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 Labor Fight Cleaves a Union Bulwark
By Monica Davey, December 10, 2012, New York Times
With Democratic furor escalating and party leaders warning that Michigan was about to be plunged into lasting political discord, the state’s Republican-led Legislature was on the verge of approving new limits to unions here in the birthplace of the modern labor movement. Republicans said they intended to cast final votes as early as Tuesday on legislation abruptly announced last week that would bar workers from being required to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even as thousands of union members planned to protest at the state Capitol and as President Obama, visiting a truck factory outside Detroit, denounced the notion. (read article)

$822,000 Worker Shows California Leads U.S. Pay Giveaway
By Mark Niquette, Michael B. Marois & Rodney Yap, December 10, 2012, Bloomberg
Nine years ago, California Democrat Gray Davis became the first U.S. governor in 82 years to be recalled by voters. The state’s 20 million taxpayers still bear the cost of his four years and 10 months on the job. Davis escalated salaries and benefits for 164,000 state workers, including a 34 percent raise for prison guards, the first of a series of steps in which he and successors saddled California with a legacy of dysfunction. Today, the state’s highest-paid employees make far more than comparable workers elsewhere in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime. Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. From coast to coast, states are cutting funding for schools, public safety and the poor as they struggle with fallout left by politicians who made pay-and-pension promises that taxpayers couldn’t afford. (read article)

GOP set to deliver blow to labor in union-heavy Michigan
By Michael O’Brien, December 10, 2012, NBC News
Republicans stand on the cusp of delivering a major blow to organized labor, as they prepare to vote Tuesday on legislation to make Michigan – a state linked to unions in the public conscious – a “right to work” state. State lawmakers are expected to approve legislation barring rules in workplaces that make union membership a condition of employment. The offensive would mark the culmination of efforts by Midwestern Republican governors to curb labor rights in the heart of industrial America, where unions once loomed large. President Barack Obama led Democrats on Monday in a counteroffensive, hoping to stymie Republicans in control of Michigan’s House and Senate, who could act as soon as Tuesday to approve right to work legislation after approving initial versions of the proposed law last week. (read article)

Rhode Island firefighters’ union organizes pension protest at Raimondo fundraiser
By Ted Nesi,  December 10, 2012, WPRI-TV
Treasurer Gina Raimondo will have some uninvited guests at her fundraiser in Providence tonight. Paul Valletta, president of the Cranston firefighters union, confirmed to WPRI 12′s Tim White that his members will be picketing outside a campaign fundraiser Raimondo is holding Monday night at Rick’s Roadhouse to coincide with the Patriots’ appearance on Monday Night Football. “It’s just our way to say that we haven’t forgotten what the general treasurer did to many state workers, police officers, teachers and firefighters,” Valletta told White on Monday. “It hasn’t been forgotten that people’s lives have been changed negatively when they didn’t have to be.” Valletta famously argued during last fall’s debate over the new pension law that Raimondo had “cooked the books” by getting the Retirement Board to change investment and actuarial forecasts in ways that worsened the pension fund’s finances. Raimondo said the new numbers were more accurate. (read article)

The Right Not to Be Ripped Off By Unions
By Paul Jacob, December 10, 2012, Common Sense
Michigan’s state House and Senate passed Right-to-Work bills last week, because, as Governor Rick Snyder said, workers “should be able to decide whether to join a union or not.” Which exact bill will wind up on the governor’s desk is anybody’s guess, but one could be signed into law by Snyder as early as tomorrow. Both would prevent unions from requiring workers to join as a condition of employment. Predictably, Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook argues that legislators “want to force unions to provide services, benefits and the protections to non-members who will not pay a penny for them. It defunds unions.” That’s a rather one-sided way of looking at the issue. The cases of Michigan day care workers and home health care workers, both railroaded into union, tell a different tale. Two years ago, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy challenged the bizarre unionization of 40,000 self-employed day care providers by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers, with dues skimmed “from the Michigan Department of Human Services subsidy payments made to some providers on behalf of qualifying low income parents.” (read article)

California’s EdSource look at superintendent turnover ignores union elephant
By Chris Reed, December 8, 2012, CalWatchdog
There are none so blind as those who will not see. EdSource does a 1,500-word analysis of a new study showing far higher turnover of superintendents in large school districts than smaller ones in California, discusses several theories, but never even mentions the fact that teacher union power is particularly extreme in big school districts — and teacher unions are fickle, demanding, hard-to-please masters. In Los Angeles Unified, it took a judge’s ruling to get the union-dominated district to begin obeying a 1971 state law requiring that teacher evaluations include student performance. In San Diego Unified, the state’s second largest district after L.A., employee compensation — primarily teacher salaries — consumes 93 percent of the operating budget. And that’s after the school board mustered the will to bargain to delay a 7 percent raise that all represented employees were supposed to get this school year. I’ve actually seen San Diego Unified documents that project employee compensation in coming years would top 100 percent of the operating budget. (read article)

Hey, Fat Cat Unions: Pay Your “Fair Share”
By Michelle Malkin, December 07, 2012, KRLA Radio
Message for wealth-bashing millionaire actor Ed Asner: Man up and take responsibility for lying to America’s schoolchildren. Confronted by a producer for Fox News Channel’s “The Sean Hannity Show” this week, the left-wing celebrity claimed he couldn’t remember “a thing (he) said” on a vile propaganda video produced and published by the California Federation of Teachers. Asner narrated the unforgettable eight-minute anti-capitalist screed geared toward children. Think Occupy Wall Street meets Sesame Street. “Things go downhill in a happy and prosperous land after the rich decide they don’t want to pay taxes anymore,” Asner warbles in a folksy grandpa voice. After education reform journalist Kyle Olson of EAGNews.org blew the whistle on the film’s vulgar cartoon depiction of a “rich” man urinating on the “poor,” the teachers union whitewashed the animated images from the video. (read article)

Union Intimidation, Vandalism At Michigan Capitol Over Right-to-Work
By Manny Lopez, December 6, 2012, Michigan Capitol Confidential
UAW members in neon green vests patrolled crowds inside and outside the state Capitol here, but it didn’t stop violence and vandalism. “No, we don’t want anyone fighting,” a union member in a green vest shouted to a group of angry protestors approaching a small group of right-to-work supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol. “Everyone stay cool.” His plea went unanswered as about eight men wearing hats and coats with the logos of the UAW, Sheet Metal workers, Steelworkers, and other unions, pushed onto a platform on the stairs and shoved people back about three feet. The surge lasted for a few minutes and was one of a couple of such pushes that occured on Thursday. Union members from Michigan and nearby states were protesting Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to push for right-to-work legislation that lets workers decide if they want to pay to be represented by a union. (read article)

Democrats mobilize to fight GOP right-to-work push
By John Flesher and Jeff Karoub, December 6, 2012, Businessweek
A political brawl over right-to-work legislation is looming in Michigan, with Republican leaders in closed-door talks over whether to push for enactment by year’s end and Democrats encouraging union members to join a noisy show of resistance. Hundreds of chanting, whistle-blowing union activists packed the state Capitol rotunda and hallways Wednesday afternoon as rumors swirled that bills were about to surface, although none were introduced before the House and Senate adjourned for the day. The demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Union buster” and “Right-to-work has got to go” as security officers and state police stood watch. State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer called on union members and supporters to converge on the Capitol in bigger numbers Thursday. So-called right-to-work measures generally prohibit requiring unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees, which opponents say drains unions of money and weakens their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it would boost the economy and job creation. (read article)

Michigan House Passes First Piece Of “Right To Work” Legislation
By Paula Wethington, December 6, 2012, Monroe News
Huge crowds gathered in Lansing today monitor, and some cases protest, a controversial piece of legislation dubbed the “right to work” bill and officially part of House Bill 4054. #The voting process in the House of Representatives started shortly after 4:30 p.m.; and ended about 4:45 p.m. News reporters who are covering this out of Lansing announced a 58-52 vote via their Twitter feeds. That bill will now go to the Senate. #David Eggert, a state government reporter for the MLive newspaper network, has explained on his Twitter feed that this is one of three pieces of legislation that are expected; with the others likely to be started today but finished early next week. #A press statement on behalf of Gov. Rick Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger was posted earlier today on michigan.gov and includes these details: #Gov. Rick Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger today announced that the Legislature will move forward with legislation to enact freedom-to-work laws. (read article)

Your Guide to America’s Craziest State
By John Seiler, December 5, 2012, FlashReport
Assuming you still haven’t left California yet, or live somewhere else and are interested in political pathology, the book of the year is “Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State,” by Laer Pearce. I’ve known Laer for the 25 years I’ve been reporting on California. As a public affairs consultant for more than three decades in Orange County, he’s had a front row seat to the once Golden State’s decomposition, helping his clients cope with the insanity. Page after page details how America’s most beautiful and inventive state locked itself in a political asylum and threw away the key. He blames the state’s demise on what he calls the PEER Axis, for: Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators and Reporters. The axis exists, he says, to ensure a continuous flow of new Progressives into the system. One of the many fascinating stories he uses to reveal California’s sorry state concerns the signs you read entering any public building in the state. When I first came to California in 1987, I read the sign the first time I saw it. I never have read one since. The signs warn about health hazards from chemicals in the building, and cites California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.5. (read article)

California teachers union video shows rich man urinating on poor to make taxes case
By Greg Wilson, December 5, 2012, Fox News
An animated video produced by a California teachers union uses the crude imagery of a rich man urinating on common folks to decry what narrator Ed Asner claims is rich people’s refusal to pay their share of taxes. The crude footage is part of a “Tax the rich: An animated fairy tale,” an eight-minute video written and directed by California Federation of Teachers’ communications director Fred Glass. In it, Asner describes a mythical land that seems to represent the U.S. and how it financed its services. He says the rich sought to evade taxes and put their money into “Wall Street” – yet another clue to the real identity of the storybook country. “Don’t worry,” Asner says, speaking for the rich. “This is good for you, too. Because it will trickle down from us to you.” The word “trickle” is illustrated with the bodily function metaphor, which Kyle Olson, founder of the Michigan-based Education Action Group, said left him disgusted. (read article)

California state attorneys union’s top expenses: No on 32, consultants
By Jon Ortiz, December 5, 2012, Sacramento Bee
The state lawyers’ union political action committee is one of the most … frugal? … of any state employees PAC. The 3,700-member California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment (which goes by the economized acronym, CASE), filed just $516,000 of political expenses with the Secretary of State’s office — for both 2011 and 2012. It’s top expenditure: $100,000 to the No on Proposition 32 campaign. It’s No. 2 expense: $55,000 to Ellison Wilson Advocates for campaign consulting. Like we said, frugal. To be fair, the union is one of the smallest bargaining units . Its members are widely agreed to be among the lowest paid professionals in state government, particularly when compared with their counterparts in local government and the private sector. And CASE dues are among the lowest among rank-and-file state employees, a flat $45 per month, of which $10 goes to the union’s PAC. As you look through the tables below, tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheets open worksheets with more detailed information. (read article)

California Highway Patrol Officers’ union spends on Proposition 32, fundraisers
By Jon Ortiz, December 4, 2012, Sacramento Bee
In an unusually detailed filing, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen’s political action committee has reported some $405,000 in expenses for this year, much of it on political fundraising events such golf outings and dinners. Two of the union’s three biggest political expenses went to fundraisers: $50,000 for Darrell Steinberg’s Pro Tem’s Cup in March and another $50,000 for Assemblyman John A. Pérez’s Speaker’s Cup in May. CAHP also gave a total $50,000 to successful efforts to defeat Propostion 32 and $10,000 to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s successful tax measure, Proposition 30. (read article)

California’s Metropolitan Water District execs join labor union to avoid pension cuts
By Keegan Kyle, December 4, 2012, Orange County Register
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this year aimed at reducing pension costs, he argued for a simple concept: Public employees should contribute to their own retirement plans. But a month before the new law goes into effect, some of the highest paid employees at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California have seemingly found a way around it – at least for the near future. Their pathway required no public notice and no action by the powerful water district’s board of directors. All they did Monday was quietly join a labor union. The group of employees is mostly comprised of top executives, attorneys and managerial staff who were unrepresented by a collective bargaining unit. We don’t have anything on paper outlining why the group decided to make the switch this week, but an anonymous tipster told the Watchdog that the group wanted to prevent the district from changing their retirement benefits. Today, the water district pays both a 7 percent employer contribution and a 7 percent employee contribution for unrepresented employees’ retirement plans. The perk benefits the employees in two ways. First, they don’t have to contribute to the plans from their own paychecks. Second, the setup boosts their final retirement payout. By shifting to a union right now, the executives can delay the water district’s board of directors from ending the retirement spiking practice for several years. Courts have found a union’s existing labor contract generally supersedes new state law. (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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