Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

A Gathering Storm Over ‘Right to Work’ in Indiana

By Steven Greenhouse, January 3, 2011, New York Times

Nearly a year after legislatures in Wisconsin and several other Republican-dominated states curbed the power of public sector unions, lawmakers are now turning their sights toward private sector unions, setting up what is sure to be another political storm. Thomas McKenna, who spent five years as the head of the Indiana Department of Commerce under a Democratic governor, is an opponent of right-to-work laws. The thunderclouds are gathering first here in Indiana. The leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature say that when the legislative session opens on Wednesday, their No. 1 priority will be to push through a business-friendly piece of legislation known as a right-to-work law. If Indiana enacts such a law — and its sponsors say they have the votes — it will give new momentum to those who have previously pushed such legislation in Maine, Michigan, Missouri and other states. New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature was the last to pass a right-to-work bill in 2011, but it narrowly failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto by the Democratic governor; an Indiana law would re-energize that effort. Right-to-work laws prohibit union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to the union. In states without such laws, workers at unionized workplaces generally have to pay such dues or fees. Many right-to-work supporters say it is morally wrong to force unwilling workers to contribute to unions, while opponents argue that it is wrong to allow “free riders” not to support the unions that represent them in negotiations and arbitrations.  (read article)

California’s Public Pension System Is Not in Crisis, Union Official Claims

By Lee Saunders, January 2, 2011, San Francisco Chronicle

Despite those who are all-too-willing to play Chicken Little, the sky is not falling on the California pension system. Here are the facts. Over the past 20 years, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has earned an average annual investment return of 8.4 percent, which is more than the fund needs to ensure it can pay long-term benefits. Since the market crash of 2008, CalPERS has recovered from its losses and is now funded at 75 percent, a healthy level by the mark of rating agencies. A recent report on public pensions released by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research flies in the face of these facts, favoring instead trumped-up assumptions that CalPERS earnings are much lower. For reasons unknown, or at least unsaid, the report asserts that CalPERS earnings stand at just 6.2 percent per year, a rate they suggest is breeding a growing shortfall in the fund. (read article)

GOP leaders bow to unions and defeat school choice in Pennsylvania

Editorial, December 31, 2011, Wall Street Journal

One of the best stories of 2011 was how Republicans and Democrats united in more than a dozen states to increase school choice. Then there’s Pennsylvania, where a few Republicans joined the teachers unions to kill modest reforms that would have helped poor students in the state’s worst schools. Republican Governor Tom Corbett campaigned last year on expanding school choice, but he’s been undone by his Republican-controlled legislature and his own diffident leadership. The state House and Senate passed separate legislation earlier this year to improve education options for low-income kids. Too bad they couldn’t get their acts together, literally. (read article – subscription required)

New York Unions File Lawsuit Over Increase in Retiree Healthcare Cost By Staff

December 30, 2011, PlanSponsor

Seven New York state unions filed federal lawsuits on Wednesday, challenging the Cuomo administration’s increase in the amount retirees must contribute toward their healthcare. The unions said increases were unconstitutional because the state has no authority to unilaterally raise retirees’ healthcare costs. The changes enacted this year by the Cuomo administration increased healthcare contributions to 12% from 10% for individual coverage and to 27% from 25% for family coverage. “What the Cuomo administration is trying to do is pull the rug out from under state retirees, many of whom planned their retirements based on when they felt they could afford to retire,” Ken Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, said in a statement. The governor’s spokesman has made statements to the media that the state did nothing illegal. Earlier this month, the Retired Public Employees Association (RPEA) filed a lawsuit against Cuomo and New York state regarding the same 2% healthcare increase. (read article)

Pension changes imposed on Riverside County’s largest union

By Duane W. Gang, December 29, 2011, Press-Enterprise

Riverside County imposed pension changes on its largest union Thursday afternoon, a move that means 7,000 employees will begin paying more toward their own retirements starting next month. The Laborers’ International Union of North American Local 777 had agreed in 2009 to negotiate changes in the pension plan for new and existing employees. But in a news release Thursday, the county said the union was unwilling to negotiate any changes. In a letter Thursday to the union, Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier said the fundamental issue for the county in the negotiations was reducing costs to help the county cope with its fiscal woes. Given the “lack of response” from the union, Olivier said the county will be forced to impose the pension changes on current and new employees. But Laborers’ Local 777 Business Manager Stephen Switzer on Thursday disputed the county’s characterization of how the negotiations unfolded, the declaration of an impasse in the contract talks and the imposed retirement changes. (read article)

Debt-Ridden Stockton, California Is a Battleground for Police Union and City Hall

By Diana Marcum, December 29, 2011, Los Angeles Times

The first eyebrow-raising salvo in the fight between the cops and this city was the billboards. “Welcome to the 2nd most dangerous city in California: Stop laying off cops!” read one at the city’s entrance. Other billboards posted by the Stockton Police Officers’ Assn. depicted splattered blood, gave a running tally of the city’s record number of homicides — and the city manager’s phone number. Since then, the fight moved closer to home: The police union bought the house next to City Manager Bob Deis. “In 30 years of labor negotiations I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jonathan Holtzman, a San Francisco lawyer representing Stockton. “Tires slashed; late-night phone calls — but buying the house next door to the boss?” As cash-strapped cities up and down the state demand concessions from employees, the police union in nearly bankrupt Stockton is fighting hard — and some say dirty — to keep the fiscal crisis from breaking its contract. “Everybody knows that revenues in cities are down because of the recession. But in Stockton, it is more than that,” said Officer Steve Leonesio, the union president. “The city spent money they didn’t have on a sports arena and downtown structures and then when it all hit rock bottom they went after public safety. We’re sticking up for what is right.” (read article)

Laws on farm labor impact minors in Missouri, and beyond

By Rance Burger, December 28, 2011, Lake News

Proposed changes to farm labor laws may change the landscape of education in rural communities across the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and beyond. The U.S. Department of Labor will consider implementing new rules for youth farm labor in 2012, rules that Missouri congressmen and educators say would harm families, students, and farmers. The Department of Labor will consider changing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has not been modified in 40 years. The changes would limit types of work that minors could do in agriculture. Some would apply to workers under 16, while others would apply to anyone under 18 who does farm work. “We feel that the proposed child labor law change would not be beneficial for our program or students. Over the years we have received many positive comments about our rural students and their good work ethic. We feel that the safe operation of equipment and the proper handling of livestock and poultry starts at an early age. Not letting young men and women take advantage of this opportunity would not only be wrong, but very ignorant,” Eldon High School FFA Advisor Matt Biddle said. (read article)

Unions are turning to shareholder proposals to limit political speech

Editorial, December 28, 2011, Wall Street Journal

Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision restored the First Amendment rights of businesses and unions, “disclosure” has become the watchword for Democrats hoping to muzzle political speech by corporations. The latest gambit is to intimidate companies via the shareholder proxy process. Under a Securities and Exchange Commission rule, any shareholder who holds more than $2,000 in stock can introduce shareholder proposals. That provision, unused by most shareholders, has become a tool for activists, who this year introduced a record number of shareholder proposals on political spending. According to the Manhattan Institute’s Proxy Monitor, 92% of these proposals were… (read article – subscription required)

The GOP’s answer to union money in political campaigns

By Fred Barnes, December 28, 2011, Wall Street Journal

When Steven Law was deputy secretary of labor in the George W. Bush administration, he routinely scrutinized the disclosure forms of labor unions. Unions had recently been required to report new details about how they spent their members’ dues money. Mr. Law discovered that organized labor was contributing millions to a variety of liberal groups—environmentalists, gay-rights advocates and left-wing blogs, among others. For Mr. Law, it was a revelation and a lesson. He concluded that the labor movement had enlarged and strengthened the coalition that helped produce Democratic landslides in 2006 and 2008. Now, as president and CEO of the independent pro-Republican group American Crossroads (AC), Mr. Law is preparing to fund seven or eight conservative organizations and create a broad front of support for Republican candidates in 2012. As a trial run, AC gave $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform, and $1.5 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee in last year’s midterm election campaign. Republicans won a massive victory, and Mr. Law decided it was money well spent. “Funding the right,” as AC calls it, isn’t the only political tactic Republicans are swiping from Democrats for use next year. (read article)

Unions Are the Political Dinosaur in the Room

By Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh, December 28, 2011, Canada Free Press

A famous radio talk show host asked rhetorically why unions have supported and financed the Occupy Wall Street movement. The answer is quite simple. Occupiers are asking for communism. In communism, the entire labor force is unionized. It is in the best interest of unions to promote communism since union membership in this country is down to single digits and not likely to rebound. Unions were necessary at the turn of the 20th century to protect workers from dangerous working conditions. Unions survive today as a political tool to influence elections and exert economic power. Otto von Bismarck introduced the first welfare system in Prussia in 1883 which provided workers with sick days, workman’s compensation, and retirement benefits. He disliked trade unions and, in order to reduce their socialist influence, Bismarck introduced workplace compensation. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 in New York turned public opinion behind the union movement to improve working conditions, hours, and wages in sweatshops. Pauline Newman, an organizer and executive of the newly formed International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, worked in the Triangle Factory at the tender age of eight. “We didn’t have anything… There was no welfare, no pension, and no unemployment insurance. There was nothing…There was so much feeling against unions then. One hundred and forty-six people perished in the fire while the judge fined Blank and Harris seventy-five dollars.” Unions started gaining track as more accidents were exposed and workers demanded protection. (read article)

Ballot measure would nix Sacramento’s union-only contracts

By Katy Grimes, December 27, 2011, CalWatchdog.com

Seeking to end mandatory Project Labor Agreements on public-works projects in Sacramento, nine boxes containing more than 49,000 signed petitions were delivered Tuesday morning to the Sacramento City Clerk for a ballot measure. After spending the last several months gathering signatures to place the “Fair and Open Competition” measure on the June 2012 ballot, Eric Christen with the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, and Kevin Dayton, state government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, filed the petitions with the city of Sacramento. The ballot measure would ban the city from using the union labor agreements on city projects, and instead, allow open bidding in order to achieve the best quality for the best price, for public contracts funded by taxpayers. Christen and Dayton collected a total of 49,259 signatures, but only needed 32,800. They have already successfully qualified ‘The Fair and Open Competition’ measure for the city of San Diego on the June 2012 ballot. (read article)

Virginia bill would prohibit PLA requirements

By Crystal Owens, December 27, 2011, Loudon Times

Virginia Dels. Barbara Comstock (R-34th) and Tim Hugo (R-40th) have pre-filed a bill in the General Assembly that would prohibit state agencies and recipients of state funding from requiring or prohibiting contractors to enter into union agreements as a condition of winning state-assisted contracts. House Bill 33 would make it difficult for a state agency to issue grants or provide financial assistant to any entity requiring a project labor agreement. “This commonsense legislation will help us stretch our tax dollars on infrastructure projects and will guarantee that free enterprise and full and open competition will determine how public construction contracts are awarded throughout Virginia. Mandated project labor agreements have been estimated to raise costs by 10 percent to 20 percent or more with the most egregious example being Boston’s “Big Dig” debacle. This measure will help protect our taxpayers and our constituents,” Comstock said in a statement.  (read article)

Christmas Messages in the Public Employee Union’s War on the Residents of Costa Mesa

By Will Swaim, December 27, 2011, Republic of Costa Mesa

One goal of politics is to universalize the particular, to make your own minority/fringe/idiosyncratic opinion appear part of some grand movement or tradition. It’s the reason your typical conservative Christian dresses up his attacks on gay marriage not as mere hick prejudice, but really fundamental to a sprawling 3,000-year-old tradition stretching from Moses to the hillbillies. And then that conservative Christian is caught doing meth with a gay hooker. It’s like that with the union leadership’s war on the residents of Costa Mesa. Take for instance “The 99 percent take back America,” Orange County Employees Association president Robert Gibson’s end-of-year message to the rank and file. The point of Gibson’s missive is to a link the public-employee union campaign for rising pay and benefits into the broader Occupy Wall Street movement. We’ve already examined the collision of interests between the Occupy movement  and the Orange County Employees  Association, which, like most public-employee unions, depends on Wall Street investments to produce huge returns to fund its pensions. When Wall Street can’t deliver, the governments for whom public employees work, ante up. But never mind the irony.  (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.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!