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.

Ex-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s pension-reform plan irks unions
By Rick Orlov, October 16, 2012, Daily News
Former Mayor Richard Riordan on Monday took the first steps toward reforming the city’s pension system, submitting a proposal for a 401(k)-style plan that is sure to trigger an emotional fight with city unions. Riordan and attorney David W. Fleming said millions of dollars will have to be raised to qualify and campaign for the ballot measure called the Bankruptcy Avoidance and Pension Protection Act. It will need signatures from more than 254,000 registered voters by Dec. 17 to qualify for the May 21, 2013 election. Fleming said their concern is that without substantive immediate change, the city could be facing bankruptcy in a few years. “What we’re looking at is the city paying $2 billion or $3 billion a year just for pensions,” said Fleming, a former chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. “That means every other level of service will be affected. I, for one, don’t want to have to wait a half-hour for an ambulance or a firetruck to arrive.” (read article)

Unions spread cash to liberal super PACs
By Dave Levinthal, October 16, 2012, Politico
The Citizens United decision gave corporations and unions new powers to spend money for political purposes, and organized labor is taking advantage of late. The United Auto Workers funneled more than $5.44 million this summer into its super PAC, the UAW Education Fund, a super PAC, new federal records show. In turn, the UAW Education Fund donated $2 million to Democratic-backing super PACs, including $1 million to the pro-Barack Obama Priorities USA Action, $700,000 to Majority PAC and $25,000 to House Majority PAC, the records indicate. The National Education Association handed the NEA Advocacy Fund super PAC $3.3 million during the year’s third quarter. The NEA Advocacy Fund then spent $3.36 million on the quarter for reasons that range from polling to advertisements to contributions to other political action committees and super PACs. It ended September with $3.2 million cash on hand. The Working for Working Americans super PAC raised nearly $3.5 million for the third quarter, with more than $1.17 million coming from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. It then directed $2 million to Majority PAC and $1 million to House Majority PAC. And the Service Employees International Union’s super PAC reports owing $5.1 million as of Sept. 30 to the SEIU general fund after it used the money to pay workers and run political canvassing operations that largely supported Obama and congressional Democrats or opposed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, federal filings show. (read article)

Longshore union faces the grain monopolies: Will labor solidarity prevail?
By Jack Heyman, October 16, 2012, The Oregonian
The Oregonian has reported that grain talks between the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are heating up. An “epic showdown” is looming because workers in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver won’t accept major concessions (“Port braces for new labor standoff,” Sept. 26). The contract expired Sept. 30 when the grain giants had threatened to lock out longshoremen and hire scabs. A port shutdown was averted only because the employers failed to file required legal paperwork in time, forcing an extension until Oct. 24, according to union sources. An editorial in The Oregonian (Oct. 3) charges the union with “temper tantrums” for defending contract rights. The International Business Times reports “Big grain companies reap profits as global food prices soar and poor go hungry” (Sept. 4, 2012). The world’s four largest grain companies — Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, known as the “ABCDs” — collectively control 75 to 90 percent of global grain trade and are raking in billions during a worldwide food crisis, the story says. (read article)

Voters blame politicians, not unions, for pension mess
By Rick Pearson, October 15, 2012, Chicago Tribune
Illinois voters overwhelmingly blame politicians for creating the state’s public employee pension mess, but like elected officials, they’re divided about plans to fix the problem, a new Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows. The survey also found that Downstate and suburban residents oppose a major push by Democrats including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn to gradually shift the costs of teacher retirement benefits on to local school districts outside Chicago. The issue of public employee pensions is a significant one for Illinois as well as for Chicago and the suburbs. The state has the largest unfunded pension liability in the nation, at least $83 billion. (read article)

Prop. 32 would curb union dominance in California
By Katy Grimes, October 15, 2012, CalWatchdog
Long ago it became evident that a passion for teaching in California schools was overshadowed by union membership. Far too many teachers became flag-waving union members, choosing union activism over student achievement. Proposition 32, the “Paycheck Protection” ballot initiative, would not only be a positive change for union employees,but  schools would also benefit because union dominance over the classroom would end. Prop. 32 would prohibit corporations and employee unions from making direct contributions to political campaigns. It would ban automatic payroll deductions by corporations and unions of employees’ wages to be used for politics.  And Prop. 32 would prohibit government contractors from contributing money to the politicians who will award contracts. Many people agree that payroll deductions for political purposes without the voluntary consent of the employee is unscrupulous and corrupt. But employees remain silent about this corruption in order to keep their jobs. The bottom line is that Prop. 32 would greatly diminish unions’ ability to take campaign funds from public employees through payroll deduction. The fuel feeding the California Democratic machine, through the paychecks of California workers, would be cut off. (read article)

Orange County firefighters say grand jury report is ‘uneducated,’ ‘vindictive’
By Teri Sforza, October 15, 2012, Orange County Register
So we told you that the Orange County grand jury slapped firefighting around a bit this summer: In addition to taking the Orange County Fire Authority to task for what it called steep pay hikes  that haven’t necessarily adhered to the law of supply and demand, it found that fewer than 2 percent of emergency calls involve fires these days – but that fire departments still behave as if it’s 1955 and staff accordingly nonetheless. We brought you OCFA’s official, legally required response (Big pay jumps are history, Fire Authority says). But that was from the folks who run OCFA;  firefighters have taken it upon themselves to respond to the grand jury report separately. “Although we applaud OC citizens volunteering their time to better our community and over see local government,” firefighter association President Joe Kerr told us by email, the association “takes a dim view on the uneducated and vindictive manner those in the Grand Jury conducted their one sided investigation.” The grand jury “is no place to advance political ideology and foment bad public relations for hard working first responders merely for the sake of personal satisfaction,” he wrote. The grand jurors would disagree, and say that there was no malice in their effort: They just try to shine light into the dimmer corners of local government machinations. (read article)

Massachusetts Union leaders huddle on Senate race strategy
By Maria Cramer, October 14, 2012, Boston Globe
With the election 25 days away, Mayor Thomas M. Menino huddled in Dorchester with more than a dozen of the city’s building and trades union leaders Saturday to figure out how to persuade voters — including many in organized labor — to cast their ballot for Elizabeth Warren for US Senate. Martin F. Walsh, business manager of Laborers Local 223, said he has talked to union members such as teachers, police officers, and electricians who insist on voting for the Republican incumbent, Scott Brown. Walsh’s cousin, state Representative Martin J. Walsh — both men were named after their grandfather — said in an interview after the meeting that there is a misperception that the rank and file vote in lockstep when unions announce support for a candidate. “Our unions are made up of the average voter on the street and we have to go out and explain to them and market Elizabeth Warren, or any other candidate,” said Representative Walsh, who is also general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. “Our workers have their own views.” In 2010, after Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election, a poll found that 49 percent of union voters chose the Republican. In September, 46 percent of 132 union members said they supported Brown while 41 percent supported Warren, according to a Suffolk University/WHDH Channel 7 poll. Menino called the meeting on Thursday, marking the first time in recent memory that union leaders gathered with the city’s mayor to discuss campaign strategy. The gathering underscored the urgency many of them feel about the outcome of the tight Senate race between Warren and Brown. (read article)

Ballot Watch: Limiting paycheck deductions
By Jon Ortiz, October 14, 2012, Sacramento Bee
Proposition 32 is the third attempt via a ballot initiative to curb political spending funded with payroll-deducted money. Neither of those earlier measures included limits on business interests, however, and voters rejected both after labor unions spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat them. Proposition 32’s authors added business interests, specifically corporations, to the union interests that would be banned from spending payroll-deducted funds on political activities. One of the supporters, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, acknowledged the language was added to make it more tempting for voters in California, generally considered a union-friendly state. Proponents argue that the measure will help cleanse state and local governments polluted with special interest money. Opponents, particularly labor unions, contend the measure appears to be balanced to hide its intent to weaken union participation in government while leaving business interests virtually untouched. (read article)

Best Political Battle of 2012: Jim Righeimer vs. Public-Employee Unions
Editors, October 2012, Orange County Weekly
For decades, Jim Righeimer has made no secret of his desire to strip public-employee unions of their political power, reduce pay and benefits for government employees, and privatize certain public services. The Costa Mesa city councilman’s goals make him Public Enemy No. 1 for union bosses, who’ve made considerable efforts to slam him and his allies as callous buffoons. The war got really despicable in August when a private investigator tied to a law firm that has worked for the Costa Mesa police officers’ union tailed the Republican councilman from a bar, called 911 to report a drunk driver and got cops to haul Righeimer from his home for a breathalyzer test. He passed. He had ordered two Diet Cokes at the bar and had the receipt to prove it. (read article)

Unions dominate California ballot propositions
By Brian Calle, October 14, 2012, Orange County Register
Unions representing public workers in California have remarkable success achieving their desired outcomes for California ballot propositions—call it success by defeat. In some instances unions have outspent adversaries in California’s initiative process 8 to 1. This may come as no shock for those of us who live in the Golden State especially considering the well-entrenched power of unions here, but the rate of success unions have had in the initiative process is not only surprising, but staggering. Reviewing more than 30 years of data, a new study conducted by Daniel DiSalvo for the Manhattan Institute found that since 1980, public employee unions have been successful in defeating 75 percent of the ballot initiatives they opposed and have won in 50 percent of the initiatives they supported. That means unions possess an uncanny record when it comes to playing defense, “using initiative campaigns to block proposals that threaten their interests.” And when on offense they get what they want half of the time, a record that would make any special interest group in the country envious. The Manhattan Institute study release is well timed as public employee unions in California have invested heavily in the passage of Prop 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s initiative that would increase the state’s sales tax and also the state income tax for some earners. Conversely, unions are actively opposing Prop 32, which would stop unions and corporations from making direct contributions to legislators and change the way they would collect money for political spending. (read article)

Prop. 32’s impact on unions debated in San Diego
By Christopher Cadelago, October 13, 2012, UT San Diego
Advocates for against Proposition 32 — a ballot initiative to ban payroll-deducted moneys for political activities — clashed Friday over whether the measure would disproportionately impact labor unions in California. In a debate on U-T TV, labor leader Lorena Gonzalez and businessman John Cox matched verbal jabs on one of the most hotly contested and closely watched initiatives on the Nov. 6 ballot. The sparring between the two was even testier off camera during commercial breaks. Proposition 32 would prohibit payroll deductions from being used for political purposes. That practice is far more common among unions than it is for private-sector companies that raise a majority of their political contributions via executives and corporate treasuries. It also would ban unions and corporations from giving directly to political candidates, bar them from donating to candidate-controlled committees and prevent government contractors from donating to elected officials responsible for awarding the contract. (read article)

When unions lose, it’s not always ‘game over’
By Jon Ortiz, October 11, 2012, Sacramento Bee
California unions are fighting for their life to defeat a Nov. 6 ballot measure that would choke off their political cash, but in other states where labor has lost similar fights, they haven’t just rolled over and died. Whether through litigation, legislation, ingenuity or some combination of the three, unions elsewhere have adjusted. “As a general rule, the campaign finance environment is very dynamic,” said Ken Mayer, a University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor who studies campaign finance. “Affected groups don’t just sit there and say, ‘Game over.’ They always adapt and continue exercising influence.” (read article)

Could Fresno Have a Super-Cop Union With Consolidation of City and County Public Safety?
By Jim Boren, October 10, 2012, Fresno Bee
Unions representing Fresno police officers and Fresno County sheriff’s deputies have been skeptical of efforts to consolidate public safety services in the Fresno metropolitan area. That hasn’t changed with the latest move by the Fresno City Council to hire a consultant to do a cost-benefit analysis of consolidation. But the unions may be looking at this all wrong. Imagine how powerful a combined police/sheriff union would be if the forces were actually merged into a single law enforcement agency. This super-cop union would be even stronger than the separate Fresno Police Officers Association and Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association. FPOA leader Jacky Parks says he’s worried that the union’s bargaining rights wouldn’t be respected in the consolidation move. I’m not so sure. A super-cop union would have elected officials terrified, and they’d likely give in to many  contract demands. (read article)

Democrats Rely on Labor Warchest to Blunt Republican Cash
By Alison Fitzgerald and Julie Bykowicz, October 10, 2012, Bloomberg
Even as Democrats complain they’re being outspent by new Republican-friendly outside groups, they are relying on their own longtime financial powerhouse: organized labor. Led by the Service Employees International Union, labor groups have spent more than $188.5 million in the last 18 months, through Oct. 1, on television and radio advertising, donations to candidates, contributions to political action committees and other election-related items, a Bloomberg Government review of U.S. Federal Election Commission records shows. The union tally doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of paid union members and volunteers who have fanned out across battleground states like Ohio to urge people to vote for President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates. “What the unions do works and it matters. They have significant troops, an enormous amount of money and a sustained presence in politics,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, an outside group that says it plans to spend at least $125 million to back Republican nominee Mitt Romney and other Republicans this year. (read article)

Unions Target Ohio Voters on Obama’s Behalf
By Henry J. Reske, October 10, 2012, NewsMax
Big labor is using new freedoms granted by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision to reach out to a million new voters in Ohio. The ruling, best known for freeing up corporate cash, also allowed labor unions to target all voters not just union members. In the crucial swing state of Ohio the AFL-CIO will contact about 2 million voters in the last month of the election, nearly double the number they reached in 2008, The Washington Post reported. The union is fresh off its victory in decisively turning back a law supported by the GOP that would have limited collective bargaining rights for public employees such as police, firefighters, and teachers. “We had nine months last year to educate,” Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga told the Post. “It really opened some eyes in the state of Ohio — not just inside of labor but with the general public — about what’s happened to the Republican Party, that it’s been taken over by extremists.” (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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