if both the state House and Senate go Republican, the first order of business will be getting a right-to-work bill passed. (read article)

L.A. city unions urge officials to end deals with Wall Street banks
By Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser, November 2, 2014, Los Angeles Times
As Los Angeles labor unions lock horns with City Hall managers over their next employment contract, they are taking aim at deals the city made with Wall Street banks. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions and its allies have repeatedly urged city leaders to get out of the deals with Bank of New York Mellon and Dexia, alleging they are bleeding the city of desperately needed money. L.A. lawmakers voted in August to try to renegotiate the agreements. Now, the unions are stepping up pressure on City Atty. Mike Feuer to file a regulatory complaint alleging that the city was not fully informed of the risks of such deals. But behind the scenes, Feuer has already thrown cold water on that idea, saying city officials understood the risks and ultimately saved money from the financial agreements, according to a confidential report sent to lawmakers and obtained by The Times. In the Oct. 16 report, Feuer warned against pressing ahead with “very weak, if not frivolous” legal claims. While the city hasn’t hesitated to sue financial institutions in other cases, bringing “meritless litigation” against banks “can only serve to sully the city’s reputation and credibility in financial circles,” he wrote. (read article)

New York City Labor Commissioner says contracts talks with unions are at a tough spot
By Jennifer Fermino, October 31, 2014, New York Daily News
The de Blasio administration came into office and quickly settled contracts with over half of the city’s work force – but that rapid pace likely won’t continue with the rest of the labor unions. Labor Commissioner Robert Linn, speaking at a New York Law School breakfast on Friday, said talks have gotten more difficult after the “extraordinary” progress made in the first six months of the administration. “I have to say it’s getting a little harder,” Linn said. “I thought it was hard so far.” Afterwards, he told reporters that the city employees still working on expired contracts – including all cops and firefighters – have some of the toughest demands. In all types of collective bargaining, he said, the contracts that aren’t resolved in the first rounds remain because “workers feel that they have particular issues that they want to resolve.” “So they’re often more difficult to work your way through,” he said. He was confident that the city would eventually reach agreements with all the outstanding unions. “We will work our way through,” he said. (read article)

Engineers Union Endorses Scott Walker
By Connor D. Wolf, October 31, 2014, Daily Caller
A major Wisconsin engineering union endorsed Gov. Scott Walker Friday, despite intense opposition from many other labor groups. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 (IUOE) announced it was backing Walker’s reelection at Waukesha Metal Products in Sussex. Local 139 President and Business Manager Terry McGowan said in a statement, “Thanks to Gov. Walker, not only are our men and women meeting the needs of a growing state economy by building roads and bridges, but Wisconsin is home to the largest number of distribution contractors, which enables us to supply affordable services of natural gas, electricity and telecommunications.” Despite this endorsement, most other unions have been adamantly opposed to the governor for recent labor reforms. Back in 2011, Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature passed a state law, known as Act 10, which prohibited collective bargaining on anything beyond raises tied to inflation, eliminated automatic union dues deductions from their paychecks and requiring them to contribute more to their health insurance and pensions. (read article)

Labor money pours into Kansas to defeat Sam Brownback
By Brad Cooper, October 30, 2014, The Kansas City Star
Labor union money is flowing into Kansas this election season, fueling the campaign machine trying to topple Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Hundreds of thousands of union dollars are going to political action committees and independent expenditure campaigns that provide some of the counterweight that Brownback is getting from outside interests. Unions are spending more than $1.5 million on Kansas campaigns, state and federal campaign records show. Many of the expenditures are directly targeting Brownback, who is seeking a second term. Among the leaders are teachers unions, still stinging from a school finance bill that Brownback signed eliminating some teacher job protections. Davis supported keeping the job protections. The Kansas National Education Association, the national NEA and the American Federation of Teachers are pouring money into Kansas in the aftermath of the state’s decision to eliminate due process hearings for teachers. For instance, the Kansas NEA has pumped $270,000 into the Kansas Values Institute, which has been heavy on television running advertisements against Brownback. And the American Federation of Teachers gave Kansas Values another $75,000. (read article)

Jerry Brown’s Crucial Union Friends
By Chris Megerian, October29, 2014, Governing
The proposal to restrict school districts’ financial reserves seemed to come out of nowhere, slipped into the state budget just days before the spending plan would come up for a vote. At a legislative hearing, Democrats were confused and Republicans were critical. Recession-weary education officials launched an unsuccessful counterattack against the measure, pushed by California’s largest teachers union and inserted by Gov. Jerry Brown. The June episode was a reminder that unions have often found a loyal friend in Brown, who has been allied with the labor movement since his political career began more than four decades ago. The governor has occasionally frustrated union leaders with budget cuts and intransigence at the negotiating table. But he has also delivered on many of their biggest priorities, prompting his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, to paint him as a tool of labor benefactors. As Brown seeks a fourth term, unions remain a key element of his political power, providing millions of dollars in donations and deep ranks of campaign foot soldiers. “We agree on a lot of the issues,” said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Assn. “It’s not a big surprise we would be on the same page.” (read article)

Unions Go All Out To Defeat Wisconsin’s Maverick Governor Walker
Editorial, October 29, 2014, Investor’s Business Daily
The most important election in the nation on Tuesday may be the governor’s race in Wisconsin, where labor unions are trying once again to oust an incumbent whom they’ve made public enemy No. 1. Scott Walker dared to take on state pensions and collective bargaining agreements that brought the Badger state to the brink of bankruptcy. The movement against him is orchestrated by the same union thugs, leftist college professors and other “progressive” protesters who occupied the capitol four years ago to protest the governor’s policies to straighten out the state’s finances. To his credit, Walker showed a backbone of steel — and never backed away from his principles. That’s all too rare in modern-day go-along-to-get-along politics. In the end he prevailed in passing his agenda. But that was just the beginning. Big Labor then organized a recall campaign. Money flowed in from every conceivable “progressive” fund-raising operation. But Walker won that challenge, too, by 7 percentage points, and the unions were humiliated — again. Now they aim to beat him again, and again rivers of union money are flowing in to Madison. The campaign is one of lies: Walker’s against middle-class workers, he is against women, he is for tax cuts for the rich, he’s cut school funding, he’s funded by the Koch brothers. The reality is that Wisconsin has made a remarkable comeback in four years. (read article)

Maria Elena Durazo leaving top post at L.A. County Federation of Labor
By James Rainey and David Zahniser, October 29, 2014, Los Angeles Times
Maria Elena Durazo — the powerful Los Angeles County labor leader who helped elect politicians, boost wages and push through major development projects — said Wednesday that she is leaving her post to take a national union job promoting civil rights and campaigning for immigration reform. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an umbrella entity representing 600,000 workers, has arguably reached a zenith of its influence under Durazo, its first woman leader. It helped land allies on the Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors and recently pushed through a minimum wage law requiring large Los Angeles hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour, one of the nation’s highest base wages. A fierce advocate for the working class, Durazo was comfortable walking on broiling picket lines and negotiating in air-conditioned corporate board rooms. She lifted an already strong Los Angeles labor movement to a preeminent position of influence in civic affairs. Candidates prized the support of the labor federation and its political action arms. Campaign adversaries feared Durazo’s wrath. And business leaders alternately formed alliances with Durazo and complained that her demands made it untenable to do business in Los Angeles. (read article)

That Giant Rat Balloon Is Protected by the Constitution
By Josh Eidelson, October 29, 2014, Bloomberg
The towering rat balloon—six to 25 feet tall, often dubbed “Scabby the Rat”—is a common and sometimes contentious sight. It’s a gimmick used most frequently by unions to protest employers, but the inflated rats have occasionally been used by unions to protest other unions and, in an ironic gesture, by a business group protesting a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board. The rat has seemed a bit worn-out: Last year the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department announced it was officially retiring the balloon rat because it “symbolizes intimidation tactics of 30 years ago.” Individual unions have kept deploying rogue rats, anyway. As a way to pressure companies and get attention from customers, a giant rodent offers obvious advantages. The symbol is memorable, immediately recognizable, and much cheaper and easier (if less effective) than the hard work of mobilizing a critical mass of human protesters. A federal judge’s decision this week illustrates a further reason that unions resort to the rat: It’s less likely than a picket line to get shut down. (read article)

Union bosses investing in Ohio Senate Republicans
By Jason Hart, October 28, 2014, Townhall
Labor groups supporting big government and mandatory union dues gave $178,867 to eight Republican incumbents in the Ohio Senate during the most recent campaign finance period. Kevin Bacon, Bill Beagle, Cliff Hite, Shannon Jones, Frank LaRose, Gayle Manning, Scott Oelslager and Bob Peterson each received more than $5,000 in union donations between July 1 and Oct. 15. Kris Jordan is the only incumbent Republican senator seeking re-election Nov. 4 who received no union contributions. Beagle, Manning and Bacon got union money while facing tough Democrat competition, as evidenced by Ohio Republican Party and Republican Senate Campaign Committee spending in their respective races. ORP and RSCC gave Beagle more than $700,000 of in-kind support during the reporting period and more than $600,000 of in-kind support to both Manning and Bacon. (read article)