Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Righeimer: Call off Costa Mesa layoffs

By Mike Reicher, November 20, 2012, Orange County Register

Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer, who led the council’s efforts to privatize city services, is now calling for administrators to rescind pink slips issued to employees last year and to negotiate a deal with the city labor union, he told The Orange County Register on Monday. The overture is a sign of moderation from the conservative, who built his reputation over the past two years with hard-line measures against labor. Last year, he led the council to approve more than 200 notices to employees warning that their jobs might be outsourced. He and others said the city was in dire financial straits because of employee pension debt and high compensation. (read article)

Illinois Legislature sends message to Quinn, Unions: No raises

By Jayette Bolinski, November 20, 2012, Illinois Watchdog

State workers hoping to receive annual pay raises in the coming years will have to wait for the state of Illinois to creep back from the edge of an unprecedented fiscal cliff. That’s the message desperate lawmakers and other officials are sending to Gov. Pat Quinn and the 44 public-sector unions as they embark on contract negotiations. But will Quinn and the unions listen to the General Assembly, whose only role is to come up with the money to pay for whatever ends up in the contracts? It’s hard to say. So who determines the state’s spending priorities: the governor, the Legislature or the unions? “As we fight to keep facilities open and we fight to fund the pension systems, the state is at the point where any and all additional financial pressures have to be looked at very seriously,” said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion. “There is not a magic pot of money that can be found to pay for all the things we want.” (read article)

Unions flexed muscles in state campaigns

By Sam Hananel, November 20, 2012, Sacramento Bee

From California to Maine, unions used their political muscle in the recent elections to help install Democratic governors, build labor-friendly majorities in state legislatures and defeat ballot initiatives against them. The combination of union money and member mobilization helped Democrats take control of state legislatures in Maine and Minnesota. In Michigan, voters repealed a law that allowed cities in financial distress to suspend collective bargaining contracts. But unions lost there on an effort to make collective bargaining rights a part of the state constitution. In New Hampshire, unions helped Maggie Hassan win the governor’s race. Unions spent millions backing Hassan with television ads and an extensive get-out-the-vote operation because she opposes a right-to-work bill to ban labor-management contracts that require affected workers to be union members or pay union fees. In perhaps their most important victory, unions defeated a California ballot measure that would have prohibited them from collecting money for political purposes through payroll deductions. “The unions must be fairly happy with themselves,” said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “These are positive signs, particularly saving their political life in California.” While re-electing President Barack Obama was labor’s highest Election Day priority, unions invested major resources in state races where they have been fighting efforts by governors and state lawmakers to restrict bargaining rights or dilute union power. (read article)

Public employee unions discover pensions aren’t shielded

Editorial, November 20, 2012, InlandPolitics.com

It took bankruptcy filings by the California cities of Stockton and San Bernardino to shed light on just how much a cities solvency, or better yet, insolvency, can strip away the gold plating from public pensions. If the fact that taxpayer-funded pensions aren’t as constitutionally-protected under federal bankruptcy laws as previously thought hasn’t quite settled in with some public sector labor unions, it should. U.S. Bankruptcy judges are sending the message loud and clear. For contractual pensions obligations to be fulfilled, the municipality making that contract must have the capability to keep up its side of the bargain, with the pension system. If this can’t happen, then neither will the pension payments. A hard reality that’s starting to set in with employee union’s, who have been resistant to compromise. Retiree’s themselves don’t even know what to think at this point. The city of San Bernardino is the best example. The bankrupt city has reneged on, maintaining current, its contributions with the California Public Employees Retirement System (Calpers). Calpers is the city’s pension plan provider. Why? The city is essentially broke. Now Calpers has intervened in the city’s bankruptcy proceedings as a major creditor in order to collect what the city owes it. The theme resonating here? Pay us what you owe us or future payments to your current and future retiree’s will cease. In other words, there is no free ride for anyone on this issue. (read article)

Oakland police union sides against brass

By Justin Berton, November 19, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle

Three weeks before a federal judge will hear arguments over whether Oakland should hand over its Police Department to federal authorities, attorneys for one of the parties filed a searing critique against the law enforcement agency. The lawyers said the department’s top brass was ineffective and accused commanders of leading the public on as they failed to install reforms mandated by a civil rights lawsuit. That wasn’t all. They asserted that internal affairs officers had carried out “dishonest” investigations that led to unjust results. And they characterized the relationship between cops and residents as “more negative than ever.” The authors of the stark analysis? The police officers union. At a time when city attorneys have gone all out to defend the department and stave off a federal receiver, the union’s declaration sought to distance the rank and file from the department’s command staff. Since 2003, the department has attempted to institute 51 reforms that were required in a civil settlement after four officers, who called themselves the Riders, were accused of beating and framing suspects in West Oakland. The East Bay attorneys for more than 100 of the victims, John Burris and James Chanin, recently filed a motion that asked a federal judge to appoint a receiver to take over the department, which has failed to implement nine of the required reforms. (read article)

Unions killed the goose that laid the golden egg

Editorial, Nov 19, 2012, Louisiana Advertiser  

Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is one of those old fairy tales for children which has a heavy message that a lot of adults should listen to. The labor unions which have driven the makers of Twinkies into bankruptcy, potentially destroying 18,500 jobs, could have learned a lot from that old children’s fairy tale. Many people think of labor unions as organizations to benefit workers, and think of employers who are opposed to unions as just people who don’t want to pay their employees more money. But some employers have made it a point to pay their employees more than the union wages, just to keep them from joining a union. Why would they do that, if it is just a question of not wanting to pay union wages? The Twinkies bankruptcy is a classic example of costs created by labor unions that are not confined to paychecks. The work rules imposed in union contracts required the company that makes Twinkies, which also makes Wonder Bread, to deliver these two products to stores in separate trucks. Moreover, truck drivers were not allowed to load either of these products into their trucks. And the people who did load Twinkies into trucks were not allowed to load Wonder Bread, and vice versa. (read article)

Union power protects miscreants, not just pay and benefits

By Chris Reed, November 19, 2012, CalWatchdog

As the Legislature’s refusal to pass a bill making it easier to fire classroom sexual predators shows, union power isn’t just about protecting jobs, pay and benefits. It’s also about insulating bad apples, even criminals, from the consequences of their behavior. A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times offers a reminder that the champions of this abusive use of political clout are California’s law-enforcement unions. “A Los Angeles police officer shocked a handcuffed woman with a Taser stun gun while joking with other officers at the scene, according to interviews and law enforcement records, adding to a series of controversial use-of-force incidents at the LAPD. … “This marks the fourth time in the last few months that cases have come to light in which LAPD officers are accused of using force on suspects who had been restrained. And these are only the cases we hear about. Thanks to a 2006 California Supreme Court decision in Copley Press v. Superior Court, officer misconduct is put behind an official wall. The very next year, a handful of honest lawmakers tried to rectify this dispiriting decision. They failed then and have since pretty much given up. But thanks to cell phone cameras, we hear more about police misconduct now than at any point ever. Police denials look ridiculous when video shows what officers are doing with their power. So what do police unions do? They get states to make it illegal to record arrests. (read article)

The Evil Empire Strikes Back: Even when reform passes, teachers unions engage in massive resistance

Editorial, November 18, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Education reformers had good news at the ballot box this month as voters in Washington and Georgia approved measures to create new charter schools. But as the reform movement gathers momentum, teachers unions are giving no quarter in their massive resistance against states trying to shake up failing public education. In Georgia, 59% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new statewide commission to approve charter schools turned down by union-allied school boards. Instead of absorbing the message, charter opponents are planning to sue. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said last week it will join a lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal to block the change. According to Caucus Chairman Emanuel Jones, because the ballot measure’s text didn’t discuss the details of how the schools were selected, “people didn’t know what they were voting for.” (read article – subscription required)

Public Employee Unions Harass Voters and Workers Gathering Signatures for Los Angeles Pension Reform Ballot Initiative

By Catherine Saillant, November 18, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Bonnie Haviland is the kind of voter Los Angeles city workers are hoping will help them stop former Mayor Richard Riordan’s push to switch new employees into 401(k)-type retirement plans from the current taxpayer-backed pensions. The Tarzana grandmother thinks younger generations shouldn’t have to worry about a retirement tied to the ups and downs of the stock market. That’s why Haviland, 72, refused Saturday to sign a petition seeking to put Riordan’s pension measure before voters next May. “I’m already retired so I don’t have to worry,” she said outside of a Vons supermarket, where a paid signature gatherer calling himself “Ace” had asked her to sign Riordan’s petition. “But I feel sorry for those who do.” Riordan is in the midst of gathering about 265,000 signatures to qualify a pension initiative for the May mayoral election. Changes are needed because pension costs are projected to continue rising even with recent changes made to retirement benefits by the City Council, Riordan has said. The city faces a $216-million budget shortfall next year, due in part to ever-increasing pension costs, city budget managers say. Union leaders say starting a 401(k)-like plan would cost the city even more, at least initially. (read article)

Big Labor’s Big Victories in State Elections

By Steven Malanga, November 16, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Kicking off his recent campaign to raise taxes via Proposition 30, California Gov. Jerry Brown cited the New Testament warning that of those to “whom much is given, much will be asked.” He meant that the rich should pay more taxes, but his statement proved true in a different way: In successfully pushing for the governor’s initiative, California’s rich and powerful government unions spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising and getting out the vote. California’s tax hike was but one example of how, despite spending $400 million to help re-elect President Obama, America’s labor unions had plenty of money to pour into crucial state campaigns. In many of these campaigns, labor thwarted efforts to cut taxes, rolled back laws it disliked, and generally cemented its reputation as the leading defender of big government at the state and local levels. (read article)

Unions to unveil pro-Obama fiscal cliff ads

By Reid J. Epstein, November 16, 2012, Politico

Campaign ads are back already. Three of the nation’s largest public-sector labor unions are joining forces to air television advertisements targeting moderate Senate Democrats and House Republicans to back President Barack Obama in the negotiations about the fiscal cliff. The ads will be unveiled Tuesday, a week after progressive and labor leaders met with Obama at the White House to discuss how to maintain the momentum from the president’s reelection. “It’s not just who was elected, but the ideas and values that were adopted,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “The point is we want to keep the ideas from the election alive.” The NEA, along with SEIU and AFSCME are due to announce the “six-figure” ad blitz targeting moderate Democratic senators and House Republicans who are on record as being open to increasing the amount of tax revenue the wealthy pay, NEA spokesman Miguel Gonzalez said Friday. (read article)

Obama administration set to give workers’ private contact info to unions

By Joe Newby, November 15, 2012, Washington Examiner

In what is being called a payback for support from unions, Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is set to give unions private contact information of workers employed by non-union companies, Joel Gehrke wrote at the Washington Examiner Thursday. “The National Labor Relations Board is expected to start work on a rule that would force businesses to turn over workers’ phone numbers, emails and shift times to union organizers,” the Associated Press reported last week. Worse yet, the new rules being considered by Obama’s NLRB would “curtail company management’s ability to get outside advice in how to argue against union drives,” Gehrke added. Gehrke also said the new rules would force law firms that give advice on countering union drives to “reveal proprietary information such as how much they make on the contract, how much they pay their own employees, and what they talk about with their clients on the job.” The primary impetus that people are seeing behind this is to basically get law firms to stop offering the services. (read article)

Santa Clarita man sues unions over robocalls to cellphone

By Christina Villacorte, November 14, 2012, Daily News

After enduring a barrage of robocalls during election season, a Santa Clarita man declared, “I’m sick of this crap,” and is suing labor unions – including his own – for calling his cellphone. “This is a wholesale scourge of our privacy,” said Robert Arkow, 62, a veteran communications electrician for the city of Los Angeles. “I want it to stop, and the only way you can beat them up is to hit their pocketbook,” he added. “Make them pay.” Federal law has prohibited robocalls to cellphones for two decades, but Arkow has seen plenty of violations over the years. In fact, he has become a crusader of sorts against robocalls and telemarketers. (read article)

Police union challenges former Mayor Riordan to pension debates

November 13, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles labor leaders are coming out swinging against former Mayor Richard Riordan’s push to place an initiative on next year’s ballot switching new city workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans. Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, on Tuesday challenged Riordan to three public debates on the merits of his plan before Dec. 7. That’s the deadline Riordan has set to collect roughly 265,000 signatures to qualify his measure for the May ballot. The dates and times could be of Riordan’s choosing, Izen said. Union leaders want him to back up his claims that unless changes are made, ever-increasing payments to the city’s three pension systems could cripple the city’s ability to provide services. “Riordan has chosen to hide behind carefully orchestrated radio talk show appearances where no challenging or insightful questions are asked, appearances before groups, where he knows his ideas won’t be challenged, and well-crafted media releases that lack any pretense of substance,” the police union chief said. Riordan didn’t immediately respond to the union’s challenge. (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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