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.

Organized labor agenda gains steam with turn in Minnesota Capitol politics

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Jim Ragsdale, March 5, 2013, Star Tribune

Minnesota’s labor unions are going on offense at the Capitol, rapidly ticking off the political goals they have long desired. After pouring money and manpower into electing a DFL Legislature and governor, unions are vigorously pushing a labor agenda. On Monday they turned out at the Capitol in support of measures that would help unionize thousands of child-care and home health-care workers. Labor activists also see solid prospects for boosting the state’s minimum wage, and winning more money for local governments and education. “This is our moment!” Eliot Seide, executive director of American Federation of State Council, Municipal and Metropolitan Employees Council 5, shouted to a crowd of chanting union members at a recent Capitol rally. Unions began working toward victory long before this legislative session’s gavel first fell. They turned out members by the thousands to knock on doors, attend conventions and put at least $3 million into elections. Now, after years of watching their agenda languish, unions are beginning to see the political fruits of their labor. As union membership dips in Minnesota and nationally and other states dramatically cut union power, labor here is gaining political influence. Since Democrats took over the Capitol this year, unions have seen some top priorities become law and others move toward adoption. (read article)

Philly unions assault employees, vandalize vehicles, draw ire of NLRB

By Eric Boehm, March 5, 2013, Pennsylvania Independent

Some Philadelphia unions fight dirty – literally. And they’ve been so bad that the National Labor Relations Board, not usually an agency to take a stand against labor unions, has had to send them to a time-out. From The Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris: “The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday ordered members of the International Board of Teamsters Local 107, Pennsylvania’s self-described “most powerful labor organization,” to stop assaulting and spitting on employees, vandalizing vehicles, and obstructing business operations at the Eureka Stone Quarry, Inc. Jim Morrissey III, whose grandfather started the cement mixing and construction service company, launched the suit after striking drivers dragged a company mechanic from his truck after obstructing the road with nails—an incident captured on surveillance tape. ‘He was scared to death, surrounded by six to eight guys he thought were his friends,’ Morrissey said.” A spokesman for the union said the complaint was exaggerated. But the incident is part of a disturbing trend in union tactics in the City of Brotherly Love. As Franklin Center fellow Jillian Kay Melchior reported last month, a new study found 143 incidents of union violence since 1975 – and those are just the incidents that were reported. There is reason to believe a far greater number of incidents in the union-heavy town go unnoticed and unremarked upon, Melchoir wrote. (read article)

Mallory Factor Exposes Big Labor’s War on America

David Horowitz Freedom Center, March 4, 2013, Frontpagemag.com

The picture’s entirely different for government employee unions.  Outrageous concessions to these unions don’t drive the government out of business and throw union members out of jobs.  Unwieldy union contracts just make government immensely bigger and more burdensome to you, the taxpayer. Republicans and Democrats used to agree that collective bargaining for government employees is harmful to our nation.  One of the most pro-union Presidents in American history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said that collective bargaining for government workers was wrong.  Strikes against our government were “unthinkable and intolerable.”  This is what Roosevelt believed.  Even union officials thought the idea of a government employee union was a nonstarter. George Meany, the former head of the AFL-CIO, actually said, and I quote — “it’s impossible to bargain collectively with government.”  The Democrats then realized that they could use the unions as a piggybank for their election campaigns.  Suddenly, Democrats were able to get campaign support for unions in exchange for supporting the union agenda.  In January 1962, President Kennedy signed an executive order to give collective bargaining to federal workers.  And since then, government employee unions have taken over the union movement and even the entire Democrat Party. The power and the money in today’s labor movement is centered on government employee unions.  Unions elect their own bosses.  They elect government officials and legislators who grow the size of our government, hire more government employees, and give these employees higher pay and benefits.  Then unions keep government inefficient by preventing it from reorganizing, from streamlining and from rightsizing. There will be a tipping point when our government gets so big and government unions get so entrenched that America will no longer be able to support the enormous cost of running our government.  And, my friends, we are rapidly approaching that point. (read transcript)

Public sector unions brace for sequestration impact

By Ned Resnikoff, March 4, 2013, MSNBC

Now that the sequester is officially in effect, public sector unions are getting ready for a wave of furloughs and layoffs. Representatives from some of the biggest unions representing government employees said they could not predict exactly what effect the cuts would have on their members—only that the outcome would be unavoidably painful. “It’s the unknown,” said Jeff Zack, a spokesperson for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Hundreds of thousands of  employees in the Defense Department, the Treasury, the TSA, and numerous other federal agencies are likely to experience unpaid furloughs over the course of the next weeks and months. On the state and local level, the sequester could result in mass layoffs. (read article)

San Bernardino Wants To Turn Down Union Contracts

By Helen Christophi, March 04, 2013, Law360

The city of San Bernardino, Calif., on Monday urged a bankruptcy judge to allow it to reject collective bargaining agreements with three unions that have refused to modify their agreements with the city, saying it had negotiated with the unions in good faith. In its motion Monday, San Bernardino asks the court for an order approving its rejection of the agreements with the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, the San Bernardino Police Officers Association and the San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters. (read article)

Employers hoping for an end to labor pains after NLRB picks ruled ‘unconstitutional’

By Perry Chiaramonte, March 04, 2013, FoxNews.com

Over the last year, the National Labor Relations Board has made 341 rulings, including some that have prompted critics to call it the most activist, pro-worker board ever. And now that a federal court has ruled the current board was put together with unconstitutional recess appointments by President Obama, those holdings are suddenly in question. “At no time have I seen an NLRB more aggressively overrule long-standing precedent,” said Mark Carter, a West Virginia-based labor law attorney with nearly three decades of experience. “They have taken ‘change’ to an aggressive level beyond anything I’ve seen.” The independent government agency is governed by a five-person board, all of its members hand-picked and appointed by the president. The average salary for a sitting board member can be between $150,000 and $165,000 a year and they are charged with ruling on decisions pertaining to unfair labor practices and issues over the course of a five-year term. (read article)

Georgia House sides with business lobby on labor laws

By Bill Barrow, March 4, 2013, Atlanta Times-Union

The Georgia House of Representatives has approved two labor law changes that Republican leaders say would protect workers and boost market competition. Democratic opponents, meanwhile, criticized the measures on Monday as an attack on the organized labor in a state that already restricts union power with so-called “right-to-work” laws. Those laws bar union membership as a condition of employment. House Bill 361 would allow workers to opt out at any time from automatic payroll deductions for union dues. Current law says workers must have only an annual option to opt out. House Bill 362 would prohibit any state or local government entity in Georgia from requiring that bidders for public works contracts use unionized labor for a project. The bills passed on party-line votes and now head to the Senate. Both are backed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other players in the business lobby. Despite the limited scope of the measures, the floor debate Monday afternoon quickly evolved into a back-and-forth over economic theory and labor policy. Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and sponsor of the bills, said he believes that Georgia’s status as a “right-to-work” state is under attack. So, he reasoned, the bills restate what he framed as protections to shield workers from being forced to join unions and giving unions unfair advantages in competing for public contracts. (read article)

Union Treasurer in Maryland Sentenced to Two Years for $433,784 Theft

By Mike Antonucci, March 4, 2013, Intercepts

Denise Inez Owens, former treasurer of the Worcester County Teachers Association in Maryland, pleaded guilty to a single count of theft for stealing $433,784 in dues from the state and national unions to fund her gambling addiction. She was sentenced to two years in prison, three years of probation, and will have to pay $211,545 in restitution to the bonding company that made the unions’ losses whole. Owens stole the money in 2009, but the union covered up the crime by forcing Owens to quit and sign a restitution agreement. Owens returned to teaching without anyone the wiser until a newspaper reporter turned up the embezzlement during a public record examination. (read article)

Union delegation unexpected sight at California GOP convention

By Mark Stefanos, March 4, 2013, CalWatchdog

Leaders of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County, a labor organization representing 2,200 law-enforcement officers, toured the California Republican Convention in Sacramento last weekend, attending sessions and meeting with elected officials. They were an uncommon sight, given California labor leaders’ historic alliance with Democratic candidates and organizations. It is far too soon to see this as significant. But for a Republican Party looking to widen its umbrella after significant losses in the 2012 election cycle, the union’s overture was a reminder that California’s police and fire unions haven’t been as rigidly predictable or ideological as other public-employee unions. Matt Clay, president of DSASD, said his delegation was received warmly. “We have felt like we’ve been included in the party,” he said. “I feel that we are on the same sheet as the Republicans on an overwhelming amount of issues.” (read article)

Calvin Coolidge’s secret strategy to fight union pressure was to say “no”

By Steve Eide, March 4, 2013, Public Sector Inc.

For a dominant political figure, Calvin Coolidge was an unusual type: taciturn, frugal, and almost unbelievably wonky. The budget idea, I may admit, is a sort of obsession with me. I believe in budgets. I want other people to believe in them. I have had a small one to run my own home; and besides that, I am the head of the organization that makes the greatest of all budgets, that of the United States government. Do you wonder, then, that at times I dream of balance sheets and sinking funds, and deficits, and tax rates and all the rest? Most intriguingly, Coolidge preferred to say “no.” In her new biography of Coolidge, Amity Shales shows that his naysaying disposition not only wasn’t a political liability, it was in fact critical to his rise. Coolidge became President in 1923 when Warren Harding died, and he became Vice President in 1920 because of his management of the 1919 Boston police strike. He was then Governor of Massachusetts. (read article)

‘Paycheck protection’ bill stalls in Missouri Senate

March 4, 2013, St. Louis Business Journal

Missouri Democrats have stalled a bill that would ban public employee unions from automatically deducting dues from a member’s paycheck. Sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, Missouri’s “paycheck protection”measure would apply to organizations representing teachers, state employees and city and county workers, the Southeast Missourian reports. First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, would be exempt from the bill. Similar measures have passed in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, Michigan and Washington state. (read article)

Kansas unions fight austerity

March 3, 2013, Workers World

Chanting “Stand up! Fight back,” hundreds of working people and their family members throughout Kansas gathered at the state capitol in Topeka on Feb. 23 for a rally sponsored by a labor-community coalition, the Working Kansas Alliance. Despite the fact that one of the biggest snow storms in Kansas history, with snowfalls between 12 and 18 inches, ended just the day before the rally, members of unions and community organizations statewide forged ahead to the capitol to demand that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and other Wall Street legislators stop attacking working people and our communities. (read article)

The new AFSCME contract is a deal Illinois can’t afford

By Paul Kersey, March 1, 2013, Illinois Policy Institute

Gov. Pat Quinn managed to avoid a government worker strike, but that doesn’t spell success. There is still much that remains unknown about the terms of the tentative agreement that Illinois just reached with Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, but the main features that are emerging paint a picture of a contract the state can’t afford. Here’s what Quinn needed to deal with: Between 2008 and 2012 the AFSCME workforce expanded to 38,837 workers, an increase of 17 percent; Between 2008 and 2011, the overall annual cost of wages for these employees shot up by 26 percent, or nearly $500 million; At the same time, overall private sector employment slid – in 2012 there were still 220,000 fewer Illinoisans employed than there were in 2008. (read article)

Los Angeles public employee unions Unions bankroll independent campaigns in LA primary races

By Sharon McNary, KPPC Radio, March 1, 2013

Los Angeles public employee unions are showing their clout as they pour millions of dollars into independent campaigns that are backing candidates in Tuesday’s primary elections for mayor and other city offices. Political action committees have spent more than $4 million to support candidates in the L.A. races for mayor, city attorney, controller and eight city council districts. It nearly matches the $4.28 million that independent groups spent in the entire city election —  primary and runoff — in 2005, which is the last time open seats were contested for both council and mayor. (read article)

The fall of Mexico’s most powerful woman:

By Daniel DiSalvo, February 28, 2013, Public Sector Inc.

The teachers union in Mexico, with some 1.5 million members, is one of the most powerful political entities in the country. Indeed, its’ record shows just how far public sector unions can encroach on democratic government. In Mexico, the state does not know how many teachers in fact work for it because the union hires the teachers. Nor does it know how many schools there are, as the union largely runs them. Now that seems likely to change with the arrest of the union’s leader Elba Esther Gordillo for embezzling somewhere between $160 and $200 million. Despite representing teachers who don’t make much, Gordillo was known to have mansions in California, to wear $5,000 scarves, have regular plastic surgery, and offer Hummers to region union leaders to ensure loyalty. In recent years, apparently, she spent some $2.1 million at Neiman Marcus in San Diego. (read article)

Democrat Joins Maine Republicans In Opposing Mandatory Union Fees

By Rob Poindexter, February 28, 2013, WABI-TV

The debate over whether or not state workers should be forced to pay certain union fees continues among Maine lawmakers. But this time Republicans have an unexpected ally in the fight. In 2005, the legislature enacted a provision forcing state employees to pay collective bargaining fees to the state employees union, even if they chose not to be part of the union. By law, state workers can’t be forced to pay union dues, just collective bargaining fees. Representative Lawrence Lockman, an Amherst Republican, is the latest in a line of Republicans trying to right what he calls a wrong. He’s proposed a bill that would make those collective bargaining fees optional for non-union members. “It would undo what the Democratic majority did in 2005 on a straight party line vote in the middle of the night with no public hearings,” Lockman said. (read article)

Labor Union Contract Threatens Students’ College Campus Tour

By Steven Luke and R. Stickney, February 28, 2013, NBC San Diego

For 29 years, students at San Diego High School have been loading into buses and taking a California college tour. This year, however, a union contract is putting the brakes on the trip. San Diego High School caters to students who don’t come from privileged homes. The entire campus is on the free and reduced lunch program. For many of these kids – this trip was the trip of a lifetime. From USC to UC Santa Cruz – thousands of students can look back and say they took the college trip with Mr. Murphy. History teacher Stan Murphy started it in the early 80’s driving students himself the first two years. It was an annual road trip that changed the course of history for countless students. “There are so many stories I could tell you about students who didn’t think they wanted to go to college and all of a sudden they saw someplace they wanted to go,” Murphy said. This year 11th graders aren’t going anywhere at least with their teachers. That’s because, as detailed in a recent district memo, the collective bargaining agreement with the labor union representing bus drivers restricts any outsourcing to charter bus services. (read article)

Union Leaders Call on Obama to Fill Labor Board

By Steven Greenhouse, February 27, 2013, New York Times

The nation’s union leaders are voicing alarm that the National Labor Relations Board might remain paralyzed for a year or more as a result of a federal appeals court ruling that found President Obama’s recess appointments to the board to be unconstitutional. Gathering here for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s winter meeting, union leaders on Tuesday called on Mr. Obama to immediately nominate a slate of five members to fill all of the board’s seats. Labor leaders asserted that the court ruling could badly undercut unions because a paralyzed N.L.R.B. would not be able to intervene if employers engaged in unlawful tactics during unionization drives, including illegally firing union supporters or intimidating workers into voting against having a union. (read article)

AFL-CIO Backs Keystone Oil Pipeline, if Indirectly

By Steven Greenhouse, February 27, 2013, New York Times

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s largest federation of unions, has issued an apparent endorsement of the Keystone XL oil pipeline — apparent because it enthusiastically called for expanding the nation’s pipeline system, without specifically mentioning Keystone. And while some union leaders said the federation’s stance stopped short of an official endorsement, the nation’s building trades unions — eager for the thousands of jobs the pipeline would create — issued a statement saying the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s stance was a clear endorsement of the Keystone pipeline. The labor federation’s embrace of the pipeline, even with some ambiguity, will give President Obama some political cover as he weighs whether to approve the pipeline, which would carry more than 700,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil each day to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. But the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s move is likely to strain the alliances that organized labor has sought to build with the environmental groups that are battling the pipeline. (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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