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.

Georgia Senate Pushes Union Dues Reform
March 26, 2013, Associated Press
The Georgia business lobby won another victory Monday as the Senate approved a change on paycheck deductions for union dues and limited unemployment benefits for certain temporary workers. The dues provision would require that workers be able to opt out anytime from agreements to pay dues through an automatic paycheck deduction. Current law calls for an annual decision. On unemployment, certain temporary education system workers like bus drivers and cafeteria workers would not be eligible to receive jobless benefits in the summer months when they aren’t working. The issues divided the Senate along party lines. Republicans sided with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. Democrats sided with labor. (read article)

SEIU launches first TV ad on immigration push
By Carrie Dann, March 26, 2013, NBC News
The Service Employees International Union – one of the major labor groups working for an immigration overhaul – has launched a new ad advocating for a reform plan that includes a path to citizenship. The ad, called “America,”  is part of a $300,000 buy that will run on national cable, says SEIU. It is the organization’s first television ad pushing for immigration this year – and the second buy (SEIU bought time for Spanish-language radio ads last month.) The 30-second spot depicts a diverse group of people repairing a broken flagpole and hoisting an American flag as a narrator urges Congressional action on immigration reform. “With back taxes paid, English learned and a real path to citizenship,” the narrator says.  “No half measures.  Let’s fix it once and for all.” (read article)

Chicago Teachers Union, supporters gear up for rally on school closings
By Renita D. Young, March 26, 2013, NBC News Chicago
As students of the third-largest school district in the nation enter their second day of spring break, many of them are spending their vacation protesting the proposed closing of 54 Chicago public schools. Last week, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced plans to close the schools, a move coming just six months after the first CTU strike in 25 years. Parents, teachers and students shared their outrage with the proposal at a march to City Hall Monday and on the streets of Chicago. “This is chaos. It’s a disaster that is in the works,” Brandon Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union organizer, said as he and nearly 100 other opponents to school closings rallied outside of a South Side school slated for closing on Friday. “CPS officials and the mayor continue to spew confusing propaganda as justification for closing schools,” CTU said in a statement Monday, in response to the closings and CPS revealing that it has a $1 billion annual deficit. (read article)

Ann Arbor approves new contract with city’s largest labor union 3 days before right-to-work starts
By Ryan J. Stanton, March 25, 2013, AnnArbor.com
Three days before Michigan’s controversial right-to-work law is set to take effect, the city of Ann Arbor has struck a deal on a new contract with its largest labor union. The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 369 and its roughly 270 members. The contract is effective as of Monday and runs through Dec. 31, 2017. Because the contract starts before the new state law takes effect, the city’s AFSCME union won’t face the consequences of right-to-work for more than four and a half years. The vote on the new contract was 9-0 with Council Members Christopher Taylor and Mike Anglin absent. The right-to-work law, which goes into effect Thursday, makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment, which is expected to weaken unions as some members opt to no longer pay dues. But until existing contracts expire, like AFSCME’s will at the end of 2017, union employees must continue to pay dues. (read article)

High-Speed Rail: Do Unions Have Unfair Jobs Advantage?
By Heidi Cuda, March 25, 2013, Fox News Los Angeles
FOX 11 investigative producer Heidi Cuda has been following California’s $68 billion dollar bullet train project, as delays and lawsuits threaten the project. Now the latest question looms: Do unions have an unfair advantage when it comes to scoring all those construction jobs? Critics charge that the project labor agreement makes it tough for non-union contractors and workers to compete for those jobs. “We’re seeing back room deals being cut, we’re seeing taxpayers and what’s good for California be put on the back burner,” says Eric Christen, the executive director for Fair Employment in Construction. “Even though 87 percent of the construction force is non-union, special deals are being cut for big labor interests and its fiscal insanity because non-union contractors can’t compete.” Christen says he’s been criss-crossing the state to raise awareness over what he calls unfair labor practices. “This is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democrat issue,” he says. “It’s a common sense issue and it’s not fair that the people I represent are being discriminated against.” (read article)

D.C. fire union chief calls sabotage claim ‘nuts’
By Andrea Noble, March 24, 2013, The Washington Times
The District’s ambulances have been sabotaged. The assertion, laid out in a D.C. inspector general’s report, is the latest tit-for-tat allegation highlighting the erosion of relations between labor and management within the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. The report documents the department’s lack of an appropriate number of functional reserve fire apparatus and ambulances, noting that deficiencies among the apparatus division’s operations are mostly to blame for the fleet’s problems. “Our observations and analysis showed that many FEMS vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out of service and could not be used if needed as replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or during large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events,” the report states. But it also recommends the department investigate allegations that employees were sabotaging ambulances by breaking air conditioner lines or purposely burning out their transmissions. So many units were damaged in 2011 that the fire department contemplated installing miniature cameras inside the units to catch any tampering by employees, the report states. The allegations, made by a department official to the inspector general’s team, is just one among several recent examples of the lack of trust among both the rank and file and management, who have chronically suffered from tense relations. “That’s just nuts,” D.C. Firefighters Association President Edward Smith said of the sabotage allegation. (read article)

Tough laws, reduced ranks _ what next for unions?
By Sharon Cohen, March 23, 2013, Associated Press
From a sprawling United Auto Workers hall outside Detroit, John Zimmick has seen factories close and grown men cry when their jobs disappear. Through all the economic uncertainties of life in auto country, there has been one constant: the union. In its nearly 80-year history, Zimmick’s UAW Local 174 has been tested by bitter strikes, foreign competition and tenacious opponents. Now comes a new reason for anxiety. On Thursday, Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect, a stunning shift in this symbolic capital of organized labor. The historic change is just the latest sign of turmoil in the union movement that has seen its nationwide membership shrink to its lowest levels since at least the 1930s — a paltry 6.6 percent in the private sector. (read article)

Indiana union membership at lowest level in 24 years
March 23, 2013, Associated Press
An aging workforce, shifting political winds and changes in the public sector have driven Indiana’s union membership to its lowest recorded levels. But union leaders and experts say organized labor isn’t dead yet. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows union members made up 9.1 percent of Indiana’s workforce in 2012, down from 22 percent in 1983. It’s the first time since the government started tracking individual state data in 1989 that Indiana’s union workforce has fallen below 10 percent, the Tribune-Star reported. Experts say former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ decision in 2005 to end collective bargaining for state workers contributed to the drop but that the effects of Indiana’s new right-to-work law, which bars companies from requiring union membership, haven’t been fully felt yet. (read article)

San Bernardino Unions Seek Delay of Bid to End Contracts
By Steven Church, March 22, 2013, Bloomberg
San Bernardino, the insolvent California city, shouldn’t be allowed to cancel contracts with its three biggest unions until a judge decides whether the city’s bankruptcy is legal, labor officials said. The city’s main police and fire unions asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Meredith Jury to delay an April 4 court hearing on whether San Bernardino officials can throw out the three contracts, according to court papers filed yesterday in Riverside, California. The unions are fighting the city’s effort to cancel their contracts and force workers to accept pension changes imposed by elected officials in January. Those changes will save the city about $26 million by requiring workers to pay for 50 percent of their monthly pension premium. The city prematurely ended mediation with its labor unions and then imposed the changes at an emergency council meeting, Ron M. Oliner, an attorney for the police union, said in court papers. “On the pretense of its self-constructed emergency, the City Council then passed a resolution that imposed draconian cuts,” Oliner said. San Bernardino was the third California city to file for bankruptcy last year. The city of about 209,000 people lies about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. A fiscal emergency, brought on by a $46 million budget shortfall, forced it to stop paying some creditors and seek court protection, the city said. (read article)

RILA Applauds Sen. Isakson Effort to Halt Micro-Unions
March 22, 2013, Equities.com
The Retail Industry Leaders Association issued the following news release: The Retail Industry Leaders Association applauded Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) for his continued effort to reverse the National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) flawed decision that allows for the formation of micro-unions within a workplace. Today, Senator Isakson introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would prevent the funding for the NLRB to apply and enforce the controversial standard creating micro-unions. The amendment would thus return bargaining unit determinations to the long standing bipartisan standard that existed prior to Specialty Healthcare. Micro-unions were created as a result NLRB’s 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision. The decision redefines what the NLRB views as a proper bargaining unit allowing union organizers to gerrymander a workplace by cherry-picking small groups of employees within a larger workforce to form a micro-union. “Micro-unions will cause division within the retail workforce leading to conflicts and complexities that will negatively affect employees and customers,” said Bill Hughes, senior vice president for government affairs. “We applaud Senator Isakson’s continued effort to address reverse the decision and prevent the undue harm it will surely cause.” The NLRB and its regional directors have already begun clearing the way for micro-unions including a unit made up of the women’s shoe department at a New York Bergdorf Goodman store as well as maintenance employees at a Nestle-Dryer Ice Cream plant, and behind-the-counter employees at a DTG car rental location. Recent efforts to reverse the flawed NLRB decision have gained bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives. (read article)

Figures shows union membership slides in Idaho
March 22, 2013, Associated Press
Fresh U.S. Labor Department figures show union membership continues to slide in Idaho. Data released Thursday shows union membership among all wage and salary workers in the state is at 4.8 percent for 2012, down from 5.1 percent the year before and 10.2 percent in 1993. The agency estimates that 29,000 of Idaho’s 613,000 workers last year were union members. Unions represented another 7,000 Idaho workers who are not required to belong under the state’s 1985 right-to-work law. Nationally, 11.3 percent of workers — or 14.4 million — are members of unions, down from 11.8 percent from 2011. Other states with low union membership include North Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Idaho union membership reached 25 percent in 1964, but dropped to 9.6 percent in 1985. (read article)

Obama’s dangerous love of unions
By Bill Wilson, March 22, 2013, Washington Times
Ms. Gordillo’s [head of Mexican Education Worker’s Union] case should serve as a wake-up call to the Obama administration – which has spent the last four years working to dismantle union reporting requirements in the United States. These efforts reached a fever pitch during last year’s “December massacre,” when Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a flood of constitutionally dubious pro-union rulings targeting workers’ rights. In one of these rulings – the Kent Hospital case – the NLRB effectively invalidated a 1988 Supreme Court ruling banning forced employee subsidization of their lobbying and political activities. The ruling also stripped away strict definitions of what constituted “lobbying and political activities” – effectively leaving these definitions at the unions’ discretion. Making matters worse, the Kent case held that unions no longer had to provide employees with a detailed accounting of these lobbying and political activities – creating a “perfect storm” for corruption. In another case the NLRB overturned a 34-year precedent protecting witness statements obtained by employers during internal misconduct investigations – requiring that these confidential documents be turned over to the unions. The board also overturned a 50-year precedent when it ruled employers must continue collecting dues even after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. All of these decisions were made by a board operating without constitutional authority in light of Mr. Obama’s extra-legal recess appointment of two of its members. (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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