Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Political Spending by Unions Far Exceeds Direct Donations

By Tom McGinty and Brody Mullins

Organized labor spends about four times as much on politics and lobbying as generally thought, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, a finding that shines a light on an aspect of labor’s political activity that has often been overlooked. Organized labor spends about four times as much on politics and lobbying as generally thought, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Brody Mullins reports. Previous estimates have focused on labor unions’ filings with federal election officials, which chronicle contributions made directly to federal candidates and union spending in support of candidates for Congress and the White House. But unions spend far more money on a wider range of political activities, including supporting state and local candidates and deploying what has long been seen as the unions’ most potent political weapon: persuading members to vote as unions want them to. (read article)

Wrong Union For the Job? SEIU wants to lead a campaign against the 1%. Critics wonder if it can.

By David Moberg, July 10, 2012, In These Times

For several decades, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has talked—and typically acted—more ambitiously than most American unions, especially about organizing and politics. It has succeeded and failed with those ambitions, bringing both creativity (such as the Justice for Janitors campaigns) and injury (such as the break from the AFL-CIO) to the cause of American workers and their unions. At the union’s quadrennial convention in May, SEIU’s leaders laid out broad plans for the next few years. Building on its own Fight for a Fair Economy projects, SEIU aims to launch a new movement against social and economic inequality. Inspired by the militant union movements of industrializing countries like Brazil, SEIU envisions a more politically cohesive alliance than its coalitions of the past with environmental, civil rights, immigrant and community groups. The union also intends to educate and mobilize its 1.9 million members, turning 10 percent of them into active “member organizers” and 1 percent into “member leaders.” (read article)

Labor union takes aim at Airbus Alabama plant

By George Talbot, July 10, 2012, Birmingham News

Look out Alabama – the union is coming. The International Association of Machinists – one of the largest labor unions in the U.S. – says it will seek to organize the aircraft assembly plant that Airbus is planning to construct in Mobile. “We have every intention to try to organize the facility,” IAM President Tom Buffenbarger told TheStreet.com in an interview at the Farnborough International Air Show. “This union has a good relationship with Airbus and I look forward to engaging with them.” Buffenbarger said he will meet with Airbus officials on Wednesday at the air show. Airbus said Tuesday that its employees “would have the right to choose representation if they want it.” (read article)

3 ways to reform labor and save our country

By 18 authors, July 10, 2012, Fox News

Editor’s note: The following opinion piece is authored by 18 economists and labor experts. A full list of the authors may be found below. Now that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has resoundingly won the recall election organized against him, pundits and policymakers are wondering what’s next. As economists and labor experts from across the country, we believe it’s time for legislators at all levels of government—local, state, and federal—to recognize that the labor reforms begun in Wisconsin need to be implemented nationwide. The stakes couldn’t be higher. A ticking fiscal time bomb has already begun to explode in some cities, a direct consequence of unsustainable union pay and benefit packages. Meanwhile, state laws that mandate union membership as a job requirement are contributing to a status quo that delivers workers’ paychecks and citizens’ taxes into union hands—and from union hands to the bulging coffers of labor leaders’ favorite political allies. (read article)

Pro and con: Are public-employee unions too powerful?

By Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, July 8, 2012, The Reporter

Stockton, Calif., sent shockwaves on June 28 when its city council voted to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. City officials blamed a number of factors — the housing market collapse, the poor economy, and mounting unfunded liabilities for city workers’ retirement and heath benefits — for driving California’s 13th largest city to insolvency. Meantime, other cities and states are struggling with mounting obligations to public employees, whose unions donate heavily to political campaigns and often negotiate pensions and benefits most private-sector businesses don’t offer. Are public employee unions becoming too powerful for the public good? Or are they a bulwark against an eroding standard of living? Columnists Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis weigh in. Ben Boychuk: Stockton’s bankruptcy should be a warning to other cities, and not just in California, of what happens when terrible policy choices meet a disastrous economy. Yes, the city was hit hard by the recession and the housing market’s collapse. But Stockton sowed the seeds of its fiscal ruin years before, committing hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowed money to unsustainable spending. Yet the city won’t use the bankruptcy process to renegotiate some $800 million in unfunded liabilities it owes its retirees in pensions and health benefits. (read article)

Look Who’s Embracing Privatization—Big City Democrats ($$$)

By Leonard Gilroy and Harris Kenny, July 7, 2012, Wall Street Journal

We often hear that America’s infrastructure is crumbling, but did you know that tens and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars in private infrastructure funds are waiting to be spent? It’s money that Chicago Mayor—and Democratic Party powerhouse—Rahm Emanuel has spotted, rightly calling it “a tool here that takes some of the pressure off taxpayers.” In April, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly approved Mr. Emanuel’s $7 billion program to “rebuild Chicago” by constructing two new runways at O’Hare Airport; replacing 900 miles of water pipes and 750 miles of the sewer system; creating special routes for rapid bus transit… (read article – subscription required)

Big money coming in for California ballot fight aimed at restricting unions

By Jon Ortiz, July 7, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Here comes the big money. The union coalition fighting a Nov. 6 ballot measure aimed at restricting unions from collecting campaign cash from their members has received a $1 million donation. Meanwhile, the campaign backing the initiative, which would end using payroll- deducted monies for political purposes, has received a $500,000 contribution from the head of a Palo Alto holding company. California Professional Firefighters Ballot Issues Committee made the million-dollar donation, sending a seven-figure signal that labor interests have put the initiative squarely in their cross hairs. Donations to fight the measure have reached about $8 million. On the other side, Thomas M. Siebel, founder and chairman of First Virtual Group, gave $500,000 to the “yes” campaign, which has raised a little more than $4 million. The initiative would ban unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates, although both could still fund independent expenditure campaigns to support candidates. (read article)

Union-backed California lawmakers seek to thwart local pension reform votes

Editorial, July 6, 2012, Orange County Register

The union-dominated California Legislature still hasn’t acknowledged the message: Voters want reform of public-employee pensions. Local reform measures passed overwhelmingly June 5, with 66 percent of the vote in San Diego and a 70 percent win in San Jose. But leaders in the Legislature are cooking up “reforms” that would make a mockery of voters’ clear preference. Reported the UT San Diego, “Legislative Democrats are exploring whether they can politically and legally override local pension reforms enacted by voters.

Article Tab: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, right, shown this week in the state Capitol with Attorney General Kamala Harris, confirmed discussions aimed at blocking public-employee pension reforms approved last month by voters in San Diego and San Jose. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, right, shown this week in the state Capitol with Attorney General Kamala Harris, confirmed discussions aimed at blocking public-employee pension reforms approved last month by voters in San Diego and San Jose. “San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders sounded the alarm in a confidential letter sent this week to Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.” Mr. Sanders’ letter explained, “As a charter city, it is our right and our duty to ensure that our fiscal house is in order.” In California, charter city law, as described by the League of California Cities, “allows voters to determine how their city government is organized and, with respect to municipal affairs, enact legislation different than that adopted by the state.” (read article)

California game wardens, park rangers lose bid to form their own union — again

By Jon Ortiz, July 6, 2012, Sacramento Bee

California’s state game wardens and park rangers this week lost their bid – again – to form their own union. Senate Bill 252, by Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, was the the group’s latest attempt to split off from the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association. The 7,000-member union covers a wide swath of workers, from sworn law enforcement officers to retail gas pump inspectors. A dissident group, Peace Officers of California, argues that the association’s scope keeps it from negotiating better pay and benefits for sworn officers. The group has tried many times to form its own union, much like the union that represents California Highway Patrol officers. A Public Employment Relations Board judge in 2009 rebuffed the peace officers’ last attempt to leave the union. The Vargas bill would have overturned that ruling. (read article)

California teachers unions should be ashamed

Editorial, July 5, 2012, San Bernardino Sun

Anyone who wonders why a school district can’t dismiss a teacher accused of molesting kids might want to direct that question to the California Teachers Association. Or ask the California Federation of Teachers, or United Teachers Los Angeles, or the handful of cowardly legislators who let Senate Bill 1530 die last week in committee. That bill, by Democrat Alex Padilla, would have made it easier to fire teachers who have been accused of particularly egregious crimes – such as sex, violence or drug offenses involving children – by changing current rules that make this ridiculously cumbersome. Teachers like Mark Berndt, of Miramonte Elementary School, who was charged this year with 23 counts of lewd acts with a child – behavior that had reportedly been going on for decades. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially since the bill had passed the state Senate with bipartisan support. An array of school officials and education supporters traveled to Sacramento to lend their support, including a representative of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Monica Garcia, president of Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education. They praised the bill for protecting due process but gave school officials a tool to oust abusing teachers. Garcia said current law ties the hands of school officials, and this bill would change the “law in California to be very clear that children must be protected.” But the debate in the Assembly Education Committee took on an ominous tone when the opposition – teachers union officials and a busload of local teachers – took the floor. (read article)

For California unions accepting cuts, what will next year bring?

By Jon Ortiz, July 5, 2012, Sacramento Bee

There’s been plenty of attention given to how state workers will be taking another round of furloughs for the next 12 months, but here’s the really intriguing question: What happens after that? The answer depends on whether voters pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure on the November ballot. In theory, a rejection would hit schools and public safety, since that’s where Brown’s measure sends most of the new money. But it’s hard to envision state workers spared from any deeper cost-cutting plan if the budget crisis continues into 2013-14. And the unions’ recent agreements to take more unpaid days off while still under contract, while noble, also set a precedent. Let’s say the November tax measure fails. In January, Brown will present a scorched-earth budget as a this-is-what-voters-want plan. A May budget revision will probably look even more draconian, if recent history is any guide. Right around that same time in mid-May, 19 of the 21 bargaining units that represent state workers begin earnest contract talks. Their agreements all expire on July 1, 2 or 3 in 2013. (Why only 19? Because the Highway Patrol officers’ union agreed to the 2012-13 furloughs in exchange for a five-year contract extension to 2018. Firefighters did the same for a four-year extension to 2017.) (read article)

California court ruling lifts union wage mandate for charter cities

By Thy Vo, July 4, 2012, Orange County Register

A new ruling by the California Supreme Court will allow a provision on prevailing wages to remain in the proposed city charter, officials said. The court ruled 5-2 Monday in State Building and Construction Trades Council vs. City of Vista in favor of the city. After the San Diego County city approved its charter by special election in 2007, officials passed an ordinance prohibiting city contracts from requiring prevailing wages, or the average union rate. The state typically requires general law cities to pay the prevailing rate to workers on public projects. The construction union sued, arguing that diverging from the union rate has the effect of depressing wages, making it a matter of statewide concern. But the court ruled Monday the matter is a municipal affair, affirming the legal ability for charter cities to decide whether or not to pay prevailing wages on locally-funded public works projects. Councilman Jim Righeimer, who introduced the draft Costa Mesa charter late last year, has argued that eliminating the state requirement will save the city money by paying less on labor costs for construction projects. (read article)

In Chicago, a battle over schools’ future

By George F. Will, July 4, 2012, Washington Post

The name of the nation’s largest labor union — the National Education Association — seems calculated to blur the fact that it is a teachers union. In this blunt city, however, the teachers union candidly calls itself the Chicago Teachers Union. Its office is in the Merchandise Mart, a gigantic architectural Stonehenge, which resembles a fortress located on the Chicago River, which resembles a moat. Which is appropriate. Unions are besieged, especially public-sector unions, particularly teachers unions, and nowhere more than here. Teachers unions have been bombarded with bad publicity, much of it earned, including the movie “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” and have courted trouble by cashing in on sentimentality, cloaking every acquisitive demand in gauzy rhetoric about how everything is “for the children.” (read article)

Detroit has run out of other people’s money

By Shikha Dalmia, July 3, 2012, Reason Magazine

A sigh of relief swept through Detroit recently after a judge threw out a legal challenge to the “consent agreement” the city just signed with the state to clean its books and avoid bankruptcy. The lawsuit, filed by the city’s megalomaniacal legal counsel, represented a level of overreach ridiculous even by Detroit’s lofty standards. But in the tragicomedy that is Detroit, it would have been better if it had succeeded and expedited Motown’s rendezvous with bankruptcy. If there is any solution to Detroit’s fiscal mess, it may lie in the legal, not political, arena. Fiscal deficits have been a fact of life in Detroit for decades as residents and industry fled its high taxes, high crime, shoddy schools and erratic trash services, thus eroding its tax base. Now, however, Detroit is flat broke, with a $265 million deficit that it has run out of gimmicks to fix. (read article)

Big California Cities Exempt From Prevailing-Pay Law

By Pamela MacLean, July 02, 2012, Bloomberg

California charter cities don’t have to comply with a state law mandating payment of prevailing wages on municipal construction projects, the state Supreme Court ruled. The state’s high court rejected 5 to 2 an appeal by the Building and Construction Trades Council of California AFL-CIO, comprising 131 local unions, aimed at forcing the city of Vista, near San Diego, to pay prevailing wages on city building projects. The city argued state law doesn’t apply to charter cities, which have greater autonomy than general-law cities, according to the court. The state’s 120 charter cities include the largest, such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego, according to the League of California Cities. The unions argued the prevailing-wage law is of statewide concern, giving the state primary legislative authority. “The city responds that the matter is a municipal affair and therefore governed by its local ordinances,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the majority. “We agree with the city.” (read article)

What Unions Should Be in 21st Century America

Editorial, June 30, 2012, CIV FI

The role of unions in the United States has historically been to pool the collective power of workers to negotiate an end to exploitative work conditions and elevate rates of compensation. During the late 19th and early 20th century, unions fought courageously and successfully to raise the standard of living for workers and to push for systemic legislative reforms. In the aftermath of WWII, when America’s manufacturers enjoyed a near monopolistic position on world markets, record profits amid minimal foreign competition enabled management to grant request after request to union negotiators, and a middle class was established that enjoyed an unprecedented level of broad prosperity. Today the status of unions, and workers, is very different. The American consumer can purchase a dazzling array of products at incredibly low cost, manufactured everywhere on earth, but the price for this has been the decimation of private sector unions. And into this void, public sector unions have emerged as the new voice of labor in the United States. With public sector union members now comprising more than half of all union membership in America, and probably more than two-thirds of all union revenue, organized labor is no longer a voice for exploited workers. Today organized labor is predominantly representing white collar professionals who work for the government. The agenda of these unions is to increase their membership, and increase the pay and benefits for their members. They negotiate not with managers representing the owners of capital – where there is a common interest in preserving the ability of the company to survive in the competitive free market – but with elected officials who rely on taxation for their funds. When a government program fails, rather than cancel it, the union agenda would more naturally favor extending and increasing it. Here then are some principles and reform ideas that might inform any realistic program to redefine and revitalize unions in 21st century America: (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.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!