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.

Jeb Bush hammers teachers unions at education summit

By Ben Wolfgang, November 27, 2012, Washington Times

In the fight to reform American schools, former Florida Gov. and outspoken education advocate Jeb Bush on Tuesday took direct aim at labor groups and joined a growing chorus who believe real change must start by loosening the grip of teachers unions. “We need to have a teacher evaluation system that is based on teachers being professionals, not part of some collective trade union bargaining process,” said Mr. Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Reform, which kicked off its national summit in D.C. on Tuesday. “We have a system to reward teachers that’s based on an industrialized, unionized model that is completely inappropriate for the 21st century,” Mr. Bush continued. “There are incredibly fine teachers that get paid less even though they’re doing the Lord’s work consistently over time, and there are teachers that are mediocre that get paid more because they’ve been there longer.” (read article)

Citizens United: Alaska labor unions raised the most for Super PACs

November 27, 2012, Alaska Dispatch

In November’s election, state labor unions outraised business-supported Super PACs by a landslide, the Anchorage Daily News reports, via the Miami Herald. Super PACs came into being with the Citizens United decision, which found that corporations and unions enjoy the same free speech protections as individual Americans to spend unlimited amounts of money for and against political candidates, as long as those groups don’t coordinate with candidates. Alaska was one of the first states to experience how Citizens United impacted local politics. In 2010, the group Alaskans Standing Together came together to support U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in effort against Joe Miller, who had beat the incumbent in the Republican senatorial primary. In the most recent election, state labor organizations raised $536,500 with their Super PAC Putting Alaskans First, while two major business supported Super PACs, The Accountability Project and We Are Alaska, only brought in $152,500 and $135,000, respectively. The ability of labor unions to outspend private businesses was not anticipated. (read article)

One California state worker on a mission to see union books

By Jon Ortiz, November 26, 2012, Sacramento Bee

State employee Mariam Noujaim said the tussle with her union started with a question: Why does the state pay for crossing guards to work on a lightly traveled street between two DMV buildings connected by a tunnel? “I really believe we can help solve our crisis by spending our money on monitoring the waste rather than bribing political and special interest (groups),” Noujaim wrote in an indelicate April 2010 email to her Service Employees International Union Local 1000 representative. Dissatisfied with the response, she began pushing to find out what the union is spending its money on if it isn’t working to ferret out waste. (read article)

Michigan Voters Send Message to Nation: No Means No!

By Bob Williams, November 26, 2012, Huffington Post

The people of Michigan really have spoken. Their voices and votes on Election Day sent a message of hope to citizens in every state worried about growing government cost and debt. According to latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Michigan has approximately 700,000 workers who are represented by unions, which is 18 percent of wage and salary employees and almost 10 percent of the voting-eligible population. Yet still, 2.5 million voters said “no” to so-called collective bargaining protections. Only 1.8 million said “yes.” At the same time, and by about the same margins, voters defeated questions that would have empowered emergency municipal managers and amended the constitution to force home health-care workers to pay union dues and require 2/3 majority for the legislature to raise taxes. If there is one bottom-line word voters communicated to politicians in no uncertain terms, it is this: control. Overall, about 60 percent of voters said no matter what the question, they want to keep control, whether it is over who is forced to pay union dues or how many legislators must approve tax increases or what it takes to build a bridge or manage a bankrupt city. (read article)

Unions hail demise of Riordan pension-reform ballot measure effort

By David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum, November 26, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Representatives of Los Angeles city labor unions on Monday hailed the announcement that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan had pulled the plug on his ballot measure effort to roll back pension benefits for city employees, calling it an expensive and poorly thought out proposal. Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, said he was not surprised by the collapse of the signature drive backed by Riordan. Izen said the pension proposal, which had been planned for the May ballot, never received the proper financial analysis in the weeks before Riordan began his push to get 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. On Monday, Riordan spokesman John Schwada said there was no way organizers could gather enough signatures for the pension measure by the Dec. 28 deadline. The measure sought to roll back benefits for existing workers and put new employees into a 401(k)-style retirement plan. (read article)

Angry workers give unions new life

By Mark Boster, November 22, 2012, Los Angeles Times

They’re fed up and they’re not going to take it anymore. That’s the case for thousands of employees across the nation who are striking and walking out of jobs rather than accepting changes to their pay and benefits. It might be a shot in the arm for a labor movement that had been left for dead but saw big gains in the November election as voters elected pro-labor candidates. The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just five in 2009, rose to 13 this year as of October. And unions aren’t done yet. Pilots at Fort Worth-based American Airlines are wreaking havoc on the airline’s schedule as it tries to cut pension and other benefits. Workers voted against concessions at Irving-based Hostess Brands Inc., forcing the company’s hand; a federal bankruptcy judge this week approved the company’s plans to shut down. And in California, nurses are striking this week at hospitals operated by Sutter Health. “There’s a lot of agitating going on,” said Julius Getman, a labor expert at the University of Texas. “People are unhappy. They feel that they’re not being well-treated. There is a swelling of annoyance at the rich.” (read article)

Will Jerry Brown give California state workers a raise?

By Jon Ortiz, November 22, 2012, San Luis Obispo Tribune

After California voters embraced Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 tax hike, this column received a half-dozen phone calls from state workers asking essentially the same question: “What are the odds I’ll get a raise?” At the risk of ruining their Thanksgiving, here’s the answer: virtually zero. Still, some state workers clearly see the $6.1 billion infusion of Proposition 30 and labor’s role in its passage as an opportunity to call in a favor from Brown when talks start for contracts that expire in July. They figure the governor owes public employee unions for getting out the vote for his tax measure. Why else was Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, standing at Brown’s side when he announced the measure had won on Nov. 6? (read article)

Twinkies—A Defense: The real battle at the snack maker is union vs. union

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., November 20, 2012, Wall Street Journal

A corporate bankruptcy is a paper death. The underlying assets live on. Killers of paper structures, in this light, are devalued villains, but a cry has gone up to identify the villain behind the pending liquidation of Hostess Brands, maker of Twinkies, Devil Dogs, Wonder Bread and other déclassé delights. Everyone knows the answer: It was the bakers—i.e., the branch of the AFL-CIO formally known as the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. The bakers are guilty of a perfectly justifiable attempted homicide. Don’t believe any guff about how chubby Americans are gnawing on carrot sticks. Forget blaming private equity, whose sin in the Hostess matter has been overworking the bankruptcy process to prolong the paper life of a Hostess not fit to survive. The real story is the story of two unions, the Teamsters and the Bakery union of the AFL-CIO. Here’s where things get interesting. (read article)

Ailing U.S. Postal Service Strives to Avoid Twinkie Fate

By Angela Greiling Keane, November 27, 2012, Business Week

While the Hostess Twinkie may not be as central to the U.S. economy as the mail, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe sees uncomfortable parallels of iconic products within unworkable organizational structures. “Companies and industries have gone over their own fiscal cliff because they can’t sit down and work out their differences,” Donahoe said in an interview last week. “Like Hostess.” Like Hostess Brands Inc., where a labor impasse prompted the snack-food maker’s liquidation, the Postal Service, with 28 times Hostess’s workforce of 18,000, has been squeezed by labor costs and changing consumer tastes to the brink of extinction. The post office’s insolvency is less imminent while no less ominous, with Donahoe projecting that the service expects to run out of cash in October without intervention from Congress. Turnaround specialists would be full of easy answers if the service were a private-sector company. The Postal Service is supposed to make a profit while operating as a government agency overseen by lawmakers who derive their authority over postal operations from the U.S. Constitution. Unlike a private enterprise, the Postal Service can’t close most locations even if they’re unprofitable. It can’t raise prices on its primary product by more than the inflation rate or change its pension or health benefits. And as of Sept. 28, when it exhausted its $15 billion borrowing limit with the U.S. Treasury, it can’t borrow any more money. The U.S. Postal Service is running with no more than four days of operating cash on hand. Labor costs have grown to 80 percent of expenses, even after 280,000 jobs were cut since 2000, as mail volume has dropped 26 percent from its peak six years ago. (read article)

Breaking away from labor unions

By Steve Harry, November 20, 2012, Lansing Journal

In the recent election, the Democratic Party did pretty well in Michigan. President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney, 6,1476,182 votes to 5,8363,044 and Democrats gained 5 seats in the state House of Representatives. At the same time, organized labor — which some folks find indistinguishable from the Michigan Democratic Party — took a beating on Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to expand collective bargaining rights, and Proposal 4, another constitutional amendment that would have allowed Service Employees International Union Healthcare to continue extracting union dues from 44,000 home help workers. The unions did win on Proposal 1, a referendum which repealed the Emergency Financial Manager law, but that may have been because a “yes” vote would have kept the law in force, and voters were saying “no” to all proposals. Could it be that Michigan is turning against organized labor? If so, why aren’t the Democrats losing ground also? The reason may be that Democrats are on the right side of a lot of issues such as gay marriage, reproductive rights, protecting the environment and helping the poor. Also, they are willing to raise taxes when there is a legitimate need, such as fixing our roads. Maybe it’s time for the Democrats to get on the right side of the collective bargaining issue. (read article)

Labor’s big victories in state initiative elections

By Steve Malanga, November 20, 2012, Public Sector Inc.

Much of the commentary in the wake of the Nov. 6 election has revolved around the role unions played in helping reelect Barack Obama in key states. By its own admission, labor spent some $400 million on the national election. But as I pointed out in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal  (subscription required), labor had plenty of money left over to devote to tax raising, reform stifling initiatives at the state level. You may have read about the expensive battle over Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in California,where unions led the fight for higher taxes, contributing about 60 percent of the pro-Prop 30 campaign funds (see biggest union givers chart below) but unions also led a successful campaign to raise taxes in Oregon and to roll back education reform legislation in Idaho and South Dakota. (read article)

Unions show muscle, spent millions in state races

By Sam Hananel, November 19, 2012, Associated Press

When Maggie Hassan won the New Hampshire governor’s race, it wasn’t just a victory for her fellow Democrats. 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. From California to Maine, unions used their political muscle 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. (read article)

California is destroying itself. The U.S. is next.

By Alan Caruba, November 18, 2012, Renew America

There’s a very entertaining, but terrifying book by Laer Pearce, “Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State — How California is destroying itself and Why It Matters to America.” I recommend everyone read it because it lays out the template for why California will go belly up and why the nation is at the precipice of doing the same thing. For some thirty years the author has been helping corporations and local government agencies cope with California’s regulatory jungle. As he puts it, “Crazifornia reveals a state that has become so misdirected, ungovernable and untenable that the primary driver of change has become the catastrophe.” Following the recent elections a recent Wall Street Journal editorial opined, “So now Californians will experience the joys of one-party, union-run progressive governance.” Though it may defy belief, Californians voted to let the state tax them more to 13.3% and they gave Democrats a supermajority in both houses while killing a ballot initiative that would have barred unions from automatically withholding money from worker paychecks for political spending. The public service and other unions own California. (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.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!