Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Missouri Senate endorses union paycheck bill
By Jordan Shapiro, March 12, 2013, The Kansas City Star
After steadfast opposition from Democratic senators, the Missouri Senate gave first-round approval early Tuesday morning to a bill that would require public employee unions to seek annual consent in order to automatically deduct fees from members’ paychecks. The final measure was the product of a compromise forged after a nearly eight hours of opposition from Senate Democrats. The original measure would have banned paycheck deductions outright for some unionized public employees. Sponsoring Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said no one was probably happy with the final product but the compromise allowed the measure to get to a vote. Even with the compromise allowing public employees to annually opt-in for automatic paycheck deductions, Democrats voted against the final measure and claimed the bill was part of an agenda to weaken labor unions. The measure also requires annual consent to spend union fees on campaign contributions. Brown said this allows public employees to have greater control in how their union fees are being spent. Democrats refuted that argument and said the bill was unnecessary because employees can already choose to not have their dues spent for political purposes. The Missouri House is also pursuing its version of paycheck legislation. Their measure, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, requires annual authorization for political contributions, but not on union dues. The Senate’s version exempts unions representing first responders, such as police and firefighters. But the House is unlikely to go along without exemption, citing a recent collective bargaining agreement for Kansas City police officers. (read article)

Former Providence Union Leaders Says Mayor Misleading Public on Pension Reform
By Paul J. Spetrini, March 12, 2013, GoLocalProv
Moments after Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled that Providence’s pension reform deal with active police members, active firefighters and retirees was a “fair, adequate and reasonable settlement,” Providence Mayor Angel Taveras applauded the decision as “an important milestone on the road to putting Rhode Island’s capital city on a fiscally sustainable path.” But not everyone was pleased with the ruling. At least one retiree at the center of the opposition to the deal says the agreement is further proof that Taveras is “pulling the wool over the public’s eyes” with the true details of the reform package and, he says, the city can expect anywhere from 50-100 retirees to opt-out of the deal and continue fighting the matter in court. “This was a dirty, dirty attempt to hoodwink the public and hoodwink the people and so far success is on their side,” retired firefighter Stephen T. Day said last night. (read article)

Greimel: GOP scaring schools, unions away from extending contracts
By Chad Livengood, March 11, 2013, Detroit News
House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel on Monday accused Republicans of engaging in “McCarthyism tactics” to “intimidate” public school and university officials rushing to sign new contracts with labor unions before Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect March 28. Some Republican lawmakers are questioning why Warren and Taylor schools and Wayne State University have agreed to new labor contracts with teachers ranging from eight to 10 years and whether they’re trying to skirt the law. The right-to-work law will ban union contract clauses from requiring financial support of a union as a condition of employment. But since the Legislature did not give the law immediate effect in December, any contracts in place before March 28 will allow unions to keep collecting dues and agency fees for negotiating collective bargaining agreements until they expire. Greimel said Republicans are trying to “scare” school officials into not extending contracts before right to work goes on the books with the threat of withholding state funding. (read article)

Arizona unions show support for immigration reform
By Alia Beard Rau, March 11, 2013, The Arizona Republic
Arizona’s labor unions are putting their weight behind comprehensive immigration reform, and they made their position loud and clear during a rally at the state Capitol on Monday. About 200 union members, supporters, student activists and Democratic leaders gathered in support of a federal proposal that includes a path to citizenship. Union leaders said the labor movement and immigration rights go hand in hand. “We’re both fighting for the American dream,” said Emmanuel Gallardo, a front-desk agent at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown hotel and a local union member. “And I strongly believe that as a labor movement, if we come together to support comprehensive immigration reform, we can pass it.” U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., spoke to the group, saying immigration reform needs to happen this year. “Those of us from Arizona … understand it will be tough,” he said. “But we also understand how important it is.” (read article)

Losing Los Angeles mayoral candidate warns against a mayor too cozy with unions
By James Rainey, March 10, 2013, Los Angeles Times
Defeated Los Angeles mayoral candidate Jan Perry warned Friday that electing a city chief executive too beholden to public employee unions could leave the city vulnerable to being “flipped over on its back, flailing, while a few insiders get what they want.” Perry, whose endorsement in the May runoff election could be significant, was aiming her remarks at City Controller Wendy Greuel, who benefited from heavy financial support from organized labor on her way to a second-place finish in Tuesday’s primary. Greuel will face City Councilman Eric Garcetti in a May 21 runoff election. Perry, a City Council member who finished fourth in the primary, declined to say whom she would support in the race’s final round. But she disparaged Greuel’s record, asserting that the controller owes too much to labor leaders she may have to face across a contract negotiating table. Perry, an African American, represents a significant swath of South Los Angeles. She was the top vote-getter in that part of the city and among black voters — two voting blocs Garcetti and Greuel hope to attract in the runoff. (read article)

Obama poised to pick Perez for Labor
By Jim Kuhnhenn, March 10, 2013, Albany Times Union
President Barack Obama is close to naming Thomas Perez, a civil rights official in the Justice Department, as his choice to head the Department of Labor, two people familiar with the process say. His nomination could come as early as Monday, the people familiar with the process said Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak prior to the official announcement. If confirmed, Perez would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January. White House spokesman Matt Lehrich declined to comment. Perez, 51, has led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division since 2009 and previously served as Maryland’s labor secretary. He is expected to have solid support from organized labor as well as the Hispanic community, which is eager to have representation in Obama’s second-term Cabinet. (read article)

Democrats and Labor: A Tale of Abuse
By Shamus Cooke, March 10, 2013, TruthOut.org
The Democratic Party’s participation in the recent national “sequester” cuts is yet another big dent in their love affair with organized labor. But break-ups are often a protracted process. Before a relationship ends there is usually a gradual deterioration based on irreconcilable differences, until the split becomes inevitable. The decades-long marriage of labor unions and the Democratic Party is nearing such a divorce. Labor unions are becoming frustrated as the Democrats flaunt their affair with corporate America and Wall Street. What are some of the issues driving towards separation? It just seems that no matter how much labor leaders shower the politicians with money and affection, the Democrats just aren’t returning the love. Although the Democrats were always a fickle partner, their coldness evolved into aggression under Bill Clinton, who oversaw a slew of anti-worker legislation, most notably NAFTA and welfare “reform.” Obama has continued this rightwards trajectory, while portraying himself brilliantly as the “lesser evil” compared with the more honest anti-union rhetoric of the Republicans. (read article)

Pennsylvania law must stop kowtowing to Big Labor’s thugs
By Katie Packer Gage, March 9, 2013, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Every state in the nation — including Pennsylvania — has passed laws making it a crime to engage in stalking. As defined, stalking is an obsessive pursuit to the point of harassment. One would think any reasonable person would favor laws that prohibit an individual or group from harassing and intimidating someone. And for the most part, it’s a true statement, with one very notable exception: Big Labor bosses. That’s correct, Big Labor used its considerable influence in Pennsylvania to carve out a special exemption for union bosses and organizers from the state’s anti-stalking law. It’s inconceivable, yet true. The Keystone State’s statute stipulates the prohibition on stalking “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute” (PA § 2709.1). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report titled “Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions: Special State Laws for Labor Unions,” which describes the contemptible exemption, as well as others in California, Illinois and Nevada. Union bosses specifically sought out this exemption for one purpose — to bully and pressure individuals in an effort to organize more workplaces and force employees into forming collective bargaining units. In fact, Pennsylvania’s Labor Anti-Injunction Act ties the hands of the state judiciary in a number of ways, including inhibiting it from engaging in labor disputes with injunctions. Whether an illegal act has been threatened or committed, if it is in the name of a labor dispute, judges are unable to engage. (read article)

NLRB Policies Help Unions, Not Workers
By Bill Wilson, March 8, 2013, Investors Business Daily
Of all the federal agencies engaging in “bold, persistent experimentation” with our economy in recent years, U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been among the boldest, most persistent and most experimental. The problem? Its policies haven’t helped American workers (just as Obama’s profligate spending hasn’t “stimulated” the economy). The NLRB — which infamously sued aircraft manufacturer Boeing in 2011 for daring to create jobs in a right-to-work state — has become nothing more than a taxpayer-funded attack dog for Big Labor. What began four years ago with a decision to relax reporting requirements for union bosses (reversing a Bush-era policy aimed at targeting union corruption) has now morphed into a full-fledged war against free enterprise. Consider the NLRB’s recent rulings against Prime Healthcare Services, a California-based hospital company that was forced to continue collecting union dues even after the expiration of its collective bargaining agreement. That decision overturned a half-century of legal precedent. Then there was the agency’s ruling against Kent Hospital — in which the board held employees were no longer permitted to opt out of paying the percentage of union dues spent on political activity. Not only that, the same ruling removed language requiring unions to provide employees with an accounting of what they spend on political activity. These are just a few of the egregious pro-labor rulings issued by Obama’s NLRB since the 2012 election. (read article)

California’s Public Employee Unions Push Back With Lawsuits Over Pension Reforms
By Chris Megerian, March 8, 2013, Los Angeles Times
California unions, accustomed to getting their way in the Capitol, lost some ground last year when Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through the Legislature a series of public-pension cuts that affect their members. Now several labor groups have gone to court in an attempt to reverse some of the cuts, forcing Brown to defend legislation he used to persuade voters that he was being frugal with their tax money. “We’re just fighting for what has been promised us,” said Jon Rudolph, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Assn. of Alameda County. The overhaul raised the retirement age and lowered the benefits for public employees hired as of Jan. 1 of this year. It also changed the way pensions are calculated, which slices into benefits for workers who were on the job before then. Advocates for the changes said the cuts were necessary to help reduce California’s mounting bills for retirement benefits, which are expected to cost many billions more in coming decades than the state and local governments have set aside for them. The pension law signed by Brown last year affects retirement systems at the city, county and state level. If the courts stand with the unions, “I don’t know what more you can do to control the problem,” said Mike Genest, who served as finance director for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “In the long run, it could cost taxpayers a lot of money.” Local labor groups have filed several lawsuits against county retirement systems in an attempt to block various reductions, mostly involving workers already on the job when the cuts took effect. (read article)

Union calls for Legislature to investigate University of California hospital system
By Jon Ortiz, March 8, 2013, Sacramento Bee
A union deadlocked in contract talks with the University of California said Thursday that the system’s medical facilities are understaffed, waste money and put patients’ health in jeopardy. Kathryn Lybarger, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, said lawmakers and state authorities should investigate everything from the university system’s debt and staffing policies to its constitutional autonomy from the Legislature. “All of this calls for more oversight,” Lybarger said. Dwaine Duckett, the UC system’s vice president of human resources, countered that the 22,000-employee union’s complaints and its appeal to the Legislature were bargaining ploys. The local’s contract expired last year and talks for the 15,000 or so hospital employees it represents have reached an impasse. “They have a habit of trying to negotiate contracts in public and not at the bargaining table,” Duckett said. “To that end, they’ll put out negative information about the UC in order to gain bargaining leverage.” Duckett said that the union has balked at negotiating employee pension contributions, despite a new law that requires public employee labor groups to bargain the higher payments from their members. (read article)

AFL-CIO Chief Reflects On Unions’ Thinning Ranks
By Dave Jamieson, March 7, 2013, Huffington Post
Just as the percentage of Americans belonging to a union has fallen to a historic low, the leader of the largest labor federation in the country on Thursday offered a blunt assessment of organized labor’s thinning ranks, arguing that unions need to look to new models for organizing workers and put a renewed focus on young people. “We must open up union membership and make the benefits of representation available to all workers,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, speaking at a University of Illinois event in Chicago. “We need to create new models of worker representation. We need to be more strategic and forward-looking. And we need to face this challenge collectively.” It’s a message that the AFL-CIO will amplify in the coming months leading up to its September convention, as part of a broader conversation on the weakened state of organized labor in America. Although the rate of union membership has been falling for decades, it dropped by more than usual in 2012, down to 11.3 percent among the entire workforce and 6.6 percent among the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (read article)

Iowa union trades pay freeze for health benefit
By Rod Boshart, March 7, 2013, Muscatine Journal
Members of Iowa’s largest state employees’ union will not get a uniform wage increase for the next two fiscal years, but some will get individual pay boosts and most will not have to pay health insurance premiums as a result of an arbitrator’s ruling Thursday. “I’m ecstatic,” said Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, who was surrounded by members of his jubilant bargaining team. “I’ve been sweating this award since Feb. 13,” he said. “I might for the first time in a long time be able to get a decent night’s sleep tonight because I know that our members’ benefits and their rights have been for the most part preserved.” Arbitrator Marvin Hill Jr. rejected Gov. Terry Branstad’s insistence that all AFSCME members pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs in maintaining current contract language that allows many covered workers to continue paying no monthly premium in exchange for taking a base wage freeze under the contract that runs from next July 1 through June 30, 2015. (read article)

NEA President on the State of the Union
By Mike Antonucci, March 6, 2013, Intercepts
It’s very clear that when the directors of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) decided to pursue the question of disaffiliating from the National Education Association they wanted to be very thorough. The UHPA web site has dozens of documents devoted to the issue for members to peruse, and even went so far to post on YouTube a video of NEA president Dennis Van Roekel’s visit to the UHPA board of directors on June 2, 2012. Tellingly, the 58-minute video garnered only 17 views in the five weeks it has been up, and I am the source of many of those views. I embed it here even though I don’t expect many more of you to view the whole thing, but I think it’s worthwhile if you have an interest in NEA’s governance and operations. As part of his presentation to the UHPA board, Van Roekel goes into fundamental detail about NEA’s affiliate interactions, the UniServ program, the Unified Legal Services Program, and the Ballot Measures/Legislative Crises Fund. (read article)

OC Supervisors Impose Labor Contract on Public Attorneys
By Norberto Santana Jr., March 5, 2013, Voice of OC
The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to impose a labor contract on the county’s nearly 500 public attorneys, a move that was immediately met with a lawsuit threat from the union that represents the lawyers. “You know we’re going to sue you,” said Scott Van Camp, a leader of the Orange County Attorney’s Association, which includes attorneys from the district attorney, public defender and county counsel offices. The union has already filed an unfair labor practice action against the county. Van Camp and other union attorneys argued that the board is violating a recently enacted California pension law by imposing higher pension contributions in a labor negotiation. County negotiators disagreed, saying supervisors can still impose terms. (read article)

Union Boss: Losing Wisconsin Forced-Dues Privileges ‘Makes Huge Difference’
By Stan Greer, March 4, 2013, National Right to Work Committee
State-by-state public employment data for the last three years compiled and published by economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson show that the number of government jobs nationwide fell by 5.4%  from 2010 to 2012 as dollars flowing from the massive 2009 federal “stimulus” package ran out and state and local governments were forced to economize.  But in Wisconsin public employment fell by just 1.2% from 2010 to 2012. It appears a key reason Wisconsin’s public employment fell less than a quarter as much as the national average is Act 10, adopted by the Badger State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in early 2011.  Act 10 revoked the power of most government union officials in Wisconsin to get public servants fired for refusal to pay union dues or fees.  It also significantly narrowed the scope of most government union chiefs’ monopoly-bargaining privileges. Because of Act 10, state and local government officials in Wisconsin have been able to implement compensation and work-rule reforms without running into Big Labor roadblocks, largely obviating the need for layoffs.  Both taxpayers and public employees have benefited from the change. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

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