Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Recent reports on union activity from around the web through November 12, 2010:

Super-sized pensions, and a doomsday scenario

by Bob Sullivan, November 12, 2010, MSNBC

In New York, a 44-year-old firefighter retires with a $101,000 a year pension, for life. Near Chicago, a parks commissioner quits and begins collecting a $166,000 pension – a sum sweetened by $50,000 thanks to a one-time retirement year windfall of $270,000. And in California, a former city manager pulls down $500,000 in retirement checks every year. As outrageous as those sunset stipends may seem, they are merely the most visible piece of what critics of generous government pensions say is a ticking time bomb of debt that is threatening to bankrupt a number of states by the end of the decade. (read article)

Labor Board’s Recent Decisions Tilt in Favor of Unions

By Melanie Trottman and Kris Maher, November 11, 2010, Wall Street Journal

Unions are increasingly looking to the National Labor Relations Board to seek favorable workplace rulings, and the agency is showing a willingness to reopen matters previously decided in favor of employers. Union leaders pushed earlier this year to get two new Democratic members on the labor-relations board, saying they needed to level the playing field with employers after years of decisions by the Republican-controlled board that unions said hampered their efforts to organize workers. Union hopes of getting major new legislation to boost their organizing all but died with Republican gains in the mid-term congressional elections. The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make organizing easier by enabling unions to bypass secret-ballot elections, was already stalled in a Congress fully controlled by Democrats. Organizing is a critical issue for unions. In 2009, the national rate of union membership had fallen to 12.3% from 20.1% in 1983. The NLRB can’t overhaul labor law, but it can make rulings on a case-by-case basis and set broader policies through administrative rules that could give unions more leverage with employers. (read article)

Orange County GOP vs. Unions? Get Ready for Phase 2

By Frank Mickadeit, The Orange County Register, November 8, 2010

Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh in January laid down what I coined the Baugh Manifesto, which said: If a candidate for local office wants the party endorsement, he or she can’t take money from public-employee unions. Now, Baugh says, comes Stage Two: Teaching local elected officials to hold their own in union negotiations. To that end, Baugh plans to hold a major conference this spring, bringing in lawyers and others skilled in the intricacies of collective bargaining under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. Baugh says council members tell him they at times feel out-gunned. “We have to educate public officials not to get trapped into negotiations.” Last week, he said, some Costa Mesa council members felt they had no choice but to extend a contract four years because the alternatives were either try to pull back on deal points and be accused of bargaining in bad faith (with legal implications), or hold firm, go to impasse and impose a contract (with its legal implications). “It takes an enormous amount of political courage to go to impasse,” Baugh said. The conference is intended to get officials who want to rein in pensions up to speed. (read article)

Influence of teachers unions in question

By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2010

These groups have been slow to come to terms with the push for reform. Some see them as obstacles to change, and even union sympathizers agree that their voice in the education debate has been muted. Teachers unions have a well-deserved reputation for exercising political clout. With a nearly unparalleled ability to raise cash and organize their ranks, they have elected school boards, influenced legislation and helped set the public school agenda in major American cities for decades. Now, that clout is in question. (read article)

Unions, secular whites part of GOP’s California problem

By John J. Pitney Jr., Orange County Register, November 5, 2010

Size matters. California has 37 million residents, or 50 percent more than Texas, the next-largest state. Any one of our state Senate districts has more people than South Dakota. And our state is geographically vast, covering 156,000 square miles and a dozen media markets. The Tea Party movement, which had supplied so much energy to Republican candidates in other states, could not take root in such soil. Though the movement had financial support from outside organizations, it was mostly a kitchen-table, word-of-mouth affair. As Douglas Johnson of the Rose Institute has written, “California’s electorate is simply too enormous to reach one by one.” Any serious get-out-the-vote operation in requires vast technical resources and an existing network that can reach from urban barrios to desert communities. The only group that can pull it off on a statewide level is organized labor, which backs Democrats. (read article)

Election adds pressure to change public pensions

By Stephen C. Fehr, Stateline.org, November 4, 2010

Six newly elected  governors are looking favorably at some form of 401(k)-style retirement plan for public sector employees, adding to the momentum building nationally for a shift away from traditional guaranteed pensions. Tuesday’s election was in some ways the first national referendum on the future of public pensions, the cost of which has been rising in many states, counties and cities and is crowding out education and other popular programs. (read article)

Defeat of Prop. B Cements Labor’s Power in San Francisco

By  Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, The Bay Citizen, November 4, 2010

As election results rolled in, it became clear that San Francisco unions had trounced Proposition B, a measure that would have required the city’s 26,000 employees to contribute more toward their pensions and benefits. Once the tally was complete, 57.5 percent of San Francisco’s voters had sided with the unions. Union leaders appeared surprised by the lopsided victory. Proposition B had been promoted by Jeff Adachi, the city’s public defender, and backed by former Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, and Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist. Throughout the campaign, Adachi had argued that the city’s escalating employee costs would eventually force San Francisco to file for bankruptcy, like nearby Vallejo. (read article)

Unions struggle at polls

By Jon Miltimore, Watchdog. org, November 4, 2010

A series of pension measures and ballot initiatives went against public sector workers Tuesday in what proved to be a tough day for labor. In California, voters in seven cities — San Jose, Redding, Riverside, Menlo Park, Bakersfield, Carlsbad and Pacific Grove — approved measures seeking to reduce public pension costs, and a half-cent sales tax in San Diego that would have prevented public safety cuts also was rejected. Public safety unions in each municipality opposed the reforms, but efforts to defeat the measures failed in what was a big night for pension reform advocates. (read article)

AFL-CIO says it helped Dems in Election

By Robin Bravender, Poltico.com, November 3, 2010

Big Labor is patting itself on the back for softening the blow yesterday’s elections had on congressional Democrats. And for all the credit it’s giving itself in helping liberal lawmakers hang on, labor isn’t sorry for the role it played in ousting embattled Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Tuesday’s election, which gave Republicans a commanding majority in the House and more power in the Senate, was a disappointment to union members, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters Wednesday. But the labor group’s grass-roots organizing prevented “even worse” results in states like Nevada, West Virginia and California, he added. (read article)

Secret union ballot measure gains approval in Arizona

By Associated Press, Fox11az, November 2, 2010

Voters have approved Proposition 113, an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that guarantees the right of a secret ballot for employees deciding whether to be represented by unions. The immediate effect is minimal because employers already can demand a secret ballot in such votes. Making the requirement a constitutional amendment is an effort to pre-empt proposed federal legislation that is stalled in the U.S. Senate. The federal legislation, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow a majority of employees to create a union by signing a card. (read article)

The Democrats and the Union Label

By Andrew Kohut, October 22, 2010, New York Times

The good news for the Democrats these days is that union members are one voting bloc that continues to strongly back their party’s candidates — and by a solid margin in our latest national poll, which otherwise finds a double-digit Republican lead in Congressional voting intentions. The bad news is that labor unions have fallen out of favor with the broader public, including independents who will cast the decisive votes in this year’s elections.

opinion on labor unionsPew Research Center Views on Labor Unions. Positive views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007. The Pew Research Center this year found just 41 percent of the public said they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42 percent) expressed an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58 percent) had a favorable view of unions while just 31 percent had an unfavorable impression.  (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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