Union Watch Highlights

Rahm Emanuel warns two Chicago unions about changes
By Fran Spielman, April 5, 2011, Chicago Sun-times
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is laying down the law to two unions whose cooperation he needs to turn Chicago around: teachers he wants to work a longer school day and laborers he wants to simply show up at work in greater numbers. (read article)

Costa Mesa, California Is ‘Ground Zero’ for Pension Battle After Worker Suicide
By Christopher Palmeri, April 5, 2011, Bloomberg
Republican activist Jim Righeimer fought unions for two decades before getting elected in November to the City Council in Costa Mesa, the Southern California city that’s home to the second-largest shopping mall in the U.S. He’s now trying to fire almost half of Costa Mesa’s municipal employees to rein in what he calls unsustainable pension costs in the city of 116,000, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Los Angeles. (read article)

Card Check Bill Would End Secret Union Ballot for California Farmworkers
By Katy Grimes, April 4, 2011, Cal Watchdog.com
On March 31, Cesar Chavez Day, the California Senate passed SB 104 to eliminate secret ballot elections for farm workers voting on unionization. After a 24-14 party-line vote, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, ceremoniously marched with farm workers across the Capitol rotunda to the Assembly and presented the bill to Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles. The Assembly will consider the bill this week. Lawmakers claimed the bill, authored by Steinberg, would make it easier for California farm workers to unionize because employer influence would be lessened. (read article)

Want Leisure Time? Work for California
By Jon Coupal, April 04, 2011, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
OK, now that Governor Brown’s effort to gouge even more from struggling taxpayers has been derailed – at least for now – let’s return to the real world where those who are still working are struggling to hold on to their jobs and homes. If you are a working Californian, you look forward to a little time off each year. Typically this will be two weeks of vacation and, if you are lucky, a handful of paid holidays. With an official unemployment rate of over 12 percent – and an actual rate closer to 23 percent when those who have given up looking and those who have accepted part time jobs are counted – you are probably not inclined to push the issue of an extended vacation with pay with your current or future employer. After all, he or she is struggling to survive in a state with the most hostile tax and regulatory climate in America Back in the fantasy realm that is our state capitol, things are very different. (read article)

Republicans Question Obamacare’s $5 Billion Early Retiree ‘Slush Fund’ – A Bailout for States, Corporations and Unions
By Matthew Boyle, April 2, 2011, The Daily Caller
House Republicans are challenging a slush fund they recently discovered in Obamacare — a $5 billion bailout for states, corporations and unions, dubbed the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP). At a Friday hearing in Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Republicans alleged the Obama administration is passing out that $5 billion in taxpayer money to labor unions and companies it favors, like General Electric and General Motors — instead of using it to help early retirees obtain health insurance. (read article)

Issa set to grill postmaster general over finances, union contract
By Erik Wasson, April 2, 2011, The Hill
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will probe into the deeply troubled finances of the U.S. Postal Service Tuesday and will grill the postmaster general about a new tentative contract with the postal workers union that increases wages and limits layoffs. The new three-year contract announced March 14 disappointed House Republicans, who think it is overly generous to mail carriers. (read article)

Latest public pension fund data show taxpayers still on hook for trillions
By Frank Keegan, April 1, 2011, Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Despite pension fund investment gains in 2010, taxpayers still owe state and municipal workers trillions of dollars for promised benefits no matter how much funds earn during the next 30 years. According to data for the 4th Quarter released Thursday by the U.S. Census, cash and security holdings of the top 100 public pension plans gained 7.6 percent in 2009, the fifth consecutive quarterly year-over-year increase. Census reported the funds reached “the highest level since the second quarter of 2008.” Unfortunately, pension fund managers promise taxpayers and workers they will earn about 8 percent a year every year forever, and a loss of about 28 percent at the bottom of the recession would require a 62.5 percent gain the next year to fulfill their promise. (read article)

California Legislative Democrats’ Priority: Protect Public Employee Unions
By Bob Dutton, April 1, 2011, FlashReport
he budget bill includes General Fund savings of $308 million for reductions to employee compensation to be achieved through collective bargaining. This compares to total General Fund spending for employee compensation, including retirement and health care, of $10.7 billion, a paltry 2.9 percent reduction in overall employee compensation. At a time when other programs (such as Medi-Cal, Developmental Services, Adult Day Health Care, etc.) are experiencing severe reductions, this minor reduction in employee compensation exposes the fact that the Governor and Democrats’ priority is to protect the public employee unions as opposed to the “most vulnerable.” (read article)

Firefighters, Cops Warn Republicans Anti-Union Stance Has Consequences
By Andrea Stone, April 1, 2011, Huffington Post
Leaders from two unions known to support the Republican Party warned of serious repercussions for GOP candidates in the 2012 elections, saying the onslaught of anti-labor bills in state capitals has shifted their political allegiances. “Our political principles are pretty straightforward. We’ll support those that support us,” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. (read article)

Wisconsin think tank receives death threats over request for professors’ emails
By Todd Spangler, April 1, 2011, Detroit Free Press
A free-market think-tank at the center of a controversy over Freedom of Information Act requests to labor-studies departments received a series of death threats and bomb threats Thursday night and early today. Personnel at the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported the five calls to the FBI and the local police. Spokesman Michael Jahr told the Free Press they appeared to come from one or two women and made repeated references to “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. (read article)

The Future of Union Transparency and Accountability
Testimony of Nathan Mehrens, March 31, 2011, Netright Daily
Below is the testimony of Nathan Mehrens, counsel at Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation. Nathan testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. (read transcript)

Public-Sector Compensation: Correcting the Economic Policy Institute, Again
by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, March 31, 2011, Heritage Foundation
Previous public–private pay comparisons at the state and local levels, including numerous reports published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), significantly undercount public-sector pension benefits, omit retiree health coverage, and ignore job security. Using California as an example, an analysis by economists Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine showed that these errors can produce a substantial underestimate of public-sector compensation, leading to the erroneous conclusion that public workers receive compensation at or below market levels. (read article)

Tax top 1% of earners, says California Federation of Teachers
By Kevin Yamamura, March 31, 2011, Sacramento Bee
As Democrats scramble to find a new budget course after talks collapsed this week, the California Federation of Teachers is calling for a 1 percent tax hike on the top 1 percent of earners as part of a state budget solution. The union estimates the tax hike would raise an estimated $2.5 billion as the state faces a remaining $15.4 billion deficit, said spokesman Steve Hopcraft. The proposal would hike taxes by 1 percent on personal income above $500,000. CFT represents 120,000 teachers and school employees at all levels, including the University of California. (read article)

Fight over collective bargaining looming in Nevada Legislature
By Anjeanette Damon, March 30, 2011, Las Vegas Sun
As his fellow Republican governors have declared public-employee unions to be public enemy No. 1 and moved to strip their collective bargaining rights, Gov. Brian Sandoval has avoided a similar fight. He has focused instead on the state’s flatlining economy, beleaguered budget and struggling schools. But Sandoval’s newly unveiled education reform package might bring the collective bargaining fight to him. Under the legislation, teachers unions couldn’t bargain for higher pay based on educational attainment or years of service. They would also be limited in bargaining on the processes for layoffs, other workforce reductions and termination. (read article)

Collective bargaining changes pass New Hampshire House
By Tom Fahey, March 30, 2011, Union Leader
The House approved a key piece of its budget package that would make deep cuts to social and health programs, and includes a controversial change to collective bargaining laws. Republicans rejected a series of attempts by Democrats to lessen the dramatic changes in House Bill 2 (click to see bill text and roll call votes) and passed it, 222-119. The bill would make public workers at-will employees if their contracts end before a new one is in place. The change to collective bargaining, actively opposed by labor, was a late addition to the bill. (read article)

Union Attack Campaign Against Costa Mesa Council Goes National
By Norberto Santana, Jr., March 29, 2011, Voice of OC
An attack ad against the Costa Mesa City Council, paid for by the Orange County Employees Association, has attracted the attention of the national website Politico. The highly produced television spot — a rarity in local politics — is running on cable television in Costa Mesa. It focuses on Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan’s inaction following city employee Huy Pham’s suicide on March 17. Monahan has been the subject of widespread criticism for staying at his Irish Pub, Skosh Monahans, in the wake of the suicide instead of being present with other members of City Council at City Hall. (read article)

Balance must be restored to the public negotiating process
By John Glennon, March 28, 2011, Contra Costa Times
Wisconsin’s decision to curtail collective bargaining by most of the state’s public employees, including teachers, has ignited a heated nationwide debate over the rights and power of public employee unions. The controversy centers on whether public-employee unions should operate in the same manner as private-sector unions. At first glance, it may seem that there is no reason to differentiate between public- and private-employee unions. Why shouldn’t public employees have the same bargaining rights as private-sector workers? (read article)

Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.com, 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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