Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Big Labor and Moody’s Pounce on Ruling Against Wisconsin Union Law
By Alex Newman, September 24, 2012, New American
Big Labor and Moody’s Pounce on Ruling Against Wisconsin Union Law After an activist judge in Wisconsin blocked parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-reform law reining in the power of government-employee unions, Moody’s said the decision would negatively affect the credit rating of local governments even as pro-Big Labor politicians in at least one county sprang into action to keep taxpayers on the hook for another year. State officials, however, are already working to undo the damage. On September 14, portions of the law, known as Act 10, were ruled “unconstitutional” by Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas — apparently known locally as “the left’s lefty” for, among other reasons, his zealous support of Big Labor. Political insiders in Wisconsin told The New American that the case may have even been specifically routed to Colas so the ruling would be essentially pre-determined. For now, the dubious decision keeps big parts of the law in limbo. However, if the decision ultimately stands, Moody’s Investors Service warned that it “would be a credit negative for Wisconsin (Aa2 stable) local governments because it would materially restrict their budgetary flexibility at a time when budgetary challenges show no signs of letting up.” (read article)

Unions contribute $3.48 million to anti-Proposition 32 campaign
By Jon Ortiz, September 24, 2012, Sacramento Bee
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contributed $1.5 million to defeat Proposition 32, part of $3.48 million given by labor unions and politicians within the last week. The campaign supporting the campaign finance-reform initiative raised about one-tenth over the same period. Records filed with the California Secretary of State’s Office show that the Teamsters, SEIU Local 1000 and the California Labor Federation has each donated $500,000 to fight the measure since Sept. 17. Two politicians up for re-election on the Nov.6 ballot also kicked in to the No on 32 campaign. San Francisco Democratic Sen. Mark Leno gave $10,000. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, gave $5,000. Controller John Chiang gave $10,000. Chiang is termed out of office in 2014, but has a campaign committee to run for state treasurer that same year. The donations pushed the No on 32 campaign’s collections to $40.1 million through Friday. (read article)

Unions try to protect turf by attacking kids, technology
By Wayne Hoffman, September 24, 2012, Idaho Press-Tribune
The education labor union has reached a new milestone in lowness, attempting to turn Idaho voters into Luddites and depict kids as klutzes in order to satisfy a selfish agenda. Witness its first ad against Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Says the ad: “Prop 3 replaces teachers with computers by requiring that taxpayers fund laptops for high school students.” Not true. The law requires schools start using technology, and that mobile computing devices — which covers more than laptops, by the way — be part of the regular curriculum. It does not replace teacher with computers, robots, androids or holograms. (read article)

Prop. 32: Striking fear in the hearts of California’s union bosses
By Katy Grimes, Sept. 24, 2012, CalWatchdog
California voters have plenty of reasons to push for serious political reform: a statewide foreclosure crisis, unfunded pension debt of more than half a trillion dollars, and cities filing for bankruptcy. But the many elephants filling the room are the labor unions and special interests manipulating politicians like a masterful ventriloquist. Just in the last 10 years, the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union, two of the most powerful and omnipresent labor unions, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and political contributions. But have no fear; voters have a chance this November to let their voices be heard. For many years politicians have sought political contributions from corporations and public employee, government unions, and then voted the way those special interests told them. With California laboring under record budget deficits, rampant public employee abuses, five-star public pensions and bad public employees that voters can’t get rid of, Proposition 32 is looking like a knight in shining armor. (read article)

Some labor unions question dividends of helping to elect Democrats
By Karoun Demirjian, September 24, 2012, Las Vegas Sun
For Nevada’s unions, election season is business time. There are phone banks to run. Voters to register. Doors to knock on. Over several cycles, the unions have become an indispensable factor in Nevada Democrats’ storied ground game. But while they used to work in the political trenches with confidence that the candidates they backed would deliver concrete dividends on the union platform, lately they’ve been working on credit and faith that for some, is starting to run a little low. “At this point in history, labor is taking a beating,” said Richard Miller, a Nevada delegate to the Democratic National Convention and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We are asking those Democrats who promised to do the work to step up and not to take us for granted. Step up.” When Democrats took over Washington, D.C., and Carson City, the unions presumed it was their moment to see their prize issues realized, from better collective bargaining rights for public sector workers to card check, which would allow workers to simply sign a card if they want to join a union versus conducting a secret-ballot election that could be a drawn-out affair. Instead, unions have watched their position backslide across the country. (read article)

Seeking Allies, Teachers Unions Court G.O.P., Too
By Motoko Rich, September 24, 2012, New York Times
The strike by public school teachers in Chicago this month drew national attention to a fierce debate over the future of education and exposed the ruptured relationship between teachers’ unions and Democrats like Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Over the past few years, even as Republicans have led efforts to thwart unions, lawmakers previously considered solid supporters of teachers’ unions have tangled with them over a national education agenda that includes new performance evaluations based partly on test scores, the overhaul of tenure and the expansion of charter schools. As these traditional political alliances have shifted, teachers’ unions have pursued some strange bedfellows among lawmakers who would not appear to be natural allies. (read article)

American Airlines vs. the Pilots Union: The Flying Public Loses
By Bill Saporito, September 24, 2012, Time Magazine
In August, American Airlines won a key victory in federal bankruptcy court over the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the union that represents its cockpit crews. Judge Sean Lane ruled that, under Section 1113 of the bankruptcy code, American could impose its own contract terms after the pilots rejected the company’s final offer. But the pilots, not a few of them ex-military, have shifted the battlefield from the courts to the tarmac — where they are in command. American has suffered from a jump in flight cancellations and delays because of an unusual increase in the number of maintenance write-ups — “Many right at the time of departure,” says an e-mail American sent to its frequent flyers — that have to be addressed before takeoff. Additionally, the rate of pilots’ calling in sick is up 20% over the same period last year, says the company. The APA denies there is any concerted effort by its members to cause a slowdown or stage an illegal sickout. (read article)

Illinois Paying 6-Figure Pension to Ex-Teachers Union Lobbyist
By Ray Long, September 23, 2012, Chicago Tribune
A former lobbyist for a powerful teachers union is reaping a $100,000-a-year state pension thanks to wide-ranging retirement legislation sponsored nearly six years ago by her former boss, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and his legislative allies. The 2007 law let Gail Purkey, who worked at two state jobs in the 1980s, receive a state pension based mostly on her long career and six-figure salary with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Tribune has found. (read article)

Public unions need to learn government doesn’t have infinite resources
By Tom Patterson, September 23, 2012, East Valley Tribune
In 1980 William Clay, the president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers union (PATCO) told their convention that they must “learn the rules of the game,” which were “that you don’t put the interest of any other group ahead of your own.” They must be “selfish and pragmatic” and emphasize that “what’s good for the federal employees (is) good for the nation.” PATCO ran into Ronald Reagan, a rare politician willing to stand up to them, and went out of business. But the nation’s air traffic controllers are still unionized and government employee unions are still operating under Mr. Clay’s rules of engagement. Their determination to put their own interests first mocks the notion of public servant. Instead of serving the public, they threaten our ability to fund anything other than their wishes. In an earlier America, government unions were recognized as incompatible with public welfare. FDR in 1937 rejected government unionism, pointing out that collective bargaining “cannot be transported into the public service” because of “the very nature and purposes of government.” Roosevelt wasn’t breaking new ground here; he was expressing views widely held by American leaders including the founder of modern progressivism, Woodrow Wilson, and the resolutely conservative Calvin Coolidge. (read article)

Teachers Union Continues Push Chicago School System Ever Closer to Bankruptcy
By Ben VanMetre, September 21, 2012, Illinois Policy Institute
The Chicago Public School system is broke. Its pension system is severely underfunded. Its reserves are empty. And the CTU continues push the system ever closer to bankruptcy. After a long time in the making, the CPS crisis has arrived. Mayor Emanuel had the chance to make things better. He had the chance to improve the fiscal footing of CPS. He had the chance to give students a better education. He had the chance to make Chicago a better city. He blew that chance. The mayor himself famously argued that “you never want a serious crisis to go wasted.” Unfortunately, he ignored his own advice. The opportunity for reform has come and gone. The strikes are over and the dust has settled. And now CPS is in worse shape than ever. This year the CPS found itself confronting a $665 million deficit. Its solution? Raid the entire reserves of more than $400 million. Coupled with other maneuvers, it looks like CPS may be able to scrape up enough cash to cover the shortfall. But the reserves are now empty, so that move cannot be repeated. (read article)

What happens if California’s Prop. 32 passes?
By Jon Ortiz, September 20, 2012, The Sacramento Bee
Imagine it’s Nov. 7, 2012. Yesterday, California voters approved Proposition 32, ending payroll- deducted funds for politics and eliminating union and corporate contributions directly to candidates. So now what? Here come the lawyers. Attorneys live to probe ballot measures for legal loopholes and constitutional conflicts. In this case, Proposition 32 bans “unions” and “corporations” from using payroll-deducted funds for “political purposes.” Government contractors also are banned from giving to candidates or their committees. But what do those words mean? What about non-corporate business entities, such as limited liability companies? What about contributions from Indian tribes? What’s a political purpose, anyway? Ultimately, the courts will decide. (read article)

Revenge of the Nurses: The Back Story of the California Public Employment Relations Board’s Radicalization
By Chris Reed, September 19, 2012, CalWatchdog
In 1999, California Democrats celebrated Gray Davis’ election as governor the previous fall by sending him a slew of legislation they knew that his Republican predecessor, Pete Wilson, would never have approved. Most notoriously, they won Davis’ signature on SB 400, the giveaway of a retroactive 50 percent increase in the pension formula for state employees, triggering copycat “pension spiking” measures at the local government level that are now yielding chaos up and down the Golden State. In 2011, California Democrats acted in similar fashion after Gov. Jerry Brown replaced Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But their most audacious power play of the year was barely noticed for many months. It involved the state Public Employment Relations Board, a quasi-judicial government agency that acts — or is supposed to act — as a de facto referee in disputes between governing bodies and unions over collective bargaining. (read article)

Public Employee Union Threatens to Sue City of Los Angeles Over Pension Plan
By Alice Walton, September 18, 2012, Southern California Public Radio
The union that represents City of Los Angeles employees is threatening to sue the city if it adopts a proposal to reduce retirement benefits for new civilian workers. The change in pension benefits could save the city as much as $4.3 billion over a 30-year period, according to a report released Tuesday. The plan reflects months of negotiations behind closed doors. Highlights include: The retirement age would increased from 55 to 65. Retirement benefits would be based on 75 percent of an employee’s final compensation, instead of 100 percent. Cost of living adjustments would be capped. Healthcare benefits for dependents would be eliminated. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana believes the benefits for new hires are not subject to bargaining with the unions. However, the president of SEIU Local 721 called the report “an end run around collective bargaining.” “The proposed ordinance is unsound and unlawful,” said Bob Schoonover. “If the city refuses to negotiate about the proposed changes to city worker pensions, we’ll take whatever action necessary to enforce our rights, even if it means going to court.” (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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