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.

Michigan Union Tell-All: A memo shows how unions hope to keep coercing worker dues

Editorial, February 5, 2013, Wall Street Journal

When Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state late last year, everyone knew unions would try to overturn or otherwise neuter the law. Less expected was that they would do so at the expense of their own members. That’s the message from a December 27-28 memo to local union presidents and board members from Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook, which recommends tactics that unions can use to dilute the impact of the right-to-work law. One bright idea is to renegotiate contracts now to lock teachers into paying union dues after the right-to-work law goes into effect in March. Another is to sue their own members who try to leave. “Members who indicate they wish to resign membership in March, or whenever, will be told they can only do so in August,” Mr. Cook writes in the three-page memo obtained by the West Michigan Policy Forum. “We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues prior to terminating their membership in August for the following fiscal year.” Got that, comrade? (read article)

New economy requires unions to adapt

Editorial, February 3, 2013, Orange County Register

Most Americans still associate unions with manufacturing, but union membership in the private sector fell to a piddling 6.6 percent. By contrast, nearly 36 percent of government employees are unionized. That percentage fell slightly last year amid cutbacks caused by municipal and state budget problems, but the modern union movement is a government movement. To many people’s surprise, libertarians are not opposed to private unions per se. People should be allowed to bargain collectively if they choose to, and unions have, at times, provided a needed counterweight in the bargaining process with employers. But we oppose special privileges that governments bestow on unions – such as allowing them to restrict a person’s ability to opt out of a union, or that force workers to fund political causes they don’t support. We also are opposed to public-sector unionization. Thanks to unionization efforts, public employees have been able to impose vast levels of debt on the public. There is no effective counterbalance on behalf of taxpayers when unions negotiate with public-sector management. Plus, government workers already have protections through the civil service system. (read article)

Ed Koch: He saved New York City from a fiscal crisis but mortgaged its long-term future to public unions

By Fred Siegal, February 3, 2013, Wall Street Journal

After the death of former New York Mayor Ed Koch on Friday, the outpouring of affection focused largely on what he said, not nearly so much on what he did. And so it was with his mayoral administration. There was the ebullient Ed Koch who first came into office in 1978 and governed in part like a good magician who keeps the audience focused on his spiel and not on his hands, and the Ed Koch who continued in office for eight more problematic though generally prosperous years after an ignominious gubernatorial run in 1982. (read article)

Brawl over unions divides contractors vying for piece of rail project

By John Cox, February 3, 2013, Bakersfield Californian

In a bitter dispute that threatens to divide support for California high-speed rail, union and non-union contractors are fighting over a draft plan for setting aside some of the project’s jobs for Central Valley minorities and small businesses. Anti-union groups have strongly denounced the proposal, sent out in December as part of request for bids on the project’s first leg from Merced to Fresno. They say it would raise the project’s costs and discriminate against merit shops by, among other things, requiring that hiring be done through union halls. A top union official counters that the proposed agreement does not exclude non-union contractors, and that it would actually lower costs, promote fair competition and ensure a qualified workforce. The controversy is largely a reflection of the two sides’ ongoing dispute over so-called project labor agreements, or PLAs — a conflict the California High-Speed Rail Authority was anxious to avoid. Rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said that the proposal is intended to give at least 30 percent of the first leg’s contracting opportunities to small businesses while also promoting local hiring in poor neighborhoods., He emphasized that each of the five design-build teams vying for the first-leg contract had pre-existing union agreements. When small, non-union contractors began complaining that this arrangement would shut them out of the project, he said, the rail authority came up with the draft as a way for non-union contractors to participate “under certain circumstances.” (read article)

Proposed Pension Reform Exemption for Some California Union Members Prompts Debate

By Ben Adler, February 4, 2013, Capital Public Radio

The author of a bill that would exempt 20,000 California union members from last year’s pension overhaul is defending the measure against criticism that it breaks a promise to voters who just approved tax increases. Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo says he introduced the bill because of a conflict between the new state pension law and U.S. labor law that applies to 20,000 local and regional public transit workers.  As a result, he says, two billion dollars in federal transportation funds are at risk. Alejo: “If there’s a way we can fix this, then I’m open to doing that.  But there’s a major problem that’s before the state right now and nobody has fixed it so far and projects are getting held up.” But Republican Assemblyman Allan Mansoor says Californians approved Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure last fall believing the state’s pension changes were real. Mansoor: “I can’t support anything that’s going to move California backwards in terms of reform.  I feel like that would be a double-cross on the voters.” Brown’s press secretary says any new legislation should “not in any way weaken” last year’s changes. (read article)

Unions busy subverting right to work

By Nolan Finley, February 1, 2013, Detroit News

f you’re a professor at Wayne State or Western Michigan, or a school teacher in Taylor or Berkley and are eager to exercise your right to end your forced union membership, fuggedaboutit. The mob that runs the public employee unions in Michigan has already figured out a way to keep you as an indentured servant to the unions and their financial beneficiaries in the Democratic Party. Unions at those schools are rushing to renegotiate labor contracts before the March 27 effective date of the newly passed right-to-work law. Because the law includes a grandfather clause, contracts in place before that date aren’t affected by right to work until they expire. In Wayne State’s case, that would be 10 years from now, if the professors union’s proposal to extend the current contract is approved by a board of trustees made up nearly entirely by Democrats whose election campaigns were financed by labor unions. Similar extensions are being weighed at Western Michigan and the Taylor and Berkley public schools, and a growing list of other places. It’s a warning flag that right to work alone will not be enough to break labor’s stranglehold on local politics and policy making. (read article)

More than 120 employees of Illinois’ teachers unions are paid $100,000+

By Paul Kersey, February 1, 2013, Public Sector Inc.

As Illinois continues to struggle through a wave of copy-cat work stoppages in the wake of the disastrous Chicago Teachers Union strike, it should be noted that, far from the image of the ragged Norma Rae, a lot of teachers union operatives are making a pretty good living for themselves. According to union financial reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 120 employees of the Illinois Education Association, or IEA, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, earning more than $100,000. This does not include staff from local unions. As Illinois continues to struggle through a wave of copy-cat work stoppages in the wake of the disastrous Chicago Teachers Union strike, it should be noted that, far from the image of the ragged Norma Rae, a lot of teachers union operatives are making a pretty good living for themselves. According to union financial reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 120 employees of the Illinois Education Association, or IEA, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, earning more than $100,000. This does not include staff from local unions. (read article)

Appointment of private labor union official to CalPERS board is worrisome

Editorial, February 2, 2013, Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform agenda included increasing the independence and expertise of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s board of trustees. Unfortunately, last year’s exhaustively debated pension bill did not include any changes to the makeup of the CalPERS board. So, the board that oversees the $253 billion government retirement fund remains dominated by organized labor. In the past, the board has lobbied recklessly to enhance benefits for government retirees to levels so rich they have placed the state and many local governments in fiscal jeopardy. That’s why the recent appointment of private labor union official Ron Lind to the CalPERS board is so worrisome. Lind, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5 in San Jose, led last year’s 10-day strike against Raley’s, the struggling West Sacramento-based grocery chain. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg famously walked the picket line at Raley’s with Lind’s union members. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and the Senate Rules Committee chaired by Steinberg appointed Lind to the CalPERS board. Neither Steinberg nor Lind returned our calls, but a spokesman for Steinberg called Lind’s background “impressive,” noting that as a trustee for his own union’s pension plan, Lind has “fiduciary experience.” (read article)

Senator Rand Paul introduces national right-to-work bill

By Sean Higgins, February 1, 2013, The Washington Examiner

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced S. 204 Thursday, a bill to create a national right-to-work law. The bill “would preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.” In other words, the law would give workers across the nation the option to not join a union or pay dues to one even if their workplace was organized. Currently only 24 states allow workers to do that. The bill has 10 Republican co-sponsors.  They are clearly hoping to build on the momentum of Michigan and Indiana recently becoming right-to-work. In a statement emailed to reporters, Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said: “We’re extremely pleased that Senator Paul has introduced the National Right to Work Act, intensifying a growing debate about labor law and worker freedom in our country.” But several similar bills have been introduced in Congress in recent years and have gained no traction. Paul’s bill is unlikely to get anywhere under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Which is ironic since Reid’s home state of Nevada is itself right-to-work. (read article)

Some Unions Grow Wary of Health Law They Backed

By Janet Adamy and Melanie Trottman, January 30, 2013, Wall Street Journal

Labor unions enthusiastically backed the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul when it was up for debate. Now that the law is rolling out, some are turning sour. Union leaders say many of the law’s requirements will drive up the costs for their health-care plans and make unionized workers less competitive. Among other things, the law eliminates the caps on medical benefits and prescription drugs used as cost-containment measures in many health-care plans. It also allows children to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26. To offset that, the nation’s largest labor groups want their lower-paid members to be able to get federal insurance subsidies while remaining on their plans. In the law, these subsidies were designed only for low-income workers without employer coverage as a way to help them buy private insurance. (read article)

GOP Sen. Floats Bill To Cut Obama NLRB Appointees’ Pay

By Ben James, January 30, 2013, Law360

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., proposed a bill Wednesday that would cut off pay for two National Labor Relations Board members whom the D.C. Circuit recently held were invalidly appointed and block the labor board from doing business. Blunt said on the Senate floor that he and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would be introducing the Advice and Consent Restoration Act in response to Friday’s ruling from the D.C. Circuit, which held that President Barack Obama’s recess appointments of Sharon Block and Richard F. Griffin to the NLRB. (read article)

‘No cooperation’ from unions on fixing Illinois’ pensions, says house speaker

Associated Press, January 30, 2013, WIFR-TV

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan says public employee unions have offered “no cooperation” on fixing the pension crisis. The Chicago Democrat released a sharp response Wednesday to a group of labor unions that want a Feb. 11 summit on solutions to the $96 billion pension problem. Madigan declined the invitation from the “We are One Illinois” coalition. Years of underfunding have created a shortfall in taxpayer-funded retirement programs. Legislative plans have proposed greater employee contributions and less generous benefits. Madigan dismissed labor leader Michael Carrigan’s claim last week that legislative solutions have failed because union concerns haven’t been considered. Madigan’s letter pointed to at least “eight high-level meetings” with union representatives in the last year alone. The coalition says its proposal provides enough money and is fair. (read article)

‘Right to Work’ bill back on tap in New Hampshire Legislature

By Garry Rayno January 30. 2013, Union Leader

Passing right-to-work legislation will help spur the state’s economy and set the state apart in the Northeast, supporters of the bill said at a hearing Tuesday. But opponents said House Bill 322 is an attack on organized labor that will drive down wages and destroy middle-class families in New Hampshire. Like the bill, now dubbed the Franklin Partin right-to-work act, the arguments in support and in opposition have changed little over the past two years. Supporters touted the economic benefits such a law would spur, saying no person should be forced to pay dues for something they disagree with or don’t believe in. They said it was not a union issue, but a freedom issue. But opponents argue the bill will not spur the economy but drive down wages and benefits for all state workers. They say right-to-work is a state intrusion into negotiations between organized labor and employers. Former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, the prime sponsor of the bill, pushed right-to-work legislation the last two sessions, only to have former Democratic Gov. John Lynch veto the bill and the House fail to override it in 2011. Last year, the Senate was not willing to engage in the debate, saying the outcome would be the same. (read article)

The Doctor’s Office as Union Shop

By David J. Leffell, January 30, 2013, Wall Street Journal

As the country moves toward the effective start date of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the operational and economic elements of this vast legislation are becoming clearer. Yet one likely outcome of the act that will directly affect the quality of patient care, and could affect its cost, has gone virtually unnoticed and unreported: the increasing trend for physicians to become employees, rather than self-employed. This development represents a potentially radical factor in the transformation of health care—the doctor as union worker. Physicians have historically practiced either in small groups or alone. Unlike hospitals, which operate under the rubric of large regulatory agencies, physicians have been much more difficult to regulate and monitor. For cost control to be effective, the professional autonomy and independent clinical judgment of the physician and other providers must in some measure be sacrificed to standardization. This can’t be accomplished by overseeing thousands of doctors in thousands of offices and medical complexes, each conducting its own symphony. The Obama administration, by intent or accident, has effectively driven a major change in the status of physicians. By reducing the reimbursement for certain office-based specialists while enhancing related payment to hospitals, the administration is compelling more and more physicians—many of them with an any-port-in-a-storm fatalism—to seek employment with health systems or large physician groups. (read article)

United Auto Workers president lays out broad agenda

January 28, 2013, UPI

United Auto Workers President Bob King said it is time to energize the labor movement, starting by rebuilding support in Michigan. “The labor movement has got to come together and have new strategies, new ideas and a new level of focus on rebuilding their ability to get fairness and justice for their members,” King said in an interview in Detroit. The Detroit News reported Monday King steered clear of pointing a finger directly at Gov. Rick Synder, but those days had come and gone. “My views on the governor have changed because of the broad list of extreme-right legislation he has signed,” King said, referring to Snyder, who had repeatedly said a right to work initiative was too divisive for Michigan, then backed a right to work bill that he signed into law in 2012. Right to work is the term used for laws that allow workers at a unionized shop to opt out of joining the union. Union leaders complained that allows workers to benefit from the union without having to pay dues. King compared right to work laws with a taxpayer choosing not to pay taxes. “He says is about worker freedom, that workers should have the choice whether to pay dues or not. Why doesn’t that correlate to taxpayer freedom? Why don’t I get to say, ‘I don’t want to pay my taxes because I don’t agree with Gov. Snyder?'” King asked. (read article)

Another bill opposed by unions introduced as Kansas House gears up for debate on paycheck measure

By Scott Rothschild, January 29, 2013, Lawrence Journal-World

As the Kansas House prepares to debate one anti-union bill, another anti-union bill was introduced Tuesday. The newest measure is House Bill 2123 and is called the “public employees freedom act.” It is nearly identical to “model legislation” developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate backed group that describes its mission as promoting free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom “through a non-partisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government and general public.” Colin Curtis, who works for the United Steelworkers of America, Local 307, tweeted that HB 2123 “Strips public employees of all collective bargaining rights.” Working Kansas Alliance said the measure would prohibit public workers, police and firefighters from bargaining to improve their wages and working conditions. The bill’s introduction comes as the House gears up for a debate Wednesday on House Bill 2023. That bill would prohibit the Kansas National Education Association from taking voluntary paycheck donations from teachers and using those funds for political advocacy. (read article)

The NLRB tells the D.C. Circuit Court to take a hike

Editorial, January 29, 2013, Wall Street Journal

President Obama’s second term could really be something. In the latest disdain for the Constitution’s checks and balances, the National Labor Relations Board has declared that it doesn’t like the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday ruling that three board members were illegally appointed so it plans to ignore it. “The Board respectfully disagrees with today’s decision and believes that the President’s position in the matter will ultimately be upheld,” Chairman Mark Pearce said in a statement. “It should be noted that this order applies to only one specific case, Noel Canning, and that similar questions have been raised in more than a dozen cases pending in other courts of appeals. (read article)

Virginia Right-To-Work Amendment Fails In State Senate

By Natalie Rodriguez, January 28, 2013, Law 360

A proposal to amend the Virginia state constitution with a right-to-work provision that would effectively kill labor union agreements failed to pass by one vote in the state Senate on Monday. With Virginia senators equally split 20-20 along party lines, the bill was rejected on its third reading, according to state legislative information. The measure had been proposed by Sen. Richard H. Black, R-District 13, who hailed it as a pro-business initiative that would boost the local economy. (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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