Union Watch Highlights

Across U.S., public unions under fire this Labor Day
By David Shepardson, September 5, 2011, Detroit News Washington Bureau
Across America on this Labor Day, public employees whose job security once seemed iron-clad are defending their jobs, pay, benefits and bargaining rights. “This is a tough moment for public employees,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “The public sector is under unprecedented financial stress. Governors are reluctant to raise revenue, so they are pressing hard and demanding tough concessions.” The struggle between public workers and their employers — school districts and state and local governments — stems from large deficits that piled up when spending exceeded the tax revenue needed to support it. The stakes are high for both sides: the states and local governments that need to rein in spending, and the public employee unions and their members seeking to preserve collective bargaining and protect pay and benefits. (read article)

A Labor Day that drips with irony
By Dan Walters, September 5, 2011, Sacramento Bee
California, like other Western states, was not fertile ground for labor union organization during the early 20th century, with Southern California employers being particularly hostile, even violently so, to union activity. As manufacturing took hold in the state during and immediately after World War II, however, union membership boomed, particularly in the defense industry, topping out at about 40 percent of the state’s workers in the 1950s. The decline of manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s hit unions hard, but they found a savior in Jerry Brown, who was elected governor in 1974. He signed long-sought collective bargaining legislation for farmworkers as well as teachers and other government workers. Public employee union membership soared, partially offsetting decline in the private sector. (read article)

Chicago teachers union takes case for backing labor to churches
By David Roeder, September 4, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Teachers Union members took their message to the city’s churches Sunday, speaking to congregations about justice in the labor market and soliciting support for a public school system they said is under attack. They wanted to share positive stories about their professionalism and commitment, while sounding an alarm about politicians blaming teachers for failures in the system. Left unspoken in most cases was the Chicago Teachers Union’s conflict with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over a longer school day. Emanuel wants to extend the day by an hour and a half and raise teacher pay by 2 percent, an offer the CTU has rejected. A CTU spokeswoman said the union took its message to about 100 churches or schools for Labor Day. (read article)

Other Chicago union officials also got city and union pensions at same time
By Jason Grotto, September 2, 2011, Chicago Tribune
Thomas Villanova isn’t the only official from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who participated in a city pension and a union pension at the same time, in violation of state law. Three other local leaders who did so stand to collect more than $6 million from the municipal pension fund in their lifetimes, according to an analysis by the Tribune and WGN-TV. Like Villanova, all three retired from the city before the age of 60. Like Villanova, each signed an application saying he wasn’t participating in his union’s pension fund, and Local 134 officials wrote letters for all of them saying they weren’t getting any union pension benefits. But they were. (read article)

Poll: America Still Not That Keen on Labor Unions
By Chadwick Matlin, September 2, 2011, New York Magazine
For the guy who created Labor Day, Grover Cleveland sure hated unions. 117 years ago, Cleveland made Labor Day a national celebration because his reputation was so bad among American workers. A year earlier, he had sent 12,000 troops in to break up a railroad strike in Illinois, and Labor Day was his token apology to a constituency he hated. It’s fitting, considering this Labor Day the country isn’t feeling that great about unions either. A Gallup poll this week found the country disapproves of labor unions about as much as it did last year. Which is to say quite a bit. 42 percent disapprove; 52 percent approve — some of the most negative marks for unions since Gallup started measuring these things in the thirties. (read article)

Unionized Workers Fight New Jersey Pension Reforms
By Iulia Filip, September 2, 2011, Courthouse News Service
Twenty-three public employee unions say the state unconstitutionally “reformed” their pension and benefits system. They say the new law impairs contracts, violates due process, underfunds pensions, delegates “unrestrained authority” to degrade the system even further – and that the state created the crisis by its systemic “underfunding of the pension funds since 2003.” Led by the New Jersey Education Association and the new Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the 23 plaintiff unions say they represent more than 802,000 members of the state pension system. They sued New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, its state Senate and Assembly, and the state treasurer, challenging changes to Chapter 78 of Public Law 2011, enacted on June 28. (read article)

A Challenge for Unions in Public Opinion
By Steven Greenhouse, September 2, 2011, New York Times
A new Gallup poll has found that a slim majority of Americans, 52 percent, approve of labor unions and that the difference in views between how Democrats and Republicans feel toward unions has reached record levels. The Gallup poll, released on Thursday, found that the approval rate for unions was unchanged from 2010 and was up from 2009, when unions had the lowest approval rating, 48 percent, since Gallup began this survey in 1936. (read article)

Chicago union leader draws lucrative pension perk based on false information
By Jason Grotto, September 1, 2011, Chicago Tribune
Every month, Thomas Villanova gets a $9,000 reminder of how lucrative it can be to serve as a union leader in Chicago. The sum is part of a city pension that comes on top of the $198,000 annual salary he is paid to represent the interests of thousands of city workers. Villanova last worked for the city in 1989 as an electrical mechanic with the Department of Streets and Sanitation, making about $40,000 a year. Yet in 2008 he was allowed to retire at age 56 with a $108,000 city pension. That’s because, under a little-known state law, his pension was based not on his city paycheck but on his much higher union salary. (read article)

State of the unions
By Maureen Callahan, September 4, 2011, New York Post
The communications behemoth wanted more than 100 concessions on health care, pensions, sick days and outsourcing. Unions representing the workers said Verizon sought to void 50 years of collective-bargaining gains for middle-class workers, despite posting a 2.8% jump in revenue in the second quarter, up to $27.5 billion. Thirteen days later, those on strike went back to work on good faith, the company guaranteeing nothing other than continued talks. It’s an indictment of how anemic the labor movement in America has become, how irrelevant to the average worker that, even in this ever-contracting economy, the lower and middle classes couldn’t be agitated to care. (read article)

At his charter school, ex-UTLA head would target tenure
By Howard Blume, September 1, 2011, Los Angeles Times
A.J. Duffy, who headed a teachers union that has long fought against charter schools, now is starting his own. And some of his ideas are going to trouble some educators and his friends in the labor movement. The longtime anti-charter crusader wants to make it harder for teachers to earn tenure protections and wants to lengthen that process. He even wants to require teachers to demonstrate that they remain effective in the classroom if they want to keep their tenure protections. And if a tenured teacher becomes ineffective, he wants to streamline dismissals. The process now in place can stretch out for several years, even with substantial evidence of gross misconduct. Some union leaders, notably Duffy, have defended this “due process” as a necessary protection against administrative abuses. “I would make it 10 days if I could,” Duffy now says of the length of the dismissal process. (read article)

S. Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley Wants To Immobilize The NLRB, Urges Lone GOP Member To Resign
By Grace Wyler, September 1, 2011, Business Insider
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley joined fellow conservatives in calling for the end of the National Labor Relations Board today, announcing that she would support the resignation of Brian Hayes, the board’s only Republican member. The resignation would prevent the board from establishing a quorum, thereby rendering the NLRB powerless to take any action. “I would support anything that would disband the NLRB,” Haley told the Daily Caller this morning. “The only use that it has is trying to allow the unions to be relevant and they just aren’t. It’s a desperate attempt for them to get attention and they’re doing it the wrong way.” She added that the board is an “absolutely un-American…rogue agency” with a “bully mentality. (read article)

SLO voters also overwhelmingly pass compensation reform measure for city employees
By AnnMarie Cornejo, August 31, 2011, San Luis Obispo Tribune
The fierce battle between the city’s public safety unions and San Luis Obispo city leaders looks to be over. Voters supported Measures A and B in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday with both headed to landslide victories, ending a months-long feud with a sound defeat for the two unions fighting the measures. A preliminary count of ballots showed that both measures passed with more than 70 percent of voters in favor of them. (read article)

Chicago police union blasts proposal to cut $190 million from force
By Frank Main and Fran Spielman, August 31, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
The head of Chicago’s police union on Wednesday blasted City Hall’s proposal to slash $190 million from the police department’s budget, saying it’s based on phony “Enron-style” accounting. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would target “central office” positions to cut the police department’s $1.3 billion budget. He refused to say whether he would also eliminate about 1,400 police vacancies in the department’s budgeted strength of about 13,500 officers. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has said that would achieve about $93 million in savings. Mike Shields, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, questioned whether cutting vacancies would save any money. (read article)

Raspberries for public employee unions
By Paul Kersey, August 31, 2011, Detroit News
The Gerald Ford School of Public Policy has released a survey of local government officials revealing that local politicians are much more likely to see government employee unions as a negative than as a positive. The survey, part of the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), asked local officials for their opinion on government employee unions. In particular the survey asked for opinions on how unions affected overall performance and fiscal health, and then asked for an assessment of labor relations between local governments and the unions that represent their employees. Government unions did fare poorly. Asked about overall performance, 40 percent of those who responded said that government unions were either a significant liability (six percent) or somewhat of a liability (34 percent). Only 14 percent of local officials expressed the opinion that government employee unions were a significant asset (four percent) or somewhat of an asset (10 percent). (read article)

New Jersey Unions, Public Workers Sue to Stop Pension, Benefits Overhaul
By Matt Friedman, August 30, 2011, Star-Ledger
A court battle over benefits began in earnest today, as dozens of the state’s public sector unions, workers and retirees filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the newly enacted overhaul of pension and health benefit care benefits. The suit challenges several aspects of the new bill — a major victory for Gov. Chris Christie — including the suspension of cost of living adjustments until the fund is 80 percent financed, which is estimated to take 30 years. The unions say employees and retirees have “non-forfeitable rights” to the adjustments. “This lawsuit is about basic fairness and justice,” said Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association. (read article)

Teachers, yes; teacher unions, no
Letter by Gary Beckner, August 30, 2011, Detroit News
Thank you to Ted Nugent for his candid assessment of teacher unions and their negative impact on education in this country (“Unions cheat the kids,” July 31, TheMichiganView.com). While Nugent’s fiery language might be best reserved for his next rock concert, his account of a broken system brought to its knees by a monopoly special interest is entirely accurate. The National Education Association makes little attempt to convince its critics that it is motivated by the interests of our nation’s students. Instead, after generations of unchecked monopoly power, the NEA and its state affiliates are mostly concerned with its ability to forcibly collect dues and preserve a system that protects adults, often at the expense of student learning. This system hurts our students and degrades a noble profession, all to strengthen a special interest. (read article)

Jerry Brown proposes alternative to farmworker union bill
By David Siders, August 30, 2011, Sacramento Bee
With labor unions pressing him again on legislation to make it easier to organize farmworkers, Gov. Jerry Brown said today that he remains opposed to so-called “card-check” legislation, but he proposed a package of compromise measures to protect workers from grower interference. “This is not a time for fundamental changes in a law that has only been changed once since I signed it in 1975,” Brown, governor before from 1975 to 1983, told The Bee before speaking at a green energy conference in Las Vegas. Brown said he has proposed to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg changes to existing law to reduce the time by which growers can delay bargaining and to allow for the immediate reinstatement of employees unfairly fired during organizing drives, among other measures. (read article)

‘America Is Not Broke’ Says President of UAW While Proposing Higher Taxes
By Nolan Finley, August 30, 2011, Detroit News
I just returned from hearing Bob King tell the Detroit Economic Club that “America is not broke!” The real problem, the United Auto Workers president says, is not a shortage of resources, but that the country is leaving those resources in private pockets. Higher taxes, King says, will fuel an economic boom, alleviate social misery and bring fairness to our land. But relax – he doesn’t mean higher taxes on everyone, at least not yet. For now King wants more to be taken from the wealthy and corporations. He’s particularly concerned that some corporations are using loopholes to avoid paying taxes. And he is beside himself because the capital gains tax has not been raised. He called for European-style income tax rates to finance European-style social spending. King draws no correlation between Europe’s high taxes and spending and Europe’s growth – which has been stagnant for a quarter century – or Europe’s unemployment, which is institutionalized in the 10 percent range. Nor does he notice European nations like Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland that are teetering toward insolvency. (read article)

California Assembly approves epilepsy bill over union opposition
By Laurel Rosenhall, August 30, 2011, Sacramento Bee
The Assembly today passed a bill that would allow non-medical school employees to give anti-seizure medication to epileptic students, sending the emotional issue a crucial step closer to final approval by Gov. Jerry Brown. After 40 minutes of passionate debate on the Assembly floor, the lower house approved Senate Bill 161 with a vote of 47 to 15. It garnered substantial support from Democrats — 22 out of 52 supported the bill — despite opposition from the state’s Democratic party chairman and several large labor unions. “While it’s not perfect, this bill is about saving the life of a child or saving permanent brain damage (from happening) to a child,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, explaining why she was voting in favor of the bill. (read article)

Lefty Massachusetts Town To Teacher’s Union: ‘Get Real’
By Chris Gregor, August 30, 2011, Big Government
There was an open revolt this summer against a local a teacher’s union and its school board accomplices in left-wing Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  This is news that does not bode well for public employee unions and their beneficiaries nationwide.  The Berkshires are a liberal fantasy camp in the “Rachel Maddow Belt,”  Michael Barone’s name for the Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District. Made up of wannabe and former hippies, ornery Bush-hating Yankees, artistes and transplanted New Yorkers the District gave Obama 64% of its votes.  It’s a made to order liberal electoral stew that usually loves higher taxes and government largesse.  Not this time though. While the people who went all “Tea Party” on the union might not want to be identified as such, they achieved Tea Party goals, spurred by a small band of fiscally conservative citizens who sounded the alarm and stayed engaged. (read article)

How much does your local teachers union president cost?
By Ben DeGrow, August 29, 2011, Public Sector Inc.
I’m getting ready to publish a brief guide for Colorado school boards on collective bargaining issues ripe for reform — opportunities to promote fairness and individual rights, and to save taxpayer dollars. One area in which I’ve done a few research updates is that of teachers union president leave time. Do you know how much you and your fellow taxpayers are spending to pay your local teachers union president to leave the classroom and work for a private labor organization? (read article)

About the author: 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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