Union Watch Highlights

Business groups ask senators to overturn NLRB’s ‘micro-union’ decision
By Kevin Bogardus, June 12, 2012, The Hill
More than a half-dozen business groups are asking Senate appropriators to roll back a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that allows unions to form smaller bargaining units. In a letter sent Tuesday, trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the International Franchise Association asked lawmakers to overturn an August 2011 ruling that they argue allows labor to create “micro-unions.” “The micro-unions decision overturns more than 50 years of precedent and would create division in the workplace, increase operational complexities and costs, while also depriving employees of the flexibility and cross-training opportunities they seek. For example, under the micro-union decision organizers could cherry-pick a small segment of employees within one department of one location and target them in an organizing campaign,” said the letter. (read article)

90 percent of Chicago teachers authorize strike
By Don Babwin and Sophia Tareen, June 12, 2012, CBS MoneyWatch
Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district voted overwhelmingly to authorize the first strike in 25 years if their union and the city cannot reach a deal on a contract this summer — signaling just how badly the relationship between teachers and Chicago school officials has deteriorated, union officials said Monday. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced the result of last week’s balloting — nearly 90 percent of its 26,502 members voted to authorize a strike —and called it “an indictment of the state of the relationship between the management of CPS and its largest labor force members.” State law requires 75 percent approval. Teachers are upset that Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled last year’s raise and that they’re being asked to work longer days without what they consider to be an adequate pay increase. Lewis said other key issues include class size and resources. A strike wouldn’t be called until the beginning of the next school year, but union leaders could do so without another vote. They say holding the vote now instead of later gives the union added leverage at the bargaining table. It also allowed 1,500 retiring teachers to vote. (read article)

Is Perestroika Coming In California?
By Joel Kotkin, June 11, 2012, Forbes
When Jerry Brown was elected governor for a third time in 2010, there was widespread hope that he would repair the state’s crumbling and dysfunctional political edifice. But instead of becoming a Californian Mikhail Gorbachev, he has turned out to be something more resembling Konstantin Chernenko or Yuri Andropov, an aged hegemon desperately trying to save a dying system. As with the old party bosses in Russia, Brown’s distinct lack of courage has only worsened California’s lurch toward fiscal and economic disaster. Yet as the budget woes worsen, other Californians, including some Democrats, are beginning to recognize the need for perestroika in the Golden State. This was most evident in the overwhelming vote last week in two key cities, San Diego and San Jose, to reform public employee pensions, a huge reversal after decades of ever more expansive public union power in the state. (read article)

Ballot measures in San Jose, San Diego show public anger over pensions
Editorial, June 11, 2012, Stockton Record
If the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a bellwether on public pensions, then votes in two California cities last week are fire alarms. Public unions in Wisconsin mounted a furious attempt to oust that state’s first term Republican governor who immediately outraged the unions by stripping them of collective bargaining powers. Pensions and public salaries had simply gotten too expansive, Walker argued. He could have been standing on a soap box in San Jose and San Diego making that same pitch before last Tuesday’s election. Voters there clearly agree with Walker. They overwhelmingly approved cuts to retirement benefits for their city workers. In San Diego, the effort was lead by a Republican councilman; in San Jose by the city’s Democratic mayor. In San Diego, two-thirds of those voting approved Proposition B; in San Jose, 70 percent approved Measure B. (read article)

The end of unions?
By Aaron Blake, June 11, 2012, The Washington Post
The only political entity that might have had a worse week than President Obama last week was the public sector union. For the third time in 14 months, a full-throated attempt from labor to exact retribution on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for curtailing collective bargaining rights for public sector unions fell flat. And it’s got some writing the obituary of the public sector union, arguing that it will soon join the private sector union in the realm of the politically irrelevant. Which makes sense in some ways, and doesn’t in others. As Obama noted in a rather inartful way on Friday, the economic recession has hit government employees harder than the private sector. It’s natural during time of austerity for politicians to target public employees for cuts and create conflict; the unhelpful side effect if you’re labor is that this occurs at a time when those same cutbacks are also creating less union members overall. So it’s not surprising to see the unions at a weak point right now. But it’s also pretty clear that the public sector union’s political capital is heading in one direction – down. (read article)

America needs labor unions more than ever
By Babette Faehmel, Monday, June 11, 2012, Albany Times Union
That Scott Walker is still the governor of Wisconsin should worry us all. Governor Walker made national headlines when he slashed the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers. The fact that the recall effort in a state once known for its progressive politics failed will strengthen the forces intent on squeezing the last bit of blood out of what once was a formidable force in politics: organized labor. You may just as well say goodbye to the idea of the American Dream. What happened in Wisconsin reflects the fact that for many of us, labor unions seem hopelessly out of date. Sure, when Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” we might have needed them, but today? Membership has been shrinking for decades, yet Americans continued to realize their dreams, haven’t they? If we can realize our dreams without all this collective-bargaining nonsense, then who needs a union? The fact is, however, that upward economic mobility has historically been within reach of ordinary working Americans mainly because a powerful organization bargained on their behalf. Without a group that represents our interests, we have about as much clout as a medieval peasant. (read article)

The end is near for public-sector unions
Jeff Jacoby, June 10, 2012, Boston Globe
In retrospect, there were two conspicuous giveaways that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was headed for victory in last week’s recall election. One was that the Democrats’ campaign against him wound up focusing on just about everything but Walker’s law limiting collective bargaining rights for government workers. Sixteen months ago, the Capitol building in Madison was besieged by rioting protesters hell-bent on blocking the changes by any means necessary. Union members and their supporters, incandescent with rage, likened Walker to Adolf Hitler and cheered as Democratic lawmakers fled the state in a bid to force the legislature to a standstill. Once the bill passed, unions and Democrats vowed revenge, and amassed a million signatures on recall petitions. But the more voters saw of the law’s effects, the more they liked it. Dozens of school districts reported millions in savings, most without resorting to layoffs. Property taxes fell. A $3.6 billion state budget deficit turned into a $154 million projected surplus. Walker’s measures proved a tonic for the economy, and support for restoring the status quo ante faded — even among Wisconsin Democrats. Long before Election Day, Democratic challenger Tom Barrett had all but dropped the issue of public-sector collective bargaining from his campaign to replace Walker. (read article)

Opinion: Greedy labor unions deserved outcome of Black Tuesday election
By Matthew Bastian, June 10, 2012, New Jersey Now
It was Black Tuesday for public-sector unions last week. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker prevailed over Tom Barrett in a bitter recall election; in California, the cities of San Jose and San Diego approved, by wide margins, ballot initiatives that reformed pension benefits for municipal workers. As the economy continues to sputter and ailing local budgets feel the strain, voters across the country are starting to pay closer attention to the deals municipal and state workers have struck for themselves over the years. At a time when budgets are tight and municipalities are contemplating “user fees” to help fund basic services, many government employees are paid extra for either being in a union or, as with the snowplow drivers, simply showing up to work. And as these abuses against the taxpayer are uncovered, local officials can offer but one meek response: “It’s in the contract.” Mr. Walker’s heresy, of course, was in daring to conclude that when the only good answer is “It’s in the contract,” then the problem is that there was a contract in the first place. (read article)

Move over, Wisconsin — the union battle is beginning in California
By Jon Ortiz, June 10, 2012, Sacramento Bee
Labor unions and business interests have been quietly raising millions of dollars and testing campaign messages for months, girding for a brawl over a November ballot measure that could fundamentally shift political power in Sacramento. Now, on the heels of an election that saw unions handed a major defeat last week in Wisconsin, the opposing camps in California soon will launch a campaign battle likely to consume $50 million or more in political spending. (read article)

Unions at war with math, reality
Editorial, June 9, 2012, San Diego Union Tribune
On Tuesday night, as the word spread that sweeping pension reform measures for public employees had won landslide victories in San Diego and San Jose, the highest-profile group opposing such reform in the Golden State put out a conciliatory statement. The Californians for Retirement Security said it respected the decisions of voters. But the union-funded group also lamented the failure of city leaders to pursue such cost-saving reforms through collective bargaining. Not mentioned: the fact that when it comes to real pension reform, as opposed to tinkering on the margins, unions’ consistent response to elected officials has been, “Get lost.” And on Wednesday and Thursday, it became clear that “respect” for voters’ decisions didn’t mean accepting those decisions. In San Jose, public employee unions sued to block the pension reform initiative. In San Diego, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith outlined his plans to try to defeat similar lawsuits filed earlier and to fight off the union-allied state Public Employment Relations Board, which tried to scuttle the city’s pension reform measure months before it was voted on. And in Sacramento, Democratic legislative leaders once again made clear that Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform proposal is just not a priority. Welcome to California, 2012, where unions and their allies are at war with math, reality and taxpayers. (read article)

California could use some Wisconsin reforms
Letter to the Editor, June 9, 2012, The Vacaville Reporter
Congratulations to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on winning Tuesday’s recall election. It’s about time a state official demonstrated the political courage to challenge the decades-old influence that public unions have held over state budgets. The governor’s sound fiscal policies and collective-bargaining reform initiatives speak for themselves. For example, reducing public union control of state finances has benefited Wisconsin taxpayers, as statewide property taxes fell by 0.4 percent in 2011, while local school districts have been able to renegotiate health-care and labor contracts, saving taxpayers an additional $1 billion. Wisconsin’s business climate is also improving, with more than half the state’s businesses planning to expand in the next two years; the highest rate in a decade, according to a survey released last week by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The true winners have been Wisconsin taxpayers. California’s elected leaders should heed the advice of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt (a Democrat) who stated that collective-bargaining rights “cannot be transplanted into the public service.” California legislators need to grasp the fact that an overwhelming majority of the state’s private-sector taxpayers have grown weary of the excessive perks (wages, benefits and pensions) and the outsized sway public unions hold over them. Now is the time to break the symbiotic embrace of the public unions, which have placed their special interests above the general interests of the majority of state taxpayers. (read article)

Wisconsin Is Not a Harbinger for the 2012 Presidential Election
By Emily Ekins, June 8, 2012, Reason
Tuesday’s recall election was about the future of public sector unions, not partisan politics. Despite much Republican fanfare over Gov. Scott Walker’s triumph in the Wisconsin recall, this election is not a harbinger for the 2012 presidential election. The recall results also do not portend public union denunciation. The evidence for such conclusions can be found in CNN’s exit poll results. Instead, the recall election presages public union reform throughout the country. Some have misinterpreted Walker’s recall survival as an indication that the tides have turned against Obama and the Democrats. In 2008, Obama carried the potential swing state by 14 percentage points. Some conclude that a majority vote for Walker indicates a permanent shift of voters from the Democrats to the Republicans. However, exit poll data demonstrate this is not the case. (read article)

Labor union at crossroads after defeat; Political strategy divides AFSCME
By Sam Hananel, June 8, 2012, Associated Press
A heated battle is taking place inside a giant U.S. public employees union following its crushing failure this week to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, which was organized labor’s biggest political loss in decades. At stake is the direction of the 1.3 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees after 31 years under retiring president Gerald McEntee. He has been known for his zeal to build and maintain AFSCME’s clout as a leading liberal voice and political kingmaker in the Democratic Party. A major question is whether that should continue. The union has been hit hard in recent years, losing about 10% of its members since 2009, according to public filings and internal documents reviewed by The Associated Press. In Wisconsin, AFSCME membership fell 45% after the law pushed by Walker that all but eliminates collective bargaining for most public workers, according to internal documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Nationwide, AFSCME claims it has 1.6 million members, but a spokesman says that includes retirees. Its most recent annual report with the U.S. Department of Labor says it had about 1,423,000 active members in 2011. That number has dropped to about 1,315,000 as of February, documents show. Fresh off losses in the Wisconsin recall election and in California municipal referendums rolling back public employee pension and health benefits, the union will pick a successor to the 77-year-old McEntee on June 20 at the union’s convention in Los Angeles. The race is shaping up as a broader debate on whether AFSCME should become more prudent in doling out cash to Democratic causes and candidates and perhaps make itself less of a lightning rod for attacks from conservatives. (read article)

Gov. Jerry Brown, unions seek deal at bargaining table
By Chris Mergerian, June 8, 2012, Los Angeles Times
As California’s leaders race to finish the state budget by June 15, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposals face a crucial test on Saturday. Brown wants to save $402 million through a 5% reduction in state worker costs, and negotiations with the largest union of state workers, SEIU Local 1000, begins in the morning in Sacramento. It’s unclear when a deal could be announced. The governor has suggested shifting some state workers to a 38-hour, four-day workweek. SEIU 1000 President Yvonne Walker has signaled that she’s open to the idea, saying last month that “it could be a good thing.” SEIU 1000 represents about half of the state’s 182,000 employees, meaning that a deal with the union would go a long way to helping Brown reach his money-saving goal. (read article)

Nation’s unions lost big in the Wisconsin showdown
By Sam Hananel, June 7, 2012, Associated Press
Gov. Scott Walker’s definitive victory in Wisconsin’s recall election is already reverberating in other state capitals. It exposed the shrunken political muscle of the unions that tried to oust him, underscoring their vulnerability to attacks from the right and inability to retaliate. Republicans in some nearby states where anti-union measures failed this year say they now plan to use Walker’s victory to mount renewed efforts in 2013. Instead of ejecting the Republican who slashed state and local government workers’ job benefits and bargaining rights, the union-instigated recall has made Walker a heroic model for conservatives five months before the November election. “I think it’s bad news for the labor movement,” said John Russo, a labor studies professor at Youngstown State University. “It gives the impression they are not as strong as they once were, which they are not.” (read article)

The Problem With Public Sector Unions—and How to Fix It
By Conor Friedersdorf, Jun 7 2012, The Atlantic
With public employee unions suffering high-profile election losses in Wisconsin, San Jose, and San Diego, there is rampant speculation about what comes next. Noah Millman argues that voters and public sector unions have an inherently adversarial relationship. Says Will Wilkinson, writing in The Economist, “measures limiting the power of public-sector unions to organize against taxpayers are controversial, but not as politically dangerous as Democrats would like.” Suffice it to say that we’re years away from any stable, widely accepted equilibrium. As Natasha Vargas Cooper put it some months ago in Slake, “A critical tactic in the conservative drive to build a permanent majority in Wisconsin and other Rust Belt states is to bust the unions under the guise of ’emergency’ austerity measures. Walker’s plan cuts right to the marrow of a labor movement that he, and just about everybody else, thinks is tottering on its heels. If it dies, one of the last major funding sources for Democrats dies, too.” It is very thorny to tease out the motivations of partisans on this subject, because it’s just a fact that strong public employee unions hurt the electoral chances of Republicans and help to fund and elect Democrats. It’s also true that lots of states and localities are going broke due to pension obligations. (read article)

California voters deal twin blows to unions
By Valerie Richardson, June 6, 2012, The Washington Times
An election night that began with Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker winning his recall election grew progressively worse for public-sector unions as California voters approved steep pension-cutting measures in two major cities. Voters in San Diego and San Jose overwhelmingly passed ballot initiatives Tuesday to reduce retirement benefits for city workers by switching from traditional plans to 401(k)-style contribution plans. San Diego voters also approved a second proposition allowing the city to hire non-union labor on construction contracts. “I think when we finally highlighted to San Diegans that there’s no reason why one class of employees should get better retirement benefits than another class of employees — and it also means we have fewer services because of that — I think the voters made an overwhelming choice,” Mayor Jerry Sanders told KGTV-TV in San Diego. (read article)

Labor’s losses appear to be pension reformers’ gains
By Steven Harmon, June 6, 2012, Bay Area News Group
Labor’s steep losses at the polls Tuesday gave new hope to pension reformers throughout California and perhaps new impetus to Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders to strike a deal on lowering the cost of public-employee pensions. In San Jose, once a labor-friendly paradise, voters overwhelmingly backed a measure touted by Mayor Chuck Reed, who argued that the city can no longer afford generous pension plans as cops and city services get the ax. The vote came on the day San Diego approved a similar measure and Wisconsin voters rejected the recall of the stridently anti-labor Gov. Scott Walker. “The pension reform votes in San Jose and San Diego are a powerful wake-up call,” Brown told this newspaper in a statement. “I have a 12-point pension reform plan and, after I lock this budget down, people should feel confident that pension reform is next on the agenda.” (read article)

California Unions Sue to Prevent Pension Reforms as Citizens Turn Against Them
By Scott Shackford, June 6, 2012, Reason
San Diego and San Jose voters took public pension reform into their own hands Tuesday in a way Sacramento has proved mostly unwilling, voting for some significant changes and cutbacks to benefits for their city employees. This morning, public unions in San Jose are announcing the suit they’ll be filing to try to block the implementation of Measure B. Via the San Jose Mercury News: An email from the unions sent early this morning said, “Following the passage of San Jose’s Measure B — a City ballot measure that unlawfully modifies pension benefits for city employees-San Jose’s Police Officers, Fire Fighters and other workers will file multiple lawsuits to enjoin the City from implementing the unlawful changes to employee pensions, health care and disability benefits.” The changes include requiring current employees to contribute a greater amount to their pension funds or choose a cheaper plan, requiring future hires to contribute half the cost of their pensions, and requiring voter approval for pension increases. (read article)

Labor Unions Could Face Further Adversity In Wake Of Elections In Wisconsin, California
By Nick Carey, June 6, 2012, Reuters
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker’s recall election victory and the vote of two California cities to curb the pensions of city workers may embolden political leaders across the country to take on labor unions, experts said on Wednesday. Walker on Tuesday survived a recall election forced by liberal critics opposed to his bold moves to limit the powers of public sector unions in a Midwestern state that could be a battleground in the Nov. 6 presidential election. Voters in two of California’s biggest cities, San Diego and San Jose, on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported cutting pensions of city government workers to save money. “This is a watershed moment, a historic moment,” said Gary Chaison, professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “They (unions) gambled heavily and they lost heavily. It’s a real problem for them,” Chaison added. (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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