Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Senate Republicans Block Campaign Donor Disclosure Bill

By Jonathan D. Salant, July 17, 2012, Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate didn’t advance legislation that would require nonprofit groups to reveal who donates the millions of dollars they spend on campaign ads. Yesterday’s vote on the Democratic proposal was 51-44, with 60 required to advance it. The measure, opposed by Republicans, is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that removed limits on independent spending by corporations and labor unions. Democrats said they would seek another vote today. Groups that kept their donors secret favored Republicans over Democrats in 2010 by $117 million to $13 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. Such groups included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, and Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove. (read article)

Why Democrats need labor unions

By Julian Zelizer, July 17, 2012, CNN Contributor

Since the Democrats chose to host their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a state that has not been hospitable to unions, organized labor is going to have a rally to focus attention on its key issues in Philadelphia on August 11. The rally is meant to send a message to the Democratic leadership, as well as to Republicans, that many workers feel as if they don’t have a voice in the two-party system. As AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said to members, the rally will “give us an opportunity to connect the faces of ordinary Americans to the basic issues affecting working people in our country while providing an important liftoff to our Labor 2012 political program for the fall.” The rally is indicative of a larger tension that has plagued the Democratic coalition for several decades. Since the 1960s, organized labor, once the pillar of the Democratic Party, has often been taken for granted or even treated with hostility. Union leaders frequently complain that they have second-class status in the party compared with other groups such as environmentalists or suburban voters. During the battle over public employee unions in Wisconsin, most national Democrats were noticeably absent from the debate. Before the Wisconsin gubernatorial election that followed the recall, President Obama was willing to tweet his support for Gov. Scott Walker’s opponent, Tom Barrett, but unwilling to actually visit. This fissure has high costs for the Democrats and for liberalism more generally. Organized labor has been integral to the organizational strength of liberalism throughout the 20th century, as the most reliable and powerful force to get out the vote in elections and to help build congressional coalitions behind progressive legislation. (read article)

Tom Elias: A fig leaf over ‘paycheck protection’

By Tom Elias, July 17, 2012, The Redding Searchlight

At least the conservative interests behind the latest move to limit or eliminate the influence of labor unions in California politics have heard what their critics said about their earlier efforts. Twice before, voters have rejected efforts by corporate lobbies like the state Chamber of Commerce to force unions to get signatures yearly from their members before any dues money can be used for political purposes. The problem with that, opponents said when confronted with similar efforts led by then-Govs. George Deukmejian in 1988 and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, was that it would tilt the political playing field too much toward the interests of big corporations, who are not forced to get permission from shareholders before using their money in politics. Since corporations are now considered the same as human beings by edict of the U.S. Supreme Court, that means there are effectively no limits, no controls at all on their contributions. In the prior balloting, that gave the interests pushing restrictions on labor unions (usually called “paycheck protection” by those pushing them) too much of an advantage to suit most voters. As a result, paycheck protection’s backers had to create an illusion of fairness before putting the idea back on the ballot this fall. (read article)

Tax the Rich for Schools and Services – Don’t Let Them Silence You!

By Chris Daly, July 17, 2012, Fog City Journal

The Most Important Election: Every other year someone steps forward to talk about how the upcoming elections are the most important of our time. This year in California, they may actually be correct. On November 6th, Californians will be asked to do so much more than hand President Obama 55 electoral votes. With two statewide initiatives, we will decide whether to reverse decades of tax policy that has enriched the wealthiest while starving basic public services like education, healthcare, and safety; or we could pass a deceptive measure that will eliminate unions’ ability to fight for our priorities: jobs with good wages and benefits and a society where working families can live with dignity and respect. Five years ago during the first year of the subprime mortgage crisis, Americans lost 25% of our net wealth. Unemployment doubled. Since that time, 750,000 Californians lost their homes. Now, one in three California mortgage holders is underwater, meaning they owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home, and more than 10% of Californians are still unemployed. (read article)

Former California Democratic Senate leader endorses Proposition 32

By Jon Ortiz, July 16, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Romero.JPGFormer Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero today said she is endorsing Proposition 32, the November ballot measure that would change California’s campaign finance law and limit unions ability to raise political cash. The announcement marks the first time that a high-profile Democrat has publicly supported the measure, which unions have blasted as a disguised effort by business interests to hobble organized labor’s political influence. “I’ve studied it carefully,” said the Los Angeles Democrat during a telephone interview this afternoon. “This is as balanced a measure as we can achieve at this time.” Proposition 32 would ban both unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates, although both could still fund independent expenditure campaigns to support candidates. (read article)

Who’s Funding Prop 32, Prohibiting Contributions Through Payroll Deductions?

KCET Elections 2012, July 16, 2012

Proposition 31will put restrictions on unions’ ability to raise funds for political purposes, specifically via payroll deductions. It will also restrict unions, as well as corporations, from making contributions to candidates or candidate-controlled committees, even if indirectly via a different kind of committee. Additionally, government contractors will not be able to donate to an elected official who might award or has already awarded a contract to them. All that said, some voluntary employee contributions will be allowed. (view donations)

SD, unions to face-off at pension hearing

By Craig Gustafson, July 16, 2012, San Diego Union Tribune

The state agency that tried unsuccessfully to keep San Diego’s pension overhaul off the ballot is now going to be the main arbiter on whether it is legal, a process under state law that has unions cheering and Republican city leaders fuming. The Public Employment Relations Board, a quasi-judicial agency charged with investigating labor disputes, likely won’t have the final say on the fate of Proposition B, but it will have the first. The city and its unions battled in court for months over whether PERB was the proper venue for a legal challenge against the initiative with courts ruling definitively that it fell within the agency’s jurisdiction. Now the legal battle shifts to Glendale where both sides will begin presenting evidence Tuesday before PERB’s administrative law judge. Four days of hearings are scheduled, but it could take much longer. Mayor Jerry Sanders is expected to testify Wednesday. (read article)

Red flags over cities’ bankruptcy filings

By Wyatt Buchanan, July 14, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle

San Bernardino’s stunning news last week that it was broke and needed to file for bankruptcy protection has some observers wondering who’s next. San Bernardino is the third California city, after Stockton and Mammoth Lakes (Mono County), to declare bankruptcy within the past three weeks. And while Stockton’s June 28 filing wasn’t surprising – city officials had talked publicly about the problem for months – the moves by San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes were. Part of the reason, finance experts say, is that it’s not in a city’s best interest, financially, to bring up the possibility of bankruptcy: Talk of bankruptcy alarms credit rating agencies, which can use the public discussion as a reason to downgrade a city’s rating, leading to increased borrowing costs for the city. “It’s in the public interest for them to be very, very careful about it,” said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. While city bankruptcies are rare, California cities are increasingly struggling with the slow economic recovery, smaller budgets, state budget cuts and the dissolution of redevelopment agencies. This year, officials in the city of Hercules said they averted pursuing bankruptcy protection by settling a $4.1 million lawsuit from a bond insurer who filed suit after the city defaulted on a bond interest payment. The Contra Costa County city’s financial troubles were exacerbated by the loss of redevelopment funding, and it continues to struggle. An additional eight California cities, including Fairfield, which declared a fiscal emergency in April, have officially notified the municipal bond market this year that they are facing significant financial hardship, according to Matt Fabian, managing director of Municipal Market Advisors, which conducts independent research on the municipal bond industry. (read article)

Dan Walters: California just as insolvent as bankrupt cities

By Dan Walters, July 13, 2012, Sacramento Bee

So far this summer, three California cities have moved toward bankruptcy and several others are distressed enough that the b-word has left the lips of their elected and appointed officials – including those in the two largest, Los Angeles and San Diego. Elected leaders and appointed managers succumbed to hubris and political pressure, particularly from their employee unions. They committed their cities to spending on employee salaries and fringe benefits, especially pensions and health care, and civic improvements that could not be sustained when the housing bubble burst and revenue declined. As their gaps between income and outgo widened, officials covered them with questionable transfers, bookkeeping gimmicks, loans and lies – hoping against hope that the downturn would be brief and revenue would once again surge and bail them out. “For the last 16 years, the budget prepared for the council showed the city was in the black. The mayor and the council were not given accurate information,” San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman told his council members the other night before they voted to join Mammoth Lakes and Stockton in bankruptcy court. San Bernardino thus becomes the second-largest city in American history to pursue bankruptcy – second only to Stockton. Officials in Stockton, San Bernardino and other upside-down California cities should bear the onus of their irresponsible decision-making. Their first responsibility was to protect the financial integrity of their cities but they allowed other considerations, mostly political, to get the best of them. That said, what’s happened at the municipal level is no worse than what’s happened to state government for similar reasons. (read article)

The War On Workers Comes to California, in Disguise

By David Dayen‚ Jul. 13‚ 2012, BeyondChron

After the victory in Wisconsin, many wondered where conservative interests would strike next to finish off unions and permanently alter the power relationship between labor and capital. It appears the next step is California. In November, voters will decide on an initiative, Prop 32, that would “eliminate unions from having any voice in politics whatsoever,” according to one labor official. In its simplest form the measure, often called “paycheck protection” on the right, would stop unions from using automatic payroll deductions from their members for political activity. Similar measures have been on the ballot before in California, and have been beaten back both times. In 1998, voters rejected Prop 226, and in 2005, they similarly beat back Prop 75. But those were frontal assaults against unions. The difference here is that the supporters have dressed up this initiative as a campaign finance reform measure that affects corporations and unions in equal measure. Prop 32 supports call it the “Stop Special Interest Money Initiative.” Nothing could be further from the truth, says the opposition to Prop 32. “The people who drafted this are the same people who twice before tried this and failed,” says Brian Brokaw, the communications director for No on 32. (read article)

San Bernardino unions say pensions are only fraction of city’s deficit problem

By Ryan Hagen, July 13, 2012, San Bernardino Sun

Forget the politics and look at the math, city employee unions are saying in the wake of statements by city officials pegging them with much of the blame for the city’s decision to pursue bankruptcy. In the document saying the city should prepare for bankruptcy, Acting City Manager Travis-Miller wrote that employee retirements cost the city $1.9million in fiscal year 2011-2012, notes John Marini, director of the San Bernardino Professional Firefighters’ executive board. That’s just a fraction of the city’s projected deficit of $45 million, he says. “We’re being scapegoated,” Marini said. “Our contract’s stayed the same, and we’ve lost 19 firefighters.” Mayor Pat Morris and some City Council members have said the city’s labor costs – particularly skyrocketing pensions – were among the biggest factors contributing to the ongoing deficit. Indeed, Travis-Miller’s report said that three-quarters of the city’s general fund is spent on employee compensation, with most of that going to police officers and firefighters. And according to state data from 2010, many public safety officials make far more than most city residents. (read article)

Study Reveals Union Collective Bargaining Cost LAUSD 2,000 Teacher Jobs in 2010/2011

Video, July 12, 2012, Americans for Prosperity

(watch video)

San Bernardino police union says city’s bankruptcy not its fault

By Jeff Horseman, July 12, 2012, Riverside Press-Enterprise

Police officer pay and pensions did not cause the financial crisis pushing San Bernardino into bankruptcy, the president of the police union said Thursday, July 12. “The city has mismanaged their funds. I know they want to blame it on employees and pensions,” said Steve Turner of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association. “Instead of being responsible financially, they adopt these flawed policies,” he said. “They lay off city workers, they force concessions of city employees … Their priorities are wrong. They’re spending money (on projects such as a downtown movie theater). Through all of that, they have no accountability.” On Wednesday, Mayor Pat Morris said spiraling pension costs stemming from union deals led to the city’s fiscal problems. Projects cited by critics as examples of reckless spending were funded by the federal government or redevelopment and will spur economic development, he said. Public safety accounts for 78 percent of the city’s general fund personnel expenses, according to a budget report. (read article)

California Supreme Court supports charter cities’ exemptions from prevailing wage law

By Loretta Kalb, July 9, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Auburn City Councilman William W. Kirby doesn’t believe local governments should have to pay more for labor costs on local public works projects than private businesses pay for their own projects. That was a central argument last summer in a bid to approve a city charter in Auburn. The charter would have exempted the city from adhering to the state’s prevailing wage law for locally funded projects. The charter bid failed at the ballot box last month after vigorous opposition from organized labor working in the heavy construction industry. “It’s too bad that the charter city lost in Auburn, because I think the citizens misunderstood it,” Kirby said. “Why should municipalities, federal and state governments pay more for labor than normal businesses?” he said. “The taxpayer is getting screwed.” Last week, the state Supreme Court gave dozens of charter cities a psychological boost when it affirmed the ability of a Southern California city – Vista – to exempt itself from the state wage law. (read article)

Transit Union Head Says Its Future Depends on Organizing Riders

By Josh Eidelson, July 9, 2012, In These Times

Following labor’s loss in Wisconsin’s recall, the leader of the nation’s largest transit union says building coalitions with riders, not organizing more drivers, is the top priority for his union’s future.  Interviewed at last month’s Netroots Nation conference, Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley said that Wisconsinites’ willingness to keep their union-busting governor in office demonstrates the urgent need to change the relationship between public workers and the American public.  “No matter how much money we put into electoral politics,” said Hanley, “if we can’t change the attitudes of people…we’ll lose.  It’s just a matter of when and how hard.” “I think Wisconsin shows,” says Hanley, “that at this moment in time, the right wing and the billionaires who support them have been successful in convincing a significant minority of working people that their interests are tied to falling wages in the public sector.”  Hanley adds that Walker’s re-election demonstrates politicians’ success in framing unions as a “special interest,” and “saying there are working people, and then there’s organized labor.”  Hanley noted he was particularly surprised by polls showing a substantial minority of union households backing Walker.  “We have to – starting with our own members – make sure that people understand that we’re all in this together, we’re not all in this alone…it’s going to be a long process.” ATU represents over 190,000 workers in the US and Canada.  The majority are public workers. (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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