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.

Jerry Brown administration digs in against unions on pensions

By Anthony York, February 18, 2013, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is pushing back against labor union efforts to roll back some of the pension changes made by state lawmakers last year. The governor has vowed to fight any legal or legislative effort that he views as softening the law, which requires current employees to pay more of their own retirement costs and increases the retirement age for public workers. In Contra Costa County, the local pension system has sued the state over the law’s benefit cuts that it says are illegal. Brown said recently his administration would vigorously defend the law in court. A statewide transit workers union asked the U.S. Department of Labor to find that the restrictions passed by state lawmakers violated federal labor law. (read article)

California Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to negotiate with unions that backed him

By Chris Megerian, February 17, 2013, Los Angeles Times

When Gov. Jerry Brown needed help pushing his tax plan last year, public-worker unions rallied to his side with millions of dollars and thousands of campaign foot soldiers. Now Brown’s administration will be negotiating with some of those unions on labor agreements worth billions. Contracts affecting almost half of all 350,000 state workers — engineers, administrative staff, librarians, corrections officers and more — are due to expire this summer. The talks may test the governor’s ability to continue limiting spending as California edges free of its years-long budget crisis but continues to face heavy debt. Numerous budget experts say that with the state’s financial recovery still in its infancy, it’s far too soon to lock in new expenses. And California already pays its employees significantly more than other state governments, according to the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. (read article)

San Jose police union helps Austin recruit city officers

By John Woolfolk, February 17, 2013, Mercury News

It isn’t just Texas Gov. Rick Perry who’s looking to lure Californians to the Lone Star State. The San Jose Police Officers’ Association hosted the Austin Police Department last Tuesday to promote Austin’s effort to recruit the city’s cops. Austin was seeking city officers chafing at pay and benefit cuts brought on by the soaring cost of their city retirement pensions. It’s not the first time the SJPOA has hosted outside recruiters in recent months. But critics feel the officers’ union is being hypocritical by inviting recruiters to poach city cops. The SJPOA has argued that the department is dangerously short-handed and blamed Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reforms for driving officers out and allowing crime to spike. A recent newsletter likened the department to the sinking Titanic. “Truly counterproductive behavior” was how Councilman Pete Constant, a Reed ally and former San Jose cop, put it, arguing that the union is “encouraging people to leave” the force and further jeopardizing the safety of remaining officers and the public. “Their energies would be much better used in looking for ways we can increase the size of our department rather than decreasing it.” SJPOA consultant Tom Saggau said that while continued police departures are “a concern,” officers are free to pursue other job options. It’s worth noting the context: While the San Jose police union has stymied Reed’s voter-approved pension reforms with lawsuits, it’s in contract renewal talks with the city and seeking raises totaling 16 percent over three years. Reed and his City Council allies have said the city can’t afford that without cutting libraries and other programs but have suggested smaller, one-time retention bonuses to keep officers on the beat. (read article)

Labor unions that pushed Obamacare through want out

By Dean Clancy, February 17, 2013, Washington Times

Who knew Obamacare was bad for workers? Unions, or rather the professional class of union leaders, were vehement supporters of Obamacare’s federal takeover of health care. Now that they’ve had a chance to actually read the 2,801-page bill and “find out what is in it,” they are upset and want out. Major unions like the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters are now demanding that they be allowed to stay on their current health care plans and receive government subsidies to cover the increased costs some of Obamacare’s provisions will impose on lower-income workers. They want to eat their government cake and have it too. What else is new? Who would foot the bill? You guessed it: We, the taxpayers. The rank hypocrisy of Obamacare-backing unions began almost immediately after the passage of the bill three years ago, with hundreds of thousands of union workers being exempted from the law through waivers from the Obama administration. In total, more than 1,200 entities were granted waivers from President Obama‘s signature legislation, the vast majority of them labor unions. (read article)

Anchorage labor battle inches forward as mayor, unions hold firm

By Kyle Hopkins, February 15, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage’s high-stakes labor fight moved to a quiet battleground Friday afternoon as dozens of people sat flipping pages in a hot conference room high in City Hall. “We have now heard in more detail that (Mayor Dan Sullivan’s) administration clearly intends some of the things that we thought were kind of worst-case scenarios,” said Sgt. Gerard Asselin, treasurer for the police employees union. For example, he said, the proposal calls for police dispatchers to be hired through “managed competition,” meaning private companies could bid to replace city workers who currently answer 911 calls for the police and fire departments. Sullivan says the changes are long overdue, necessary to streamline labor negotiations and will save taxpayers money on municipal services. (read article)

Big Labor Loves Marijuana

By Jillian Kay Melchior, February 15, National Review

Dropping membership is the waking nightmare of American unionism. To cope, Big Labor is turning to pot. Cannabis holds out promise as a growth industry, especially as state legislatures consider reform. Almost half of all states in the U.S. have revised their laws to allow or decriminalize marijuana in some form. In California alone, medical marijuana is a $1.3 billion industry, according to a 2011 study by See Change Strategy. The size of the black market for marijuana is tough to calculate, but the 2011 study estimated it was around $18 billion in 2011,and legislative developments may soon bring much of it above ground. Since January 1, at least 18 states have introduced bills to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, allow medical use, or regulate adult use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Seven more states are expected to introduce medical-marijuana legislation this year; in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, bills have been introduced to permit and tax adult recreational use of marijuana, and four states are expected to introduce similar proposals soon. (read article)

Michigan County Crafts Pro-Union Labor Strategy

By Mary Morgan, February 15, 2013, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 6, 2013): In an evening capped by a nearly three-hour closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategies, a majority of county commissioners affirmed their support of union labor and pushed back against the state’s recent right-to-work legislation, which takes effect in March. On a 6-1 vote – over dissent by Republican Dan Smith – the county board passed a resolution directing the administration to negotiate new four-year contracts “to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union security provisions.” The resolution also directs negotiations for a separate letter of understanding to cover a 10-year period. The letter would relate to agency fees paid by non-union members based on the idea that they benefit from the union’s representation of their interests during collective bargaining. Unions represent 85% of the 1,321 employees in Washtenaw County government. (read article)

Why do unions seek exemption from anti-stalking laws?

By Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason, February 14, 2013, Reuters

Every state has made stalking a crime. These laws help protect people who might otherwise live in fear. Yet labor unions have successfully, and disconcertingly, lobbied to be exempt from anti-stalking laws in at least four states – California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada. “The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws,” notes a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.” Pennsylvania unions now enjoy a loophole that the state’s anti-stalking law “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.” In Illinois, anti-stalking laws exempt “any controversy concerning wages, salaries, hours, working conditions or benefits … the making of collective bargaining agreements.” These exemptions prove that organizing tactics used by unions can have something in common with those of stalkers – and can perhaps inflict similar emotional distress. While a number of states have exemptions that have allowed union members to intimidate and harass, California is by far the worst actor. As in other states, it is a crime in California to interfere with a lawful business through physical obstruction or intimidation of workers or customers. Yet California has exempted unions from this law. (read article)

American Federation Of Teachers Brings Nurses’ Union Onboard

By Dave Jamieson, February 14, 2013, Huffington Post

One of the largest labor unions in the U.S. will get a bit larger on Thursday, when the 1.5-million strong American Federation of Teachers enters into a new affiliation with the National Federation of Nurses union. Both unions billed the affiliation as mutually beneficial: The AFT expands its ranks in the growing health care sector, while the nurses’ union, which has 34,000 registered nurses in four states, hitches itself to a national federation with heavy clout both in the workplace and in politics. Leaders from both unions described the affiliation as a natural fit, given the professional commonalities between teaching and nursing. Just as the AFT has been battling school boards over issues like classroom size, they said, so too have nurses been fighting hospitals and health care companies over staffing levels and nurse-to-patient ratios. “We’ve always thought that as a union of professionals, nurses and health care were a very important piece,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, noting that the teachers’ union already had 48,000 nurses among its members. (read article)

Sandy’s Union Windfall: Obama steers relief money to Big Labor

Editorial, February 14, 2013, Wall Street Journal

President Obama found an ally in Governor Chris Christie during Hurricane Sandy, but New Jersey taxpayers should hope they’ll go their separate ways on the clean-up. The President wants to direct federal tax money to unions in a way that will raise costs and spread the money thin. The Army Corps of Engineers recently sought comments from the construction industry on using a so-called project labor agreement, or PLA, for Hurricane Sandy beach clean-up from Barnegat Inlet to Little Egg Inlet worth between $25 million and $100 million. The Army Corps will decide whether to require a PLA, which would establish a collective-bargaining agreement for any contractor who wants to bid on the project. Watch for unions singing in the rain. In 2009, Mr. Obama signed an executive order encouraging federal agencies to mandate project labor agreements (on a case-by-case basis) for federal projects over $25 million. The agreements often require contractors to hire workers at union hiring halls (forcing non-union workers to join the union), pay into union benefit plans and force non-union employers to abide by union work rules. Unions love the agreements because they scare away competitors who don’t want to operate under such mandates. In New Jersey, a mere 24.5% of the construction industry is unionized, and the use of PLAs is a scheme for unions to gain market share. Unions claim that PLAs help bring projects in on time, but the real effect is to raise costs. (read article)

Union-Sponsored Bill Would Eviscerate California Pension Reforms

Editorial, February 14, 2013, Merced Sun-Star

The ink is hardly dry on the historic pension reform bill the Legislature approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year, but already powerful forces are out to eviscerate it. One assault is contained in Assembly Bill 160 by Watsonville Democrat Luis Alejo. Sponsored by a trio of transit unions, this bill would exempt an estimated 20,000 transit workers from the Public Employee Pension Reform Act. The hard-fought measure approved with so much fanfare just four months ago reduces pension benefits for newly hired government workers, raises retirement ages and bars pension spiking, among other things. But transit union lobbyists claim that the act also reduces their members’ collective bargaining rights, in violation of an obscure provision in federal labor law that applies uniquely to transit workers. Under that law, they say, public employers who reduce or diminish collective bargaining rights can be denied federal transit grants. (read article)

San Bernardino’s Police and Fire Unions Seek to Fight City’s Pay Cuts

By Imran Ghori, February 12, 2013, San Bernardino Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino’s police and fire unions plan to seek permission to fight salary and benefit cuts imposed by the City Council, creating another possible obstacle in the city’s efforts to gain bankruptcy protection. Attorneys for both unions announced their intentions during a status hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside on Tuesday, Feb. 12. They plan to file motions for relief from the automatic protection from creditors and lawsuits under bankruptcy law that came with San Bernardino’s Aug. 1 Chapter 9 petition. Last month, the council imposed contracts on the police, fire and mid-management employees after declaring an impasse in negotiations. The unions hope to file an injunction to block the salary and benefits cuts from taking effect. “The cuts are draconian,” said Steve Turner, president of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association. “Not many of our members are going to be able to continue paying their bills with these kinds of cuts.” Paul Glassman, the city’s bankruptcy attorney, acknowledged that the council’s action was not popular but necessary to implement the city’s pendency plan, aimed at getting the city’s finances in order. “It shows the City Council’s resolve to do what is necessary to survive in the Chapter 9 case,” Glassman said. (read article)

National Review Calls Philly “Goon City” in Article on Labor Unions

By Joel Mathis, February 12, 2013, The Philly Post

National Review is a conservative publication that’s never had much use for unions. Still, the magazine’s new story about the “intimidation, harassment, vandalism, violence—and impunity” of Philadelphia unions probably won’t help our fair city attract new construction or other kinds of employment. It’s titled “Goon City” and goes downhill from there: A study by the National Right to Work Committee examined news reports and found that, from 1975 to 2009, there were 143 incidents of union violence in the city of Philadelphia reported in the press. It’s a grim roster that includes an unsuccessful murder attempt; a janitor’s losing an eye during a protest; the firebombing of company property; countless tires slashed; and business owners’ being threatened with a gun and with knives. Moreover, NRTWC research suggests that for every reported instance of union troublemaking, at least ten similar incidents never make the newspapers. If those estimates are right, Philadelphia has seen an average of 45 incidents of union violence each year for nearly four decades. (read article)

Sen. Harkin ‘upset’ Obama did not give nod to labor in SOTU

By Daniel Strauss, February 13, 2013, The Hill

President Obama should have had more to say about labor unions in his first State of the Union speech of his second term, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Wednesday, a day after the speech. Harkin first said there was a lot in Obama’s speech that he liked. The retiring senator from Iowa praised the president’s comments on the middle class. During his speech, Obama repeatedly tied his administration’s policies to the middle class, urging federal action to increase job training availability and allow citizens to refinance their homes. Harkin praised Obama for calling for more investment in early childhood education as well, saying the president “hit the ball out of the park on that one.” (read article)

Unions pack Anchorage Assembly to protest labor-law rewrite

By Kyle Hopkins, February 12, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

More than 750 people, many representing eight labor groups, clogged the Tuesday night Anchorage Assembly meeting in a sign of the fight to come over Mayor Dan Sullivan’s proposal to weaken city unions. Assembly members voted 7-4 to allow the proposal to proceed to a public hearing on Feb. 26. Assembly members Dick Traini, Paul Honeman, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn voted to kill the plan outright. Sullivan says the sweeping changes are long overdue and necessary to streamline labor negotiations and deliver city services cheaper and more efficiently. As written, the plan would limit raises, eliminate the right to strike and give the Assembly the final word on stalled labor disputes, among many new provisions. City unions fired back on Monday, calling the proposal poorly planned and hasty. Police officers, firefighters and engineers swarmed the Assembly meeting room Tuesday night at the Loussac Library. (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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