Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Wisconsin Democrats pick challenger in governor’s recall

Brendan O’Brien, May 8, 2012, Chicago Tribune

Wisconsin Democratic primary voters went to the polls on Tuesday to pick a challenger to face Republican Scott Walker in a recall election next month, a closely watched test of labor union strength and barometer of political pressures in a battleground state ahead of November elections. Leading in pre-primary public opinion polls was Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, who had a significant lead over a handful of other Democratic candidates going into Tuesday’s primary. Barrett lost the Wisconsin governor’s race to Walker by 5 percentage points in the Republican sweep of 2010. Since then, Wisconsin has been split by what Barrett calls a “civil war” over Walker’s drive to curb union power in the state. Walker infuriated Democrats and labor organizations weeks after taking office in 2011 by pushing a measure that curbed collective bargaining power of public sector unions through the Republican-led legislature. (read article)

Rahm’s pension reform: Freeze retiree pay hikes, up retirement age

By Fran Spielman and Dave McKinney, May 8, 2012, Chicago Sun Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday proposed raising the retirement age by five years for city employees, increasing employees’ pension contributions by 1 percent a year over the next five years and suspending yearly cost-of-living adjustments for retirees for 10 years to help solve the city’s $20 billion pension crisis. Emanuel delivered the bitter pill that union leaders have long anticipated during testimony in Springfield before the Illinois House Personnel and Pension Committee. Emanuel warned legislators that city property taxes could soar by 150 percent and that class sizes at Chicago’s schools would jump to 55 students, on average, unless they pass pension reforms. It was the mayor’s first trip to the state capitol, and he was greeted like a rock star — a far cry from the cold shoulder he’s getting from union leaders representing city employees. Retiring state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) took a picture of him with her cell phone as he was getting ready to testify. Emanuel painted the options on pensions in stark terms. “Our taxpayers can’t afford to choose between pensions and police officers, pensions or paved streets or pensions and public health,” he told lawmakers. “Without pension reform, we’ll be forced to mortgage our children’s future to pay for our past.” (read article)

Union cash floods states to combat Republican agendas

By Kevin Bogardus, May 7, 2012, The Hill

Unions poured millions of dollars into state-level battles to beat back legislation that would limit labor’s political power. Annual financial reports filed with the Labor Department by national and local unions show they gave nearly $16 million in contributions to more than a half-dozen umbrella groups, according to a review by The Hill. The funds flowed into California, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin, and were used to battle against measures that would curb workers’ collective bargaining rights, institute right-to-work laws or limit the use of union members’ dues to pay for political activity. Many of those proposals were put forward by Republican-controlled state legislatures and GOP governors who were elected in the 2010 landslide. The bulk of the union funds went to Ohio, a key 2012 election battleground. Close to $13.2 million went to We Are Ohio, a labor-backed group that helped lead the successful charge to overturn Senate Bill 5 — which would have restricted public workers’ collective bargaining rights — in a November 2011 referendum. (read article)

Big labor falls in line with Obama reelection campaign

By Joseph Williams, May 7, 2012, Politico

Organized labor’s rumblings about sitting out President Barack Obama’s re-election have turned out to be an empty threat. The Teamsters’ Monday endorsement makes it the latest major union to fall in line behind the president’s campaign, joining the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO and many other labor heavyweights. Though widely expected, the endorsement of the 1.4 million-member Teamsters wasn’t automatic for Obama: the union described a “months-long” process that included scientific polls of the rank-and-file, surveys of local offices and serious deliberations by the union’s leadership. But it also underscores a broader political point: after three years of ups, downs and mutual frustrations, Big Labor is again marshaling its troops for Obama with a mood that could be described in some quarters as grudging enthusiasm. For all their gripes, the union giants that were threatening to hold off on repeating the millions of dollars of support and a nationwide grassroots network have backed off. Like they did in 2008, they’ll organize members, and they’ll have those members organize more, mostly through door-knocking, phone banks, and person-to-person networking on job sites and in neighborhoods. (read article)

The Changing Face of Unions

By Stephanie Czekalinski, May 7, 2012, National Journal

When union rallies support immigrant workers, it’s a sign the labor movement is much different these days. Union activists rallied outside the headquarters of tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, N.C., last week, seeking better working conditions and pay for laborers on tobacco farms across the state. The protest represents change in the American labor movement’s attitude toward immigrant workers in the United States. The majority of the people the union rallied for are illegal immigrants, a group of workers that many believe drive down wages for native workers. It’s an argument often cited by groups who believe that illegal immigrants should be made to leave the country – through deportation or through “attrition by enforcement,” the idea at the crux of controversial state laws in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia that target undocumented workers.   But three years ago, two of the country’s most influential unions, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, voted to support the legalization of illegal immigrants already here and opposed any new program that would allow employers to bring in any new temporary workers. The AFL-CIO first called for amnesty for the country’s illegal immigrants in 2000. “We have to have a legalization program right now. Path to citizenship for people who are in the country without status – especially dreamers,” said Ana Avendano, the AFL-CIO’s director of immigration and community action. The idea is that legal workers are less likely to be exploited because they would be protected by the law rather than operating outside of it, Avendano said. (read article)

Occupy’s liberation from liberalism: the real meaning of May Day

By David Graeber, May 7, 2012, Guardian UK

Occupy’s May Day rebirth, forging a new alliance of activists and union members, was a historic moment of anti-capitalist struggle. The US press seems to have decided that the Occupy movement is no longer a story. Pretty much no matter what we do. In New York, on May Day, something between 50,000 and 100,000 people marched through the streets – we don’t know the exact numbers because most papers didn’t report the event at all, and therefore, didn’t bother to make estimates. In California, there were blockades and walkouts. In Seattle, one band of protestors relived the famous Black Bloc actions of November 1999, smashing many of the same corporate windows – and even that didn’t make national news! But in a way it hardly matters. Occupy is shedding its liberal accretions and rapidly turning into something with much deeper roots, creating alliances that promise to transform the very notion of revolutionary politics in America. (read article)

Occupy Wall Street: What Now?

Editorial, May 6, 2012, Salon.com

May Day has come and gone, and in many respects, the Occupy protests this month were just pale imitations of what occurred in November.  And supporters of the movement appear to have put a happy face on  a diminished presence.  There are a number of factors that account for  this.  One is that the novelty of OWS encampments all over the United States (and world for that matter) has worn off.  Winter is not a good time to be camping out, and the climate took a natural toll on the various occupations. A second factor in diminishing the presence of Occupy was of course, various cities’ police repression. Coupled with this is the timeline that universities operate under. While November is well enough into a quarter or semester, May is always finals month. One of the other contributing factors to the diminished presence of Occupy is perhaps due to the fact that some labor unions have gone back to being truly independent entities working on their own agendas, rather than operating in lockstep with the on the street protesters.  This was certainly evident in New York.  It was reported that one or more labor unions, rather than getting with the OWS program of a general strike, decided to take busloads of union workers to Albany to lobby the state legislature. (read article)

Unions Take The Lead To Recall Wis. Gov. Walker

By Don Gonyea, May 4, 2012, NPR Morning Edition

Next month, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls in a recall election that could remove controversial Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office. But first, Democratic voters will mark their ballots in next week’s primary election that will determine which Democrat will face-off against Walker. Labor unions were the driving force behind the bid to recall Walker, and the movement has a great deal at stake in the election. (read article)

Wisconsin recall: AFL-CIO’s Trumka declares (moral) victory over Gov. Scott Walker

By Peter Wallsten, May 4, 2012, Washington Post

Whether or not Democrats and their labor union allies succeed in recalling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker next month, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is ready to declare at least a moral victory. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in his office. What if Walker, the prime target of the country’s labor movement in a campaign viewed by many on the political left as rivaling the presidential race in importance, were to prevail? “He would be a debilitated governor for the next two years in office, and he would be finished the next time he runs,” Trumka said in a new interview. Perhaps in anticipation of a disappointment in Wisconsin, Trumka sought to downplay the importance of the vote as a political test. Walker “is still very, very unpopular,” Trumka said. “He is permanently unpopular because he took on and he attacked workers rather than creating jobs.” Trumka also predicted victory in “a couple of” the state Senate races, as well, which would put the chamber under Democratic control. That result, plus Walker’s bruised image, would not likely embolden other GOP lawmakers around the country to take on bargaining rights, Trumka argued. “Not if you’re sane and rational, it wouldn’t,” he said. (read article)

Union protests AT&T labor action

Steve Hart, May 4, 2012, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Dozens of union-represented technicians picketed AT&T’s service facility in Santa Rosa on Thursday after the company sent some of them home for wearing pro-union stickers. Similar informational picketing took place at AT&T centers in Napa and other Bay Area communities as the Communications Workers of America seeks a new contract with the giant telecommunications provider. The Santa Rosa pickets accused the company of an unfair labor practice for banning the union stickers, which read “Keep AT&T off the healthcare low road.” The union has said the company wants to outsource union jobs and cut health care and retirement benefits. AT&T isn’t locking out the technicians, a company spokesman said Thursday. “While we respect our employees’ right to express their opinions, it is our policy to require appropriate dress for our employees in customer-facing positions,” said spokesman Marty Richter. (read article)

Homecare union election battle on again

By Barbara Anderson, May 4, 2012, Fresno Bee

Fresno County’s 10,000 homecare workers could face a rerun of a bitterly fought union election to decide their representation if an effort for a new vote is successful. But the bid for a re-election won’t come without its own fight. Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers want to overturn a narrow win in 2009 by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers-West. SEIU-UHW vows to oppose the attempt. On Thursday, NUHW President Sal Rosselli said a decision by the California Public Employment Relations Board opens the door for a new election by homecare workers. “This election can be thrown out so workers can have a fair election to decide their own fate,” he said at a news conference outside the Fresno County Hall of Records. The April 18 board decision overturns an earlier ruling by a board regional attorney who dismissed a complaint by the NUHW. The union had alleged election misconduct by SEIU, including voter intimidation, illegal threats and ballot manipulation. “They organized a campaign of fear, intimidation,” Rosselli said Thursday. (read article)

Raley’s labor tension ratchets up; workers consider strike vote

By Dale Kasler, May 4, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Raley’s workers are proceeding with a strike authorization vote, and there’s no guarantee they’ll accept the company’s invitation to resume contract negotiations. In a tartly worded message Friday on a union Web site, Jacques Loveall of the United Food and Commercial Workers said he’ll be scheduling a strike vote “in response to your employer’s erratic bargaining position.” Loveall also issued a statement through a spokeswoman suggesting the union wouldn’t resume negotiations until Raley’s agrees to extend the workers’ current contract. Raley’s on Thursday offered to revive negotiations under the guidance of a federal mediator. Loveall complained that the union has been seeking a mediator for months, and “if Raley’s offer of mediation is in good faith, they will sign a contract extension.” Raley’s responded by saying it wouldn’t automatically extend the contract. “Any request by the union for a new extension is a matter for the mediator to resolve,” the company said. (read article)

Vermont senator promises to keep trying on child care union

By Associated Press, May 3, 2012, Washington Post

The Vermont Senate has rejected another attempt to pass a bill authorizing child care workers to set up a union to negotiate industry rules and subsidies with the state. But the leader of the effort says he’ll keep trying. Sen. Richard McCormack says Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell is blocking two labor bills from coming up for debate because he doesn’t want to see the child care union provision attached to them. Campbell says he opposes the child care union because it would not set up typical labor-management contract negotiations, but a new sort of labor organization that could set a bad precedent for other groups of people who work under contract with the state. McCormack says he’ll keep trying to attach the measure to various bills. (read article)

N.J. Senate minority leader introduces bill to expand pay-to-play to labor unions

By Matt Friedman, May 03, 2012, New Jersey Star Ledger

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. today introduced a measure to expand the state’s pay-to-play law to labor unions. The bill attempts to accomplish what Gov. Chris Christie could not. Shortly after taking office, Christie wrote an executive order including unions in pay-to-play restrictions, which are intended to end the practice of giving lucrative contracts in exchange for political contributions. But Christie was rebuffed by a state appeals court, which ruled that the ban Christie wanted would have to be done through legislation. “Campaign finance and ethics reform only works if it curtails all special interest groups equally and does not carve out any exceptions to benefit one party or another,” said Kean (R-Union) in a statement. “Pay to play reform was passed to limit the influence of big spending contractors over the public officials from whom they are trying to obtain work. That law missed one of the biggest recipients of public dollars and thus, must be fixed in the interest of fairness and honesty.” (read article)

Big Labor’s Recall Tab So Far: $7 Million

By Charlie Sykes, May 2, 2012, Milwaukee 620 WTMJ

Just released campaign finance documents show Big Labor both inside and outside of Wisconsin pouring just over $7 million into the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker and four GOP state senators. In the 2011 recall campaign combined total spending by unions and progressive groups reached $14.7 million, or just over twice what labor unions alone have managed to raise or spend in what is the opening round of the effort to knock out Governor Walker less than two years into his term…All told, the axis of Big Labor still has $2.8 million left in cash-on-hand just over a week out from the Democrat primary. After the primary the recall election campaign will begin in earnest, as Walker becomes the sole focus the Left’s financial phalanx. The massive movement of money from unions to PACs and independent funds will only increase with the intensity of the recall election. The cozy relationship enjoyed by Big Labor, various front groups, and the Democrat party allows them to effectively shift funds from one group to the next building the appearance that the recall effort is an entirely homegrown Wisconsin affair. Finance reports for campaigns, political action committees (PACs), and independent expenditure committees may be found here. (read article)

SEIU drops initiatives as part of California hospital accord

May 2, 2012, Los Angeles Times

A labor union that pushed a pair of ballot measures to rein in excessive hospital billing and expand healthcare for the poor has dropped them — in exchange for an agreement that, among other things, enlists the hospital industry in the union’s organizing efforts. The agreement, announced late Wednesday, ends a months-long public battle between the Service Employees International Union and the California Hospital Assn. Private hospitals had accused the union of using the initiative process as leverage in contract negotiations to expand its membership, a charge the union strongly denied. Under the new pact, dubbed a Partnership for a Healthy California, the hospital association pledges to facilitate meetings between the SEIU and CEOs of hospitals and health systems employing 100,000 non-union workers. (Those hospitals, the document notes, are not bound to sign organizing agreements.) In turn, the SEIU agreed not to file petition signatures with county election officials and the secretary of state’s office. (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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