Union Watch Highlights

Teachers union to defend educators in cheating scandals
By Greg Toppo, July 12, 2011, USA Today
The head of the USA’s second-largest teachers union on Monday said local affiliates will defend the rights of teachers caught up in cheating scandals, including the one now unfolding in Atlanta. But she said cheating “under any circumstances is unacceptable.” Speaking to reporters during the American Federation of Teachers’ biannual training conference, Randi Weingarten said the union would “obviously” represent teachers accused of cheating “to make sure that people have some kind of fairness — and that it’s not some kind of witch hunt.” A long-awaited report released last week by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, found teacher- or principal-led cheating in 44 of 56 Atlanta schools investigated. Investigators determined that 178 educators cheated. Of those, 82 confessed. (read article)

Sacramento’s formerly exempt city workers move to join union to protect pensions
By Ryan Lillis, July 11, 2011, Sacramento Bee
More than 200 workers at Sacramento City Hall who have not been represented by unions are moving forward with organizing, a move that will give them more clout as budget officials eye their pensions for ways to save. Management support staff and administrative assistants have voted to join the newly formed Sacramento City Exempt Employees Association. Meanwhile, roughly 400 other managers, attorneys and media affairs specialists at City Hall will take part in a secret ballot election in the coming weeks over whether to join that union. More than 30 percent of those workers have signed authorization cards to move ahead with organizing, but that amount is below the threshold that would have triggered automatic unionization. That group of managers includes the highest-ranking city officials: charter officers, the police and fire chiefs, and other department heads. Also in the group are the city’s top labor relations and human resources officials. If they chose to organize, the City Council would negotiate contracts directly with them or have to hire a consultant. (read article)

California’s Public Employee Unions Might Seek 43% Tax Increase
By John Seiler, July 10, 2011, CalWatchdog.com
Labor leaders were never overly enamored with Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to extend taxes on purchases, income and auto fees, but were willing to go along with it to give the newly elected Democratic governor a chance to find revenues his way. But with Brown’s plans now smoldering in ruins, his labor allies are moving to gain control of the debate over tax initiatives they hope to pursue in November 2012. California already has the country’s most regressive state income tax, which digs in at 9.3 percent on incomes beginning around $50,000. According to the ALEC-Laffer survey released last month, California ranks 50th of the 50 states on “Personal Income Tax Progressivity.” (read article)

Even liberals beginning to see public employee unions as unaffordable
By Douglas MacKinnon, July 10, 2011, Washington Examiner
Even as Mitt Romney inexplicably flip-flops on his past very accurate observation that President Obama has made the economy worse, liberals in the mainstream media are now underscoring the former Massachusetts governor’s initial charge. The left-leaning and Democratic Party-friendly Associated Press is now waving the largest red flag it can find to trumpet that our nation’s fragile and plummeting economy is actually worse than generally thought. Ironically and quite telling, the liberal AP has decided it needs to point out the danger of “… expensive but long-untouchable public employee benefits.” Ironic because it has been mostly the Democratic Party and the liberal mainstream media who have made such outlandish benefits “long-untouchable.” Telling, because it seems even the liberal mainstream media have finally woken up to the financial disaster about to befall us all. According to the suddenly impartial AP, “all 50 states have combined unfunded pension and retiree health care obligations that top $1 trillion.” That would be trillion with a capital “T.” As in more than one-thousand billion dollars. (read article)

California law prohibiting teacher layoffs stirs confusion, criticism
By Teresa Watanabe, July 10, 2011, Los Angeles Times
School district officials across the state are wrestling with the fallout over a controversial new law that bars teacher layoffs for a year even amid deep financial uncertainty. The law, passed at the last minute with no public debate as part of the budget package in late June, requires districts to maintain this year’s level of teachers and programs in the upcoming 2011-12 school year. This means that even if funding drops, school boards and superintendents will be prevented from making mid-year cuts to campus programs. The law also restricts fiscal oversight of district budgets by county offices of education, which have had that authority for two decades. Education officials have denounced the law as a stunning blow to local budget control and said it could drive more districts into financial insolvency. More than 140 districts are in financial jeopardy, according to the state Education Department, after three years of reductions totaling $18 billion to the K-12 budget — nearly $3,000 per student. “It’s extraordinarily bad policy,” said Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, a school finance consulting firm in Sacramento. “Taking away local control and fiscal oversight is a huge departure from best practices that puts districts in harm’s way.” (read article)

Hidden Costs of Oakland, California’s Collective Bargaining Deal Shows Need for More Sunshine
By Daniel Borenstein, July 10, 2011, Contra Costa Times
The latest labor concessions by Oakland police officers serve as a sharp reminder of why the Legislature and governor must end secrecy in collective bargaining for government-employee contracts. Currently, elected officials and union leaders to whom they are often politically beholden strike deals behind closed doors and the taxpayers footing the bill don’t learn the details until they are set in stone. If members of the public could weigh in, does anyone believe they would approve of pension benefits they could never dream of receiving in their own jobs, months of sick leave and vacation accumulation, layoff protections when there is no certainty of sufficient funds for salaries, or work rules in which the employees determine the types of shifts they work? Does anyone believe they would approve of strapping future generations with hundreds of billions of dollars of retirement benefit debt for labor already provided? Oakland officials, from the mayor to most council members, and the unions tout their deal as a major worker concession to help the city balance its budget. There are cost savings that will substantially cut police take-home pay. But there are also key details with long-run pricetags. Moreover, the key pension concession rolls back a benefit that should have never been granted, and the pension “reform” component is really not reform at all but merely fiddling on the margins. (read article)

California Public Employee Unions Moving to Control Tax Debate
By Steven Harmon, July 9, 2011, Contra Costa Times
Labor leaders were never overly enamored with Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to extend taxes on purchases, income and auto fees, but were willing to go along with it to give the newly elected Democratic governor a chance to find revenues his way. But with Brown’s plans now smoldering in ruins, his labor allies are moving to gain control of the debate over tax initiatives they hope to pursue in November 2012. “I’m not sure which way we’ll go, but it won’t have a regressive sales or income tax on the middle class,” said Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer for the California Labor Federation. “We’re going to want to look at a way to generate revenues that doesn’t put more burden on working folks.” Brown’s calculation was to seek the path of least resistance, and a continuation of current taxes was the most acceptable to the broadest coalition, including large business groups that most feared taxes that would target particular industries. Those days are gone. Labor is looking for a fight to reverse tax benefits they say have gone disproportionately to the wealthy for the past 30 years. (read article)

Central Falls, Rhode Island might have to declare bankruptcy without union concessions
By John Hill, July 8, 2011, Providence Journal
Robert G. Flanders Jr., the state-appointed receiver whose goal is to chop about $5 million from the city’s fiscal ways so it can live within its $17-million-a-year means, is engaged with the city’s unions in “The Big Ask,” a request for cutbacks and concessions intended to hit that target. If an agreement can’t be reached this summer, Flanders said, the city might have to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Although Chapter 9, the federal bankruptcy code’s section for municipalities, offers cities a way to impose changes in their union contracts, lawyers who’ve gone through it warn that that power comes at a price. The most recent case, in Vallejo, Calif., has gone on for three years and has cost about $10 million for lawyers, accountants and consultants. (read article)

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg Proves He’s a Union Hack
By John Seiler, July 7, 2011, CalWatchdog.com
As if we needed more proof, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg showed that his philosophy of government is: of the government unions, by the government unions, for the government unions. Taxpayers are just slaves who pay for everything. Their children are hostages. As Katy Grimes reported two days ago, Steinberg’s AB 114 would ban layoffs of teachers. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law. If local school districts come up short of funds, they can cut days off the school year. So, local control of schools is reduced again to meet extravagant union demands. (read article)

Unions Try to Silence a Think Tank
By Andrew J. Cowin, July 7, 2011, Wall Street Journal
Late last month, the Connecticut think tank of which I am chairman was the subject of a bizarre complaint filed by public-union leaders. Their gripe? That the Yankee Institute is critical of union practices and that our funders share the same view. Since last year’s election, every statewide office is now held by Democrats who support public unions. Possibly intoxicated by this success, public-union leaders filed this baseless complaint with the state’s attorney general, in effect asking: Will no one rid us of this meddlesome think tank? (read more – subscription required)

Union-Backed Measure on Local Government Bankruptcy Stalls in California Senate Committee
By Dan Walters, July 6, 2011, Sacramento Bee
Union-backed legislation that would make bankruptcy more difficult for local governments stalled today in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. At the suggestion of committee chairwoman Lois Wolk, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski of Fremont stripped the contents out of Assembly Bill 506 and replaced it with “intent language,” meaning it’s a shell that may or may not be filled in later. The bill was then sent to the Senate Rules Committee. Today’s action thus keeps the bill alive with a Friday deadline for committee action looming. AB 506 is the latest incarnation of a years-long battle pitting unions that represent local government workers against the governments themselves, stemming from the 2008 bankruptcy of Vallejo. Several union-sponsored bills have been aimed at making local governments go through various hoops before filing bankruptcy. Before amendment, AB 506 required that cities contemplating bankruptcy have a “neutral evaluation.” (read article)

New Chicago Mayor Previews Union Work Rule Changes for City Workers
By Fran Spielman, July 6, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
Time-and-a-half for overtime, instead of double-time. A 40-hour work week, instead of 35 hours. Straight-time for prepping a vehicle at the start of a shift instead of time-and-a-half. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is showing at least a few of the cards in his hand in an attempt to build public support for the work-rule changes he needs to avoid laying off 625 city employees. The mayor has presented organized labor with a menu of nine work-rule changes and asked them to choose enough of them to save $11 million. That’s the amount of money he needs to end unpaid furlough days for the entire city work force and still plug the budget gap that remains — even after authorizing $20 million in budget cuts that do not impact union jobs. (read article)

Labor unions: the latest moves to empower or weaken them
By Mark Trumbull, July 6, 2011, Christian Science Monitor
Depending on who tells the story, recent Obama administration moves to support labor unions are either a major obstacle to job creation or a long-overdue effort to level the labor-management playing field. Similarly, on the other side of the political spectrum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is either a callous “union buster” or a courageous restorer of fiscal sanity. Whoever’s right, the competing narratives share one important thread: They signal that organized labor has become a hot political issue. Labor is in the news this year, not because of strikes or lockouts (although there’s also some of that in sports) but because of actions by policymakers that promise to empower unions or weaken them. At stake could be the health of job creation, the tone of US workplaces, and the power of labor in national politics. (read article)

We respect cops — and need them to step up on Sacramento’s budget
By Marcos Breton, July 6, 2011, Sacramento Bee
To break the budget impasse, which has caused the termination of 42 Sacramento cops, I propose a simple solution: The cops need to be reminded that they enjoy widespread respect in Sacramento for the jobs they do. They are being asked to make concessions on their pensions and have refused – forcing 42 young cops to get fired – because the older cops feel a lack of respect from the city. Sac cops say they stepped up in the past while other city unions haven’t. As one cop told me Tuesday: They feel unfairly targeted now. (read article)

California Teachers Union Throws Kids Under the Bus
By Katy Grimes, July 5, 2011, CalWatchdog.com
In an 11th hour budget move, Democrat lawmakers slipped a bill through the Assembly and Senate on behalf of the California Teachers Association. It protects teacher jobs over the educational rights of California’s children. Authored by the Democrat-dominated Assembly Committee on the Budget, the 100-page bill was presented to the entire Assembly only 20 minutes before it was to be voted on. AB 114 is filled with many troubling provisions. One concerns Proposition 98, which mandates that about 40 percent of General Fund spending go to K-14 education. And AB 114 diverts 1.06 percent of the existing sales tax revenues to fund welfare programs. Earlier in the year, Assembly Republicans had presented a balanced budget plan, which fully funded Proposition 98 without any tax increases. Instead, beholden to the CTA, Democrats manipulated Prop. 98 and appropriated the same amount of funding for K-12 schools as last year — as all other state agency budgets were cut. They also authorizing districts to cut seven teaching days in the school year if financially beneficial. And, using AB 114, the Legislature and governor gutted the oversight laws requiring school agencies to adhere to minimum levels of financial reserves. Gov. Brown has, in essence, allowed teachers to avoid layoffs under any circumstances in the next fiscal year. And school agencies will not be scrutinized financially. (read article)

Learning how to be a union activist
By Alana Semuels, July 5, 2011, Los Angeles Times
“Who are the people here facing budget cut issues?” asked the teacher, Paul Krehbiel, a grizzled activist who has organized nurses and factory workers over a long career, which includes serving as the chief negotiator for registered nurses at Los Angeles County government hospitals and clinics. They were in a classroom at Pasadena City College to learn how to be union activists, an endangered avocation in a country in which only 11.9% of employed wage and salary workers belonged to a union last year, down from 20% in 1983. Some of the students had never attended a labor meeting before. Some weren’t even employed, let alone union members. The techniques Krehbiel and other instructors taught at this one-day event, called Troublemakers School, might have once been learned on the assembly line, in the mine elevator or at the bowling alley. Now, the teachers impart their knowledge through fliers and by drawing on white boards, much like a football coach might sketch out a play when the team is down by a touchdown with just seconds left on the clock. (read article)

Orange County lawmaker takes thousands from plumber unions, authors bill to help plumber group
By Brian Joseph, July 4, 2011, Orange County Register
It may be just a coincidence, but Orange County Assemblyman Jose Solorio has introduced legislation that could benefit an association dominated by the same unions who have given him tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the years. The Santa Ana Democrat’s proposal, Assembly Bill 275, establishes environmentally-friendly standards for building systems to collect rainwater for nonpotable (non-drinking) uses. The bill is controversial because it mandates that the state use the building standards developed by International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials in a document called the 2010 Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement. (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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