Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Teachers union leads in record year of lobbying lawmakers

By Patrick McGreevy, March 6, 2012, Los Angeles Times

Labor group spent $6.5 million, part of a $286.6-million effort by lobbyists to court legislators. The economy and a new Democratic governor after seven years of a business-friendly Republican are key factors. State Assemblyman Warren Furutani looked out over a sea of red — protesting oil industry workers wearing scarlet T-shirts — and saw trouble for his plan to raise $2.5 billion for universities with a tax on crude. The Central Valley workers had packed a legislative hearing to oppose the idea. Their shirts said “Save Our Jobs” and oil companies had spent close to $5,000 to bus them to the Capitol from Bakersfield. The bill died, one of many victories for an industry that paid $12 million to an army of lobbyists last year to do its bidding. Businesses, unions and other interests set a record in 2011 for money spent lobbying the state: $286.6 million, a 6.8% increase from the year before, according to recent filings. That surprised even veteran Capitol watchers, who refer to the lobbying corps as the “Third House” because its power rivals that of the two houses of the Legislature.  (read article)

Union support could hurt Falk in Wisconsin Governor recall election

By Steven Verburg, March 6, 2012, Wisconsin State Journal

As major unions began endorsing Kathleen Falk in the recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker, some union members wished labor leaders had waited for more candidates to emerge. Since then, polls indicate Falk has drawn even with Walker, but she may have fallen farther behind a potential Democratic Party primary rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was spurned by major public employee unions. Those unions “may have done more harm to Kathleen Falk than good,” said Jim Palmer, executive director the Wisconsin Professional Police Association union. “She is going to have to carry this moniker of the hand-picked union candidate. I think Wisconsin wants a broader agenda.” Falk backers say she’s running a broad-based campaign, and the union backing will provide the campaign foot soldiers who can turn out the large numbers of Democratic voters needed in what is shaping up as a tight election.  (read article)

California: Lobbyists get record amount of money, $287 million

Associated Press, March 6, 2012, Reno Gazzette Journal

California businesses, labor unions and other interests paid a record $287 million on lobbyists last year to sway lawmakers on decisions for spending taxpayer money and favorable legislation. The Los Angeles Times says a record 2,768 entities hired lobbyists, leading to the 6.8 percent increase in lobbyist spending. The lobbyists and entities that hire them say the budget crisis has forced them to be more aggressive. The California Teachers Association spent the most — $6.5 million. Besides seven in-house lobbyists, the teachers union entertained elected officials and their staffs with meals and helped pay travel and lodging costs for hundreds of teachers that converged on Sacramento for a May “week of action” on the budget crisis. The lobbying activity is disclosed in quarterly reports to the secretary of state.  (read article)

Labor dispute shadows Republicans, boosts Obama in Ohio

By Jeff Mason, March 6, 2012, Reuters

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum fight to win Ohio’s presidential primary on Tuesday, Republican hopes of victory here in November may be jeopardized by lingering fallout over a labor rights dispute that left blue-collar voters cold. A failed attempt by the state’s Republican governor to limit collective bargaining rights for public unions last year altered the political landscape in this battleground state. Ohio Democrats are enjoying greater fundraising and the unlikely return of middle class “Reagan Democrats” to the party after voters repealed a law championed by Governor John Kasich to limit collective bargaining rights for fire fighters, police officers, and other state workers. “We had some of the best fundraising months in our state’s history in an odd year, and those dollars came from … low dollar donors that had not participated in the party but were drawn to it because of the attacks on collective bargaining,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. Online donations alone for the party quadrupled in 2011. “It’s indicative of a pendulum swinging in our direction, taking advantage of what occurred at the state level and now going into 2012 with a full head of steam,” Redfern said.  (read article)

Workers oppose union challenge to Ind. right-to-work law

By Michael P. Tremoglie, March 5, 2012, Legal News Online

A group of Indiana workers filed an amicus brief in U.S. District Court in response to a labor union’s federal lawsuit against Indiana’s right-to-work law. The amicus brief filed March 2 in Hammond, Ind., supports the defendants Gov. Mitch Daniels, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Labor Commissioner Lori Torres and the new law. Lawyers for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 union filed a federal lawsuit to block the Indiana bill on Feb. 22. The union lawyers contend that the right-to-work law is “pre-empted” by the National Labor Relations Act. However, according to the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF) which is providing free assistance to the four workers, federal labor law specifically affirms the right of states to enact right-to-work laws. David Bercot, a certified wastewater operator for ITR Concession Company which services Indiana toll road rest stops in the Fort Wayne-area; Joel Tibbetts, a Minteq International assistant manager in Valparaiso; Douglas Richards, an employee with Cequent Towing Products; and Larry Getts, a Dana Holding Corporation tube press technician in Albion — all joined in the brief defending the law.  (read article)

A Labor Force Faces the Ultimate in Downsizing

By Matthew Dolan, March 5, 2012, Wall Street Journal

To dig out of a fiscal mess, the city of Detroit has reached tentative labor deals with the leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the United Auto Workers and International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Then it had to win over Herbert Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins is president of the Assistant Supervisors of Street Maintenance and Construction Association, the union representing the leaders of Detroit’s pothole-repair crews. He also is the only member of that collective-bargaining unit. As recently as last fall, the union was double the size. Then the other guy retired. That left the presidency, uncontested, to Mr. Jenkins, a married father of six who has worked for Detroit for more than two decades. Such incongruities keep turning up in Detroit’s disordered government, which, like the city itself, is shrinking fast. The city of 713,000 now employs 11,000 workers, down from more than 13,000 when Mayor Dave Bing took office in 2009. Another 1,000 workers are scheduled to lose their jobs this year due to budget cuts. Yet this labor force retains a complex organizational structure, a vestige of a time when it served a population of nearly two million. Workers are represented by 21 unions and 48 bargaining units, several of which now have fewer than 10 members. The five police officers in the city’s health department have their own labor council. An independent union for city field engineers has two members.   (read article)

UAW troops will man class war

By Nolan Finley, March 4, 2012, The Detroit News

Now we know how United Auto Workers President Bob King will repay Barack Obama for holding the union harmless from the Detroit automakers’ bankruptcy: He’ll provide the ground troops for the president’s class war. The Daily Caller blog says it found evidence that King and the UAW are behind the “99 Percent Spring,” which aims to train and deploy 100,000 Americans for “non-violent direct action” in the months leading up to November’s presidential election. The Daily Caller says files on the group’s website, which have since disappeared, indicate the UAW is providing the organizational support for protests designed to support the president’s narrative that America is divided into two camps — the wealthy 1 percent and the struggling 99 percent. “99 Percent Spring” will replace the Democrat’s previous grassroots charade, the tainted Occupy movement, with its filthy camps and allegations of violence and rapes that gave it no chance of resonating with mainstream voters.  (read article)

Judge: Gov’t can require union posters at work

By Sam Hananel, March 3, 2012, Associated Press

A federal judge ruled Friday that the National Labor Relations Board can require most private businesses to put up posters telling workers they have a legal right to form a union. But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson limited how the board can enforce the requirement. She said simply failing to display the new NLRB poster isn’t automatically a legal violation without other evidence of anti-union conduct. The ruling pleased labor groups but disappointed business groups, which argued the new poster is too one-sided and seems to encourage workers to join unions. The posters, to be displayed effective April 30, explain workers’ rights to bargain collectively, distribute union literature and engage in other union activities without fear of reprisal. They also explain that workers have a right not to join a union. NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce said the decision means workers will have “meaningful awareness of their rights and protections under federal labor law.”  (read article)

Can Teachers Unions Do Education Reform?

By Allysia Finley, March 3, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Democratic activist Steve Barr thinks he’s found a solution for improving schools without jettisoning collective bargaining: Reformed unionism. Is this an oxymoron or the real deal? “You can’t go into and change an 80-to-90 percent unionized industry without unionized labor,” Mr. Barr, CEO of Future Is Now Schools, explains. Toyota and Honda might beg to differ, but Mr. Barr is determined to prove that unions can be forces for good in education. A former national finance chairman of the Democratic Party, Mr. Barr established the charter-school organization Green Dot in 1999 to help fix a system in which… (read article – subscription required)

Protect Employees or Cut Red Tape?

By Michael Chihak, March 2, 2012, Arizona Public Media

Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to end civil service protection for most of the state’s 82,000 employees is drawing keen attention from government reformers and unions alike. A bill to overhaul the system, HB2571, has passed one committee in the state House and is awaiting further action. As it waits, both sides are scrambling to shore up support or organize opposition, and the fact that Brewer has made it one of her “four cornerstones of reform” has intensified the interest. The legislation, at 275 pages, would scrap the existing personnel system, replacing it with an “at-will” system of hiring and firing in which state department heads could operate as the private sector does in dealing with employees. Proponents say the current system has created a bureaucratic nightmare, making it difficult and costly to get rid of state workers who are involved in misconduct or who underperform. Opponents say the system protects employees from political whim and arbitrariness and affords them due process.  (read article)

County, largest union readying plans for possible strike

By James Burger, March 1, 2012, The Bakersfield Californian

Kern County and the approximately 5,000 county government members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, are preparing for a possible strike now that contract talks have sputtered. On Wednesday, County Administrative Officer John Nilon wrote a memo to county department heads directing them to draft strike plans. This coming Saturday, union members — from typists and roads workers to librarians and parks employees — will begin voting on how long they are willing to walk a picket line to pressure supervisors to make a deal. The two parties are headed for a March 13 showdown. A strike could interfere with some county services, send county managers scrambling to provide front-line services and cost employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay. In January, SEIU launched a three-day strike against the county of Fresno, whose employees it also represents, over pay cuts of about 9 percent. About 43 percent of the union’s members — some 1,800 workers — participated in the walk-out, sacrificing a total of $850,000 in pay, according to the Fresno Bee. The most visible public impacts were seen at welfare offices and libraries, some of which closed, the Bee reported. Fresno County officials eventually returned to the bargaining table with the union. But there’s still no deal.  (read article)

Teacher unions blocked health-care overhaul

By Maureen Magee and Jeff McDonald, March 1, 2012, U-T San Diego News

Late in the summer of 2010, as the San Diego Unified School District waded through yet another patch of budgetary quicksand, trustees gathered behind closed doors to talk about spiraling health care costs. Annual expenses had spiked to $167 million, by far the biggest cost short of payroll. A Los Angeles County firm was telling the board it could save the district almost $10 million a year by taking over the system. The district’s two biggest unions opposed the proposal by Keenan & Associates, and it was scrapped without so much as a public hearing. Now some of the same elected officials are considering eliminating 1,639 teaching jobs — plus more than 300 non-teaching positions — to balance next year’s $1.1 billion budget. Class sizes in middle school would rise as high as 40.  (read article)

Graduate students campaign to unionize

By Melissa Maynard, February 29, 2012, Stateline

Pulling all-nighters in research labs and subsisting on little more than ramen noodles has long been a rite of passage for graduate students. But some are now looking to unions for help setting limits on the austere lifestyle and extreme working conditions that pursuing an advanced degree often requires. They argue that state universities have made a habit of plugging budget holes by asking them to shoulder more of the teaching and research work in the place of regular, full-time faculty and staff — making it difficult for them to complete their degrees on time. Working as a research or teaching assistant, they say, is a form of employment that should entitle them to collective bargaining representation with their universities over pay, benefits and working conditions just like other public employees.  (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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