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.

California Is Latest Stage for Election Battle Over Unions

By Adam Nagourney, October 2, 2012, New York Times

The battle to curb labor’s political clout has moved from Wisconsin to California, where wealthy conservatives are championing a ballot measure that would bar unions from donating to candidates. Labor leaders describe it as the starkest threat they have faced in a year of nationwide challenges to diminish their once-formidable power. The measure, Proposition 32 on the November ballot, would prohibit both unions and corporations from making contributions, but the corporate provision is far less stringent than the one aimed at unions, analysts said. If passed, it would also bar unions from using automatic payroll deductions to raise money for political campaigns, a major source of labor’s political funding. (read article)

How Public Unions Exploit the Ruse of ‘Official Time’

By Mallory Factor, October 2, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Imagine thousands of government employees reporting to work each morning at their government offices and then doing no government work. They use government workspace, government telephones and government computers, all while working on projects unknown and unidentified to their government employers. They receive hefty taxpayer-funded salaries, promotions, bonuses and benefits, plus generous government pensions when they retire—all without doing any work on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, they work as paid political operatives for powerful government unions. Welcome to the common practice of “official time.” Sometimes called “release time,” it’s a mechanism by which the government pays union officials to work on union matters during their government workdays. This mechanism—enshrined in law and contracts—is an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions, who defend it fiercely. The Office of Personnel Management reports that federal employees spent over three million hours on official time in 2010, costing the taxpayers about $137 million in salary and benefits costs. (read article)

California Gov. Jerry Brown kills some labor-backed bills

By Jim Sanders, October 2, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown is proving not to be a yes man – even to unions that spent millions to elect him. The governor drew heat Sunday by killing three key labor-backed bills, including one by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, on the final day for deciding the fate of measures passed by the Legislature this year. Pérez’s proposal would have doubled the statute of limitations, to nine years, for families of police or firefighters to file for death benefits stemming from an illness or injury deemed job-related. The two other Democrat-crafted measures would have provided overtime, rest, meal and other job-related protections for domestic workers, and made it a crime for farmers not to provide their farmworkers with adequate shade and water. (read article)

Jerry Brown’s School Bailout: A state rescue in Inglewood, California helps unions, not students

Editorial, October 1, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Democrats howl about bank bailouts, but then they also treat public schools as if they’re too big to fail. As a case in point, California Governor Jerry Brown is throwing the Inglewood school district in Los Angeles’s South Bay a $55 million lifeline in the name of “saving” 14,000 kids. But as with most government bailouts, the real intended beneficiaries are the unions. Democrats in Sacramento rushed through legislation in August authorizing the state to take over and issue emergency loans to Inglewood district, which otherwise would have run out of cash by the end of the year. Unlike cities, … (read article – subscription required)

Push for charter cities in California enrages unions

By Katy Grimes, September 30, 2012, CalWatchdog

The November election is shaping up to be a biggie, and probably even a game changer. In addition to California’s tax increase ballot initiatives and the paycheck protection measure, voters in three California cities will decide whether to approve the proposed city charters. Escondido, Costa Mesa, and Grover Beach, currently general law cities under the California Constitution, are asking voters to allow the change to charter cities. The change from a general law city to a charter city is technical, even obscure, but very powerful. Charter cities have significantly more autonomy and flexibility than general law cities to protect taxpayer funds through more careful spending, and exemptions from state-mandated prevailing wage agreements and Project Labor Agreements. Many Californians believe that the only for cities way to wrestle control away from powerful public employees unions is to file municipal bankruptcy. But Charter Cities are a much better way to accomplish this. “A charter needs to give a city full control of its municipal affairs, so it can implement lower taxes, reasonable regulation, fiscal responsibility, limited government, local control and more freedom from corrupt urban legislators,” according to Kevin Dayton, CEO of Dayton Public Policy Institute, an employment and labor specialist, and charter city expert. (read article)

The truth about Prop. 32: Unions are spending $40 million to deceive voters about the measure

By Gloria Romero, September 29, 2012, Orange County Register

In politics, there’s a common playbook for running opposition to any ballot measure that challenges the status quo. The idea is that you never tell the voter what the proposition actually does. Instead, you twist the facts and allege that things will be worse off because of it. You call the reform “flawed” or “deceptive.” Then you repeat that message, true or not. Example: Proposition 32. There’s a $40 million campaign under way against its reforms that uses this exact playbook. Who’s against Prop. 32? The state’s teachers union has given the opposition nearly $18 million of its members’ dues. The largest union for state workers has given nearly $6 million. State, county and city employee unions have given nearly $3 million more. And other unions make up almost all the rest of the No on 32 funding. Please note that these millions are being spent not because rank-and-file members have chosen to fight the proposition; rather, these millions are being spent by the unions’ executive boards in Sacramento, without ever having to win the consent of the members. The “leaders” decide – the workers pay. (read article)

The Next Battleground in the State Labor Wars: Michigan

By Shikha Dalmia, September 30, 2012, Wall Street Journal

We’ve seen Gov. Scott Walker’s battle in Wisconsin and the Chicago Teachers Union strike next door. Now in Michigan comes another Midwestern political showdown that will carry enormous implications for the role of unions in American life. The Michigan Supreme Court recently approved the placement of a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. If passed by voters, the so-called Protect Our Jobs amendment would give public-employee unions a potent new tool to challenge any laws—past, present or future—that limit their benefits or collective-bargaining powers. It would also bar Michigan from becoming a right-to-work state in which mandatory union dues are not a condition of employment. The budget implications are dire. Michigan public unions began pushing the initiative last year, shortly after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—facing a $2 billion fiscal hole—capped public spending on public-employee health benefits at 80% of total costs. This spring, national labor unions joined the amendment effort after failing to prevent Indiana from becoming a right-to-work state. (read article)

Movie the teachers union doesn’t want you to see

By Ben Boychuk, September 27, 2012, Sacramento Bee

Coming this weekend to a multiplex near you: Time-traveling hit men, computer-animated monsters vacationing in Transylvania and “a 16th-century killing machine who finds his spirituality after an encounter with the Devil’s own Reaper.” But the one film that’s actually drawing protests – the one that even has picketers showing up in Los Angeles and New York – is about a scrappy single mom with a learning-disabled child who teams with a disaffected teacher to battle an entrenched bureaucracy and turn around a failing Pittsburgh public school. It’s called “Won’t Back Down.” It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the mom and Viola Davis as the teacher. And it has teachers union leaders and the education establishment losing their minds. Why the hullabaloo? Because the remedy Davis’ and Gyllenhaal’s characters pursue bears an eerie resemblance to a “parent trigger,” a relatively new and still largely untested school reform that has met with fierce resistance from unions and certain school districts. (read article)

Five things you need to know about AFSCME vs. Gov. Quinn

By Paul Kersey, September 27, 2012, Illinois Policy Institute

Negotiations between the State of Illinois and District Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees are at a standstill. The union is taking exception to what it considers provocative demands for concessions from the Quinn administration. A recent message from the union to its members even contains a hint of a strike threat. While much is unknown about the state of negotiations – collective bargaining sessions are closed to the public – there are facts that the public should keep in mind as they read the news reports. Negotiations between the state and the union are taking place against a backdrop of serious economic difficulties for Illinois taxpayers. (read article)

California state worker union has its own labor issues

By Jon Ortiz, September 27, 2012, Sacramento Bee

A messy fight between California’s largest state employee union, SEIU Local 1000, and another union that has represented 160 of its staff has spilled into public view. As they battle for those workers, the United Auto Workers is calling Local 1000 a hypocritical union-buster. An official with the National Labor Relations Board says SEIU, as an employer, has engaged in “unfair labor practices.” The local rejects the accusations. The fight dates back years to a split between Local 1000 and an umbrella organization, the California State Employees Association. SEIU represents about 95,000 employees, the largest of four affiliates in the CSEA. Other affiliates speak for state retirees, state university support staff and midlevel state supervisors. (read article)

The New Reality for Police Unions: Adapt or Die!

Host: Police Labor Negotiator Ron York, September 27, 2012, Webcast from a California Seminar

(listen to audio)

L.A. Times and Prop. 32: Will it repeat its stunning stand on Prop. 75?

By Chris Reed, September 27, 2012, CalWatchdog

Nexis and the L.A. Times’ website show the editorial page of California’s biggest newspaper has yet to come out for or against Proposition 32, the measure whose primary goal is preventing automatic deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks for political purposes. Michael Hiltzik, the loud lefty whom the Times pretends is a business columnist, has trashed 32. But not the Times’ editorial page. What’s up with that? The Sacramento media-political establishment says the prop is the devil. Why would the Times not get on board? Maybe because in 2005, in a baffling, uncharacteristic spasm of honesty about how California politics work, the Times endorsed (!!!!) Prop. 75, Prop. 32’s clear historical predecessor. Highlights: “We support this more narrowly tailored initiative primarily as a means of lessening the power of public employee unions in Sacramento, but also as a way of reinforcing the right of union members to insist that their hard-earned income not be diverted to political causes they don’t endorse. (read article)

What California’s Schools Can Learn From Chicago’s

By Steven Greenhut, September 27, 2012, Bloomberg

It is hard for education reformers to be too optimistic about the post-strike prospects for Chicago schools. The resulting contract significantly boosts teacher pay in exchange for some modest changes such as a lengthened school day and improved teacher testing. As school officials figure out how to pay for the new deal and bolster vastly underfunded teacher pensions, new disputes are likely to arise. At least officials in Chicago recognized that educational improvements require taking on unions and their counterproductive work rules. By contrast, officials in California are still peddling the idea that the state’s public-school system — which receives 40 percent of the general-fund budget, by constitutional edict — is struggling because it lacks money. “We can’t keep cutting our schools and still keep the economy strong for the next generation,” Governor Jerry Brown wrote in support of Proposition 30, an initiative on the ballot in November that would impose higher income taxes on Californians who earn more than $250,000 a year and raise sales taxes for everyone. (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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