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.

Michigan’s Prop. 2 Is A Desperate Grab For Power By Government Unions
By F. Vincent Vernuccio, November 5, 2012, Forbes
Facing a sea of angry taxpayers and a wave of reforming governors, government unions are becoming desperate. In Michigan this year, organized labor is going far beyond supporting pro-labor politicians; they want to write themselves special privileges in the state’s constitution. A proposed Constitutional Amendment, Proposal 2 on the November ballot would give government unions the ability to effectively veto laws passed by elected representatives.  And if the unions get their way there, they’ll bring their white-out and markers to state constitutions around the country. How did the Wolverine state get here? In recent years, total government spending has surged to a peacetime high of 39 percent of GDP. Why? State and local governments pay out more than $1 trillion in compensation annually. (read article)

Are Unions Obama’s Secret Weapon in Ohio?
By Molly Ball, November 5, 2012, The Atlantic
President Obama, you may have heard, appears to be in good shape to win Ohio and other Rust Belt states on Tuesday, in large part due to white working-class voters’ distrust of his opponent, Mitt Romney. But that impression didn’t take hold on its own, nor was it the sole creation of the Obama campaign. It had a lot of help from Trumka and his minions. “A year ago, all the talk was Obama could never win with high unemployment,” the AFL-CIO’s political director, Mike Podhorzer, wrote in a recent memo. “The early conventional wisdom went further, writing off working class voters, asserting that the only path available to President Obama was upscale voters in states like North Carolina.” Instead, the demographic that should have been Obama’s greatest weakness may be the one that saves the election for him. Indeed, if the manufacturing states of the Upper Midwest end up forming a surprising electoral-vote firewall for Obama, insulating his reelection bid from potential losses in Florida, Virginia, and Colorado, he will owe a debt of gratitude to the unions, who have been working doggedly, and largely under the radar, on his behalf. In the last four days of the presidential campaign, the AFL-CIO says its 128,000 volunteers will have knocked on 5.5 million doors, made 5.2 million phone calls and passed out 2 million leaflets in six targeted states. In Ohio alone, the union has 20 staging areas from which to make those calls and send crews out to knock on doors. (read article)

Forget Prop 32, Costa Mesa’s Measure V is the real union fight
By Frank Stoltze, November 5th, 2012, Southern California Public Radio
Labor unions are spending upwards of $70 million to defeat California’s Proposition 32.  But they’re spending more per voter to stop another anti-union measure in Orange County. Organized labor and its supporters are spending nearly $500,000 to defeat Measure V in Costa Mesa.  That’s about $8.50 per registered voter, compared to $3.80 against Prop 32. Why? Measure V, placed on the ballot by conservative members of the City Council, would change Costa Mesa from a general law city to a charter city governed by its own constitution.  The switch would free Costa Mesa from state laws that limit its ability to privatize jobs.  Labor unions worry that other cities would follow suit. “One of our biggest concerns is that it would spread to other cities,” said Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association. The proposed charter would end a requirement to pay prevailing union wages to city workers and would require voters to approve any increase in pensions. Here’s a link to the charter language… (read article)

California’s Prop. 32 Vote Could Encourage Anti-Union Initiatives Nationwide
By Matthew Fleischer, November 5, 2012, Labor Notes
A California ballot initiative stands poised to fundamentally alter national politics—even if it loses tomorrow. It will do so even if the details of its language are ignored elsewhere. Proposition 32 proposes to disallow either unions or corporations to use mandatory payroll deductions for political purposes. Of course, union dues through payroll deductions are unions’ major source of funding, while virtually no corporations collect political money from their employees this way. If Prop. 32 spreads, it will be following a precedent set in California in 1978. Then, voters passed Proposition 13—a ballot initiative that rolled back property taxes to 1975 levels and capped future increases at two percent. More destructively, it mandated that all future tax raises in the state be approved by the legislature by a two-thirds margin. (read article)

Voting on the right to privatize in California
By Steve Malanga, November 5, 2012, PublicSectorInc.
California has a number of interesting statewide initiatives on the ballot on election day, including Jerry Brown’s tax increases.  But one of the most fascinating local initiatives would give the financially hard-pressed city of Costa Mesa the right to privatize a big portion of its municipal services after judges barred the city from doing so under its current governing system.The implications of that initiative could ripple throughout the state.
Costa Mesa’s city council voted to privatize much of city services, including contracting out some public safety functions to the county, after pension costs more than tripled in the city. It sent layoff notices to 44 percent of its workforce. Costa Mesa, however, operates under the state’s general government code, and the courts interpreted that code to mean that the city was limited in how many of its municipal functions it could contract out in competitive bidding. So councilman Jim Righeimer, a fierce union critic, proposed switching  Costa Mesa to a charter form of government, which would give the city more thorough control of its fortunes. (read article)

Prop. 32 Could Turn California Purple in Future Elections
by Elena Lathrop, November 3, 2012, Breitbart
Proposition 32, arguably the most high-profile and controversial proposition on California’s ballot this election, may be the key to California eventually becoming a competitive “purple” state, according to Jon Fleischman of FlashReport. Prop 32, also called the Paycheck Protection Initiative, would ban corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, ban contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control their contracts, and ban automatic paycheck deductions for political purposes by corporations, unions, and government agencies. Public employee unions dump millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns all over California through the mechanisms that Prop 32 intends to stop, making California a strong blue state. Republican candidates have consistently lost in California – even moderates like Meg Whitman. Fleischman argues that Prop 32 is the most important initiative on this year’s ballot, stating that it could drastically change California’s political climate. If it passes, Democratic presidential candidates would have to actually spend time and money in California for the first time in decades, as they will no longer be able to rely on California unions funding Super PACs through payroll deductions. It could become a purple state, making it competitive enough to actually matter to campaigns. (read article)

Taking America’s pulse
By George F. Will, November 2, 2012, Washington Post
Tuesday night, as returns reveal whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney has the smaller gigantic number of Americans not wanting him to be president, notice other indexes of political change: Wisconsin has voted Democratic in six consecutive presidential elections. Although George W. Bush lost there by just 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points in 2000 and 2004, respectively, Obama won it by 13.9 points. If Romney wins Wisconsin, one reason will be native son Paul Ryan, but another will be the unsuccessful attempt by government employees unions to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. His counterattack created a durable political infrastructure. Without spending a dime, Democratic presidential candidates win 104 electoral votes from the first (California), third (New York) and fifth (Illinois) most populous states. (read article)

National Review’s purity leaves Californians at mercy of unions
By Steven Greenhut, November 2, 2012, PublicSectorInc.
It’s hard enough to save California from the abyss, given the dominant Democrats and the overwhelming power of the self-interested public-sector unions. But just when the state has a chance, albeit a modest one, to rein in some of the power of the unions, “our” side throws a wrench in the works. In a case of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good, National Review has used the weight of its editorial board to urge conservatives to vote “no” on Prop. 32, the paycheck protection measure on Tuesday’s ballot. The editors are upset with the portion of the initiative that bans contributions from corporations and unions to local races, and argues: “The act of giving money to candidates is a core element of our political process … . Further, political participation does not become less important when individuals join together and act as groups, including corporations and, yes, unions.” Unfortunately, unions can just dig into their workers’ wallets and take whatever dollars they need to assure that they can continue to control city councils and boards of supervisors. It is true, as NRO notes, that drafters added the corporate limitations to appeal to the states’ lefty voters. (read article)

California voters can make history with Yes on Prop. 32
By Gloria Romero, November 2, 2012, Orange County Register
Californians head to the polls, being told by critics that our vote “doesn’t matter” in the presidential election. And there is no governorship race on the ballot, nor any other state constitutional offices. So why bother to vote? Because, a century ago, Gov. Hiram Johnson understood that power can best be overcome by the people and a ballot in their hands. He understood that politicians nary are there to protect the public, but actually that the public – empowered with direct democracy and the right to vote on a peoples’ initiative – are the best defense of democracy and our rights. Today, Proposition 32 is on the ballot, and, if enacted by the voters, it will become the game-changer that truly has the power to cut the special money interests that have tilted the political playing field of Sacramento in favor of corporate and union interest – at the expense of millions of other Californians. To date, some $70 million has been spent to try to convince the voters that Prop. 32 is “deceptive.” This money has largely been bundled and spent by the executive boards of public sector unions, who clearly understand that Prop. 32 would erode their ability to obtain sweetheart deals from Sacramento politicians. (read article)

Labor Unions to Have 128,000 Campaign Volunteers
By Steven Greenhouse, November 1, 2012, New York Times
The A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president, Richard Trumka, said on Thursday that the nation’s labor unions would have 128,000 volunteers working on the “final four days” of the 2012 campaign, saying these volunteers would knock on 5.5 million doors and make 5.2 million phone calls. In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Trumka, who leads a federation of 56 labor unions, said many union members were eager to volunteer to help re-elect President Obama because, he said, Mitt Romney has “the most anti-union, anti-worker platform we’ve seen for any candidate in our history.” Mr. Trumka said union members would also distribute two million leaflets at unionized work sites between now and Election Day, noting that that would be on top of 12 million fliers mailed to union members’ homes. Mr. Trumka said the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and its unions would also provide more than 2,000 poll monitors who would work closely with lawyers around the country. “If we see people being denied the vote, people that hassle them, we will have a rapid response team,” he said. (read article)

Separating perception from reality in California’s union wars
By Jon Ortiz, November 1, 2012, Sacramento Bee
With Election Day looming, let’s look at some popular perceptions about unions filtered through ballot measure Proposition 32: Perception: Union-covered workers are fed up with their unions’ politics. The Proposition 32 angle: The measure’s backers say that it gives workers more freedom to choose whether to support their union’s political agendas by banning payroll deductions (i.e. dues) for political activities. Reality: About 93 percent of union-covered workers in California are full dues-paying members, according to labor membership tracker unionstats, which means part of their dues funds politics. Why the high percentage? After all, California law allows workers to annually opt out of contributing to their union’s political committees. But those who do lose some benefits, such as voting on contracts. It’s a hassle, too, because workers have to opt out annually. Some employees feel workplace pressure to be full members. Of course, many union members believe wholeheartedly in the cause. Perception: Californians are fed up with unions. The Proposition 32 angle: Some ads for the measure have played it as giving “working people” a choice whether to give to political causes. (read article)

Jerry Brown’s Tax Cliff: The second most important election
Editorial, October 31, 2012, Wall Street Journal
The most important single vote in America next Tuesday, after the Presidential race, is Governor Jerry Brown’s attempt to stick Californians with another giant tax increase. Mr. Brown and his labor allies say Proposition 30 will fix the state’s budget deficit and ward off education cuts. But the real choice before voters is whether to issue Sacramento’s incorrigible spendthrifts another blank check. Two years ago the Governor staged a bow to democracy by pledging that he wouldn’t raise taxes without a vote of the people. The truth is he couldn’t pick off enough Republicans in the legislature for a tax… (read article)

Pro-union groups outspend supporters of Costa Mesa charter 10-1
By Mike Reicher, October 31, 2012, Orange County Register
If there was ever any doubt that labor union leaders feel threatened by the Costa Mesa City Council, the latest city campaign finance reports erase it. Statewide and county employee union groups contributed $325,000 against Measure V, the city’s proposed charter, from Oct. 1 to Oct. 20, bringing the total to nearly $520,000 raised by committees opposed to the measure. Opponents have raised nearly 10 times as much as supporters, which include the Republican Party of Orange County. Drafted by Councilman Jim Righeimer and his allies, the proposed charter is essentially a local constitution that targets unions. It would abolish a requirement to pay prevailing (union-level) wages, require voter approval for any city employee pension bumps, and constrain unions’ fundraising abilities – sort of a micro Prop. 32, the measure that seeks to restrain union spending on politics statewide. “When we see workers struggling in the City of Costa Mesa, we feel compelled as union members to do something about it,” said Kimberly Claytor, vice president at the California Federation of Teachers, which gave $10,000. Claytor, a Costa Mesa resident, is also president of the Newport Mesa Federation of Teachers. But some other groups don’t have such a clear connection to the city. The United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Orange County Labor Federation AFL-CIO have all given funds. (read article)

Gov. Cuomo and New York’s unions
By Daniel DiSalvo, October 29, 2012, PublicSectorInc.
E.J. McMahon calls on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto another extension of a provision of the Taylor Law (NY’s collective bargaining law for public workers) that gives police and fire unions the right to seek compulsory binding arbitration of contract impasses. The result of this policy has been a steady increase of salary and benefit packages for those in the protective services. By vetoing a renewal of this provision, McMahon argues, the Governor can provide local leaders in Yonkers, Nassau County, Syracuse, and elsewhere with the flexibility to hold down labor costs, which comprise two-thirds of squeezed local budgets. (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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