Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Lost Angeles: The City of Angels goes to hell

By Joel Kotkin, Summer 2011, City Journal

Those “emperors” are the leaders of L.A.’s public sector. As business retreated, power in Los Angeles, largely by default, shifted toward the government and its workers. Through the long decline that started in the 1990s and accelerated after 2005, government employment has climbed. Back in 1990, 13 percent of employed Angelenos worked for the government; by 2008, that figure had jumped to 16 percent. Even after a deep recession, the public sector—both county and city—continues to pull in big payouts. Today, almost 18,000 county workers earn more than $100,000 annually. The city has followed a similar path, with its city council the highest-paid in the nation. In L.A., as in much of California, public employees’ pensions have risen at unsustainable rates. (read article)

Rhode Island city bankruptcy a warning sign for California

By Bob Morris, August 9, 2011, California Independent Voter Network

Central Falls, a densely populated and impoverished city of nearly 20,000 in Rhode Island, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on August 1, citing unaffordable pension and retiree health care liabilities. The city said it had no choice after retirees refused to accept any cuts. A retired state Supreme Court judge now oversees their finances, and the city is asking him to impose “a prudent plan” which would lower what pensioners are paid. (read article)

Union bill would tie hands of employers

Editorial, August 9, 2011, Sacramento Bee

If you read Santa Ana Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio’s explanation of his legislation, the very controversial Assembly Bill 350, it’s all about trying to help low-wage workers keep their jobs in this tough economy. Don’t be fooled. It’s really about helping the sponsor of the bill, the Service Employees International Union, retain union membership and improve its bargaining position. The bill requires employers who win new contracts for building services – including janitorial, maintenance, security, window-cleaning and cafeteria services – to hire and retain the previous contractor’s employees for three months. If the employees’ work is satisfactory during that 90-day period, the new employer would be required to keep them on. This is an unreasonable, unfair and unnecessary constraint on business. (read article)

Big Labor, Allies Pump $14,438,595 into Wisconsin Recalls

By Brett Healy, August 8, 2011, Big Government

National and state liberal groups, led primarily by public employee labor unions, have pumped well in excess of $14,000,000 into the Wisconsin state senate recall elections, six of which will take place tomorrow. These figures include direct contributions from political action committee to candidates, coordinated independent expenditure campaigns, and individual third party expenditures. The overall effort, however, is likely much larger. Member-to-member communications and issue advocacy totals are not required to be reported to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and are therefore not included in this total. (read article)

Santa Clara County’s Housing Authority Uses $16 Million of Federal Funds to Double the Value of Its Employees’ Pensions

By John Woolfolk, August 8, 2011, San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County’s housing authority could have spent $16 million of federal funds to help more struggling families put a roof over their heads. Instead, it chose to more than double the value of its employees’ retirement benefits. That may sound unusual, but federal housing officials say it was an allowable expense. Still, the switch from a 401(k)-style retirement plan to a pension allowing workers to retire early — with guaranteed lifetime payments — is raising eyebrows at a time when generous public employee pensions are under fire. The housing authority, which bought into the California Public Employees’ Retirement System plan in 2009 after stock markets crashed and the nation plunged into a deep recession, already has seen its pension costs inch up. And more hikes may be coming if CalPERS’ financial projections don’t pan out, as critics predict. (read article)

Teachers Union Explains How Things Work At Connecticut’s State Capitol

By Rick Green, August 7, 2011, Hartford Courant

It’s either a brilliant tactical document or an astounding gaffe just as education reform is about to take center stage. A PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers for a recent national strategy meeting purports to show how the union in 2010 blocked the “parent trigger” proposal before the General Assembly. The bill would have handed parents the power to force the shutdown of a failing school — an extreme measure by any standard. The document is one influential player’s view of how politics really works in Hartford. In the process the union did plenty of damage, insulting influential legislators and the rival Connecticut Education Association, as well as parent and education reform groups whose “toxic” views don’t match union positions. (read article)

One law firm represents union leaders in Costa Mesa pension fight and cops in Fullerton beating death

By Will Swaim, August 7, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa

The law firm of Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler & Levine1 had a busy July, simultaneously representing the Orange County Employees Association in their pension war on Costa Mesa while (up the 55 and 91 freeways)  defending cops in the fatal beating of Fullerton resident Kelly Thomas. Thomas’ death following a July 5 altercation with six city police officers set off a protest movement in Fullerton that has united right and left. ”This, I think, historically is the most tragic thing that has happened in Fullerton, the biggest crisis,” said Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva2, who has asked the city police chief to resign. Quirk-Silva, a Democrat, was joined in that asking–which, in video at least, appears to be more of a demand–by Republican Bruce Whitaker. (read article)

Teachers in Providence, Rhode Island Are Voting on a Contract

By Linda Borg, August 5, 2011, Providence Journal

After a bruising six months in which they were fired, then rehired, Providence teachers seem poised to approve a collective-bargaining agreement that provides job security in exchange for millions of dollars in concessions. Approximately 500 teachers gathered at the Venus de Milo Thursday night to hear Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith explain the tentative agreement. Members have two days to vote on the contract: Thursday and Tuesday, Aug. 9. Teachers by and large said they voted for the contract, which calls for $53 million in spending cuts over three years, because it offers job security during a time of economic instability. (read article)

State Gets Involved In City Pension Battle – Labor Unions Behind Radio Ads Come Forward With Video

August 5, 2011, News 10

A state group has stepped in and made a decision in San Diego’s fight over pension reform. The Fair Political Practices Commission has asked labor unions behind what some call deceptive radio ads to reveal themselves. Pension reform supporters say the radio ads were designed to scare away potential signers of the city’s pension reform petition. The ads claim if a citizen signs the petition, he or she could have their identity stolen. The FPPC did dismiss a complaint concerning the ads filed by San Diego City Councilman Carl Demaio. The two unions behind the ads are the Building and Construction Trades Council of California and California State Pipe Trades Council. Both are against changes in the city pension systems and recently registered as a political action committee. (read article)

Central Falls, Rhode Island: A City Upended by Unions

Editorial, August 5, 2011, The Wall Street Journal

On Monday the small Rhode Island town of Central Falls declared bankruptcy because its sky-high labor costs had impaired its ability to pay its bills. The ratings agencies say the development is no surprise, but we wonder whether they’ll be saying the same thing when a bigger city falls off a cliff. Central Falls’s financial problems are not much different from many states and municipalities. Inflexible and costly collective bargaining agreements have driven up its labor costs and crowded out services. The city is running $5 million… (read article – subscription required)

Survey finds 1 in 5 teachers support ending unions

By Scott Martindale, August 4, 2011, Orange County Register

Nearly one in five U.S. educators say they support abolishing teachers unions, and one in three support ending tenure for teachers, according to a new survey by the think-tank National Center for Education Information. The survey of 1,076 public school teachers nationwide indicates that educators are becoming increasingly supportive of doing away with unions and tenure, with support growing by four to five percentage points over the past 15 years, to 19 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Article Tab: Laguna Beach High School foreign language teacher Rod Ortiz calls on a student in his class in this November 2010 photo. A new survey has found that teachers nationwide are increasingly supportive of doing away with tenure and teachers unions. Laguna Beach High School foreign language teacher Rod Ortiz calls on a student in his class in this November 2010 photo. A new survey has found that teachers nationwide are increasingly supportive of doing away with tenure and teachers unions. (read article)

Proposed California initiative targets unions’ political clout

By Michael Panush, August 4, 2011, Capitol Weekly

For unions, it’s like a recurring nightmare – the attempt by Republicans and businesses to limit the unions’ ability to finance political campaigns. Thus far, those efforts have been beaten back. But as the 2012 election cycle looms, the battle is getting under way again. Currently, members of state-employee unions have funds automatically deducted from their paychecks to cover union dues. While some may see it as a way to avoid the hassle of filing monthly dues, the fact that these funds often go to union-backed political campaigns has inspired anger in California’s business community – and even among the employees who may favor differing candidates. (read article)

Outsourcing Savings Help Costa Mesa, California Deal With Pension Costs

By Will Swaim, August 3, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa

Critics of the Costa Mesa city council’s effort to roll back employee pay and benefits like to suggest that merely studying outsourcing those jobs to private companies or other public entities is a waste of time—or worse, a threat to the public that can be captured only in the language and images of nineteenth-century editorial cartoons in which gigantic squids run railroads or fat men in spats/monocles/top hats and pin stripes feast on babies whilst smoking cigars marked MONOPOLISTS. When he’s not referring to privatization in epidemiological terms (“’Outsourcing’ Infection Spreads”) the blogger Geoff West prefers the cephalopodic (“‘outsourcing’ and all the ugly tentacles that subject seems to have sprouted”). Over at the Santa Ana HQ of the Orange County Employees Association, it’s an article of religious faith that outsourcing simply can’t work: “The budget numbers this City Council is using to justify outsourcing don’t add up,” the union leadership claims on the page it dedicates to its war against Costa Mesa. The union prefers moralizing to zoological typology: “Outsourcing will cost the city more, and their plan is filled with so many loopholes because it is a political play–not an honest attempt to save money.” What’s weird, of course, is that we now have evidence that this isn’t a political play, and the numbers do, in fact, add up. (read article)

Delegates to Prison Guard Unions’ Convention Heading to Las Vegas on California Taxpayers’ Dime

By Paresh Dave, August 3, 2011, Sacramento Bee

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has set aside about $350,000 to pay several hundred corrections officers while they attend their union’s annual convention later this month in Las Vegas. The arrangement with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is unique among the state’s collective bargaining agreements. Up to 10 rank-and-file employees from each of the state’s 37 correctional facilities may claim three days of what’s called activist release time while they attend the Aug. 16-19 convention. This means that the state will pay them for those days without getting reimbursement from the union. A department spokesman was unable to provide an exact cost figure because it’s still unclear which employees will attend. (read article)

Bridgeport, Connecticut Police Officer Wins Settlement Forcing Union Officials to Return Illegally Confiscated Dues

August 1, 2011, National Right to Work

With the help of National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, a local police officer has reached a settlement with two unions and the City of Bridgeport after filing suit to reclaim illegally-confiscated union dues. The agreement requires the Bridgeport Police Local 1159 and Council 15 AFSCME, AFL-CIO unions to refund all illegally-seized dues to William Bailey, a nonunion police officer. Although Bailey is not a union member, all Bridgeport police officers are subject to a monopoly bargaining agreement between the city and the Bridgeport Police Local 1159 and Council 15 AFSCME, AFL-CIO unions. After resigning his union membership in 2007, Bailey indicated that he wished to opt-out of dues unrelated to workplace bargaining in 2011. (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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