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.

The Imaginary Teacher Shortage

By Jay Greene, October 9, 2012, Wall Street Journal

Last week’s presidential debate revealed one area of agreement between the candidates: We need more teachers. “Let’s hire another hundred thousand math and science teachers,” proposed President Obama, adding that “Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers.” Mr. Romney quickly replied, “I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers.” He just opposes earmarking federal dollars for this purpose, believing instead that “every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.” Let’s hope state and local officials have that discretion—and choose to shrink the teacher labor force rather than expand it. Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won’t improve student achievement. It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits. (read article)

On the decline, unions look to federal gov’t for help as candidates differ

By Sam Hananel, October 9, 2012, The Washington Post

The issue: A unionized job once meant a secure path to a middle-class life. Labor unions are still big political players, but they have seen a steady decline in membership and clout since their heyday in the 1950s. Where they stand: President Barack Obama has signed a series of executive orders that encourage the use of union labor in federal construction projects, ease union financial reporting requirements and more. He has also appointed labor-friendly members to the National Labor Relations Board, which has approved new rules to help union organizers and has more strictly enforced laws against anti-union misconduct. Republican Mitt Romney says he will reverse all of Obama’s executive orders that help unions, seek to prohibit unions from using automatic dues deductions for politics and strive for national right-to-work legislation that prohibits unions from collecting dues from nonmembers. (read article)

Blue Shield’s union ties raise concerns about conflicts

By Chad Terhune, October 9, 2012, Los Angeles Times

(read article – subscription required)

Koch brother pledge $4 million to pass Prop 32

By Eric Farrell, October 9, 2012, Daily Titan, Fullerton California

Proposition 32 is intended by proponents to curb special interest funding by unions and corporations by prohibiting them from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The fiscal impact, as stated in the official sampling ballot for the upcoming Nov. 6 election, is “increased costs to state and local government, potentially exceeding $1 million annually, to implement and enforce the measure’s requirements.” Supporters of the initiative say that it’s a step forward for political reform, and that it will give voice back to California’s individuals. “If you have a heartbeat and could go into a ballot box to vote, then you, not the big corporations or unions, should be the one determining the fate of your district,” said John Kabateck, California executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “There are very specific agendas that these organizations have that don’t speak for the people they are expected to represent,” Kabateck said. (read article)

Unions make a stand for fixed rights in Michigan

By Andrea Billups, October 8, 2012, The Washington Times

They have been playing defense elsewhere across the Midwest, but labor unions in Michigan have gone on the attack with a proposed first-in-the-nation amendment to the state constitution that would enshrine a right to collective bargaining for public — and private-sector workers — and invalidate any past or future laws to the contrary. Proposal 2, backed by Michigan’s teachers and other public-employee unions, is being closely watched by labor and management groups across the country after a string of setbacks for the union movement in states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. Other states are likely to follow Michigan’s lead if voters approve the measure Nov. 6, analysts here say. But Gov. Rick Snyder, who has a business background, generally has shunned the more confrontational approach toward labor adopted by fellow Republican governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Much of the state’s business establishment also strongly opposes the measure, saying it will hurt competitiveness and take a big bite out of the state’s ability to control spending. “It turns government unions into a superlegislature,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director of the pro-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich., which calls the measure costly and overreaching. “If passed, it will give government unions an effective veto over legislation passed by elected representatives.” (read article)

Michigan public employee unions’ Election Day pushback

By Ed Feulner, October 8, 2012, Washington Times

It sounds so innocuous — the Protect Our Jobs amendment. At a time of high unemployment, who wouldn’t find such a concept appealing? So union leaders are pulling out all the stops to get this measure, better known as Proposal 2, approved by Michigan’s voters on Election Day. Don’t ignore this ballot initiative if you happen to live outside the Wolverine State. The fate of Proposal 2 likely will have repercussions elsewhere. Other states are struggling with the same economic pressures that drove union leaders to push for it in Michigan. Like the fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms in Wisconsin and the strike staged by the Chicago Teachers Union, the fight over Proposal 2 is something of a bellwether. The measure would let government unions challenge any state law they consider an impediment to their ability to bargain collectively. Specifically, Proposal 2 says that no “existing or future laws shall abridge, impair or limit” the ability of state workers to reach agreements about work conditions. (read article)

Prop. 30 Tax Money Will Go to Fund California Teachers’ Pensions

By Steve Williams, October 8, 2012, Daily Press

Proposition 30 on November’s ballot would raise money by increasing the California sales tax by a quarter cent. That doesn’t sound like much, until you recall that California’s sales tax rate is already the highest in the United States. Couple that with the fact that the Congressional Budget Office says median U.S. family income has declined more than $4,000 a year since the advent of Obama nearly four years ago, and it’s easy to understand why none of us needs the additional burden. Gov. Jerry Brown argues that the money will go to California’s public schools, but that’s dishonest at best. He wants you to believe that when he says “schools” he means students. He doesn’t; he means teachers’ benefits, mostly pensions. There’s no doubt the teachers’ unions need the money, but that’s because the CTA has been wildly optimistic over the years about estimating its return on investment of teachers’ contributions to pension funds. (read article)

Despite conflicts, labor unions back Obama

By Brian C. Mooney, October 7, 2012, Boston Globe

Organized labor, its historic alliance with the Democratic Party strained in recent years, has returned to basics in this political season. After feuding openly with President Obama, unions are steadfastly supporting him, albeit in many cases with smaller budgets than in past campaigns and a model that emphasizes on-the-ground organization and support for legislative allies at the congressional and, in some cases, even state level. That will mean fewer costly television ads bankrolled by union members’ dues before the Nov. 6 election. “We’re not trying to compete with the Karl Roves of the world and raise money for TV ads; it’s not feasible, and it’s not our philosophy,” said Mike Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation with more than 12 million active and retired members. “What we do is encourage members to get involved in the ground game, expanding our walks, calls, social networking, and using the Internet.” (read article)

Even Brown said no to latest cop-union scam

By Steven Greenhut, October 7, 2012, San Diego North County Times

If California voters grant the state government the massive income-tax and sales-tax increases that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats have been demanding via November’s Proposition 30, those same officials will quickly squander the money by shoveling even more benefits to those already well-compensated government workers. For evidence, pay close attention to a police- and firefighter-union enrichment scam that came within a whisker of becoming law. Even in its watered-down form, AB 2451 would have opened the state’s cities and municipalities to an endless amount of liabilities for the families of deceased police and firefighters. The legislation also revealed the surreptitious way benefits are expanded in California, as unions work the system to quietly gain significant compensation hikes. It proves that legislators have in no way reformed their free-spending ways, despite a veto. In the private sector, employees typically receive injury and death benefits through insurance policies, and such benefits are linked to work performed on the job. In “public safety” jobs in the public sector, taxpayers foot the bill for disability and death benefits. Politicians —- always currying favor with the unions that represent police, firefighters and prison guards —- continually expand the categories of illness that are presumed to be caused by job-related injuries. So if a retired firefighter or cop gets heart disease, cancer or any number of other common diseases late in life, it is presumed to be caused by the job and that releases a stream of taxpayer-funded benefits. Under current law, if that employee dies from myriad ailments within 4 1/2 years after the date of injury, the family can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in survivorship benefits. In the public sector, it’s far easier to make a claim than in the private sector. Apparently, this wasn’t generous enough for Assembly Speaker John Perez and the Democratic leadership. (read article)

How will Chicago pay for teachers’ new contract?

Reported by Eric Horng, October 4, 2012, WLS-TV

Now that the Chicago teachers strike is over, the hard work of paying for the new contract begins. That could mean dozens of public schools in the city will be closed. Chicago school board officials and leaders of the teachers union talked about those tough issues Thursday. Nearly 80 percent of Chicago Teachers Union members who cast ballots voted to approve the new deal, the highest percentage for any CTU contract. It could be seen as a shot across the bow as yet another battle looms. The lopsided vote is also a vote of confidence in the union’s leadership, which stands ready to fight again on the issue of school closures. “Still have my boxing gloves,” said Lewis. On Thursday, school board president David Vitale said there are 135,000 more seats in CPS classrooms than necessary but declined to even estimate the number of schools that will have to go. (read article)

Yes on Prop. 32

Editorial, October 4, 2012, Orange County Register

Anyone familiar with California politics knows that the most powerful forces, by far, in the state Capitol are the public-employee unions. Their clout was demonstrated this year when the California Teachers Association, the most powerful of them all, killed Senate Bill 1530, which would have made it easier to fire bad teachers for actions “that involve certain sex offenses, controlled-substance offenses or child abuse offenses.” SB1530 was not concocted by a conservative Republican, but by state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, a liberal Democrat. The bill advanced after several cases of teacher abuse against children came to light, especially a disgusting scenario allegedly involving Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Mark Berndt. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate, 33-4. Then the CTA killed it in the Assembly Education Committee. The episode illustrates what has happened since California public-employee unions were given collective bargaining rights in the 1970s by Gov. Jerry Brown. This occurred even though such stalwart liberal private-sector union partisans as President Franklin Roosevelt had warned that public-sector unionization would lead to too much union power and the loss of public trust in the government. (read article)

Marin County Board of Supervisors: Don’t curb union political funds

By Nels Johnson, October 3, 2012, Marin Independent Journal

Marin County supervisors don’t want you to vote for Proposition 32 on November’s ballot, an initiative that restricts union fundraising by barring use of payroll deductions for political purposes. The five Democrats on the county board voted unanimously to oppose the proposal after union leaders including Paul Cohen, chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, rose to criticize it as an attack on labor and a raid by corporations not affected by its restrictions. Cohen said the proposal was “entirely unbalanced and would fail to deliver” reform. “This isn’t about reform,” he said. “It’s about silencing people they don’t agree with.” Proposition 32, called the “stop special interest money act,” would bar unions, corporations or others from imposing automatic payroll deductions on members for use in political campaigns. Marin supervisors who receive hefty political donations from union interests said they wanted no part of Proposition 32, either. “Proposition 32 is not what it seems,” Supervisor Judy Arnold warned, adding the measure was “intentionally written to exempt big businesses.” Most California corporations do not make payroll deductions for politics, she noted. (read article)

California Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes Labor-Backed Pension Bills

By Michael J. Mishak, October 3, 2012, Los Angeles Times

(read article – subscription required)

Kill the union beast

By Steve Williams, October 2, 2012, Daily Press

Proposition 32 is easily the most important measure on California’s November ballot because it gives residents a chance to break the stranglehold unions have had on state politics, and thus state operations, for decades. Unions run the schools, and only the mentally challenged would argue California’s schools are anything but a mess. They run the prisons, not exactly strongholds of efficiency. And, of course, they run the Democrat Party, which runs Sacramento, which has run the state’s economy right into the ground. Which gets us back to Prop. 32. One of its best-known supporters is Gloria Romero, a Democrat who was elected to the State Assembly in 1998 and to the Senate in 2001. She was term-limited out in 2010, but not before she authored California’s Parent Trigger law, which Victor Valley residents know all about because of the debacle over converting Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto to a charter school. Romero understands, as well as anyone, the hold unions — and particularly the California Teachers Association — have over the state. She pointed out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed recently that the CTA has killed or hijacked nearly every education reform bill that has popped up in the legislature. In 2010 it even sank a bill to let high school teachers volunteer to be evaluated by students. Volunteer! So how to reform education? Ms. Romero’s solution is to go after “what feeds the beast.” And that’s money. (read article)

Prop. 32 takes aim at union money

By Ronald Campbell, October 2, 2012, Orange County Register

The November election will bring a third attempt to curb the political power of unions in California. Proposition 32 would ban the use of payroll deductions for political purposes in state campaigns, eliminating a tool that has made organized labor a major donor to Democrats for decades. This time, unlike earlier failed attempts in 2005 and 1995, proponents say they’re going after corporate money as well. Their proposal would ban all union and corporate contributions to candidates. However, it would do nothing to regulate contributions to ballot measures or independent expenditures – spending that is uncontrolled by a candidate or ballot measure committee. In California, those have been unlimited for years. “People in California know their government is broken,” said former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, who signed the ballot argument for Proposition 32. “We need to curb and reduce the ties that bind politicians to special interests.” (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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