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 can’t afford to pay healthy people not to work

Editorial, September 18, 2012, Chicago Sun-Times

Public employees who are permanently injured in the line of duty deserve disability payments. We would never want to turn our backs on those who sustain serious harm while keeping our streets safe or carrying citizens out of burning buildings. But it’s important to keep the system fair to taxpayers as well. We can’t afford to pay healthy people not to work. Some recent cases unearthed by Chicago Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Chris Fusco raise doubts about oversight of our disability systems. The cases make clear that, at a minimum, city pension boards should adopt reforms proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And the numerous other systems scattered around the suburbs should consider similar reforms if they are not already in place. (read article)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has created a monster

By Mary Mitchell, September 18, 2012, Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has created a monster. Soothing that monster won’t be easy. Indeed, Lewis’ rhetoric that Chicago Public Schools can’t be trusted worked too well. Now teachers don’t know a good deal when they see one. Instead of breaking into a victory song when the CPS caved and gave up on many of its accountability demands, the union’s House of Delegates opted to drag the strike out a couple of more days. On Monday, a fed-up Mayor Rahm Emanuel went to court to force teachers to return to the classroom. His effort — clearly a day late and dollar short — turned out to be all bluster when a Cook County Circuit Court judge failed to issue an immediate temporary restraining order. No matter what side you are on, I think most people would agree if the union chief — and she’s a tough cookie — thought the proposed contract language was acceptable, that should have been enough to walk teachers back into the classroom. (read article)

The Union Wins in Chicago: A big pay raise and watered-down teacher evaluations

Editorial, September 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis knew what she was doing by calling a teachers strike on the first week of school two months before Election Day in a city whose mayor is President Obama’s former chief of staff. The union is now debating whether to accept a tentative deal that includes a big pay raise but dodges the most consequential reforms. How much more does it want? The union had demanded a pay increase of 29% over four years, but the 25,000 teachers will still get 16%, which is far more than most workers in the private economy get… (read article – subscription required)

A Watershed for Democrats and Unions: The Chicago teachers strike shows that school reform is no longer a partisan issue

By Joel Klein, September 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal

The Chicago teachers strike moved toward settlement over the weekend, but fell short. A question hanging over the negotiations: What has the strike really been about? From the press coverage, it seemed that if you asked 30 teachers why they were picketing, you’d get 30 different reasons. The economic differences and the noneconomic issues (regarding teacher evaluation and job security) were of a type that has been resolved elsewhere without a strike. No, this strike feels more about attitude—”the mayor doesn’t respect us”—than substance. And from the details of the proposed settlement that have been made public so far, both… (read article – subscription required)

Millions in union political money at stake in California’s Proposition 32 fight

By Jon Ortiz, September 17, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Labor unions argue that a campaign-finance measure on California’s November ballot would unfairly hobble their political pull, but behind that lies a tacit admission: If given an easy choice, many of their members would keep the dues money that helps power union clout. By banning payroll-deducted money from California politics, Proposition 32 would undoubtedly boost the number of political “free riders” in employee unions. Although labor leaders universally oppose the measure, some union members support it as a way to make their representatives more responsive. Some, pressed by wage and benefit cuts, wonder what they’re getting for their money. And some just want to hang on to a little more cash. (read article)

What California state workers pay in union dues and fees

By Jon Ortiz, September 17, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Our story in today’s fiber/cyber Bee mentions how much state workers paid in union dues and fair share fees for one month, December 2011: roughly $10.5 million. What follows are three spreadsheets that lay out state workers’ dues and fair share payments of that month, built from the state controller’s payroll records. The first sheet details the number of employees by bargaining unit and their payments to their unions (it also pulls out numbers for the largest union, SEIU Local 1000). The second focuses on the percentage of dues and fair share fee payers in each unit. The third shows the regular pay and total pay by union. (read article)

Costa Mesa police union dispute brings scrutiny of law firm’s tactics

By Christopher Goffard, September 16, 2012, Los Angeles Times

One after another, people stepped before the Costa Mesa City Council to decry the blight and lawlessness on tiny Ford Road — prostitutes, thieves, home invaders. What the city needs, they pleaded, is more cops. Councilman Jim Righeimer, a GOP activist and an architect of the city’s controversial plan to radically slash its workforce, perceived the parade of concerned citizens as the pawns of a police union and its law firm, with its statewide reputation for bare-knuckle tactics. “This City Council is being held hostage by the police union,” Righeimer railed from his seat at the Aug. 21 meeting. “This council will not be shaken down.” (read article)

Public Employee Unions Fight Reforms, Tooth and Nail

By Brian Calle, September 16, 2012, Orange County Register

Public-sector employee unions, faced with mounting evidence and growing public opinion in opposition to their compensation levels and political influence, are responding, in many instances, with defiance. The Chicago Teachers Union strike last week is an apt example but far from the only instance of union resistance to necessary changes to public policy. Instead of embracing the inevitable necessity of reform, however, unions more often are digging in, even resorting to publicity stunts to improve their image instead of addressing the issues. Just prior to the start of the Democratic National Convention this month in Charlotte, N.C., labor unions set up a “Hug a Thug” booth at an associated festival as a way to manipulate public impressions about organized labor. The event was a tacit recognition that public outcry against unions has grown. But actions speak louder than either words or public-relations ploys. (read article)

Are Unions Impeding Pension Reform in America?

Interview by Paula Vason, September 16, 2012, CIO

(watch video)

The stakes in Chicago – and California

Editorial, September 16, 2012, UT San Diego

The teachers’ strike in Chicago is likely to end this weekend, according to reports. But the reason it has resonated so strongly in California the past week is because the central issue there is the same as the central issue here: Are public schools primarily about educating children or about providing well-paying, tenured jobs to adults? In Chicago, as in California, teachers strongly object to including how their students perform in their job evaluations. They say they shouldn’t be held responsible for kids who struggle because of family problems, a lack of parental involvement, poor nutrition and other factors. They also say teaching is an art, not a science. This issue is why the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, not a dispute over compensation. But student performance can be measured in ways that objectively show progress for all students – strong, weak and average. This can be done with an approach that doesn’t favor the teacher in a school in an affluent community full of two-parent homes over the teacher in a school in a poor neighborhood with more one-parent homes. To assert teaching is the only profession in which effectiveness can’t be measured is “illogical and indefensible,” as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, reflecting the Obama administration’s push for teacher accountability. (read article)

Wisconsin Public-Sector Union Limits Suffer Courtroom Setback

By J.D. Tuccille, September 15, 2012, Reason Magazine

That big, bad Wisconsin law that restricted the collective bargaining rights of (most) unionized state workers may have won at the polls, but it lost a round in court. In a case brought by government workers’ unions, Circuit Judge Juan B. Colas ruled that the law violated constitutional rights, including freedom of association, free speech and equal protection, and issued an injunction against the enforcement of the law’s provisions. (read article)

San Francisco teachers union out to beat 3 trustees

By Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, September 15, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle

In a classic game of payback, the San Francisco teachers union has launched a campaign to defeat all three school board members up for re-election in November. The union’s beef with the three started in February when the board tried to bypass seniority rules so it could avoid laying off teachers at 14 struggling schools. That would have meant teachers with more experience at other schools would have faced the ax. Union head Dennis Kelly shouted at the board members that night, “It will not be forgotten. It will not be forgiven.” Even though the board later reversed its decision after an administrative law judge supported the union’s appeal, the union is still steamed. “They never said, ‘What we did was not right, and we’re sorry that we did it,’ ” Kelly said. So, no apology, no endorsement. Come Nov. 6, the union is out to get incumbents Jill Wynns, who didn’t win its endorsement last time out, and Sandra Lee Fewer and Rachel Norton, who did. Instead, the union is going with four newcomers – Matt Haney, Beverly Popek, Sam Rodriguez and Shamann Walton – and plans to campaign for them, hard. (read article)

California’s Public Pension Problems Are Not the Fault of Employees

By David Crane, September 15, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Anyone who reads the papers knows that cities and states are being hit hard by fast-rising pension and retirement health care costs for public employees. Cities such as Stockton and San Bernardino have even declared bankruptcy. But few of those papers make clear that this crisis was not caused by the public employees on the receiving end of those benefits. Instead, the crisis was caused by politicians and pension fund boards that made retirement promises without setting aside sufficient funding to meet those promises. Promises to pay pensions and post-employment health care costs are simply promises to pay deferred compensation. As with all deferred compensation promises, the party making the promise should set aside money when the promise is made so as to insulate future budgets from past costs. Failing to do so means future budgets would have to come up with enough money to meet both their own costs as well as past costs. (read article)

California unions assail public pension reforms

By Michael J. Mishak, September 12, 2012, Los Angeles Times

As Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday aimed at overhauling the state’s overburdened public pension system, he acknowledged that further action may be needed in the future, saying “government, like a battleship in the ocean, turns slowly.” Labor unions representing California’s public employees reacted swiftly, arguing that they were already taking fire. Willie Pelote, political director of the Assn. of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, said Brown’s signature on the pension legislation “made his disdain for a secure future for public employees crystal clear.” The changes require public employees hired starting next year to work longer before they retire with full benefits, place a cap on their pension benefits and restrict what is counted to prevent abuses. Current employees will have to pay at least 50% of the contribution toward their retirement plan. Pelotesaid the legislation did not consider the concessions public employee unions have made in contract negotiations over the past few years. He contended that Brown’s “real intent is to take public retirement funds and hand them over to the same Wall Street gamblers who drove our economy into a ditch.” (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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