Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Pensions Aren’t the Only Public Employee Costs Breaking the Bank in California

By Brian Calle, December 7, 2011, City Journal

Much of the debate surrounding public-employee compensation in California focuses on platinum pension plans, gold-plated health-care benefits, and salaries that often top private-sector pay. These salaries and benefits may be enviable, but perhaps more so is the range of bonus-pay categories for which public employees qualify. In fact, in the Golden State, public-employee unions have negotiated at least 400 categories of bonuses, covering everything from subsidized sunscreen for lifeguards to cash bonuses for police officers who actually wear their uniforms. The result: public workers accumulate bonuses and bolster salary by hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. Described in union contracts as “premium pay,” “incentive pay,” and “differential pay,” the bonuses cost taxpayers billions. (read article)

Initiative to ban payroll deduction for political spending qualifies for California ballot

By Torey Van Oot, December 6, 2011, Sacramento Bee

The fight over unions using members’ dues to fund political spending is headed back to the ballot next year. A proposed initiative to block unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes has made the cut to go in front of voters next November, the secretary of state announced today.. The measure, backed by GOP groups, also bans labor unions, corporations and, in some cases, contractors doing business with state government, from making contributions to candidate-controlled committees. Proponents of the measure reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect more than 900,000 voter signatures in support of the proposal. The office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen said today said that a validity check conducted by county election officials projected that at least 630,000 of those were valid — well over the 504,760 voter signatures needed to secure a spot on the ballot. (read article)

Measure to curb union, corporate clout qualifies for California ballot

By Judy Lin, December 7, 2011, Fresno Bee

California Republican interests have qualified a ballot measure that would severely curb the political influence of public and private employee unions while depriving Democratic political candidates of a major source of campaign cash. The measure, which bans political contributions through payroll deductions, qualified Tuesday for the November 2012 statewide ballot. With labor’s primary funding source under attack, the measure sets up an expensive campaign season ahead for both sides. Funded in part by wealthy GOP donor and Stanford University physicist Charles Munger Jr. and backed by former Secretary of State George Shultz, the measure bans corporation and union contributions from collecting political funds from employees and union members through payroll deduction. (read article)

EDITORIAL CARTOON: American Airlines’ Union Baggage

By Ramirez, December 7, 2011, Orange County Register

(view cartoon)

Union radicals harass teacher who dared to support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

By the Education Action Group, December 7, 2011, Big Government

Apparently there’s no room for free thought or disagreement within the Wisconsin Education Association Council. We suppose that’s not terribly surprising for a group that has to force its members to join. Still, it’s troubling to hear that Kristi LaCroix, the courageous public school teacher who had the guts to film a television ad supporting Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms, is being harassed by union zealots to the point where she wants to change careers. LaCroix, who teaches at Lakeview Technology Academy in the Kenosha school district, recently posted the following on her Facebook page, according a news story from WISN 1130: “Going through and deleting my daily amount of hate mail that is sent to my work email. I have now been assured, by one of the emails (all of which I forward to my Principal) that there is an online movement called ‘Fire Kristi‘ where they are going to email, post and talk to everyone (telling) millions of stories to ruin my reputation, career and life. (read article)

The NEA’s Spending: 437 Staffers Make Six-Figure Sums

By RiShawn Biddle, December 8, 2011, Dropout Nation

For all of the National Education Association’s efforts to ally itself with the Occupy Wall Street crowd and play to progressive groups, it’s payroll has stronger resemblance to that of the Wall Street firms it decries. Four hundred thirty-seven staffers were paid at least $100,000 a year according to the union’s 2010-2011 LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor; that’s four more six-figure salaries than the previous fiscal year. Certainly this includes union president Dennis Van Roekel’s $460,060 (a 16 percent increase over the previous year) and Vice President Lily Eskelson’s $371,904 check (a 14 percent increase). But it also includes Bill Thompson, the union’s director of financial and membership services, who earned $236,262 last fiscal year, the union’s senior policy adviser, Peter Arum (who collected $205,193), and Maria Felipe, a confidential associate who was paid $108,663 for her work. The NEA’s executive director, John Stocks, picked up $273,146 during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, while Alice O’Brien, who succeeded Bob Chanin as the union’s general counsel, collected $236,327 from union coffers. The union’s top labor outreach guy, Michael Edwards, picked up $258,309 for his work. (read article)

Public Pension Vote in Rhode Island Shows Changing Political Times for Unions

By John Gramlich, December 8, 2011, Stateline.org

Rhode Island — Michael Downey, a plumber at the University of Rhode Island and the president of this state’s largest public employee union, considers Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin the face of the anti-labor movement he sees taking hold in state capitals around the country. But Downey thinks his own governor, Lincoln Chafee, runs a close second.

“As much as I despise the likes of a Governor Walker,” Downey told Stateline in his office a short drive from the state capitol this week, “I have a very difficult time looking at Governor Chafee.” Downey’s perspective may seem unusual, given that Chafee is a political independent who backed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and won the governorship with strong labor support last year on a platform that called for tax increases. But that was before tiny Rhode Island approved the biggest public pension cutbacks in the nation. (read article)

Union not keen on new Occupy Oakland port blockade

By Andrew S. Ross, December 8, 2011, San Francisco Chronicle

Remember last month’s several-hour shutdown of the Port of Oakland – that “historic and effective action” that “lives in the hearts of people across Oakland and around the country,” according to Occupy Oakland? Well, on Monday, there’s to be an encore, not just in Oakland, but up and down the West Coast, “in solidarity with longshoremen, port workers and truckers in their struggle against the 1 percent,” says the group. “We will blockade all of the West Coast Ports on Dec. 12. Together we are unstoppable! Strike while the iron is hot!” it declared in a call to arms. Trouble is, the folks they purport to be in solidarity with don’t seem hot on the idea to “effectively shutdown the hubs of commerce” at all. “Any actions organized by outside groups, including the proposed Dec. 12 shutdown of various terminals on the West Coast, have not been vetted by our union’s democratically led process,” the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said. (read article)

California Court Vests Implied Medical Benefits for Retired Public Employees

By Girard Miller, December 8, 2011, Governing Magazine

California’s supreme court ruled last month that certain retirees’ medical benefits are vested and thus protected from reduction by employers seeking modifications to reduce costs. The court also ruled that ordinances and resolutions of the employer are important source documents for determining the contractual nature of such other post-employment benefits (OPEB). “Under California law, a vested right to health benefits for retired county employees can be implied under certain circumstances from a county ordinance or resolution,” wrote Justice Marvin R. Baxter for the court in a decision involving Orange County employees and retirees. Unlike pensions, which have long been held to be vested and protected under state law, retiree medical benefits have occupied a gray zone in California jurisprudence. The state supreme court’s decision was rendered at the request of the federal circuit court which is reviewing contract law complaints by county employees. It will now be up to the federal court to determine whether the implied contract referenced by the California decision can be abridged. (read article)

States Expand Lucrative Public Employee Pensions to More Job Categories

By Thomas Frank, December 9, 2011, USA Today

This chart shows which types of state workers can either retire earlier than other workers or get an enhanced pension that is based on a higher percentage of their salary. The chart covers only state-run pension plans and excludes local plans that cover many firefighters. (view chart)

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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