Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Labor unions try to have it both ways in San Jose pension crisis

By Daniel Borenstein, November 20, 2011, Contra Costa Times

Labor unions try to have it both ways. They fight statewide reform of public employee pension systems by insisting that change must be bargained at the local level. But, as we see in San Jose, when they get to the table they claim they can’t legally agree to substantive improvements. Welcome to the crazy world of public employee pensions, where benefits are easy to increase, but nearly impossible to reduce — even when they’re unaffordable. The resulting costs squeeze out funds badly needed for police, fire protection, libraries and other essential city services — endangering the jobs of the workers whose unions resist change. San Jose provides a stunning example: Pensions have soared. Even after adjusting for inflation, the average annual benefit increased 75 percent for police and fire retirees from 1991-2009, and 54 percent for other workers. Police and firefighters who retired in 2009-10 after at least 26 years of service collected an average starting pension of $119,000 a year. For other workers with similar service, the average was $63,500. The pensions come with a guaranteed 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment. For every dollar the city spends on police and fire salaries next year, it will have to set aside an estimated 97 cents for pension and health care retirement benefits. That compares to 16 cents a decade ago. For other employees, the cost will be about 52 cents, up from 17 cents. Those numbers will continue to increase. (read article)

Union Officials Shouldn’t Be Able to Loot the Pension Funds of Illinois’ Teachers and Other Public Employees

Editorial, November 20, 2011, Chicago Tribune

Recall your reaction — ours traversed the short distance separating disgust from fury — to the Tribune front-page headline of Sept. 2: “$108,000 pension for a $40,000 job — Though perk was based on false information, officials with city fund gave union leader a pass.” Now recall your reaction to the front-page headline of Sept. 22: “Rehired for a day, he gets $158,000 pension — Ex-labor leader Dennis Gannon left the municipal employees’ fund after he resigned from his city job in 1993, but with City Hall help he was allowed back in and now received hefty retirement payments.” And your reaction to the terse but supremely galling front-page headline of Oct. 23: “Sub for a day, teacher pension for life.” (read article)

Public employee unions are not negotiating with their actual employers – the taxpayers

By Paul Jacob, November 20, 2011, Townhall.com

Nothing speaks to the out-of-control nature of government more loudly and clearly than the lavish pension benefits promised to public employees. The extravagance centers on their underfunded nature: The pensions’ benefits are defined — defined high — and underfunded or even unfunded as the employment occurs, leaving many states, metro areas, cities and counties with burdensome funding commitments at retirement. Many communities across the country now lurch towards bankruptcy. Similar benefits are nearly unheard of in the private sector . . . the only exceptions being where union bargaining, backed by government guns, force big companies to contract similarly self-destructive deals. It gets worse, though. These cushy pensions pile atop similarly plush wage and salary rates as well as medical benefits that outmatch comparable jobs in the private sector. Further, by double-dipping, retired public servants exacerbate the financial hit on taxpayers. It’s become commonplace in some locales for public employees to retire and begin collecting their lucrative pensions, only to re-enter the public workforce, receiving a full salary on top of the pension payouts. (read article)

Voters think teachers unions are too powerful, new poll finds

By Howard Blume, November 20, 2011, Los Angeles Times

About half of California voters believe that teachers unions are too powerful, a new poll has found. The bipartisan survey, conducted by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times, also found that the views of voters aligned fairly closely with teachers unions on key issues, such as funding for schools. But that didn’t prevent many from having reservations about the role of unions in education and politics. Overall, 52% of voters agreed with the statement that teachers unions are too powerful; 36% disagreed. And more voters took the position that teacher unions “are resistant to reforms that would improve schools.” (read article)

An F in ethics: Broward Teachers Union leaders need schooling in good practices

Editorial, November 20, 2011, Miami Herald

At a time when politicians of a certain stripe are firing blunderbusses at public employees and their unions, the investigations into the Broward Teachers Union add more ammunition. If the allegations raised in an audit are true, union members can only conclude that their leaders are slow learners. The audit and another investigation raise questions about attention to good business practices, ethics and the law. Sloppiness is never excusable. Among the accusations from the audit by the national union, the American Federation of Teachers, the BTU wrote numerous checks simply to cash, pays seemingly duplicative bills for maintenance on its headquarters and for expenses for long-time president Pat Santeramo, and has nearly $125,000 in unexplained credit-card expenses. Mr. Santeramo and two other union officers also were overpaid for nearly seven years although there is no explanation other than to blame a technical glitch as to how one does not realize that he is being overpaid. He now earns $155,000. He also expects $220,000 in accumulated leave time, a practice once common at the school but now sharply limited. (read article)

Occupy Wall Street, unions get their activism together

By Peter Wallsten, October 20, 2011, Washington Post

The Occupy Wall Street protests that began as a nebulous mix of social and economic grievances are becoming more politically organized — with help from some of the country’s largest labor unions. Labor groups are mobilizing to provide office space, meeting rooms, photocopying services, legal help, food and other necessities to the protesters. The support is lending some institutional heft to a movement that has prided itself on its freewheeling, non-

institutional character. And in return, Occupy activists are pitching in to help unions ratchet up action against several New York firms involved in labor disputes with workers. In one case, Occupy activists have helped union workers disrupt the rarified environs of Sotheby’s art auction house, which is engaged in a contract dispute with about 40 of its art handlers. A joint demonstration of Occupy activists and telephone workers is planned for Friday to target Verizon, and Occupy organizers say more unions are reaching out to a newly formed labor relations committee to ask for help in planning future actions. (read article)

Labor’s Lost Loves: Detroit Mayor Bing announces 1,000 layoffs and seeks concessions

Editorial, November 19, 2011, Wall Street Journal

Last week’s repeal of Ohio’s collective-bargaining law was hailed as a victory for labor and a harbinger of Democratic gains next year. In truth, it is more likely that unless Ohio’s public-union labor agreements are revisited, the vote could come back to haunt Ohio and its Democrats. For evidence look no further than Detroit, Michigan. Yesterday, Mayor Dave Bing announced… (read article – subscription required)

Occupy Sacramento joins forces with SEIU

By Amy Jacobson Kurokawa, November 19, 2011, KXTV-TV

(watch video)

California State University’s faculty union goes on strike

By D. Campbell, November 19, 2011, Talking Union

Thursday, Nov 17, thousands of faculty members made history by participating in the first-ever strike of the California State University system. The message to the Chancellor was loud and clear from six in the morning until dark: “If you don’t start making decisions based on what is right for the 99% this system serves – instead of the 1% of executives and upper managers running the system — these actions will continue.” At CSU Dominguez Hills in Southern California, 2,000 people over the course of the day picketed the ten gates surrounding the campus. At CSU East Bay in Northern California, according to published reports, 93% of classes were canceled for the day. Traffic was backed up for over a mile and a half into the city of Hayward. At noon, police were forced to cordon off the main entrance on Carlos Bee Blvd, effectively closing campus for the rest of the day. (read article)

Rhode Island House, Senate OK historic pension bill Despite the threat of a union lawsuit

November 18, 2011, WPRI-TV

(watch video)

Who’s Paying for Santa Ana Police Union Chief’s Annuity — The Union, or Taxpayers?

By Andrew Galvin, November 18, 2011, Orange County Register

When Sgt. Joseph Perez retired in August after serving as president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, the Santa Ana City Council agreed that the city would pay $26,000 a year to buy Perez an annuity on top of his $87,727 CalPERS pension. Then, questions began to arise. Were union members footing the bill for Perez’s annuity? Or were taxpayers? For four years, Perez served as full-time president of the POA, which has 523 members, including the city’s jail staff, animal-control officers and police dispatchers. Perez had a salary of $101,172 in fiscal 2010-2011, plus an additional $22,680 in “premium” pay, according to city records. The additional pay was meant to compensate Perez for extra hours worked, because he didn’t receive overtime pay, said Cpl. John Franks, who succeeded Perez as POA president. Under the city’s contract with the POA, the union president is a city employee who is released from all city duties in order to focus exclusively on union work. (read article)

How the Revolutionary California Labor Movement Became Wall Street’s Biggest Gambler

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

Like most social media profiles, the union’s “Repair Costa Mesa” page lists things the union leadership likes. On one recent night, the Top 3 likes were Occupy Irvine, Occupy Costa Mesa, and Occupy Orange County. I’m a huge fan of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its myriad spinoffs, in part because, like a lot of Americans, I can see the Bush Administration’s bank bailout—and the banking industry’s subsequent crackdown on the very taxpayers who supplied the cash that saved the banks—only through the prism of something like Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant. (read article)

Pension Reform and Union Shenanigans in San Diego

By Paul Feine & Alex Manning, November 17, 2011, Reason.TV

(watch video)

Labor Unions Have ‘Occupied’ Occupy Wall Street

By Kathleen Brush, November 17, 2011, The State Journal-Register

For one, the group has secured visible backing from organized labor. They now have the support of the most powerful organizing group in the country. The home page of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) even helps people to find an OWS location near them so that they can protest. It also has given them that elusive cause. It is income inequality. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, commonly AFL-CIO, is helping to support this cause. On their homepage is the headline, “CEO Pay: Feeding the 1%.” So the attack is expanding beyond Wall Street to anyone running a company. (read article)

Chafee Shuns Threats Urging Rhode Island Pension Fix Over Unions

By Henry Goldman, November 16, 2011, BusinessWeek

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, scion of a family of state Republican leaders, won election as an independent last year with just 36 percent of the vote. That was the easy part. Chafee’s leadership style, described by both friends and critics as soft-spoken and conciliatory, failed its first test earlier this year when lawmakers scrapped his budget. The plan called for broadening the sales tax to include services and amusements such as haircuts and movie tickets, while reducing its rate to 6 percent from 7 percent. Now he faces another hard sell, curbing benefits under the state’s $7.4 billion pension. The fund holds less than half the assets it needs to cover those costs in coming decades, placing Rhode Island near the top of inadequately funded public plans in a Bloomberg Rankings list. Should he succeed, the smallest U.S. state would join others from New Jersey to South Dakota in cutting expenses by rolling back retirement promises. (read article)

Unions heavily involved in billion-dollar LIRR disability pension scam

By Carl Horowitz, November 15, 2011, National Legal and Policy Center

They might not have been Oscar-worthy performances. But the acting job by hundreds of Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) employees and their enablers was convincing enough to run a racket that could wind up costing U.S. taxpayers $1 billion or more. On October 27, FBI and New York State agents arrested 11 persons for operating a scheme by which retired workers at the heavily unionized LIRR allegedly visited doctors who would prepare phony medical histories, allowing retirees to receive outsized pension and “disability” checks, courtesy of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. One arrestee, in fact, was a former union president. The investigation was triggered by revelations a few years ago of unusually high rates of disability claims and awards. “This was a game where every retiree was a winner,” said FBI New York bureau head Janice Fedarcyk. Escalating employee benefits are threatening the solvency of the public sector throughout this country, especially at the state and local levels. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.org, 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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