Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Here Is What’s So Super About Super PACs

By Chip Mellor, June 26, 2012, Forbes

Media coverage of the 2012 election is dominated by talk about so-called “super PACs.”  And, overwhelmingly, that coverage is negative. A Lexis search shows that The New York Times (both print and online) has mentioned super PACs more than 850 times in the past year alone, often in editorials or news coverage designed to convince people that these groups are a blight on American politics.  Super PACS are portrayed as an additional insult to the alleged injury that came from Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the free speech rights of corporations and unions to make independent expenditures in elections.  The sentiments of the Times are shared by much of the media. But let’s look closer. This avalanche of negative coverage is frustrating to free speech advocates because it isn’t warranted by the reality of super PACs.  At their most basic level, super PACs are just groups of people that pool money to spend on political speech.  Individuals have always been permitted to spend as much as they want on such speech as long as they act alone, but until recently federal law prohibited groups of people from contributing more than $5,000 apiece to do the same thing.  That meant that Bill Gates could spend $1 billion on political ads if he wished, but if you got together with your neighbor, you’d be limited to spending $10,000 total. (read article)

The Three Words That Made Pensions Untouchable

By Liam Dillon, June 25, 2012, Voice of San Diego

As it stands in California law, on the day municipal workers start their jobs, their pension benefits can only go up, not down. This legal principle has been a bedrock behind the city of San Diego’s decade-long pension drama. Despite a growing pension debt that has dominated the city’s political discourse, reforms have focused on new employees, not the retirees or current workers who are owed the bill. It’s one reason why the June pension initiative, Proposition B, stuck new workers with 401(k)s, yet did nothing to guarantee San Diego’s existing pension debt would be cut. (read article)

California state union leader Yvonne Walker has a sales job on her hands

By Jon Ortiz, June 25, 2012, Sacramento Bee

The toughest sales job in California over the next few weeks belongs to a former Marine who will have to explain to tens of thousands of state workers why they should accept yet another pay cut. Eventually it will fall to SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker to persuade the voting members of the 93,000-employee union to swallow a 5 percent reduction in their wages to help balance California’s wobbly budget. The union is still under contract for another year. The members have already endured furloughs. And Gov. Jerry Brown, the labor-friendly Democrat they helped elect, proposed the cut. The complexity of Walker’s position was on full display at a recent webcast town hall with Service Employees International Union members. “Every year there’s going to be a deficit,” said one long-time state worker who said he is at the top of his job’s pay range. “So we’re bargaining what? Cuts in pay or layoffs. So what year are we going to say, no more cuts in pay, we’re going to have to do layoffs?” Walker responded, “Short-term, we’re going to have to take a cut. … One of the solutions is that we’ve got to go out and work for revenue.” (read article)

California public employee unions fight voter-approved pension reforms

Editorial, June 24, 2012, Orange County Register

The public-employee-union empire is striking back. On June 5, reforms of public-employee pensions were passed in both conservative, Republican San Diego and liberal, Democratic San Jose. Voters clearly wanted to make sure the pensions, although remaining generous, didn’t bankrupt the cities. Unions in both cities are suing to overturn the will of the voters. In San Diego, “abor unions have scored two separate legal victories in the past week in their push to invalidate San Diego’s pension reform initiative,” reported the U-T newspaper. “The two wins essentially lead to the same result: The state’s Public Employment Relations Board can now move forward with its investigation into a labor complaint that city leaders violated state law by helping craft Proposition B as a citizens’ initiative.” (read article)

Hey Unions? Welcome to Politics. Watch That Bloody Nose

By John Ransom, June 23, 2012, Townhall.com

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a hat tip to common sense, decided yesterday that nonunion members can opt out of union fees that are targeted towards political purposes. “Labor unions must give nonmember workers ‘fresh notice’ of unplanned increases in fees or assessments — money that might be used for political purposes — the Supreme Court ruled Thursday,” according to CNN. For labor unions around the country, it serves as a painful reminder that when they decided to go all-in for Obama in 2008, they alienated the rest of us non-government, non-union members- the 99 Percent- who have to go out and earn our keep every day. And that alienation is being felt in political defeats by unions around the country. (read article)

U.S. public workers say organized labor is at a turning point

By Lisa Lambert and James B. Kelleher, June 23, 2012, Reuters

As America’s biggest state and local government employees’ union gathered here this week, it faced obstacles like never before. After a big defeat in Wisconsin, and under pressure to accept cuts in jobs, pay, pensions and benefits, it needed to give convincing answers. Lee Saunders, who became the union’s first African American president on Friday, said the fight was “just getting started.” He said the mission for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was to save nothing less than organized labor itself. “Our success or failure will mark a turning point not only for our union but for the entire labor movement,” said Saunders, the former number two who succeeded Gerald McEntee as president of the union, the largest in the AFL-CIO federation. (read article)

Judge blocks union election at American Airlines

Associated Press, June 22, 2012, Kansas City Star

A federal judge has blocked a union-organizing election for nearly 10,000 employees at American Airlines. Judge Terry R. Means ruled Friday that the Communications Workers of America needed signed cards showing that at least 50 percent of the eligible workers were interested in union representation to earn an election. The union had argued that it needed 35 percent, the standard until Congress changed the rules in February. The union applied for an election before the change. The union gave notice Friday that it intends to appeal the judge’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It also will appeal a ruling that barred it from joining the case. (read article)

A cruel month for California’s public employee unions

By Joseph Perkins, June 22, 2012, CalWatchdog

California public employee unions were already having a bad June, what with passage of public pension-reform ballot measures by voters in both San Diego and San Jose over the opposition of union bosses. But their June got exponentially worse yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the political use of nonmember dues without consent — a standard practice by the Service Employees International Union here in the Golden State — violates the First Amendment rights of politically dissenting nonmembers. The case, Knox v. SEIU, stems from a 2005 campaign by the SEIU against two ballot measures sponsored by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only did the public employee union use a portion of regular dues for the campaign, it assessed an additional fee for its political activity. (read article)

Should We Hire Even More Teachers, Cops, and Firemen?

By Nick Gillespie, June 22, 2012, Reason

Though it feels like it was about a thousand years ago, it was only a couple of weeks back that President Barack Obama announced that the private sector was “doing fine” and that it was the public sector that really needed a helping hand getting through this furshlugginer economy. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney bravely critiqued his presidential sparring partner by averring: ” says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers….It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.” In the very best political tradition, each candidate immediately walked back his original statement through heavy—and half-hearted—qualification. Obama corrected himself by saying, “It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine” and Romney said that it’s “completely absurd” to say he’d pink-slip cops, firemen, and teachers because they are mostly hired at the state and local level (forget for a moment that a ton of federal dough is spent on hiring state-and-local cops, firemen, and teachers). Whatever. A real question remains, and it’s one that affects the objectively dreary state of public-sector America, which is flat-out broke at every level of government. Do we in fact have our staffing levels for teachers, cops, and firemen right? Could we get by with fewer of these sorts of employees or do we need yet more, to make up for the supposedly draconian cuts that have descended upon schoolhouses, police departments, and firehouses like Herod’s minions murdering innocents? (read article)

Overdue high-court ruling on union dues for politics

Editorial, June 22, 2012, Orange County Register

Workers won important free-speech rights in a decision Thursday from the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision also has implications for the Stop Special Interest Money Now initiative that California voters will decide in the November election. The case, Knox vs. SEIU Local 1000, involved Dianne Knox, a California government employee who did not belong to Local 1000, the Sacramento branch of the Service Employees International Union. Local 1000 members include 95,000 state employees. In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election for November to pass a reform slate of initiatives, including reforms of teacher tenure and union dues strongly opposed by unions. To fight the initiatives, the SEIU imposed a special union dues addition of $6.45 a month not only on members, but on nonmembers, such as Ms. Knox, whom the union represented in collective bargaining. The reform initiatives all lost, prompting Gov. Schwarzenegger to flip-flop from being a reformer governor to one who supported more regulations, taxes and spending. (read article)

Sacramento police union walks away from negotiations; layoffs imminent

By Ryan Lillis, June 21, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Talks between city labor officials and the police union have broken down, meaning more than a dozen police officers will almost certainly lose their jobs at the end of the month. Leaders of the Sacramento Police Officers Association notified city officials late Wednesday that they were walking away from the negotiating table. The union said it was backing away as a result of the City Council’s decision on Tuesday to spend $621,000 on a November ballot measure seeking to create an elected charter commission. “It seemed as discussions progressed, this became less about reform, saving jobs and fiscal responsibility and more about the council’s political agenda,” acting union president Dustin Smith said in a statement. Union leaders called the council charter commission vote “reckless.” City officials said they were surprised by the union’s actions, but were hopeful talks could resume. The union had agreed to ask officers to pay the full employee share of their pensions, an agreement they said would have saved the city nearly $15 million over the next three years. But the union’s proposal also included wage increases that would have created a $5 million deficit starting in the 2015/16 fiscal year, city officials said. (read article)

AFSCME Hopes 9/11 Memories Will Revive Political Fortunes

By Kevin Mooney, June 21, 2012, NetRightDaily

Top AFSCME officials taking part in the union’s 40th International Convention in Los Angeles are hoping the memory of 9/11 will lead voters to support increased public employee compensation. Public employee unions have been reeling as the costs of their taxpayer funded pensions and health care have been breaking the banks of state and local governments nationally. Suffering a stunning defeat in Wisconsin after throwing tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat Republican Governor Scott Walker, unions also lost in ballot initiatives in San Jose and San Diego, California, two of the largest cities in the state. Now Lee Saunders, who is currently serving as AFSCME’s secretary-treasurer, and Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 in New York, are both attempting to use 9/11 first responders as political tools to justify continuing the expansion of bloated government. (read article)

Even after a long string of losses, public-sector unions still don’t get it

By Mark Funkhouser, June 18, 2012, Governing

Even after a long string of losses — Wisconsin’s recall election and the votes on public-sector pensions in San Diego and San Jose being only the most recent — it seems that our public-sector unions still don’t get it. Within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, there is now a bitter debate about whether the country’s largest government employees’ union should continue its one-sided political involvement, doling out cash to Democratic causes and candidates. The answer is clearly no. It doesn’t matter how much money unions spend on lobbying and elections. If most Americans don’t belong to a union and don’t have the benefits that unionized workers like AFSCME’s 1.3 million members have, they’re going to vote against the unions, as they did overwhelmingly in San Diego and San Jose and as they are likely to do elsewhere if they are given the chance. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for example, now is threatening to take his pension-reform proposals to the voters if the city council doesn’t give him what he wants. The smart thing for the union movement to do — and the only way for it to survive — is to focus on organizing, especially in the private sector. (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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