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.

A Tough Year For Unions, With Few Bright Spots Ahead

By NPR Staff, December 30, 2012, WGBH Radio/Boston

This year was a tough one for organized labor. In June, Scott Walker — the Wisconsin governor who banned collective bargaining for public employee unions — survived a recall election. And, despite huge protests in Michigan, the union stronghold became the 24th right-to-work state, banning unions from requiring workers to sign up. That came just 10 months after Indiana passed a similar law. Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of The American Prospect, says it’s only the latest in years of mostly union defeats. Despite some bright spots, Meyerson tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden that the future for organized labor in the U.S. looks gloomy. (read article)

Some Ohio public employees retiring before pension reforms begin

By Harlan Spector, December 30, 2012, Plain Dealer

Ohio public pension reforms that start next year are causing a spike in retirements among some local government and school employees. Schools superintendents, city administrators and other municipal employees are among those who have chosen to retire before pension changes take effect. State lawmakers this year enacted reforms to stabilize the state’s five retirement systems. The changes include increased contributions for some employees; increased retirement eligibility ages and new rules for cost-of-living increases. Some of the changes take effect in January, while others are phased in over the next few years. “We had four senior administrators retire as a direct result of pension reform,” said Stow Mayor Sara Drew. “It’s a fairly significant exodus of people at the top.” (read article)

California Labor Unions Allowed More Freedom By State Supreme Court

By Denny Walsh, December 28, 2012, The Huffington Post

In a hands-down win for organized labor, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state’s labor laws assuring union members the right to picket on privately owned walkways fronting store entrances are not unconstitutional. The long-awaited and much-watched ruling reverses a 2010 decision by Sacramento’s 3rd District Court of Appeal striking down two parts of the state’s labor laws as unconstitutional and declaring retail owners can’t be forced to allow picketing on their property just because it relates to a labor dispute. The high court sent the case back to the 3rd District for further proceedings in accord with Thursday’s ruling. The appeal court will have to withdraw its order to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster to issue an injunction prohibiting United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8 from picketing at the entrance and on sidewalks adjacent to a Foods Co. store in the College Square development on West Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento. McMaster had refused to issue an injunction. (read article)

Governor Deals Another Blow to Unions in Michigan

By Meredith Jessup, December 28, 2012, The Blaze

Aside from the reelection of President Barack Obama, labor unions in Michigan didn’t have many other victories to celebrate. They failed to insert collective bargaining rights into the state constitution, and now, the one victory unions could claim — the repeal of the state’s municipal emergency manager law — is being turned on its head. Gov. Rick Snyder has just signed into law a new emergency management law. Unions previously objected to the legislation which grants the state the ability to review spending procedures of local municipalities who default on debt payments or loans. This meant the ability to reject or modify union contracts guaranteeing benefits the public treasury can’t afford and placing limits on the ability of crony politicians to continue track records of irresponsible spending. Just days after Snyder signed Right-to-Work legislation into law, he and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature are sticking it to unions once again. (read article)

Obama’s labor board bails out big unions again

Editorial, December 27, 2012, Washington Examiner

Just last week, the NLRB released a number of decisions that further rewrote the rules in Big Labor’s favor. In the case United Nurses and Allied Professionals v. Jeanette Geary, the NLRB effectively undermined the Supreme Court’s Knox ruling. In Knox, the court affirmed that while unions can force nonmembers in most states to pay dues, the money can be used only for collective bargaining expenses. Unions cannot force those same workers to subsidize their political activity. In Geary, however, the board’s Democratic majority ruled that nonunion workers do not have a right to demand an audit or other independent confirmation that the union is following the law. They literally have to take the union’s word for it. (read article)

California’s public jobs are now more public than ever

By Jon Ortiz, December 27, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Say your neighbor is thinking about a job with the state. What advice would you offer? Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson said last week that he’d advise that neighbor to think about this trade-off: Are you willing to take a public service job and lose your privacy? He didn’t mention the lower state and local government pensions that kick in for new hires as of New Year’s Day. He didn’t talk about pay, even though many state positions come with lower wages than similar private-sector or local government jobs. “Frankly, when you’re a public employee, increasingly, you have less and less privacy,” said Dickinson, who worked for the California Department of Consumer Affairs 30 years go. His Assembly district may have more state employees than any other. (read article)

Someone Forgot to Tell California’s Bankrupt Cities About the Golden State’s Alleged Economic Revival

By Matt Welch, December 26, 2012, Reason Magazine

After California voters narrowly approved a hike on their income taxes this November, a species long thought extinct started re-appearing in the national media: the California-is-back story. “California Finds Economic Gloom Starting to Lift,” declared The New York Times, bolstering the case with such beautifully worded info-explainers as “Most Californians are still pessimistic about the direction of their state, but the trend is improving.” Politico trumpeted “Jerry Brown’s California Revival.” The articles were short on economic numbers, long on armchair politics and carnival-barker quotes like disgraced ex-governor Gray Davis telling the Gray Lady that “I can see the sun glistening off the ocean as I look out my office window.” (read article)

It’s tough to exaggerate government pay problem

By Steven Greenhut, December 26, 2012, Public Sector Inc

When I write about about the public-employee compensation giveaways in California, I often find people who find the numbers hard to believe. That’s because the situation has reached the heights of absurdity. A friend of mine recently told me he’s moving back to New Mexico from California — not because the public-policy situation is better, but because at least New Mexico is a poor state and doesn’t have the billions to give away to interest groups.This is from a recent Bloomberg article, and goes to show that you can’t make this stuff up: “California Highway Patrol division chief Jeff Talbott retired last year as the best-paid officer in the 12 most-populous U.S. states, collecting $483,581 in salary, pension and other compensation.Talbott, 53, received $280,259 for accrued leave and vacation time and took a new job running the public-safety department at a private university in Southern California. He also began collecting an annual pension of $174,888 from the state.” (read article)

Labor beat Prop. 32 via social media

By Joe Garofoli, December 25, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle

Leaders of the California unions that spent $75 million to defeat Proposition 32’s union-busting campaign in November discovered something during the bruising battle: 40 percent of likely voters were not watching any Prop. 32-related TV commercials, even though the spots droned on nonstop throughout the fall. So the forces opposed to the measure, which would have banned the use of union payroll deductions for political contributions, changed tactics. Fusing a sophisticated data-mining operation with messages sent through social media platforms such as Facebook, the unions changed how they were singling out voters younger than 40 who don’t watch TV. Within weeks, they saw support for their position among younger voters climb from 40 percent to 60 percent. (read article)

How Unions Promote Wage Inequality

By Amity Shlaes, December 25, 2012, Bloomberg

Relief was the main sentiment of travelers who planned to pass through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York when security workers there canceled the threat of a Christmastime strike. Yet two troubling questions linger. The first involves the airport workers’ specific grievances. They complained of making only $8 an hour. Why so low, you wonder, especially compared with what union workers in security-related jobs get. The guards, hired by the contractor Air Serv Corp., were so angry that one of them even expressed a warning that those in safety fields often don’t make explicit: that a labor action could compromise the public’s security. “They will be completely unsafe,” said the guard, Prince Jackson. The second question is why the nation now confronts the prospect of more labor trouble that could inconvenience the public, or possibly jeopardize safety, whether in Camden, New Jersey, where firemen are warning of the danger of closing engine companies, or in Long Beach, California, where a clerical employees’ strike delayed the movement of goods worth $1 billion a day in a recent work stoppage. (read article)

Spending large sums in state labor battles adds to unions’ problem of losing members

December 23, 2012, Associated Press

U.S. labor unions dealing with a steady decline in membership are now faced with the additional challenge of having to spend millions to fight Republican-backed, anti-union efforts. The unions remain politically powerful, having helped President Obama this year win such swing states as Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin. But their declining membership rolls also is no secret. Unions represented roughly 30 percent of the country’s workforce in the early 1980s, when the federal government started tracking those numbers, but they now represent 11.8 percent. The declining numbers are in part the result of the country’s shrinking manufacturing sector, but the situation has been compounded by recent efforts in Michigan and Wisconsin to limit unions’ power. Unions had already spent roughly $22 million in Michigan on a failed November ballot issue regarding collective bargaining, before Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation this month that stops unions from making workers pay dues or representation fees to keep their jobs. The law makes Michigan the 24th so-called “right to work” state. They also spent more than $20 million in Wisconsin to remove Republican Gov. Scott Walker this year in a recall election after he signed 2011 legislation stripping most public employees of much of their collective-bargaining power, but Walker still won that election. The unions also spent roughly $24 million last year in Ohio to overturn an anti-union measure. But unions spent more in California this year to defeat a ballot measure that would curb dues collection than they did total on political efforts in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. (read article)

50,000 GM Union Workers to Bag Year-End Bonuses

By Wynton Hall, December 22, 2012, Big Government

Roughly 50,000 General Motors union workers will receive bonuses of between $5,500 and $7,000 to close out 2012, say sources familiar with internal discussions between United Auto Worker officials. In 2009, General Motors scored a $49.5 billion bailout from the U.S. government. Last week, the Treasury Department announced it will sell General Motors 200 million shares before 2013, reducing the government’s stake in GM from 26.5% to 19%. Over the next 15 months, the Treasury will sell its remaining GM holdings. But given that GM’s stock would need to be roughly double its current trading price for the government to break even, taxpayers are expected to lose between $10 and $12 billion on the GM bailout. In 2012, the United Auto Workers spent $11.8 million to help elect Democrats and President Barack Obama. (read article)

Illinois public unions contest pension reform plans

By Karen Pierog, December 19, 2012, Reuters

Illinois public sector labor union leaders on Wednesday pushed back against proposals to reform state pensions that could reduce their benefits, warning that they would file a lawsuit if necessary. In early January, the state legislature could debate a plan unveiled by House lawmakers this month that would boost workers’ pension contributions, raise retirement ages and limit cost-of-living increases for retirees. The aim is to fully fund the state’s five pension funds in 30 years. Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said the state’s solution comes down to asking workers to pay more for reduced benefits. “It’s not fair,” he said at a news conference for We Are One Illinois, a coalition of public sector worker unions. He added that passage of the proposed plan, or similar legislation, would result in lengthy and costly litigation that the unions are confident they will win given strong protections for state worker benefits in the Illinois Constitution. (read article)

Are government pensions untouchable?

Editorial, December 19, 2012, Merced Sun-Star

Public employee union leaders have always argued that pension obligations between state and local governments and their employees are a contract. As such, they are unbreakable. Under that theory, pension benefits are vested rights conferred when a government worker is hired. The California State Public Employee Retirement System has consistently supported that view. Even when hard-pressed municipal governments stopped paying their other creditors, CalPERS has always insisted that cities must pay their pension obligations. Recently, however, municipal bankruptcy proceedings in Stockton and San Bernardino have challenged pension contracts. Insurers for banks, bondholders and local vendors that supply everything from paper clips to janitorial services argue that if they have to stand in line for money they’re owed by insolvent cities, so should all other creditors, including the state retirement system. (read article)

Government unions may be big losers in Michigan

By Steve Malanga, December 11, 2012, Public Sector Inc.

The press is playing the Michigan labor battle as significant because the state is home to the United Auto Workers and is considered a cradle of unionization. But private sector union rates have sunk to about 12 percent of the workforce in Michigan. Meanwhile, however, public sector unionization sits at 55 percent. Today, the Michigan legislature passed a right-to-work law governing the public sector (unionstats.com), with private sector legislation to follow. We know what happened in Wisconsin when Scott Walker’s budget repair bill gave government workers the ability to opt out of joining a union even if their workplace was organized. That law also stopped automatic dues collection by the state. Will something similar follow in Michigan? (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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