Union Watch Highlights

Unions are struggling to be heard
By Chris Brennan & Catherine Lucey, August 7, 2012, Philadelphia Daily News
It’s being called “Workers Stand for America” — 30,000 union members packed in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday morning to say that any loss of power by organized labor is a danger to the middle class. It could just as well be called “Mixed Messages for the Masses,” as unions scramble to find the right tone to attract attention. Local union officials paint Republicans as anti-worker while lamenting being taking for granted by Democrats. The officials deny that the rally is a “shadow convention,” while griping about the Democratic National Convention being held in anti-union Charlotte, N.C., in early September. They want to flex their political muscle to send a message. But is anyone listening? Union leaders gathered Monday at the headquarters for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to voice their frustrations. There were a few salvos fired at the GOP. Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, complained about “tea baggers and Republican manipulators” casting unions in a bad light. But most of the concerns were expressed about Democratic allies. John Dougherty, Local 98’s business manager, said that labor has been in a “complacency coma.” (read article)

Louisiana teachers union threatens to sue private schools over voucher program
August 6, 2012, Fox News
A Louisiana teachers union is threatening private schools with legal action if they accept money from a new voucher program – and the threat has already forced at least one school to put its participation in the program on hold. The demand was sent a few weeks ago by law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators and several other interests, and it argues the state-approved program is illegal because participating schools would be receiving an unconstitutional payment of public funds. The two-page letter further states if schools don’t agree, then the law firm has “no alternative” than to take legal action. “Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary to prevent the unconstitutional transfer of public money,” wrote Brian Blackwell, of the firm Blackwell & Associates. (read article)

Louisiana teacher unions hurt themselves on voucher issue
By Dan Juneau, August 6, 2012, Daily World
During the recent legislative session, several important pieces of education-related legislation passed that created considerable controversy. Perhaps the most controversial was one that granted school vouchers. Giving parents and students tickets out of schools with poor track records at keeping students at or above grade level is not a new concept. Yet wherever attempts are made to create or expand voucher programs, one thing is certain: public education employee unions will fight them frenetically. In the unions’ way of thinking, nothing is wrong with condemning students to failing schools based upon the street address where they live. If the result of protecting the public school monopoly is denying children a proper education, then, according to the unions’ way of thinking, students are just collateral damage in the war for education union dominance. The Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers stridently opposed the voucher legislation in the 2012 legislative session. (read article)

Private-sector pension proposal sets off lobbying war in California
By Dan Walters, August 6, 2012, Fresno Bee
This is not the first time that state Sen. Kevin de León has proposed a state-sponsored pension system for the more than 6 million California workers whose employers don’t offer retirement benefits. But the Los Angeles Democrat’s latest effort, Senate Bill 1234, is only a couple of votes away from reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and it’s touched off a titanic lobbying war. “Expanding access to a workplace plan will alleviate the growing strain on our already overburdened safety net programs for California’s rapidly aging population,” de León wrote in a published opinion piece. That’s the public rationale. But there appears to be another motive for the full-court press this year. California is the key battleground in a nationwide, union-sponsored movement for such pension programs aimed, in part, at reducing what some call “pension envy” and thus demands for public employee pension reform. (read article)

Labor-backed proposal to repeal Michigan’s emergency manager law must be defeated
Editorial, August 5, 2012, Detroit News
The Michigan Supreme Court has properly ruled that a labor-backed proposal to repeal the state’s emergency manager law should be placed on the fall ballot. Now that it’s on the ballot, it must be defeated. It is a self-serving proposal designed to protect the interests of public employee union members at the expense of taxpayers. The High Court has ordered the state Board of Canvassers to certify the repeal for the ballot. Once that occurs, the emergency manager law, known as Act 4, will be suspended pending the fall election. The key objection labor unions have with Act 4 is that it allows emergency managers to re-open public employee union labor contracts if their pay and benefits can no longer be afforded by financially strapped cities or school districts. The unions have couched their objections in terms of wanting to protect local self-government and democracy, but that’s a smokescreen. They want to protect their pay and perks, even if a city or school district is dancing on the edge of bankruptcy. (read article)

The GAO tackles federal employee compensation
By Jason Richwine, August 3, 2012, Public Sector Inc.
Over the last few years, several organizations have published studies comparing federal and private-sector compensation. The GAO recently summarized six of the studies–not to draw its own conclusions, but to give lawmakers a sense of how the methodologies differ. I’m happy to report that my own study, coauthored for AEI with Andrew Biggs, was among the six that the GAO reviewed. The others were from Heritage (written by my colleague James Sherk), the Cato Institute, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the somewhat imposing-sounding “President’s Pay Agent,” which conducts the federal government’s official wage comparison each year. The Heritage Foundation has put together a nice table that summarizes the results of the five studies that controlled for worker skills and/or occupations when doing the comparisons. (read article)

Public employee unions across California have been doing all they can to block pension reform
Editorial, August 2, 2012, Fresno Bee
Public employee unions across California have been doing all they can to block reform of public pension systems that are financially unsustainable. The unions understand that taxpayers are rebelling against pension provisions that are unfair and too costly in today’s economic environment. Those opposing reform were dealt a huge blow in June when voters in San Diego and San Jose decided that they would make reforms that politicians refuse to make. The unions countered by going to court in an attempt to invalidate the will of the voters. But in San Diego, the taxpayers won the first round. A Superior Court judge on Tuesday refused to go along with the argument that the voter-approved reform should be put on hold until a state agency decides whether the measure is legal. San Diego’s Proposition B would replace public pensions with 401(k)-type plans for most new workers and would impose a five-year freeze on the pensionable pay of current workers. (read article)

Small Businesses And All California Voters Benefit From Prop 32
By John Kabateck, August 2, 2012, Fox & Hounds
This November, voters in California will have a cluttered ballot to comb through.  Once they get past the presidential race, they’re going to have to read and interpret eleven different ballot initiatives.  Tax increases, budget reform, death penalty, three strikes, and genetically-altered food are just a few of the complicated issues on the ballot. Proposition 32, in particular, deserves a close look and consideration from voters.  It would ban corporate and union contributions to state and local politicians, ban automatic payroll deductions for political spending by unions and corporations, and ban government contractors from giving to politicians overseeing their contracts. These three reforms take aim at one of the biggest problems facing California – special interest control of Sacramento and politicians across the state.  The overwhelming influence of public employee unions and big corporations has resulted in a political system that fails to deliver results for the rest of California. (read article)

Former leader of major California union faces theft, tax charges
By Paul Pringle and Richard Winton, August 1, 2012, Los Angeles Times
(read article – subscription required)

First Hurdle Cleared in Implementing Pension Reform in San Diego, But Big Ruling Still to Come
By Scott Shackford, August 1, 2012, Reason
Might we actually, really, actually, for real, (really, y’all) start seeing real pension reform catch on in California? You’ll all be sorry when there’s nobody left to tell you how to live your lives!A judge in San Diego decided today the city can go ahead and start implementing the reforms approved by voters in June through Proposition B. The proposition will put new city employees into 401(k) plans rather than pension funds and freezes the amount of pay used to determine pension levels for existing employees for five years. More Via the San Diego Union-Tribune: The state Public Employment Relations Board, along with employee unions, had asked for an injunction through at least October as the agency investigated a union complaint. Labor accuses Mayor Jerry Sanders of illegally circumventing state labor law by crafting Proposition B as a citizens’ initiative and then using the power and influence of his office to gather signatures on its behalf. (read article)

A victory for San Diegans’ constitutional rights
Editorial, August 1, 2012, UT San Diego
For now, there’s good news from the battlefront in the public employee unions’ war on San Diegans’ constitutional right to have a say on how their city operates. That’s our reaction to the ruling Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Luis R. Vargas denying the state Public Employment Relations Board a preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of Proposition B, the measure reforming benefits for city workers that passed in a voter landslide on June 5. Vargas noted that PERB’s challenge to the proposition would be duly considered in coming months and that it would not be “equitable” to city voters to block its implementation in the meantime. This is good news for taxpayers, thanks to strong work by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and his staff. On our pages and in court filings, Goldsmith has illustrated the ludicrousness of the union argument that the ballot initiative amounted to city leaders imposing changes on city workers without mandated labor negotiations. (read article)

Rhode Island Lawmakers Rake in $120K from Unions Since Voting Against
Pension Reform, Dan McGowan, August 01, 2012, GoLocalProv
Sixteen local lawmakers who voted against the state’s landmark pension reform bill have received more than $120,000 in campaign contributions from union political action committees (PACs) since last November, according to a GoLocalProv review of campaign finance reports. The 17th nay vote, Senator John Tassoni, is not running for re-election. Topping the list is State Senator Frank Ciccone, who has received $16,090 from union PACs since Governor Chafee signed the reform bill into law. Ciccone, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Labor committee, lost his position as chairman of the Senate Oversight committee and resigned from the Finance committee this spring after he allegedly attempted to intimidate Barrington police officers while they arrested Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio for driving under the influence. (read article)

California unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32
By Michael J. Mishak, July 31, 2012, Los Angeles Times
A coalition of California labor unions has raised nearly $10 million to fight Proposition 32, far outpacing the backers of the November ballot measure that promises to eliminate special-interest money in politics. While the measure would prohibit both unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates, labor leaders are more concerned about another provision in the initiative: banning the practice of political contribution by payroll deduction, the primary method unions use to raise political cash. Unions representing firefighters, police and teachers are digging deep to fund the “No” campaign, raising more than $7.6 million through June, according to records filed with the secretary of state’s office Tuesday. Since then, they have raised an additional $1.5 million. The labor coalition had $6.5 million cash on hand as of June 30, having spent more than $1.7 million this year on online ads, focus groups, polling and political consultants. If history is any indication, that kind of spending is only the beginning. In 2005, labor unions spent more than $44 million to defeat a similar initiative, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. (read article)

California Democratic Party takes ‘no’ stance on union dues measure
By Torey Van Oot, July 31, 2012, Sacramento Bee
The California Democratic Party formalized its position on Proposition 32, voting at a weekend executive board meeting to oppose the November initiative. The measure bans unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. It also bans direct campaign contributions by either interest group. Defeating the measure on the general election ballot is seen as the top priority for labor unions, which rely heavily on payroll-deducted member dues to build their campaign war chests, and their Democratic allies. “We have a real fight on our hands in California this year but Democrats are prepared to dig deep and work hard to win,” California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said in a statement. “If Prop 32 were to pass, it would effectively silence the voice of working families. (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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