Union Watch Highlights

President Obama and VP Biden Ignore Public Sector Hiring Boom
By Steve Malanga, October 24, 2011, Public Sector Inc.
The rhetoric has been heating up in Washington over additional stimulus for state and local government ever since the President’s latest jobs bill failed. The President suggested last week that parents were going to have to explain to their children why their favorite teachers have been fired thanks to Republican opposition to additional stimulus to save local jobs. The Vice President went even further, suggesting we could see a rise in violent crime including rape and murder thanks to layoffs of police. But what this hyperbolic rhetoric ignores is that local government has been on a decades long hiring boom and that we currently have historically high ratios of public safety workers like cops and firefighters to the population at large, as the chart below suggests. Something similar has been going on with teacher hiring. (read article)

GAO to Postal Service:  Sorry, Taxpayers Aren’t Responsible for Fixing Your Fiscal Problems
By Peter Suderman, October 24, 2011, Reason Magazine
Facing massive shortfalls, the U.S. Postal Service has already gone negative on the Internet. It also did the accounting equivalent of looking for change buried under the couch cushions. And lo and behold it found some convenient accounting errors to justify pressing another government agency for about $75 billion—all of which would have to be financed by taxpayers. Like so many of Washington’s money troubles, it all comes down to an argument about accounting. The Postal Service now claims that its fiscal problems can be substantially reduced if the Civil Service Retirement System just returns $75 billion or so in “overpayments” that the Postal Service says it has made to its employee pension fund. (read article)

Feds’ Bid To Tip Scales Toward Unions
By Ralph F. Abbott, Jr., October 24, 2011, Worcester Business Journal
When faced with a union organizing drive and professional union organizers, most employers, especially medium-sized and small businesses, are at a severe disadvantage. Many of these employers have turned to labor lawyers or consultants to help them exercise their right to inform their workers about unions. That avenue of assistance may no longer be available under proposed regulations that supposedly “reinterpret” long-standing federal law. Originally a federal statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act required a company and its outside counsel to file annual reports with the government if the company arranged for the lawyer to communicate directly with employees. However, for more than 40 years, there has been a recognized exception to this requirement if the lawyer is providing legal or practical advice to company managers on how they can communicate with employees about unions, so long as the lawyer is only talking to management. This longstanding exception has now been targeted by the U.S. Department of Labor, which is on a mission to help unions increase their power and membership. (read article)

Report by New York City’s Pension ‘Watchdog’ Kisses Up to Unions
By Nicole Gelinas, October 24, 2011, New York Post
This year, New York City taxpayers will fork over $8.4 billion for city workers’ pensions, up from $1.3 billion a decade ago. City pension costs are a crisis — one that the city’s fiscal watchdog, John Liu, should tackle. Instead, Comptroller Liu just released a report whose title might as well be “Nothing to See Here, Folks — Just Leave Your Wallet and Move Along.” The real title is “A Better Bang for NYC’s Buck.” In it, Liu’s researchers argue that New York’s pension plans, which allow uniformed workers to retire after just 20 years with a hefty guaranteed income for life, are a terrific deal for taxpayers. (read article)

Palo Alto, California should repeal arbitration for police and fire
Editorial, October 23, 2011, San Jose Mercury News
This fall, Palo Alto has a chance to do what San Jose should have done last year: repeal binding arbitration as an option when police and fire unions can’t agree with the city on a contract. Measure D on Palo Alto’s Nov. 8 ballot would end arbitration and give greater control over compensation, staffing and other matters to the taxpayers’ elected representatives. Now it rests with individuals who may be more concerned with what they think union members deserve than with a city’s ability to provide services. Vote yes on Measure D. Opponents of the measure argue that the city has used binding arbitration just six times since 1978, when voters approved it. That ignores the influence arbitration has on negotiations. If city negotiators reach an impasse with public safety unions, an arbiter must choose one offer on the table, not a compromise between the two. So elected officials tend to offer generous compensation in hopes of avoiding costly arbitration or, if an impasse is reached, in hopes of reducing the chance that an arbiter will pick the unions’ higher proposal. The result is that Palo Alto’s public safety expenses have risen more than 80 percent over the past 10 years while other spending has been flat. (read article)

Union Case for ‘Jobs Bill’ Underscores Government’s Ineptness
By Kyle Olson, October 23, 2011, Townhall.com
Unsurprisingly, one of the few interest groups advocating for the “American Jobs Act” is the American Federation of Teachers. Despite claims that “the money is not for us as teachers,” everyone knows that’s a farce. Nobody suggests teachers shouldn’t be paid, but they shouldn’t patronize taxpayers by suggesting that increased spending on government schools isn’t for the teachers. The unions and Obama administration have been running the full-court press to gin up enough pressure on Congress to act on the bill. Despite the speeches, advertising campaigns andphoto ops, they can’t even get enough Democrats in the Senate to kick it out of that chamber. Joe Biden has been carrying the water for the administration. In a recent conference call with union leaders, he claimed students in a Baltimore school are “dodging falling ceiling tiles” during their school day. (read article)

2 teachers union lobbyists teach for a day to qualify for hefty pensions
By Ray Long and Jason Grotto, October 22, 2011, Chicago Tribune
Two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience were allowed to count their years as union employees toward a state teacher pension once they served a single day of subbing in 2007, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation has found. Steven Preckwinkle, the political director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and fellow union lobbyist David Piccioli were the only people who took advantage of a small window opened by lawmakers a few months earlier. The legislation enabled union officials to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom. They just had to do it before the bill was signed into law. (read article)

Why public-sector workers report such higher level of work-place injury than their private-sector counterparts
By Steven Malanga, October 21, 2011, Public Sector Inc.
Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2010 rates of injury and illness in the American workforce, and once again state and local government workers on average missed far more days from illness and injury per worker than workers in the private sector. Below are the topline rates of illness and injury. More detailed stats available from the BLS show that even in comparable jobs, public workers miss substantially more time than private workers. Some of these higher rates might be attributable to more dangerous jobs in the public sector, especially public safety jobs. And indeed, the BLS’ detailed tables do show much higher injury and absentee rates for workers engaged in “justice, public order and safety activities.” But even construction workers working for local government have a much higher rate of injury and illness (9.5 caes per 100 workers) than private construction workers (4.0 per 100 workers). So do public school education workers, who record 4.9 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers, compared to just 2.2 per 100 among private education workers. Of course, in some places, public sector workers enjoy more generous sick time and richer disability benefits than private workers, which may explain some of the difference. Incentives matter, including those that pay you not to work. (read article)

Rhode Island Governor Bucks AFL-CIO, Stands by Law Protecting Bondholders
By Ted Nesi, October 21, 2011, WPRI-TV
Gov. Lincoln Chafee will work to block efforts by the state’s top labor leader to repeal a new law that protects bondholders from incurring losses if they loaned money to Central Falls and other bankrupt cities. The Rhode Island AFL-CIO will submit legislation when the General Assembly returns in January that would scrap the law, union president George Nee said Wednesday at a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The law – which The Wall Street Journal said makes Rhode Island “a bondholder’s dream” – guarantees investors will get paid back even if a community files for Chapter 9, giving them a right to tax revenue that other creditors, like pensioners, don’t have. Chafee signed the first-of-its-kind legislation on June 12. (read article)

Harry Reid’s Jobs Math: A revealing comment about private and public employment
Editorial, October 20, 2011, Wall Street Journal
Harry Reid carries a heavy burden these days, blocking and tackling for an unpopular President’s unpopular agenda while trying to hold onto a Senate majority in 2012. So perhaps we should be forgiving when the Majority Leader says what he did yesterday on the Senate floor: “It’s very clear that private-sector jobs have been doing just fine; it’s the public-sector jobs where we’ve lost huge numbers, and that’s what this legislation is all about.” Then again, he really said that. Mr. Reid was trying to defend a new Democratic proposal to spend another $35 billion that the government doesn’t have… (read article – subscription required)

Rhode Island State Senator Tells Why He Co-Sponsored Pension Reform Bill Despite Union Affiliation
By Katherine Gregg, October 20, 2011, Providence Journal
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio has issued a statement explaining why, despite his role as administrator of an arm of the Laborers International Union, he co-sponsored the big pension-reform bill introduced on Tuesday by House and Senate leaders. In an emailed statement after his return from a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina paid for by an entity called the Senate President’s Forum, he said, “I support the concept of comprehensive pension reform that is fair to public employees and retirees and ensures Rhode Island’s retirement system is affordable to taxpayers and sustainable over the long term.” (read article)

Mayor to Chicago Transit Authority unions:  Be ‘part of the solution’ to budget crisis
By Fran Spielman, October 20, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
CTA riders paid the price with a fare increase in 2009 and service cuts last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday, insisting that it’s time for CTA unions to be “part of the solution” to a budget crisis. Emanuel embraced the decision to go toe-to-toe with labor one day after his handpicked CTA leadership team agreed to freeze fares and maintain service in 2012, only if bus drivers and motormen agree to $80 million in work rule changes. “The CTA is about the commuter. No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, it’s about the commuter,” Emanuel said, making it a point to say that he rode the CTA to work on Wednesday and Thursday. “Two years ago, those commuters paid a rate increase. A year ago, they paid in service cuts. So, the commuters have given to the system. I believe the system needs fundamental reform. . . . It’s time for everybody else to contribute to strengthening the system.” (read article)

California ballot measure targeting unions, corporations advances
By Martin Wisckol, October 19, 2011, Orange County Register
Tustin attorney Mark Bucher has been turned back twice by unions in his effort to make it harder for them to collect dues for political spending, but he has a broader target this time around. Make it harder for both unions and corporations to contribute to campaigns, and ban contributions from government contractors to elected officials involved in hiring those contractors. The campaign for his proposed statewide ballot measure has submitted 920,000 signatures toward qualifying for the ballot next year, he said. Of those, 504,760 must be valid registered voters. Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley recommends petitioners gather 50 percent more than the number need, a ratio Bucher has well exceeded. Kelley said Orange County received 64,738 of those petition signatures. The verification process is expected to begin next week. (read article)

Chicago Transit Authority won’t hike fares in 2012 — if union agrees to work changes
By Kim Janssen, October 19, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
CTA passengers will enjoy frozen fares and see no service cuts next year under a budget proposed Wednesday by agency President Forrest Claypool — but only if union workers agree to major changes to their work rules and pay deals. Setting the stage for another battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and the unions, Claypool revealed plans to close a more than a quarter of a billion dollar budget shortfall by cutting bureaucracy, changing what he called “antiquated” work rules, reining in pay increases and reforming health-care benefits. If successful, the plans would freeze the cost of a one-way cash ticket at $2.25, make good on a pledge Emanuel made in April and prevent a repeat of 2010’s hefty service cuts. (read article)

Teachers union strike in Vermont illustrates broader national problems
By Brian Calle, October 19, 2011, Orange County Register
As teachers strike in Southwestern Vermont at the behest of their local union leadership, the story there exemplifies louder criticisms of public employee unions throughout the United States. In this very localized example, the Southwestern Vermont Education Association (the union) reportedly had been asking for a 4 percent raise and no increased cost for insurance benefits for teachers. And the union refused to conduct the negotiations in public, keeping taxpayers out of the discussion essentially. As a result, teachers went on strike today. The demands of the union, particularly in such a dismal economy with startling unemployment rates, is disconcerting. But more disconcerting is that the union would not hold the negotiations in public. Sunshine on decisions made with public funds should be encouraged at all levels of government and for all public expenditures.It keeps those with fiduciary responsibility accountable to those who elect them and pay for public services. (read article)

For sake of its riders, Chicago Transit Authority must take on public employee unions
Editorial, October 19, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times
After years of imposing fare increases or service cuts — or both — the CTA is drawing up a new route map. Under a budget proposed Wednesday by CTA President Forrest Claypool, the agency will maintain service and keep fares steady if it can win concessions from its labor unions — a limit on the growth of wages, a restructuring of benefits and an end to outrageously wasteful work rules. And that’s the way to go. We don’t expect CTA workers, many of whom do extremely difficult jobs, to be overjoyed. But as CTA Chairman Terry Peterson points out, they’ll still have well-paying jobs with good benefits. And any reductions in manpower brought on by new efficiencies will be made through attrition, not layoffs. (read article)

California prison worker unions opt for contract changes to save jobs
By Jon Ortiz, October 19, 2011, Sacramento Bee
As the state’s massive prison and parole department begins a historic downsizing to cut costs and comply with court orders, it’s getting a hand from organized labor. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association and five other unions have signed contract amendments for Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees that set aside some job protections, drastically cut employees’ state-paid moving allowances and aim to reduce prison officer overtime costs. The state estimates the deals will save about $13 million in this fiscal year, compared with the traditional layoff process. In exchange, unions hope fewer workers will lose their jobs as the department shifts some of its responsibilities to local government. That process started Oct. 1, aiming to cut the state’s prison and parole costs over several years. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, 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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