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.

Teachers Unions Target Charter Schools

By Sandy Fitzgerald, 16 April 16, 2013, Newsmax

Labor groups are pushing for more involvement in the nation’s charter schools, whose operators say they can manage their school staffs better when they’re not unionized. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest, have union drives under way at charter schools in several large cities, including Chicago, San Diego, and Philadelphia, reports The Wall Street Journal. Labor leaders say they want to organize charter schools because teachers are complaining about low pay and poor working conditions. Some observers, though, say the push is to help unions boost their declining membership rolls. In Chicago, the United Neighborhood Organization has agreed to provide the American Federation of Teachers with contact information for its 400 teachers and to allow union organizers to meet with them on school grounds. An agreement would unionize 25 percent of Chicago’s charter school teachers. (read article)

Teachers unions scour charter schools for new memberships

By Cheryl K. Chumley, April 16, 2013, The Washington Times

Members of the nation’s largest teachers unions — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — are pushing to organize in charter schools in several cities around the nation. The Wall Street Journal reported that the efforts are particularly underway in Chicago, San Diego and Philadelphia. Labor leaders say they are trying to make inroads into charter schools because teachers are complaining about low pay and subpar working conditions, Newsmax reported. Political watchers, however, suggest a different reason: Union membership has hit record lows, and leaders are scrambling to find new sources of funding. An estimated 12 percent of the nation’s charter schools are unionized. So far, Chicago’s charter schools have opened their doors to the idea of unionization. The United Neighborhood Organization in that city is giving the AFT contact information for 400 teachers and agreeing to a union meeting on school grounds. (read article)

Unions’ Charter-School Push

By Stephanie Banchero and Caroline Porter, April 15, 2013, Wall Street Journal

Charter schools have spread across the country while generally keeping organized labor out, with operators saying they can manage schools better when their staffs aren’t unionized. But labor groups are now making a big push to get a stronger foothold in this educational realm. Here in Chicago, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers is looking to organize one of the nation’s largest nonprofit charter-school groups. Under an agreement last month, the United Neighborhood Organization, which runs 13 charter schools in the city, agreed to provide the union with contact information for its 400 teachers and to let union organizers meet with them on school grounds, even as the charter-school group didn’t take a position on whether the teachers should organize. Backers of charters, which are public schools run by independent groups, say freedom from union contracts enables innovation in areas like staffing and school calendars. Opponents say charters siphon money and students from struggling traditional public schools. Labor leaders say they want to organize charters because teachers there complain about low pay and poor working conditions, and because unionized teachers can negotiate favorable conditions for students, such as small class sizes. But others say the push has as much to do with unions’ declining membership. (read article)

National RTW group wants to intercede in federal lawsuit

By Kristen M. Daum, Apr. 16, 2013, Lansing State Journal 

National and state supporters of Michigan’s new right-to-work laws want to intervene in a lawsuit challenging one of the measures. Their goal: Have the suit tossed out. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is representing the law’s supporters in their effort to intercede in the dispute between labor unions and Michigan state officials that’s pending in U.S. District Court in Detroit. The Michigan State AFL-CIO and other groups claim the right-to-work law affecting private sector workers violates the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution and federal labor laws. In court documents filed Monday, attorneys for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation take the same defense as Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has contended in court that “plain language” and “50 years of case law” mean Michigan’s law should stand. Right-to-work laws prohibit requiring mandatory union dues as a condition of employment. Foundation attorney John Raudabaugh said such labor laws are a “lawful exercise of state authority.” Raudabaugh is a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that has oversight over workers’ rights issues. Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws and Raudabaugh noted the “lack of a single case invalidating a right-to-work law.” “For decades, federal courts have steadfastly upheld these statutes,” Raudabaugh wrote. (read article)

Stalking exemption for Big Labor unfair

By Katie Packer Gage, April 16, 2013, Orange County Register

California legislators must put their constituents ahead of a powerful special interest. The first and most important responsibility of any elected official is to protect constituents. It is an unwritten rule, meaning it is so well understood and established that it need not be etched in stone. Yet – for some reason – this seems to be lost upon California’s representatives in Sacramento. It is relatively unknown among the state’s citizens that the Legislature has actually passed a bill exempting union bosses and their organizers from prosecution when engaging in acts which fall… (read article – subscription required)

Labor leaders quiet on Gov. Christie’s PLA veto

By Darryl R. Isherwood, April 15th, 2013, PolitikerNJ

Labor leaders today remained mum on the governor’s veto of a bill that would have allowed governing bodies to require union labor on certain public works projects. It’s not known how the governor’s action will affect his quest for trade union support in the upcoming gubernatorial election, but the silence from the major trade unions suggests any outrage was tempered. Greg Lalavee, Business Manager for the Operating Engineers Local 825, which endorsed Christie last week, said the veto had no effect on his support for Christie. “We had an idea of where the governor was going to be on that particular bill but for a whole bunch of reasons, we took a neutral position as it went through the Legislature anyway.” James Kehoe, who represents the Plumbers and Pipefitters union, which endorsed Christie earlier this year, did not return several calls for comment. Bill Mullen, President of the New Jersey Building and Trades Council, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment. Other labor leaders, including representatives from the Ironworkers, Electricians and Painters Unions, did not return calls for comment. Christie has already been endorsed by three of the state’s 15 trade unions and others are reportedly ready to follow suit, giving the governor unprecedented support from a traditionally staunch part of the Democratic base. (read article)

Another Loss for Unions: Outrageous CEO Pay

By Josh Boak, April 15, 2013, The Fiscal Times

The $16.5 trillion national debt does not strike AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka as the country’s leading economic problem. Income inequality tops the list for the labor union leader and confidante of President Obama. Trumka said the deficit hawks in corporate America are trying to “scare” voters and “distract attention from America’s real economic problems.” The AFL-CIO released Monday its 2012 “Paywatch” survey of the compensation of 350 CEOs with companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. Their compensation averaged $12.3 million last year, 354 times more than what a typical American earns according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the union’s political push has yet to make a serious dent in the decades-long trend. Organized labor finds itself playing defense—less than two years after the Occupy Wall Street movement drew attention to the issue. Stagnant wages have a disturbing ripple across the economy. As incomes barely change for much of the country, more and more Americans must either take on debt, save less, or downgrade their lifestyle—all of which becomes an impediment to economic growth. The AFL-CIO has yet to succeed in pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to implement a requirement from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that companies disclose their own CEO-to-employee ratios in filings. (read article)

Union chief: AFL-CIO ‘threatening’ those who disagree on immigration

By Stephen Dinan, April 13, 2013, The Washington Times

The chief of the labor union that represents immigration agents on Friday accused the AFL-CIO, his parent organization, of “threatening” those who oppose legalizing illegal immigrants. Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which represents ICE agents and which is part of the AFL-CIO, said he was worried about threats of “union retribution” against lawmakers who vote against legalization this year. His criticism underscores a fascinating split within the labor community as Congress prepares to debate immigration. Most labor unions back the push to grant legal status and citizenship rights to illegal immigrants, but the unions representing immigration law enforcement are generally opposed to that policy. Mr. Crane has been particularly outspoken in challenging the leadership of AFL-CIO, the umbrella union that has been part of the negotiations to try to write a bill. While AFL-CIO has been involved, Mr. Crane charges that his requests to be part of talks have been rebuffed by both the White House and the so-called Gang of Eight senators that is writing a bill. Mr. Crane pointed to recent comments from the AFL-CIO’s director of immigration, Ana Avendano, who told the Financial Times this week that they “will steamroller” any politician who tries to block citizenship for illegal immigrants. (read article)

House passes GOP bill to halt Labor Board action

By Sam Hananelk, April 12, 2013, Albany Times-Union

The House on Friday passed a bill to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from conducting much of its business until a dispute over the president’s recess appointments is resolved. The Republican-backed measure, approved on a 219-209 vote that broke largely along party lines, is a response to a federal appeals court ruling in January that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution by filling vacancies on the board without Senate confirmation. The measure is not expected to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it goes next. White House officials say the court’s decision is flawed and insist the board can continue operating while the ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Republicans and their allies in the business community claim the agency lacks any legitimacy to issue decisions. (read article)

Growers, union agree on U.S. immigration reform for farm labor

April 12, 2013, Reuters

U.S. agricultural producers and the United Farm Workers union have agreed in principle on immigration reform for farm laborers, farm groups said on Friday, ahead of plans by senators to unveil a comprehensive reform bill next week. The agreement says undocumented workers who agree to work in agriculture for five to seven years will be eligible for a “green card” allowing permanent residence in the United States. The agreement also sets terms for wages in the future and the number of visas for guest workers. (read article)

Former Supervisor Endorses Garcetti, Labor Union Members Support Greuel

By Faith Miller and Kimberly Leoffler, April 11, 2013, Annenberg TV News

L.A.’s mayoral candidates racked up last-minute endorsements as they prepared to face off in Thursday night’s debate. Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti garnered several endorsements, including Former Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke. Burke, former Assemblywoman Gwen Moore and five clergy men publicly endorsed Councilman Garcetti at a church in South Los Angeles. Burke emphasized the time she spent looking at the two candidates before she made her endorsement. “I have looked at what he has been able to achieve and the communities that he represented. He has represented not affluent areas. Some of those areas that had tremendous need. We need to have the kind of leadership that can make those tough decisions so we don’t loose the public services,” she said. Councilwoman Jan Perry and former Councilman Nate Holden, who all endorsed Garcetti recently, were present when the endorsements were announced. Garcetti noted the importance of the diversity of people that were present at the endorsement. “For me it means that this is a representation of how I would govern to see all faces at the table,” he said. Labor union members, including from IBEW and SEIU held a rally in Central L.A. Wednesday to show their support of City Controller Greuel. The event included a phone bank and “la Wendy” t-shirt making. (read article)

Obama to nominate package of labor board members

April 10, 2013, The Union Bulletin

President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated three candidates for full terms on the National Labor Relations Board, which has been in limbo since a federal appeals court invalidated his recess appointments to the agency. Obama urged the Senate to move swiftly in confirming the members — two Republicans and one Democrat — along with two other Democrats he nominated in February. That would fill all five seats on the board. But the move is already facing opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who remains angry that the nominee package includes the two Democratic lawyers Obama installed last year without Senate confirmation. The board has been a partisan lightning rod during Obama’s presidency, with Republican lawmakers and business groups furious over decisions and rules they say aim at helping labor unions win more members. Obama is renominating board Chairman Mark Pearce, a Democrat, and nominating two new Republicans to the board: lawyers Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, who have represented companies in labor-management disputes. The president also had nominated Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to full terms on the board in February. They have been sitting on the board since January 2012, when Obama made them recess appointments after Senate Republicans vowed to block Obama’s NLRB nominees. Republicans complained the board issued too many pro-union decisions. The White House hopes that Senate Republicans will favor the five-member package nomination of two Republicans and three Democrats. Both Republican nominees have passed muster with GOP leadership. (read article)

 The Real Battle for Los Angeles: Does the Bureaucracy Serve Taxpayers?

by David Frum, April 10, 2013, The Daily Beast

Only a few weeks remain until the runoff election for mayor of Los Angeles. Two candidates will face each other on May 21: former LA City Council President Eric Garcetti and LA City Controller Wendy Greuel. Garcetti has promised to reform municipal worker pension plans. He’s taken heat, but refused to back down. Greuel, on the other hand, has retreated from her promise to bring public employee unions back to the bargaining table, seemingly ‘doubling down’ on public sector union support. In municipal elections, it’s not just labor – but public employees that receive the largest share of the pie. This class of workers isn’t just protected by their labor union reps, but also by Civil Service protections, which is something that private sector unions do not have. The problem is that Los Angeles is deep under-water, financially. And its unionized, civil-service protected workforce is paid more, on average, with higher wages and better benefits, than even its private-sector counterparts. Somehow, LA still can’t manage to balance the budget – even with constant rate hikes for water and power, fees for 911 calls, a tripling of trash-hauling fees and a punishing gross receipts tax on businesses. Our roads are a mess, our infrastructure is degrading and public safety is on the line, as our politicians remind us. Yet public employee unions refuse to engage in meaningful reforms that a modern workforce requires. The issue on the ballot in May: does the bureaucracy exist to serve its residents, or do residents exist to serve the bureaucracy? (read article)

Labor Unions Have A Big Stake In Immigration Reform

By Adrian Florido, April 10, 2013, KPBS San Diego

As head of the 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria Elena Durazo is one of the nation’s most powerful union leaders, and a key player in the ongoing immigration reform negotiations. But before her current post, she led a hotel workers’ union. She said one of the hardest parts of the job was convincing workers who were in the country illegally to organize. They feared they could be easily fired, and she said that fear had rippling implications. “The fear in one group created this fear in everybody, even if their immigration status was not an issue and not a problem,” Durazo said in an interview Monday outside the Hilton in San Diego’s Mission Valley neighborhood. She had traveled from Los Angeles to address union supporters who were camped out under a red awning on the fourth day of a five-day hunger strike. They were protesting the impending dismissal of more than a dozen housekeepers. A local union says that when a new management company took over the Hilton recently, it ran all employees through E-Verify, the federal system that checks a person’s eligibility to work in the U.S. About 15 housekeepers were flagged, and given eight days to prove they could work in this country legally. (read article)

Labor Report: Four Major TV News Networks Ignore Unions

By Mike Ludwig, April 10, 2013, Truthout.org

If you turn to network television to get your news, don’t expect to hear much about labor unions or the lives of organized workers. During the years of 2008, 2009 and 2011, less than 0.3 percent of news stories aired on four major news broadcasting networks involved labor unions or labor issues, according to analysis recently released by Federico Subervi, a professor of media markets at Texas State University. Subervi’s team searched the Vanderbilt University Television News Archives and found that the four networks–NBC, ABC, CNN and CBS – aired a combined total of 172 news stories during the time period that involved labor unions or labor activist groups. During the three-year time period, the four networks aired an estimated total of 16,000 news stories annually, according to the report, which was funded by the Communications Workers of America and The Newspaper Guild. (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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