Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Recent reports on union activity from around the web through Oct. 19, 2010:

County Caves to Union Threat

By Troy Anderson, Daily News, October 19th, 2010

Despite learning Tuesday that Los Angeles County faces a $26 billion tab over coming decades to cover pension and retiree health care costs, the Board of Supervisors delayed pursuing reforms to the retirement system after unions threatened legal action. The supervisors were preparing to consider a series of reforms that included raising the county’s minimum retirement age and asking employees to contribute more to their plans. But unions hinted at legal action to stop the reforms and said the political process would be more difficult than the supervisors expected. “You might want to check with your counsel on your legal position in voting on this motion because, in our view, it’s an unfair labor practice,” said Blaine Meek, chairman of the Coalition of County Unions. “Second, you have many hurdles to go through in getting pension reform. It’s not just about negotiating with the unions. You have to get legislation passed…” (read article)

Spending in Capo school board race hits $184,573

By Scott Martindale, Orange County Register, October 19th, 2010

The major financial backers of Capistrano Unified’s hotly contested school board race have spent $184,573 so far this year to support dueling slates of candidates in the Nov. 2 election, with spending to benefit challengers outpacing spending on incumbents by more than 16 to 1. Capistrano Unified Children First and its ally, the district’s teachers union, spent a combined $173,821 through Sept. 30 to back five challengers, with the lion’s share – $120,605 – coming from the union. The major financial backers of Capistrano Unified’s contentious school board race have already spent $184,573 on the campaigns of two dueling slates of candidates. Capistrano Unified school board candidates John Alpay and Martha McNicholas are not endorsed by the district’s teachers union. Alpay is the only challenger running in the district’s recall election, which is endorsed by the teachers union. This information was not clear when this article was initially published online. By comparison, the Committee to Reform CUSD spent $10,752 to support the five sitting trustees, two of whom are facing a recall… (read article)

Washington State’s Union Tax

Editorial, Wall Street Journal, October 19th, 2010

In Washington state, the fight over a proposed new income tax has been cast as a battle of the billionaires. In this narrative, the struggle is between wealthy people who believe in paying their fair share of taxes—and other wealthy people who do not. Now, it’s true that one of the world’s richest men, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, supports the ballot initiative proposing this new tax (I-1098), and that his father has donated to the cause. It’s also true that Microsoft’s other co-founder, Paul Allen, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos have contributed to the other side. Yet while it all makes for good copy, the battle of the billionaires is a misnomer. Far from a civil war among the rich, the push for I-1098 is being led and financed by unions. In a day when organized labor claims more members in government than in the private sector, it’s not surprising to learn that public-employee unions are front and center… (read article)

Will November be the death knell for big labor unions?

By Mark Hemingway, Washington Examiner, October 17, 2010

Mark your calendars. Next month we might be able to pinpoint the day that big labor unions begin their decline to political irrelevancy. And no, we’re not talking about Election Day, though big Republican victories will undoubtedly help usher unions off the political stage. On Nov. 1, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) ceases to take public comment on a new rule requiring that companies more accurately report liabilities they have from participation in multi-employer pension plans. Unless FASB is persuaded otherwise, the rule takes effect Dec. 15. There are some 1,500 multiemployer pension plans in the United States, which are unique to unions. In these plans… (read article)

New Post poll finds negativity toward federal workers

By Lisa Rein and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post, October 18, 2010

More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do, and more than a third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector, according to a Washington Post poll. Half also say the men and women who keep the government running do not work as hard as employees at private companies… (read article)

Liberalism and Public Works

Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2010

Chris Christie sure has a knack. The New Jersey Governor keeps shocking the political class on behalf of taxpayers, most recently by terminating work on a new passenger-train tunnel that was supposed to run under the Hudson River into Manhattan. Mr. Christie lowered the boom last week, citing cost overruns from a federal audit that had revised the tunnel price to as much as $14 billion, up from $8.7 billion only two years ago. “The only prudent move is to end this project,” he said. “I can’t put taxpayers on a never-ending hook…” (read article)

Public Unions Step Up Spending

By Danny Yadron & John D. McKinnon,The Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2010

Public-sector unions have remained a bulwark for Democrats this fall while other left-leaning donors have kept their wallets shut, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Election Commission data. Unions have long bankrolled Democratic campaigns, but some of the biggest public unions are spending more this fall than they did during the prior midterm-campaign cycle in 2006… (read article)

The Pension Pinch: Public-Sector Unions Grapple With Rhetoric and Rollbacks

By Akito Yoshikane, In These Times, October 14, 2010

The same old problem: Members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) protest congressional proposals to cut federal employee pension and health benefits in May 1995, at the U.S. Capitol. Some of the nation’s largest municipalities face huge pension shortfalls that could hinder local and state governments’ ability to operate, according to a new study. Around the country, unions are facing mounting pressure to accept benefit rollbacks—and many already have. “The Crisis in Local Government Pensions in the United States,” released Tuesday by Northwestern University, says that cities and counties across the country are liable for $574 billion in pension plans in addition to an estimated $3 trillion in unfunded state pensions. The grim result: U.S. households owe on average $15,000 each to former and current municipal workers… (read article)

The Political Rumble Over Public Pension Costs

By Ben Elgin, Chad Terhune, Christopher Palmeri and Dunstan McNichol, Business Week, October 13, 2010

If anyone fits the profile of a San Francisco Democrat, it’s Jeff Adachi. In 2004 the elected public defender volunteered to officiate at ceremonies of same-sex couples during the city’s short-lived attempt to legalize gay marriage. This year, though he is running unopposed, he is drawing scorn from fellow Democrats for spearheading a ballot proposition that would force city workers to pay more of their growing pension and health-care costs. “How dare you take it off the backs of city workers,” Leland Yee, a Democratic state senator from San Francisco, thundered into a microphone at an Oct. 5 protest rally. Taxpayers face as much as $3 trillion in unfunded state workers’ retirement liabilities… (read article)

Overpaid Public Employees: ‘The Democratic Party’s Epic Failure’

By Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, Oct 12, 2010

David Brooks calls high public sector wages “the Democratic Party’s epic failure,” the same day the Washington Post reports on a tsunami in municipal pensions. It’s time to debate public sector retirement packages again! I’ve hosted, and commented on, the ongoing debate about compensation for federal and state employees here and here. The argument tends to go like this. One side says, correctly, that public sector workers on average receive slightly higher wages and much higher retirement promises than private sector workers. The other side says, correctly, that public sector workers tend to hold more degrees than the average private sector workers, which explains almost the entire difference. But there are two debates living in this argument… (read article)

Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.com, 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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