Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

California Teachers Association backs Brown’s tax plan

By Kevin Yamamura, January 30, 2012, Sacramento Bee

The California Teachers Association officially agreed Sunday to back Gov. Jerry Brown’s multibillion-dollar tax plan, which should provide the governor hefty financial support for his fall campaign. The union represents 325,000 teachers and education workers, and it is a heavy hitter in state politics. Brown is gathering signatures for a November initiative to raise sales taxes by a half-cent and income taxes on high-income earners. He has structured his budget so schools would face a $2.4 billion program cut in 2012-13 if voters reject his proposal, which he says is equal to three weeks off the school year. The Democratic governor now has support from the state’s two most powerful public employee unions, the CTA and the Service Employees International Union State Council. The SEIU has not made its support public, but CTA President Dean E. Vogel told his members on Saturday that the “SEIU State Council has already taken a support position,” according to a text of his speech. (read article)

High-stakes labor battle coming to California

By Steven Harmon, January 30, 2012, Mercury News

The raging battle over the political and economic clout of labor unions is headed west to California. The state’s powerful labor groups have anxiously witnessed union rights and benefits being gutted in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Now, unions in California are girding for an all-out war over a ballot initiative that would curb their ability to raise political cash. If the November measure passes, unions would have to get written permission from their members every year to use their dues for political purposes. In California, that’s a fight that could eclipse a presidential ballot filled with other intriguing and controversial measures, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to hike taxes temporarily. “This could change the balance of power long after the governor’s taxes are expired,” said Thad Kousser, a political-science professor at UC San Diego. “Defeating this has got to be the top goal of labor. If they don’t, they could become almost extinct in California politics.” (read article)

Union membership dips slightly in California, but still 7th highest among states

By Dan Walters, January 27, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Union membership among California’s workers declined fractionally in the last year, according to an annual survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, but remains seventh highest among the states. The BLS report says that 17.1 percent of California’s private and public employees are union members, down from 17.5 percent the previous year. That translates into 2.4 million union members, down more than 50,000 from a year earlier, in a total employed workforce of 13.9 million. The numbers and percentages of workers represented by unions, including non-members, are slightly higher at 2.5 million and 18.2 percent. California is tied for the seventh highest rate with Oregon. New York is highest at 24.1 percent and South Carolina the lowest at 3.4 percent. The national rate is 11.8 percent, down from 11.9 percent the previous year. (read article)

Indifference ends on public pay and benefits in Canada; Union-busting one way to cut costs

By Howard Levitt, January 24, 2012, Financial Post

A seismic shift is taking place in Canadian labour relations as taxpayers take note of public workers’ salaries and benefits. Public service wages, once a tradeoff of career security for a lower pay than private sector equivalents, was ushered out by citizen indifference to public service labour negotiations. Today, Canadian public servants collectively earn $19 billion more than private sector workers performing similar tasks, never mind the many public service jobs with no private sector equivalent. Unlike the private sector, where unions risk members’ jobs if they demand too much, governments simply raise taxes. Getting a collective agreement, even at an excessive cost, was easier than risking political careers by taking tough positions at the bargaining table, and risking a strike and the public’s anger. (read article)

Council finds states are weakening teacher tenure

By Kimberly Hefling, January 25, 2012, Boston Globe

America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic “satisfactory” teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers’ unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers. (read article)

Indiana is the latest battleground over organized labor laws

By Andy Grimm, January 25, 2012, Chicago Tribune

Lawmakers on Wednesday all but guaranteed Indiana will become the first Midwest, industrial state to limit the ability of labor unions to collect dues, but opponents are not giving up and plan to leverage next week’s Super Bowl here to amplify the debate. The Indiana Right to Work bill makes it illegal for union membership to be required or for unions to collect dues from nonmembers. Union leaders say the measures will hobble their ability to bargain for better wages, but business interests said they are key to attracting new investment to the state. (read article)

Local AFSCME union chapter at odds with leaders

By Dennis Thompson Jr., January 25, 2012, Statesman Journal

State workers in an Oregon AFSCME local are staging a protest vote about a controversial new wellness program that, if successful, will hit their union square in the pocketbook. Construction Contractors Board Local 3581 has filed paperwork with the state demanding a vote to rescind the “fair share” agreement under which its 85 workers must pay AFSCME dues regardless of whether they are union members. Anger about the new Health Engagement Model has put the local at odds with its union leadership, prompting what is called a “deauthorization” vote, Local 3581 President Joe Laria said. (read article)

California Settles Up — Interest Free — With State’s Prison Guards Union

By Jon Ortiz, January 26, 2012, Sacramento Bee

California’s prison officers union is getting a loan from taxpayers – interest-free – to settle a multimillion-dollar debt it owes the state. The deal sealed on Wednesday closes the books on what the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said was at least $4.5 million the California Correctional Peace Officers Association owed for wages and benefits paid to CCPOA leaders while they were away from their state jobs tending to union business. CCPOA, which represents about 30,000 correctional and parole officers, refused to settle the so-called “union paid leave” tab that has been running since 2005, saying it was being overcharged. (read article)

Neediest Valley residents hurt the most by 3-day Fresno County labor strike

By Kurtis Alexander, January 25, 2012, Fresno Bee

Jacqui Dixon borrowed gas money Wednesday to drive to town. So when she got here, the recently separated mother of two was outraged to find a “closed” sign at her destination: a social services office shut down during the Fresno County labor strike. “I can’t believe this,” Dixon said. “My kids are hungry. The office is supposed to be here to help people.” The three-day walkout by as many as 2,000 county workers has yet to have an effect on contract negotiations. Employees and management remain at odds. But the strike had a definite impact on county residents — particularly those with the greatest needs. The walk-off, which was scheduled to end Wednesday night, left an untold number of people shut out of contact with welfare workers, family counselors and health-care providers. Dixon was trying to get food stamps to feed her children, first on Monday and then again on Wednesday, when she found county services suspended. She said a friend gave her a ham, which she said would have to do. “I’m really embarrassed being in this situation,” Dixon said. “I’ve been trying to make ends meet, but it doesn’t always work out.” Workers with the Service Employees International Union and California Nurses Association went on strike in protest of 9%-and-higher pay cuts received in December. The county has refused to reconsider the cuts, insisting higher pay is unaffordable. (read article)

Promotions unpopular for California firefighters earning overtime

By Jon Ortiz, January 26, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Some of California’s rank-and-file firefighters earn so much money in overtime that the state has revived pay bonuses worth thousands of dollars to lure them into management. The problem at the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over the last decade, as the state negotiated firefighter contracts that boosted overtime pay without consistently raising supervisors’ wages. Along with the department’s graying ranks and early-retirement incentives, the developments have depleted Cal Fire’s leadership ranks. Persuading line firefighters to take those management positions and give up the overtime money has proved difficult. “Basically, when you’re an assistant chief, you make less money, have more responsibility and work longer hours.” (read article)

Public employees union heaps cash into GOP ad attacks on Romney

By Luke Rosiak, January 22, 2012, Washington Times

An unlikely combatant has jumped into the big-money battle between independent groups running ads weighing in on the Republican presidential primary: a national union representing public employees. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent $1 million Friday on an ad accusing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of greed, Federal Election Commission records show. The liberal group’s intent is to sway the outcome of the Republican primary in Florida, with ads running there before the state’s party elections Jan. 31. The strategy seems to indicate that the union views Mr. Romney as the most realistic threat to President Obama and would much prefer to see Republicans field another candidate, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, against Mr. Obama in the general election. The piling-on of a liberal group on top of the Republican organizations attacking Mr. Romney highlights an irony to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that injected massive independent expenditures into politics with a ruling cheered by many conservatives: The majority of the spending thus far has been used to demonize Republicans. (read article)

Strange Bedfellows: AFSCME spends $1 million to aid Gingrich

By Bob Beauprez, January 24, 2012, Townhall.com

If it wasn’t already strange enough to have professed free-market conservatives attacking a candidate for his free-market success, the GOP presidential primary just got even weirder. The big labor union that represents government workers is spending $1 million on a television ad in Florida to attack Mitt Romney’s record as a businessman.  It’s an ad clearly designed to aid Newt Gingrich, but AFSCME, the Association of Federal, State, County, and Municipal Employees, is no friend of the GOP. As the Miami Herald points out, that million dollars is much bigger than Newt’s ad buy for the Florida primary, which comes to a grand total of zero dollars. AFSCME spent $67 million to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and they have every intention of doing everything in their power to elect Obama again.  After all, this is likely the most Big Labor friendly President in American history. (read article)

Unions losing influence in Sacramento?

By Ryan Lillis, January 24, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Labor unions, historically a powerful interest group at Sacramento City Hall, are suddenly at a crossroads. Labor’s steadiest ally on the City Council, Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, said Monday she is stepping down. Harry Rotz, the most influential leader in local labor – and perhaps city politics – just retired. Finally, a June ballot measure seeks to bar the city from entering into agreements ensuring union labor will be used on publicly funded construction projects. All of this is happening as city officials demand employees contribute more toward their pensions, a common theme playing out in cash-strapped locales across the state and country. (read article)

Big Labor’s Wisconsin Vendetta

Editorial, January 24, 2012, Wall Street Journal

They swore revenge for his offenses, and last week Wisconsin Democrats delivered what they say are a million signatures for the recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker. If they do make the ballot and cause a recall vote as early as this spring, they’ll have to campaign against reforms that have already saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and rescued the state from a budget crisis. Game on. Since last summer, unions have fired every weapon in their arsenal at Mr. Walker and state senators who voted for his collective-bargaining reforms for government workers. Union members must now contribute… (read article – subscription required)

Juan Williams Skewers Chicago Teachers Union in New Film

By Kyle Olson, January 24, 2012, Big Government

“A Tale of Two Missions” – a film by Juan Williams and Kyle Olson (and directed by Chicago-based Andrew Marcus) – tells the story of competing cultures in American education through examples from Chicago. While the fight for school choice rages across the nation, perhaps no better example exists than that of the Windy City.  Traditional alliances are breaking down.  Both political parties are pushing for education reform and expanded school choice.  The status quo is under attack, because most reasonable people understand that thousands of Chicago students are trapped in failing schools. But the education establishment, led by the radical Chicago Teachers Union, is not willing to give an inch to allow better choices for underserved students. And the union still has enough money, influence and legal standing to make reform efforts difficult to implement. The film features the Noble Street College Prep charter school and the amazing results its teachers and leaders are delivering for students and parents of Chicago.  It also exposes the entrenched educational establishment bent on stifling school choice options and preserving its monopoly on state education dollars. (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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