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.

Labor agreements serve only union interests

By Greg Beeman, March 19, 2013, South Coast Today

Building a new marine commerce terminal to ready New Bedford’s port to serve as a staging area for the nascent off-shore wind energy industry is a smart move that will bring needed jobs to the city, but the commonwealth’s announcement that the terminal would be constructed under a union-only Project Labor Agreement excludes the vast majority of area construction workers from its benefits. Under a PLA, all labor for a construction project must come from union hiring halls. The agreements exclude the more than 80 percent of Massachusetts construction workers who, according to unionstats.com, don’t belong to a union. PLA backers have long cited construction quality, training, wages and ensuring labor peace as reasons for supporting PLAs. The wage argument is, of course, baseless, because anyone participating in a public construction project, regardless of labor affiliation, must comply with state and federal prevailing wage requirements. A study of federal government projects initiated between 2001 and 2008, when PLAs were prohibited on federal jobs, didn’t find a single job beset by the labor disputes PLAs are designed to preclude. A new program from Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts, the commonwealth’s leading association of merit shop contractors, renders the training argument moot. The Merit Apprenticeship Program ensures quality by meeting all state training requirements. If PLA supporters are really concerned about construction quality and worker training, why not simply require those things, rather than arbitrarily locking out non-union workers? (read article)

Missouri Senate advances labor union legislation

By Jeffrey Militzer, March 19, 2013, The Maneater

Democratic Missouri senators filibustered legislation for eight hours last Tuesday. The uproar from local unions and local Democrats was in response to Senate BIll 29, which would require authorization for certain labor unions to use dues and fees to make political contributions and requires consent for withholding earnings from paychecks. The bill would apply to public labor unions, including city workers, municipal employees and state workers. While this bill will not affect private unions, James Douglas, financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local One, said he sees it as a “step in that direction.” Douglas said the bill will require unions to use some of their resources to track and maintain paperwork. He said that would be highly unnecessary. “We don’t use union dues for politics,” Douglas said. “We use our dues for paying union worker salaries, building utilities, employee retirement and benefits for deceased workers. We collect money for political purposes, but that is a voluntary donation by the worker and not a mandate by the union.” This bill will also give employees the option to determine how much, if any, of their dues can be spent toward political purposes. (read article)

Obama nominates Justice official to top Labor slot

Sam Hananel and Jim Kuhnhenn, March 18, 2013, Albany Times Union

President Barack Obama gave a glowing rollout Monday to Thomas Perez, his choice to lead the Labor Department after an aggressive stint as the nation’s chief civil rights enforcer. But the nomination quickly ran into trouble as a Republican senator declared he would block the nomination until GOP concerns about Perez’s Justice Department tenure are addressed. Sen. David Vitter said he objects because Perez enforced Louisiana’s voting rights laws in a way “that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security” of registered voters in the state. The Justice Department, he said, has not responded to Vitter’s 2011 letter on the subject. But Obama and his allies pressed ahead with Perez’s debut in a new role, in which he would shift from the upper ranks of the Justice Department, saying they expect him to bring the same aggressive mindset to the Labor Department. They predicted he would raise the agency’s profile and play a more prominent role in the Cabinet than Hilda Solis, who left the post in January. Obama called Perez a “consensus builder” whose “story reminds us of this country’s promise.” (read article)

California offers a brighter future for America’s beleaguered unions

By Moira Herbst, March 18, 2013, UK Guardian

A worker checks slot machines inside Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati in Cincinnati, United States. Denominations among more than 2,000 slots and video poker machines range from $.01 to $500 per spin at the casino is set to open to the public on March 4. It’s a sign of the times: the AFL-CIO, America’s leading union federation, is hitting pause to engage in an unprecedented self-evaluation. With union membership rates the lowest in 97 years – and with Republicans stepping up destructive anti-union efforts at the state and national level – labor leaders decided it is time to stop, reflect and formulate a strategy for re-invention. What is to be done? While partisan attacks, employer hostility and union job loss from offshoring will continue, unions can look for inspiration to one of labor’s few bright spots: California. The state is bucking the national trend of decline and adding union members at an impressive rate. Last year, union membership in California grew by more than 110,000 members. There, 17.2% of workers are union members, as opposed to just 11.3% nationally. There are a few secrets to labor’s success in California. The state’s economic recovery has been gaining steam and employers are hiring at a rapid pace relative to other states. A stronger economy is more hospitable to unions, since workers are less fearful of losing their jobs and more willing to advocate for better conditions. California is friendly territory in another way: it has a Democratic governor and pro-worker super-majority in the legislature – thanks in part to union get-out-the-vote mobilization in November’s election. Another major factor behind California’s union membership surge has been unions’ desire and ability to organize immigrant workers there in recent years. (read article)

Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez supported by unions, criticized by GOP

By Sam Hananel and Jim Kuhnhenn, March 18, 2013, Associated Press

President Barack Obama nominated Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to be the next secretary of labor, choosing a Hispanic lawyer with experience in civil rights and workplace issues to his second-term Cabinet. Obama called Perez a consensus builder whose story “reminds us of this country’s promise.” “Tom’s made protecting that promise for everybody the cause of his life,” Obama said in an appearance with Perez in the White House East Room Monday. If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, who has been head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division since 2009, would take over the Labor Department as Obama undertakes several worker-oriented initiatives, including an overhaul of immigration laws and an increase in the minimum wage. Before taking the job as assistant attorney general, the 51-year-old Perez was secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which enforces state consumer rights, workplace safety and wage and hour laws. Perez has broad support from labor and from the Latino community. Among those at the White House ceremony Monday were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous. (read article)

Support From Labor Unions Could Be Key In Lynch, Markey U.S. Senate Primary Race

By Jon Keller, March 18, 2013, CBS Boston

As a former iron worker and union local president, it’s clear why Congressman Stephen Lynch is relying on labor support in his battle with Congressman Ed Markey for U.S. Senate. The latest Lynch television ad underscores both its importance and the struggle he has faced to lock up the labor vote. The word “union” is never mentioned in the ad, but it’s just the latest sign of how heavily Lynch’s path to victory relies on support from organized labor. Lynch has not passed up a chance to compare his blue-collar cred with Markey’s as seen at the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. Lynch said the special election will be historic regardless of who wins the Democrat primary. (read article)

Chamber, labor unions at odds over guest worker program

By David Nakamura,March 15, 2013, Washington Post

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for 400,000 new visas for foreign workers, a demand that has been met with fierce resistance by labor unions and which could help derail an agreement between the two sides over an immigration reform bill being developed in Congress. The AFL-CIO has countered with a far lower figure, starting at 10,000 visas, and the talks have stalled in recent weeks as the two sides have begun to talk less frequently, both sides said Friday. A bipartisan group of eight senators, which is expected to unveil a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws next month, has taken the lead in trying to come to a compromise, business leaders said. (read article)

PA Big Labor Boss Bullies Job Creators

By Matt Batzel, March 14th, 2013, RedState

During a press conference in support of privatizing Pennsylvania’s liquor stores, Big Labor Boss Wendell W. Young, repeatedly shouted and interrupted speakers at the podium.  Young, who received $287,386 in compensation last year, is the Local 1776 representative for United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents many of Pennsylvania’s liquor store employees. Commonwealth Foundation’s President Matthew Brouillette captured the above video of Young cursing and yelling “that’s a picture of profit before people, folks”  and “Aw, B*ll Sh*t, there’s not going to be any money.” Governor Tom Corbett announced his plan to privatize alcohol stores in Pennsylvania (yes, Pennsylvania only allows state-owned stores to sell wine and spirits) back in January. Grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, large retailers and beer distributors would be able to file applications to sell beer and wine as almost all other states allow. Governor Corbett would then use the $1 billion in revenues from his plan to fund public education.  Unsurprisingly, public sector labor unions, who receive union dues from the state liquor store workers, have opposed this plan. (read article)

Big Labor, Big Costs

By Ryan Willard, March 14, 2013, Washington Free Beacon

Government-mandated and union-backed project labor agreements (PLAs) are increasing costs on taxpayer-funded projects across the country even as local, state, and federal governments face a budget crunch. A PLA sets construction conditions on bidding for federally funded projects. While the conditions for each PLA vary depending on the locale within which they are passed, they frequently require employees to join a union or force contractors to employ union labor exclusively. PLAs also “require contractors to pay their workers’ health and retirement benefits to union trust funds,” causing the contractors to pay workers’ benefits twice—once for the union and once for their company plan. Additionally, they often force nonunion employees to join union pension plans. Contractors are frequently unwilling to take on these burdens in order to meet PLA demands, leaving only contractors that employ union labor left to place bids. (read article)

Unions fighting labor law rewrite pour money into two Assembly campaigns

By Rosemary Shinohara, March 14, 2013, Anchorage Daily News

In the days that followed Mayor Dan Sullivan’s proposal to rewrite city labor laws, union groups and members rushed in to contribute $11,000 to two Anchorage Assembly races featuring candidates critical of the mayor’s ordinance, campaign finance reports show. Mayor Dan Sullivan unveiled a proposal to rewrite city labor law on Feb. 8. The Sullivan proposal, still before the Assembly, would take away unions’ right to strike, and it would limit raises, among other things. Sullivan says he wants to streamline union contracts, save money and make the city more efficient. In Midtown Anchorage, unions have responded by pouring more money into the campaign of incumbent Assemblyman Dick Traini, who is against Sullivan’s labor plan. (read article)

Union officials rip Nutter’s handling of labor issues

By Bob Warner and Troy Graham, March 14, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer

As Mayor Nutter prepared to unveil a new budget to City Council, the city’s top union leaders on Wednesday excoriated Nutter’s handling of municipal labor issues and called on Council members to take their side. “He’s trying to take away our right to collective bargaining,” said Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, at a lunchtime rally Wednesday, drawing some 300 union supporters to the north side of City Hall. Eiding said the city’s union movement would be out in greater force Thursday, trying to pack into City Hall and Council chambers when the mayor delivers his annual budget speech. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Bill Gault, president of the city firefighters union, predicting that 1,000 city employees would attempt to attend, joined by hundreds from other unions. Council’s seating capacity is 350. The firefighters are battling the administration over raises awarded to the union in arbitration, but delayed by a court appeal from Nutter, who claims the city can’t afford the expense. (read article)

Have Philadelphia Labor Unions Finally Been Beat?

By Steve Volk, March 13, 2013, Philadelphia Post

One of Philadelphia’s most watched civic dramas could be coming to a close and escalating, all at once. Developers Matt and Mike Pestronk are opening the Goldtex apartment building on Wood Street on May 1st, and they will begin taking leasing applications on Friday. The move signals an end, of sorts, to a dispute between the Pestronks and this city’s Building Trades, which began when the brothers tried awarding only a portion of the Goldtex work to union labor. The unions picketed the job site, chanting “all or none!” But the Pestronks held their ground, saying they couldn’t meet union wage demands and turn a profit. The result was the single-biggest union dispute this city has seen in decades. The Pestronks accused the unions of intimidation tactics—pouring oil across the site’s entrance, issuing death threats, shoving nonunion employees working the project. What’s more, they even caught much of the action on video and posted it online and won a restraining order against picketers. The unions denied the Pestronks’ allegations, accusing them of selectively editing the videos they released. With 163 apartment units coming online, the Pestronks say a message has been sent to the city’s developers and nonunion, or “open shop,” contractors. (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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