Union Watch Highlights

Unions plan protest against Baltimore County pension bill
By Alison Knezevich, March 19, 2012, The Baltimore Sun
Union members from around Baltimore are planning a rally Monday to protest legislation by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz that would reduce some county employees’ pension benefits. County Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on the proposal, which would end the practice of letting members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees use overtime in their pension calculations. AFSCME represents workers in the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, the Department of Public Works, and other agencies. The union is the only one in the county whose pension benefits are based on compensation that includes overtime. Public-employee groups have opposed the measure because AFSCME says the issue is the subject of ongoing contract negotiations. Union leaders contend that the legislation is a sign that the county administration is not bargaining in good faith. “[Other unions] realize that this is not a pension issue; this is a labor-rights issue,” said Ryan Genovese, staff representative for AFSCME Council 67. (read article)

Sacramento’s highest-spending lobbying groups are government worker unions
By Brian Calle, March 18, 2012, Orange County Register
Lobbying, unsurprisingly, is commonplace and aggressive in U.S. state capitals and in Washington, D.C. The problem at the state and municipal level is that too many treasuries are depleted, and to refill the troughs special interests urge policymakers to find or enhance “revenue sources” – a euphemism for new or higher taxes. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data from the California Secretary of State’s Office, the CTA, boasting 340,000 members, spent $6,574,257 last year, a lobbying tab more than $1.5 million greater than the second-place spender (unsurprisingly, another union), the California State Council of Service Employees, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest and most powerful labor outfits in North America. (read article)

As Unions Lose Their Grip, Indiana Lures Manufacturing Jobs
By James R. Hagerty and Alistair MacDonald, March 18, 2012, Wall Street Journal
Jerry D. Bumpus Sr. was a member of the United Auto Workers union for four decades and earned as much as $28 an hour at a General Motors Co. GM -0.25% car-parts plant before accepting a bonus to retire at age 60 five years ago. On a recent Saturday morning, Mr. Bumpus, wearing a black jacket and clutching his résumé, was one of several thousand people lining up to apply for jobs at a new Caterpillar Inc. CAT +0.25% plant that makes train locomotives here. Those jobs start at as low as $12 an hour plus benefits, and there is no union representing the workers. Things have changed in Muncie, a city of 70,000 where closures of auto-industry plants and other factories have left about one in five homes vacant. Jobless workers here and in many parts of the Rust Belt have lowered their expectations and become more flexible. At the same time, state politicians are fighting harder than ever to attract employers with lower taxes, streamlined regulation and other incentives. Companies like Caterpillar are eagerly exploiting both trends. The politicians and workers are realizing that the battle for scarce jobs isn’t just with Asia and the Sunbelt states. It also is with neighboring states and Canadian provinces in the North American industrial heartland. (read article)

Miraculous Malloy, labor history, and robins
By Chris Powell, March 17, 2012, Connecticut Journal Inquirer
Labor unions are seeking legislation to require Connecticut’s schools to teach the history of the labor movement. The president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, Sharon Palmer, says they want less emphasis on organized labor’s early years, which saw violent strikes, and more on labor’s crucial political support for enacting the wage and hour standards and workplace protections the country now takes for granted. This is an excellent point but there’s a problem in legislating the school curriculum under special-interest pressure. If Connecticut is going to have a statewide history curriculum, or any statewide curriculum, it should be assembled in a coordinated way with the involvement of a range of historians and educators so as to avoid political indoctrination. And if it’s going to be a real curriculum and not just a sop to the public employee unions that own most state legislators, it should include the transformation of the labor movement from the representative of the working class in private industry to the representative of the ruling class in government, whose employees now constitute a big majority of all union members in the country and who on average are compensated far better than the working class is. (read article)

Secrecy common in union pay talks
By D.S. Woodfill, March 17, 2012, The Arizona Republic
Cities that negotiate pay and benefits with their employee unions in secret are becoming the norm instead of the exception, say union representatives and labor-relations experts. Surprise is one of the latest municipalities to drop the curtain on its yearly negotiations by imposing secrecy rules in the city code in June. Glendale, Tempe, Chandler and Maricopa have similar laws forbidding negotiating parties from disclosing labor talks to the media or public. Surprise goes a step further, threatening to have the police and fire unions disband for two years if they violate the rule. City managers face repercussions that would be meted out by the City Council. The move came after tumultuous negotiations between the then-city manager and the Surprise firefighters union that included public finger-pointing from both sides. The purpose of the ordinance “is so that the public and the press do not interfere with the negotiations,” Assistant City Attorney Misty Leslie said when she presented a draft to the City Council in May. Leslie went on to say the ordinance would provide the city a reason to deny any public-records requests. (read article)

N.Y. pension cuts climax battle between state, unions
By Thomas Kaplan and John Eligon, March 16, 2012, New York Times
Lawmakers on Thursday, March 15, approved a hard-fought measure to cut the retirement benefits for future public employees in New York City and across the state, dealing a defeat to labor unions at the end of a dramatic all-night session. The pension changes were less drastic than those sought by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, applying to fewer employees and saving less money than he had hoped. But they reflect a blow to the state’s public-employee unions, which are enormously powerful in Albany and have been frequent sparring partners for Cuomo as he has sought to rein in costs. The pension deal comes as state and local governments around the country take similar steps to reduce retirement costs, often prompting pitched battles with labor unions. From 2009 to 2011, 43 states enacted major changes to retirement plans for public employees and teachers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (read article)

Social Security Battle’s New Turn: Unions Call For Increase In Benefits
By Ariel Edwards-Levy and Ryan Grim, March 16, 2012, Huffington Post
Throwing the debate over Social Security on its head, the AFL-CIO is issuing a call to expand the program rather than shrink it. Social Security’s current benefits are too low, the labor group wrote in a statement published Wednesday. Advocates of the program are lining up behind the union. “Labor just stood up for every American — union and non-union alike — who values Social Security and wants it to be there for themselves, their children and grandchildren. Social Security is a uniquely American solution, not a problem, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council just declared,” said Eric Kingson, co-director of Social Security Works, announcing his group’s backing of the new position. (read article)

Unions Urge Curtailment of ‘Super PACs’
By Steven Greenhouse, March 15, 2012, New York Times
Leaders of the nation’s labor unions — which some experts say benefited from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 — said on Wednesday that the ruling needed to be overturned for the good of American democracy, Recognizing that the court is unlikely to overturn the decision, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main union federation, said the United States should consider a constitutional amendment to effectively overturn Citizens United, which allowed unlimited independent campaign spending by business corporations and labor unions. Although some union leaders say organized labor will spend $400 million this year on national, state and local campaigns, many union officials are voicing fears that billionaire donors and corporations will spend huge amounts that will swamp labor’s efforts. (read article)

Union investors seeking details of Buffett succession plan
By Josh Funk, March 15, 2012, Associated Press
A group of Berkshire Hathaway investors from the AFL-CIO want to require the company to reveal Warren Buffett’s successor. The labor union’s AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted a proposal that Berkshire shareholders will vote on at the annual meeting in May. The union seeks a written succession plan that includes criteria for the next chief executive and the identities of promising internal candidates. The proposal would address something many shareholders have worried about for years, because so much of the company’s success is attributed to the 81- year-old Buffett. A union spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a phone message on Wednesday. Berkshire’s board opposes the proposal unanimously, and together that group controls 38 percent of voting rights. Buffett controls about 34 percent. (read article)
‘Right to work’ battle over unions expands in Minnesota
By Jim Ragsdale and Jennifer Brooks, March 15, 2012, Independent Mail
The bitter fight over unions that has swept across the country in the past year is erupting in Minnesota, as legislators begin toiling over a controversial proposal that would alter the nature and diminish the might of organized labor in the state. More than 1,000 sign-wielding union workers and supporters poured into the Capitol on Monday, urging legislators to reject a proposed “right to work” constitutional amendment that is turning Minnesota into the latest Midwestern flashpoint in what has become a grinding clash between powerful unions and groups trying to break their grip on workplaces. “This is going to turn Minnesota into a third-world country,” said Mike Riley, a pipefitter from Elk River. “The way people are struggling now, how can they go after the unions?” But as union workers chanted “Shame on you,” supporters insisted the measure is crucial to making the state attractive for homegrown businesses and companies looking to relocate here. They say current union laws automatically raise the costs for businesses in the state. “What this amounts to is a job tax,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, a Republican, who is sponsoring the measure. (read article)

New Hampshire right-to-work backers gain support again
By Matthew Spolar, March 15, 2012, Concord Monitor
The New Hampshire House passed a so-called right-to-work bill yesterday for the second year in a row, but support was still well short of overriding a promised veto from Gov. John Lynch. House Bill 1677, which prevents unions from collecting partial dues from non-members for collective bargaining, passed yesterday on a 198-139 vote, 27 votes short of demonstrating a two-thirds majority that could eventually defeat Lynch’s veto. Last year, the right-to-work bill passed the House initially on a vote of 221-131, about 14 votes short of a supermajority. When the House finally attempted to defeat Lynch’s veto in November, after months of effort by Republican leaders to drum up support, the vote fell 13 votes short. “Here we go again!” said Rep. Herbert Richardson of Lancaster, a Republican on the labor committee who opposed the bill. “Same stuff, different day. The arguments haven’t changed.” (read article)

Public unions invest heavily in Colorado elections
By Karen E. Crummy, March 14, 2012, The Denver Post
Public-sector unions, whose members are dependent upon decisions made by elected officials, were the state’s top donors to committees that helped put those officials into office in 2010, according to a Denver Post analysis of state campaign data. The unions contributed to an extensive number of local and legislative candidates and gave large donations to a handful of independent political committees. Most of those political groups, which can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, were part of a well-coordinated Democratic network targeting state-level contests. The Post reported Sunday that this network helped Colorado’s liberal super PACs spend nearly 150 times more money than their Republican counterparts in 2010. Democrats currently have one of their own as governor, control the state Senate and are down just one seat in the state House. (read article)

Will public employee unions lose fight for life in California?
By Jeffrey Klein, March 14, 2012, The Examiner
In an almost unbelievable twist of fate, San Diego and San Jose, long time bastions of liberalism in arguably the biggest state on the “Left” coast, California, have been forced to take a page from the emergency financial reform playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his Indiana colleague, Gov. Mitch Daniels. San Diego is “drowning” in an ocean of debt, stemming from a $2 Billion shortfall in their public employee pension fund.  So, public employee pension reform will be on the June ballot, according to William LaJeunesse’s FOXNews article yesterday. “Taxpayers have had it,” former Mayor Roger Hedgecock said. “A huge portion of the city budget is going to fund these pensions [that are] far beyond anything in private sector.” “Labor unions used a lot of scare tactics to spike pensions over the past 15 years,” City Councilman Carl Demaio, a mayoral candidate, said. “They said, ‘If you don’t give employees these lavish pensions, then we can’t recruit and retain quality employees.’ Those arguments were false. They led us down the wrong path, and now we paying the price as taxpayers.” (read article)

Union business, on the taxpayers’ dime
By George Will, March 14, 2012, The Washington Post
Sal DiCiccio says he’s sorry. It is, he says, no excuse that the complex labor contracts that he, as a member of the city council, voted to ratify for city employees were presented to the council less than a week before the vote. He says he should have seen that the contracts contain some indefensible, not to mention unconstitutional, provisions, such as those pertaining to “release time.” Read on, and then find out if similar things are occurring in your community. They probably are. The “gift clause” in Arizona’s Constitution and similar provisions in some other states’ constitutions are supposed to prevent the state government or municipal governments from conferring special benefits on “any individual, association, or corporation.” The proscribed benefits include gifts, loans of state credit, donations, grants or subsidies. (read article)

Cash-strapped California city gears up for battle with unions over pension reform
By William Lajeunesse, March 14, 2012, FoxNews.com
Facing an ocean of debt, San Diego is offering voters in June a potential lifeboat: public employee pension reform. “Taxpayers have had it,” former Mayor Roger Hedgecock said. “A huge portion of the city budget is going to fund these pensions far beyond anything in private sector.” The initiative would force new city workers into private-sector style 401(k)s. Current employees would pay more, and their retirement payments would be based solely on base salary – not accrued sick leave and vacation time, often used to inflate pension pay. “Labor unions used a lot of scare tactics to spike pensions over the past 15 years,” City Councilman Carl Demaio, a mayoral candidate, said. “They said, ‘If you don’t give employees these lavish pensions, then we can’t recruit and retain quality employees.’ Those arguments were false. They led us down the wrong path, and now we paying the price as taxpayers.” San Diego faces a $2 billion pension shortfall, a deficit caused by elected officials who promised benefits the city could never afford and an under-performing stock market, Demaio said. Unions blame irresponsible city officials, who allegedly spent bond money earmarked for union pay on ego-driving projects like sports stadiums backed by the Chamber of Commerce. (read article)

Unions counter request for concessions with talk of raises
By Joshua Sabatini, March 13, 2012, San Francisco Examiner
Negotiations between The City and its labor unions are only a few weeks old but they are already heating up in a very public way after Mayor Ed Lee asked employees for wage concessions and to pay more for their health care. The unions are not only denouncing the requested concessions but demanding pay hikes instead. “Right now it’s an unbridgeable gap,” said Larry Bradshaw, vice president of Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union. Labor leaders said The City is asking for a 2.7 percent wage concession for next fiscal year in the form of furlough days. In addition, The City is asking employees to pay more for health insurance, including no longer picking up the total monthly premium for single employees using two of the three offered health insurance plans. A two-minute video opposing Lee’s proposed labor cuts was posted online by Local 21 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, along with a petition to pressure Lee to “withdraw your concessionary demands.” About 1,000 of the local’s 4,000 professionals have signed the petition. Local 21 recently proposed a 3.2 percent pay raise for its members; Local 1021 is expected to seek a larger one. (read article)

At mayor’s budget message, labor sent a message, too
By Patrick Kerkstra, March 13, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer
After the choreographed shouting was over, and the balconies packed with union rowdies had emptied out, municipal labor boss Pete Matthews smiled broadly, crossed his legs, and leaned back in his chair, content as a cat in a sunny window. District Council 33, the union representing nearly 10,000 blue-collar city workers, had accomplished what it had set out to do. The hundreds of workers who attended Mayor Nutter’s budget address last week booed him with vigor. They drowned out sections of his speech, and more or less took over one of the biggest annual political events of the year. (read article)

Foes of union law target labor limits
By Julie Carr Smyth, March 13, 2012, Associated Press
The labor-backed organization behind a 2011 campaign against Ohio’s sweeping collective bargaining law said Monday it’s ready to unleash its army of volunteers, email contacts and social media followers against an emerging right-to-work initiative in the state. We Are Ohio also plans to join the fall campaign against an elections law overhaul that shrinks the early voting window and makes other changes, its representatives said during a news conference. Jim Adkins, a union plumber at a state prison, said the group will emphasize that “right-to-work is wrong for Ohio.” “We believe it’s wrong because it destroys jobs in our local communities,” said Adkins, who works at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. “It means lower wages and fewer benefits for everybody in Ohio.” (read article)

AFL-CIO, Labor Unions Line Up Behind Obama
By Devin Dwyer, March 13, 2012, ABC News
The nation’s largest labor unions, whose support has been a mainstay of the Democratic Party, have set aside their frustrations and disappointments in President Obama and formally lined up behind his bid for a second term. Today the American Federal of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor group,  became the latest to endorse Obama for re-election, pledging “to work with him through the election.” “With our endorsement today, we affirm our faith in him,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in a statement. At least 12 other major U.S. union groups have already done the same — including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest single U.S. union with more than 1.6 million members — according to a list provided by the Obama campaign. (read article)

Riverside County Supervisors approve labor deals
By Jeff Horseman, March 13, 2012, Riverside Press-Enterprise
Riverside County’s two largest unions will get less in pension benefits in exchange for pay raises. Under both contracts, new hires will receive a lower tier of pension benefits than current employees. New employees are eligible to receive 2 percent of their salaries for each year of service at age 60, rather than 3 percent at age 60. All employees will be contributing more toward their retirements — new employees will pay 8 percent, a cost the county used to absorb after an employee had been there five years. Current employees who have reached the five-year mark will begin contributing more toward their pensions each year until they reach 8 percent. “It is a remarkable, really watershed improvement here for the county to get these two major pension reforms in place,” Buster said. In exchange, the county agreed to cost-of-living and merit pay increases. Union members also are getting more money for health care. (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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