Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Dems, labor say federal workers are being scapegoated

By Bernie Becker, February 6, 2012, The Hill

Public employee unions and congressional Democrats are pushing back on GOP proposals to overhaul federal pension procedures, as Republicans press to use savings wrung from the government workforce to pay for other initiatives. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said Monday that new efforts to revamp the federal pension system would amount to a broken promise to federal employees. Connolly also said that the GOP’s budget-cutting efforts were targeting middle-class public employees, while casting a blind eye toward wealthier taxpayers. “Federal employees are now fair game, because they see some short-term political advantage in making them a scapegoat,” Connolly, a member of the House Oversight Committee, said about congressional Republicans. “I think that’s really unfortunate.” The Monday conference call came a day before a House Oversight subcommittee was set to mark up a Republican proposal that would significantly reduce pensions for new federal employees. (read article)

Alabama’s union membership rate leads the region

By Roy L. Williams, February 6, 2012, The Birmingham News

Alabama’s union membership rate fell again last year but remains far above that of other states in the Southeast, raising old fears that high unionization levels could be a disadvantage in business recruitment contests. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that 10 percent of Alabama workers belonged to unions in 2011, down from 10.1 percent in the previous year. Union membership in Alabama has remained fairly consistent over the past decade and has long been the highest in the region. Alabama’s rate is lower than the U.S. average of 11.8 percent in 2011. Among neighboring states, Florida had the second highest union membership rate at 6.3 percent in 2011. Georgia’s was lowest, at 3.9 percent, the BLS data shows. (read article)

Unions `frustrated’ with Senate Dems and White House

By Greg Sargent, February 6, 2012, The Washington Post

Are Senate Dems and the White House about to create another minor headache for themselves on the left? I’m told that unions are “frustrated” with both over the big compromise Senate Dems reached with House Republicans on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill — which unions believe will make organizing harder for hundreds of thousands of railway and airline workers. But unions are resigned: They expect that Senate Dems will pass the bill tonight, I’m told. “We’re frustrated that the White House was not more engaged in this,” says Shane Larson, the legislative director of the Communications Workers of America, which along with the International Association of Machinists is leading the battle against the deal. “The Senate leadership and the White House have left us behind,” adds Rich Michalski, vice president of the Internional Association of Machinists, which is also fighting the deal. “This will negatively impact over 260,000 railroad and rail transportation workers.” This was one of labor’s top priorities for 2012, though it’s unclear how much of labor is currently united against the emerging deal. (read article)

Corporate Front Group Airs Misleading Anti-Union Ad During Super Bowl

By Travis Waldron, February 6, 2012, Think Progress

While Super Bowl XLVI will be remembered for its dramatic ending, the issue of workers’ rights and union representation also surrounded the National Football League’s biggest game. A labor dispute nearly cost the NFL its 2011-12 season, and in the days before the game, Indiana passed an anti-union “right to work” law that led to union and Occupy protests at Indianapolis’ Super Bowl festivities throughout the week. But despite fears from sports columnists and right-wing blogs that the protesters would “ruin the Super Bowl,” the only visible advocacy for some of the game’s viewers came in the form of a misleading anti-union attack ad from a corporate front group. The Center For Union Facts, an organization that has run newspaper ads comparing unions to Kim Jong-il’s authoritarian North Korean regime and endorsed an editorial comparing unions to Nazis, produced and paid for the 40-second ad, which ran in the Washington DC television market just before halftime ended. (read article)

The Obama Labor Department Suppresses the Facts

By Howard Foster, February 6, 2012, Huffington Post

The Department of Labor recently issued a new regulation requiring all employers to post a notice in the workplace advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act to organize a union. This is true, and it is also the law that employers cannot retaliate against employees who do so. Of course, if the Obama Labor Department were really interested in informing employees of their rights, the notice would go on to inform workers that in 23 states (including newly added Indiana), they have the right not to join a labor union or pay union dues. So if their employer is operating under a “collective bargaining agreement” negotiated by a union, workers can choose not to pay dues, most of which are used to promote Democratic party candidates and causes or union organizing campaigns. That is, most of those dues do not help workers. (read article)

Nurses flex their political muscle in Sacramento and across California

By Darrell Smith and Phillip Reese, February 5, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Rose Ann DeMoro is always ready for another fight. And why not? During the past decade, the leader of the California Nurses Association has won so many of her battles. Largely because of CNA efforts, California is poised to become the first state where registered nurses make an average salary above $100,000. The union helped defeat gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman in 2010 and has become a political force, throwing financial support behind candidates for offices ranging from Santa Rosa City Council to state attorney general. And more recently, nurses flexed their muscles with a series of one-day walkouts in support of other hospital employees who are in tough contract negotiations. “This is a significant career with responsibility for life and death,” DeMoro said. Hospitals, she said, “are looking to make more money off the backs of nurses. That’s not going to happen.” The health care industry bristles at CNA tactics, including last Tuesday’s one-day nurse walkout at Kaiser Permanente hospitals alongside striking workers from the smaller National Union of Healthcare Workers. Hospital officials say the solidarity strikes put patients at risk. (read article)

Labor unions facing fight over pensions

Editorial, February 4, 2012, Los Angeles Times

California labor unions are bracing for a fight this fall. They face a one-two punch, a right-left combination of sorts. From the right comes a November state ballot initiative backed by Republicans that could weaken unions’ political power by requiring them to get members’ permission to spend dues money on campaigns. From the left – at least, from a Democrat usually friendlier to labor – comes Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to place a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to reform the state and local public employees’ pension systems. Some analysts predict a California version of last year’s Wisconsin brawl, in which a new law limiting public workers’ bargaining rights sparked demonstrations and recall efforts. It probably won’t get as noisy here. But the issues feel as big. Preparation for the California initiatives should involve soul-searching about new perceptions of unions’ roles in public life and their response to governments’ fiscal problems. The crucial soul-searching must be done by unions themselves. If growing numbers of Californians take a dim view of unions, it’s because citizens increasingly disapprove of labor’s unwillingness to allow retirement benefits to be reined in as a way to help cities and states through their financial crises. Many people think public-sector workers’ pensions are out of control. Private-sector workers view those pensions with envy and resentment. (read article)

Labor unions targeted by several Missouri bills

February 4, 2012, Springfield News-Leader

Another fight may be brewing in the General Assembly this year over the role of organized labor in Missouri. Several bills targeting labor unions are moving forward in the House and Senate. The measures include the near-annual effort to make Missouri a right-to-work state, changes to prevailing wage laws and a ban on public sector unions from automatically deducting membership fees from paychecks. Some members of the Republican majority in both chambers say the changes will help Missouri’s economic recovery, but labor groups and Democrats said the bills will only hurt workers. “It is a continual attack on organized labor,” said Randy Appleby, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 453 in Springfield. Leaders in the House and Senate say they don’t believe there is strong support for some controversial measures such as right-to-work, which would prevent businesses from making union membership a requirement of employment. (read article)

Effort to oust Wisconsin governor could be turning point in reforming public-employee unions

Editorial, February 3, 2012, Orange County Register

If a national symbol exists for the movement to rein in the power of public employee unions, it is Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker. He pushed aggressive measures to curb the power and influence of government unions and now faces a union-funded recall campaign, which, if successful will empower unions and expand their power in Wisconsin and throughout the country, including in California. One million petition signatures were submitted last week, seeking the recall of Mr. Walker in retribution for his 2010 successful reform agenda which included revisions to the pension system, the ways union dues are collected and collective bargaining. He predicted a recall election would be held in June or July. (read article)

‘Green’ local labor union sprouts: First seven members graduate from training center in Glenmont

By Brian Nearing, February 3, 2012, Albany Times Union

The Capital Region has its first “green” local for a labor union, with workers specializing in weatherization and other green jobs. The first seven members of Green Jobs Local 58 graduated Friday from Eastern New York Laborers Training Center in Glenmont. “This the first local in the area exclusively for green jobs,” said Frank Marchese Jr., the local’s business manager. It was chartered last summer by Laborers International Union of North America. Marchese said the local’s members came from the Peter Young Housing Industries and Treatment organization, which helps people with substance abuse issues get treatment, housing and employment. (read article)

How hard is it to fire a state worker in California?

By Jon Ortiz, February 2, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Caltrans’ recent decision to “unfire” an employee who admitted falsifying structural tests and let him retire may leave you wondering, How hard is it to fire a state worker? So let’s take the aforementioned Duane Wiles. The state Transportation Department fired him in November after The Bee’s Charles Piller started asking questions about Wiles’ job performance in testing the new Bay Bridge span and other projects. As was his right, Wiles appealed his termination to the State Personnel Board. Caltrans and Wiles settled on an agreement that scrubbed the termination from his file and let him retire. In return, Wiles can’t sue the state or take another state job. But what if Caltrans had decided to push the case? Here’s a simplified explanation of how the state’s disciplinary system works: (read article)

The War on Organized Labor

By Andrew Rosenthal, February 2, 2012, The New York Times

In this image from video, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivers the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.APTN, via Associated PressIn this image from video, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivers the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. You have to admit that the Republican Party is organized, methodical and persistent – especially if you’re a Democrat, because your party is pretty much the opposite. Slowly but surely, across the country, Republican governors and state legislatures are making progress in their war against labor unions, especially ones that represent public employees. Just yesterday, there was bad news from two states. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill making Indiana another “right to work” state, which is one of those slogans, like “pro-life” and “family values,” that sounds unobjectionable, but isn’t. That law is relatively simple: It prohibits labor contracts from requiring workers to pay union dues. The spin is that this is better for everyone. The truth is that it is not only bad for labor but also bad for the economy. (read article)

Labor Torn on Super Bowl Protests

By Douglas Belkin and Jack Nicas, February 1, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Many union sympathizers see Sunday’s Super Bowl here as a golden opportunity to draw attention to a bill in the Indiana Legislature critics say would deal a serious blow to organized labor. But labor activists aren’t sure whether protesting around America’s biggest sporting event—its world-wide TV audience is expected to top 100 million—would generate sympathy or fuel anger that could damage their cause. “Union workers built that stadium, they should have the right to demonstrate in front of it,” said Perry Stabler, a retired steelworker as he demonstrated inside the Indiana statehouse. Nearby, union boilermaker Pete Etoler drew a line between protesting politicians and disrupting the highest-profile event in the Hoosier State’s history. “I think it will hurt our cause,” he said. “We’re trying to build up Indiana and bring businesses here. That won’t help.” At issue is a bill that would ban contracts that require all employees to pay union dues, making Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state in the U.S. Republicans say the bill will help attract employers to the state. (read article)

Sweeping bills attack Arizona’s public employee unions

By Brahm Resnik, January 31, 2012, AZ Central

Arizona’s Republican Legislature could virtually wipe out public employee unions in a sweeping new package of legislation far broader than the collective-bargaining bills that shut down Wisconsin’s Capitol last spring. The bills would: (1) Make it illegal for government bodies to collectively bargain with employee groups. Public safety unions would be included in the ban. (2) End the practice of automatic payroll deductions for union dues. (3) Ban compensation of public employees for union work. Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law enacted last year made unions effectively irrelevant by limiting issues that could be bargained by a government and an employee group. Arizona’s bills would do away with collective bargaining entirely and also go beyond Wisconsin law by including public safety unions. Coupled with Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to do away with civil-service protections  for state employees, the new legislation could make Arizona ground zero for union protests during this election year. (read article)

PLAs abuse public interest and misuse taxpayer funds

By Eric Cristen, January 29, 2012, U-T San Diego

Why do Americans rank unions so low in their opinions today? I have an idea why that is. Ever since Big Labor special interests chased away the $1 billion Gaylord resort in Chula Vista three years ago — and the thousands of construction and permanent jobs that would have gone with it – San Diego and the surrounding region have been ground zero in the battle over Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). A PLA is a union creation that is written by and for Big Labor special interests that comprise less than 15 percent of the construction workforce locally and nationally. It mandates that merit shop workers pay union dues, pay into union pension plans, be hired through a union hiring hall, and they explicitly exclude union-free apprenticeship programs like those run locally by Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, and the Western Electrical Contractors Association. (read article)

Bill Could End Employee Collective Bargaining in South Dakota

by David Brown, January 28, 2012, Keloland TV, Sioux Falls

A bill that would end collective bargaining rights for public employees in South Dakota has lost its prime sponsor in the Senate. Stan Adelstein withdrew his support Saturday, leaving House representative Brian Liss as the only prime sponsor of the bill. The legislation brings up a very contentious topic that’s been introduced in other states. But representative Liss says the Rushmore State needs it. House Bill 1261 isn’t very long, but it’s definitely clear. “Collective bargaining has been used by the unions to rampage in other states,” Rep. Liss said. “It’s like Godzilla. They’re inhaling as many dollars as they can and incinerating anybody they don’t like.” (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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