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Union Watch Highlights

Wisconsin property tax bills fall as Scott Walker’s reforms start to kick in
Editorial, April 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal
The public employee unions and other liberals are confident that Wisconsin voters will turn out Governor Scott Walker in a recall election later this year, but not so fast. That may turn out to be as wrong as some of their other predictions as Badger State taxpayers start to see tangible benefits from Mr. Walker’s reforms—such as the first decline in statewide property taxes in a dozen years. On Monday Mr. Walker’s office released new data that show the property tax bill for the median home fell by 0.4% in 2011, as reported by Wisconsin’s municipalities. Property taxes, which are the state’s largest revenue source and mainly fund K-12 schools, have risen every year since 1998—by 43% overall. The state budget office estimates that the typical homeowner’s bill would be some $700 higher without Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining overhaul and budget cuts. (read article)

June elections will determine whether state and local governments are responsive to the taxpayers or to the unions
By Roger Hedgecock, April 17, 2012, San Diego Union-Tribune
For decades, public employee unions in state and local government negotiated with the politicians they helped elect to add layer after layer of compensation, benefits and perks. As a result, today the potholes don’t get fixed, the library hours are curtailed, the parks are closed, but the gold-plated pension and health benefits of our “public servants” get more costly every year. The state of Illinois spends 20 percent of its annual budget in addition to the earnings of its state employee retirement system just to keep up with employee retirement benefit costs. In a few years, Illinois estimates that percentage will increase to 50 percent of state revenue. The city of San Diego paid just $48 million in pension contribution in 2000. Last year it was $231 million. In five years, it will be $340 million, or nearly 20 percent of the city budget. This same trend afflicts every state and municipality in the country. (read article)

Court Strikes Down Union-Posting Rule
By Melanie Trottman, April 16, 2012, Wall Street Journal
A federal court struck down a National Labor Relations Board rule that would require employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union, a victory for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its South Carolina arm. A federal judge for the U.S. district court in Charleston, S.C., said the board lacks congressional authority to issue the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on April 30. “As such, the rule is unlawful,” Judge David Norton said in his decision issued Friday, which granted a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The decision contradicted a ruling issued last month by the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. That court upheld the notice-posting rule but struck down two provisions in it that would have been used to punish companies that don’t comply. The NLRB had no comment on the decision Monday morning. A spokeswoman said late Friday the board was still reviewing the ruling. It’s unclear how the NLRB will proceed with the rule, which has been expected to apply to most private-sector companies in the U.S. (read article)

Cal State faculty ponder strike after fruitless labor negotiations
By Christina Hoag, Apr 16, 2012, BakersfieldNow.com
Some 24,000 California State University employees are beginning a two-weeklong vote on whether to authorize their union to declare a strike after 22 months of negotiations failed to yield a new contract. Members of the California Faculty Association, which represents professors, librarians, coaches and counselors across the system’s 23 campuses, start voting Monday and have until April 27 to say whether they authorize the union’s board of directors to call a two-day strike at an unspecified date. “Faculty are angry, they’re fed up,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the association. “They’ve been asked to take a lot of hits while campus presidents are getting 10 percent raises.” Under the “rolling strike” plan, groups of campuses would go out on strike for two days each, one immediately after another. The strike vote comes during a turbulent time for CSU, which has lost $970 million in state funding since 2008. The 400,000-student system has hiked tuition, laid off faculty and slashed admissions, spurring campus protests that have resulted in arrests of unruly demonstrators and shouting matches at board of trustee meetings. (read article)

No hope for Hostess union deal: CEO
By Josh Kosman, April 16, 2012, New York Post
A deal between bankrupt Hostess Brands and its unions that could rescue the maker of Twinkies and Wonder bread before a crucial trial begins tomorrow is not likely, CEO Gregory Rayburn told The Post. Hostess made a last-ditch effort to win support from its unions on April 14 by offering to pony up at least some cash for their pensions, but Rayburn, in an interview with The Post, said he is not hopeful of reaching a deal with the Teamsters and bakery unions. The unions are expected to reject the offer and could come back with a counteroffer today. Absent a deal, a bankruptcy judge will hold a two-day trial to determine if Hostess can scrap its existing collective bargaining agreements. If the union deals are canceled, the likelihood of both a union strike and the liquidation of Hostess increases. “As much as 50 cents of every dollar Hostess Brands contributes goes to pay for pensions for people who worked at other companies that no longer exist and who never worked at Hostess Brands, IBC or any other predecessor of [Hostess],” the company said in its proposal. “Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to carry the pension costs of former competitors who have long since closed their doors and disappeared.” (read article)

California’s Senate Bill 829 is Labor largesse
Editorial, April 15, 2012, San Bernardino Press Enterprise
Expanding a bad law would not make it better. The Legislature does not need to broaden its expensive interference in local public construction contracts. Legislators should instead repeal provisions that cost taxpayers in the name of special-interest pandering. SB 829, by Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, proposes to intrude on local decisions once again in order to benefit labor unions. Legislation last year effectively blocked general law cities and counties from banning union-friendly “project labor agreements” on public construction. The law imposed some less-stringent limits on charter cities, which have greater freedom to set their own rules. Rubio’s bill would in practice curb charter cities’ power to ban project labor agreements, by forbidding charter cities which have such bans from using state funds for any public construction project. Project labor agreements require all contractors — union and nonunion alike — to follow union rules and pay union fees and benefits. Several charter cities, including Oceanside and Fresno, have barred the use of these labor pacts, while San Diego has an initiative on the June ballot that would restrict such agreements.     SB 829’s goal, however, is not better public contracting policy, but a political handout to Democrats’ labor union supporters. Unions like project labor agreements because the deals quash the competitive advantage that nonunion contractors often enjoy. (read article)

A key national test of labor’s power coming this spring in Wisconsin
By Daniel DiSalvo, April 14, 2012, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The recall election of Gov. Scott Walker will be the epicenter of the American political world this spring. Huge sums of money will pour into the Badger State. Some analysts predict that more than $100 million could be spent. Walker is now out in front in the fundraising game, having scooped up almost $13 million. But his lead will evaporate quickly. Public employee unions in more than half the states benefit from “agency shop” laws that require workers covered by collective bargaining agreements – even those who refuse to join the union – to pay an “agency fee” for the benefit of the representation that the union provides. In effect, agency shop laws compel workers to join unions. Public-sector unions also benefit from the steady supply of funds provided by “dues check off” rules, which require governments to withhold union dues from their employees and pay the money directly to their unions (Walker eliminated this in Wisconsin.) This guarantees an abundant and reliable source of cash, sparing unions the need to raise funds. A stable membership and a guar anteed supply of money set public sector unions apart from other interest groups. Most organizations expend significant resources hustling for both. The unions’ remarkable political power stems from this advantage. (read article)

Romney Accuses Obama of Pandering to Big Labor
By Eric Pianin, April 13, 2012, The Fiscal Times
Mitt Romney bashed Rick Santorum  in Wisconsin earlier this month for being too soft on labor unions, and succeeded in knocking his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination out of the primary and then out of the race. As he now  turns his full attention to President Obama and  the general election campaign, the former Massachusetts governor and business man will likely turn up the volume of his anti-union rhetoric as he critiques what he claims are the failures of the administration’s economic and jobs policies. Whether it’s berating the president as a “crony capitalist” for bailing out the U.S. auto industry at the behest of auto workers, speaking out in favor of “right to work” laws or claiming the president stacked the National Labor Relations Board with labor “stooges,” Romney appears determined to burnish  his conservative and pro-business bonafides by challenging organized labor. “I’ve taken on union bosses before,” Romney told Midwestern audiences.  “I’m happy to take them on again.” (read article)

AFL-CIO Urges Senate Democrats to Reject Challenge on Union Vote
By William McQuillen on April 13, 2012, Business Week
The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, is urging Democratic senators to reject a Republican effort aimed at killing a rule that regulators say will lead to speedier worker elections to form a union. The labor group opposes the proposal by Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, challenging a National Labor Relations Board rule to cut the time between the workers’ request to form a union and the balloting. The rule is set to take effect April 30. The union said lawmakers may vote as soon as next week on Enzi’s resolution to disapprove the labor board standard. “The new NLRB rule makes modest, sensible changes to bring balance to the election process,” William Samuel, director of the AFL-CIO government affairs department, wrote to senators this week. “A vote against the resolution will ensure that the rights of working people to achieve economic security are protected.” Republicans and business groups such as the Washington- based National Association of Manufacturers have said the labor board has created “ambush elections.” (read article)

Democratic Super PACs off to modest 2012 start
Alina Selyukh and Alexander Cohen, April 13, 2012, Chicago Tribune
Fundraising by Democratic “Super PACs” is off to a slow start for the 2012 campaign season, compared with aggressive efforts by Republican groups that plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in fights for congressional seats and the White House. Three major Democratic groups said on Friday they raised a total of about $5.7 million in the first three months of the year, buoyed largely by donations from labor unions and hedge fund managers but far behind rival Republican groups. Majority PAC, focused on preserving Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, received $1.6 million in contributions in the first quarter of 2012, according to financial filings with the Federal Election Commission. House Majority PAC, which aims to help Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives that they lost in 2010, received $1.5 million. American Bridge, a group that does research on rival Republicans, raised $2.6 million together with its non-profit arm. The Democratic groups are working in tandem against several behemoth Republican groups such as American Crossroads, run by Karl Rove, a former top aide to President George W. Bush. (read article)

AFL-CIO Endorses Obama; Gears Up Campaign Volunteer Army
By Carl Horowitz, April 13, 2012, National Legal and Policy Center
On March 13, the federation’s 57-member executive council met in a closed-door session in Orlando, Florida to unanimously endorse Barack Obama for re-election. “We will continue to have disagreements with him (Obama),” said federation President Richard Trumka after the vote. “But we’ve never doubted one thing: We’ve never doubted he’s a friend of working people and he’s the best out there.” In the ensuing weeks, his organization has been putting together the money and muscle to get results. The AFL-CIO is planning to mobilize 400,000 union members for a nationwide blitz to coax support for Democrats in federal, state and local elections. And they’re thinking well past November. National Legal and Policy Center last September described at length the historic marriage between the Democratic Party and the Washington, D.C.-based AFL-CIO, whose 57 unions now represent a combined roughly 12 million workers, and why it can get rocky. The federation wants the president to go all out in support of policies and programs that advance union interests and expand government involvement in the economy. (read article)

AFL-CIO forms a ‘super PAC’ focused on union organization
By Melanie Mason, April 12, 2012, Los Angeles Times
A “super PAC” created by an influential labor organization will focus its efforts on motivating voters on the ground, rather than financing television commercials. “It’s not going to be about FEC deadlines, television ads or the usual super PAC activity. It’s about building a new way for workers to connect,” said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO, at a news conference Thursday morning detailing the super PAC’s strategy. Unlike past union efforts, the Workers Voices super PAC will be able to reach out to all workers, including nonunion ones. That’s one of the byproducts of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which paved the way for individuals, corporations and unions to give unlimited contributions to independent political committees. (read article)

99% Spring: An Anatomy of Destruction
By Trey Kovacs, April 12, 2012, OpenMarket.org
The establishment left’s weeklong protest training, deemed the 99% Spring or Shareholder Spring, is an effort to train 100,000 activists in civil disobedience to achieve “social and economic justice” from the 1%. The goal of these left-wing activists is to attain their idea of justice through destruction of America’s social fabric by perpetuating social and economic class warfare. The protesters’ target will be “the shareholder meetings of over forty corporations, including but not limited to Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron.” In order to destroy America’s “unjust” economy, they seek to tarnish the reputations of the very corporations that create jobs Americans need and desperately want. According to the 99% Spring website, its mission is to stop “the deliberate manipulation of our democracy and our economy by a tiny minority in the 1%, by those who amass ever more wealth and power at our expense.” (read article)

Labor movement risks its political clout with campaign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Walker
By Associated Press, April 11, 2012, Washington Post
Unions are facing a make-or-break moment in their campaign to drive Wisconsin’s Republican governor from office. If unions and their Democratic allies prevail in the recall — just over a year after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to curb collective bargaining rights for most public workers — it would send a powerful warning to other politicians who might try to limit union rights. Unions also might find it easier to turn out more voters in November for President Barack Obama in this battleground state. A Walker victory would be a stunning setback for organized labor. Unions have experienced mixed results over the past year in trying to beat back efforts in dozens of states to restrict bargaining rights, pass right-to-work laws or limit how unions collect dues. They enjoyed a major victory in November when Ohio voters in a statewide referendum repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employees. But they fell short in an earlier recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans and suffered a major defeat when Indiana this year became the first state in more than a decade to pass right-to-work legislation. (read article)

Scott Walker recall must be thwarted
By Brian Calle, April 11, 2012, Orange County Register
The importance of thwarting the recall campaign against Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can not be understated: The Wisconsin showdown arguably is the most consequential election in the country this year. And with the release of recent polling data showing the anti-Walker effort leading, the stakes have become even higher. A Rasmussen poll released April 2 found that a “majority of Wisconsin voters now support the effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.” Fifty-two percent of likely voters polled said they would recall the governor, versus 47 percent wanting to keep Mr. Walker in office. While the election is still nearly two months away, those numbers are still discouraging. If Gov. Walker, who has staked his career on challenging the power of his state’s public employee unions, is removed, public employee unions with substantial influence, even nearly free rein, in other state capitals throughout the United States would be even more emboldened to push their self-serving agendas. (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.