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.

For Once, California GOP Out-Hustles Unions

By Steven Greenhut, February 18, 2014, Human Events

Some political analysts have warned California Republicans not to read too much into last Tuesday’s decisive victory in the San Diego mayoral race by GOP councilman Kevin Faulconer over Democratic councilman David Alvarez. In California, the troubled GOP should never make too much of rare good news. Yet the party can learn some helpful lessons from last week’s win, which could offer a blueprint for moving forward. The biggest lesson: Republicans can directly take on the immensely powerful public-sector unions and actually win an election even in fairly hostile territory. The unions provided 80 percent of Alvarez’s funding and they hit the streets promoting their candidate, yet they were soundly defeated. Republicans can’t do this everywhere in California, but it can be done selectively. Public-opinion polls shows a statewide electorate that remains skeptical about the power of unions, even though that same electorate tends to skew strongly in the Democratic direction. That’s good news for the GOP if it approaches the issue wisely. (read article)

None of the Top 10 Biggest Political Donors are Republican

February 18, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) released its list of top all-time donors. It totaled contributions fro 1989 to 2012 from PACs and individuals affiliated with the heavy hitter organizations. CRP designated each of the heavy hitters as Democrat, Republican, or “on the fence,” meaning between 40 and 59 percent was donated to each party. In some cases, percentages did not add up to 100 due to third party donations. None of the heavy hitters in the top 10 were Republican (three organizations in the top 10 were on the fence). A Republican-leaning organization did not make an appearance on the list until number 17. Here are the top ten biggest political donors: (read article)

Trio of California cases challenge big union power in Golden State

February 17, 2014, Fox News

Fed up with increasing union dues and a decreasing say in how the money is spent, three California groups are challenging their big labor bosses in landmark cases that could change how unions operate in the Golden State. In one, a group of 10 public school teachers is trying to change a state law that forces them to pay union dues as well as pay for an opt-out procedure for members’ political contributions to unions. They argue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association that being required to pay dues violates their constitutional rights because part of the money goes to promote a political agenda they don’t necessarily support. Public school teachers in California operate under an “agency shop” that allows all teachers in a district to be represented by one union. Nonunion teachers, though, must still pay fees for the union’s collective-bargaining work. The issue, they say, is that they don’t necessarily agree with the union’s political agenda, which includes greater tenure protections and bumps in pay. (read article)

Portland teachers strike: District and labor leaders are still working to avert a walkout

By Nicole Dungca, February 17, 2014, The Oregonian

No news was good news Monday for Portland Public Schools administrators and teachers as negotiators from the two sides continued trying to avert a strike. Bargaining teams for Oregon’s largest district and its largest labor group have been negotiating over a new contract for more than ten months, and members of the Portland Association of Teachers plan to strike Thursday if no deal is reached. Representatives from labor and management spent all day negotiating with a state mediator’s help Monday and looked poised to stay at it well into the night. The two sides continued to exchange proposals on various contract issues throughout the day, and public messages posted by the union suggested the work was proceeding well. If the district and the union can reach a tentative agreement in the next two days, the union’s 2,900 teachers will not walk out on Thursday as originally planned. A tentative agreement would stop the clock on a strike, though the PPS school board and PAT members must approve any deal for it to become official and binding. Despite signs of progress, both sides continued with strike preparations. PPS announced that outside groups will not be able to use school buildings or fields Tuesday so that school staff can begin to get ready for a strike. (read article)

Union leaders not giving up on the South

By Alana Semuels, February 17, 2014, Los Angeles Times

Union leaders were still reeling three days after their devastating defeat at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but the leader of the AFL-CIO said labor would keep trying to organize workers in the South — even if it’s an uphill battle. “We are committed to helping those workers in the South raise their wages, get better working conditions and get a stronger voice on the job in making decisions that affect their livelihood,” Richard Trumka told reporters Monday. Trumka was in Houston to talk about the year ahead with the executive council of his coalition, which represents 56 unions and 12.5 million workers. As far as organizing goes, this year looks as gloomy as any in recent memory. On Friday, workers at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant narrowly rejected joining the United Auto Workers, even though Volkswagen did not oppose unionization. The plant was considered labor’s best chance to gain a foothold in the South. Trumka downplayed the defeat, however, calling it impressive that the result was close: 712 to 626. “Not many years ago, this kind of union election in Chattanooga would have been unthinkable,” he said. “But today it was very real.” It may be extremely difficult to make progress in the South anytime soon, said Richard W. Hurd, a labor professor at Cornell University. Union support falls along racial lines there, he said, and white Southern males largely mistrust unions. The majority of the workers in the Chattanooga plant are white. “Unions are seen as organizations formed in the North, which causes suspicions among white Southerners,” Hurd said. “As the South becomes more Latino, there is potential for growth, but until that demographic phenomenon begins to tilt that way, it’s a tough road.” (read article)

Chicago Labor Unions Form Coalition To Protect Pensions

February 17, 2014, CBS Chicago

Chicago labor unions just announced a new coalition, We Are One Chicago, designed to defend the pensions of city employees and retirees, reports WBBM’s Kimberly Easton. “We Are One Chicago” consists of teachers, firefighters, nurses and police all united to protect city employees and retirees. Patricia Boughton, a retired public school teacher, says the Mayor’s pension reform plan is nothing more than theft.

“I keep saying that I feel we have been robbed, that someone is stealing from us,” said Boughton. 81-year old Louise Bates-Spencer, a retired health department employee said if Senate Bill 1 or a similar measure is applied in the city it will devastate seniors. Bates-Spencer said the politicians didn’t pay their share. She continued, while we earned our pension, we worked for it and we paid for it and it is our livelihood. Bate-Spencer said now it’s like throwing seniors to the wolves all the cuts they want to levy are against Seniors, the most vulnerable of society. We Are One Chicago plans to rally at the Capitol in Springfield to educate lawmakers and mobilize Illinoisans against cutting the modest savings of the city’s employees and retirees. (read article)

NU’s Colter states case for football union at NLRB hearing

By Teddy Greenstein, February 18, 2014, Chicago Tribune

Kain Colter strolled into the hearing room Tuesday wearing a walking boot on his right foot and a huge smile. The picture of confidence, Colter is now testifying at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in downtown Chicago that could determine whether Northwestern football players can form a union. “It truly is a job,” Colter said of playing college football. “There is no way around it.” Colter spoke of 50-60 hour work weeks for players, saying they have to prepare for opposing defenses because “the guys on the other side of the ball want to rip your head off. The plays are changing every week. It’s like war. (read article)

Labor unions benefit more from Citizens United than big conservative donors

By Eric Boehm, February 17, 2014, Fox News

The loosening of federal rules for political spending has done more to help Democrats than Republicans, according to two recent analyses of campaign contributions. Those facts run counter to a well-established national media narrative — one often repeated by liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers who bemoan the influence of corporate cash in politics after the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2010 opened the flood gates to unlimited political spending — that says Republicans and their big business allies have been able to unduly influence elections with unfettered spending. The collection of Supreme Court rulings known as Citizens United opened the door to the creation of so-called “super PACs” with no spending limits. While high-profile conservatives like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson have been at the center of attention over their political spending, their pockets are hardly the deepest. The rulings also allowed unions — recognized under federal election law as being the same as corporations — to form their own super PACs. Liberal billionaires like Michael Bloomberg have done the same. Both sides play the game, but which has benefited the most from unfettered political spending? When all the numbers were added up, it wasn’t even close in 2013. An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks political spending, of groups and individuals who wrote checks of more than $10,000 to super PACs and other political committees found big labor outspent big business by a margin of more than 2-to-1 during 2013. (read article)

De Blasio administration cuts first labor contract — with environmental officers

By Celeste Katz, February 17, 2014, New York Daily News

The de Blasio administration has settled its first labor contract, a quick deal with 200 environmental officers that could signal a smoother period of labor relations after the cold war between the unions and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officers, whose duties include patrolling the city’s watershed upstate, had been working without a contract for an astounding nine years. Under the new agreement, they will receive an average of more than $50,000 each in back pay. Kenneth Wynder, who represents the officers as head of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, praised the de Blasio administration for its “fairness.” “We got treated with respect,” he said. “We felt much better compared to the nine-year battle we had with the old administration,” he told the Daily News. Bloomberg left office on Dec. 31 without any of the city’s 300,000 unionized workers under contract, creating a major challenge for Mayor de Blasio. The city’s unions are demanding more than $7 billion in back pay, a sum that could break the city’s budget. (read article)

Stunning blow for big labor casts doubt on unions’ future

By Kim Peterson, February 17, 2014, CBS Money Watch

The whole notion of worker representation looks to be in doubt after employees at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted against organizing there. The Friday vote was expected to be a piece of cake for the United Auto Workers union. While other companies fight tooth and nail against labor unions, Volkswagen was actually happy to have one in Tennessee. The company has a long and valued relationship with what it calls its works councils — they’re the status quo in Germany. Volkswagen even allowed the UAW to campaign inside its factory. That never happens. But even though Volkswagen essentially gift-wrapped this vote and handed it to the UAW, the union still lost. The vote was close, but still, employees rejected the idea by 712 to 626. Labor unions have long been in decline in the U.S., but the crushing defeat late Friday night casts further doubt on the future of organized labor here. The UAW was once a powerful force in the auto industry with 1.5 million workers, but now it’s down to about 400,000, The Wall Street Journal reports. The union had hoped to turn things around by organizing workers at several foreign-owned plants in the South. But powerful external forces, including local Republican lawmakers, worked to oppose the strategy. Tennessee’s governor claimed that auto parts suppliers wouldn’t come to Chattanooga if a unionized plant was there. Bob Corker, the city’s former mayor and now a U.S. Senator representing Tennessee, said the union would make VW less competitive, The New York Times reports. (read article)

Worker-run pension boards raise call for reform

By Fenit Nirappil, February 16, 2014, San Jose Mercury

A rift between Gov. Jerry Brown and the board overseeing the nation’s largest public pension fund over rising liabilities tied to longer retiree life expectancies highlights a concern about how decisions are made at an agency with tremendous influence over state finances. The board of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System will meet Tuesday to begin considering how to address the costs associated with retirees living longer, but it already has indicated that it will ignore the governor’s request to tackle the problem immediately. Pension-reform and taxpayer advocates in California say this outcome isn’t surprising considering the composition of the CalPERS board, which is dominated by public employees who will benefit from the pension system or those who are appointed by Democratic officeholders who receive significant campaign contributions from government labor unions. They say such an arrangement, common across the U.S., can encourage rosy investment projections and low contribution rates. “You have people who are not disinterested,” said Joe Nation, a Stanford University public policy professor and former Democratic state lawmaker who studies pension systems. “Unfortunately, the incentives are really misaligned.” Of the 12 members on CalPERS’ board, nine are due to collect public pensions from the agency they oversee. The board, which has one vacancy, has no independent taxpayer representative or an independent investment expert. The “public representative” appointed by the Democratic leadership in the Legislature is president of a grocery and food industry workers union. (read article)

Tennessee Defeat Has Labor Leaders Thinking Inward

By Melanie Trottman, February 16, 2014, Wall Street Journal

United Auto Workers President Bob King (left) and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams answer questions during a news conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Friday. Labor leaders are gathering in Houston this week to plot out their strategy for the year, but much of their focus will be almost 700 miles away, in Chattanooga, Tenn., where workers on Friday rejected the United Auto Workers attempt to organize under the union’s label at a Volkswagen plant. Union leaders over the weekend voiced outrage about an anti-union campaign led by Republican Sen. Bob Corker, other Tennessee Republicans, and conservative lobbyists, blaming them for the defeat. But labor officials will also be looking inward over the next few days to consider whether their strategies need fine-tuning. “The UAW, and the labor movement as a whole, is going to have to assess what happened and use it as a learning experience for the future,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of unions, whose executive council is gathering in Texas. So far, the unions’ reaction to the defeat has been to fight back. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that, “the ferocity of the anti-union forces only reinforces the fact that there is a powerful new form of organizing emerging.” The Communications Workers of America issued a statement Sunday saying “Chattanooga is the new Madison, Wisconsin,” referring to the bruising battle in that state with Republican Gov. Scott Walker a few years ago that led to the loss of collective-bargaining rights for many public employees there. (read article)

VW labor reps to seek works council at U.S. plant

By William Boston, February 16, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Volkswagen AG labor representatives in Germany are launching a new drive to create a German-style works council at its Chatanooga factory, despite a defeat for the United Auto Workers union at the Tennessee plant. In a landmark 712-626 vote on Friday, VW workers in Chattanooga rejected U.A.W.’s efforts to unionize the plant. “We have always stressed that the decision over union representation lies in the hands of the workforce in Chattanooga,” said Gunnar Kilian, secretary-general of VW’s works council in Germany, in a statement. “The result of the election has not changed our goal of creating a works council in Chattanooga.” The run-up to the election in Chattanooga revealed a paradox. While a majority of VW’s U.S. workers reject union representation, blaming U.A.W. for the malaise of Detroit’s big three car makers, a large number favor in-house representation by a works council. “We know from many discussions with our colleagues in Chattanooga that there is great interest on the part of workers to establish worker representation inside the plant,” said Mr. Kilian. (read article)

Are public-employee unions toxic to their candidates?

By Willie Brown, February 15, 2014, San Francisco Chronicle

The real news in the San Diego mayoral race isn’t that a Republican won, but that the candidate backed by public-employee unions lost. That is a real shift in California politics. And it’s the second time it’s happened in a big-city mayoral race in less than a year. In San Diego on Tuesday, City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a middle-of-the-road Republican, knocked the stuffing out of the union-backed Democrat, Councilman David Alvarez. And he did it in part by hammering on the big union money behind Alvarez, much of which came from out of town. In some ways it was a replay of the Los Angeles mayoral race last year, when labor’s heavy backing of Wendy Greuel ultimately proved to be a liability for her in her race against Eric Garcetti. It might be time for the public-employee unions to go on a retreat and rethink both their tactics and their goals. The politicians they’re backing aren’t exactly winning points by running on platforms of allowing transit strikes and maintaining the status quo on public pensions. If labor’s candidates can lose in heavily Democratic Los Angeles and in San Diego, they can lose here, too. (read article)

Obama’s minimum wage move: All about unions

By Nathan Meherens, February 15, 2014, Cypress Creek Mirror

President Obama’s decision to bypass Congress and raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for federal contract workers is a very big deal — and not just because it will force U.S. taxpayers to shell out more money on the same inefficiently delivered, often-unnecessary government services… Of course the real impact isn’t going to be felt by the impoverished minimum wage worker (again, to the extent such an employee exists within the sprawling federal system). Instead it will be felt up the income ladder — as labor unions peg their base-line wages to the minimum wage on either a percentage or premium basis. And higher wages for union workers means they will pay more in dues — which means a bigger campaign account for Big Labor. This decision clearly isn’t about those making minimum wage, it is about higher-wage union workers getting a bump because the entire scale must be adjusted upward. And most of all, it is about the financial boon this upward adjustment creates for their dues-collecting bosses. (read article)

Volkswagen Vote is Defeat for Labor in South

By Steven Greenhouse, February 14, 2014, New York Times

In a defeat for organized labor in the South, employees at the Volkswagen plant here voted 712 to 626 against joining the United Automobile Workers. The loss is an especially stinging blow for U.A.W. because Volkswagen did not even oppose the unionization drive. The union’s defeat — in what was one of the most closely watched unionization votes in decades — is expected to slow, perhaps stymie, the union’s long-term plans to organize other auto plants in the South. A retired local judge, Samuel H. Payne, announced the vote results inside VW’s sprawling plant after officials from the National Labor Relations Board had counted the ballots. In the hours before the votes were tallied, after three days of voting at the assembly plant, both sides were predicting victory. The vote this week came in a region that is traditionally anti-union, and as a result many said the U.A.W. faced an uphill battle. The union saw the campaign as a vital first step toward expanding in the South, while Republicans and many companies in Tennessee feared that a U.A.W. triumph would hurt the state’s welcoming image for business. (read article)

Dillard Gets Teachers Union Backing In Race For Illinois Governor

February 14, 2014, CBS Chicago

State Sen. Kirk Dillard tried to steer clear of the controversy surrounding one of his rivals in the Republican race for governor, as he picked up a key endorsement from a major labor union. WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Dillard, the son of a teacher, picked up the backing of the Illinois Education Association, which represents teachers outside of Chicago, and has endorsed Dillard in the past. “Throughout his career as a public servant, Senator Dillard has always been listening to teachers, and support staff, and to the students,” said IEA President Cinda Klickna. Dillard also voted against the recent pension reform, which teachers unions are fighting in court. Dillard acknowledged the IEA is among the unions GOP frontrunner Bruce Rauner, a billionaire venture capitalist, has criticized for its influence over state government. (read article)

Pennsylvania labor unions launch war on truth

By Bob Dick, February 13, 2014, Pottstown Mercury

Should you be forced to subsidize government union politics? That’s the question asked by a reform gaining steam in Harrisburg called paycheck protection. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to government union bosses, who are deliberately misrepresenting paycheck protection legislation and engaging in personal attacks on its supporters in an effort to preserve their exclusive political privilege. Pennsylvania law allows government union bosses — and only government union bosses — to negotiate the use of public resources to bundle union dues and political money and send it to union headquarters. In many cases, this dubious deal is made with politicians who receive contributions and campaign support funded by the same political money. Paycheck protection would end this flagrant conflict of interest and level the political playing field for all. Given their lucrative arrangement, it’s no surprise that government union leaders don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. They’ve launched a misinformation campaign to confuse the public and their own members about the details of paycheck protection. (read article)

Union Front Groups Get Taxpayer Funds By Misleading Labor Department

Ryan Williams, February 13, 2014, Town Hall

This week, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) participated in President Obama’s minimum wage press conference and jointly released new ‘research’ on minimum wage in conjunction with top Congressional Democrats. These actions cap off at least a year of coordinated political action. For top Democrats, ROC is a better ally than traditional labor unions because as a 501c3 non-profit “worker center,” ROC can do and say the things that unions can’t, including applying for government grants to support a questionable political agenda. Beginning in 2009, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) under Hilda Solis doled out taxpayer dollars in the form of worker training grants to political allies and various community organizations across the country. Desperately in need of funds to cover staff salaries, ROC United, the national organization, applied for a $275,000 USDOL Harwood grant. These grants were only available to 501c3 organizations, but ROC United, the national organization, had not been awarded its 501c3 status. (read article)

Mississippi Senate approves 3 bills that aim to restrict labor union practices

By Jeff Amy, February 13, 2014, Greenfield Reporter

Mississippi senators want to restrict some union organizing and picketing practices, as well as local laws that might benefit workers. The Republican-led Senate passed three bills Thursday on mostly party-line votes. The bills now go to the House. Senate Bill 2473 says that it’s illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or allowing workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. Businesses could sue anyone who engaged in coercion. Union supporters have been pushing Nissan Motor Co. to declare its neutrality in a push by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Japanese automaker’s Canton plant. Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, said the bill wasn’t specifically aimed at Nissan, but said he was opposed to pressure on companies. “What we’re trying to do is prevent that from happening and make sure everyone knows Mississippi is the right place to grow your business,” said Polk, who owns a sausage company with a factory in Magee. It’s not clear what would constitute coercion. Polk said informational picketing would not. When asked if a boycott would, he said courts would have to sort that out. (read article)

Union-Backed Groups Spend Hundreds of Thousands Attacking Republican Candidates

By Lachlan Markay, February 13, 2014, Washington Free Beacon

Prominent Democratic groups backed by some of the nation’s largest labor unions made large independent expenditures on Tuesday attacking Republican candidates in Arkansas and Florida. Independent expenditure filings with the Federal Election Commission show Patriot Majority USA spent more than $300,000 attacking Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), who is running for Senate. House Majority PAC also disclosed more than $330,000 in independent expenditures attacking David Jolly, a Republican candidate in Florida’s 13th congressional district. The expenditures funded a pair of ads that have come under fire for what critics say are misleading or hypocritical statements. House Majority also spent nearly $25,000 supporting Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, Jolly’s Democratic opponent. Patriot Majority and House Majority have received large contributions from labor unions, according to data on file with the Department of Labor. Patriot Majority USA and its sister organization Patriot Majority PAC have received $2.9 million from labor unions since 2012. House Majority PAC has received about $2.8 million from unions in that time. (read article)

How the GOP Won in San Diego

By Allysia Finley, February 12, 2014, Wall Street Journal

Labor unions are licking their wounds after their drubbing in Tuesday’s San Diego mayoral special election. They spent more than $4 million propping up Democratic City Councilman David Alvarez, who was routed by Republican City Councilman Kevin Faulconer. The election may be Democrats’ biggest defeat in the state since the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Mr. Faulconer’s nine-point victory is a major coup for California Republicans who have been losing relevance in Washington and Sacramento. Since 2010, Democrats have controlled all statewide offices. Two years ago, Democrats won a supermajority in the state legislature and picked up four congressional seats. Mr. Faulconer’s unlikely win suggests that Republicans may have turned a corner. San Diego has elected only two Democratic mayors since 1971. But Democrats in the city now hold a 13-point voter-registration advantage, and San Diego voters favored President Obama by 25 points in 2012. The city’s Democratic ex-mayor, Bob Filner, who resigned last summer amid a sexual-harassment scandal, won election two years ago by five points. The election provides a blueprint for Republicans seeking to reverse their losses in a state that has become more diverse and culturally liberal. Mr. Faulconer downplayed his party affiliation, targeted independents and focused on the city’s fiscal problems. He highlighted his support for the successful 2012 ballot initiative that replaced defined-benefit pensions with 401(k)-style plans for new city workers and hammered Mr. Alvarez for his ties to labor unions. (read article)

In first budget, Mayor de Blasio proposes $74B — without reserving money for labor

By Jennifer Fermino, February 12, 2014, New York Daily News

Promising a “fiscally responsible” path to a “progressive agenda,” Mayor de Blasio proposed a $74 billion budget that largely holds the line on spending — and allocates no money to give city workers long-delayed raises. The preliminary budget, the first of de Blasio’s mayoralty, calls for only a modest increase in municipal services beyond a dramatic expansion of prekindergarten and after-school programs. The mayor said the blueprint reflected the financial challenges facing the city — chiefly, the expired labor contracts of all 152 municipal unions — and his desire for a more progressive government. “There is nothing mutually exclusive between being both fiscally responsible and economically progressive,” he said Wednesday. “It may sound counterintuitive to some, but we need a balanced budget and a strong and stable city government to facilitate our fight against inequality.” (read article)

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