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.

Five things to watch on Election Day

By Catalina Camia, November 5, 2013, USA Today

Here are five things to watch on Election Day: National stakes playing out in Virgini, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe has been leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli in public opinion polls, particularly among female voters who were key in President Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. Republican incumbent Chris Christie is favored over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono in New Jersey’s election for governor. Voters in New York City will pick a successor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Detroit picks a mayor amid bankruptcy woes. Boston voters choose first new mayor in 20 years. (read article)

Factbox: Mayoral races around U.S. quirky, serious and hard-fought

By David Beasley, Scott Malone, and others, November 5, 2013, Reuters

Voters around the United States will choose mayors on Tuesday, from a closely contested race in Boston to a runaway in New York to one in Pittsburgh where the challenger is living overseas. Thirty-five candidates are running in Minneapolis, and in Detroit the mayor will serve under a state-appointed emergency manager. Here is a brief look at some of the races: ATLANTA – Incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to win a second four-year term as he faces three challengers with little name recognition or money in Atlanta’s nonpartisan race. Reed, endorsed last week by President Barack Obama, has touted his hiring of more police officers and reform of the city’s pension system. His challengers are certified mediator Al Bartell, financial planner Fraser Duke and consultant Glenn Wrightson. BOSTON – Boston’s most competitive mayoral race in more than two decades was a dead heat going into Election Day, pitting City Councilor John Connolly against state Representative Marty Walsh. Connolly, a former teacher, has campaigned on a pledge to improve the city’s schools. Walsh has the backing of the city’s labor unions. Both are Democrats, competing in the city’s nonpartisan election to succeed incumbent Thomas Menino, who opted against seeking re-election after 20 years in office. (read article)

Dues Deduction For Public Sector Unions Is An Offense To Our Much-Fleeced Taxpayers

By Nathan Benefield, November 5, 2013, Forbes

It was the last straw for teacher Steve Calabro. When the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) ran advertisements claiming any teacher who didn’t contribute to the union PAC was part of the “Gov. Tom Corbett fan club,” he had seen enough. Steve, a teacher from Lackawanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania wrote, “the PSEA’s political agenda has blinded them into complete disregard for their own membership … this kind of ad is one example of the types of activities that made me disillusioned with the PSEA.” Steve isn’t alone. Across the country, public school teachers are frequently forced to fund their local LOCM +4.59% unions and their overtly political agenda. Their only other option is to lose their jobs. That may come as a shock, given the freedom to support-or not support-candidates and political causes is sacrosanct to most Americans. Yet in many states, government unions use automatic dues deduction to short-circuit individual choice, forcing workers and taxpayers to fund political causes contrary to their own beliefs and values. Government union contracts often require that state and local governments use taxpayer-funded payroll systems to deduct union dues, fees, and even PAC money from their employees’ paychecks and then cut a check directly to union accounts. With access to steady streams of funding, it’s no surprise that unions are giants of political advocacy. Nationally, union leaders spent a whopping $1.7 billion on lobbying and electoral politics over the last two years, according to an analysis by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. Indeed, 11 of the top 20 federal political donors are unions. (read article)

Wisconsin court won’t suspend contempt in union case

By Todd Richmond November 05, 2013, Business Week

A Wisconsin appeals court refused Monday to suspend a contempt-of-court finding against state labor relations officials who continued enforcing parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining restrictions despite a ruling the language is unconstitutional. The ruling means certification elections for local public worker unions remain on hold and local municipalities and school districts must continue negotiating with their employee unions. It also shifts the focus to the state supreme court, which next week is expected to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the provisions, as well as the contempt ruling. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission had argued the contempt ruling will prevent it from holding re-certification elections for hundreds of local public unions this year, creating confusion about whether the unions remain viable. The 4th District Court of Appeals noted the state Supreme Court is weighing the constitutionality of the provisions. Both the commission and the unions could face equal harm depending on which way the high court goes, the appellate court said. (read article)

De Blasio Seeks Mandate as Lhota Hopes for Upset in New York City Mayoral Election

By Chang W. Lee, November 5, 2013, The New York Times

Concerned that his overwhelming lead in the race to be New York mayor could depress voter turnout, Bill de Blasio on Monday warned supporters against complacency as he sought to win with a decisive mandate that could propel his liberal agenda. But Mr. de Blasio’s Republican rival, Joseph J. Lhota, was not giving up the fight, urging New Yorkers to remember faulty predictions of the past, and comparing himself to Harry S. Truman on the eve of his unexpected victory against Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. “You’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” he said in an interview on WOR-AM (710). Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic political consultant, predicted that turnout would be around 1.2 million — about what it was in 2009, when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was widely expected to win a third term. Another Democratic consultant, Bruce D. Gyory, predicted turnout between 1.1 and 1.25 million. There are 4.3 million active registered voters in New York City. Mr. de Blasio, who leads by more than 40 points in some polls, is hoping to ride the wave of populist momentum that has sustained him since September, when he emerged from a crowded field to win the Democratic nomination for mayor. An overwhelming victory might help him win support for his long list of policy ideas, including his signature proposal — a plan to raise taxes on wealthy residents to pay for an expansion of prekindergarten and after-school programs. Labor unions vowed to do their best to turn out the vote. For example, George Gresham, the president of 1199 SEIU, the health care workers’ union, said volunteers would be knocking on the doors of more than 100,000 of his union’s members. Hector Figueroa, the president of 32BJ, which represents building employees, said his union was redoubling its efforts in the hope of giving Mr. de Blasio a sizable victory. “We want to counter any sense of fait accompli or possible complacency that might arise,” he said. And over the weekend, Mr. de Blasio received a last-minute lift from NY Progress, a union-backed group, which expanded its broadcast of a television commercial critical of Mr. Lhota, targeted at the few remaining undecided voters. (read article)

I Can’t Believe Terry McAuliffe Is Going to Be Governor of Virginia

By Stephanie Mencimer, November 5, 2013, Mother Jones

No experience in office? Check. Sketchy business partners? Check. Media manipulation? Check. Terry McAuliffe and I go way back. I first started writing about him in 1997, when Mother Jones assigned me to look into a lawsuit in DC Superior Court in which McAuliffe, the Democrats’ super-fundraiser, was being sued by some of his business associates. That story turned into something much bigger. I went down the rabbit hole of McAuliffe’s business dealings, probing his relationship with a pension fund run by a union he raised lots of money from—a money trail that ended up making McAuliffe part of my life for over a year. During that time, he never returned one of my phone calls and I never had the opportunity to meet in person the glad-handing, boyish “Macker,” who first drew headlines by wrestling an alligator for a political donation. Nonetheless, the time I spent covering McAuliffe—who became head of the Democratic Party during George W. Bush’s first term—has left me dumbfounded that he (according to the polls) is poised to become the next governor of Virginia. (read article)

Fueled By Outside Money, Boston’s Mayoral Slugfest Gets Personal

By Paul McMorrow, November 05, 2013, Time

The first competitive race to run Boston in two decades has become a union-funded fight over identity politics. Many Connolly supporters distrust Walsh’s close union ties, and fear he’d hand out platinum-plated contracts to cops and firefighters. Walsh supporters, who see their candidate as a crusader for the poor and the working class, have countered by painting Connolly as the lost Koch brother, a wealthy interloper who can’t be trusted. To date, unions and super PACs have made $3.6 million in independent expenditures in the race — an enormous amount of money, given tight Massachusetts campaign finance laws that cap individual campaign contributions at $500. Since early August, when the spending began in earnest, outside groups have outspent the combined Connolly and Walsh campaigns by more than one-third. Recent mayoral races in Los Angeles and New York have also attracted heavy union and super PAC spending, but both those cities are considerably larger than Boston; on a per-capita basis, outside spending in Boston’s mayoral race is twice what it was in Los Angeles, and six times the levels in New York. Working America, the AFL-CIO-affiliated super PAC, has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a field operation for Walsh. The group has housed a small army of paid political canvassers at a Holiday Inn alongside a busy highway since early August. The PAC has also dialed up the class issue, producing a series of mailings in which salty-looking Bostonians claim that Connolly is “trying to fool people,” “doesn’t understand us,” and “isn’t one of us.” Three-quarters of all outside money has been spent promoting Walsh’s candidacy, and in a tight race, it’s given Walsh a tremendous spending edge. In addition to Working America’s ground game, a pair of other super PACs has spent more than $1.5 million airing television ads on his behalf. Pro-Walsh PACs have spent 45 percent more on the race than Walsh’s own campaign committee has. Boston’s mayoral race has become a rallying cause for organized labor nationwide — a chance to flex its muscles and show it still has political juice, Chris Christie and Scott Walker be damned. (read article)

SeaTac minimum wage vote will be watched by national businesses, labor unions

By Mike Baker, November 05, 2013, The Republic

SeaTac is now center stage in a national push for a $15 minimum wage. Residents of the city south of Seattle will have their say on Tuesday following a costly initiative campaign in which the two sides combined to spend $1.8 million — enough money to hire every registered voter in the city for a day at $15 per hour. The proposal would require a $15 minimum wage for many workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It follows a series of summertime rallies in which fast food workers and others around the country called attention to their struggle to earn a living. Proponents say the plan will support the local economy and particularly help thousands of workers who could use the money. Opponents express concern about the impacts on businesses and contend that the plan’s enforcement may end up costing the small city money. Groups outside of Washington state will be watching the results. National labor unions have contributed to support the effort while national business organizations have contributed in opposition. (read article)

Senate Democrats Pause From Obamacare to Push Labor Bills

By Kathleen Hunter, November 5, 2013, Bloomberg

U.S. Senate Democrats are packing the calendar this month with bills appealing to the party’s base as they seek a distraction from Obamacare’s troubled start. The strategy kicked off yesterday with a vote to advance legislation extending protections from employment discrimination to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. Proposals to raise the federal minimum wage and to boost domestic manufacturing probably will follow. The measures stand little chance in the Republican-led House. Devoting floor time to the bills is intended to give Democrats an opportunity to burnish their standing with organized labor, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, women’s groups and others that support the party’s candidates. All of the measures have strong support from the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, which has been a reliable top contributor to Democratic Senate campaigns. Democrats want “to shift the conversation” from the Obamacare woes, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Certainly they don’t want the problems with the rollout being the story going into the midterm elections in 2014,” Zelizer said. Labor’s ‘Influence’ The AFL-CIO plans to use its “influence to sway those members of Congress who will be instrumental in the bill’s passage,” Richard Trumka, president of the labor federation, said in a blog post on the group’s website about the anti-discrimination measure. (read article)

2 largest BART labor unions vote to approve contract agreement

By Jeff Landa, November 5, 2013, The Daily Californian

BART’s two largest unions voted Friday to approve a contract agreement that would both increase workers’ wages and make changes ensuring the transit system’s financial sustainability. After six months of acrimonious labor negotiations, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 ratified the contract agreements with an overwhelming majority of votes — 88 and 85 percent, respectively. Together, the unions represent nearly 2,400 BART workers, including station agents, train operators and custodians. The comprehensive package includes a wage increase of 15.38 percent over the four-year term of the contracts, although workers will pay more in medical and pension contributions. The agreement also changes the number of years employees must work to receive retiree medical benefits from five to 15 — a plan designed to save BART millions of dollars. “While employees gained a reasonable wage increase in the labor agreements, BART gained priceless changes to outdated work rules which will help pay for the wage increases while allowing BART to modernize and operate more efficiently,” said Tom Radulovich, president of the BART Board of Directors, in a press release. Saul Almanza, SEIU 1021 BART Professional Chapter vice president, hopes savings provided by the new labor agreement will be passed on in the future to the employees who “keep BART running.” (read article)

Will Labor Dept. Stick It to Employers?

Fred Wszolek, November 05, 2013, Town Hall

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has given American businesses a short reprieve from a controversial proposed rule that, if promulgated, will restrict business’ ability to obtain legal counsel and other labor relations advice potentially leading to a dearth in labor counseling. Perez told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week that the new rule was “not going to happen” this November, as the Department of Labor had originally planned. While the Department has received over 9,000 comments on its proposal and considering the negative impact it will have on American businesses, it surprisingly hasn’t received much media attention. Presently, many companies retain the services of labor consultants, some of whom are attorneys, to help them navigate the labyrinth of American labor laws. These consultants are crucial for business because employers are focused on running their businesses and need labor consultants to assure their compliance with applicable laws. Employers especially turn to labor consultants amidst a union-organizing campaign. (read article)

Kentucky GOP Senators Attempt To Attach Anti-Union Law To Gay Rights Bill

By Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, November 05, 2013, Opposing Views

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a national right-to-work amendment to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit labor unions from collecting dues from certain employees. Right-to-work laws are on the books in almost half the states. They typically strip protections from workers, reducing union membership, and thus weakening a union’s bargaining power, Raw Story reported. ENDA is meant to enforce new workplace rules to crack down on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (read article)

University of California Irvine Union Agrees to Strike

By Phuc Pham, November 05, 2013, New University

Last Wednesday, 98 percent of UC Irvine service and patient care workers approved a vote to authorize an unfair labor practice strike, a number narrowly surpassing the statewide approval rating of 96 percent.

“The workers are ready to go,” said Jennifer Alvarez, a fourth-year public health science major and student intern for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299, a statewide labor union representing approximately 20,000 workers at 10 campuses and five medical centers. Upon receiving news that the workers called a strike vote, UC representatives invited AFSCME representatives back to the bargaining table yesterday as well as to meetings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. At the time of this writing, AFSCME will either announce the strike date or hold off, depending on negotiations. The vote followed numerous cases of UC employees facing illegal pressure from managers for exercising their collective bargaining rights through strike participation or voting to strike. A formal complaint issued by California’s Public Employment Relations Board outlines 39 instances that breach the guarantees afforded to workers under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. In one such case this past May, Demetria Westmoreland told UC Davis bargaining unit employees she would write down names of strikers in order to know whose employment to terminate. An April incident saw Valerie Seng, an AFSCME-represented employee, being asked if she voted to authorize a strike and how others had voted. (read article)

Labor targets Toledo’s mayor in Tuesday’s election after his backing of union-limiting law

Associated Press, November 5, 2013

Toledo’s mayor is making a bid for another term against a wave of backlash over his support of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (KAY’-siks) attempt to limit the bargaining ability of public union employees. Political independent Mike Bell is seeking a second term Tuesday against independent city councilman D. Michael Collins. Collins is a retired police officer who has the backing of several labor unions in the state’s fourth-largest city. Bell is a former state fire marshal who has the support of many business groups in Toledo. But he drew the ire of organized labor by speaking out in favor of Kasich’s proposal to set new minimum contributions for public employee health care and retirement benefits. (read article)

Illinois unions hold strong despite blows to labor

By Sara Burnett, November 4, 2013, Associated Press

Across the middle of the country, organized labor has taken one hit after another in places that were once union strongholds: Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, where workers lost bargaining power and saw their ranks shrink, leaving them weaker than almost any time in the past century. The notable exception is Illinois. Here, it’s almost as though the Great Recession and the Republican resurgence of 2010 never happened. Public employees still have their defined-benefit pensions. Unions still negotiate and collect dues. And little public blame has been heaped on labor for the state’s financial problems. But the ability of Illinois unions to withstand the pressures that broke down their colleagues elsewhere is back on display this week as lawmakers try for the umpteenth time to confront the nearly $100 billion shortfall in the public-employee pension system, the largest in the nation. (read article)

Unions pour money into state and local races ahead of Tuesday’s vote

November 4, 2013, Fox News

The 2013 races that conclude on Tuesday are considered off-year elections, but not for unions — filtering unprecedented sums of money into gubernatorial, mayoral and school board races across the country. The Virginia gubernatorial race is the best known — attracting the most union and outside money in this year’s races and smashing nearly every Virginia record for gubernatorial fundraising, overwhelmingly in support of Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. Some of the heaviest hitters this year are also some of the country’s most powerful unions, which are trying to bolster dwindling membership rolls as they try to influence the race outcomes. Unions have spent at least $2 million on the Virginia race, including $343,000 alone in cash and in-kind donations from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. And earlier this fall, the AFL-CIO made clear it was going to devote resources to upcoming Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin gubernatorial races — particularly the likely re-election bid next year by GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who stripped public unions of the collective-bargaining power, then withstood their recall attempt. However, unions are also reaching deep into other state and local races, from the Boston mayoral contest to a school board election in suburban Denver. In Boston, unions and out-of-state PACS are also pouring money into the Boston race in record-breaking sums. The overwhelming amount has gone to Democratic candidate and state Rep. Marty Walsh, who is slightly ahead of City Council member John Connolly after trailing for much of the race. (read article)

South Dakota Organizers submit petitions, say they have signatures for minimum wage vote

November 4, 2013, ArgusLeader.com

South Dakota Democrats and labor unions said they’ve gathered more than enough signatures to force a public vote on a minimum wage increase in the state. Organizers of the petition drive said they’re delivering 25,861 signatures to Pierre on Monday, the deadline to get the initiated measure on the November 2014 ballot. Secretary of State Jason Gant said 15,855 signatures, or 5 percent of the total votes for governor in the last election, need to be valid. The measure has three components: raise the minimum wage from the current federally set $7.25 to $8.50 an hour; increase the $2.13 hourly tip wage to half the minimum wage; and tie future increases to the cost of living “so we don’t ever have to argue about it again,” said Mark Anderson, president/financial secretary of SD-AFL-CIO. “For far too long we’ve been worried about keeping the business climate friendly,” he said. “I think it’s time we keep South Dakota friendly for the workers.” The increase would represent about $50 additional per week for a full-time worker, and about 62,000 South Dakotans would get a raise if the measure passes, organizers said. (read article)

A $15 Minimum Wage Initiative on Local Ballot in Washington

By Maxford Nelson, November 4, 2013, The American Spectator

A small suburban Washington city of 27,000 has recently taken center stage in the national debate over living wages. Voters in the City of SeaTac will soon decide on Proposition 1, a ballot initiative to establish perhaps the most draconian employment standards in the nation, complete with a $15 minimum wage requirement. Labor leaders are thrilled, and it’s not hard to see why: Labor support of Prop 1 appears to be part of a growing trend to promote union organizing through local ballot initiatives. Though small in terms of geography and population, the City of SeaTac is economically significant because it hosts Sea-Tac International Airport and surrounding travel and hospitality businesses. Perhaps the most important provision in the initiative allows any or all of Prop 1’s regulations to be waived in a union contract. In other words, non-union businesses must comply with each and every provision, while unionized employers can attempt to negotiate less-onerous regulations or waive them entirely. Consequently, should Prop 1 become law, non-union businesses trying to stay open will face significant incentives to unionize in order to stay competitive. Similar provisions are increasingly common among local living wage laws. Unions backed and successfully passed a similar measure in Long Beach, California, last year. Measure N required non-union hotels with more than 100 rooms to pay employees a $13 minimum wage and provide paid sick leave. Shortly after Long Beach voters passed Measure N, two large Hyatt hotels went union. (read article)

Outside Money at Issue in Boston Mayor’s Race as Labor Unions Weigh In

By Katharine Q, Seelye, November 3, 2013, New York Times

With Boston’s first competitive mayor’s race in three decades going down to the wire, John R. Connolly has seized on the issue of outside labor support for his opponent, Martin J. Walsh. Outside cash has been pouring into the mayoral race in the last few days, about three times as much of it for Mr. Walsh, 46, a state representative and union leader backed by organized labor, as for Mr. Connolly, 40, a city councilman who is receiving money from education groups. Mr. Connolly has been careful not to disrespect labor, an influential political force here. But over the weekend, he escalated his assertions that the new money obligated Mr. Walsh to the unions. “My opponent is a good man, but you can’t have $2.5 million pour in from across the United States on behalf of labor unions and say you’re going to be able to be independent,” Mr. Connolly said, his voice rising, as he addressed about 80 black supporters at a restaurant in the Hyde Park neighborhood. “And,” he said, by now screaming, “you can’t have a ‘super PAC’ form four days before the election and have $500,000 dumped into it on your behalf and say you’re not going to owe anybody a thing after the election.” (read article)

Washington’s State and Local elections have national implications

By Mike Baker, November 3, 2013, Associated Press

Washington state’s off-year election features a series of local votes with national implications. In the airport city of SeaTac, a campaign backed by labor unions seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 for many workers. In Whatcom County, an unprecedented amount of outside money is influencing an election that may shape whether the area becomes home to the largest coal shipping terminal on the West Coast. Statewide, voters will decide whether to put labels on genetically modified foods in a campaign that has drawn hefty donations from food industry businesses such as PepsiCo, Monsanto and General Mills. Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University, said the unique thing about this year’s ballot — which voters must postmark by Tuesday — is that a random assortment of campaigns has drawn so much attention from outside of the state as organizations seek to use this year’s vote as leverage. “Both sides are looking at what happens in Washington. It’s going to make it harder or easier to advance their policy goals,” Donovan said. Not to be forgotten is the largest political race in the state: the campaign for Seattle mayor. Incumbent Mike McGinn and opponent Ed Murray, a state senator, have waded into national discussions about the minimum wage, coal and gun control. Meanwhile, a state Senate race that could shape the balance of power in the chamber has become the most expensive legislative contest in state history, with money coming from folks like California environmentalist Thomas Steyer. (read article)

Unions Remain Hesitant to Embrace Obamacare

Christine Holst, November 3, 2013, Barnes & Thornburg LLP

With all the talk about the Affordable Care Act this week, there have been surprisingly few mentions of Big Labor. In fact, as Politico reported earlier in the week, President Obama’s labor allies have been mostly silent publicly on the issue and have generally been unwilling to help the Administration with the rollout and enrollment efforts. As we reported a few months ago, many unions have been critical of the Affordable Care Act’s impact on multi-employer union health and welfare funds and have been in discussions with the Administration to lobby for changes to the law. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far and likely have contributed to the lackluster support of Obamacare by unions. Given the publicity struggles the Obama Administration has had recently over the website and enrollment periods, this lack of support from many labor unions has been a noticeable omission. (read article)

Adjunct professors joining labor unions to voice concerns about low pay, job security

By Sam Hananel, November 2, 2013, Associated Press

Thousands of part-time college professors are joining labor unions, a growing trend in higher education that’s boosting the ranks of organized labor and giving voice to teachers who complain about low pay and a lack of job security at some of the nation’s top universities. The move to unionize at campuses from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to Tufts University near Boston follows a shift in hiring practices at colleges that rely more than ever on adjunct faculty to teach classes. Last month, adjuncts at Tufts became the latest to join the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union, which has been aggressively targeting college instructors. Adjuncts at Georgetown formed a union with SEIU in May, and part-time instructors at nearby American University joined the union last year. SEIU now represents more than 18,000 members at 10 colleges and universities, compared with 14,000 five years ago. The union is preparing to file for elections at more colleges in the Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston areas. Adjunct professors now make up more than half of all college faculty nationwide; in the 1970s, about 70 percent of college instructors were tenured professors or on a track to tenure. (read article)

BART unions ratify labor deals that ended four-day rail strike

By Jason Wells, November 2, 2013, Los Angeles Times

Bay Area Rapid Transit’s two largest unions this week ratified the new labor agreements that ended a four-day regional rail strike in October. In a statement posted on BART’s website Saturday, officials said the new four-year agreements would address the growing cost of employee benefits while allowing the agency to modernize an aging infrastructure. “The Bay Area and our riders will benefit from these contracts because BART will be able to move forward with the replacement of our aging fleet of train cars and the needed upgrades to meet demand,” BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a statement. The stop-and-start negotiations between management and its two biggest unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — lurched toward a four-day strike in October, sending thousands of Bay Area commuters scrambling to find alternative methods of transportation. It was the second strike to hamper travel and commerce in the region since July, when a 4 1/2-day walkout was brought to a close by the intervention of Gov. Jerry Brown, who later called for a 60-day cooling-off period. Under the new labor agreements, union members will start paying into their pensions. Changes were also made to healthcare coverage and retirement benefits. In exchange, workers will get a roughly 15.3% pay raise over the next four years. (read article)

Chicago Metra union members in line for 20 percent pay hikes over 6 years

By Richard Wronski, November 02, 2013, Chicago Tribune

Members of one of Metra’s biggest labor unions could get raises worth more than 20 percent over the next six years and a $3,000 “signing bonus”, according to a proposed contract negotiated between the commuter rail agency and the union. The proposed pact, awaiting approval from about 337 clerical workers and ticket agents belonging to the Transportation Communications Union, was announced last week and comes as Metra continues to negotiate with 12 other unions, including engineers and the commuter rail agency’s police. It’s unclear what the agreement signals for members of other Metra unions that are still hammering out contracts. However, the proposed contract “delivers excellent compensation increases,” according a letter from Anthony Siriano, the union’s national representative, to members. “When this bargaining round began, Metra declared it needed to hold wage increases to a minimum while securing rule and benefit concessions like other public employers were achieving both in Illinois and nationally,” Siriano’s letter said. “We were determined to reverse the trend of public employee concessions.” (read article)

On Virginia trail, Scott Walker hits Terry McAuliffe on unions

By James Hoffman, November 2, 2013, Politico

Scott Walker warned Republicans at a rally here Saturday that Democrat Terry McAuliffe will be in the pocket of “big government union bosses” if he wins the Virginia governor’s race. The Wisconsin governor, a conservative icon for breaking the back of the public-employee unions in his blue state and then beating back their effort to recall him, said Republican Ken Cuccinelli also “knows how to take on the special interests.” “Do you want someone who is going to side with the big government labor unions,” he said at one of two stops ahead of Tuesday’s off-year election, “or do you want to someone who will stand with the taxpayers of the commonwealth?” One of the about 100 supporters gathered in a field in this D.C. exurb waved a “Stand with Walker” sign from last year’s recall fight. At an earlier stop in Spotsylvania, which drew about 150, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus led the crowd in singing Walker a happy 46th birthday. Cuccinelli trails in the polls and is the heavy underdog. The attacks on unions are part of a broader effort to motivate the conservative base for the expected very low-turnout election. “Gov. Walker talked about labor unions,” he said. “That’s almost a hysterical difference between me and Terry.” Cuccinelli said unions have between $2 million and $3 million invested in McAuliffe, and he said labor will expect to get payback if he takes power. (read article)

Union coalition joins SEIU local in healthcare fight with L.A. County

By Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell, November 1, 2013, Los Angeles Times

The fight between labor and Los Angeles County government intensified Friday, when a coalition of unions representing 90,000 workers banded together to fight county efforts to reduce retirement healthcare benefits for future employees. Until now, the disagreement had been limited to one union that represents county workers, SEIU 721, which has been working without a contract for a month. On Friday, several other unions that have already signed contracts with a 6% raise announced that they would be joining the Service Employees International Union local in its fight over healthcare costs. In a letter to the county’s chief executive, the unions compared the county’s bargaining tactics to those used by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives during the recent government shutdown. “As we know from that failed effort, hostage-taking is not a productive means to an end that requires consensus,” the letter said. At a news conference, leaders of several unions said that rising health insurance premiums mean that workers will, in effect, see their pay cut despite the raise. “It doesn’t help to threaten us and threaten all county workers with a pay cut,” Blaine Meek, chairman of the Coalition of County Unions, said while flanked by labor leaders representing deputy sheriffs, firefighters and other public employees. “That is not constructive. It’s destructive, and that’s why we’re here and we’re willing to fight for affordable healthcare. They put us in the corner.” (read article)

The State Worker: Pension crusader Chuck Reed reaches out to unions

By Jon Ortiz, October 31, 2013, Sacramento Bee

In a Nixon-goes-to-China move, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed recently sent letters to the leaders of a dozen state employee unions and the California Teachers Association, asking them to meet with him to talk about pensions. The letter was either shrewd, insincere or naive. Reed, a Democrat who made a name for himself with a pension rollback measure embraced by 69percent of San Jose voters last year, is in Arnold Schwarzenegger territory when it comes to his popularity with the unions. Like the former GOP governor, Reed wants to cut public pension costs. Unlike Schwarzenegger, Reed has changed employee pensions without bargaining. The Austrian Oak stayed out of local governments’ pension business and didn’t press for a statewide ballot measure that would change labor’s holy grail: the idea that pension promises can’t be broken. Earlier this month, Reed filed papers to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot that would, among other things, give state and local governments the clear constitutional authority to cut current employees’ pension benefits prospectively. Right now, California case law appears to make public pensions an unchangeable “vested right” from an employee’s first day on the job. “We understand that many of you may object to the Pension Reform Act of 2014,” Reed’s letter says, “but I want to assure you that we are simply looking for a common-sense solution to a complex and serious problem.” (read article)

Talks between Los Angeles County labor union break down

By Luke Money, October 31, 2013, Santa Clarita Valley Signal

Negotiations between Los Angeles County officials and a union that represents more than 55,000 county workers broke down this week, raising the specter of a strike that could include social workers, librarians and nurses, among others. The parties in the dispute are the county and the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents employees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties. For months, union and county officials have been meeting to hammer out a deal to renegotiate a bargaining contract that expired Sept. 30. But those talks broke down Tuesday. Now SEIU 721 members are in the process of voting on a strike authorization at more than 100 locations across the county. That vote is expected to end Saturday, at which point union leaders will determine if membership supports a strike. If that is the case, employees who work in libraries, public works, mental health and public health, parks and family and children’s services could all begin striking in the coming weeks. “We will show the county that we are prepared to take all necessary action to bring economic security to our families, and we will not accept a pay cut,” reads a post on the union’s website. The county offered a 6 percent pay raise over the next 18 months to members of SEIU 721 before talks broke down, according to officials. David Sommers, a county spokesman, said that similar offer has been made to, and accepted by, other county bargaining units. (read article)

University of California’s Largest Union Begins 3-Day Labor Strike Vote

By Holly Quan, October 28, 2013, CBS San Francisco

The union representing more than 22,000 University of California workers kicked off a three-day strike vote on Monday, with pensions and workers’ rights being the main issues. UC has been in negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 for more than a year. Spokeswoman Dianne Klein said they imposed a contract a month ago that gave Local 3299 members a raise, but the sticking point has been pension reform. “We instituted pension reform in 2010 basically so that everyone would have a pension to draw upon when they reach retirement age. That’s what it’s about,” Klein said. New talks are scheduled for the first week in November. (read article)

Menlo Park fire district election: Carolyn Clarke releases answers to union questionnaire

By Sandy Brundage, October 30, 2013, Menlo Park Almanac

How much influence the labor unions should have on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board is the hot-button issue in this year’s election, with Chuck Bernstein, Peter Carpenter and Rex Ianson running on a slate against the two candidates, Carolyn Clarke and Jack Nelson, who have accepted union support for their campaign. The district has been embroiled in a years-long contract impasse with the firefighters union, primarily over disagreements about raises. Given that the directors will vote on any proposed contracts, does accepting union campaign support create a conflict of interest? Ms. Clarke and Mr. Nelson say no, while the other three candidates, among them a former smokejumper and a retired firefighter, say yes. Ms. Clarke, candidate for the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, has now released her answers to a questionnaire used by a labor union to help determine endorsements. She opted to provide her answers without disclosing the questions, as the San Mateo County Labor Council maintains those are confidential. “Our endorsement process (is) an internal one and we ask candidates not to circulate their questionnaires. While some candidates may still (choose to) do so, out of respect for the process, we do not post or publish the responses,” said SMCLC representative Julie Lind in response to the Almanac’s request for copies. (read article)

Senate confirms Obama labor board nominee

By Thomas Ferraro and Kevin Drawbaugh, October 29, 2013, Reuters

A divided Senate on Tuesday confirmed a former union lawyer picked by President Barack Obama to be the top prosecutor at the National Labor Relations Board. With Obama’s Democrats rejecting Republican fears that Richard Griffin would bring an unfair labor bias to the board, the Senate approved him as the NLRB’s general counsel on a mostly party-line vote of 55-44. The board, which oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices, has long been a point of friction between pro-union Democrats and pro-business Republicans. While the battle over Griffin ended, a wider struggle over the NLRB and the power of the presidency remained to be played out before the U.S. Supreme Court. Until a court ruling in January against the White House, Griffin served for a year on the NLRB as a contested Obama appointee. Before that, he was general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers. Obama nominated him in August to be NLRB general counsel. The five-member board of the NLRB makes its ultimate case determinations, but the general counsel plays a critical role as a gatekeeper, investigating alleged labor violations and deciding which cases should be prosecuted. Before the vote on Tuesday, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee declared his opposition to Griffin, saying: “I’m concerned about the direction of the NLRB as an advocate more than an umpire. (read article)


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