Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

The states ban union political bid-rigging; Obama demurs

Editorial, July 19, 2011, Wall Street Journal

One benefit of the squeeze on state and local budgets is that politicians are finally having to confront their sweetheart deals with labor unions. The latest reform movement is moving against project labor agreements, or PLAs, that limit bids on construction projects to contractors that agree to union representation. Only about 13% of construction workers belong to unions, and PLAs are a union invention to use their political muscle to organize more companies. Proponents argue that PLAs ensure the speed and quality of construction plans. But PLAs are one of the reasons that Boston’s Big Dig was estimated at… (read article – subscription required)

In Connecticut, Unions Amend Voting Rules to Revive Deal

By Peter Applebome, July 18, 2011, New York Times

Facing 6,500 layoffs and punishing program cuts, the leadership of the state employees’ unions in Connecticut voted on Monday to change their bylaws to make it easier for union workers to approve a concession agreement whose rejection last month scrapped a budget-cutting deal with the state. A new vote, which would require a simple majority rather than the 80 percent threshold that previously was in place, could set in motion what has seemed for weeks to be a possible endgame after 57 percent of union members and 11 of the 15 unions voted in favor of the deal. (read article)

Are NY Gov. Cuomo’s labor contract wins good signs for pension reform?

By Colby Hamilton, July 18, 2011, WNYC

This past weekend showcased another win for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Even when the legislature’s out of session the governor continues to pick up pieces of his agenda. The latest victory was the signing of a five-year deal with the state’s second largest public employee union, the Professional Employees Federation that the governor’s office estimated would save the state $400 million. Governor Cuomo made it clear last week that he intends to make pension reform one of his top priorities for the coming legislative session. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg’s office made the case for pension reform, despite the city’s comptroller’s disagreement on the pressing nature of pensions reform. (read article)

Judge halts Costa Mesa layoffs until trial

By Sonali Kohli, July 18, 2011, Orange County Register

A judge has upheld a preliminary injunction requested by the city’s employee union that will halt hundreds of planned layoffs. Orange County Superior Court Judge Tam Namoto Schumann overruled the city’s objections to the injunction Friday, prohibiting outsourcing to private companies and layoffs until the Orange County Employees Association’s case against the city goes to trial. A trial date has not yet been set. The city plans to outsource 18 services and gave six-month layoff notices to almost half its employees in March, as is required by union contracts. The OCEA sued the city on behalf of the Costa Mesa Employee Association in May to stop the layoffs. (read article)

Judge’s decision in Costa Mesa case is baffling and, if we understand it, probably wrong

By Will Swaim, July 18, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa

You knew on July 5 that Orange County Superior Court Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann needed one of those–what are they called?–$3,000-per-week spokespersons. That was the day attorneys for both sides of Costa Mesa’s outsourcing streetfight politely listened to the judge, nodded in agreement, and then left her courtroom, each to declare victory. Attorneys for the Costa Mesa Employee’s Association said the judge had slapped Costa Mesa. But the city said it had won, crowing in the headline of its press release, “Judge rules Costa Mesa can continue outsourcing process, but can’t lay off employees until all ‘proper procedures’ are followed.” A transcript of the day’s proceedings seemed* to suggest the city had it right. (read article)

The Internet Will Reduce Teachers Union Power

By Terry Moe, July 18, 2011, Wall Street Journal

This has been a horrible year for teachers unions. The latest stunner came in Michigan, where Republicans enacted sweeping reforms last month that require performance-based evaluations of teachers, make it easier to dismiss those who are ineffective, and dramatically limit the scope of collective bargaining. Similar reforms have been adopted in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Tennessee, Idaho and Florida. But the unions’ hegemony is not going to end soon. All of their big political losses have come at the hands of oversized Republican majorities. Eventually Democrats will regain control, and many of the recent reforms may be undone… (read article – subscription required)

Rhode Island Judge to Consider Tossing Out Challenge to Pension Reforms by Public Employee Unions

By Mike Stanton, July 18, 2011, Providence Journal

A Rhode Island judge will weigh arguments Monday on whether to throw out a lawsuit by public-employee unions challenging reductions in pension benefits. The high-stakes lawsuit by eight unions representing state workers and public school teachers asks the court to block cuts in pension benefits enacted by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010. The changes increased the number of years that employees must work before retiring, reduced the size of their pensions and limited post-retirement cost-of-living allowances. The fate of the lawsuit not only will determine whether strapped taxpayers can realize those savings –– projected at $59.6 million in this fiscal year alone –– but also will set the legal backdrop to current changes being considered by state leaders as the General Assembly prepares to meet in special session this fall to take up comprehensive pension reform. (read article)

New York Unions Press Members to Accept Deal to Avoid Layoffs

By Thomas Kaplan, July 17, 2011, New York Times

New York labor leaders, spooked by public workers’ rejection of negotiated concessions in Connecticut, are beginning a carefully planned campaign to persuade more than 100,000 state employees to accept a wage freeze and other measures in order to avoid sweeping layoffs. The state’s largest union of public workers, the Civil Service Employees Association, has sent contract negotiators across the state as part of an effort to persuade health care, maintenance and clerical workers that it would be better to stomach furloughs, benefit cuts and three years without a salary increase than to risk losing thousands of jobs as the state cuts costs. The second-largest union, the Public Employees Federation, also plans to campaign for its members’ approval after agreeing Saturday to nearly identical concessions. Together, the two unions represent more than half of New York’s public work force. (read article)

Another swing and a miss for public unions in Minnesota

By Katherine Kersten, July 16, 2011, Star Tribune

Minnesota’s government shutdown — the longest in U.S. history — may soon be over. The breakthrough came on July 14, when Gov. Mark Dayton announced he was taking higher taxes — his signature issue — off the table. Much remains to be done before the deal is wrapped up. But now is the moment to reflect on what happened, and why. For the left, especially government employee unions, the stakes in Minnesota’s budget battle were momentous. Raising taxes is at the heart of the progressive agenda. More tax money is essential if government is to continue its rapid expansion, which they ardently desire. But in recent months, the left has repeatedly struck out on that front. In New York and California, among the nation’s most liberal states, Democratic governors have slashed services and spending to balance their budgets, without raising taxes. (read article)

Union Yields on Benefits in Deal With Cuomo

By Thomas Kaplan, July 16, 2011, New York Times

New York State’s second-largest union of public workers, facing hundreds of layoffs that had been scheduled to take effect within days, agreed on Saturday to significant wage and benefit concessions in order to save the jobs of its members. The five-year agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Public Employees Federation largely mirrors the deal struck last month with the state’s largest public employee union, the Civil Service Employees Association, which also agreed to big concessions in exchange for giving its members immunity from most layoffs. (read article)

Disunion: 3 Stories on TV Labor No-Shows

By Will Swaim, July 15, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa

There’ll be no televised showdown between blogger Will Swaim and any representative of the OC Employees Association. Inside OC host Rick Reiff had scheduled a July 20 taping in which Swaim would discuss Costa Mesa’s ongoing budget fight with OCEA General Manager/union boss Nick Berardino and/or union spokesperson Jennifer Muir. But according to Reiff, after several conversations with Berardino and Muir, the union officials “declined” to debate Swaim. (read article)

A Fall Classic: The Auto Workers vs. Ford

By Logan Robinson, July 15, 2011, Wall Street Journal

Every four years, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union sits down to negotiate a labor agreement with GM, Chrysler and Ford, the unionized “Detroit Three.” The current, much amended, 2007 contract expires on Sept. 14. Typically the union picks a target company among the three, negotiates a book-length contract, and then imposes the same terms on the other two companies to preserve a “pattern” of standard wages and benefits across the domestic industry. The target is whichever company the UAW deems most likely to concede to a generous contract. This time things are different, thanks to the bankruptcies and bailouts… (read article)

Initiative would outlaw collective bargaining, tax pensions

By Teri Sforza, July 15, 2011, Orange County Register

A rather quixotic visiting economics professor at UC Santa Barbara has submitted three initiatives for the California ballot that are sure to enrage: (1) would strip public employees of the right to collective bargaining, (2) would impose hefty taxes on public pensions in excess of $100,000 a year, and (3) would hike the retirement age of public employees to 65 (except for public safety officers, who could retire at 58). Lanny Ebenstein, who got his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and Political Science (his dissertation was The Greatest Happiness Principle: An Examination of Utilitarianism, according to his CV), heads up the California Center for Public Policy which is behind the initiatives. It’s  a rather right-leaning organization that has its own ideas on how to reform public employee compensation. (read article)

Democrats’ political payoff to teachers may come back to haunt them

Editorial, July 12, 2011, San Francisco Chronicle

It was bad enough that Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats in the California Legislature “balanced” the 2011-12 budget on the assumption that tax revenue from the fledgling economic recovery would exceed earlier projections by $4 billion. But that was only one of their last-minute rolls of the dice. It turns out that Brown and his fellow Democrats also locked in a promise to the teachers’ union that none of its members would be laid off in 2012 – regardless of what happens with the economy. Now, no one wants to see teachers laid off in this state. But the notion that any line item would be made sacrosanct at a time when the decisions facing governments at all levels range from unsavory to excruciating is just plain irresponsible. (read article)

Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.com, 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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