Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Michigan Unions Look to Amend Constitution to Block Anti-Labor Bills

Jane Slaughter, February 20, 2012, Labor Notes

Michigan’s top union leaders are meeting behind closed doors to decide whether to attempt to amend the state constitution to block emergency managers and a “right to work” law through a ballot initiative this November. Governor Mitch Daniels received a bouquet of roses after he signed Indiana’s right-to-work law in February—not from U.S. Steel or Subaru or other grateful Indiana employers, but from an ambitious Republican in next-door Michigan. State Representative Michael Shirkey said he wanted to thank Daniels for setting the bar high, while promoting his own drive for right to work. Though no credible research backs him, Shirkey claims Indiana now has the edge in attracting investment, so he wants to “eliminate as an obstacle and level the playing field.” Michigan’s workforce is 16.5 percent unionized. Although Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he’s not interested in pushing right to work, unionists note Daniels said the same thing before reversing course this year. As in Indiana, Republicans control both houses of the Michigan legislature. Michigan’s top union leaders are meeting behind closed doors to decide whether to take on the huge fight it would require to amend the state constitution to block right to work, with a ballot initiative this November. (read article)

A big win for Chicago Public Schools’ students at the expense of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Editorial, February 20, 2012, Chicago Tribune

In any school, no priority — such as employee tenure — should outweigh putting the most skilled teacher possible at the head of every classroom. You won’t find that sentence in an important decision the Illinois Supreme Court handed down Friday. But that’s the de facto impact of a big win for Chicago Public Schools at the expense of the Chicago Teachers Union. The broad context here is that, in too many U.S. school districts, labor contracts perversely give more weight to the interests of adult educators than to the needs of young students: Seniority clauses protect inadequate teachers just as efficiently as they protect the very best. The narrower context here goes to the summer of 2010 when CPS, facing a big budget deficit for the next school year, laid off 1,289 teachers. An increase in federal funding offset much of the deficit. In subsequently filling vacancies, though, CPS didn’t give tenured teachers preference; instead the district recalled 715 of the laid-off teachers — but also mixed in new hires of its choosing. The CTU went to federal court, essentially arguing that the district had improperly fired many of its tenured members. After a tortuous path, the dispute landed in the Illinois Supreme Court. (read article)

Union elections: Stop the ‘ambushes’

Editorial, February 20, 2012, Savannah Morning News

President Obama continues to align himself with Big Labor and against American businesses to win a second term. His latest deal with labor bosses is especially radical — a rule that makes it easier for unions to hold “ambush elections” at workplaces to gain new members. Blame the National Labor Relations Board. This important federal panel used to be an impartial arbiter of labor-management issues in this country. Under Mr. Obama, it has essentially functioned as another arm of his re-election team. In December, prior to the expiration of NLRB member Craig Becker’s recess appointment, the NLRB quickly issued a final rule to allow union bosses to “ambush” employers with union elections before employers have a fair chance to learn their rights and explain their views to employees, as required by law. The change limits the issues and evidence that can be presented at a pre-election hearing. Thus if employees have questions or concerns about unions and management before they vote, they won’t get answers. They’ll be voting in the dark. In addition, the rule eliminates the current 25-day “grace period.” This will put significant strain on business owners, especially smaller and struggling ones, who lack the resources or legal expertise to address the union election process in a short time frame. Several groups who are concerned about business and employment have filed a lawsuit to contest the rule. While it appears to violate the National Labor Relations Act, there’s no guarantee that a court will toss it. (read article)

Indiana’s new right-to-work law could prompt copycats

By Tony Pugh, February 19, 2012, Kansas City Star

When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation this month making Indiana the nation’s first new right-to-work state in more than a decade, it turned up the heat on a long-simmering debate about the true intent and impact of the controversial anti-union laws. By making it illegal to force employees to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment, state right-to-work laws are touted as a prime enticement for businesses looking to relocate and keep their labor costs down. That clearly was Daniels’ thinking. “Seven years of evidence and experience ultimately demonstrated that Indiana did need a right-to-work law to capture jobs for which, despite our highly-rated business climate, we are not currently being considered,” Daniels said in a statement after the signing. (read article)

San Diego tackles municipal pensions

By Tony Perry, February 19, 2012, Los Angeles Times

The numbers released by the city’s leading pension hawk were meant to shock: a retired assistant city attorney with an annual pension of $307,758; a chief librarian receiving $234,091; an 80% increase in the last two years in the number of retired city employees with pensions of more than $100,000. “At a time when roads are falling apart, services are being cut and private-sector taxpayers are facing difficult economic realities, these pension payouts are simply offensive,” Councilman Carl DeMaio, a candidate for mayor, said at a news conference last week. At roughly the same time, city labor unions were in court asking a judge to block the city from putting a pension overhaul measure favored by DeMaio on the June ballot. A hearing is set for Tuesday. The measure would end guaranteed pensions for newly hired employees and instead provide 401(k) accounts for everyone except police. The measure would also freeze salaries at which pensions are calculated for five years. The unions — backed by the state’s Public Employee Relations Board — say the mayor and council committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to negotiate over the 401(k) issue and instead pretended the measure was a “citizens initiative” when it was actually orchestrated by DeMaio and Mayor Jerry Sanders. (read article)

Unions return to Democratic fold for 2012 election

By Matea Gold and Melanie Mason, February 19, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Last May, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stood a few blocks from the White House and issued a stern warning: Union members could not be counted on as the Democrats’ foot soldiers anymore. “If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, then working people will not support them,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club. Flash forward to today: Labor appears squarely back in the Democrats’ corner for the 2012 election — pushed there in large part by Republican attacks on collective bargaining rights for public employees. Those and other anti-union measures are rallying organized labor to the side of its longtime Democratic allies, and not just in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, where they are battling efforts aimed at curbing union organizing. The country’s biggest unions also have played a central role in helping a network of federal pro-Democratic “super PACs” get off the ground, pouring more than $4 million into those groups in 2011, even as many wealthy liberals kept their checkbooks closed. And some major labor groups have even inserted themselves into the Republican presidential primaries with ads that take aim at White House hopeful Mitt Romney. (read article)

America’s last hope: A strong labor movement

By Dorian Warren, February 19, 2012, Salon

The 99 Percent Plan is a joint Roosevelt Institute-Salon series that explores how progressives can shape a new vision for the economy. This is the third essay in the series. The fate of the labor movement is the fate of American democracy. Without a strong countervailing force like organized labor, corporations and wealthy elites advancing their own interests are able to exert undue influence over the political system, as we’ve seen in every major policy debate of recent years. Yet the American labor movement is in crisis and is the weakest it’s been in 100 years. That truism has been a progressive mantra since the Clinton administration. However, union density has continued to decline from roughly 16 percent in 1995 to 11.8 percent of all workers and just 6.9 percent of workers in the private sector. Unionized workers in the public sector now make up the majority of the labor movement for the first time in history, which is precisely why — a la Wisconsin and 14 other states — they have been targeted by the right for all out destruction. (read article)

Pension Plot Allegations by Unions Against San Jose Mayor Miss the Mark

Editorial, February 18, 2012, Mercury News

Now that the smoke has cleared, it’s obvious there’s no substance behind the propaganda grenade that’s been lobbed at San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed over his use of a worst-case estimate of pension obligations in 2015-16. Claims that the city retirement director asked for and got a bogus pension projection from the independent actuary Cheiron are ridiculous, too. And if city unions made concessions last year because of the mayor’s rhetoric, they were not paying attention. The budget deficit last June was no projection. It was an actual shortage for the current year, when pension costs totaled $245 million, more than three times what they were a decade ago. If union leaders regret making concessions to save 400 colleagues’ jobs, well, at least city residents can be grateful that libraries are open for a few more hours and that there aren’t even fewer police officers on the streets. The most unfortunate thing about this smoke screen is that it obscures the continuing need for pension reform to keep San Jose’s plans solvent and maintain city services. (read article)

Federal Union Flips Out Over 0.8% Increase in Pension Contribution

By Mike Flynn, February 18, 2012, Big Government

To fully appreciate the herculean task required to get our fiscal house in order, consider this; the recently brokered deal to extend the payroll tax holiday is partially offset by raising by 0.8% the amount federal workers contribute to their pensions. The union reaction? “Working class men and women who have dedicated their lives to serve their country should not be on the hook for solving a crisis they did not create,” American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage said. Continuing to attack federal employees’ pay and benefits doesn’t create new jobs and only adds to the pain and suffering many working class men and women are experiencing,” Gage said. And, no, I didn’t get that decimal point wrong. It really is a 0.8% increase. So, if, say, a federal worker is currently contributing $100 towards their pension in any given period, they will now have to kick in an extra 80 cents. This is an “attack” on “working men and women”? Amazingly, this near-rounding-error of an increase is expected to “save” $15 billion over the next year or so. That’s real money. Increasing federal workers’ pension contributions by a modest 10% could, it would seem, generate close to $200 billion in savings. So, why aren’t we hearing more about these kind of budget savings? The short answer, of course, is that we’ve allowed the creation of a union-government industrial complex. Federal, state and local governments are stacked with a permanent taxpayer-funded lobby for expanding government and fighting efforts to curtail government spending. (read article)

David Koch intends to cure cancer in his lifetime and remake American politics

By Stacey Singer, February 18, 2012, Palm Beach Post

David Koch has become the face of conservative America’s obsession with weakening organized labor, and for that, he believes, there have been death threats – 100 credible threats last year alone, he says. Journalists tend to describe the lanky MIT-trained chemical engineer and his brother Charles with the phrase “secretive oil billionaires.” They describe a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators – even U.S. Supreme Court justices. “They make me sound like a bully,” David Koch says when asked about journalists, looking a little baffled. “Do I look like a bully?” (read article)

Romney targets labor unions, which could be risky come fall

Steven Thomma, February 17, 2012, McClatchy Newspapers

Mitt Romney has a new high-risk target in his campaign for president: labor unions. He’s casting himself as one of the strongest anti-union candidates in memory, a move he hopes will appeal to anti-union conservatives, open rival Rick Santorum to charges of a liberal pro-union voting record, win the pivotal Michigan primary on Feb. 28 and cement his now shaky grasp on the Republican nomination. Yet should it work, the union-bashing campaign offers uncertain prospects in a general-election campaign, particularly in the unionized, industrial Rust Belt. States there such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will be key battlegrounds. A changing political and economic landscape there makes it impossible to predict how voters would react. (read article)

President Visits Union Strongholds

By Carol E. Lee and Jared Favole

When Boeing Co. was battling the National Labor Relations Board over a plan to open a nonunion plant in South Carolina, President Barack Obama distanced himself from the dispute, saying the NLRB was an independent agency. On Friday, as part of a three-state, three-day trip mostly focused on re-election fund raising, the president is set to visit the unionized Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., at the center of the battle, a move the labor movement is interpreting as a sign of support for its cause. President Obama talks with a worker at Master Lock Co. in Milwaukee. Mr. Obama began his trip at a Milwaukee plant where workers are members of the United Auto Workers. After shying away in the past from rhetoric championing unions, Mr. Obama is increasingly taking a pro-labor stance amid an election-year fight between the two parties over how much of a role the government and unions should play in revitalizing economy. (read article)

Scott Walker Allies Launch Ad Campaign in Wisconsin

By Sean Sullivan, February 16, 2012, National Journal

In advance of a near certain recall election, a national ally of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is taking to the airwaves with a new TV ad aimed at bolstering the image of Walker’s controversial budget repair law, and features state workers touting the measure’s reforms. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the 501(c)3 sister origination of Americans for Prosperity, is launching a new minute-long spot featuring state workers praising the reforms enacted by Walker’s controversial law, which curbed collective bargaining for public employees. “I’m a state employee. And while I’m paying some of my insurance and retirement costs now, I know I have better benefits than most,” says a man named “Shannon,” who is identified as a state employee in the spot. (read article)

Unions rally to kick off Walker recall state tour

By Chris Hubbuch, February 16, 2012, LaCrosse Tribune

Wisconsin labor leaders kicked off a statewide tour Wednesday night in La Crosse to mark the one-year anniversary of a Republican-backed bill that curbed collective bargaining for public workers and call for the ouster of Gov. Scott Walker. About 150 labor supporters — and half a dozen Walker loyalists — attended the rally in Copeland Park where local public sector workers talked about the impact of the GOP budget reforms. The eight-city AFL-CIO tour will culminate with a March 10 rally in Madison. “It’s all about taking our government back — the middle class taking our government back,” said Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. “It’s not just public unions.” (read article)

Walker seeks two more weeks for recall signature review

By Scott Bauer, February 16, 2012, Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign has asked a judge to give his campaign an additional two weeks to review signatures on recall petitions, saying it doesn’t have enough time to go over the estimated 1 million signatures submitted last month. The request, filed Monday, was to be considered Friday by Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess. Walker’s campaign said in the filing that the ordering of any election would not be substantively delayed by its request. But Democrats objected, saying it was a “virtual certainty” that if approved any recall election would be delayed. “The time needed to search for duplicates, as well as to provide a factual basis for objections to more than 100,000 signatures, cannot be met within the existing time limits,” Walker’s court filing said. Niess already has granted Walker 30 days to review the petitions. That is 20 days more than the law requires. If Walker is given another two weeks, his deadline for filing challenges would be pushed from Feb. 27 to March 12. Recall organizers have five days after that to respond to the challenges and Walker’s campaign has another two days, ending March 19, for rebuttals. That’s the same day as the current deadline for the Government Accountability Board to determine whether the necessary 540,208 signatures were collected to call an election. (read article)

Federal Workers Face ‘Unprecedented Assault’ in U.S. Budget War

By Kristin Jensen, February 16, 2012, Bloomberg

Congress is considering ways to cut U.S. federal workers’ pay, benefits and possibly their jobs even as a record number are borrowing against pensions. Concern over the situation almost derailed a deal to extend the payroll tax cut this week as several lawmakers objected to a provision that would have required federal workers to contribute more to their pensions. In the end, negotiators agreed to target newly hired federal workers. There’s more ahead, as moves to hold down government salaries mirror tightening at the state and local levels. Congress is considering extending a two-year federal pay freeze for another year, through 2013. Bills designed to reduce the federal workforce continue to be introduced. And another measure is pending that includes across-the-board requirements for more contributions to pensions. “We are witnessing an unprecedented assault on public employees and federal employees in particular,” said U.S. Representative Gerald Connolly, a Democrat whose suburban Virginia district has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of government workers. “I am mortally offended on their behalf that they continue to be singled out for every sacrifice.” (read article)

Walker’s policies are moving state forward

By Rebecca Kleefisch, February 16, 2012, LaCrosse Tribune

We can all agree on one thing in Kathleen Falk’s column (Tuesday’s La Crosse Tribune). She said, “Wisconsin deserves a governor who is open, honest and transparent.” In November of 2010 we elected that governor. By making Scott Walker the 45th governor of the great state of Wisconsin, the voters resoundingly told the status quo, big-government types that their time in power was up: We just couldn’t afford them anymore. The hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin are sick and tired of the days of mega budget deficits and sweetheart, back-room deals for big-government, public-sector union bosses. Walker laid out an aggressive and fair plan that ensured Wisconsinites would see their tax burdens dramatically lowered. Walker finally gave the freedom of choice to the more than 300,000 public employees who have been forced for more than 50 years to join public-sector unions and hand over as much as $1,000 or more each year in union dues. (read article)

Controller Tom DiNapoli stands with unions, not taxpayers, on pensions

Editorial, February 15, 2012, New York Daily News

State Controller Tom DiNapoli knows who his friends are — and they are not New York taxpayers or fellow Democrat Gov. Cuomo. DiNapoli is going all in on behalf of public worker labor unions as they battle Cuomo’s proposed money-saving pension reforms. He’s playing on the faith vested in him as sole trustee of the state’s retirement system to propagandize in defense of the indefensible. Worse, like the labor lobbyists he parrots, DiNapoli has taken to twisting facts to make his case — as demonstrated by a highly misleading video posted on his official website. There, DiNapoli touts the pension system as “financially sound and sustainable” — which is true only because the retirement funds enjoy unfettered access to unlimited amounts of taxpayer money. Slow the flow of those dollars, and the shooting match goes belly up. (read article)

Labor Union Plays the Blame Game

By Tyler Hayden, February 14, 2012, Santa Barbara Independent

They’re hard to miss: nearly a dozen 20-foot-long banners staked throughout Santa Barbara and Goleta emblazoned with big red letters that spell “SHAME ON .” And the issue, on the surface, is easy to understand: bad blood between a local carpenters union and Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital over a lost contract. But how and why the union chose the people its targeting, and what exactly it hopes to accomplish with the ongoing public protests, is much less clear. Carpenters Local 150 started bannering Goleta Hospital Foundation trustees last month — in front of their regular places of business — claiming the hospital, its board of trustees, and its main contractor should be faulted for hiring non-union subcontractors from outside the area. (read article)

Ohio voters open to “right-to-work” law: poll

By Kim Palmer, Feb 14, 2012, Reuters

A majority of Ohio voters support joining neighboring Indiana as an anti-union “right-to-work” state, three months after Ohio voters supported labor by rejecting an anti-public union law, a Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday found. Fifty-four percent of Ohio registered voters polled favored adopting a “right-to-work” law that would ban workers from being required to join a union or pay dues. Forty percent opposed it. Indiana on February 1 became the 23rd state, and the first in the nation’s Midwestern manufacturing heartland, to enact a “right-to-work” law, and supporters of similar measures in Ohio hope to put the issue to a vote as a proposed state constitutional amendment. (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!