Union Watch Highlights

Unions Fend Off Right-to-Work Bill in New Hampshire
By Kris Maher, June 24, 2011, Wall Street Journal
Amid a year of relentless challenges to their power around the country, unions notched a victory this week when New Hampshire Republicans failed to muster enough votes to override the governor’s veto of a right-to-work bill. Republican House Speaker William O’Brien said he would call a special session of the Legislature, likely in the fall, seeking to override the veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch. New Hampshire Republicans this spring passed the bill, which would allow private-sector workers to opt not to join a union or pay dues at unionized workplaces. (read article)

‘Card check’ empowers unions, not union workers
Editorial, June 23, 2011, Los Angeles Times
California’s agricultural laborers work hard and lead difficult lives. Wages are low, making it nearly impossible to save enough money to secure better lives for their children. Work is seasonal, leaving long gaps in pay. Affordable housing is scarce. Laborers whose work is badly needed by growers and consumers often come to the U.S. in violation of immigration laws, making them subject to employer exploitation. For years, workers have helped tilt the balance of power in fields and factory farms incrementally by organizing themselves into labor unions. The Times supports steps to make it easier for them to join forces and demand humane conditions and negotiate for reasonable pay. The problem, though, with the “card check” bills that Democrats keep sending to the governor is that they empower unions, not union workers. There is a difference. (read article)

Union concessions are Sacramento’s only hope
Editorial, June 23, 2011, Sacramento Bee
Sacramento’s new budget will lead to fewer cops on the street, nearly 200 layoffs of city workers overall and reduced services that will make this a less liveable city. But if the city’s employee unions will put residents first, there could still be a reprieve. In the 2011-12 budget approved Tuesday night by the City Council, the biggest cut is $12 million from the Police Department. A federal grant will allow 35 patrol officers to stay on the job. That still means 42 sworn officers will be laid off after June 30, plus 66 civilian employees. (read article)

New York’s Governor Secures Big Givebacks in Union Deal
By Danny Hakim, June 22, 2011, New York Times
The state’s largest public-employee union, acknowledging the pressures on government workers around the nation, agreed on Wednesday to major wage and benefits concessions in a pact to avoid sweeping layoffs. The five-year agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Civil Service Employees Association, includes a three-year wage freeze, the first furloughs ever for state workers and an increase in the amount employees must pay toward their health insurance. Savings would amount to $73 million this year, and as much as $1.6 billion over five years, if other labor unions representing public workers agreed to similar concessions. Absent those agreements, there could still be layoffs of some public workers, the Cuomo administration said. (read article)

New Front in Benefits Fight, Atlanta May Drop Pensions
By Cameron McWhirter and Douglas Belkin, June 22, 2011, Wall Street Journal
Atlanta’s City Council is expected to vote as early as Thursday on one of the most sweeping overhauls of public-employee retirement benefits attempted by a large U.S. city in recent years, as cities and states across the country race to close big budget gaps. The legislation, if passed, would set the stage for eventually eliminating the city’s current pension system entirely. That would shore up its budget and potentially bolster similar efforts by other municipal governments. Many pension changes undertaken by other cities have focused largely on asking public employees to kick in greater contributions to their retirement funds or reconfiguring benefits. (read article)

Critics see union motive in proposed California booze ban in self-checkout lines
By Torey Van Oot, June 22, 2011, Sacramento Bee
Shoppers with beer, wine or liquor in their carts could be banned from using electronic self-checkout lanes that have become commonplace at many grocery stores under legislation working its way through the Capitol. Assembly Bill 183 has sparked a legislative battle far fiercer than the price wars waged between competing grocery store chains. Supporters of the measure, which has failed twice before to become law in recent years, say banning alcohol purchases at self-checkout lanes would create another line of defense in the ongoing fight to curb underage drinking. But critics of the proposal, which has passed the Assembly and is now under consideration in the Senate, say limiting minors’ access to alcohol isn’t the true motive of the bill. Instead, they point to an ongoing battle between United Food and Commercial Workers and Fresh & Easy, a nonunion chain that uses only staff-supervised self-checkout lanes. (read article)

More Big Labor help from the NLRB
Editorial, June 22, 2011, Wall Street Journal
When Big Labor failed to persuade even a Democratic Congress to pass “card check” legislation, it turned to Plan B: the National Labor Relations Board, which yesterday delivered a plan for “quickie” union elections designed to make organizing easier. Current law already gives unions an advantage in their ability to work covertly for months, quietly approaching employees to gather signatures for an election petition until springing the news on employers at the last minute. Companies then must make their own case to workers in the month or so it usually takes to hold an election. (read article)

Wisconsin Reins in Government Worker Unions
Policy Brief, June 22, 2011, Allegheny Institute
Back in the wintry days of February, the nation’s attention was focused intensely on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. In the end the portions of the bill dealing with public sector unions were voted on and passed on March 11. Act 10 of 2011 is reviled by government workers in Wisconsin and around the country because it removes a huge chunk of the power public sector unions had been given in prior legislation. Passing Act 10 under the circumstances faced by the legislators was an example of extraordinary courage. What makes Act 10 so beneficial to taxpayers and elected administrative officials while at the same time making it so despised by unions? Four items in particular are extremely important. First, Section 242 directs all bargaining units to hold recertification elections for their representatives each year. (read article)

Unions and machine Democrats at each other’s throats
By Mike Antonucci, June 21, 2011, Intercepts
In the olden days – say, around 2004 – Democrats might wander away from the public employee union herd, but they were quickly rounded up and placed back under the yoke. And while there are still a significant number of Democrats who wouldn’t dream of saying “boo” to a union officer, anyone who has followed politics for more than a few years has to be staring goggle-eyed at the spectacle of unions and machine Democrats at each other’s throats. (read article)

Public unions take on boss to win big pensions in California
By Charles Duhigg, June 21, 2011, New York Times
City council elections in this Southern California city are usually sedate. Hot-button issues include whether libraries should stay open at night. Campaign budgets often don’t top $10,000. Then Jim Righeimer, a conservative activist and real estate developer, jumped into the race last year. The city was on the road to insolvency, he warned, because public employee unions had pressured politicians into handing over generous salaries and pensions. The police chief received $298,000 a year in total compensation, Mr. Righeimer noted. The deputy fire chief had retired with a pension of more than $182,000 a year. City workers weren’t fans of Mr. Righeimer, who had been critical of public unions for years. (read article)

Eastern Michigan faculty side with teachers’ unions, refuse to work in Detroit schools
By David Jesse and Chastity Pratt Dawsey, June 21, 2011, Detroit Free Press
As Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents voted Tuesday to take part in a new school district to reform Michigan’s worst performing schools, faculty leaders promised not to do any work in Detroit that might help bust union contracts. Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts would lead the new district, called the Education Achievement System, or EAS. And he has the power to nullify or change union contracts — a sore point. EMU President Susan Martin said no faculty would be assigned to any work in a school in Detroit. But union leaders were skeptical, saying Monday’s announcements appeared to pledge faculty involvement to help turn around Michigan’s failing schools, starting with 34 DPS schools. (read article)

Real leadership sang louder than New Jersey unions’ tired refrains
By Tom Moran, June 17, 2011, Star-Ledger
The public worker unions know every step of this dance by heart, and they executed it perfectly Thursday. The big rally. The civil disobedience. The songs about the working class. Even the giant inflatable rat, with a sign hung around its waist saying simply: “Betrayal” But this time, something remarkable happened: It didn’t work. The unions, finally, lost a big one. Inside the Statehouse, within earshot of the rally, senators on the budget committee cast a vote that amounted to a punch in the gut. Public workers would pay more for less, bringing their health and pension benefits back to earth. (read article)

The modern union is the antithesis of workers’ rights
By Wendy McElroy, July/August 2011, The Freeman
The raging controversy in Wisconsin over eliminating collective bargaining “rights” for government employees cast a bright and harsh light on public-sector unions. Some commentators have distinguished public-sector unions from private-sector unions, but the vested interests of the two are much the same. Both are expressions of what might be called “the modern union,” which came to dominate the American labor movement through New Deal legislation in the 1930s. Differences between the two forms of union should be acknowledged, however. There is no question that the tax funding of public-sector unions creates important distinctions from those in the private sector. For one thing, private-sector unions negotiate in the context of limited money; if they demand too much the company cannot compete against rivals and union members could find themselves unemployed. By contrast public-sector unions have no similarly clear limit on available money and government has no competitor. (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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