Union Watch Highlights

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.

Jerry Brown vs. the 99%

By Allysia Finley, October 29, 2012, Wall Street Journal

At the outset of his administration in 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown pledged not to raise taxes without a vote of the people. But he never promised a fair election. Mr. Brown has placed an initiative on the state ballot, Proposition 30, that targets “millionaires” who earn more than $250,000 annually. Persuading the 99% to raid the 1% normally shouldn’t be hard, yet voter distrust of government in the Golden State is such that Mr. Brown is having to pull out all the stops to get the initiative passed. The governor originally proposed raising the top rate to 12.3% from 10.3%. That wasn’t good enough for the nurses and teachers unions, which pressed for a 13.3% “millionaire’s tax.” Mr. Brown succumbed. Due to the 11th-hour negotiations, he had to rely on help from high-placed friends to meet the secretary of state’s June 28 deadline. Within two days of the initiative’s submission on March 14, state Attorney General Kamala Harris had given it an appealing ballot title—”Temporary taxes to fund education. Guaranteed local public safety funding.” (In theory, the rates are supposed to expire in seven years.) And the Legislative Analyst’s Office cranked out a fiscal-impact statement estimating that the tax hike would raise $6 billion annually. (read article)

Reinventing Unions for the 21st Century

By Sean Rust, October 29, 2012, Forbes

The future of organized labor in the United States looks grim. With private union membership declining over the past several decades something has to give or unions as they stand today are destined to fall by the wayside.  A contributing factor to this steady decline has been the failure of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to adapt to external factors such as competition and productivity in the global economy.  In general, these external factors are a problem for unionism by themselves, but the current state of the NLRA has magnified their effect.  The impact of globalization on the decline in private unionization has led me to conclude that unions can only survive if they are liberated from NLRA clauses that restrict both employees and employers.  Market forces, rather than laws, should regulate union and business relationships. (read article)

Campaign money in Prop. 32 fight reaches $124 million

By Jon Ortiz, October 29, 2012, Sacramento Bee

With just over a week before Election Day, the interests backing Proposition 32 and fighting Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, Proposition 30, have raised $58 million, including a recent six-figure donation from a Texas oil man. Meanwhile, the union-backed No on 32 side has raised $66 million. The money highlights the role of special-interest independent expenditures in backing a measure that claims to be a check on special interests. Separately, contributions to the Yes on 32 campaign committee total a relatively small $4.3 million as of today, according to state records. Most of the money came from individuals, including Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr. and former Univision chief Jerry Perenchio. A few businesses also chipped in. Another independent committee supporting Proposition 32, California Future Fund, received $4 million from Iowa PAC with reported ties to the Koch brothers. But the biggest pro-Proposition 32 bucks have gone to the the Small Business Action Committee’s independent No on 30/Yes on 32 effort. Munger has given $35 million to the dual-purpose committee, making him its biggest donor by far. An Arizona PAC, Americans for Responsible Leadership has kicked in another $11 million. The Phoenix-based group hasn’t reported the source of its money. Dallas-based gas and oil executive T. Boone Pickens gave $100,000 last week to the business PAC, according to state records. (read article)

Why is California teachers union leaving money on the table?

Editorial, October 30, 2012, Sacramento Bee

At a time when California has cut funding dramatically for K-12 education – and may have to cut more after next week’s election – it makes no sense for school districts to leave millions in federal education dollars on the table. Yet California school districts have had to struggle to win teachers union support for a new round of Race to the Top competitive grants specifically for school districts – as much as $40 million per district, depending upon size. This competition – for districts seeking to improve academic performance with personalized learning for students – is well worth pursuing in these tough financial times. A consortium of districts got together over the summer and decided to prepare three separate applications – one focused on middle school math (Sacramento City, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Clovis and Sanger), another on early literacy Pre-K-Grade 3 (Fresno and Long Beach), and one to expand career partnership academies in low-performing high schools (Los Angeles Unified). (read article)

California teacher unions rated as nation’s 6th most powerful

By Dan Walters, October 29, 2012, Sacramento Bee

California’s teacher unions – principally the huge California Teachers Association – are the nation’s sixth strongest when it comes to raising money and influencing politics and educational policy, according to a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational think tank in Washington, D.C. The group, which includes former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige on its board, advocates for charter schools. The report was issued just a week before California teacher unions’ fundraising prowess and influence are tested by two big ballot measures, Proposition 30, which would raise taxes by $6 billion a year, and Proposition 32, which would severely curtail unions’ ability to raise political funds from their members. The CTA and other unions support the former and oppose the latter and at the moment, both appear headed for defeat. Hawaii’s teacher unions are the most influential, the study concluded, followed by those in Oregon, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and California. Those in Arizona are considered to be the weakest of all the states and the District of Columbia. The study’s detailed report on California concludes, “California’s NEA and AFT state affiliates have relatively robust resources, although education spending in the state, and on teachers in particular, is not particularly high. (read article)

Professors, Students Debate Potential Impact of California Proposition 32

By Carissa Quiambao, October 29, 2012, Daily Nexus

Last Thursday, professors, students and other community members gathered at the Lobero Room of the University Center to discuss various issues surrounding Proposition 32. Proposition 32 would ban unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes and would also prohibit any collective contributions made by unions and corporations to political candidates and elected officials. If passed, the implementation and enforcement of Proposition 32 would increase costs to state and local government by an estimated $1 million or more. Thursday’s debate was moderated by the California Center for Public Policy and CALPIRG, and featured a dialogue between economics professor Lanny Ebenstein and Campus Democrats President Erik Anciaux on the potential impacts of what has been nicknamed the “paycheck protection” initiative. Ebenstein voiced his support for the bill and linked the plight of post-collegiate debt with the high costs that unions can impose on state government. (read article)

Vote for Prop. 32 to free Sacramento from public employee unions

Editorial, October 28, 2012, UT San Diego

According to critics of Proposition 32 – the measure whose most important provision would ban automatic deduction of union dues from public employees’ paychecks – it is an all-out assault on the California middle class. Here’s what it actually is: a check on public employee unions, whose control of Sacramento directly stems from the vast political warchests they accumulate through automatic deduction of members’ dues. According to a state report, from 2000-2010, the California Teachers Association spent $212 million on political campaigns and lobbying – far more than any other entity. In second place was the California State Council of Service Employees, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which spent $107 million. What has this money bought in Sacramento since Gray Davis replaced Pete Wilson as governor? Lots. The union-dominated Legislature passed a measure in 1999 providing an immediate 50 percent retroactive pension increase for all state employees, a shocking giveaway matched by many local governments up and down California. (read article)

Are We Asking Too Much of Public Employee Unions?

By Joe Mathews, October 28, 2012, NBC 7 San Diego

There’s a big national debate over whether public employee unions have too much power over policymaking and politics. Prop 32 in California is an attempt to curb that power. But we don’t have nearly enough conversation about whether public employee unions have too much responsibility. These unions end up doing far more than representing their members. They are one of the leading arsenals of people and money for the Democratic Party and progressive causes. Just look at California politics and you’ll see public employees and their unions have stepped in again and again to defend people who otherwise don’t have resources or power in the political process. That’s what makes the problem of public employee union power so thorny. Yes, they are too powerful in some ways — particularly in California local governments, where public employees are often on both sides of the bargaining table in union negotiations (since they elect the officials doing the bargaining and since many of those officials come out of the public employee union world). (read article)

Editorial Cartoon on Prop. 32

October 26, 2012, San Diego Union Tribune

(View Cartoon)

Talk Show Host Hugh Hewitt Comments on the Public Employee Unions’ Destruction of California

October 28, 2012, Americans for Prosperity/California

(View Video)

Unions’ Modest Help for Brown in 1974 – A Lousy Deal for Taxpayers Today

By Al Donner, October 26, 2012, Fox & Hounds

California’s public employee unions gained real power in 1978 with passage of the Ralph Dills Act, which granted state employees and teachers a right to collective bargaining. Three decades later California struggles under the mountainous burden of the costs that decision generated. The roots of that entitlement goes back to the 1974 elections, when Jerry Brown was first elected governor and a large number of union-friendly candidates won seats in the California Legislature. Most of the elected officials who voted for that benefit are long gone and forgotten, never to be held accountable … except one, the quirky Brown who, as governor, signed the law authorizing collective bargaining. Perhaps most surprising is how little it cost public employee unions to elect people who would vote their way. In 1974 Brown received about $40,000 from the two leading public employee unions. To elect friendly legislators the two unions contributed as little as $3,500 to some, around $10,000 to others. So it is ironic, and perhaps justice, that Brown returned as California governor two years ago.  Today Brown has the primary responsibility of addressing the fiscal problems he helped create in the 1970s. (read article)

Costa Mesa outsourcing fight could have far-reaching effects

By Mike Reicher, October 26, 2012, Orange County Register

If voters approve Measure V, Costa Mesa’s proposed charter, on Nov. 6, Councilman Jim Righeimer could win his battle to privatize city services. But he and his allies may have unintentionally dashed outsourcing hopes for hundreds of California cities. Officials sometimes use the tactic to cut their pension budgets and save on other employment costs. After a court ruling favorable to Costa Mesa’s employee union, labor groups could now have the power to block municipalities from privatizing basic services such as street sweeping, which many cities have done for years, experts say. About two-thirds of California cities follow the state’s general government code, and if the court ruling stands, these “general law” cities are now constrained for many types of city services. “It would open up a Pandora’s box,” said Tony Cardenas, League of California Cities Orange County public affairs manager. Other cities have adopted their own constitution, called a charter, and can privatize services freely. In the past, if a city council thought it could get a better deal in the private sector, it would place a contract out for bid. Some even incorporated entirely using outsourcing. Cities such as Laguna Woods, Aliso Viejo and others in South County outsource nearly all city services. (read article)

Michigan Vote a Test Case on Enshrining the Rights of Unions

By Steven Greenhouse, October 25, 2012, Washington Times

Tired of battling legislative efforts to roll back union rights in state after state, organized labor is trying a new strategy: going on the offense. The first target is Michigan, the cradle of the United Automobile Workers and a bastion of union power. “We’re dying a death by a thousand cuts,” said John Armelagos, a nurse in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s unions are asking voters to approve a referendum on the ballot this November, known as Proposal 2, that would lock a series of labor protections into the state Constitution, including the right of public sector unions to bargain collectively and a prohibition against the legislature’s enacting a “right to work” law. The ballot campaign represents an attempt by unions and their Democratic allies to slow or stop the wave of Republican-backed measures adopted in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and other states in the last two years to curb collective bargaining and weaken unions, especially those representing government workers. “Besides the presidential race, Proposal 2 is probably going to be the most significant thing on the ballot nationally,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, a conservative research center based in Midland, Mich. “Michigan is surrounded by Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio — states that have taken wildly different views of private and public sector unions. The nation is on a teeter right now on union matters, and Michigan will give momentum to one side or the other depending on how this plays out.” (read article)

New group seeks to cut into union cash with appeal to religious conservatives

By Jon Ortiz, October 25, 2012, Sacramento Bee

With labor politics and money looming large right now, a new nonprofit launched a website this week that aims to divert union dues money to charity. The home page of the fledgling group ChooseCharity implores workers to “send ALL of your union dues to a charity you believe in, instead of seeing them support things you don’t.” The idea isn’t new. The 1964 Civil Rights Act includes a provision that allows unionized workers to divert all of their dues to charity if contributing to a labor group violates their religious convictions. Unions don’t exactly trumpet the law, and if state workers are any indication, it’s rarely invoked. Only 46 of about 169,000 represented state employees diverted their union dues to charity, according to payroll figures from December 2011. ChooseCharity hopes to promote awareness of the law – and make a few bucks. For 20 percent of a member’s annual dues, it handles the objection paperwork and any union flak. (read article)

Labor unions, liberal groups fear lame-duck betrayal by Obama

By Alexander Bolton, October 24, 2012, The Hill

Major labor unions and dozens of liberal groups working to elect President Obama are worried he could “betray” them in the lame-duck session by agreeing to a deal to cut safety-net programs. While Obama is relying on labor unions and other organizations on the left to turn out Democratic voters in battleground states, some of his allies have lingering concerns about whether he will stand by them if elected.  The liberal groups are planning to launch an aggressive campaign immediately after Election Day to pressure Obama and Senate Democrats not to endorse any deal that cuts Medicare and/or Social Security benefits. They say Republicans are also being targeted, but acknowledge that Democrats are more likely to respond to the lobbying campaign. (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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