Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Anti-labor forces eye Michigan

By Steve Freiss, May 29, 2012, Politico

A Republican governor signed a law that gives him broad union-busting powers. Liberals have collected thousands of signatures to take him on at the ballot box. And national conservatives are watching. Wisconsin might symbolize the national debate over collective bargaining rights, but just across the lake Gov. Rick Snyder is fighting his own proxy war. Snyder supported a law passed last year that allows him to appoint an emergency manager to take over distraught cities and school districts. These new officials can single-handedly void or change union contracts, dictate layoffs, sell public assets and reduce spending or services. Opponents gathered more than 203,000 signatures — about 40,000 more than necessary — for a ballot measure to repeal the law, but the State Board of Canvassers ruled the petition invalid because it may have been printed in an incorrect font size. The Michigan Court of Appeals is expected to rule any day on whether voters will get to vote on repeal November. “This is more extreme than anything in Wisconsin,” said Edward McNeil, assistant to the president of AFSCME Council 25, which led bargaining for the Detroit area’s public employee unions. Conservatives and anti-labor forces nationally view Michigan as a laboratory for policy that could spread to states facing similar financial challenges. Already, lawmakers in Indiana, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are mulling similar solutions. “The Emergency Manager law works for Michigan, a state where the unions have the balance of power over taxpayers,” said Scott Hagerstrom, spokesman for Americans For Prosperity, an Arlington-based Tea Party group. “Certainly we’re seeing more states needing to take drastic measures like this to get control of their own budget and debt.” (read article)

SEIU boss Mary Kay Henry pushes for equality, lift for workers

By Joanne Ostrow, May 29, 2012, The Denver Post

Think “labor union” and you probably picture guys with fat cigars, truck drivers, Jimmy Hoffa. You are less likely to think immigration reform, same-sex marriage or environmental issues. Mary Kay Henry, leader of the Service Employees International Union, is not your father’s union boss. She heads the fastest-growing union in North America, with 2.1 million members, a few thousand of whom are convening in Denver this week. Not only is she the first woman to lead the union, she’s the first out lesbian. Her goal is to broaden the fight, make the case for working people and get President Barack Obama re-elected. “We’ve been looking at the crisis facing working people and the deepening divide that is occurring in the country, and our members, amazingly to me, are ready to stand up and fight back. The first step is the election,” Henry said. “Then the second, third and fourth steps are to grow a movement for change in this country that challenges, frankly, the 1 percent’s grip on our democracy.” (read article)

State Employees’ Unions Eye Ballot

By Dara Kam, May 28, 2012, Palm Beach Post

Labor unions in Wisconsin are facing a historic test next week in the recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. But the Wisconsin showdown, pitting unions and their Democratic supporters against Walker and his conservative backers, also sets the stage for the November elections in Florida and across the country. In Florida, unions representing a broad swath of workers have united for the first time in decades, fired up over what they see as an unprecedented attack by state legislators over the past two years. New to the table are law enforcement groups, including unions representing firefighters and police officers, who have traditionally backed GOP candidates and enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Republican-dominated legislature. The law enforcement unions are now holding hands with historically left-leaning labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association. The Florida coalition is an unintended consequence of union attacks since the 2010 elections swept tea party candidates like Walker and Gov. Rick Scott into office, union leaders said. “What we weren’t able to do among ourselves for many years was facilitated by the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate attacking public employees, which gave us all a common enemy,” said Gary Rainey, president of the Florida Professional Firefighters. (read article)

Labor Board Member Resigns Over Leak to G.O.P. Allies

By Steven Greenhouse, May 27, 2012, New York Times

The National Labor Relations Board announced on Sunday that one of its five members, Terence F. Flynn, had resigned after the board’s inspector general found that Mr. Flynn, a Republican, leaked documents to G.O.P. allies. The board’s chairman, Mark Gaston Pearce, said Mr. Flynn, who joined the board in January, had submitted his resignation on Saturday evening by fax and e-mail. The N.L.R.B.’s inspector general, David P. Berry, issued a report in early May that found that Mr. Flynn had committed serious ethical violations by leaking drafts of board decisions and details of internal deliberations to Peter Schaumber, a former labor board chairman who had been co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s labor advisory committee. Mr. Berry’s report said, “Mr. Flynn’s public statement that he has engaged in no wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of the board and all but eviscerates the due process procedures that the board has established.” The labor board oversees union elections, organizing drives and labor-management relations at private sector employers. Mr. Flynn has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. (read article)

Union dues can no longer be withheld from Michigan home health care workers

By Dawson Bell, May 26, 2012, Detroit Free Press

Union dues will no longer be withheld from state payments to about 60,000 Michigan home health care workers after Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office said Friday the payments are illegal under a law enacted last month. Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health, said Friday that dues withholding will stop “immediately” based on the statement from Schuette’s office upholding legislation that declared that employees hired to provide personal care services to Medicaid recipients are not government employees subject to union organizing. The law was enacted by Republican majorities in the Legislature, over vigorous opposition from the Service Employees International Union and other labor organizations, and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on April 10. But dues withholding continued because of concerns that ending the practice might be a violation of the contract. The attorney general’s letter struck down that objection, saying home health care workers were never eligible to form a union as public employees since they did not work for a government agency. (read article)

Teachers union should heed labor leader

Editorial, May 26, 2012, San Diego Union-Tribune

California’s budget crisis is real and it is dire. It’s why a record 188 school districts with more than 40 percent of the state’s students have filed budget reports that predict difficulty in meeting financial obligations in coming years, including 11 districts from San Diego County. To minimize the impact on classrooms, districts up and down the state have cut deals with teacher unions. In Irvine, teachers agreed to seven furlough days and changes in summer school compensation and working conditions. In the Murrieta Valley Unified district, teachers agreed to five furlough days. In the Mill Valley district in Marin County, teachers agreed to two furlough days, a two-year full salary freeze and suspension of extra pay for coaching. Here in San Diego County, the same constructive attitude led teachers in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District to accept nine furlough days. Unfortunately, however, the teachers union in the largest local school district has a different approach. The San Diego Education Association has for months depicted the district as spewing disinformation to extort concessions. It says, with some accuracy, that the school board has a history of saying the sky is falling and ordering major layoffs, only to reverse course when new funding is secured. But this time, the sky is falling – as witnessed by the teachers union concessions seen all over the state. The school board’s decision last week to lay off 1,534 teachers at the end of June to help cover a $122 million shortfall in a $1.1 billion budget is not a scare tactic. It is a sad decision made necessary by the budget crisis – and the teachers union’s intransigence. (read article)

Union still faces difficult odds against Target

By Jim Spencer, May 26, 2012, Star Tribune

Even as a union won the right to hold a new election to represent workers at a Target store in New York last week, the company’s allegedly improper behavior to defeat the first effort last year may have been enough to keep the nation’s No. 2 retailer union-free, analysts say. An administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Target Corp. prohibited union supporters at its Valley Stream, N.Y., store from speaking to other employees on company property. A company video shown to employees improperly intimidated them, and a company leaflet wrongly suggested that the store would close if unionized, the judge ruled. Despite the findings, Target’s tactics were likely effective in poisoning the idea of union representation so thoroughly that workers may no longer want it, according to Chris Tilly, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The damage is done,” Tilly said. “If there was an effective anti-union campaign, we should not expect to see a union victory in a speedy second election.” Target denies doing anything wrong in battling the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1500 (UFCW) at Valley Stream. But the store in a middle-class Long Island suburb just outside New York City became a critical test. The company, which operates 1,764 stores and is the country’s second-largest retailer, has never had any of its facilities unionized. Prior to the New York vote, the last union election at a Target retail store was an unsuccessful organizing effort in 1988 in Michigan. (read article)

Commentary: Union support has declined for a reason

By J.R. Labbe, May 26, 2012, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Lockheed Martin reports that the four-week-long Machinists’ strike hasn’t put much of a dent in productivity at the Fort Worth aeronautics plant. Factory operations continue with salaried employees handling critical tasks. As of May 14, the company reported that the flight line completed 33 ground engine flight run tests, almost double the 17 planned for the period. Three new F-16s were on their way to Morocco. The F-35 program was maintaining its rollout schedule, with six F-35s completed and prepared for government acceptance since the strike started. Granted, the more than 1,700 salaried employees who have been trained for various production tasks aren’t doing their regular jobs. But Lockheed’s experience does make one wonder whether union rules are counterproductive in today’s modern manufacturing plant. My first exposure to how unions bump the cost of doing business came from a post-college stint with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As a lowly PR coordinator who drummed up publicity by traveling from city to city in advance of the shows, I had zero to do with the intricate logistics involved in preparing a venue for opening night. But the actual rigging of a circus was a performance in itself. The army of Ringling riggers had specialized skills that took lots of training to master. Put a rope in the wrong place or leave a pulley improperly secured, and the result could be fatal. The convention center in one of the first major markets I worked was a union house. And there were union members being paid to do nothing except shadow the circus employees as they went about dragging, hoisting and installing cables and ropes. (read article)

Wisconsin’s progressivism faces a recall

By Nick Carey and Brendan O’Brien, May 25, 2012, Reuters

Tea Party activist Larry Gamble has spent the last few months leading an effort to disqualify the signatures of some of the 1 million residents who petitioned to recall Wisconsin’s governor, Republican Scott Walker. The petition protests Walker’s Act 10, which eliminates collective bargaining rights for most public workers, among other anti-union measures. Gamble helped launch a “Verify the Recall” website that drew in 17,000 volunteer sleuths to scour public records for fraud. He says they uncovered about 100,000 suspicious signatures using scanned, publicly available copies of the petitions. Although the findings were not sufficient to halt a recall election for Walker, it electrified Wisconsin’s grassroots conservatives by uncovering the names of judges, journalists and others who appeared to have signed the recall petition in breach of their own professional codes of ethics. (read article)

National Labor Relations Board’s rule for ‘quickie’ union elections is rejected

By Todd Lyon, May 24, 2012, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

On May 15, the National Labor Relations Board suspended implementation of its “quickie” union election rule after the District Court for the District of Columbia determined the rule was invalid “because no quorum ever existed for the pivotal vote in question.” It was the latest in a string of NLRB reversals. In the court’s decision, it noted that the NLRB quorum must, at all times, be made up of three members. In quoting Woody Allen’s statement that “80 percent of life is just showing up,” the court determined that when satisfying the quorum requirement, showing up is even more important. In this case, the court concluded that there were only two NLRB members who showed up. Here, the final version of the “quickie” rule was circulated via internal email to the three NLRB members on Dec. 16, 2011. One NLRB member, Brian Hayes, did not vote on the rule before it was published. In fact, the rule was sent for publication only hours after it was sent to Hayes. The court determined that for a quorum to exist, three NLRB members must “participate” in the business of the NLRB. (read article)

Gov. Haley Pokes Unions Over Pinata Bashing Video

By Melanie Trottman, May 22, 2012, Wall Street Journal

A South Carolina union official bashed Gov. Nikki Haley‘s face – actually a picture attached to a piñata — with a baseball bat at a progressive group’s retreat over the weekend. The real Gov. Haley fired back on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “Wow. I wonder if the unions think this kind of thing will make people take them seriously. Check this out,” the Republican governor said, linking to the 33-second video. The woman wielding the bat in a picnic shelter is outgoing South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt. Union members in the state and elsewhere have been angered by Ms. Haley’s remarks about labor unions over the past year. In her State of the State address early this year, she said  she loves that South Carolina is one of the least-unionized states in the country. She also vowed to make unions understand that “they are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.” That quote was also attached to the piñata. (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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