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.

Dan Walters: California farm labor law still a hot issue
By Dan Walters, January 8, 2013, Sacramento Bee
Jerry Brown’s major achievement in his first year as governor in 1975 was the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, creating a first-in-the-nation mechanism for the United Farm Workers union to seek contracts with growers. It did not, contrary to expectations, result in the massive unionization of field workers. Thirty-eight years later, the reasons are still being debated. UFW and its allies contend that it’s been unfair stalling by farmers; growers blame the union’s indifference to doing business and its internal strife. The farm labor issue, therefore, is still simmering, even if economic circumstances have changed. Some segments of the nation’s largest agricultural industry have declined – fresh fruit, for one – while others have flourished, such as wine grapes and tree nuts. And the once-abundant supply of farm labor has shrunk, largely because of tighter controls on illegal migration from Mexico. (read article)

Two-tier wage system will bite United Auto Workers
By Ted Roelofs, January 8, 2013, Bridge Magazine
Under RTW laws, employees cannot be compelled to pay union dues or agency fees in a unionized shop – dollars that are the lifeblood of labor’s political clout. In February 2012, Indiana became the first Midwest state to adopt the standard. With a stroke of the pen on Dec. 11, 2012, by Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan became the second. There are 22 other RTW states, mostly in the South and West. Expected to take effect in Michigan in April, RTW applies to union contracts as they expire after that date. Sean McAlinden, a former UAW member and chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, expects the measure to put considerable pressure on the UAW as its national contract expires in 2015. McAlinden foresees a significant threat of defection from union ranks by recent hires at auto companies who make about $16 an hour, barely half what senior workers earn in the two-tier wage system the UAW accepted in 2007 to help salvage the industry. (read article)

The Union Label
By Paul Jacob, January 7, 2013, Common Sense
Uniting together to form mutual aid groups is a very old idea. Workers do it; professionals, too — even consumers. It’s usually a great idea, contributing a lot to human welfare. But what we call “labor unions” have a problem: They tend to be, well . . . violent. Why? One of the main practices of unions has been (though it need not be) the monopolization of labor into a union-run pool, disallowing non-union workers from taking jobs in targeted plants, businesses, industries, what-have-you. Labor legislation in America and elsewhere generally shores up and regulates that power — which, by definition, is thuggish. So we’ve come to expect thuggishness from existing unions. Members of unions feel they have the right to exclude non-union workers, and they will intimidate, threaten, and attack both “scabs” (competing workers) and “evil businesses.” (read article)

Union Workers *Probably* Torched a Quaker Meetinghouse Over Christmas
By John K. Ross, January 7, 2013, Reason
Police say union workers “almost certainly” torched an under-construction Quaker meetinghouse in northwest Philadelphia four days before Christmas. The Chestnut Hill Friends had hired non-union labor for the project, which discommoded several construction unions. From the Philadelphia Inquirer: Vandals with an acetylene torch crept onto the project’s muddy construction site in the middle of the night. Working out of view in the meetinghouse’s freshly cemented basement, they sliced off dozens of bolts securing the bare steel columns and set fire to the building crane, causing $500,000 in damage. Police detectives deemed the attack arson because of a series of confrontational visits from union officials days before the incident. They say the torch could only have been operated by a trained professional, and believe it was almost certainly the work of disgruntled union members. The city has assigned extra investigators to the case and is working with federal forensic experts to track down the vandals, said Michael Resnick, the city’s public safety commissioner. (read article)

Witness Protection Program Needed: Obama’s NLRB Gives Unions License To Intimidate & Retaliate Against Witnesses
By LaborUnionReport, January 7th, 2013, RedState.com
It’s a strange thing when, in a democracy*, dissent is stifled by those that presume to value dissent. Notwithstanding the union-backed effort to end Senate filibusters, time and time again, both publicly and behind-the-scenes, Barack Obama and his union cronies and backers work to stifle–even purge and eradicate–any form of dissent if it does not benefit union bosses. What’s worse is the fact that this trend is becoming the official labor policy of the United States. With an all-Democrat, three-member—two out of the three being union attorneys—National Labor Relations Board now running things without any dissent, workers and their employers in union-free workplaces are being bombarded with decisions that benefit big union bosses. (read article)

Unions slam new pension-fix proposal
Reuters, January 07, 2013, Crains Chicago Business
Illinois lawmakers unveiled a plan Sunday they believe can fix the state’s huge pension crisis, but labor unions blasted the proposal and vowed to sue to protect their benefits. If the General Assembly tries to pass the plan before the lame-duck session ends Tuesday night, the coalition said, it will go to court. They are confident they will prevail given strong protections for pension benefits in the Illinois Constitution. Illinois’ finances are buckling under the weight of a huge $96 billion unfunded pension liability that is rapidly siphoning off money needed for state services such as health care and public safety. (read article)

California’s politics of farce
By Joel Kotkin, January 6, 2012, Orange County Register
Karl Marx wrote, “History repeats … first as tragedy, then as farce.” Nothing better describes how California, with its unmatched natural and human riches, has begun to morph into what the premier California historian Kevin Starr has called “a failed state” – a term more usually applied to African kleptocracies than a place as blessed as the Golden State. The tragedy begins with the collapse of a governance system once widely hailed as a leader in efficiency and foresight but which now perpetually teeters at the brink of insolvency and suffers among the worst credit ratings of all the states. Only 20 years ago, the state’s fiscal debt per capita was just below the national average; now it ranks consistently toward the bottom No surprise, then, that California routinely ranked as the “worst governed” state in America. This poor performance has consequences, particularly in terms of business. Today, CEOs rank California as just about the worst place to do business in the country, and have for a remarkable eight years in a row. And it’s not just the plutocrats who are angry; a survey by the economic forecasting firm EMSI shows that, in 2011, California also ranked 50th, just ahead of Michigan, in new business startups. (read article)

Changing Skyline: Quakers’ decision to use nonunion labor causes strife in Chestnut Hill
By Inga Saffron, January 05, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer
To afford Philadelphia’s first new Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years, the Chestnut Hill Friends felt their only option was to employ a nonunion contractor. And now they are paying the price. Four days before Christmas, the Friends’ world was rocked by the sort of violence they have devoted their lives to stamping out. Vandals with an acetylene torch crept onto the project’s muddy construction site in the middle of the night. Working out of view in the meetinghouse’s freshly cemented basement, they sliced off dozens of bolts securing the bare steel columns and set fire to the building crane, causing $500,000 in damage. Police detectives deemed the attack arson because of a series of confrontational visits from union officials days before the incident. They say the torch could only have been operated by a trained professional, and believe it was almost certainly the work of disgruntled union members. (read article)

New Jersey bill would strengthen labor’s hand in post-Sandy work
By Juliet Fletcher, January 3, 2013, NorthJersey.com
New Jersey’s construction unions would gain a stronger hand competing for jobs rebuilding the state’s infrastructure damaged by superstorm Sandy under a bill proposed by the state’s top Democratic lawmaker, who is a labor leader. The bill proposed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, scheduled for a hearing today before the Senate Budget Committee, would make major highway and bridge work eligible to be covered by project labor agreements, which set pay and other work conditions that traditionally favor unions. (read article)

A Bad Year for Big Labor
By Earl Capps, January 2, 2013, Front Page Magazine
Early in 2012, labor unions began a major political offensive aimed at regaining political initiative after a number of high-profile setbacks in 2010 and 2011. Focusing their efforts in Michigan and Wisconsin, two Midwestern states with strong union bases, their costly efforts to roll back efforts to challenge their power ended up costing them, leaving them worse off than when the year started. In Wisconsin, labor unions poured thousands of people and millions of dollars into recall efforts to keep the GOP-held legislature and Governor from challenging their lock on state government. When the smoke cleared, Governor Scott Walker, along with most of the targeted legislators, survived recall campaigns. Efforts by labor unions to end Republican control of the Wisconsin legislature were short-lived as Republicans made good their recall losses by adding to their majority in the Wisconsin House and regaining control of the Senate in the November elections. (read article)

Union Pension Activism: In Whose Best Interests?
By Leanna Orr, December 28, 2012, aiCIO
Union pension funds manage more retirement assets in the United States than public pensions—$3.5 trillion to $2.8 trillion. Union pensions may be using the financial clout that comes with these assets to inappropriate ends, according to two researchers from Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance. David Larcker and Brian Tayan’s recently published paper, “Union Activism: Do Union Pension Funds Act Solely in the Interest of Beneficiaries?” looks into shareholder activism by union retirement systems. “Shareholder activism is an important mechanism for imposing market discipline on the decisions of corporate executives and directors, and union pension funds take an active role in this process,” the authors state. “Are union-sponsored proposals made solely in the interest of their pension beneficiaries? Or are they used to further social and political priorities that are important to union leadership?”  (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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