Union Watch Highlights

Labor union hopes of ousting Wisconsin governor fade
Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2012
Democrats and unions hoping to turn Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker out of office over his efforts to tame the power of organized labor are finding it tough going with only two weeks to go before a historic recall election. Just over a year ago, Walker set off a storm that looked like it could sweep him from power over a new law that critics labeled “union busting.” Walker pushed through the legislature a law requiring public sector union members to pay part of the cost of health insurance and pensions, limited pay rises, made paying union dues voluntary and forced unions to be recertified every year. Opponents sought revenge by collecting nearly a million signatures from voters to force a special election on June 5. It looked like Walker’s days were numbered. National attention has been riveted on the Wisconsin recall, which some political pundits call the second most important election of 2012 after the presidential vote, because it could show which way the wind is blowing this year. (read article)

Unions give $500,000 to oppose ‘paycheck’ ballot measure
By Jon Ortiz, May 22, 2012, Sacramento Bee
The California Labor Federation has donated $500,000 to the campaign fighting a November measure aimed at restricting union political fundraising. The proposal would prohibit unions and business groups from donating money directly to political candidates, although all could continue spending on independent expenditure campaigns. The proposition also eliminates payroll-deducted contributions, unions’ primary means of raising money. Corporations couldn’t use payroll deductions either, but they get the bulk of their political funding from top executives and company treasuries. The measure’s backers say that the proposal is even-handed and that both business and labor interests are displeased at the prospect of it becoming law. According to a statement filed with the California Secretary of State last week (and posted below), the Labor Federation made its donation on May 4, part of $6.3 million raised so far by the opposition campaign. The group backing the measure has raised about $3 million. (read article)

Labor judge overturns union election at Target
By Anne D’Innocenzio, May 21, BusinessWeek
An administrative law judge from the National Labor Relations Board has overturned the union election last year at a Target store on New York’s Long Island and ordered a new election citing unfair labor practices. The decision comes almost a year after The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 contested the 137-85 vote against unionization in June 2011. It argued that Target illegally intimidated workers for months leading up to the vote. Target denied the allegations. A “yes” vote would have made the store Target’s first with a unionized workforce. Target has 1,700 stores, all in the U.S. “Target completely poisoned the democratic process from day one,” said Patrick Purcell, assistant to the president of the UFCW Local 1500 in an interview with The Associated Press. “And now a judge agreed with everything we said.” Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said late Monday that the company “respectfully” disagrees with the decision. “We firmly believe Target followed all the laws throughout the union’s campaign at its Valley Stream store and that the process leading up to the June 2011 election was fair and legal,” she said. (read article)

How the California Teachers Association betrayed the schools and crippled the state
By Troy Senik, May 2012, City Journal
In 1962, as tensions ran high between school districts and unions across the country, members of the National Education Association gathered in Denver for the organization’s 100th annual convention. Among the speakers was Arthur F. Corey, executive director of the California Teachers Association (CTA). “The strike as a weapon for teachers is inappropriate, unprofessional, illegal, outmoded, and ineffective,” Corey told the crowd. “You can’t go out on an illegal strike one day and expect to go back to your classroom and teach good citizenship the next.” Fast-forward nearly 50 years to May 2011, when the CTA—now the single most powerful special interest in California—organized a “State of Emergency” week to agitate for higher taxes in one of the most overtaxed states in the nation. A CTA document suggested dozens of ways for teachers to protest, including following state legislators incessantly, attempting to close major transportation arteries, and boycotting companies, such as Microsoft, that backed education reform. The week’s centerpiece was an occupation of the state capitol by hundreds of teachers and student sympathizers from the Cal State University system, who clogged the building’s hallways and refused to leave. Police arrested nearly 100 demonstrators for trespassing, including then–CTA president David Sanchez. The protesting teachers had left their jobs behind, even though their students were undergoing important statewide tests that week. With the passage of 50 years, the CTA’s notions of “good citizenship” had vanished. (read article)

Relationship Between Advocacy Groups, Unions Uneasy
By Stephen Sawchuk, May 21, 2012, Education Week
As a new breed of national education advocacy organizations gains clout, they’re entering into often-uneasy relationships with teachers’ unions—and running into a debate about whether they can play a grassroots “ground game” comparable to that of labor. For many unions, the policy changes the newer groups typically support—staffing based on performance measures and the expansion of charter schools, among others—tilt the balance of power away from teachers and unions and toward administrators and funders who, they argue, are less well-versed in the needs of teachers, students, and parents. “You have people who don’t know anything about the issues, about how teachers are evaluated or compensated,” said Karen M. White, the political director of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. (read article)

Toledo Public Schools, unions in lock step to support $6.9M levy
By Nolan Rosenkrans, May 19, 2012, Toledo Blade
When Toledo Public Schools officials announced its levy campaign this week, its employees’ union leaders were standing right behind them. Leaders of TPS’ three labor unions are at the helm of the district’s campaign to persuade voters to approve a 6.9-mill continuing levy being placed on the November election ballot. A continuing levy is one that, if approved, is permanent and would never require another vote to be collected. Kevin Dalton, Toledo Federation of Teachers president, has joined Jim Gault, chief academic officer, for the school district, as co-chairmen of the campaign committee. Mr. Gault called historic the level of public collaboration by union leaders with an official TPS levy campaign, saying it is a symbol both of the high stakes for the school district in this levy request and of the increasingly positive working relationships between labor leaders and administrators. “We’ve come to the realization that we can get more done working together than we can working apart,” Mr. Gault said. The tenor of relations between labor and management in TPS has been in recent months, at least publicly, more amicable than often seen in Toledo. Mr. Gault said volunteer hours for the levy campaign are likely to be in the thousands, and many of those probably will be teachers. (read article)

Budget Crisis Sparks Fight Among Unions
By Joseph De Avila, May 18, 2012, Wall Street Journal
The ranks of Connecticut’s public-sector unions are being roiled by a labor brawl amid lingering anger over more than $1 billion in concessions made during last year’s state budget crisis. A pair of outside unions have made bids to take over six bargaining units representing 6,700 transportation engineers, judicial marshals, correctional supervisors and others. Their promise: a tougher stance during future contract negotiations. State employees throughout the U.S. have fought with governors over contentious labor deals, but some public employees in Connecticut are aiming their dissatisfaction at their own union leaders. The tipping point came last summer when Gov. Dannel Malloy was struggling to close a $3 billion budget gap and proposed a $1.6 billion labor give-back deal. The 15-union State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition initially rejected that proposal in a vote. Later, the coalition rewrote its bylaws, allowing a simple majority to pass the initiative. Many rank-and-file members howled at changes to their health plans and pension-plan changes. Most unions also agreed to wage freezes. The discord opened the door for United Public Service Employees Union of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and the National Correctional Employees Union of Springfield, Mass., to enter the field. Both represent municipal workers and are untested at a statewide level. (read article)

Firefighters’ lawyer faces complaint
By Andrew Ryan, May 18, 2012, Boston Globe
The City of Boston filed a formal complaint against a prominent labor lawyer Thursday, saying that what they termed his vulgar and vitriolic behavior at the negotiating table on behalf of the firefighters’ union has gone too far, even in the contentious realm of labor negotiations. At a meeting Tuesday at the union’s Florian Hall, lawyer E. David Wanger allegedly berated city officials with obscenities and repeatedly interrupted by saying “Blah! Blah! Blah!,’’ according to a letter to the state Division of Labor Relations. Wanger mocked city officials by affecting a fake lisp, the letter said, and mimicked their responses by repeating what they said in a high-pitched voice while shaking his head. “Because of the unconscionable behavior of the union’s attorney,’’ the letter stated, city officials warned they would not meet again with Wanger or firefighters unless the state appointed a permanent mediator to keep the discussion civil. (read article)

Hostess, 10 unions face trial over labor deals
By Jacqueline Palank, May 18, 2012, MarketWatch
Hostess Brands Inc. is moving to the next front in its bid to slash its labor costs: a trial on whether it can reject labor deals with its smaller unions. On Monday, a White Plains, N.Y., bankruptcy judge will hear arguments over the fate of 67 collective bargaining agreements with 10 unions that represent 1,165 Hostess employees. The company wants to modify such employment terms as health benefits, pensions and work rules, warning the success of its restructuring is on the line. The maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies and Ho Hos completed a trial last month over whether it could terminate the labor deals with its two biggest unions, the Teamsters and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. Together, the two unions represent 14,101 of Hostess’s 18,400 active employees. The outcome of that trial was mixed: the judge said Hostess could reject bargaining agreements with 35 locals of the bakers’ union but nixed its ability to reject deals with the Teamsters. As a result, Hostess must return to the drawing board and continue negotiations with the Teamsters. (read article)

New York nurses shift to union-style format
By Daniel Massey, May 17, 2012, Crain’s New York Business
The 37,000-member New York State Nurses Association voted Thursday to become more like a traditional labor union than a professional association. Following a leadership shakeup last fall, members of the 37,000-member New York State Nurses Association voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve bylaw changes that will transform the organization from a professional association into a more traditional labor union. Members opted Thursday to give more power to elected leaders to set the course of the union; to ban supervisors from serving as union leaders; and to replace the position of CEO with an executive director. The association traditionally had a board that included supervisors, which limited its ability to discuss union issues. A delegate assembly made up of non-supervisory nurses had only an advisory role. “People wanted to change the structure so members can have control over the organization,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, an emergency room nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and a NYSNA vice president. “Members are going to have a voice in their union that they never had and it means the union can aggressively pursue the issues that matter to them.” (read article)

Board rejects Montana state unions’ complaint
By Charles S. Johnson, May 17, 2012, Billings Gazette
A state board Thursday dismissed a complaint filed by public employee unions against the 2011 Legislature over the latter’s rejection of negotiated pay raises for state workers. The 3-2 decision by the state Board of Personnel Appeals may not end of the dispute, if the unions appeal. “I’m disappointed,” said Quinton Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association. “I think we have to make a consideration whether to take it to District Court.” Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, had negotiated a pay-raise package with public-sector unions before the 2011 Legislature began, and submitted it to lawmakers in a pay-plan bill. The Republican-controlled Legislature rejected the bill late in the session. (read article)

NLRB Can Revive Speedy Union Vote Rule Judge Threw Out
By William McQuillen and Sara Forden, May 15, 2012, Bloomberg
A National Labor Relations Board rule to speed up elections on whether to form a union, thrown out on a technicality yesterday by a federal judge, could be quickly reinstated, according to labor lawyers. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled yesterday that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it approved the measure in December. In response, the board today “temporarily suspended” the rule and pledged to “move forward” on the issue. Only two members voted when three are needed for a quorum. Jesse Choper, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the judge’s legal reasoning constituted a “technicality” and can be easily resolved. “The worst that can happen is they go back and have a meeting of three or five,” Choper said. “They can make their quorum.” (read article)

AMR wins labor deals with five union work groups
By Kyle Peterson and Nick Brown, May 15, 2012, Reuters
Five out of seven work groups represented by the largest labor union at AMR Corp’s American Airlines voted to accept contract terms offered by the bankrupt airline that will cut thousands of jobs, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) said on Tuesday. The vote ends a court battle between the groups and AMR over the airline’s bid to void its current collective bargaining agreements as it seeks to save $1.25 billion a year in labor costs, including $990 million from its unions. Had that request been successful, AMR might have been allowed to unilaterally impose even more stringent labor terms. That same court battle continues this week, however, for the TWU groups that turned down the deal, as well as two other unions representing AMR pilots and flight attendants who elected not to vote on the deal. (read article)

Gov. Christie rallies union workers in Atlantic City
By Jenna Portnoy, May 15, 2012, NewJersey.com
Gov. Chris Christie today delivered a rallying cry for jobs to members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America who attended their eastern regional conference at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City. He called the eventual opening of the newly raised Bayonne Bridge — a $1 billion project — “one of the proudest moments I’ll ever have as governor.” Christie drew a stark contrast between public sector unions, whose members pay more toward their pension and health benefits due to his reforms, and the private building trades. “Nobody’s giving you guys anything for free and we needed to make sure you weren’t bearing the burden, along with the other taxpayers in our state, for a free ride for anybody,” he said, adding: “That’s not an anti-union position. That’s a pro-responsibility position.” (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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