Union Watch Highlights

Union Watch Highlights

Here are links to the top stories available online over the past week reporting on union activity including legislation, financial impact, reform activism, etc., from California and across the USA.

Chicago teacher strike poses test for labor as teacher unions see influence wane

By Associated Press, September 11, Washington Post

The massive teacher strike in Chicago offers a high-profile test for the nation’s teacher unions, which have seen their political influence threatened as a growing reform movement seeks to expand charter schools, get private companies involved with failing schools and link teacher evaluations to student test scores. Union leaders are taking a major stand on teacher evaluations, one of the key issues in the Chicago dispute. If they lose there, it could have ripple effects around the country. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — the nation’s two largest teacher unions — have been playing defense in jurisdictions around the country as Republicans and Democrats alike seek greater concessions in a bid to improve ailing public schools. After decades of growth in membership and influence, the unions now are in a weaker position, said Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. “They are playing on more hostile terrain and they are facing opponents the likes of which they have not had to face before,” Hess said. The strike also has implications for the presidential race because it pits the Chicago Teachers Union — the AFT’s oldest local — against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama. (read article)

Teachers union demands ignore the extent of Chicago’s pension crisis

By Jonathan Ingram, September 10, 2012, Illinois Policy Institute

So, the Chicago Teachers Union is on strike. You may remember that they were demanding a 30 percent raise earlier this year and that they rejected a package that included a 16 percent raise. The union’s demands would spike the average teacher’s salary to nearly six-figures, and that’s before you tally up the generous benefits they get on top of their salaries. But taxpayers are tapped out. These taxpayers lost an entire week’s worth of pay to the state’s massive income tax hike. They’ve been nickeled and dimed to death by their local governments. And earlier this year, Chicago Public Schools hiked property taxes to the maximum extent allowed by law. If that weren’t bad enough, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. If nothing changes, the school district’s contribution to the Chicago teachers’ pension fund will more than triple next year. Money meant for the classroom will instead go to pay for the retirement benefits of former Chicago teachers. By next year, these retirement costs will eat up nearly half of the education funding Chicago receives from the state. (read article)

Chicago Teachers’ Strike a Big Mistake

Co-hosts: Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, September 10, 2012, MSNBC

(watch video)

CalChamber Goes Neutral On Props. 30, 32

By Jon Fleischman, September 10, 2012, The Flash Report

Last Friday, I penned a column where I pointed out that the Board of Directors of the California Chamber of Commerce would be meeting at the posh Casa Del Mar beachfront hotel in Santa Monica, where among other things they would be considering whether to take a position on Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s measure to hit Californians with higher income and sales taxes in order to preserve the status-quo. The CalChamber officially took a neutral position on the measure.  We spoke with a number of friends on the CalChamber Board who confirmed with us that a secret ballot was taken, and that the 60% threshold to oppose the tax increase was not achieved. (read article)

Costa Mesa won’t take ‘no’ from union on jail outsourcing

September 9, 2012, By Teri Sforza, Orange County Register

Costa Mesa  CEO Tom Hatch told the president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association that the city wants to outsource jail services to private firm G4S  (which would save the city $3 million over five years and substantially improve service at the same time), despite a pending lawsuit by the union on this very issue (and an injunction forbidding it “from contracting with a private entity for any of the services that are performed by CMCEA members or laying off CMCEA members”). The union responded, in proper legal language, that the city essentially needs its head examined, and that it can’t do this — at least, not now, while the suit is pending. But the city does not appear to be taking “no” for an answer. “Because CMCEA does not hold a ‘veto’ over Costa Mesa’s outsourcing plans, whether CMCEA ultimately disagrees with Costa Mesa’s decision to outsource jail services is immaterial and irrelevant for purposes of the MOU,” said a letter from the city’s lawyer to the union’s lawyer, delivered last week. (read article)

Teachers union wants a say in Los Angeles Unified’s classroom breakfast program

By Teresa Watanabe, September 9, 2012, Los Angeles Times

It started out as a way to make sure students don’t begin their school day hungry, a factor in lower academic achievement. Since Los Angeles Unified began serving breakfast in classrooms at 20 schools in January, the percentage of children involved has zoomed to 84%, according to David Binkle, the district’s interim director of food services. That compares with 29% of students who participate in the district’s regular breakfast program in the cafeteria before school starts, he said. But as the district begins expanding the classroom breakfast program to 279 schools this year, United Teachers Los Angeles has asked for the matter to be brought to the bargaining table. Union official Juan Ramirez said teachers believe it’s a worthwhile program but are irked that the district never talked to them about it before rolling it out. Teachers are also concerned about spills, trash and the loss of instructional time, he said. “Teachers were left in the dark,” said Ramirez, the union’s elementary schools vice president. “It’s just the way the district does things. There’s resentment about the lack of respect.” (read article)

As Pension Reform Is Hammered Out in San Jose, Heroic Police and Firefighters Rush to Declare Themselves Injured

By Scott Shackford, September 7, 2012, Reason Magazine

If the open worship of union employees – both public and private – at the Democratic National Convention seemed jarringly out of step with the experiences regular shmoes actually have out in their own states and cities … wait, why did I start this sentence with “if”? Via Bloomberg Businessweek: Police officers and firefighters in San Jose, California, are rushing to join a program that lets them claim disability and retire in their 30s and 40s — and that allows them to get tax-free pensions while taking new jobs elsewhere. The benefit also allows retired police and fire employees in California’s third-largest city to change their pensions to claim the tax break. “It’s certainly double-dipping,” said Mayor Chuck Reed, 64. “Disability retirement should be for people who are seriously injured and can’t work. Those people obviously can still work and apparently weren’t seriously injured.” More than half of San Jose’s retirement payments to police and fire retirees were related to disability claims, higher than most large cities in California, Alison Vekshin reported. (read article)

State Teachers Beef Up Prop 32 Opposition

By Hillel Aron, September 7, 2012, LA School Report

Yesterday, the CTA dropped another $6.9 million into the fight against Proposition 32, which would, among other things, prohibit unions from taking money automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks and spending it on political activity. (See LA Times:  Teachers union gives another $6.9 million to Prop. 32 fight.) “This is a huge priority for us, for unions,” David Goldberg, a teacher in Los Angeles and an elected CTA board member, told me yesterday. This morning, the CTA also released a new web ad entitled “Meet a SuperPAC Billionaire who supports Prop 32.” According the great new website Dollar, Dollar Bill, this latest contribution brings CTA’s total spent against Prop 32 to $16 million. (read article)

Prop. 32 reduces unions’, corporations’ clout

By Gabriella Holt, September 7, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle

Do you believe corporations and unions have too much power over our state and local government officials? That is the question that Proposition 32 puts squarely before voters in November. The fact is both corporations and unions do have too much power. State-level candidates in 2010 received more than $70 million in union and corporate contributions. The consequence is a corrupt system that allows well-funded, narrow interests to control politicians. For example, the California Teachers Association recently blocked legislation that would have made it easier for school districts to fire teachers in cases of sexual abuse. The bill easily passed the Senate only to fail in the Assembly Education Committee after the teachers’ union voiced its opposition. (read article)

California Teachers Association gives $16 million to fight Prop. 32

By Jon Ortiz, September 7, 2012, Sacramento Bee

The California Teachers Association has donated $6.95 million toward defeating the November ballot measure that would squeeze funding for unions’ political efforts. A state report filed today shows that the union gave the money on Wednesday. The donation pushes the union-backed No on Proposition 32 campaign to about $35.7 million. Of that, the teachers’ union has given $16 million so far. Proposition 32 supporters have raised about $3 million. The measure would ban unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. It also bans direct campaign contributions by either interest group. Both sides could continue funding independent expenditure campaigns. (read article)

Florida High Court to Weigh $1 Billion State Pension Case

By Jef Feeley and Christine Jordan Sexton, September 7, 2012, Bloomberg

Florida lawmakers who backed Republican-led changes to the state’s public-employee pension system didn’t violate workers’ constitutional rights, a lawyer told the Florida Supreme Court. The legislature relied on earlier high court rulings when it changed future benefits to save $1 billion in pension expenses and deal with a financial crisis, Raoul Cantero, a lawyer for Republican Governor Rick Scott, argued. He asked the court to throw out a trial judge’s ruling that the reform law was unconstitutional. “The legislature has relied on that bright line not just in 2011 when they were making the plans, but all throughout,” Cantero said today in Tallahassee. (read article)

Democrats get serious about public sector unions

By Daniel DiSalvo, September 6, 2012, PublicSectorInc

Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to reform the laws governing public employee unions in Wisconsin created a national firestorm. Opinion has polarized on the issue, as is evident from the national parties’ platforms. However, dealing with the problems posed by public sector unions has been and continues to be a bi-partisan. Just look at the most recent examples. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo pioneered pension reform in Rhode Island; Mayor Chuck Reed did the same in San Jose; Rahm Emmanuel is in a showdown with teachers unions in Chicago; former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown become a fierce critic of California’s unions for inflating pensions; and Gloria Romero, California’s Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2008, is now taking on the California Teachers Association. Granted some of these Democrats changed their minds about the union only after they left office. And, of course, they don’t have the same verve as Christie and Walker in their approach to the unions. But maybe they’ll end up encouraging productive reform. Some already have. All told, there is more agreement across the political spectrum that unionized government has some significant drawbacks. (read article)

Firefighters in Orange, California take labor fight public

By Teri Sforza, September 6, 2012, Orange County Register

Lives are at stake, firefighters in the city of Orange say — and they’re taking the battle to the streets, distributing letters to residents, making phone calls and setting up a web site that exhorts the public to flood the city with calls and emails saying enough is enough before the city declares a negotiations impasse and imposes a new contract upon them. “How about you, Councilman Whitaker? How much is your life worth?” asked the wife of a firefighter who was among a throng of supporters crammed into the city council chambers last week. Many wore bright red T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “It’s about safety.” We’ve been discussing the hardball tactics used by police associations as they battle with cities over new labor contracts.  Part of the play book is to storm the city council, chastise members for their lack of concern for public safety and then make appearances at public functions, making sure everyone knows the association is upset.  This may look similar, but the Orange fire fighters say it’s different. (read article)

Labor gears up for fall fight

By David Shepardson, Detroit News, September 6, 2012

Michigan labor leaders say harsh anti-union rhetoric of Republicans and the efforts to curtain collective bargaining among public employees will help drive higher turnaround among rank-and-file members in November. In prior years, Republicans have won labor votes appealing to blue-collar voters with more conservative views on some social issues, gun rights or environmental measures. The nation’s nearly 15 million union members are a key voting bloc — along with millions of union retirees — especially in battleground states including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Labor leaders point to efforts in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states to restrict union rights as fueling high turnaround among the nation’s factory workers and other union members. “If you read the Republican platform, they want to destroy unions,” said United Auto Workers President Bob King. “The baby step in the platform in my mind is passing a national right-to-work law. They want to do much more than that — they want to take away the rights of workers to really bargain.” U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, agrees, and told The Detroit News that 2012 should produce different — better — results at the ballot box for labor unions than 2010 did. (read article)

Labor unions in full force at Democratic National Convention

By Jim Kouri, September 5, 2012, Examiner.com

As the Democratic Party conducts its official business at the convention in North Carolina on Tuesday, union officials and delegates from labor organizations in both the private and public sectors descended on the city of Charlotte in large numbers that included stalwarts such as SEIU’s Andy Stern and AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka. The goal of labor leaders is, of course, the re-election of President Barack Obama, but it’s also about garnering more power in order to increase its membership numbers. For example, while unions have requested waivers for Obamacare, they were completely onboard with passing the unpopular health care law for Americans. Stern, Trumka and others hope to expand Obamacare to the point that larger numbers of health care workers will translate into larger numbers of government union members. And these labor leaders have their sights on workers in China, India and other successful economies. But the story doesn’t end there, according to political strategist and attorney Michael Baker in an Examiner exclusive: while U.S. labor unions complain about corporations “going global and sending jobs overseas,” it may escape notice that American union members are being sacrificed for the good of a world labor consortium, according to a Washington, D.C. source. (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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