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.

Entertainment executives, unions join to promote Greuel candidacy

By Michael Finnegan and Maeve Reston, January 15, 2013, Los Angeles Times

The group, Working Californians, is mounting an independent TV ad campaign to promote the Los Angeles mayoral candidacy of City Controller Wendy Greuel, a former exec at the DreamWorks film studio. Entertainment industry executives and labor unions — including one representing city utility workers — are joining forces to mount an independent TV ad campaign to promote the Los Angeles mayoral candidacy of City Controller Wendy Greuel, a top advisor to the group said Monday. The group, Working Californians, has hired two of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s former campaign consultants, Ace Smith and Sean Clegg, to run the campaign, according to Clegg, a former deputy mayor. If the group succeeds in raising a substantial sum of money, it could play a significant role in the fiercely competitive March 5t mayoral primary. (read article)

In small victory for labor unions, Charlotte council OKs voluntary payroll deduction for dues

By Steve Harrison, January 15, 2013, Charlotte Observer

In a narrow vote, labor unions won the right Monday to have city of Charlotte employees have their union dues voluntarily deducted directly from their paychecks. The Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 to allow the automatic payroll deduction – or union dues checkoff. The council had a vigorous debate about the role of unions in city government, and some council members said they needed more time before voting. The United Electrical Workers Local 150 has been trying to recruit city workers, particularly those in the sanitation department. The union has pushed for the automatic deductions as part of a so-called “Worker’s Bill of Rights” it has presented to the city. It held protests before the city council last year and also lobbied for the deductions during the Democratic National Convention in September. “This means we are in the door,” said James Locklear, a city sanitation worker and United Electrical Workers union member. “Now we can start talking about other issues.” The city already allows employees to make automatic payroll deductions for some charities such as United Way. (read article)

New York City School Bus Strike to Start Wednesday, Says Union

By Verena Dobnik, January 15, 2013, Associated Press

A strike by New York City school bus drivers that had been threatened for weeks will start Wednesday morning, affecting 152,000 students, the president of the union representing the drivers announced Monday. Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons will participate in the strike, brought about by a dispute over job protections in any new bus company contracts for the bus routes. Matrons accompany the children on the bus and make sure they get on and off the bus safely. “With its regrettable decision to strike, the union is abandoning 152,000 students and their families who rely on school bus service each day,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “As Chancellor (Dennis) Walcott and I have said, the City will take all steps available to ensure that those who are impacted have the support they need, and we are now activating the protocols we put in place in the event of a strike.” (read article)

Group pushing union vote at Nissan plant in Mississippi

By Jeff Ayres, January 14, 2013, Clarion Ledger

Supporters of a unionization vote at Nissan’s Canton assembly plant took their case Monday to a prime annual event where domestic and foreign automakers debut products aimed at U.S. customers. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, joined by actor Danny Glover, gathered at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to call on Nissan to give its workers the chance to unionize. The group is composed of elected officials, clergy, civil rights activists and college students. Nissan maintains its workers in Canton are treated fairly and that a union isn’t needed because open communication exists between employees and management. It also said local-level worker support for a union isn’t as great as union supporters are portraying. “The workers at Nissan should have the same right as any American — the right to choose,” said the Rev. R. Isiac Jackson Jr., the alliance’s chairman and president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi. (read article)

Union of New York’s Subway Drivers Urges Slower Train Speeds

By Matt Flegenheimer, January 14, 2013, New York Times

The union representing subway operators has advised its workers to drastically reduce their trains’ speed as they enter stations, a directive prompted by the recent deaths of two people who were shoved in front of oncoming subway trains. In a flier distributed to operators in recent days, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 said that preventing a subway accident, “and saving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip.” Operators were urged to “enter every station as if there is a pair of yellow lanterns at the entrance,” a scenario that would call for trains to observe a speed limit of 10 miles per hour, and for operators to sound a horn. (read article)

How Unions Went From Border Hawks To Immigration Doves

By Benjy Sarlin, January 14, 2013, TPM Media

Eliseo Medina, secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and labor’s point man on immigration, has been waiting decades for a moment like this one. “I think we get it this year,” a smiling Medina told TPM in his office in Washington. “And if we don’t, the discussion won’t be about whether it’s coming afterwards, just what it will look like and when.” Over his long career, Medina’s witnessed dozens of promising immigration reform efforts, only to see them countered just as often by a restrictionist backlashes — backlashes that sometimes included support from unions. But everything seems to be coming together at the right time in 2013, with a broad coalition of labor, business, religious leaders, Latino groups, and even some prominent Republicans demanding immediate action. With victory in sight, SEIU is committing the full force of its 2.1 million members to pushing comprehensive reform in 2013, with plans for rallies around the country, education campaigns for members, and an inside game aimed at lobbying lawmakers in Washington towards a final vote. The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, is on board as well; and the two sometimes rival groups are united around a common set of policy principles after splitting on President George W. Bush’s failed immigration effort. Both organizations identify passing a bill that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented population as one of their absolute top priorities for the 113th Congress. (read article)

Black union activists: Time to organize workers from the grassroots up

By Saeed Shabazz, January 14, 2013, The Final Call

Bill Fletcher, Jr. long-time labor activist, and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies recently authored a book titled “They’re Bankrupting Us – And 20 Other Myths About Unions” argues that unions are necessary for democracy and to ensure economic and social justice. In an earlier eBook “Reimaging Labor Unions: Busting Myths, Building Movements,” Mr. Fletcher said unions still play a vital role in American life. However, Mr. Fletcher’s arguments may seem fleeting given the recent attacks against organized labor by Republican-dominated state Legislatures in the form of laws, such as the one passed in Michigan in Dec. 2012, barring public and private workers from being required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Twenty-three states have laws restricting public workers’ right to bargain collectively. “We have to build a new labor movement,” Mr. Fletcher explained to The Final Call. “We need a leadership that understands the labor crisis from the ground up—not this top-down module now in existence.” He also said that the traditional trade union may not be necessarily relevant to someone that’s unemployed or underemployed. (read article)

Peaceful union picketing permitted on private property, California high court rules, upholds labor anti-injunction statutes

By Bradley W. Kampas and Mark S. Ross, January 14, 2013, Lexology

In a highly watched case, the California Supreme Court has ruled that unions may continue to engage in “peaceful” picketing and other otherwise lawful union activities on an employer’s private property during a labor dispute and that two California anti-injunction statutes regarding labor activities do not run afoul of the First or Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Ralphs Grocery Co. v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 8, No. S185544 (Cal. Dec. 27, 2012). The high court also held unanimously that a private sidewalk in front of a store’s customer entrance in a shopping center is not a public forum under the California Constitution’s liberty of speech provision, and therefore a law favoring union speech did not run afoul of constitutional nondiscrimination requirements for speech based on its content. On the other hand, a union, and presumably other groups, would have no state constitutional right to picket or engage in other expressive activities at that location. Ralphs Grocery Company has not announced whether it will seek review of the constitutional issues before the U.S. Supreme Court. (read article)

So, you think your Right-To-Work state is safe from unions?

By LaborUnionReport, January 13th, 2013, RedState.com

This is the first of several posts about the union agenda to end the Senate filibuster: Ending the Senate filibuster? Not so fast… There is, and has been since 2010, a concerted effort by union bosses to get their union-bought cronies in the U.S. Senate to end the filibuster. Why? The obvious answer is: So, unions can enact legislation that they want. However, let’s break that down to more specifics, shall we? The Employee Free Choice Act would be the law of the land today if it weren’t for the modern filibuster. The Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, would have made it easier to organize a union. In 2008, it easily passed the House of Representatives. A solid majority of U.S. senators supported the bill. But they never got a chance to vote on it, and EFCA died. While effectively ending secret-ballots in union certifications is one of the major reasons union bosses like Hoffa have spent billions on Barack Obama and Democrats in the last five years, there is more to ending Republicans’ ability block legislation than card-check that is on the union agenda. (read article)

Meetinghouse vandalism brings look at tactics in labor disputes

By Jeff Gammage, Inga Saffron, and Miriam Hill, January 13, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer

It took four days to repair most of the $500,000 in damage done by vandals at the Quaker meetinghouse being built in Chestnut Hill. Still on site is the dead hulk of a crane, its cab burned in what authorities said was arson. “Do I think it was the unions?” said Robert Reeves, president of the nonunion Abington builder working at the site. “I don’t think it was a group of 10-year-old boys.” Labor-related violence has declined in Philadelphia during the last 40 years, according to John Breese, an assistant regional director with the National Labor Relations Board. (read article)

Even With Sales Tax Boost, Sacramento City Council Must Take Hard Look at Employee Benefits

Editorial, January 13, 2013, Sacramento Bee

If anyone thought that a sales tax increase would solve Sacramento’s budget woes, the latest numbers establish that there’s still much more work to do. The new City Council has plenty of tough decisions ahead – and its stiffest tests will come in the upcoming round of negotiations with labor unions. The half-cent hike passed in November kicks in April 1, raising the total sales tax in Sacramento to 8.5 percent (including the statewide quarter-cent increase, also approved Nov. 6, that took effect on Jan. 1). The city will get about $5 million more before the current fiscal year ends June 30 and an estimated $27 million a year after that. Even with that windfall, there’s still a general fund deficit projected at $9.5 million for 2013-14 and around $14 million each of the next four budgets. Those figures – outlined in a five-year financial forecast the council is set to receive Tuesday night – are based on current contracts with city employee unions and on expected increases in pension costs. (read article)

California budget packs pay boost for state workers

By Christopher Cadelago, January 13, 2013, UT San Diego

Gov. Jerry Brown promised voters if they passed Proposition 30 tax increases that the infusion of money would go to the state’s ailing schools. The budget he unveiled on Thursday includes at least $1.3 billion for something else — more money for state workers. The added state worker benefits in his proposed budget would come in two forms. First, workers would stop taking one furlough day a month, costing taxpayers an estimated $818 million. Second, the budget includes $502 million for previously negotiated raises and health care benefit contribution hikes for state employees. “It’s clear that those new tax dollars are being diverted for other purposes,” Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, told The Watchdog. “I think Californians will be very disappointed when they realize that all the Proposition 30 tax increase is not going to the classroom.” (read article)

San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis battles with police and fire union chiefs

By Scott Herhold, January 12, 2013, San Jose Mercury News

For anyone who did not follow the San Jose District 10 council campaign in the fall, the notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be front and center in a local race sounds ludicrous. In Almaden Valley, traffic and schools count first. The Mideast conflict raised its ugly head anyway — and is doing so even now that Johnny Khamis, a Christian of Palestinian descent, has taken office after a victory over broadcaster Robert Braunstein. Toward the end of the fall campaign, a hit piece funded by the San Jose firefighters’ union took an oblique shot at Khamis’ ethnicity. The new councilman has not forgiven them or their allies in the Police Officers’ Association. Now, in what he says is an effort to fight racism, Khamis has declared that he will not meet with the leaders of the police or fire unions unless they donate the amount spent on the mailer — roughly $7,300 — to an organization that combats racism. On this one, Khamis is making a political mistake. As the victor, he should look magnanimous. Instead, he has made himself look petty. He doesn’t have to do the bidding of the unions. But there’s little harm in listening to your enemies. (read article)

Complaints chronicle Rialto teachers who berate, grab and seduce students

By Beau Yarbrough, January 12, 2013, San Bernardino Sun

They faked time cards, fought with coworkers, screamed and yelled at and even physically struck students and pursued romantic relationships with them. In all, Rialto Unified School District reports 18 cases of complaints against employees with teaching credentials in the last five years. Rialto Unified teaches about 30,000 students, making it a medium-to-large district for the Inland Empire. As part of an ongoing Safe Schools special report that comes in light of the sexual abuse scandal at Miramonte School in South Los Angeles in 2012, documents were requested from 19 Inland Empire school districts concerning complaints of teacher misconduct. The incidents were reported in response to a Public Records Act request made by The Sun, the Redlands Daily Facts and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. (read article)

Courts, Not Politicians, Should Control Detroit Bankruptcy

By Shikha Dalmia, January 11, 2013, Bloomberg

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has postponed his decision to appoint an emergency manager to deal with Detroit’s fiscal crisis. He was expected to act after a state audit last month found that the city’s long-term debt was $12 billion, $2 billion more than previously reported. But the delay won’t postpone Detroit’s inevitable date with insolvency. The main issue that Snyder, a Republican, will ultimately have to confront is whether to put Detroit through a political managed bankruptcy or a conventional Chapter 9 court process. The audit pegged the city’s annual debt-service costs alone at $597 million, while its three biggest sources of revenue generate only $538 million. Worse, the value of the city’s net assets, which in 2010 were worth $265 million, has collapsed and they now have a negative value, the report said. More urgently, Detroit will run out of operating cash before the fiscal year ends in June (although that didn’t stop it from handing out year-end bonuses to nonunion employees). Snyder had allowed Detroit to borrow $137 million through a municipal-bond sale on the state credit card last summer. Before the funds could be released from escrow, however, the city was supposed to meet prescribed restructuring goals under a consent agreement. The city failed, no surprise, thanks to squabbling between a dysfunctional city council and Mayor Dave Bing. The council even blocked Bing’s effort to hire a private law firm to help overhaul contracts with unions and vendors, even though the city has little in-house expertise to handle something this technical and complex. (read article)

California Is Running Out of Kids to Subsidize Its Teacher’s Union Pensions

By Daniel Greenfield, January 11, 2013, FrontPageMag

As mentioned before, blue states have a serious problem. Lots of teachers and administrators with big pensions and a shortage of kids for them to mishandle. For example, take Detroit. (Please) The Detroit Public Schools could be faced with a staffing dilemma in a couple of years if steps are not taken to reduce the number of teachers employed by the district. If projections of dwindling student counts are accurate, the district could soon have 1,800 more teachers than it needs, with the annual bill to pay them costing in the range of $100 million… This would mean that the district would have lost 61 percent of its student enrollment since 2003-04 when it had 150,000 students. This isn’t completely fatal for Detroit, since it will just go on feeding off Michigan, while boasting that it now has class sizes of 6 students to a teacher. But it’s a big problem on a state level. Take California. (Please.) In 1970, six years after the end of the baby boom, children made up more than one-third of California’s population. By 2030, they will account for just one-fifth. The state’s birthrate fell to 1.94 children per woman in 2010, below the replacement level of 2.1 children, according to the study. California’s rate is lower than the overall U.S. rate of 2.06 children in 2012, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. (read article)

Long Beach’s Largest City Union Agrees to Pension Reform Deal

By Eric Bradley, January 10, 2013, Press-Telegram

A long-sought pension reform package approved by the city’s largest employee union shrinks next year’s projected deficit by more than 33 percent. The about 3,600-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers concluded a vote in favor late Wednesday on the deal that city officials say will save $125.5 million in the next 10 years. The concessions combine higher employee retirement contributions with reduced benefits for future employees to save $3.8 million in Long Beach’s general fund and $11.8 million across all funds each year, according to a news release from City Hall. The general fund deficit for the 2014 fiscal year is estimated at $10.9 million. “This has been an arduous process, but we now have reformed public pensions in Long Beach,” Mayor Bob Foster said in the release. (read article)

Union bosses’ salaries put ‘big’ in Big Labor

By Luke Rosiak, The Washington Times, January 10, 2013

There can be riches in standing up for the working class: The Boilermakers union president earned $506,000, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars more for travel expenses, while the Laborers union president made $441,000. The Transportation Communications Union leader made $300,000, bumped up to $750,000 with business expenses. Patrick W. Flynn makes $435,000 a year in his capacity as treasurer of a 13,600-member Teamsters union local, and the $30,000 in business expenses he collects on top of costs associated with carrying out his duties around Mokena, Ill., approach that of a typical worker’s entire salary. The average union member has no idea how much the leaders make, said Stanley Oubre, a retired Boilermaker in Louisiana — and can hardly relate. (read article)

Labor unions protest Mich. legislators

January 9, 2013, UPI

Michigan labor unions say they set up a “walk of shame” to greet lawmakers back to the Capitol after passing right to work legislation in the lame duck session. Unfortunately for the protesters, most of the lawmakers slipped in through side doors, the Detroit Free Press said Wednesday. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for years said right to work legislation was not on his agenda, but then in a lame duck session of the GOP-controlled Legislature, the issue was quickly taken up and passed, blindsiding unions in the traditionally labor-friendly state, the newspaper said. Right to work legislation makes it illegal for a worker to be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. (read article)

Departing Labor secretary praised and denounced as pro-union

By W. James Antle III, January 9, 2013, The Daily Caller

Outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis served in an administration that touts transparency, but her tenure has been marked by criticism of how she has enforced financial disclosure regulations on labor unions. Maryland county government employee Chris Mosquera, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, sued Solis and the Department of Labor in 2011 for allegedly rolling back what he described as “vital union transparency requirements.” “In fact, I’ve learned some interesting things about my own local’s spending habits over the years,” Mosquera wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed. “Like the $2 million office condo they bought in Gaithersburg, or the fact that the president of my local makes over $200,000 a year, plus other undocumented benefits.” (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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