Unions in the News – Weekly Highlights

Silicon Valley’s labor views indicate a split in the Democratic party
By Gregory Ferenstein, November 17, 2015, The Guardian
In America’s new era of political realignment, the Republican party is not the only one experiencing a grassroots political coup. A new breed of capitalism-loving and urbanized liberals are demanding an entirely new role for the federal government. With heavy support from Silicon Valley, these new tech Democrats want the government to embrace economic disruption, with unlimited high-skilled immigrant visas, expansive trade deals, and performance-based funding that encourages charter schools to abandon teacher unions and adopt the management model of a modern startup. “The replacement of working-class whites with upscale professionals has turned the Democratic coalition into an alliance with a built-in class division,” wrote Columbia journalism professor and New York Times columnist Thomas B Edsall on the migration of professionals from the Republican party to the Democrats. “While constituting a minority, the relatively upscale wing clearly dominates party policy and provides the majority of the activists who run campaigns, serve as delegates to the convention and have become the core of the party’s donor base.” (read article)

Union of Sonoma County government employees strike Tuesday
By Angela Hart, November 17, 2015, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
The largest group of unionized Sonoma County government employees is set to go out on a one-day strike Tuesday, protesting what it contends is a stingy contract offer from the county, bad faith in negotiating at the bargaining table and other issues it says amount to unfair labor practices. Union officials for the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents more than half of the county’s roughly 4,100 employees, say rank-and-file workers in purple SEIU shirts will demonstrate at a dozen locations throughout the county, mostly clustered in Santa Rosa. The move comes two weeks after SEIU Local 1021 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The two sides have held more than 20 rounds of bargaining over four months, according to Lisa Maldonado, field director for the union. The current two-year contract ended Oct. 31. “Sonoma County is experiencing a recovery with big increases in tax revenue, but they keep saying they don’t have enough money for increases in compensation and health benefits,” Maldonado said. “But we know that they do …   meanwhile workers are caught between stagnant wages, skyrocketing health care costs and rents that are out of control.” (read article)

CalPERS moves to reduce investment risk, lower profit expectations
By Dale Kasler, November 17, 2015, Sacramento Bee
CalPERS’ trustees took a major step Tuesday toward reducing risk in the pension fund’s investment portfolio, a move that could lead eventually to higher contributions from government agencies and employees. The giant pension fund’s finance and administration committee voted 4-3 to adopt an unusual risk-reduction plan that would gradually lower CalPERS’ discount rate, which serves as an official forecast of annual investment profits. The current discount rate is 7.5 percent and would likely go to 6.5 percent over 19 years, according to CalPERS staff. The vote was something of a surprise. The committee rejected a more gradual approach advocated by labor unions and several of the pro-labor CalPERS board members in favor of an alternative introduced by committee member Bill Slaton last month. However, the committee dismissed a much more stringent plan, advocated by Gov. Brown’s administration, to bring the discount rate down far more quickly. (read article)

Hillary Clinton wins major endorsement from service workers’ union
By Evan Halper, November 17, 2015, Los Angeles Times
Organized labor took a major step in coalescing around Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday, as one of its heavyweights voted to endorse her despite loud objections from backers of her rival and longtime labor stalwart Bernie Sanders. The Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers in service industries such as healthcare and child care, made the endorsement following a lengthy debate at a meeting of its executive board here. “We feel very confident about Hillary Clinton’s capacity to fight, win and deliver for working people,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in an interview immediately following the endorsement vote. Henry said the 77-member board overwhelmingly approved the move in a voice vote. “We looked at the analytics and believe that this is the woman who can win in a general election,” Henry said. (read article)

Unions Eye Los Angeles Charter Schools
By Kris Maher, November 16, 2015, Wall Street Journal
As teachers unions ramp up efforts to organize the fast-growing charter school movement, one of the biggest and most contentious fights is taking place at a chain of schools in Los Angeles. In March, 70 teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the city’s largest charter system with 26 schools and more than 600 teachers, announced they wanted to join United Teachers Los Angeles, the 31,000-member union that represents all of the city’s public school teachers and about 1,000 teachers at 12 independent charter schools. Alliance officials counter that being free of union rules has helped their charter schools operate with greater flexibility and smaller class sizes and ultimately send 95% of graduates to college each year. They also question why a union fighting the expansion of charter schools wants to organize charter teachers. (read article)

Project labor agreement back on agenda
By Christine Huard, November 16, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune
A union-friendly construction contract that prompted controversy is back on the agenda after Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District trustees tabled the proposal last month. Board members will consider approving negotiations with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council on a project labor agreement, or PLA, for work funded by the Proposition V bond measure at Tuesday’s board meeting at Cuyamaca College. Trustees delayed acting on the proposal at the Oct. 20 board meeting until they could gather input from the bond oversight panel. A capacity crowd attended a board workshop on the matter that night, which included presentations for and against the labor-friendly agreements. The governing board voted 3-2 in favor of waiting on making a decision. Trustees Mary Kay Rosinski and Debbie Justeson opposed the delay. The evening also saw critics of board member Edwin Hiel serve him with a notice of an intent to circulate a petition to recall him over his support for the project labor agreement. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which said voters were promised in 2012 that the district would not adopt a PLA, has said it will revoke its support for the measure if trustees go ahead with talks to work out terms of the labor pact. The East County Chamber of Commerce board of directors recently voted to support the group’s opposition. The collective bargaining agreement would require contractors who win bids for construction work funded by the district’s $398 million bond measure to operate under union rules. Pacts such as these often set standards for wages, local hiring and benefits for workers who are required to pay union dues regardless of whether they are union members. Supporters of the pacts say they are good for the community because they create good job opportunities for local workers. Opponents say they increase costs of taxpayer-funded projects and unfairly exclude nonunion workers. (read article)

Big labor’s unlikely hope: Antonin Scalia
By Sean Higgins, November 16, 2015, Washington Examiner
In a Supreme Court case that could deal a major blow to public-sector unions, organized labor is looking to one justice to swing the majority their way: Antonin Scalia. Scalia, usually the court’s leading conservative, surprised observers last year by appearing to lean toward labor’s side during oral arguments in a similar case involving public-sector unions called Harris v. Quinn. Yet a closer look at his past writings suggests that may not have been out of character. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which involves whether government employees can be forced to pay union “fair share” fees even if they refuse to join the union, the teachers union is betting that Scalia can be won over. Its brief in the case, filed in early November, is mainly written to appeal to him, labor law experts note. “Reading between the lines of the brief, they are clearly going after Scalia. (read article)

Right to Work: Solution for Our Struggling Economy?
By Matthew Baumgarten, November 16, 2015, WDTV West Virginia
The U.S. is divided right down the middle on states that have right-to-work laws, and those that don’t. A new study from WVU found that right-to-work states see better economic success, which could generate success for our state as well. But, some fear right-to-work would hurt labor unions and drive-down salaries. But, Dr. John Deskins, Director of Business and Economic research at WVU says through their research, they didn’t find any evidence that our state wouldn’t benefit from a right-to-work law. “The bottom line is, over the past couple decades, right-to-work has led to noticeable improvements in GDP and employment growth among states that have right-to-work policy in place currently. We weren’t able to identify anything in the data the would lead us to believe that West Virginia would be atypical in terms of how it would respond to adopting right-to-work. So, it seems like it would boost employment and GDP growth in this state.” Workers in right-to-work states are not required to join a labor union as a condition of their employment. The study did show that right-to-work laws cut union memberships by about 20%. Some argue that weakened unions will lead to complications. “There’s approximately about $6,000 less on salary for an individual in a right-to-work state,” says Kenny Perdue, President of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. “There’s also the safety factor for each state, it’s approximately 54% higher for injuries or fatalities. And, everything else is correlated with that. Higher health care costs, it comes into cost of living.” (read article)

Will West Virginia become the 26th right-to-work state?
By Jason Hart, November 16, 2015,
Lawmakers may be in a race this winter to see whether West Virginia or neighboring Kentucky becomes the 26th right-to-work state. The Republicans who control both houses of the West Virginia Legislature appear likely to introduce a right-to-work bill — which would let workers choose whether to pay labor unions — in January. Because the Legislature could override a veto with a simple majority in each house, Republicans could make West Virginia a right-to-work state by March even if Democrats voted in lockstep against it. West Virginia’s economy suggests state labor laws are in desperate need of reform. From January 2011 through August, West Virginia’s private-sector job growth ranked dead last among the 50 states. Though recent Environmental Protection Agency rules crippling the coal industry have made things worse, slow job growth in West Virginia is nothing new; from January 1995 through August, the state’s private-sector job growth ranked 44th. (read article)

De Blasio Backs Labor Unions in Case Headed to Supreme Court
By Ryan Haas, November 16, 2015, JP Updates
Mayor Bill de Blasio is lending some support to labor unions in a case heading for the U.S. Supreme Court. The city recently filed an amicus brief with the court backing public workers unions’ ability to collect mandatory fees, even from workers who don’t want to join the union, officials said Sunday. In particular, the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association was brought to court by a group of California teachers who objected to a mandatory union fee, saying it violates their First Amendment rights. Supporters of the labor union counter that it’s fair because even workers who opt out of the union end up benefiting from the collective bargaining. (read article)

Mizzou Football Shows the Power of Student Labor
By Ben Geier, November 15, 2015, Fortune
College football players may not have a union, but they have far more influence than you might think. This past week, all eyes turned on Columbia, Missouri, as the actions of University of Missouri students, and particularly student athletes, resulted in the resignation of Mizzou’s president, a national debate over the limits of free speech and, to some, a fight for the soul of the American university. Last weekend, black members of Mizzou’s football team announced that they would not participate in team activities or games until University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe stepped down. The move was an act of support for campus activists calling for Wolfe’s resignation, arguing that the administrator hadn’t adequately responded to incidents of racism on campus. No matter where you fall on the issues, one thing is undeniable: American student athletes, and campus populations more broadly, are wielding their power with more force than they have in a long time. (read article)

Labor, tech unite behind push for ‘on demand’ worker rights
By David McCabe, November 15, 2015, The Hill
Tech companies, venture capitalists and unions are uniting behind a push to win benefits for the growing contingent of ‘on-demand’ workers at companies like Uber. A statement released this week in support of making benefits more portable was signed by boldface names in both tech and labor. The two founders of ride hailing service Lyft signed on, as did a partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. So did an official with a Seattle chapter of the Service Employees International Union and the heads of two notable worker alliances. It’s a partnership between communities that have sometimes been at odds, but who see an issue where they both have much to gain by working together. “I think great things are often accomplished through coalitions of strange bedfellows,” said SEIU 775 President David Rolf, who signed the letter. The statement, released on Medium on Tuesday, is an urgent call for policymakers to consider ways that a social safety net can be established for workers at on-demand economy companies. The workforce at the startups, many of which have grown into multi-billion dollar enterprises, is largely comprised of independent contractors who don’t get the kind of benefits and protections given to employees. That is often cheaper for companies, who are not on the hook for things like unemployment and health insurance subsidies, but critics say it leaves the workers vulnerable. “Everyone, regardless of employment classification, should have access to the option of an affordable safety net that supports them when they’re injured, sick, in need of professional growth, or when it’s time to retire,” the statement reads. They said that America needed a “new model” to deliver benefits to the workers that is available to all and can accommodate workers who are working as contractors for more than one service or business. (read article)

Labor union president blasts Obama for rejecting pipeline
By Alex Mills, November 15, 2015, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers
It’s over. The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline came crashing down on Nov. 6 when President Obama ended a seven-year political battle by rejecting the construction of the crude oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry advised him against approving the construction of the pipeline. Obama said the pipeline would not make a “meaningful” contribution to the creation of jobs and the economy. However, the head of a labor union that probably would have benefited from those jobs vehemently disagreed. He said Obama’s decision “is just one more indication of an utter disdain and disregard for salt-of-the-earth, middle-class working Americans.” Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), said this is not the first time Obama has turned his back on blue collar workers. (read article)

Letter: Police union contracts protect ‘bad apples’
By Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore, November 15, 2015, Auburn Citizen
The stock market crashed in October 1929 and ushered in the Great Depression, bringing labor unions to the forefront! Later, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, he passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which gave workers “the right to organize and bargain collectively through representative of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers.” Unfortunately, there’s one labor union that has among their membership officers that believe that the NIRA gives them full authority to “interfere, restrain and coerce”! And, it’s these “bad apples” that have created most of the serious problems that exists today. Fortunately the attention the media is now giving to this problem might get the public’s attention because politicians have been taking a blind eye to it! Certainly the recent “carefully staged” to look like a suicide by Lt. Charles Gliniewicz is proof of a ‘bad apple’. According to the Chicago Tribune (Nov. 6) the release of Gliniewicz’s 30-year file showed an officer whose career “was marked by drunken indiscretions, sexual misconduct and threatening behavior.” Although the police union knew about it and kept it covered up, it was the FBI’s investigation that exposed his criminal acts. (read article)

Hillary Clinton Is Pulling Away From Bernie Sanders With Union Endorsements
By Dave Jamieson, November 15, Huffington Post
When it came time to think seriously about endorsing a presidential candidate for 2016, Paul Feeney says it wasn’t a hard decision for members of his union. Feeney is a shop steward for a local union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Massachusetts. His fellow members haven’t forgotten the time they were in an ugly contract battle with Verizon back in 2003. One day, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) showed up and joined the workers on their picket line. He delivered one of the trademark fiery speeches that, more than a decade later, the rest of the country would come to recognize. “They remember when Sanders stood up on the back of a pickup truck and addressed our members,” Feeney said. “The person who went to bat for them the most was Bernie Sanders. And that means something to people.” The endorsement from Feeney’s local union council says a lot about organized labor in the Democratic presidential primary. Three months out from the Iowa caucus, some of the biggest unions have already lined up behind front-runner Hillary Clinton, believing the former secretary of state has the best chance of defeating whoever Republicans end up nominating. And yet there’s a deep, abiding passion for Sanders among much of the liberal rank and file, no doubt because he’s been a relentless proponent of collective bargaining throughout his 25 years in Congress. The zealous support for Sanders says as much about Clinton as it does about the self-described democratic socialist. (read article)

Solano County and SEIU labor union reach impasse
By Melissa Murphy, November 13, 2015, Vacaville Reporter
After months of negotiations, an expired contract and a two-day strike, Solano County and Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 have reached an impasse. “Future discussion would be futile,” said the county in a press release issued Friday afternoon. It noted that the impasse was declared after negotiations reached late into the night Thursday. “The county was forced to go this route after a long process wherein the parties engaged in 21 formal negotiation sessions spanning over four months and two informal meetings,” the county reported and added that it made three requests to engage in mediation, which the Union rejected. Reached by phone Friday evening Cecille Isidro, a SEIU spokesperson, said the union was not informed of the impasse and that the county repeatedly failed to bargain in good faith. Isidro explained that while negotiations lasted for several hours Thursday night it was clear that the county didn’t come to the table with an open mind and that there wasn’t someone with authority present to reach an agreement. John Stead-Mendez, executive director for SEIU, Local 1021, agreed. “We don’t believe we’re at an impasse, it’s an illegal tactic to force our hand,” he said and added that the county contradicts itself by saying future discussions would be futile and then desire mediation. “They’ve failed to have an open mind.” (read article)

Fremont school board directs district to negotiate project labor agreement for Measure E work
By Aliyah Mohammed, November 12, 2015, Fremont Bulletin
Fremont Unified School District’s Board of Education has authorized the district to negotiate an agreement that would pay a labor organization to provide union employees when it contracts work on Measure E bond obligation projects that voters approved in June 2014. The board unanimously voted Oct. 28 to form a subcommittee to represent the district in negotiating with Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County. The subcommittee would consist of Superintendent Jim Morris, Associate Superintendent Raul Parungao and at least two board trustees. Board President Desrie Campbell and board clerk Larry Sweeney volunteered to serve on the subcommittee. The decision to proceed with negotiations followed presentations and lengthy discussions at the Aug. 12 and Sept. 9 board meetings about whether a project labor agreement should be used to complete remaining Measure E classroom update projects. (read article)

Union Situation at VW Chattanooga: ‘Very Unusal,’ Says Labor Expert
By Michael Edward Miller, November 11, 2015,
The United Auto Workers are seeking a an election to represent maintenance workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen assembly plant. But the UAW already has a sizeable presence at the plant: UAW Local 42 is a Chattanooga-based group that claims to represent more than half of the plant’s blue-collar workforce, although the group doesn’t have the power to collectively bargain or organize strikes. Another union also represents plant workers. The American Council of Employees is a locally-created union without any ties to a national organization. Like UAW Local 42, they can’t strike. How unusual is this, having two unions at a plant, but neither has the power to collectively bargain? (read article)

Millennials are revitalizing organized labor
By Amy B. Dean, November 11, 2015, Al Jazeera America
Millennials are often made out to be selfish and individualistic, but they appear to be taking a greater interest in social movements and dramatic social change than some previous generations. A series of polls suggests that, compared with other demographic groups, Americans in their 20s have less favorable views of capitalism and higher opinions of unions and government intervention in the economy. Millennials are also the first generation in a long time to feel a sense of common purpose in the economy and to look toward collective action as a means of improving their circumstances. Millennials are entering the workforce during the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, so it’s harder to buy into the myth that working hard and narrowly focusing on your own fortunes will be enough to ensure success. In a recent Atlantic story, Jonathan Timm wrote a story on the hopeful, if fragile, signs of millennial engagement with the labor movement, as well as the substantial structural issues facing a union resurgence. The article focused on the story of an employee at Peet’s Coffee in a relatively poorly paid service-sector job and her attempts to organize her workplace. The effort failed, coming to ruin on the shoals of intractable management and high turnover, but he featured very high profile victories at digital news companies such as Gawker and Vice that have garnered substantial attention in recent months (Al Jazeera America’s digital staff unionized in October.) (read article)

Union Watch Highlights

Michigan Is Big Labor’s Next Big Target
By Shikha Dalmia, June 5, 2012,
Those who thought that Big Labor’s recall drive against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was its final attempt to maintain its lavish benefits at taxpayers’ expense should think again. Win or lose in Wisconsin today, it is already opening a new front in Michigan, pushing a November ballot initiative to permanently enshrine its pay and privileges in the state constitution and prohibit Michigan from ever ending forced unionization. A Reason-Rupe poll last week gave Walker an eight-point edge over his Democratic rival. More to the point, it found overwhelming support for Walker’s efforts to close the state’s fiscal gap by requiring public employees to contribute more toward their health care (74 percent) and pension benefits (75 percent)—rather than by raising taxes, which 70 percent oppose. A small majority of 51 percent also supports Walker’s move to end automatic deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks. And a plurality of 48 percent supports his limiting contract negotiations to wage issues compared to 46 percent that opposes this. (read article)

Unions wield new power as shareholders
By Harold Meyerson, June 5, 2012, Washington Post
Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the U.S. labor movement will remain in dire straits. Its problem isn’t that Americans have turned against unions but that labor’s power to better workers’ lives through representing them in the workplace or championing them at the ballot box has been diminished by dysfunctional labor laws and pro-corporate court decisions. Ironically, the one arena in which unions have made some headway this year is shareholder capitalism: By using the voting power of their pension funds, and by organizing shareholder opposition to excessive executive pay and corporate political donations, unions have begun to restore a modicum of accountability for out-of-control business leaders. (read post)

Future of America’s unions at stake in Wisconsin’s recall vote
By Juan Williams, June 4, 2012, The Hill
Ann Coulter on the right and Rachel Maddow on the left agree Wisconsin’s vote this Tuesday on recalling Gov. Scott Walker is going to have national implications. They’ve got that right. If Walker wins, it will encourage Republican governors around the nation to enact more laws that diminish the power of public worker unions. Those efforts usually involve stripping unions of collective bargaining rights in an effort to shut off the money flowing from unions to Democrats. Since the 2010 midterm elections, GOP governors have been intent on closing off the flow of cash from taxpayers to public sector unions which then support Democratic candidates. In trying to choke the life out of unions, those governors have had varied degrees of success. But if Walker wins, governors like Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich and Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett will find new pockets of money and political support for their anti-union fight. (read article)

This Bank Bashing Union Is Making Money With A High-Interest Credit Card
Peter Schweizer, June 4, 2012, Business Insider
With the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and AFL-CIO spending tens of millions on political activism, including the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, union members might do well to see where the money is coming from.  Big unions are morphing into the kinds of big businesses and banks they decry, hawking to their members everything from high interest credit cards to home loans. And contrary to Big Labor’s claims, these products offer no real benefit to union members—only to the union bosses. As the collection of union dues have dipped, union bosses are increasingly looking for ways to bend the revenue curve in their favor by profiting off loans and credit extended to their members. This turns into huge money:  In FY2011, according to its LM-2 filing with the Department of Labor, the AFL-CIO received approximately $28,163,266.00 from credit card revenue. (read article)

Labor, Tea Party pour resources into Wisconsin ahead of recall
By Kevin Bogardus and Meghashyam Mali, June 4, 2012, The Hill
Wisconsin voters are set to go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether Gov. Scott Walker (R) will stay in office, an election that could have implications far beyond the state and could prove to be a key test of union power ahead of the November presidential election. Walker himself became a conservative icon after confronting labor last year by pushing through legislation that limited public workers’ collective bargaining rights, leading to the recall. Major unions and Tea Party groups have plowed substantial funds into the recall election. Politicians on the national scene have journeyed to the state to campaign with their chosen candidates. But the stakes are particularly high for labor groups, which have invested heavily in the fight to unseat Walker and have expressed concerns that their traditional Democratic allies haven’t been as committed. More than $63 million has been spent by Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, his Democratic challenger, as well as outside groups. That figure tops the more than $34 million spent on the 2010 gubernatorial race, making it Wisconsin’s most expensive state contest in history. (read article)

California government unions move to squeeze out private contractors
By Jon Ortiz, June 4, 2012, Sacramento Bee
With California facing yet another budget crisis that threatens state jobs and pay, employee unions are moving on several fronts to push use of civil service workers instead of private contractors for state government work. Unions had a say in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget revision last month, which proposes axing outside contracting for a range of work, from computer consulting to custodial services. State employee unions also threw their weight behind recent legislation that, among other things, would have given civil service employees first crack at all state government jobs. The measure failed but is likely to resurface. Last month, the state attorneys’ union successfully contested a multimillion-dollar contract with a private law firm for legal services. (read article)

Turning Our Backs on Unions
By Joe Nocera, June 4, 2012, New York Times
“The Great Divergence” by Timothy Noah is a book about income inequality, and if you’re thinking, “Do we really need another book about income inequality?” the answer is yes. We need this one. It stands out in part because Noah, a columnist for The New Republic, is not content to simply shake his fists at the heavens in anger. He spends exactly one chapter on what he calls the “rise of the stinking rich” — that is, the explosion in executive pay and what he calls “the financialization of the economy,” which has enriched one small segment of society at the expense of everyone else. Mostly, he grapples with the deep, hard-to-tickle-out reasons that the gap between the rich and the middle class in the United States has widened to such alarming proportions. How much have technological advances contributed to income inequality? Globalization and off-shoring? The necessity of having a college education to land a decent-paying job? The decline of labor unions? (read article)

How Illinois pension-reform push spun out of control
By Rick Pearson and Ray Long, June 3, 2012, Chicago Tribune
Hours after lawmakers headed home without reforming the state’s bereft public worker pension systems, Gov. Pat Quinn implored them to remember that Illinois government is “racing the clock” in solving the issue. But a different race is on the mind of many legislators: their re-election contests Nov. 6, when all 59 Senate seats and all 118 House seats are on the ballot. The coming election looms as a major driver in why pension reform failed this spring. The reasons are as much political as practical. Concerns over alienating powerful voting blocs weighed on the minds of some. A belief that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan didn’t want to offend powerful labor unions swayed others. And Quinn and House Republican leader Tom Cross aren’t exactly two of the most beloved figures at the Capitol. The Democratic governor cast his lot with Republican Cross instead of Democrat Madigan, who wanted further concessions on who pays for teacher retirement outside Chicago. Cross’ pension plan would have reduced cost-of-living increases and dangled an offer of access to state health insurance for those who opted for a lesser pension. It did not address the contentious issue of shifting teacher retirement costs from the state to suburban and downstate school districts. (read article)

Organized labor stares down specter of possible recall loss
By Michael O’Brien,June 3, 2012, MSNBC
Organized labor is staring down the prospect of a bitter disappointment here on Tuesday, where union members are working furiously to unseat Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and replace him with a Democratic challenger. Wisconsin has become the front line in the battle between unions and reform-minded Republicans, and organized labor arguably has more on the line in Tuesday’s recall election than any other constituency. Union members have spearheaded the effort to remove Walker from office and replace him with a Democratic challenger after the governor, who was elected in 2010, pushed a controversial bill through the state legislature stripping most public employee unions — which were birthed in Wisconsin — of their collective bargaining rights. “I’m still angry,” said Sandy Jacobs, an active member of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, who spent Sunday afternoon knocking on union members’ doors in the Milwaukee neighborhood of Bayview. “[Walker]’s not representing middle class people; he’s representing his own agenda, and I’m angry.” (read article)

Childish unions won’t play by the rules in Wisconsin
By George F. Will, June 3, 2012, Boston Herald
This state, the first to let government employees unionize, was an incubator of progressivism and gave birth (in 1932 in Madison, the precursor of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) to its emblematic institution, the government employees union — government organized as a special interest to lobby itself to expand itself. But Wisconsin progressivism is in a dark Peter Pan phase; it is childish without being winsome. Wisconsin has produced populists of the left (Robert La Follette) and right (Joe McCarthy). On Tuesday, in this year’s second-most important election, voters will judge the attempt by a populism of the privileged — white-collar labor unions whose members live comfortably above the American median — to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. (read article)

The Big Labor Republicans
By Daniel Horowitz, June 1, 2012,
One would think that all Republicans would realize that not only do labor unions want to destroy the economy; they want to destroy the Republican Party.  Last night, while Scott Walker was launching his counteroffensive against the onslaught of Big Labor during the debate against Barrett, dozens of Republicans voted to reinstate special handouts to the labor bosses. Late last night, the House passed the largely non-controversial Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations (MilCon) bill for FY 2013.  But there were two amendments germane to labor policy that received roll call votes.  We lost on both of them. The first amendment, which was sponsored by Pro-Big Labor Michael Grimm (R-NY), stripped language from the MilCon bill prohibiting federal government construction contracts in excess of $25 million funded by the bill from requiring that only firms that enter into project labor agreements be considered for bidding on a contract.  In 2009, Obama used his signature power grab tool; an Executive Order, forcing all private companies to sign a project labor agreement (PLA) in order to bid on federal construction projects.  PLA’s compel the private contractor to use only unionized workers for the perspective project.  This executive power grab is nothing more than an election payback to big labor, which would ostensibly purloin the taxpayer with forced collective bargaining for all public construction projects.  This malevolent executive order would also discriminate against non-union workers.  Keep in mind that only a small percentage of private sector construction workers are unionized. When the MilCon bill was crafted in the Appropriations Committee, language was inserted to nullify this executive order and defund PLAs.  Michael Grimm’s amendment stripped this provision, thereby upholding Obama’s union grab. (read article)

Maryland Gov. O’Malley Grants Big Labor Protections from Disclosure
by Trey Kovacs, June 1, 2012,
In Maryland, labor unions join the protected ranks of doctors and lawyers with respect to confidentiality privileges. In early May, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed Big Labor’s new special privilege into law. It extends protection from compulsory disclosure to unions and their members. Only similarly pro-union Illinois has given unions the controversial protected status that may conflict with federal labor law. The legislation gives evidentiary protection to communications between union representatives and union members, meaning neither can be compelled to disclose information pertinent to an employer’s investigation or grievance proceeding. The right of refusal hampers the possibilities of employers and employees resolving disputes before costly and time-consuming litigation or arbitration. (read article)

Labor Wisconsin Recall Hopes Ebb as Walker Cash Pays Off
By William McQuillen, May 31, 2012, Bloomberg
The first vote hasn’t been cast in the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, yet labor unions already are offering excuses for why their efforts to oust him could fall short. The election is no longer a fight over workers’ rights to engage in collective bargaining, which sparked the recall, union leaders say. The debate has turned to the economy and negative campaigning. In addition, they say, recall supporters are facing a significant financial disadvantage after Walker raised more than $20 million this year — five times that of his opponent — in his quest to keep his job. “The election is about a vicious mud fight between two candidates,” Michael Podhorzer, the political director of the Washington-based AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said in an interview. “It is not a verdict on collective bargaining at all.” Walker is leading Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, by 7 percentage points among likely voters, according to a poll released May 30 by Milwaukee’s Marquette Law School. (read article)

Labor Unions Punish Good Workers
By John Stossel, May 30, 2012,
It seems intuitive that a free market would lead to a “race to the bottom.” In a global marketplace, profit-chasing employers will cut costs by paying workers less and less, and shipping jobs to China. It’s a reason that progressives say government must step in. So America now has thousands of rules that outlaw wages below $7.25 an hour, restrict unpaid internships, and compel people to pay union dues. These rules appear to help workers. But they don’t. “Collective bargaining” sounds good. Collective bargaining “rights” even better. Employers are more sophisticated about job negotiations than individual employees, so why shouldn’t workers be able to join together to bargain? They should be. But in 27 states, labor laws force workers to join unions. When CBS offered me a job, I had to join AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I didn’t want to. I don’t consider myself an artist. I didn’t want to pay dues to a union that didn’t appear to do much. But I had no choice. Laws that force workers to join unions treat millions of diverse people, most of whom want very different things, as undifferentiated collectives. That means that good workers get punished. (read article)

Can unions fight Super PACs?
By Josh Eidelson,  May 30, 2012, Salon
No one was surprised this winter when the AFL-CIO and its major unions endorsed President Obama’s reelection. Despite decades of enrollment decline, the AFL-CIO remains the largest membership organization in progressive politics, and it is a much relied-upon ally in Democratic election campaigns. But faced with a post-Citizens United landscape and armed with hard-fought lessons, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is pledging a “big change” in how the federation does politics. “Before, we used to build everybody else’s structure,” says Trumka, “and now, we’re going to build our own structure.”  He says to expect three changes: more focus on door-to-door organizing rather than TV ads; more funds toward building a permanent, independent political infrastructure and less towards candidates’ coffers; and more outreach beyond union households. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of, 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.