Union Watch Highlights

New York’s Governor Loses a Round to the Unions on Pensions
Editorial, March 26, 2012, Wall Street Journal
Andrew Cuomo has had a good run in his first year as New York Governor, with some useful education reforms marred by a tax increase. But the likely 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate just went toe-to-toe with public unions on pensions—and he lost in a technical knockout. The piecemeal reforms are a step in the right direction and would be more encouraging if the Governor hadn’t then declared pensions a closed issue. The legislation offers the relatively few non-unionized employees the option of 401(k)-style pensions, which they can take with them if they leave government service. It also raises the retirement age to 63 from 62 and trims today’s generous annuities—typically about $50,000 to $60,000 a year for career civil servants—by between 4% and 8% for new employees. (read article)

Big pension conflicts ahead in California as unions try to keep local reform measures off the ballot
By Dan Walters, March 26, 2012, Sacramento Bee
California’s great public pension battles are heating up, and may be headed for some kind of political explosion. The Legislature’s Democratic majority appears to be doing its best to ignore significant pension reform, even though Gov. Jerry Brown says the current system is “unsustainable” and an overhaul is needed to persuade voters to raise taxes this year. Democrats are reluctant to do anything that public employee unions oppose – such as passing Brown’s 12-point pension reform plan – in a year when they’ll be running in much-changed districts and will need all the union help they can get. (read article)

Labor Unions Appeal to 20-Somethings
By Kevin Cirilli, March 26, 2012, The Philadelphia Post
Growing up in Delco, I wished my teachers would strike. Who cares if you had to make up a few extra days in June? No kid has ever learned anything in June. It’s recess. I was taken back to my Delco elementary school classroom when I watched this AFL-CIO ad designed to reintroduce 20-somethings to unions. Will the appeal work? Twenty-somethings are generally underemployed, underpaid and unorganized. Where’s our national student government? Enter the union. They’ve got money and political power. But do they have jobs? The jury’s still out. “They make sure the job doesn’t do anything slimy,” my buddy’s friend, Charles Martin, 23, tells me. “You pay them monthly, but they have your back.” Martin is a baker in Northeast Philly. He says the only times he’d ever heard of unions was when they’d screw up the SEPTA schedules. But late last year, his supervisor tried to force him to do work he wasn’t hired for. He called the union and a few weeks later he was back to baking bread, no questions asked. “They’re kinda like your lawyer,” Martin says. “I had no idea how to handle any of this stuff.” (read article)

Public Pension Fixes Can Fill Gaps and Avoid a Big Ruckus
Editorial, March 25, 2012, Bloomberg
The hullabaloo over cutting public employee retirement benefits and collective bargaining rights has died down, but the pension funding crisis hasn’t. It has gotten worse. Experts disagree over the numbers, but Joshua Rauh, a Northwestern University finance professor, calculates that public pensions may be underfunded by $4.4 trillion, up from $3.1 trillion in 2009. Bloomberg Rankings data show that states are also falling behind on retiree health care: Of the $627 billion they are projected to owe, almost 96 percent isn’t financed, up from 95 percent in 2009. Health-care benefits aren’t usually guaranteed by contract, but public pensions are. Taxpayers must make good on those promises, or the promises must be reduced. (read article)

The Democrat Who Took on the Unions
By Allysia Finley, March 25, 2012, Wall Street Journal
Rhode Island’s treasurer Gina Raimondo talks about how she persuaded the voting public, labor rank-and-file and a liberal legislature to pass the most far-reaching pension reform in decades. So this is Gina Raimondo? The state treasurer who single-handedly overhauled Rhode Island’s pension system and has unions screaming bloody murder? I had imagined her a bit, well, bigger. If not larger than life like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then at least life-size. Ms. Raimondo couldn’t be much taller than five feet, which may have caused some to underestimate her. That isn’t the only thing that may have surprised people. The former venture capitalist is a Democrat, which means that she believes in government as a force for good. But “a government that doesn’t work is in no one’s interest,” she says. “Budgets that don’t balance, public programs that aren’t funded, pension funds that are running out of money, schools that aren’t funded—How does that help anyone? I don’t really care if you’re a Republican or Democrat or you want to fight about the size of government. How about a government that just works? Put your tax dollar in and get a return out the other end.” (read article)

Taxpayers on hook as tiny districts rack up big costs
Editorial, March 25, 2012, San Jose Mercury
Sac Metro is a special stand-alone fire district run by a nine-member elected board. Cosumnes, which administers parks and a fire service, has a five-member elected board. Over the last two decades or more, both boards have ladled out lavish raises and pension benefits to firefighters, and have put their districts into financial jeopardy. The two districts collect and spend tens of millions of dollars in property tax annually, and perform essential public services. But few voters could name one person who sits on their boards. Special district candidates appear at the bottom of ballots, and voters tend to ignore them. Their campaigns are dominated by the firefighters union, which bankrolls handpicked candidates and sends out off-duty firefighters to walk door to door on their behalf. If you lack union support, it’s tough to win election. (read article)

Mike & Andy $tep up against angry New York unions
By Erik Kriss, March 23, 2012, New York Post
Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Cuomo upped the ante in their pension war with organized labor yesterday, pitching in $36,000 apiece to bail out this weekend’s Latino legislative conference in Albany after teacher unions pulled their support. Cuomo reached into his $14 million-plus campaign account and Hizzoner dug into his significantly deeper pockets to ensure the 25th anniversary “Somos” conference goes off without a hitch. “They [unions] are angry about the passage of pension reform,” they said in a joint statement. (read article)

State Politics: New front in Cuomo’s fight with labor unions
By Kyle Hughes, March 23, 2012, New York State News
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fight with labor unions broke new ground this week, with the governor suggesting unions could face investigations for using campaign money to bribe legislators. He made his comments after CSEA, the biggest state local government workers union, reacted to last week’s passage of Tier VI by suspending political endorsements and donations. Other unions led by the NYSUT teachers union suspended their financial support for Somos, the Latino legislative weekend held every year in Albany. In an appearance on the Fred Dicker radio show Tuesday, Cuomo said “any union is free to support whoever they want or choose not to support. However, I would – if you are linking political contribution to a specific vote, you may get a call from the attorney general or the district attorney or JCOPE, so – but in terms of general ideological support, that’s fine. But as you know there should be no campaign contributions for specific votes.” Asked if he was taking about “quid pro quo, which could be seen as buying a vote,” Cuomo replied: “That’s exactly right.” (read article)

Reading, writing, arithmetic — and labor union achievements?
By Jim Sanders, March 22, 2012, Sacramento Bee
A Democrat-dominated Legislature that wants students to learn about the accomplishments of labor unions apparently goofed a decade ago in designating the first week in April as Labor History Week, which urges schools to commemorate it. That week is Spring Break in many school districts, so students are neither attending classes nor applauding unions. Solution? Assemblyman Sandre Swanson has proposed Assembly Bill 2269 to replace and expand upon Labor History Week with a Labor History Month. The date to honor it would be moved from April to May. Swanson’s bill would encourage schools to “commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.” (read article)

Will California Unions Force Cities Into Stockton Syndrome?
Editorial, March 21, 2012, Investor’s Business Daily
As one California city slogs toward bankruptcy, others may soon try to avoid the same fate by passing pension reforms — that is, if a pro-union state government will let them. The financial problems plaguing many of the nation’s cities are taking a particularly heavy toll on Stockton, Calif., a blue-collar port city that struggles even in good times. Perched on the edge of central California’s delta, about an hour south of Sacramento, the city has had some of the highest home foreclosure and unemployment rates in a state that ranks high in both categories. As if that weren’t enough, Stockton is also a cautionary tale on how not to run a city. It seems to have committed just about every fiscal sin known to local government. (read article)

Unions write big checks for campaign to fight California ballot measure on dues
By Torey Van Oot, March 21, 2012, Sacramento Bee
Some of California’s most powerful unions are pouring more cash into a growing campaign warchest created to fight a November ballot measure that would curb their political power. The California Teachers Association gave $500,000 earlier this month to a committee to oppose the measure, which prohibits unions and corporations from using money deducted from employee paychecks, such as member dues, for political spending. The contribution was reported yesterday in an online campaign finance filing. Another $125,000 from a committee run by the Los Angeles Police Protective League was reported today. The latest checks bring the total raised by the opposition campaign to more than $3.5 million. The measure, which would also ban unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees and place restrictions on contributions from interests with government contracts, is expected to spark one of the year’s most contentious and expensive campaigns fights. (read article)

Connecticut Considers Bill Requiring Students Learn ‘Labor History’
By Kyle Olson, March 20, 2012, Big Government
The Connecticut Senate is considering a bill which would require all government school students to learn “labor history” as a part of the curriculum.  The bill would add language to existing law which stipulates the types of subjects schools shall teach. Currently, the law requires students to learn information about these histories: Holocaust and genocide education and awareness; the historical events surrounding the Great Famine in Ireland; African-American history; Puerto Rican history; Native American history. Strangely, “American” history is missing from the list.  But if the Connecticut Democrats get their way, students will be learning more about the virtues of Jimmy Hoffa than of George Washington; of Andy Stern than of Abraham Lincoln. (read article)

Two state unions file unfair labor practices complaints
By Don Walker, March 20, 2012, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
At least two public-sector unions that recertified late last year have filed unfair labor practice complaints against Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, accusing it of failing to negotiate in good faith. The two unions are the State Professional Education and Information Council No. 1 and the Wisconsin State Attorneys Association. Union officials said several other public-sector unions that voted to recertify are expected to file complaints with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. In a statement, the education union said the state had not negotiated with the group, or provided dates for bargaining, since Walker took office in January 2011. “After a year of repeated requests to simply come up with dates for negotiations, which resulted in a series of rebukes and dismissals by the Office of State Employment Relations, we have been put in the position of filing complaints to bring Gov. Walker and his representatives to the table with state employees, as they are required to do by law,” said a statement from the education union. (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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