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.

Michigan unions may have misplayed their hand

Editorial, November 13, 2012, Livingston Daily

Michigan unions appear to have misplayed their hand last week, particularly when voters handily defeated a misguided proposal to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution. Voters emphatically said no, defeating Proposal 2 by a healthy margin. The large Michigan margins enjoyed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, suggest that many of the state’s Democratic voters turned against the union-backed proposal. Republicans, especially Gov. Rick Snyder, were elated with the outcome. Passage of Proposal 2 would have endangered many of the spending reforms ushered in by Snyder — and aided by overwhelming Republican majorities in the House and Senate — in his two years in office. Further, Snyder warned that the state’s business image would be hampered, literally and figuratively, had the proposal passed. But it didn’t. And union leaders need to seriously consider the decision-making process that led them on this expensive and failed venture. Elected as a pro-business governor in 2010, Snyder steered away from the tough talk and actions that marked fellow Republican governors, most notably Wisconsin’s. (read article)

Labor Leaders Have Obama’s Back, and Are Ready to Help

By Steven Greenhouse, November 12, 2012, New York Times

Having helped President Obama win re-election, labor leaders will meet with him on Tuesday and intend to offer their robust support for what they view as his mandate: stand tough against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and keep pushing to raise taxes on the wealthy. Organized labor’s emphasis on broader policy, rather than union-specific legislation, is somewhat of a change from 2008, when leaders pushed for bills that would make it easier to organize workplaces. As the administration begins talks with Congressional Republicans to modify a range of tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to go into effect next year, the unions say they will rally their forces on a broader agenda, seeking to counter business and conservative groups that are pushing for cuts in social programs and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. “We expect to have the president’s back on the agenda that the voters just declared support for,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $75 million in backing Mr. Obama and various Democrats this year. “The president has always said he needs a movement behind his mandate.” Mr. Obama has talked of going beyond the Beltway to stir up support for his plans, including increasing taxes on households with incomes of more than $250,000. Union leaders have made clear that they are happy to turn out the troops to — in a tactic from the Franklin D. Roosevelt era — “make him do it.” (read article)

New York City Unions Waiting Out Mayor Bloomberg’s Term

By Michael Howard Saul, November 12, 2012, Wall Street Journal

For the first time since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, every New York City public-employee union—all 152 bargaining units—is working without a contract. The situation is symbolic of the frosty turn Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s relationship with organized labor has taken since he began his third term in 2010. The Bloomberg administration has told labor leaders they can’t expect raises during a time of fiscal austerity. In turn, many union officials said they would wait out Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure and make a deal in 2014 with a new mayor they hope will be labor friendly. “Labor is anxious to deal… (read article – subscription required)

Montana’s public employees earning more than private sector counterparts

By Glenn Oppel, November 12, 2012, Great Falls Tribune

In a year when most state legislatures were engaged in budgetary belt-tightening, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and public employee union representatives agreed to a pay plan package that would make any private sector worker envious. According to the agreement, each of the next two years state workers would receive both a five percent raise in pay and a 10 percent increase in the state contribution toward health insurance premiums. The price tag is estimated at $138 million. After the pay plan agreement was reached, a local representative of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees argued that it was necessary to “bring us closer to being compensated fairly with those in the private sector.” Union representatives would have the public accept as conventional wisdom their caricature of the underpaid public employee, but the data suggest that public employees are actually compensated far more generously than their private sector counterparts. (read article)

Ohio’s labor unions flex political muscle again

John Seewer, November 10, 2012, San Antonio Express-News

Whether Ohio’s blue-collar workers were motivated by the auto bailout or lingering bitterness over a Republican-led attempt to limit collective bargaining, it’s clear that the state’s labor unions remain a political force when united. Organized labor claimed credit for President Barack Obama’s victory in Ohio after union members and their allies flooded the state with mailers, phone calls and home visits in the days leading up to the election. Sixty percent of voters from union households in Ohio threw their support behind Obama while the rest of the state’s voters were split between the president and Republican Mitt Romney, according to exit poll results for The Associated Press. Obama also got a slightly bigger share of the union vote than he did in 2008. The union vote for Obama was even stronger in Wisconsin, where the state’s Republican governor also sought to limit union rights for public workers. (read article)

Round-up: Labor and the 2012 elections

By Daniel DiSalvo, November 9, 2012, PublicSectorInc.

Despite declining private sector membership, organized labor was a big player in the 2012 elections. They lent their vaunted GOTV operation to the Obama campaign in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other swing states. Obama won 58% of the votes of union households. All this took place despite the administration’s mixed record on issues of importance to organized labor. Obama did not push hard for “check card” legislation but he appointed pro-labor people to the NLRB. He protected state and local public employment through the stimulus package but his Race to the Top education program was anathema to teachers unions. In California, public sector unions tag-teamed with Governor Jerry Brown to pass a take hike. The unions also defeated Prop. 32, which would have eliminated dues-checks for political purposes in the public sector. (read article)

California ballot-box assaults on unions fail

By Martin Wisckol, November 9, 2012, Orange County Register

Minutes after Mitt Romney’s defeat was announced, former Gov. Pete Wilson turned his attention to the political power of labor unions, funded by automatic payroll dues deductions. “We have to change the rules a little bit so that people who take money from other people’s paychecks can’t do that any more,” Wilson said from the podium at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel ballroom, addressing several hundred Republicans whose hopes of a celebration were deflated early. Wilson then praised Orange County-based efforts to reduce union influence, including Proposition 32. But with the election over, most of those I spoke to at the Westin were less concerned with demonizing opponents than with reflecting on what Republicans need to do next if the party is to have a future. At the top of the list: attracting more minority voters, particularly Latinos. California’s Latino electorate took a significant shift away from Republicans with Proposition 187 in 1994, when Wilson made that measure – which targeted illegal immigrants – a cornerstone of his successful re-election bid. It helped Wilson in the short run, but the GOP has watched the Latino electorate grow – and its own voter share shrink – steadily ever since. (read article)

In Michigan, a Setback for Unions

By Steven Greenhouse, November 8, 2012, New York Times

Hoping to set a precedent for other states, Michigan’s labor unions spent months pushing a referendum to amend the state’s Constitution to prohibit the legislature from ever enacting a law that would curb the powers of public employee unions. But this push to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Constitution was roundly defeated in Tuesday’s election, 58 to 42 percent — an embarrassing loss for labor in a state known as a cradle of American unionism. While union leaders have been quick to claim success in other Election Day contests, from the re-election of President Obama to the defeat of a California proposal that would have limited their ability to spend union dues in political campaigns, they have been largely silent on the Michigan loss. Some political experts say the measure was voted down for the same reason that the four other ballot initiatives to amend Michigan’s Constitution were defeated: voters were wary of tinkering with their state’s Constitution. (read article)

Prop. 32: What might have been

Editorial, November 8, 2012, UT San Diego

Was Proposition 32 a good measure overwhelmed by unions’ TV ads? Or was it a blown opportunity to change the face of California politics? The latter may be just as true as the former, and here’s why. The belief that public employee unions have too much power over state and local governments is widespread and is hardly limited to business executives and small-government advocates. In 2005, Proposition 75, which would have required labor unions to get consent from their public employee members before using their dues for political purposes, had broad support, including from California’s most powerful liberal media outlet. “At many levels of government, public employee unions, aided by their political war chests, have gained control over both sides of the negotiating process. When public employee unions wield the type of influence they now do in California, too much governing becomes an exercise in self-dealing,” wrote the editorial board of The Los Angeles Times. (read article)

Unions make statement in California, defeat Prop. 32

By Michael R. Blood, November 7, 2012, Sacramento Bee

After scalding defeats this year from Wisconsin to Indiana, organized labor held its ground in California and beat back the latest attempt to dilute union political clout. In a sign of the stakes, labor groups and other Democratic interests funneled at least $75 million into their drive to defeat Proposition 32 on Tuesday’s ballot, which would have starved unions of the tens of millions of dollars they use to finance campaigns and political organizing. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had declared California a firewall, after Indiana became the 23rd state to pass a law that limits unions’ ability to collect fees from nonunion workers and labor failed to recall Wisconsin’s governor, Republican Scott Walker, after he signed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for most public workers. “At the end of the day, this election was about a choice between two very different visions for our nation,” Trumka said in a statement Wednesday, after the proposition’s defeat. “One vision rewards hard work and the people who do it, while the other benefits only those at the top – and voters got it.” (read article)

California Unions Help Defeat Ballot Measure Targeting Campaign Donations

By Mike Maciag, November 7, 2012, Governing Magazine

California labor unions succeeded in pushing back against a ballot initiative that would have crippled their ability to raise campaign funds and influence elections in the state. Voters soundly rejected Proposition 32 by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, with about 95 percent of precincts reporting this morning. Political observers in the state widely viewed Proposition 32 as the most restrictive measure in the country targeting unions’ ability to influence politics. If enacted, the measure would have banned unions and corporations from using payroll deductions to collect any money for political purposes. “This was never about campaign finance reform,” said Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation. “It was about hurting working people and silencing unions.” Similar laws in Idaho, Michigan, Utah, Washington and Wyoming already restrict unions. But Proposition 32 would have taken another step by not allowing members to opt in for payroll deductions for campaign contributions. Instead, labor groups would have needed to establish entirely new mechanisms for raising money, such as contributions via credit cards. Labor groups saw how “paycheck protection” laws had played out in other states, fearing a sharp reduction in their ability to raise funds. Similar laws greatly diminished unions’ campaign coffers. A 2006 study by the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates paycheck laws had cut campaign contributions by approximately 50 percent in states. (read article)

Unions win big in California

By Daniel DiSalvo, November 7, 2012, PublicSectorInc.

Proposition 30 has passed. This outcome flies in the face of history, as Californians had always rejected increases in income and sales taxes at the ballot box over the last 30 years. A strong late push from Governor Brown combined with a big campaign from the teachers unions helped change the equation. It is a huge win for them. At the same time, voters rejected the rival measure, Prop. 38. Finally, it appears that “paycheck protection” (Proposition 32), strongly opposed by public sector unions, has been rejected by voters for the third time. All told, public sector unions won yesterday on the ballot measures most important to them. These results comport with a recent study I conducted, which found that when California’s unions go “all in” on a ballot measure, they almost always win. Yesterday’s results maintain the political and policy status quo in the Golden State–at least until the money runs out. (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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