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.

The State of the Unions: With labor under full-scale attack, President Obama must speak up

By Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President, February 12, 2013, In These Times

Radical Republicans and the multi-national corporations that fill their moneybags are brazenly attacking labor unions, attempting to deny all workers the right to collectively bargain. President Obama must forcefully condemn this malicious campaign. Obama has assured union members he has their backs. Here’s what he said in his first Labor Day speech in 2009: “So let us never forget: much of what we take for granted—the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare—they all bear the union label. It was the American worker—union men and women—who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement.” On Labor Day two years later, radicals in the Republican Party were pushing so-called Right to Work (RTW) legislation that denies companies and unions the right to bargain over requiring payments in lieu of dues from workers who decline to join the union. These laws weaken unions because they allow workers to shirk their responsibility to help pay the costs of the union services they benefit from. (read article)

Labor unions file suit to try to overturn Michigan right-to-work law

By Chad Livengood, February 11, 2013, Detroit News

A coalition of labor unions filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the validity of Michigan’s new right-to-work law for private sector workers. The suit claims Public Act 348 violates the U.S. Constitution by giving state regulators the ability to fine or penalize private sector employers or unions, a power reserved for the federal government under the National Labor Relations Act. “It’s legislating in an area that is exclusively a federal area for regulating labor relations,” said Andrew Nickelhoff, general counsel to the Michigan AFL-CIO, one of the plaintiffs. The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, is the second major legal challenge labor unions have pursued in recent weeks to get the law overturned in the courts before it takes affect March 27. On Jan. 31, the ACLU of Michigan, Michigan Education Association, AFL-CIO, the Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council and others filed an amended state lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court challenging the validity of the law after protesters were temporarily locked out of the Capitol on Dec. 6 while lawmakers debated the controversial law. That lawsuit seeks to invalidate the public and private sector right-to-work laws on grounds the Legislature violated the Open Meetings Act while the state police locked citizens out of the building. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work bills Dec. 11. (read article)

Labor unions file federal suit challenging Michigan’s right-to-work legislation

By Kathy Gray, February 11, 2013, Detroit Free Press

A group of labor unions filed suit in federal court Monday, challenging one of the state’s newly passed right-to-work laws. The Michigan AFL-CIO and the Building and Trades Council say the law that affects private sector employees is a violation of the U.S. Constitution because those unions are covered by federal, not state law. “In their haste to enact right to work, the Legislature overreached,” said Andrew Nickelhoff, general counsel for the Michigan AFL-CIO. “This only deals with the act that affect private sector employees because they’re covered under federal labor law.” The lawsuit names the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, Steve Arwood, the director of the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy as defendants. (read article)

West Coast labor disputes heat up again as union fails to ratify agreement

By Mary Carr Mayle, February 11, 2013, Savannah Morning News

The threat of another strike at the massive California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation’s largest port complex – has shippers and port executives there worried about potential cargo diversion, especially to East Coast terminals. Ten of the ports’ 14 terminals were shut down for eight days in November and December when some 600 members of the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 went on strike and ILWU dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines. The impasse ended Dec. 5, when the union and employers reached a tentative six-year agreement. However, in a vote taken last week, the union apparently unanimously rejected the new agreement, leaving the door open for another walkout. It’s unclear whether the union will go that route or continue working without a contract until the issues are resolved. (read article)

Labor unions oppose overhaul of California environmental law

By Wyatt Buchanan, February 11, 2013, SF Gate

While we’ve yet to see a bill introduced that would make major changes in how the California Environmental Quality Act operates, more people are taking sides in the debate. Earlier today, the California Labor Federation — which represents unions statewide with more than 2 million members — announced that its executive council had unanimously passed a resolution that stated the federation “will oppose efforts to substitute lesser standards for protection for the workers and communities we represent” as well as “work with allies to educate the Legislature and the public about the important benefits to workers, communities and our economy from preserving CEQA.” Labor and the support of union workers is always a big consideration for Democrats in the Legislature, as well as Gov. Jerry Brown, whose tax-raising Proposition 30 got a big boost from union support. But Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for a coalition of business organizations and others called the CEQA Working Group who are calling for big changes, noted the support of Democratic leaders (i.e. the good friends of labor) for the effort. “There is widespread recognition of the need for CEQA reform among Democrat legislative leaders, the governor and many others,” Fairbanks said. “CEQA is a good law that is being abused. Those lawsuit abuses are costing real jobs across all sectors and they’re being used to stop the type of responsible and environmentally growth California needs.” Now, it’s not a huge surprise that labor is taking a big stand on the issue, as unions opposed an attempt to overhaul CEQA at the end of last year’s legislative session. And here’s another thing: we’ve heard complaints as this debate has continued that labor sometimes uses CEQA lawsuits, or the threat of lawsuits, to force private developers to use union workers. (read article)

Unions dig in against Anchorage mayor’s labor law rewrite

By Rosemary Shinohara, February 11, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

Union leaders on Monday described Mayor Dan Sullivan’s proposed rewrite of city labor law as poorly planned, drastic, hasty and just plain wrong. The Sullivan administration and two key Anchorage Assembly members are sponsoring a measure that would curb unions’ power, limit raises and eliminate the right to strike, among many new provisions. The measure was under wraps until Friday afternoon, when unions, most Anchorage Assembly members and even city department heads first heard about it. The plan is scheduled to be introduced at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, and up for public hearing and a possible vote on Feb. 26, two weeks later. Unions are calling on their members to rally at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Loussac Library where the Assembly meets. A notice on the Anchorage Education Association web page from teachers union president Andy Holleman says city bargaining units are calling on all organized labor to turn out. “We hope to pack Midtown,” the notice says. (read article)

Labor Unions Take Another Hit

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook, February 10, 2013, OpposingViews.com

On January 25, labor unions in the United States were dealt a major blow. The D.C. Circuit Appeals Court — the second most powerful court in the country and one closely aligned with the Supreme Court — handed down a decision declaring President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board invalid, which will likely nullify the rules and decisions of the NLRB in the past two years. Because the Senate is unlikely to approve any appointments in the next two years, labor unions are left with effectively no legal recourse against employers for the foreseeable future. Unions spent hundreds of millions of dollars on both the 2008 and 2012 elections, and securing a functional National Labor Relations Board was one of the main reasons. The board, established in 1935 to mediate and arbitrate labor disputes, is the central federal agency that enforces laws related to unions, with its stated goal being to promote collective bargaining. Over the past few years, the NLRB has taken some significant actions, most notably preventing Boeing from punishing its workers by shifting work from Washington state to South Carolina, where laws are less amenable to organized labor. (read article)

Organized labor pushes for policies to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants

By Bill McMorris, February 9, 2013, The Washington Free Beacon

Organized labor has become a leading proponent of President Barack Obama’s immigration agenda, a departure from more than a century of hostility to foreign-born workers. Some of the nation’s most influential labor leaders have heaped praise on comprehensive immigration plans that will help grant citizenship to many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants. The AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, kicked off a 14-city rally backing the president’s plan on Wednesday. “This is a top priority for America’s unions because a roadmap to citizenship for those who are American in every way except on paper is critical for all working people” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “We understand that solidarity means standing together with predominantly immigrant workforces to improve wages and workplace safety.” Some labor and immigration experts say Big Labor’s enthusiasm for legalization efforts stems from solidifying political support for the Democratic Party, as well as declining union membership. (read article)

Public unions are the real freeloaders

By Rebecca Friedrichs, February 9, 2013, Orange County Register

In his piece, “Right to Work sets workers free to freeload,” Kevin O’Leary made some strong points for standing against the National Right to Work movement. Persuasive? Yes. Completely accurate? No. As a public school teacher working in California, I have 25 years of experience dealing with two powerful teachers unions – the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Education Association (NEA). California is one of 26 “non-right-to-work,” states, which mandates dues or “fees” to labor unions. I’ve spent 11 years as an “agency fee payer,” and 14 years as an active member, so I’d like to address O’Leary’s assertions about RTW laws from a dues paying worker’s perspective. O’Leary blames the desire for “open shop” (freedom not to join a union) on conservatives and refers to “the free-rider problem – when people enjoy benefits without paying for them,” as “A sweet deal” for employees. Trouble is, the real “free-riders” are the unions. Unions portray themselves as entities that exist exclusively for the benefit of middle-class workers. In reality, unions have been freeloading off the backs of their members for years by collecting excessive, forced dues in order to fund their non-representational powerful political machine. (read article)

Thorns to unions for fighting Pennsylvania pension reform

Editorial, February 8, 2013, Pottstown Mercury

ROSES to Eugene Robinson for sharing his story as a Tuskegee Airmen with students at Owen J. Roberts High School. Robinson is part of the generation of World War II veterans who continue to share their inspiring tales with younger generations, even though there are fewer of them around each year. “First, I just want to show them the history of this country’s military,” Robinson said after his presentation. “Secondly, it’s important to know that the color of your skin doesn’t matter.” Robinson, wearing the powder-blue blazer of the Tuskegee Airmen, detailed the history of his unit, starting with the group’s roots in fighter pilot Eugene Bullard, who left the U.S. and served in the French Air Force in World War I. He mixed in anecdotes of his own experiences. His presentation, meant to offer a lesson in black history, touched all students. THORNS to Pennsylvania teachers unions for vowing to oppose Gov. Tom Corbett’s pension reform plan without learning about it or offering any input to solve the state’s escalating public pension crisis. No sooner had Corbett finished his annual budget address in which he called for some reforms in public pensions, such as a shift to defined contributions from defined benefits and some changes in how benefits are calculated, than the unions came out fighting. (read article)

Proposition Aimed at Unions Exemplifies Why California Needs Initiative Reform

By Jessica Levinson, February 8, 2013, KCET Los Angeles

Do you ever wonder why there are so many ballot initiatives designed to decrease the political clout of unions? Well, simply put, because they have a lot of it. In our country, thanks to decades of United States Supreme Court rulings, political money is seen as the equivalent to political speech, and therefore money really is power. Unions have a lot of this particular type of power, which is why their opponents have consistently waged efforts to make it more difficult for them to spend money in political campaigns. The 2012 election in California is yet another example of this dynamic. One particular initiative, Proposition 32, would have made it harder for unions to raise funds from members to be used for political purposes. Regardless of your view of the merits of this failed proposal, there is no doubt it would have significantly lessened the power of unions in the Golden State. Labor unions were wise to the potential effects of Prop 32 and spent some $65 million to defeat that proposition. Even at that sum, labor unions were outspent by proponents of Proposition 32. As many opponents of labor unions know, even when a ballot initiative is unsuccessful they can rejoice in forcing unions to spend tens of millions on pricey electoral campaigns. But, of course, the opponents have also spent vast sums. (read article)

Business and Labor Unite to Try to Alter Immigration Laws

By Steven Greenhouse, February 7, 2013, New York Times

After decades of friction over immigration, the nation’s labor unions and the leading business association, the Chamber of Commerce, have formed an unusual alliance that is pushing hard to revamp American immigration laws. These oft-feuding groups agree on the need to enact a way for the 11 million immigrants illegally in the United States to gain citizenship. And they are also nearing common ground on a critical issue — the number of guest workers allowed into the country — that has deeply divided business and labor for years and helped to sink President George W. Bush’s push for an immigration overhaul in 2007. In redefining what constitutes a guest worker and in revamping the method to determine how many should be allowed in, business and labor groups are sketching out new proposals that are distinct departures from earlier legislative approaches. The issue has long been one of contention, with businesses like hotels and farmers saying they need a large supply of seasonal workers while unions complain that these workers are often exploited. To try to resolve their differences, they are discussing what they call a “data-driven system” that would determine how many “provisional workers” would be let in each year to work on farms, summer resorts and elsewhere. (read article)

Union Head Convicted, Showing Need for Union Transparency

James Sherk and Rudy Takala, February 6, 2013, The Foundry (Heritage Foundation)

Last week, the government convicted Tyrone Freeman, president of SEIU Local 6434 in Los Angeles, of 14 counts of illegally diverting union dues into his own pockets. His conviction illustrates the need for union financial transparency. However, the Obama Administration has steadily rolled back union transparency requirements. Freeman’s duplicity came to light when an investigative reporter found incongruities in financial disclosure forms his union filed with the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor–Management Standards (OLMS). That scoop led to an FBI investigation, which led to Freeman’s conviction. Congress requires union financial transparency precisely to root out such corruption. However, as Heritage has reported previously, President Obama’s Department of Labor has rolled back many of OLMS’s union transparency requirements. For example, the Administration watered down conflict-of-interest reporting requirements, exempting union shop stewards and removing disclosure of many non-cash forms of compensation. The Administration also rolled back requirements that union trust funds disclose how they spend union members’ money. Obama’s OLMS further decided that most local chapters of government unions do not need to file transparency reports. These changes make unions less transparent and union bosses less accountable to their members. They make it harder to expose corrupt officers such as Tyrone Freeman. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, the Obama Administration should not keep union members in the dark. (read article)

Solar future faces union greenmail in Ramona

Editorial, February 6, 2013, UT San Diego

At first, we struggled to understand who could possibly oppose Sol Orchard LLC’s proposal to invest $20 million to produce 7.5 megawatts of solar power on the rural outskirts of Ramona. Oh, sure, the backcountry is full of folks who want to roll up the red carpet after they’ve arrived, so every project generates some opposition. And indeed, some neighbors argue that covering 43 acres with solar panels on a 110-acre site will somehow spoil the countryside. It turns out that “greenmail,” whereby labor unions use threats of environmental lawsuits to bully developers into using union workers, explains much of this latest campaign. After the Ramona solar project was approved by the county Planning Commission, a labor union that greenmailed a similar project in Valley Center funded an appeal to the Board of Supervisors. (read article)

House of Cards: teachers unions wield more influence over K-12 than Republicans

By Steve Eide, February 5, 2013, Public Sector Inc.

According to House of Cards, Netflix’ dynamite new political drama, teachers unions exercise more influence over K-12 policy than Republicans. Democrats own the issue, and the direction of K-12 in America depends on a struggle between pro and anti union elements within the Democratic party. Kevin Spacey plays Frank Underwood (D-SC), the series’ protagonist and the majority whip in Congress. Frank’s effort to pass a radical ed reform bill forms the main plot arc of the series’ first half. This task falls to Frank because the newly-elected President (also a D) wants to make ed reform the keystone achievement of his first 100 days. The bill begins as a “far left of center” tax-and-spend approach to K-12 reform, but strengthens over time, as Frank and the President resolve to push for performance standards, charter schools and tough collective bargaining restrictions. Their sole, but formidable, obstacle is the teachers unions. What’s union influence? Membership and lobbying totals tell us a lot, but spending does not always determine electoral outcomes. House of Cards defines union influence as a seat at the table, in this case the head of the table. The battle over what would easily be the most significant K-12 bill ever passed by Congress is one fought inside the Democratic party, and reaches its dramatic climax in single combat between Frank and the chief lobbyist for the NEA and AFT. That’s doesn’t mean the unions get what they want, but being more important than the minority party is a not uninfluential place to be in. (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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