Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Jerry Brown, unions agree to delay contract talks until after tax vote

By Jon Ortiz, April 10, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to extend the labor contracts of four state worker unions, pushing aside a potential obstacle to his quest for a tax increase later this year. The agreements affect roughly 24,000 state employees working under deals that expire July 1, extending their current terms for one more year. The governor’s deals with labor are “mind-numbing,” given the state’s $9.2 billion deficit, said Senate GOP leader Bob Huff. It’s unusual for union and state negotiators to agree to anything three months before a contract expires. Talks usually nudge up against or run past deadline, and state law keeps an expired contract’s terms in place until a new deal can be worked out. The new contract extensions show that labor and the Democratic governor, who hopes to put a tax increase before voters in November, are in sync, said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a state labor expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The unions are generally supporting Brown and his tax plan,” Mitchell said. “To negotiate something that looks like you’re raising costs wouldn’t be good publicity for the tax increase.” (read article)

Even Without Contracts, Unions in State Get Raises

By Danny Hakim, April 10, 2012, New York Times

Public employees are working without contracts in cities and counties across New York State, as labor negotiations stall because local governments say they cannot afford to raise wages. But many union members are still taking home larger paychecks, thanks to a state law that allows workers to continue receiving longevity-based salary increases after their contracts expire. The pattern is seen throughout the state. All labor contracts in Albany, New Rochelle and Yonkers have expired. So have seven of nine contracts in Syracuse, six of eight in Buffalo and most of the contracts in New York City. And the same trend is unfolding at the county level. The New York State Association of Counties surveyed 17 counties at the request of The New York Times and found that 41 of 67 labor contracts had expired. (read article)

Teachers Union President “Excited” That Business Profits Tax Ballot Proposal Moving Forward

By Sean Whaley, April 10, 2012, Nevada News Bureau

The president of the powerful state teachers union said today she is “excited” that another labor organization, the AFL-CIO, plans to pursue a business profits tax initiative petition. “It will be a big deal,” said Lynn Warne, head of the Nevada State Education Association. “We’re excited that Danny (Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO) has decided to move forward with this. Anything we can do about funding our schools adequately in this state is great.” (read article)

Ex-Mayor Richard Riordan Challenged to Breakfast by Surly Union

By Dennis Romero, April 9, 2012, LA Weekly

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan’s support of a California ballot initiative that would prevent unions from contributing directly to political campaigns has put him on the hot plate (or hate plate?) with an L.A. labor group. Yeah, the L.A.-based Teamsters Joint Council 42 wants to “have breakfast” with Riordan to talk it over. Now, any fan of the Sopranos would tell you that a “sit-down” with the teamsters could end up with a trip to the hospital, but … in this case they’re asking the former mayor to meet up at his own restaurant, The Original Pantry downtown (can’t be that scary, can it?). (read article)

Union says right-to-work law violates free speech

By Charles Wilson, April 9, 2012, Business Week

Indiana’s new right-to-work law should be struck down because it infringes upon unions’ free speech rights by depriving them of the dues that fund their political speech, attorneys for a union challenging the law contend, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s so-called Citizens United ruling that eased restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Attorneys for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue in a court brief that Indiana’s new law, which allows workers to not pay union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf, interferes with the union’s free speech rights and “impinges on this fundamental right of union membership.” The argument is just one of many tucked into the hefty 45-page brief the union filed in federal court late last month in response to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A hearing on the state’s motion is scheduled for April 26 in U.S. District Court in Hammond. Along with other arguments based on state and federal constitutions and federal labor law, the union cites the 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down on free-speech grounds restrictions on corporations’ and union spending on advertising endorsing or opposing certain candidates. The Indiana union’s lawyers contend that the right-to-work law interferes with the union’s free speech rights by stifling the collection of money that helps pay for its political speech. (read article)

99 Percent Spring: Occupy-Style Tactics Adopted By MoveOn, Labor Unions For Teaching

By Jason Cherkis and Ryan Grim, April 9, 2012, Huffington Post

On Monday and extending throughout this week, a coalition of progressive organizations from across the country will be hosting more than 900 training sessions with the goal of educating 100,000 participants in old-fashioned, in-your-face, direct-action protest techniques. The week of teach-ins are part of what the coalition is calling the 99 Percent Spring. Roughly 50,000 people will be taught in person, and plans call for another 50,000 to be trained online. If that sounds like a familiar meme, it’s not an accident. Pressured by Occupy Wall Street, the coalition’s members — including MoveOn, the United Auto Workers, Greenpeace and Rebuild the Dream — are looking to move from more passive actions like online petitions, calls to Congress and town-square rallies to more aggressive Occupy-style targets and tactics. (read article)

Teachers union welcomes compromise, but says 7-hour day too long

By Maudlyne Ihejirika, April 10, 2012, Chicago Sun Times

The Chicago Teachers Union Tuesday afternoon applauded the mayor’s shift in his longer school day stance — cutting back his demand from 7.5 to 7 hours for elementary schools — but asserted the mayor has far to go on compromising. “Once again, CTU has been proven correct. Today, the mayor moved his toe an inch from the line,” union President Karen Lewis said at a news conference at the group’s Merchandise Mart headquarters, calling the longer day a “political slogan, not an educational plan.” “Now that the mayor is starting to listen to parents, teachers and research regarding the pitfalls of the longer school day program being pushed in school districts across the country, it is now time he used both ears to hear everything we are saying about the types of schools our children deserve,” she said. “It is not the length of time but the quality of time that truly matters here.” Lewis said the union still supports a counterproposal it put forward supporting a 6.5-hour school day, which is closer to the statewide average. (read article)

Labor board rules in SEIU’s favor

By Michael P. Tremoglie, April 9, 2012, Legal Newsline

The National Labor Relations Board Region 7 announced April 2 that an attempt to have a class of employees exempted from a union election is denied. The Service Employees International Union wants to unionize nurses at an assisted living facility, including the nurses the employer considers managers. The appeal to the NLRB was made by Trinity Senior Living Facility after the SEIU wanted to represent all full-time and regular part-time registered nurse unit managers and licensed practical nurse unit managers at its Warren, Mich., facility. The company said the RNs and LPNs are designated as unit managers and are supervisors within the meaning of Section 2(11) of the National Labor Relations Act. The company cited their authority to assign, direct, and discipline certified nursing assistants using independent judgment or to effectively recommend such actions as reasons they are managerial personnel. But the NLRB concluded that the Trinity did not prove the nurses in question are management. They found that they are not statutory supervisors and are eligible to vote in the union election. (read article)

Unions push for state income tax hike; Labor and advocacy groups press for increasing state income tax to raise $1.37 billion

By David Riley, April 09, 2012, Brockton Enterprise

Here’s a question for taxpayers as the deadline to file income taxes approaches quickly: Do you think Uncle Sam and Beacon Hill took too much, too little or just the right-sized bite out of your paychecks this year? A coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups believes Massachusetts falls in the “too little” camp, at least for upper-income brackets. The Campaign for Our Communities calls for raising the state income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5.95 percent. The proposal also would tax investment income at 8.95 percent, up from 5.3 percent for most investments, but down from 12 percent for short-term capital gains. Supporters said legislation they back also would hike exemptions to protect low- and middle-income taxpayers, while shielding seniors and the disabled from the higher investment rate. (read article)

Time to come clean on unions’ election spending

Editorial, April 9, 2012, Washington Examiner

Last week, a federal judge struck down a new Federal Election Commission regulation that would have exempted certain nonprofit groups that advertise on political issues from revealing donors’ names. Those on the Left who naively believe that “secret money” is the root of all evil in American politics, and not merely a symptom of an overly powerful centralized government, were ecstatic. But labor unions have long exercised disproportionate influence in the election process, and this disproportionality only grows as unions decline. The problem is not so much one of donors (unions have a captive audience of those) but of political spending. No one knows what unions spend on elections. Politifact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, once attempted to fact-check claims about union political spending during the 2010 race. It was unable to come up with a concrete number because much of unions’ election money just isn’t reported. Unions must disclose PAC contributions to candidates and party committees as well as their independent expenditures, but not the money they spend to persuade and organize their membership, register Democratic voters, and get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates. This is why the unions’ own boasts of their national political spending, often published in newspaper articles, significantly exceeds the amounts that can be traced through publicly available documents. (read article)

More Oregon workers joining unions; Membership ranks seventh in U.S.

By Dennis Thompson Jr., April 8, 2012, Statesman Journal

Oregon is one of the top states in the country when it comes to union membership, with more people joining unions here each year, according to figures recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experts say efforts by Service Employees International Union Local 503 — the largest union in the state — account for much of that success in the face of national apathy, if not outright hostility, toward organized labor. Union members represent 17.1 percent of all workers in Oregon, making it the state with the seventh-highest union participation in the nation. Average union membership in the United States is 11.8 percent. Oregon’s union membership has been steadily growing during the past five years. In 2006, about 211,000 Oregonians belonged to a union. That number by last year had increased to an estimated 270,000 union members. “It is a striking figure,” said Bob Bussel, an associate professor and director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon. Bussel thinks most of the increase can be attributed to efforts by SEIU to organize workers in home health care and nursing care. (read article)

Labor groups agree on pay, benefit deals with Phoenix

By Lynh Bui, April 8, 2012, Arizona Republic

Four city labor unions and associations have voted to ratify pay and benefit agreements with Phoenix. Unions took final votes last week, with the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association unanimously approving the deal, which would restore half of the 3.2 percent pay cuts city workers took two years ago. Other contracts were approved by a vote of 70 percent or more of members. The only holdout has been the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, representing about 2,500 rank-and-file police officers. PLEA members voted 90 percent two weeks ago to reject the city’s offer, saying they wanted full pay restored in the first year of the two-year agreement. They also asked for a 4 percent raise in the second year of the contract. (read article)

House race a loss for labor, too

Major unions backed Garagiola in 6th District

By John Fritze, April 07, 2012, The Baltimore Sun

As he campaigned in the most closely watched congressional race in Maryland, state Sen. Rob Garagiola had an advantage his fellow Democratic candidates envied: the support of the politically powerful labor movement. More than a stamp of approval, endorsements from unions that represent teachers, health care workers and government employees also brought an army of volunteers to a campaign with the aim of getting voters to the polls. But despite labor’s support, the Germantown attorney lost to John Delaney in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District by 25 percentage points in Tuesday’s primary election. The rout, observers said, raises questions about the power of unions, just as Democrats gear up to take on Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in a general election race that will help decide control of the House of Representatives. “Labor in Maryland is not what it used to be,” said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University. “It’s not blue-collar labor. It’s public employee labor. And they tend to be more independent politically.” (read article)

Wisconsin recall: Labor trains fire on Democrat

By Rachel Weiner and Aaron Blake, April 6, 2012, The Washington Post

Democrats want the Wisconsin recall election to be all about getting rid of Scott Walker, the polarizing governor who instituted controversial collective bargaining laws. But right now, a number of prominent labor unions are training their fire not on Walker but on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, one of the Democrats who hopes to replace him. Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010, faces former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk in the May 9 primary. The recall is only a month later, on June 5. And the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other public-sector unions are not just supporting Falk, but launching harsh attacks on Barrett. Union members protested outside a Barrett fundraiser last week. And on Monday, AFSCME e-mailed out a video suggesting Barrett advocated for the strategy Walker used in passing his collective bargaining reforms. The AP deemed the video misleading and the Wisconsin Police union warned AFSCME not to “sabotage” the recall effort. But AFSCME stands by it. “In the small amount of public discussion around a scenario to split the bill, it was Democrats sounding the alarm bells to stop it, while Barrett was on right-wing talk radio advocating for it,” a spokesman said. (read article)

Scott Walker Recall: Wisconsin Police Union Warns AFSCME Not To ‘Sabotage’ Democratic Primary

By Amanda Terkel, April 6, 2012, Huffington Post

Wisconsin’s labor solidarity showed a crack on Friday, when the state’s largest police union criticized another public employee union’s attacks on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) in the gubernatorial recall race. Wisconsin leaders of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) sent an email this week criticizing Barrett’s record on labor, just a couple of days after the mayor announced he was running in the Democratic primary to unseat Gov. Scott Walker (R). The email linked to a video that purportedly showed Barrett’s support for Walker’s attacks on unions. But as the Associated Press noted, the video did not include other comments Barrett had made from the same event, in which he criticized Walker’s tactics. AFSCME has endorsed former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk in the Democratic primary. AFSCME and several other unions jumped in and backed Falk before Barrett had announced whether he was going to run. In a statement on Friday, the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA) criticized AFSCME, warning that its attacks on Barrett “may serve to sabotage the recall of Governor Scott Walker.” (read article)

Maine labor bill unlikely to advance; No action by panel; GOP must round up votes for passage

By Susan M. Cover, April 5, 2012, Maine Today

A legislative committee took no action on a controversial labor bill Wednesday, avoiding a recorded vote on a measure that would have removed the requirement that state employees pay a portion of union dues, even if they are not union members. Officially, the bill is still alive. If the committee takes no vote, the bill will be placed on the House calendar for consideration; but it’s unlikely to be debated unless Republicans round up the votes needed for passage. Labor leaders who brought more than 100 union workers to the State House to protest the bill Wednesday say they don’t think Republicans have the votes, but they aren’t taking any chances. “Until they kill this, we’re going to be here every day,” said Maine State Employees Association Executive Director Chris Quint. Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, said labor unions have muddled the issue successfully to make the public think the bill is much broader than it is. Courtney and others support repealing a law put in place in 2007 by the Baldacci administration that requires all state workers to pay a portion of union dues, even if they choose not to join the union. (read article)

Labor Unions Claim New Law Penned By Haveman Unconstitutional

April 5, 2012, WHTC, Holland, Michigan

The Michigan Education Association and three other labor unions have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging an area lawmaker’s measure that Governor Snyder just signed into law, banning the automatic deduction of union dues from public school employee paychecks. The suit, filed in federal court in Detroit, alleges the new law violates both the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution by  “discriminating against school employees as retribution for political speech and treating school employees differently than other classifications of the workers without reason.” The new law was sponsored by Republican Representative Joe Haveman of Holland. (read article)

Detroit Labor War Gears Up

By Glynis Farrell, April 4, 2012, Courthouse News Service

A coalition of 30 labor unions claims in court that giving up more than $80 million in annual wages wasn’t enough for Gov. Rick Snyder, who has “threatened the City that it would be placed into receivership and have an emergency manager appointed if it continued the collective bargaining process with the city unions.” The unions claim Snyder is tortiously, and unconstitutionally, interfering with their contract rights, by pressuring the City Council to reject a new, cost-cutting union contract. They ask the court, in brief, to order the governor to butt out. The complaint was scheduled for argument Monday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow. Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis told local news media that the city planned to scrap the labor agreement without putting it to a vote. The Detroit News reported today that if the City Council does not sign a consent agreement with the state, Snyder will appoint an emergency city manager on Thursday. The City Council delayed an expected vote Tuesday, saying it wanted to see what will happen in court. (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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