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.

End City Hall’s ‘Pay to Play’ Kleptocracy

By Jack Humphreville, February 26, 2013, CityWatch LA

There is a raging torrent of cash totaling $20 million flowing into the campaign coffers of the candidates for Mayor and the City Council, including independent expenditures of $2.5 million for Wendy Greuel, courtesy of IBEW Union Bo$$ Brian d’Arcy, the business manager of DWP’s domineering union, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the City’s cops. But as far as City Council President Herb Wesson and the leadership of the City’s unions are concerned, the most significant issue on the ballot is Proposition A, the PERMANENT half cent increase in our already regressive sales tax to a whopping 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country. This $200 million, “feed the beast” tax increase is needed to fund a portion of the $750 million increase in salaries, benefits, and pension contributions over the next four years and to provide the leadership of the City’s unions with additional leverage to extract even higher salaries and benefits from our cash strapped City. These unreasonable financial demands by the campaign funding unions do not include the “absolute need” for even more restrictive work rules that will make it almost impossible for the City to engage in badly needed budget, pension, and work place reforms. As of Friday, the Yes on Proposition A campaign had raised $1.1 million, including $500,000 during the past five days. Overall, Herb Wesson, his partner in crime, Tim Leiweke (the Chief Executive Officer of AEG of Farmers Field fame), and their cronies anticipate that they will be able to extort another $900,000 from the unions (who have already contributed almost $300,000), city contractors, real estate developers, and other special interests that are dependent on valuable contracts or concessions from the City. (read article)

Labor Unions rally at Statehouse

News Roundup, February 26, 2013, KNST (Kansas)

Labor unions rallied at the Kansas Statehouse Saturday.  Groups rallied against, what they claim, is a shift in state government that is not friendly to labor unions and working class families. Lisa Ochs, President of the American Federation of Teachers says proposed and current tax policies introduced by Kansas republicans hurt families. Governor Sam Brownback and republican leadership in Kansas says their tax plans for the state will promote job creation.  Opponents say plans to eventually eliminate income tax and maintain sales tax levels is unfair to low-income tax payers. Kansas teachers unions get a big vote of confidence from former United States Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.  Solis served in Barack Obama’s cabinet from 2009 until she resigned in January. Solis believes laws, that opponents say limit teacher’s unions funding, are misguided.  “We need to really educate more individuals to understand that when you take out your anger at teachers you’re really hurting your society,” Solis said. Solis adds teachers educate the nation’s future workforce.   Teachers unions oppose about a bill in the Kansas legislature that would prohibit unions from getting automatic payroll deductions from teachers’ paychecks. (read article)

The Nursing Home Nightmare; Labor Costs Killing Nursing Homes

By Bill McMorris, February 25, 2013, Washington Free Beacon

Lucrative union contracts have driven five Connecticut nursing homes at the center of a labor dispute into bankruptcy. HealthBridge Management has entered five of its nursing homes into Chapter 11 bankruptcy to escape labor contracts that left the company losing $1.3 million each month, according to senior vice president of labor relations Lisa Crutchfield. “The centers have a bright future if they can operate under labor agreements that reflect today’s financial realities, but the fact is the centers will not survive unless we have relief from the crushing burden of unsustainable labor costs, especially the spiraling costs of pension and health care obligations,” Crutchfield said in a press release. (read article)

10 States With The Weakest Unions

Business Roundup, February 24, 2013, Huffington Post

Last year, the number of union members in the U.S. fell by more than 400,000, or 2.7%. This decline was just a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term collapse of organized labor over the past several decades. In the past few years, states like Wisconsin and Michigan have passed legislation like “right-to-work” laws and even banned collective bargaining, further undermining public and private unions. Unionization in this country varies widely from state to state. In places like New York and Alaska, more than 20% of workers were union members in 2012. In states like Arkansas and North Carolina, the number was closer to 3%. The concentration of unions in states has a lot to do with their employment base and political atmosphere. But one thing is clear, only seven states have seen the percentage of workers in unions increase in the past 10 years, and things are not looking up for organized labor. Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor statistics and calculations by Unionstats.com, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the strongest and weakest unions. (read article)

Teacher settles claim over forced union dues payment

By Bruce Vielmetti, February 23, 2013, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A former teacher in Greenwood who had $750 deducted from her pay for union dues, even after she declined to join after the passage of Act 10, has won the money back after filing complaints against the union and her former employer. Amy Ayana filed complaints last fall with the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission with help from lawyers at National Right to Work Foundation. The foundation announced on Thursday that the complaints had been settled. According to  the foundation, when Ayana was hired in August, she told officials she did not want to join the local teachers union. Greenwood Education Association officials twice told Ayana she had to join the union, in September and December. ASpanish teacher, Ayana resigned in 2012 at the end of the school year. District officials told Wisconsin Reporter that  because Greenwood had signed an extension of its contract before the passage of Act 10, it had to honor the requirement of automatically deducting union dues from Ayana’s paychecks. (read article)

Unions argue their furloughed members deserve back pay

By Jon Ortiz, February 22, 2013, Sacramento Bee

Unions representing state scientists and engineers this week filed court papers arguing that Gov. Jerry Brown wrongly furloughed thousands of state workers and owes them millions of dollars in back pay. At stake: an estimated $12 million in back pay a Sacramento judge ordered the state pay the combined 13,000 employees covered by the unions last year. Brown has appealed the decision. “The well-reasoned and considered judgment of the trial court should be affirmed in its entirety,” says the unions’ response brief filed this week in San Francisco’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists.successfully argued that Brown in 2011 reduced their members’ hours and wages two days longer than the Legislature had authorized. The unions also persuaded Superior Court Judge Steven Brick that about 250 of their members are in line to get pay for all their lost wages — up to 70 days — because they should have been excluded from all furloughs. The policy started in 2009. The administration says Brick relied on bad evidence and that Brown had the authority to execute the furloughs as he did. The appeal put a hold on the judge’s back-pay order while the process plays out. (read article)

Jerry Brown’s labor secretary counters union attack on pension reform

By Jon Ortiz, February 22, 2013, Sacramento Bee

With billions of dollars at stake, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has defended the public pension legislation he signed last year from public unions’ charge that it violates federal law. Brown’s labor secretary, Marty Morgenstern, told federal officials that the new pension law doesn’t diminish mass-transit workers’ collective bargaining rights, a prerequisite for mass-transit providers to receive federal grants. “My legal staff and I have reviewed this matter carefully,” Morgenstern wrote in a letter to Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Seth Harris last week, and concluded the law “merely modifies” the public pension plans that state and local government employers can offer. California’s Public Employee Pension Reform Act caps benefits, hikes employee contributions and offers less generous formulas for workers joining a state or local pension fund this year and later. Unions representing roughly 20,000 mass-transit workers statewide contend retirement benefit terms must be negotiated, not imposed. (read article)

As furloughs loom, unions try to soften sequester blow for federal workers

By Lisa Rein,February 22, 2013, Washington Post

Federal government labor unions and agency managers are bargaining over how and when to carry out first-of-their-kind furloughs of more than a million employees as deep spending cuts are all but certain to kick in Friday. Union leaders cannot stop the furloughs or determine who in each agency must take them. They say their best option is to soften the pain of unpaid days, which could slash federal pay by up to 20 percent this fiscal year. They are demanding that employees be able to choose when to take days off and volunteer for more to help financially strapped colleagues. They want guarantees that no one will be penalized when work does not get done and assurances that managers cannot choose favorites to spare. “Many of you will be missing eight, 10, 20 days of work,” Alex Bastani, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told a standing-room-only crowd of 400 Labor Department employees Thursday at a lunchtime town hall on sequestration. (read article)

Business Group and Labor Union Reach Accord Over Foreign Workers

By Elizabeth Llorente, February 21, 2013, Fox News Latino

Just one week after rumors that immigration talks between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO were in danger of breaking down, the two groups announced they reached a compromise. The groups on Thursday outlined key principles for handling guest workers. The suggestions include giving U.S. workers preference in jobs, setting up a less complicated system through which businesses can hire foreign workers, and making the system of addressing labor shortages more transparent. They also recommended forming a special bureau in a federal agency to provide updates to Congress and the public about the U.S. labor market and foreign workers. “Like the test of America’s immigration system,” the statement said, “the mechanisms for evaluating our labor market needs and for admitting foreign workers – as well as recruiting U.S. workers – for temporary and permanent jobs are broken or non-existent.” (read article)

Right-to-work legislation draws ire of AFL-CIO

By James Jeffrey, February 21, 2013, Texas Business Journal

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state lawmakers provided a united front Wednesday supporting legislation to help strengthen Texas’ right-to-work laws. Senate Bill 674 and House Bill 1524 proposed by State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and State Rep. Charles Anderson, R-Lorena, respectively, seek to protect workers by guaranteeing a right to cast a unionization vote by secret ballot. If passed, the law would require that elections of exclusive bargaining representatives be determined on the basis of a vote by secret ballot and that a majority of affected workers vote to support unionization before being subject to any collective bargaining agreements. “The initiatives announced today can help ensure that the state of Texas continues to be a national leader in job creation and economic prosperity,” Abbott said. But Becky Moeller, Texas president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, blasted the legislation as unnecessary and providing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, the Amarillo Globe-News reports. (read article)

Push for Union Labor Hurting Superstorm Sandy Cleanup in NJ?

By Stuart Varney, February 21, 2013, Fox Business

(Watch Video)

Republican lawmaker touts bill pushed by labor bullies

By Chris Reed, February 21, 2013, CalWatchdog

You don’t have to be a union hater to be amazed at all the different ways labor decides to make its Sacramento puppets jump through hoops. The latest example is legislation that would require charter cities to use “prevailing wage” policies on construction projects in which any state funds were used. Last spring, the Legislature passed a law banning charter cities with PLA bans from receiving state funds for construction projects in a heavy-handed attempt to persuade San Diego voters to reject an anti-PLA measure on the June ballot. The bullying didn’t work. But the latest example of labor power-flexing has a bipartisan flavor. A GOPer is co-sponsoring the bill along with a top Dem, and he’s touting union myths in the doing. (read article)

Union Power Ensures Hawaii Has Hefty Government Labor Force

By Malia Zimmerman, February 21, 2013, Hawaii Reporter

Hawaii has more government workers as a percentage of all workers than every state in the union save Alaska, a new poll by Gallup shows. Nearly three out of every 10 employees – or 27.8 percent of employed adults in Hawaii – work in a federal, state or local government agency, according to the survey. Hawaii falls behind the District of Columbia, at 29.2 percent, and Alaska,28 percent. Driving the booming government payrolls are factors of geography, military strategy and the strength of unions here. Taxpayers in turn pay some of the highest rates in the country to support sprawling bureaucracies from the local level on up, and are on the hook for pension and health care debts for decades to come. “The government and the public need to realize that desiring a program is like owning a pet,” Kalbert Young, the state director of Budget and Finance, said. “It should be entered into as a long-term commitment because it’s a relationship that cannot easily be stopped.” Hawaii has about 65,000 state and local full-time employees, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, with a payroll of about $266 million. The state is home to more than 52,000 federal employees and retirees. (read article)

Federal court dismisses union rule case vs Labor Department

By Brendan O’Brien, February 20, 2013, Reuters

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit accusing former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis of overstepping her authority when she rescinded a financial disclosure rule for large unions. Backing the Obama administration, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday that Solis had the right to rescind a Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act rule. The rule, established by the Bush administration during its last days in office, required unions with annual receipts of $250,000 and more to report the sale and purchase of investments and fixed assets, disbursements to officers and employees, and itemized schedules of receipts. The Bush administration said it established the rule to create more transparency among big labor organizations and to strengthen the Disclosure Act. In requiring unions to report salary, benefits and deferred compensation for union officials, the rule gave union members and the public a more complete picture of the compensation earned by union leaders, said Patrick Semmens, a vice president at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which helped file the suit in May 2011 seeking to undo the Obama administration’s action. In rescinding the rule, the Obama Labor Department said the Bush administration had underestimated the financial reporting burden for unions and overestimated the public benefit of the requirement. (read article)

Labor lawyers try to rip apart mayor’s proposal to rein in unions

By Rosemary Shinohara, February 20, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

Three union lawyers tore into Mayor Dan Sullivan’s proposed rewrite of city labor law Wednesday, calling it ill-defined, drastic and poorly thought out. The Anchorage Assembly heard from the administration last Friday in support of the rewrite, and invited labor unions to critique the plan in a work session Wednesday at City Hall. The plan goes before the Assembly for public testimony at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 — next Wednesday — and is expected to come up for Assembly discussion and vote on March 12th, Assembly chairman Ernie Hall said. The proposal takes power from the unions to strike or arbitrate disputes with the city, making the Assembly the final decision-maker. It also sets up ” managed competition,” in which city employees would bid against private contractors for work. And it limits raises to a five-year-average of the consumer price index. Sullivan says current city labor law is out of date. His goal is to streamline the bargaining, match up union benefit programs, and control labor and administrative costs, he says. Attorney Mike Tedesco, who has represented the police union, said the proposal contains many undefined but important terms, for example, when it says the Assembly can’t ratify a contract if “direct labor costs” exceed the consumer price index. (read article)

Labor union group seek to strip chairman role from J.P. Morgan’s Dimon

By Ron Orol, February 20, 2013, MarketWatch

A group of labor unions are hoping to snag a London whale. More specifically, a federation of labor union investors is seeking to have J.P. Morgan Chase name an independent chairman — responding to the institution’s massive trading losses last year involving credit derivatives. Read more on Whale. Such a move would remove J.P. Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, from his position as bank chairman. The group say there is a “clear conflict” that exists when the board is overseen by the CEO. The effort by the labor union is part of a larger endeavor by activist shareholders to have companies improve corporate governance at U.S. corporations by splitting the role of CEO and chairman. The federation, which includes the AFSCME Employees Pension Plan, has submitted a non-binding shareholder proposal on the subject for investors to consider at the big bank’s 2013 annual meeting. The bank’s trading losses, estimated to be more than $5.8 billion, were conducted out of its London investment office – and attributed partly to a trader, Bruno Michel Iksil, dubbed the “London whale” for his large positions in credit derivatives. (read article)

Lawmakers want secret ballot on labor unions: Critics say it restricts workplace rights

News Roundup, February 20, 2013, KXAN (Texas)

Two Republican lawmakers want to require workers to cast a secret ballot in order to organize a union. The bill was introduced Wednesday by Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger and Waco Rep. Doc Anderson. Current Texas law makes it illegal to force someone to join a union, but allows labor organizers to collect signature cards to unionize a workplace. The bill would require a secret ballot before a union could begin representing workers. Critics say the measure is designed to make it more difficult for workers to organize into a union workplace. Seliger and Anderson say the legislation will protect worker rights. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also voiced support the bill. He also announced an optional notice for businesses to post that informs workers that Texas is a right-to-work state. (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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