Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Public Employees’ Pensions Can Sink the Ship

By Nancy Smith, March 12, 2012, Sunshine State News

Judge Jackie Fulford did more than dig a potential $2 billion hole in the Florida budget. She gave back to a redefined union movement in this state the two things it lacked most — muscle and heart. At the same time she delivered a jolt of oxygen to a deflated state Democratic Party. Now look at them. The Dems and the unions — symbiotic black holes in the eyes of fiscal conservatives — are downright giddy. Judge Fulford has them on a roll. First, in late 2011 she sides with the Florida Police Benevolent Association, declaring privatizing state prisons unconstitutional. Then she makes the same “unconstitutional” declaration over the state’s claim that all its employees should pay 3 percent of their salary toward their pension. Florida has to fight back; the nation has to fight back. Public-employee pensions are killing us. It once was that unions were “trade unions.” They represented a largely powerless, voiceless army of blue-collar workers. That just isn’t true anymore. They truly are redefined. The majority of union members in America today are white-collared, college-educated and work for the government, where they receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits — twice the average of workers in the private sector. (read article)

Minnesota union workers swamp Capitol for labor vote

By Megan Boldt, March 12, 2012, TwinCities.com

Hundreds of unionized workers filled the Minnesota Capitol today, preparing for battle as a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for unions to organize gets its first legislative hearing. The fight over whether to make Minnesota a “right to work” state promises to be emotional and hard fought, as it has been in other places across the nation, as business leaders and labor organizers duke it out over whether it would spark economic growth or lower wages for middle-class families. Union workers are filing into the Capitol, armed with signs that say “Kill the bill” and “Stop the War on Workers.” Pipe layer Jesse Schultz of Ostego came out with his son Austin, 3, to relay the latter message to lawmakers. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up the constitutional amendment at 8 a.m. today. (read article)

Union Efforts Boosted By Citizens United

by Paul Blumenthal, March 12, 2012, Huffington Post

Unions are planning a spending blitz to help re-elect President Barack Obama and are going to be able to spend money in new ways thanks to the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling. According to the New York Times, “The same Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that set the stage for these political action committees to accept unlimited donations also allowed unions to send their foot soldiers to visit not just union members at home, but also voters who do not belong to unions — a move expected to increase labor’s political clout significantly in this year’s elections. Unions first used their expanded ability in a big way in Ohio last November to educate and mobilize both union and nonunion voters in a battle to repeal a law that curbed bargaining rights for Ohio’s teachers, firefighters and other public employees. Spurred by 17,000 union volunteers, labor won in a blowout, with Ohioans voting 62 percent to 38 percent to repeal a law that the Republican-dominated Legislature had enacted seven months earlier.” (read article)

Union leaders seek to mend divisions over pipeline

By Sam Hananel, March 12, 2012, Associated Press

Unions may be united in working to re-elect President Barack Obama, but their leaders also are trying to repair bitter divisions over his rejection of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Trade unions representing workers who stand to benefit from thousands of new construction jobs from the Keystone XL pipeline are furious at other unions that joined environmentalists in opposing the project. AFL-CIO leaders hope to smooth tensions at their executive council’s annual winter meeting that starts Monday in Orlando, Fla. The issue reflects a decades-old conflict between union leaders who believe creating jobs is paramount and others who are more strongly aligned with progressive groups on environmental and social causes. After the White House blocked the pipeline in January, Laborers union president Terry O’Sullivan said he was “repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women.” (read article)

Labor Leaders Plan to Apply New Clout in Effort for Obama

By Steven Greenhouse, March 11, 2012, New York Times

As the A.F.L.-C.I.O. prepares to endorse President Obama on Tuesday, labor leaders say they will mount their biggest campaign effort, with far more union members than ever before — at least 400,000, they say — knocking on voters’ doors to counter the well-endowed “super PACs” backing Republicans. The same Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that set the stage for these political action committees to accept unlimited donations also allowed unions to send their foot soldiers to visit not just union members at home, but also voters who do not belong to unions — a move expected to increase labor’s political clout significantly in this year’s elections. Unions first used their expanded ability in a big way in Ohio last November to educate and mobilize both union and nonunion voters in a battle to repeal a law that curbed bargaining rights for Ohio’s teachers, firefighters and other public employees. Spurred by 17,000 union volunteers, labor won in a blowout, with Ohioans voting 62 percent to 38 percent to repeal a law that the Republican-dominated Legislature had enacted seven months earlier. (read article)

Labor unions rethinking their role in politics

By Matea Gold and Melanie Mason, March 10, 2012, Los Angeles Times

As top union leaders gather in Florida on Tuesday to determine labor’s political strategy this year, the influential AFL-CIO appears poised to endorse President Obama’s reelection — despite some lingering dissatisfaction with his record. But the way in which unions back him and other Democrats this year is likely to take a very different form than in past campaigns. Concluding they need to be more independent of the Democratic Party, many unions are increasingly financing their own efforts instead of writing large checks to candidates and the party. The shift in tactics is already apparent in this election season: Labor political action committees gave federal Democratic candidates and committees $21 million last year, a drop of 20% from the same period in the 2008 election, according to data provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Several major unions, as well as the AFL-CIO itself, now have their own “super PACs,” independent political organizations that can raise unlimited funds. (read article)

Michigan unions mobilize to protect bargaining rights

By Jack Lessenberry, March 9, 2012, Toledo Blade

For the past year, labor unions in Michigan have faced a state government that is more unfriendly than at any other time since the New Deal. They’ve watched a solidly Republican Legislature pass bill after bill chipping away at union strength. This week, Michigan lawmakers passed a law that prohibits school districts from deducting union dues. They passed another law designed to prevent graduate student research assistants from unionizing. Last year, another tough new bill gave appointed emergency managers the right to dissolve or change collective-bargaining contracts as they see fit. Increasingly — and despite Gov. Rick Snyder’s opposition — GOP legislators are talking about trying to make Michigan a “right to work” state that would ban the union shop. Now, finally, unions are striking back — in a way that has stunned even some of their supporters. This week, a coalition of the state’s largest unions announced a major drive for a state constitutional amendment that would protect collective bargaining. (read article)

Cuomo Crosses Labor

By Allysia Finley, March 9, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Unions have a short memory. Just ask New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last year, he broke his promise not to raise taxes by signing into law a “millionaires’ tax.” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, figured that the tax hike would give him more leverage with the unions in negotiations over his pension reform plan. It looks like he overestimated their capacity for gratitude. The AFL-CIO is running ads blasting the governor’s plan to “cut pensions by 40%.” He should instead “make the big corporations and Wall Street pay their fair share.” A couple of footnotes are in order. (read article)

Big Labor plots 2012 revenge

By Robin Bravender, March 9, 2012, Politico

Labor unions wounded by a GOP-led war on collective bargaining rights are plotting their revenge Top labor leaders say they expect to spend more than ever before on both state and federal contests this year. And if recent elections are any indicator, unions could drop more than $450 million, which they reportedly doled out in the 2008 election. Even in an age of billionaire-backed super PACs, that’s the kind of money could have a major impact on a fight, particularly at the state and local-level, where unions plan to focus their attention. The union playbook: safeguard Democratic governors’ seats, flip state legislatures and hamstring anti-union ballot initiatives. (read article)

Union ballot plan may backfire in Michigan

By Frank Beckman, March 9, 2012, Detroit News

Michigan’s public sector labor leaders tried to remain hidden from view this week but their fingerprints were unmistakable when their hired hands put on one of the typical stage shows we’ve come to expect from liberals. Organizers for the aptly named group “Protect Our Jobs” trotted out a minister, a teacher, a nurse and others to trumpet their support for an amendment to the state constitution, which they claim is aimed at enshrining collective bargaining rights in the Michigan’s main governing document. If the organizers’ paid petition circulators —- and state public sector unions can afford a bunch — collect enough signatures by July, Michigan voters will be asked in November to decide if the beneficial legislative accomplishments of the last year will remain in place. Among the initiatives that would be overturned are portions of the emergency manager law that allow restructuring of union contracts, teacher tenure law changes that make it easier to remove poor instructors, and a cap on school spending for unsustainable employee benefits, all advances that benefit the Michigan taxpayers who fund public employment. But the big prize is the attempt in this constitutional amendment to preclude the state from ever adopting a right-to-work law. (read article)

Delphi retirees are among the human victims of the auto bailout, while UAW retirees get their full pension and health care benefits

By Shikha Dalmia, March 8, 2012, Reason Magazine

As President Barack Obama takes to the stump and touts his auto bailout as a big success that saved the auto industry, America and civilization itself, it will be important to keep in mind all of the bailout’s human victims. These of course include American taxpayers, who stand to lose somewhere between $20 and $30 billion on their GM “investment” alone. Then there are the secured creditors of Chrysler who got back 29 cents on the dollar to UAW’s 40 cents, even though the creditors deserved priority since their loans were backed by actual assets. These creditors, btw, included not Wall Street fat cats, but middle-class folks like teachers whose pension money was invested in Chrysler bonds. (read article)

A ‘Public Employees Bill of Rights’?

Talk show hosted by Michael Krasny, March 8, 2012, KQED Radio

Cash-strapped state and local governments are increasingly looking to privatization as a way to cut costs. But opponents, such as California Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, say state workers are more dedicated and get the job done better than outside contractors. Dickinson has introduced a bill to that effect, called a “Public Employees Bill of Rights.” We debate the costs and benefits of privatizing public services. (listen to audio)

Michigan Senate: No Payroll Deductions For Union Dues

By Connie Cuellar, March 8, 2012, Huffington Post

A vote by the Michigan Senate to ban payroll deductions of union dues on Wednesday sparked accusations by labor groups that the Republican-controlled senate is retaliating against teachers. The vote on House Bill 4929 came one day after a group of teachers, nurses, construction workers and others, gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to launch their drive to protect collective bargaining rights guaranteed to employees under the Michigan Constitution. (read article)

Labor negotiations between LePage administration, union going to trial

By Eric Russell, March 08, 2012, Bangor Daily News

A drawn-out battle between the LePage administration and one of the state’s biggest labor unions is headed to court. The director of Maine’s Labor Relations Board this week denied a request from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to dismiss a complaint filed by the Maine State Employees Association workers, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union. In a seven-page order, Mark Ayotte rejected all but one element of the union complaint, which was filed last fall. However, Ayotte ultimately ruled that the LePage administration must stand trial before the board on charges that it negotiated in bad faith and interfered with the rights of MSEA workers. (read article)

Unions Work to Deny Voters Say in Local Pension Issues

By Joel Fox, Fox & Hounds, March 8, 2012

The battle over pensions is going to the ballot in San Jose after a city council vote Tuesday. The only roadblock: state legislators from the area friendly to public employee unions are trying to derail the pension reform by demanding an audit of the city’s pension debt. Mayor Chuck Reed has been fighting to put San Jose on a better financial footing by introducing pension reform. Projections are the pension debt could reach $650-million a year in San Jose in a worst case scenario. Union leaders claim that estimates of the city pension debt are exaggerated. Union officials say the estimate is hundreds of millions of dollars out of whack and they want the state to investigate. (read article)

California Teachers Union Leads in Record Year of Lobbying Lawmakers

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

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)

Governor Cuomo’s plan hits bump

By Juan Gonzalez, March 6, 2012, New York Daily News

Gov. Cuomo’s plan to drastically cut the cost of public-employee pensions this year is in danger. In a clear sign of the proposal’s trouble, Cuomo hastily scheduled a meeting Tuesday night in Albany with city labor leaders to gauge what kind of compromise the unions would accept. The governor prides himself on combining mastery of detail with a bulldozer style. But he was forced to seek a deal this time because of a procedural foulup by his office in rolling out the plan. That foulup, several sources say, has given city unions the upper hand.

The governor’s aides failed to include in his pension reform legislation a legally required analysis from the city’s chief actuary, Robert North, on its financial impact on the city. (read article)

Labor Unions Clobber Stocks

By Jack Hough, February 28, 2012, SmartMoney

Speaking to Michigan conservatives ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote, Mitt Romney placed much of the blame for the 2009 bankruptcy of Chrysler and General motors on the United Auto Workers union, saying it made excessive demands. Republicans and Democrats may have different beliefs on the matter. But stock investors should put politics aside and take a cue from Mr. Romney’s private equity savvy. Unions and investor returns often don’t mix well, and a new study measures the relationship with striking results. Between 1961 and 1999, the average company that elected a union went on to lose more than $40,000 in stock market value for each unionized worker over two years. These losses weren’t priced in immediately; on average, they occurred over a period of about 15 months.  Losses were largest for firms with the most decisive union wins. The study was performed by David Lee at Princeton and Alexandre Mas at the University of California and a paper describing the results was published this month in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Stock investors who bought shares of companies at the time of unionization typically underperformed the market by 10 to 14 percentage points over two years. (read article)

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