Union Watch Highlights

How Public Unions Took Taxpayers Hostage
By Fred Siegel, January 25, 2011, The Wall Street Journal
The turbulent years of the 1960s and ’70s are best known by the headline-grabbing civil rights and women’s rights movements. But there was another “rights” movement, largely overlooked, that has also had a profound effect on American life. The looming public-pension crisis that threatens to bankrupt city, county and state governments had its origins in those same years when public employees, already protected by civil-service rules, gained the right to bargain collectively. Liberals were once skeptical of public-sector unionism… (read article)

State Bankruptcy Is a Bad Idea
By E.J. McMahon, January 24, 2011, The Wall Street Journal
As states struggle with enormous deficits and exploding pension costs, some analysts are urging Congress to enact a law enabling states to declare bankruptcy the way municipalities can under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code. This is a bad idea. A state bankruptcy provision could create more problems than it solves. Bankruptcy proponents understandably worry that states such as California and Illinois are so deep in the hole they may end up petitioning Congress for federal relief. To forestall this possibility, the argument goes, even the threat of bankruptcy would give governors and legislators a powerful new weapon for forcing concessions from recalcitrant public employee unions. (read article)

Teachers unions on defensive as GOP lawmakers flex their muscle
By Sean Cavanagh, January 23, 2011, Education Week
Teachers unions find themselves on the defensive in states across the country, as governors and lawmakers press forward with proposals to target job protections and benefits that elected officials contend the public can no longer afford academically or financially. Many of those efforts are being driven by newly elected Republicans, who have traditionally drawn political opposition from teachers’ organizations – and did in last year’s midterm elections – but who made historic gains in those state contests. The GOP now controls more state legislative seats than it has in more than 80 years, and it has the majority in both lawmaking chambers in 25 states. (read article)

San Luis Obispo unions call economic study biased
By AnnMarie Cornejo, January 22, 2011, San Luis Obispo Tribune
San Luis Obispo police and fire union leaders are criticizing as biased a series of cost-saving proposals drawn up by a task force convened by City Manager Katie Lichtig. Matt Blackstone, president of the San Luis Obispo Police Officers’ Association, on Tuesday asked the City Council to launch an independent investigation into the consultant hired by Lichtig to oversee the meetings of the Financial Sustainability Task Force. (read article)

Public Employee Union Benefits Are a Fiscal Disaster
By Mortimer B. Zuckerman, January 21, 2011, U.S. News
State governments are in a huge hole, and they’re still digging. Thanks to the Great Recession, their tax receipts have suffered the greatest decline since the Great Depression: now 12 percent below pre-recession levels (adjusted for inflation). For their 2012 budgets, states face gaps hovering around $140 billion, and that’s on top of previous budget shortfalls of over $400 billion since the recession began. (read article)

Call The Unions’ Bluff — Or Perish
By Douglas MacKinnon, January 20, 2011, Investor’s Business Daily
It’s well past the time for federal, state, county and city leaders to grow a spine and call the bluff of the public employee unions. How? By ending all pensions for new-hire public-employees. Now. For years, these bloated, bullying and often corrupt unions have screamed to anyone who would listen, “You have to give our employees pensions because no one will take these jobs at these small salaries.” Really? Let’s find out. With unemployment at over 9%, hundreds of thousands of jobs gone from this nation forever and a worldwide economy that continues to teeter on the edge of disaster, I’m willing to bet all I have that if the federal, state or local governments advertised jobs paying $30,000 to $70,000 per year with no pension, millions of Americans would line up at the crack of dawn just for a chance to be considered. (read article)

The Union Threat to the Democrats’ Future
By Douglas E. Schoen, January 20, 2011, The Wall Street Journal
There is a crisis in state and municipal finance. That much is clear. What hasn’t been fully understood is that the fate of the Democratic Party is bound up in the resolution of that crisis. In the November midterm elections, the Democratic Party lost its congressional majority. The far graver threat to the party, though, is that its base is made up disproportionately of public-employee unions, liberals, trial lawyers and other special-interest groups. (read article)

Public-Worker Unions Battle U.S. Governors Over Benefits in Change of Role
By Martin Z. Braun and Holly Rosenkrantz, January 19, 2011, Bloomberg
To Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s newly elected Republican governor, public employees are the haves and taxpayers the have-nots. Halfway across the U.S., Jerry Brown, California’s Democratic governor, wants unpaid days off for some state workers to cut labor costs. Facing attacks from deficit-slashing officials on both ends of the political spectrum, government employees are fighting back. (read article)

Is There No End to the Cost of Government Union Benefits?
By Paul Hatfield, January 18, 2011, Village to Village
The size of local and state government benefit liabilities continues to pile up. The latest is the potential of $10 billion in health care commitments to LAUSD employees. What is just as disturbing is the surprise outgoing LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines expressed when he announced the “astronomical” estimate.  $10 billion did not magically appear yesterday.  Either Cortines does not read financial reports or information is being withheld from him – or both. Of course, he could have been sitting on this information to avoid an ugly confrontation with the unions. (read article)

Union campaign to boost image of public workers
By Sam Hananel, January 14, 2011, MSNBC
Union leaders plan to launch a multimillion dollar campaign to boost the image of government workers and fend off pay cuts and benefit rollbacks in states under fiscal siege. The scope of the effort is unusual in a non-election year, and it signals a growing concern that unions could lose significant clout in states where the political climate has changed with Republicans in control in many legislatures. “It’s a pretty unprecedented attack on public sector workers and workers in all industries,” said Naomi Walker, director of state government relations at the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation. (read article)

Fighting public-sector unions, Part 1:
By Jeff Jacoby, January 9, 2011, Boston Globe
As resistance to public-sector unionism has intensified, many of the noisiest confrontations have been on the coasts. In New Jersey, freshman Governor Chris Christie has been locked in a battle royale with his state’s powerful teachers unions. In California, Oakland’s new mayor began her first full day in office by demanding that unionized police officers, who pay nothing toward their pensions, be required to contribute 9 percent of their salaries. In New York, federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether Sanitation Department workers purposely paralyzed the city with a work slowdown during last month’s blizzard. In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick infuriated public-safety unions by replacing costly police details with civilian flaggers at many construction and repair sites. (read article)

Arbitration’s intolerable bind, Part 2:
By Jeff Jacoby, January 12, 2011, Boston Globe
If there were a hall of fame for ideas that sound great in theory but are disastrous in real life, “binding arbitration’’ for government labor contracts would be a major exhibit. When contract talks between a union representing public employees and the state or local government they work for are deadlocked, many states require that the disagreement be referred to an outside arbitrator for a binding decision. Since strikes by public employees are intolerable — no one wants firefighters, teachers, or trash collectors walking off the job — letting a neutral third party hear both sides out and settle the issue can sound like a fair and practical way to resolve thorny issues. In fact, it’s anything but. Mandatory arbitration has turned out to be a rigged game — rigged in favor of government employees, and against the taxpayers who supply their wages and benefits. (read article)

Labor’s Last Stand?
By Mark Hemingway, February 2011, Reason Magazine
If you measured the strength of an organization by the size of its political donations, private-sector labor unions would be some of the most robust organizations in American society. The nation’s two most influential private unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), spent $88 million between them trying to get Democrats elected in 2010. Seven of the top 20 most generous political action committees in the last election cycle were private-sector unions, with virtually all of that money going to support Democrats, according to Opensecrets.org. Over all, nine of the top 21 biggest political donors in the last two decades have come from organized labor’s nonpublic wing. (read article)

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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