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.

Another Walker Vindication: Government unions lose in court again

Editorial, January 22, 2013, Wall Street Journal

The last few years haven’t been great for limited government, though Wisconsin is an exception. After the made-for-MSNBC protests, a failed bid to turn over the state Supreme Court and a failed recall election, Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms still stand. And now the spurious constitutional challenges have guttered out in federal appeals court. On Friday a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court upheld the law in its entirety. Two judges rejected the claims of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and six other government unions that Mr. Walker violated the Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment, while a third judge—David Hamilton, nominated by President Obama—concurred in part and dissented in part. The unions argued that Mr. Walker’s limits on collective bargaining, the requirements that a union be recertified each year by a majority of its members and the elimination of the payroll deduction of dues were illegal because they exempted cops and firefighters. Supposedly this amounts to discrimination by creating two categories of public employees. They also argued that the payroll deduction clause violates the First Amendment. (read article)

Union of 1% Same as Those of Other 99%

By Mike Antonucci, January 21, 2013, Intercepts

ou can spend this Monday holiday relaxing or you can delve into the 469-page, 46-exhibit independent report of the internal shortcomings of the National Basketball Players Association and its executive director, Billy Hunter. I’ve mentioned this situation before, because it illustrates that multimillionaires have just as little interest in the daily operations and decision-making of their union’s officers as do – oh, let’s say – teachers. The NBPA report found no criminal wrongdoing, but it did not consist of a forensic financial audit, nor did it have the same investigative tools available to two other agencies reportedly involved in the matter – namely, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Labor. So this may not be the end of it. The questions raised by the independent report will sound familiar to many of you: nepotism, sweetheart deals, unsubstantiated expenses, questionable investments, excessive accrued vacation pay, and other extravagances… (read article)

Judge dismisses labor lawsuit: Union tried to block Indiana right-to-work legislation

By Tom Davies, January 21, 2013, South Bend Tribune

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by union members challenging Indiana’s right-to-work law that was enacted last year. U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon in Hammond ruled that none of the union’s arguments against the law could succeed in federal court, although a challenge could still be made in state courts. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 filed the lawsuit last year trying to block the law, which bans contracts between companies and unions that require workers to pay union representation fees. The legislative fight over the Republican-backed law led to boycotts by Democratic lawmakers during the 2011 and 2012 sessions. The union argued in the lawsuit that the right-to-work law contains multiple violations of both the state and federal constitutions, including a contention that the law interferes with the union’s free speech rights by stifling the collection of money that helps pay for its political speech. Simon’s ruling said the belief that the right-to-work law would contribute to a business-friendly environment could provide a legitimate reason for its passage. “For better or worse, the political branches of government make policy judgments,” Simon wrote. “The electorate can ultimately decide whether those judgments are sound, wise and constitute good governance, and then can express their opinions at the polls and by other means. But those are questions beyond the reach of the federal court.” (read article)

Laborers’ union again gives two R.I. Senate leaders six-figure compensation

By Katherine Gregg, January 21, 2013, Providence Journal

Annual reports showing the overlap between the public and private lives of Rhode Island’s lawmakers streamed in last week. With them came voluntary disclosure by a lawyer for the Laborers International Union of North America of the six-figure compensation packages various union arms provide Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio and Sen. Frank Ciccone. In response to a Journal inquiry, lawyer Darren Corrente disclosed: The Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council gave Ciccone salary and benefits totaling $196,931.38 as its president and field representative. Ciccone got another $36,030.99 in salary and benefits as business manager for Local Union 808, representing several pockets of state employees. Ruggerio received salary and benefits totaling $195,793.86 as administrator of the New England Laborers’ Labor-Management Cooperation Trust Fund, and $1,500 more as an officer for the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council. (read article)

Gov. Christie’s political dilemma: Should unions control Hurricane Sandy money?

By Tom Tillison, January 20, 2013, BizPac Review

The New Jersey Senate voted along party lines Monday to require that Hurricane Sandy cleanup and reconstruction be carried out only by union workers. The Labor Union Report points out that Steven Sweeney, the ironworkers union organizer who drafted the pro-union bill also happens to be the president of the New Jersey Senate. Conflict of interest? This action is the latest in a series of clear contradictions to the direction President Barack Obama gave at a briefing with federal, state and local officials. In a video conference just four days before the November election, Obama vowed he would not tolerate red tape and bureaucracy, adding, “There’s nothing more important than getting this right.” “We still have a long way to go to make sure that the people of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and some of the surrounding areas get their basic needs taken care of,” the president said, according to Reuters. “We don’t have patience for bureaucracy. We don’t have patience for red tape.” Yet, again and again, delays have occurred as a result of unions protecting their monopoly in the state, like when non-union relief crews sent from Alabama to help restore power in the immediate aftermath of the storm were rejected by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The utility crews eventually returned home to Alabama, according to Fox Business. (read article)

Leader of union strike against Raley’s supermarket named to CalPERS governing board

By Dale Kasler, January 18, 2013, Sacramento Bee

One of the leaders of the recent strike against Raley’s has been named to the CalPERS governing board. The newest board member is Ron Lind, president of Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in San Jose, said CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco today. Lind was appointed by the Senate Rules Committee. Local 5 and its Central Valley counterpart, UFCW Local 8, conducted a 10-day strike against Raley’s in November over the struggling West Sacramento supermarket chain’s demand for wage and benefit concessions. It was the first strike in Raley’s 77-year history. The union wound up accepting concessions but said it was able to stave off major cutbacks to its health plan – a key issue in the strike. (read article)

Analysis: U.S. ports’ drive to control costs leads to labor strife

By Ernest Scheyder, January 17, 2013, Reuters

When Charles Spencer became a crane operator at the Jacksonville Port Authority in Florida in 1971, it took at least a day for 200 dockworkers to unload 160-pound sacks of coffee from a cargo ship. Now the same job takes 20 dockworkers, assisted by massive robots programmed to lift and stack containers, an hour. One thing hasn’t changed, however: American dockworkers are among the highest-paid blue-collar workers in the country. Spencer says he made about $32,000 a year when he started; today, the average dockworker makes more than $115,000 a year. Now, shipping companies are pushing hard to control costs, including the cost of labor – and workers are pushing back. It all comes down to who gets the rewards from the investment the port operators have put into increasingly automated equipment: the companies and their shareholders or the unionized dockworkers. Despite the automation, U.S. port productivity badly lags that of overseas rivals. Rotterdam and Shanghai ports use fewer than five dockworkers to do what it takes 20 to do in the U.S., according to Jim Kruse, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Ports and Waterways. The gap is jarring at a time when shippers, the primary customers and in some cases the owners of port operators, have seen profits shrink, in part because of a glut of new ships. It is a major reason for a series of increasingly heated struggles between port workers and their employers on the East, West and Gulf coasts of the United States in recent months centering on pay, workplace efficiency and automation. (read article)

California State Workers’ Holiday Fight Plays Out at Capitol, in Court

By Jon Ortiz, January 17, 2013, Sacramento  Bee

With a measure for a new state holiday in the legislative queue, its slow-motion back story awaits action from a Sacramento court. Assemblyman Roger Hernández has proposed closing the state on the second Monday in October. The Native American Day suggested by the West Covina Democrat would replace what used to be Columbus Day on the state’s paid holiday calendar. If that happens, employees would regain half of what lawmakers took away from them in 2009. To cut costs, the state thinned its schedule from 13 paid holidays to 11 by axing Columbus Day and Lincoln’s Birthday. Eventually, all the unions negotiated two floating days off each year that offset the lost holidays. Hernández’s bill doesn’t take back either “professional development day.” State holidays carry two costs: More premium pay for 24/7 operations that can’t close and lose productivity when business shuts down. The state payroll runs about $60 million on a regular workday. (read article)

Amid North Carolina anti-labor campaign, public workers score union win

By Sue Sturgis, January 17, 2012, Institute for Southern Studies

North Carolina is already the least-unionized state in the nation, with a union membership rate of only 2.9 percent and a ban on collective bargaining by public employees. And if the new Republican governor and legislative super-majorities get their way, the state could soon become even more hostile to organized labor. But despite the anti-labor assault underway in North Carolina, public workers’ unions scored a key win this week in the state’s biggest city. On Monday, Charlotte City Council voted 6-5 to allow city employees to have union dues voluntarily deducted from their paychecks. Automatic dues collection is important to unions’ success since it provides a reliable source of funds. Six of the council’s Democrats voted in favor of the program, while three Democrats and two Republicans voted against it. To participate, a union must pay the city a $1,000 annual fee to cover administrative costs, and there’s no minimum number of members needed. (read article)

Wendy Greuel wins important backing from LAPD labor union

By Frank Stoltze, January 16th, 2013, Southern California Public Radio

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel scored a major endorsement Wednesday when she won the backing of the union that represents nearly 10,000 rank-and-file LAPD officers. In past elections, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has made large, independent expenditures supporting political candidates in the city.  It spent more than $700,000 helping City Attorney Carmen Trutanich win office in 2009. Union President Tyler Izen issued a statement that said: “Wendy recognizes the importance of putting public safety first while at the same time working on issues that people really care about, like creating jobs, fixing potholes and fighting waste, fraud and abuse in city government.” (read article)

American Airlines passenger service agents turn down union representation

By Terry Maxon, January 15, 2013, Dallas News

We’ve learned that American Airlines passenger service agents voted against union representation. In a vote that ended Tuesday, 3,052 voted against union representation to 2,902 who voted in favor of union representation, including 2,891 votes for the Communications Workers of America. “We’re pleased that our reservations, customer service and premium services employees voted to remain independent,” American spokeswoman Missy Cousino said. “American thanks everyone who took part in this election. The company looks forward to continuing to work closely and directly with our agents and representatives as we build the new American Airlines.” “I’m disappointed,” CWA organizer Michael Lo Vuolo said Tuesday afternoon. “But when you look at how much the company spent fighting it and putting doubt in the minds of people about the future of their jobs, I think we did a good job.” (read article)

Prevailing wage scams steal from taxpayers

By Katy Grimes, January 11, 2013, CalWatchdog

In what strange world do janitors get paid $45 per hour? In California, the land of the prevailing wage. The dirty secret is that janitors often are not really getting paid $45 per hour, but the taxpayers are being charged this amount on public works projects. Designed to help the worker, the prevailing wage was created to set a minimum hourly rate paid on all public works projects, primarily for construction workers. But the classification has been expanded and greatly abused. I recently met with a Southern California contractor who has owned a final construction cleanup business for more than 25 years. Final cleanup on government construction projects is always the last task in the project, and usually takes place within days of the occupants moving in, depending on the size and scope of the cleanup. The contractor said that the work he and his crews do includes cleaning the construction dust off of walls, washing and polishing floors, cleaning windows and mirrors, power-washing all surfaces, wiping down fixtures and hosing down the roof and parking lots. (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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