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.

Prop. 32 not unions’ only worry
By Bob Egelko, October 22, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle
Proposition 32, which would cripple labor unions politically in California by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted dues money for campaigns and lobbying, is trailing in the polls. But even if it loses, the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled that it intends to take a step in the same direction. Court action, which could come in the next year, wouldn’t go as far as Prop. 32’s virtual elimination of political funding by unions. But it would still be a significant blow to organized labor. The Nov. 6 ballot measure would forbid any political use of a union’s bread-and-butter resource: the money deducted from employee paychecks for annual dues assessments. Union members aren’t the sole source of those funds. In workplaces where unions have negotiated “agency shop” agreements to represent all employees, nonmembers must also pay dues to cover the costs of representing them. (read article)

California Union Members Demand Transparency from Union Bosses
Bronson Stocking, October 22, 2012, Heritage.org
Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have launched a protest against their own union in California over waste and corruption. They rallied outside SEIU headquarters last week and plan to be in Sacramento on Wednesday. The protestors are calling for transparency, accountability, and audits of the 2 million member labor union. The group’s website is urging members to hold their representatives accountable: “It is our members that see the waste every day; it is our members that can call it out to the union representatives in their area.” At the rally last week, SEIU officials asked the gathering protesters, “How much are they paying you?” The protestors replied that they were participating on their own time. SEIU reacted to the protest outside its offices by closing the doors and videotaping the dissenting members, according to the protesters. The group’s website describes the purpose of videotaping dissenting members as an effort to identify members to add to a “blacklist.” (read article)

In Mass. Senate race, a battle for union votes
By Steve LeBlanc, October 22, 2012, Associated Press
Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren are honing their campaign pitches to union workers as they scrap for every vote in Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate race. While Warren has the backing of the AFL-CIO and has appeared with union activists on the campaign trail, Brown is courting rank-and-file workers and scooping up his own endorsements, many from police organizations. Brown is facing more than just a battle of endorsements, however. The AFL-CIO’s support of Warren brings with it a small army of campaign workers and financial support. The group has already helped flood voter mailboxes with fliers promoting Warren’s candidacy. Warren has been aggressive about courting union votes. Last month, she accepted the backing of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts outside a fire station in the city’s South Boston neighborhood. ‘‘I know that if anything goes wrong, the firefighters of the commonwealth of Massachusetts have my back,’’ she said. ‘‘I guarantee you if I go to Washington, I’ll have their back.’’ Brown also has reason to hope his message to union workers is resonating. (read article)

Alabama unions help Obama-Biden ticket in battleground states
By Dana Beyerle, October 22, 2012, Gasden Times
With Alabama almost assuredly in the red column on Nov. 6 for the Mitt Romney-Patrick Ryan Republican ticket, Alabama unions are in other key states to help re-elect Democratic President Barack Obama. Alabama AFL-CIO President Al Henley said Monday that many labor union officials are working for the Obama re-election effort in Southeast states that he won in 2008 but that now are too close to call. West Alabama Labor Council President James Crowder of Tuscaloosa and union rapid response political team member Shane Mitchell of Gadsden are two of them. Unions represent about 10 percent of Alabama’s workforce, the most in the Southeast. (read article)

Yes on Prop. 32: Labor bosses’ clout hurts voters
By T.J. Zane, October 21, 2012, UT San Diego
It was once said, “Money in politics is like air in a balloon: Any time you compress it one place it’s going to pop out somewhere else.” Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of truth to this political adage and sayings similar to it are frequently used as reasons not to vote for any reforms. So when Californians are inundated with government employee union-funded TV and radio ads that claim Proposition 32 isn’t really what it seems because it would exempt corporations and businesses from the very reforms the initiative espouses, voters are inclined to believe the claims. The truth, however, is that Prop. 32 – the Stop Special Interest Money Initiative – does exactly what the official ballot summary provided by the Secretary of State says it does: “Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees.” (read article)

To cut California’s prison budget, start with perks for guards
By Arthur B. Laffer, October 21, 2012, Sacramento Bee
California’s voters will soon consider two ballot initiatives that aim to reduce the state’s unsustainable spending on prisons. The cost of jail is punishing – and not just for the prisoners. Incarcerating an inmate runs an average of $47,000 a year. That figure certainly is not chump change, but the folks behind bars are not the reason that the finances for California’s prison system are falling apart. Rather, the state’s unionized prison guards – specifically, their excessively generous pay and benefits – are to blame. Reforming the Golden State’s broke – and broken – correctional system should start by taking on the prison guards. The crisis in California’s prisons was cast into stark relief last year when the U.S. Supreme Court found that the state was violating the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The high court ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners or find another way to ease overcrowding in order to prevent “needless suffering and death.” It’s not as if the prison system lacks sufficient funds. (read article)

Labor tries new tactic after setbacks in Michigan
By John Flesher, October 20, 2012, Associated Press
It’s hardly a return to the Depression era, when company guards roughed up labor organizers at auto plants.  But times are tough for unions in the Rust Belt, even in a longtime bastion like Michigan. Here, emergency managers have been given the power to throw out union contracts in financially struggling cities.  Neighboring Wisconsin has stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights and Indiana has approved “right-to-work” legislation. Now, after a series of setbacks at the hands of Republican governors and legislatures, labor is attempting a bold gambit in hopes of regaining some momentum: a first-of-its-kind ballot initiative in the Nov. 6 election that would put collective bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution — and out of lawmakers’ reach. If successful, the strategy could serve as a model for other states, encouraging unions to bypass hostile officeholders and take their case directly to the voters. Twenty-one states allow citizens to vote on proposed laws and 18 permit their constitutions to be amended through referendums. Although four other states guaranteed bargaining rights in their constitutions decades ago, none did so through a statewide ballot initiative. The initiative route has been used successfully by other interest groups for everything from banning gay marriage and affirmative action to guaranteeing hunting rights. (read article)

Laws similar to Prop. 32 have had mixed results in other states
By Michael J. Mishak, October 20, 2012, Los Angeles Times
The wealthy conservatives behind a November ballot measure that would constrain organized labor’s ability to raise political money say their initiative, Proposition 32, would help change the balance of power in California’s Democrat-dominated Capitol. But the experiences of some states that have passed similar measures suggest that’s not always the case. Union opponents have scored their biggest victories in “right-to-work” states, where labor is typically weaker than in California because workers are not required to become members or pay union fees. In states where unions are highly influential — especially teachers unions, whose large memberships make them political powerhouses — labor has used legal challenges, accounting shifts and loopholes to circumvent restrictions. In Washington state, a legal battle involving its largest teachers union lasted the better part of a decade, ending in the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time the justices upheld a law clamping labor unions’ political fundraising, state lawmakers had passed labor-backed bills that undercut it. (read article)

Unions shift political might to state, local races
By Sam Hananel, October 20, 2012, Associated Press
Unions are shifting more of their political resources to state and local races this year as they try to head off passage of laws that could undermine bargaining rights, make it harder to organize or reduce their political muscle. Labor leaders say their top goal remains re-electing President Barack Obama, but several unions are redirecting their focus from the presidential and congressional campaigns to state and local races in dozens of states where they feel threatened. In New Hampshire, unions want to keep the governor’s seat in Democratic hands to prevent a right-to-work measure. In Maine and Minnesota, labor leaders hope to overturn Republican majorities in state legislatures. And in Michigan, unions are trying to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. (read article)

Trade, labor groups spending big to defeat Costa Mesa charter
By Mike Reicher, October 18, 2012, Orange County Register
Construction industry trade groups and labor unions are spending aggressively against Costa Mesa’s Measure V, the city charter initiative that could severely limit labor unions’ influence. The most money so far has come from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a Sacramento-based organization representing trade unions and major companies in the construction industry. It has contributed $100,000 this year to fight the measure, according to city campaign finance filings. Including money from labor and grassroots groups, Measure V opponents have raised at least $170,000 this year, about eight times the amount of the pro-V parties. Supporters had raised about $22,000 through Sept. 30, the most recent period for which records are available. The next largest donor against the measure is the Orange County Employees Association, which represents more than 100 Costa Mesa employees. When the City Council launched its plan to privatize city services, the OCEA members’ jobs were threatened and the union sued. Various groups under the OCEA umbrella have contributed about $33,000 this year. (read article)

Shadowy Arizona group inserts itself into California campaigns
By Steven Harmon, October 18, 2012, San Jose Mercury
A shadowy Arizona group has inserted itself into California politics by pouring $11 million into a campaign fighting Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike initiative and backing a measure to strip unions of their ability to collect dues for political purposes. The Americans for Responsible Leadership donated the money to the Small Business Action Committee, a California group that has been waging simultaneous TV and radio wars against Proposition 30 and for Proposition 32. The former raises taxes on sales and the wealthy; the latter curbs labor’s ability to use members’ dues for campaigns. But if anyone wants to know who’s behind the Arizona group, they won’t get that chance, even in a state with the most rigorous campaign disclosure laws in the nation. Its donors don’t have to be disclosed because it was formed under the IRS code 501(c) 4, designed for nonprofit groups operating as social welfare organizations. But the code has a loophole that allows the groups to participate in politics. The development sent shock waves through two campaigns — the labor-backed No on Proposition 32 and Brown’s Proposition 30. “It’s really a frightening reminder that an anonymous donor can just put up any amount of money to influence elections, and you never know who these people are, what motives they have,” said Ace Smith, campaign manager for Proposition 30. “I take this seriously.” It’s easily one of the largest single donations in this year’s statewide ballot measure campaigns. (read article)

California public unions face choices in two-front ballot war
By Jon Ortiz, October 18, 2012, Sacramento Bee
If he had just one vote on Nov. 6, the president of the California Federation of Teachers wouldn’t use it on Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike for schools. Forced to choose, Joshua Pechthalt would vote against a measure two slots down on the ballot that changes the state’s political campaign financing laws. “Defeating Prop. 32 is the priority,” Pechthalt said on Wednesday. Of course, Californians don’t have to pick. But Pechthalt’s answer reveals how public-employee union leaders view the unwelcome two-front political war in which they find themselves. Unions would prefer to focus on passing Proposition 30, which hikes the state sales tax and income taxes on California’s highest earners. If it fails, schools face about $5.4 billion in cuts. Public employee jobs and pay would fall under the ax. Pechthalt says Brown’s proposal is “the anti-Prop. 13,” referring to the landmark 1978 initiative that ushered in a national anti-tax movement that still reverberates today. (read article)

Campaign watchdogs say Arizona group’s $11 million donation exploits loophole in California law
By Kevin Yamamura, October 18, 2012, Sacramento Bee
In California’s ever-expensive ballot wars, voters typically know who funds advertisements that hold great sway with the electorate. But that may be changing. An Arizona-based nonprofit named Americans for Responsible Leadership gave $11 million this week to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative and curb unions’ political power without saying where a single dime originated. Campaign watchdogs say such donations exploit a loophole in California campaign finance law. Nonprofits can shield donors as long as money was never earmarked, with the burden of proof falling on state regulators already deluged with work. “It is vitally important information for the public,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who formerly worked at the watchdog group Center for Governmental Studies. “The identity of a speaker allows the public to evaluate the credibility of the claims that are made by using this money.” Political consultants said Wednesday the $11 million donation is probably the largest sum given in a statewide contest without a known source. Last month, Iowa-based American Future Fund gave $4 million for ads backing Proposition 32 without disclosing its donors. (read article)

Prop. 32’s real purpose is to cripple labor unions politically
By George Skelton, October 17, 2012, Los Angeles Times
Proposition 32 is stark proof that often you can tell a ballot initiative by its cover. Its promoters call their measure “The Stop Special Interest Money Now Act.” To pilfer an old Lily Tomlin line: No matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up. Any ballot measure with a handle like that has to be automatically suspect. Even a cursory look at Prop. 32 shows that it’s about a covey of special interests from the right attacking a rival interest on the left, organized labor. If backers had turned their initiative into an honest debate about curtailing labor muscle — specifically the influence of public employee unions — they would have deserved more serious consideration. But by deciding to phony it up — crafting what they perceived to be the best marketing pitch based on public opinion surveys — they’ve created a laugher and an insult to the voters’ intelligence. Promising to stop special-interest money is akin to pledging to halt the Santa Ana winds. Let’s put it this way: Prop. 32 would prohibit unions and corporations from contributing money to political candidates. OK, that has been the law in congressional campaigns for many decades. Is there anyone who believes that special-interest money does not influence Washington? There is no complete cure in a democracy for special-interest influence. Nor should there be. (read article)

California battle over union clout draws big money
By Chris Megerian, October 17, 2012, Los Angeles Times
California’s powerful unions are backing Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign for tax hikes, but their first priority this year is defeating Proposition 32, which would limit labor’s political clout. The ballot measure would prevent unions from using paycheck deductions for political campaigns, and they have given about $54 million to defeat it. The full story ran in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times. Labor leaders view the fight as the latest round in a nationwide effort to curb their influence, and more than 9% of their campaign donations come from various union headquarters in Washington, D.C. That includes $700,000 from the International Assn. of Fire Fighters. Harold Schaitberger, the firefighter group’s general president, said anti-union activists could gain momentum if the measure passes in California. “It’s a direct attack on the ability of workers to have a place at the table,” he said. “We’re coming to the game with everything we have.” Proposition 32 supporters said the measure will crack down on the influence of special interests in Sacramento. “Unions are going to do, say and spend anything to protect the status quo,” said Jake Suski, a spokesman for the campaign. (read article)

Costa Mesa to appeal ruling in outsourcing suit to California Supreme Court
By Mike Reicher, October 17, 2012, Orange County Register
Keeping alive one path toward privatizing city services, the Costa Mesa City Council voted Tuesday to appeal a lower-court ruling against outsourcing to the state Supreme Court. The vote was 4 to 1, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting. Since it moved to privatize city jobs in 2011, the council has been in a bitter lawsuit with its employees union. The trial is pending, and a court injunction has prevented the city from outsourcing to the private sector until then. Meanwhile, the council drafted a city charter that would give it the flexibility to outsource. If it is approved by voters in November, that charter could essentially make the trial’s outcome moot, officials said. The vote during closed session Tuesday to appeal the court ruling is part of the backup plan, officials said. Council members have said their ultimate goal is to save money by outsourcing services such as street sweeping and park maintenance. The city has spent more than $1 million defending the lawsuit. Councilman Jim Righeimer, after the council meeting, said other cities urged the city to appeal. Other municipalities’ outsourcing could be jeopardized if the August state Court of Appeal ruling stands and becomes case law, he said. (read article)

Minorities View Labor Unions More Favorably
By Rosa Ramirez, October 16, 2012, National Journal
For many years, labor unions paved the road to middle-class living for many American families, and a new survey finds that minorities still hold in high esteem the institutions that helped to raise minimum wage and obtain overtime pay for blue-collar workers. Apollo Group/National Journal Next America polling shows that 73 percent of African-Americans regard unions either “very favorably” or “mostly favorably,” followed by 54 percent of Latinos and 47 percent of whites. The findings underscore the role that labor unions play in the lives of blacks and Latinos workers, and how many people have historically looked to unions to help with pay increases. Nationally, compared with whites on similar jobs, Latinos and blacks earn an estimated 74 cents and 66 cents to the dollar, respectively. As an example, collective bargaining increases Latino workers’ earnings collectively by as much as 43 percent, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at a recent event on the Latino workforce. (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. As former Democratic Senator Gloria Romero reminded me recently, unions effectively run the state capitol and legislature but this new Manhattan Institute study illustrates how unions have great influence over the state’s electorate. (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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