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.

Can Latinos Save Labor Unions?
By Kathleen Miles, January 28, 2013, The Huffington Post
Facing an onslaught of anti-union legislation and the pressure of outsourcing, union membership plunged to its lowest level last year since 1916, according to The New York Times. But there’s a bright spot for unions in all that bad news: Latino membership is skyrocketing. As Associate Editor for HuffPost Los Angeles Kathleen Miles notes in a recent piece: Unions lost a record-breaking 547,000 white members in 2012. Meanwhile, membership increased among other races — particularly Latino. In 2012, unions gained 156,000 new Latino members, 82,000 new black members and 45,000 new Asian members, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data sent to The Huffington Post. With manufacturing jobs moving overseas, labor unions have turned to Latinos working in sectors outside of traditional union strongholds, such as carwash workers and home health care workers. (read article)

Big Trouble for Little Labor
By Rick Manning, January 28, 2013, Americans for Limited Government
Fewer and fewer Americans are represented by labor unions with only 6.6 percent of private sector workers belonging to organized labor in 2012 according to a survey released by the federal government last week. The stunning drop in private sector labor union membership over the past ten years parallels organized labor’s decision to engage in massive political expenditures designed to elect supposed pro-labor candidates to office. The plummeting number of private sector union members, and there are now more public employees who are union members than private sector employees, means that the labor union leaders will be forced into the choice between supporting policies that increase their public sector base, which harm opportunities to create private sector jobs for their members. (read article)

California, the union state
By Joseph Perkins, January 27, 2013, CalWatchdog
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that the national union membership rate (the percentage of wage and salary workers who are members of a union) fell to 11.3 last year from 11.8 percent the year before that. BLS also reported that actual number of unionized workers shrank to 14.4 million last year, a decline of some 400,000. There were a handful of states that bucked the trend and, surprise, surprise, surprise, California was one of them. In fact, unions here in the Golden State grew their ranks last year by 100,000 members. It’s not because of exceptional recruiting by such union leaders as Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association; Laphonza Butler, president of the California Service Employees International State Council; and Art Pulaski, chief officer of the California Labor Federation. It’s because, while private sector payrolls here in California only modestly increased in 2012, state and local government added employees at a clip unseen since before the Great Recession. The additional 100,000 union members enabled CTA, SEIU, CLF and their union confederates to really throw their political weight around last year. (read article)

Bad time to hike minimum wage
By Adam Summers, January 26, 2013, Orange County Register
Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento, emboldened by their new supermajority status, may be tempted to use their added power to push an aggressive legislative agenda. In previous legislative sessions they’ve tried, and failed, to raise the state’s minimum wage, currently $8 an hour. And it looks like they’ll give it a go again. California is already one of 19 states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. With the state’s unemployment rate at 9.8 percent — much higher than the already high 7.8 percent national unemployment rate—and a very slow economic recovery taking place, raising the minimum wage would be another ill-advised, job-killing law imposed upon the state’s businesses. It’s a feel-good policy that sounds like a no-brainer to many in Sacramento, but, in reality, minimum wage laws have serious negative consequences on the economy as they end up hitting workers, businesses, and, ultimately, consumers in their pocketbooks. (read article)

Wisconsin Court Battle $$$
By Collin Levy, January 25, 2013, Wall Street Journal
Round five (or is it seven?) of the Unions vs. Scott Walker battle is heating up in Wisconsin, this time over the future of the state Supreme Court. With one of the state’s conservative justices up for re-election this spring, many on the left are hoping to flip the court and challenge Governor Walker’s agenda. Conservatives currently control the state Supreme Court, 4-3, after a bitter fight last year between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Labor interests furious at the governor’s reforms of the state’s public sector unions spent skads of money in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Mr. Prosser. This time they’ll pin their hopes on an unlikely gaggle of challengers for the seat of incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, who has served on the court since 2003. Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone, Milwaukee lemon lawyer Vince Megma and Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi are expected to be among the challengers. (read article)

Pennsylvanians’ Right to Work  Law Considered by Legislature
By Stephen Moore, January 25, 2013, Wall Street Journal
On Michigan’s heels, Pennsylvania may become the 25th state in the nation to adopt a right to work law. This week a group of Republican lawmakers, led by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, introduced legislation that would end compulsory unionism. Republicans are touting the growth of jobs in right to work states, which are mostly located in the South and West. A study by the American Legislative Exchange Council finds that new factories and facilities are much more likely to open in states without forced unionism. (read article)

Obama recess appointments to labor board ruled unconstitutional
By Kevin Bogardus, January 25, 2013, The Hill
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Obama’s controversial recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were unconstitutional. In a 47-page opinion for Noel Canning v. NLRB, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Obama ignored the Senate’s “advise and consent” role by making three appointments to the labor board while the Senate was in session. The ruling, which the administration is expected to appeal, casts serious doubt on the legality of all the actions taken by the NLRB since Obama recess-appointed Sharon Block, Terence Flynn and Richard Griffin in January 2011. It also threatens the president’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The same day he made the NLRB picks, Obama appointed Cordray to that position after GOP opposition blocked his confirmation. (read article)

Federal appeals court upholds Wisconsin union reforms
Editorial, January 25, 2013, Orange County Register
Supporters of public-sector compensation reform won a significant battle last week as a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 reforms against union challenges to their constitutionality. The reform effort sparked nearly two years of pitched political battles at the Capitol in Madison. Skirmishes included: multiple legislative recall elections, bullhorn-toting union activists demonstrating throughout the city, and Democratic legislators decamping to Illinois to deny legislative Republicans a quorum necessary to hold a crucial vote.Act 10 had two basic elements, financial and structural. First, the law mandated that most state employees pay half the cost of their retirement benefits and to significantly increase their contributions to an underfunded medical system. Second, the law outlawed the use of collective bargaining on all issues except for those related to wage increases. It also required unions to submit to an annual certification vote and halted the use of mandatory union-dues payroll deductions. Ultimately, the centerpiece of the union counterattack – a recall of Gov. Walker – failed to win support from the same Wisconsin electorate that later last year voted by large margins to re-elect Democratic President Barack Obama. (read article)

Firefighters’ Compensation Torches LAFD Budget
By Jack Humphreville, January 25, 2013, CityWatch LA
Our Fire Department is experiencing an unprecedented amount of bad publicity these days, in large part because of the financial difficulties caused by runaway personnel expenditures and budget cutbacks demanded by the fiscally irresponsible City Council. The Los Angeles Fire Department’s credibility has been seriously undermined as a result of the disclosure by The Los Angeles Times that for the last several years, the management of the LAFD has been disseminating misleading information about its response times. This has led to fireworks at the City Council where the management geniuses on the City Council wondered why the Department has not produced the “requested a plan to improve services and shorten response times.” In response, politically appointed Chief Cummings stunned the City Council by criticizing these princes of the City for not providing the LAFD with adequate funding. There has also been management turmoil as Chief Millage Peaks retired in July of 2011 after only two years on the job because of the political pressure caused by inadequate funding of the Department, the 10% reduction in positions, the inability to control labor costs, and the constant meddling by the all knowing members of the City Council and the financial wizards in the Mayor’s office. (read article)

Trends and tea leaves in the BLS’ annual unionization report
By Steve Eide, January 24, 2013, Public Sector Inc.
In light of the new labor laws in place in Indiana (2012), Michigan (2012) and Wisconsin (2011), at least for the time being, the BLS’ annual unionization report takes on new importance. Now there will be data to inform policy debates that have been hitherto based mostly on principle and theory. Between 2011 and 2012, Wisconsin and Indiana both saw their union membership rates among all workers decline by slightly more than two percentage points. Benchmarked against union performance in the other states, these count as significant declines. Only two other states, Missouri (from 10.9% to 8.9%) and Connecticut (16.8% to 14%) registered drops of two percentage points or more. On a relative basis, the states that saw the biggest decines in union membership as a share of the total workforce were Nebraska and Arkansas. What was the cause of this effect?  Certainly, state and local governments have been shedding jobs, but, as the New York Times acknowledges, it’s also possible that workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere have simply decided to opt out of union membership. At the very least, these drops refute the theory that the recent high-profile Midwest labor battles will strengthen the union cause. (read article)

Interpreting the new union membership numbers
By Daniel DiSalvo, January 24, 2013, Public Sector Inc.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released the new union membership numbers for 2012. Organized labor suffered its steepest membership decline in six years to a just 11.3 percent of the workforce–the lowest level since the progressive era nearly a century ago. The primary source of the decline was in the public rather than the private sector. Yet public employees continue to remain a majority of union members. The reasons for the decline in the public sector were (1) layoffs and reduced hiring in the wake of the Great Recession and (2) the elimination of agency shop provisions in Wisconsin and Indiana. Nonetheless, the public-sector membership rate in 2012 was still 35.9% (down from 37% in 2011), which is well within its’ historical average since 1980. (see chart). We can expect some further declines in public and private membership in Michigan next year as its new right-to-work law goes into effect. In sum, the current report aside, the real place where union membership has fallen over the last thirty years has been in the private sector, while the public sector has remained stable within a band of 35% to 40%. (read article)

Ex-SEIU Top Dog Embezzled Dues For Travel, Jury Hears
By Ciaran McEvoy, January 23, 2013, Law360
Tyrone Ricky Freeman, former top official for the biggest Service Employees International Union branch in California, embezzled union members’ dues by taking personal trips, including one to Hawaii, and committed other acts of fraud, a federal prosecutor told a California jury in closing arguments Wednesday. Freeman was the president of Local 6434 of SEIU from 2000 to 2008 and is facing 14 criminal counts, including mail fraud, embezzlement of labor union assets, making false statements and subscribing to a false tax return. (read article)

The Real Reason for the Decline of American Unions
By Kris Warner, January 23, 2013, Bloomberg
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual summary of unionization in the U.S. It reports that in 2012, the union-membership rate of wage and salary workers was 11.3 percent, compared with 11.8 percent in 2011. The trend has been downward for some time: Fifty years ago, the figure was almost 30 percent. It’s conventional wisdom that the post-industrial workforce doesn’t want to be unionized. But survey data show that workers’ desire to join unions has been growing since the 1980s, and a majority of nonunion workers would now vote for union representation if given the opportunity. So if workers want unions, why is unionization falling? Commentators have also blamed the decline on everything from globalization to technological advances to the hollowing-out of American manufacturing. But those factors are only part of the story. Canada’s experience offers another answer. Canada has gone through many of the same economic and social changes as the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, yet it hasn’t seen the same precipitous decline in unionization. The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s, at which point they began to diverge drastically. (read article)

Contagion: Strike fever spreads across Illinois
By Paul Kersey, January 23, 2013, Illinois Policy Institute
With the Chicago Teachers Union having waged a largely successful strike against the Chicago Public Schools, we can expect to see other public school unions, and maybe other government employee unions, following their example.  Strikes allow unions to preserve costly wages and benefits, or block needed reforms, by shutting down government services.  Illinois may be in the early stages of an outbreak of labor unrest across the state. (read article)
Labor Unions: Declining Membership Shows Labor Laws Need Modernizing
By James Sherk, January 23, 2013, Heritage Foundation
Union density in the American workplace fell to another new post–World War II low of 11.3 percent in 2012. Private-sector union membership fell to 6.6 percent—less than when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). U.S. labor laws do not meet the needs of modern American workers. The laws prevent union members from receiving individual raises and employers from giving non-union employees a formal voice on the job. Congress created these restrictions in the 1930s for a primarily industrial economy that no longer exists. The time has come for Congress to bring America’s labor laws into the 21st century. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership continues to stagnate. While employers added almost 2 million net new jobs in 2012, unions lost 398,000 members. As a result, union density fell 0.5 points to a new post-war low of 11.3 percent. Private-sector unionization rates fell from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent as private-sector unions lost 165,000 members. In government, unionization fell 1.1 percentage points to 35.9 percent as unions lost 234,000 members. (read article)

Colorado lawmakers set to hear firefighters’ call for collective bargaining
By Eli Stokols, January 22, 2013, KWGN-TV
It’s the kind of bill that would never have survived a legislature where Democrats and Republicans each controlled a legislative chamber. Now, Republicans, relegated to the sidelines with Democrats back in charge, are licking their chops as a proposal aiming to expand collective bargaining for Colorado firefighters — a bill that could test the Democratic coalition — comes before lawmakers for the first time on Wednesday. Senate Bill 25, which labor unions have long pushed for, would allow collective bargaining for firefighters without a local government approving it. “Senate Bill 25 is important in allowing Colorado Firefighters to obtain vital resources for protecting their communities and ensuring they are fairly compensated,” said Mike Rogers, President of the Colorado chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters. (read article)

California’s Politics of Farce
By Joel Kotkin, January 21, 2013, New Geography
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. (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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