Union Watch Highlights

Government Unions and Public Sector Compensation
By Josh Rauh, October 16, 2011, Kellogg School of Finance
Last week I attended an engrossing two-day conference hosted by the Searle Center at Northwestern Law School on Government Unions in the United States. Scholars from economics, finance, law, and political science presented their research on an number of different dimensions of this theme. One question that received a great deal of attention was whether public sector employees are compensated more generously than private sector employees with similar skills and engaging in similar tasks. This is a difficult question for two reasons. First, it is challenging to obtain comparability across individuals and jobs. Many public sector jobs have no private sector equivalent. Second, it is widely agreed that public sector accounting does not accurately represent the value of the benefits that public employees receive. (read article)

Chicago Mayor Digs Into Scandal Over Union Leaders’ City Pensions
By Jason Grotto, October 16, 2011, Chicago  Tribune
The city of Chicago is requesting information from officials for all four city pension funds about how they interpret state law regarding union officials’ city pensions and what they know about potential abuses of the pension system, as the Emanuel administration steps into the firestorm surrounding labor leaders’ lucrative retirement deals. The letters, sent Friday by members of the mayor’s staff to the executive directors of the police, fire, laborers’ and municipal employees’ pension funds, were obtained by the Tribune and WGN-TV. Among the information sought by Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott and Comptroller Amer Ahmad are the names and union affiliations of those who are on a leave of absence to work for labor organizations, the pension contributions made by those individuals, the benefits they stand to receive from the city funds and the names of any other funds that may provide pension benefits to the union leaders. (read article)

With biggest number of jobs, public sector remains anchor for Austin area’s economy
By Laylan Copelin, October 16, 2011, American-Statesman
Austin is a government town and has been since 1839, when Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, laid out the future capital’s streets and erected the first government buildings. Today, almost 1 in 4 jobs in the Austin area are in the public sector. Public employees teach our children, deliver the mail, keep the peace, collect taxes and spend taxpayers’ money. High-tech and music might add glitter to Austin’s reputation, but the government sector anchors the Central Texas economy. With 164,300 public employees in August, government remains the largest economic sector despite the Legislature’s recent budget cuts, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Twenty years ago, the public sector accounted for 29 percent of the local jobs. Today, it is about 23 percent. But government isn’t shrinking. Even as the public sector grew, the private sector grew faster, especially with the high-tech expansion in the 1990s. (read article)

Economics Professor Argues Why California Voters Should Ban Collective Bargaining for Public Employees
By Patt Morrison, October 15, 2011, Los Angeles Times
Lanny Ebenstein wants you to vote to kneecap the state’s public workers unions by banning their right to collective bargaining. Other measures scrambling to qualify for the November 2012 ballot would drop the hammer specifically on public employees’ pensions or increase their retirement age, but Ebenstein’s may be the most uncompromising. Ebenstein, a lecturer in economics at UC Santa Barbara, believes that it’s too cozy for unions to be bargaining with bosses they’ve likely campaigned to elect — and the state’s economic doldrums are one result. An eight-year veteran of the Santa Barbara school board and the author of volumes about conservative economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, he’s now got a metaphorical book he wants to throw at public employee unions. (read article)

California’s Public Employee Unions Enter The Matrix
By John Seiler, October 13, 2011, CalWatchdog.com
California’s government unions must be tipsy from all the celebratory champagne they’ve been drinking the past week. As John Hrabe reports today, they’re intimidating signature gatherers for initiatives that would reduce union power. Meanwhile, the California Legislature, which they own lock, stock and beer barrel, can put initiatives on a statewide ballot ad libitum. Gov. Jerry Brown, whom the unions also own, signed into law a bill putting all initiatives on November ballots in general-election years. That will put budget and pension reform measures on ballots that have more union participation, making such reforms more likely to be defeated. (read article)

California teachers union pitches tent with Occupy activists
By Jill Tucker, October 13, 2011, San Francisco Chronicle
The California Teachers Association jumped on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon Thursday, throwing the weight of 325,000 state teachers behind the movement for “tax fairness and against corporate greed.” “Educators are fed up with watching our students and schools go without — while banks are being bailed out and the middle class and poor are being shut out,” said CTA President Dean Vogel, in a statement. “It’s time to put Main Street before Wall Street, and for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.” (read article)

Cheese! Union bosses say no thanks to compromise in Costa Mesa
By Will Swaim, October 13, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa
Until you’ve had a lavalier clipped to your lapel and stared down the barrel of a TV camera—the one with the terrifying red light over it—it’s hard to really judge televisual performance, to understand how weird it is to look into that unblinking iris as if it were an actual human bulbus oculi connected to a sentient being, or just to live beneath unnatural light and cosmetics as if they weren’t really there at all. It turns out that looking natural requires unnatural skill. But even our pre-TV forebears would have been struck by the scenery-chewing appearance of union boss Nick Berardino on the September 29 edition of Rick Reiff’s Inside OC. Berardino was a guest on the KOCE public affairs program alongside Jim Righeimer; JR’s the Costa Mesa councilman whom the union’s media allies depict as a highly bred right-wing Republican politician (Internet search the words “bubbling cauldron geoff west jim righeimer carpetbagging”). In fact, it’s Berardino who’s the 200-proof politician, the guy who can play all sides of an issue, a man from whom all earnestness has been squeezed to make more room for fake. (read article)

Labor Film Fest Takes Heat for Washington Post Film
By Ally Schweitzer, October 12, 2011, Washington City Paper
Local labor groups have plenty of experience battling governments and executives. But this year, organizers of the annual D.C. Labor Film Fest encountered surprising opposition from people in their own camp. Some local union supporters weren’t too happy with the festival’s decision to show All the President’s Men, Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film about the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate scandal. The Washington Post has a long history of alienating organized labor. Just earlier this year, the Washington Teachers’ Union picketed outside the newspaper’s headquarters on 15th Street NW in protest of its editorial board’s perceived anti-teacher bias. The WaPo board has repeatedly lashed out at Montgomery County firefighter and police unions, accusing them of sapping county resources. But animosity toward the film festival’s selection taps an even deeper reserve of bitterness—one that dates back to the infamous 1975-76 Washington Post pressmen’s strike that destroyed the pressmen’s union and unleashed indictments against 15 strikers. (read article)

Big Labor Gets Big Benefits in California
By Mike Brownfield, October 12, 2011, Heritage Foundation
Want proof that unions are doing everything they can to maintain their grip on power? Take a look at California, where Governor Jerry Brown (D) finished off the state’s legislative session with big gifts to Big Labor (after they campaigned heavily for Brown’s election) . The L.A. Times reports: When the dust settled on Gov. Jerry Brown’s first legislative session in nearly three decades, no group had won more than organized labor, which heralded its largest string of victories in nearly a decade. At the urging of the food workers’ union, Brown agreed to crack down on the use of automated checkout machines in grocery stores. At firefighters’ request, he approved new restrictions on local governments seeking to void union contracts. He guaranteed wages for workers in public libraries that are privatized — a bill sponsored by another labor group. Those unions and others helped bankroll Brown’s campaign last year. But opposing automated checkout machines and imposing new restrictions on local governments to void union contracts weren’t the only victories. The L.A. Times reports that all told, Brown signed more than a dozen labor-backed bills “ensuring prevailing wages for trash haulers, increasing fines for employers who violate labor laws and restricting the use of non-union contractors for certain state services.” Brown also signed a bill that would move all statewide ballot initiatives to November ballots, giving unions a leg up on a measure that would affect their ability to use union dues for political purposes. (read article)

Gov. Jerry Brown is giving California’s unions most of what they seek
By Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York, October 11, 2011, Los Angeles Times
When the dust settled on Gov. Jerry Brown’s first legislative session in nearly three decades, no group had won more than organized labor, which heralded its largest string of victories in nearly a decade. At the urging of the food workers’ union, Brown agreed to crack down on the use of automated checkout machines in grocery stores. At firefighters’ request, he approved new restrictions on local governments seeking to void union contracts. He guaranteed wages for workers in public libraries that are privatized — a bill sponsored by another labor group. Those unions and others helped bankroll Brown’s campaign last year. In the end, no group scored as much as labor. Brown embraced much of its wish list, an agenda his predecessor had thwarted. (read article)

AFSCME Uses Anti-Government Messaging to Attack Ed Lee in San Francisco mayor’s race
By Randy Shaw, October 11, 2011, Beyond Chron
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the nation’s largest public employees union, is stooping to right wing, anti-government messaging to elect Leland Yee as San Francisco’s mayor and defeat Ed Lee. AFSCME’s mailings criticize Lee for supporting a continuation of the city’s higher sale tax, even though it helps fund public employees and is backed by Yee and the San Francisco Labor Council. AFSCME also blames Lee for cost overruns on a series of public service projects, a rhetorical attack on public infrastructure and economic stimulus investments commonly associated with the Tea Party. AFSCME is waging this fierce anti-public sector campaign while representing no municipal workers in San Francisco who could be hurt by its attacks; its only local bargaining unit is at UCSF. (read article)

Rhode Island Lawmakers Risk Union Wrath With Vote on Pension Benefits
By Katherine Gregg, October 11, 2011, Providence Journal
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday called for a dramatic rollback in the pension benefits anticipated by more than 51,000 past and present government employees in Rhode Island, including state workers and public school teachers. The legislation they delivered to state lawmakers at a historic, one-day special legislative session would: freeze cost-of-living increases for Rhode Island’s retired government workers for up to 19 years, raise the retirement age and move most current employees into a new “hybrid” plan that combines a traditional and much-reduced pension guarantee with a 401(k)-style plan, in which the only certainty would be the amount the employee and taxpayer are required to contribute. (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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