Pension wars: Take retirement benefits off bargaining table?
By Teri Sforza, September 27, 2011, Orange County Register
Some 30 states allow collective bargaining by public workers, but only a handful allow retirement benefits to be a chip on the bargaining table —  and California is one of them. “Last week the auditor general of Rhode Island, where the receiver in bankrupt Central Falls is said to be cutting the pensions of some retirees by 50 percent, proposed a series of changes to prevent more city bankruptcies in the nation’s smallest state,” Ed Mendel writes at calpensions.com. The fix? Cities should “seek to remove pensions and retiree health benefit provisions from collective bargaining,” and instead set them through “local ordinances or charter provisions,” the auditor said. (read article)

Unions’ Public Relations Efforts Can’t Change the Numbers That Add Up to a System on the Brink of Collapse
By Kernan F. King, September 26, 2011, Providence Journal
During the recent whirlwind of developments in Rhode Island’s high-stakes pension-reform debate, the central strategy of the leaders of the public-sector unions became vividly clear. It can be summarized this way: Rather than step up, they’ve decided they will only fight back. The unions’ increasingly defensive posture and rising rhetoric may be aimed at undermining the fast-approaching pension-reform legislative session. But the truth is, that approach doesn’t change the reality of the math. Public relations, no matter how well funded, can’t change the cold, hard numbers that add up to a system on the brink of collapse. (read article)

Public employee union members should ask 5 questions of their leadership
By Harry L. Staley, September 25, 2011, Providence Journal
These are perilous, nerve-wracking times for Rhode Island’s public-employee union retirees and their working brethren. An unfunded-pension liability of staggering proportions has produced a dark cloud over their collective future security. The tragedy is that all placed their trust in political leaders who led them to believe that their future, and that of their families, was secure. In a state where public-employee union leadership has played a major, if not controlling, influence in the legislature, those who stand to lose the most deserve to know who bears the responsibility for this betrayal of trust. (read article)

Union Blocks Pension Disclosures for 2,529 Retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies
By Catherine Saillant, September 23, 2011, Los Angeles Times
A judge agreed Thursday to postpone the disclosure of pension data for 2,529 retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a union attorney claimed that giving it to the Los Angeles Times would endanger the lives of some retirees. Retired deputies will have until Oct. 7 to file declarations detailing why they think their lives would be at risk if their identities are included in pension information requested by The Times. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said he would review the legitimacy of each case and rule in early November. Chalfant said he would grant anonymity only to former deputies who can demonstrate real risk. “Just the fact that they are a peace officer is not good enough to justify non-disclosure,” Chalfant said. (read article)

One-day rehiring nets former Chicago labor leader a $158,000 city pension
By Jason Grotto, September 22, 2011, Chicago Tribune
Most city workers spend decades in public service to build up modest pensions. But for former labor leader Dennis Gannon, the keys to securing a public pension were one day on the city payroll and some help from the Daley administration. And his city pension is more than modest. It’s the highest of any retired union leader: $158,000. That’s roughly five times greater than what the typical retired city worker receives. In fact, his pension is so high that it exceeds federal limits and required the city pension fund to file special paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to give it to him. (read article)

How much clout do Rhode Island’s unions wield, circa 2011? We’re about to find out
By David Scharfenberg, September 16-22, 2011, The Providence Phoenix
The public discussion around organized labor’s influence on Rhode Island politics is a crude business. The caricature of an all-powerful labor movement is easily dismissed; in an age of austerity, the story of union power is a story of decline. But the discussion shouldn’t end there. There is still an important question to consider — a question that, ironically, gets short shrift in the overheated debate: how much juice do the state’s unions actually have, circa 2011? There is no easy answer. The labor agenda is broad, after all, its progress best measured in years, not months. But if you were looking for a single indicator of organized labor’s power these days, the looming battle over the state’s $6.8 billion pension crisis is about as good as you could find. (read article)

Phoenix taxpayers foot the bill for union work
By Mark Flatten, September 21, 2011, Goldwater Institute
Phoenix taxpayers spend millions of dollars to pay full salary and benefits for city employees to work exclusively for labor unions, a Goldwater Institute investigation found. Collective bargaining agreements with seven labor organizations require the city to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs. The total cost to Phoenix taxpayers is about $3.7 million per year, based on payroll records supplied by the city. In all, more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayers’ expense are permitted in the agreements. (read article)

Ban on labor-friendly contracts will be on San Diego’s 2012 ballot
By Jen Lebron Kuhney, September 21, 2011, San Diego Union-Tribune
A measure on the 2012 ballot will ask voters if they want to require city projects to stay open to all bidders, not just those who hire through union halls. The San Diego City Clerk announced Wednesday that enough valid signatures were collected to put the initiative on the ballot. If passed, the proposition would ban so-called project labor agreements, which grant unions preference on contracts. Backers submitted more than 91,000 signatures on Sept. 2 to the City Clerk’s office for verification. A minimum of 62,057 valid signatures were needed for the measure to qualify for the ballot, but the county Registrar of Voters projected more than 72,600 of the submitted signatures are valid. (read article)

How government unions rip off the taxpayer
By James Taranto, September 21, 2011, Wall Street Journal
In his Labor Day speech in Detroit, Barack Obama issued a ringing endorsement of government employee unions. From the president’s hometown comes an example of what he is actually supporting. The Chicago Tribune reports that an investigation it conducted with WGN-TV found “23 retired union officials from Chicago stand to collect about $56 million from two ailing city pension funds.” That’s an average of $2.4 million each, and some will rake in even more. Dennis Gannon, a former president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, stands to collect some $5 million. In line for $4 million apiece are Liberato “Al” Naimoli, president of the Cement Workers Union Local 76, and James McNally, vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. “Since the 1950s,” the Trib explains, “city workers who take leaves of absence to work full time for unions have been able to remain in city pension funds if they choose. The time they spend at their union jobs counts toward their city pensions.” (read article)

Law gives huge pension perks to Chicago’s union leaders
By Jason Grotto, Chicago Tribune, September 21, 2011
All it took to give nearly two dozen labor leaders from Chicago a windfall worth millions was a few tweaks to a handful of sentences in the state’s lengthy pension code. The changes became law with no public debate among state legislators and, more importantly, no cost analysis. Twenty years later, 23 retired union officials from Chicago stand to collect about $56 million from two ailing city pension funds thanks to the changes, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation found. Because the law bases the city pensions on the labor leaders’ union salaries, they are reaping retirement benefits that far outstrip the modest salaries they made as city employees. On average, their pensions are nearly three times higher than what the typical retired city worker receives. (read article)

Costa Mesa, California kicks off outsourcing process
By Sean Greene, September 21, 2011, Orange County Register
The City Council released three requests for bids Tuesday night, marking the beginning of its exploration of outsourcing city services. The requests for proposals (RFPs) pertain to jail, video production, and building inspection services, the first of 19 scheduled to go through the council chamber over the next several months. The cost-cutting measures, if passed, could result in large-scale layoffs nearing half the city’s workforce. The city is asking for “innovative and/or creative” approaches to providing city services more efficiently or at a lower cost. Much of the discussion Tuesday night centered on the city’s ability to make an “apples to apples” comparisons of current versus proposed service levels. With an emphasis on price, the concern was that service levels may decline. (read article)

Rhode Island’s public unions now refusing to be part of the solution
By Edward Achorn, September 20, 2011, Providence Journal
The arrogance is staggering. Robert Walsh, executive director of National Education Association Rhode Island, who did much to drive the state into its pension ditch, was given a privileged place on the Pension Advisory Committee. That panel was charged with developing ideas to stave off Rhode Island’s impending financial collapse. When queried last month whether he or his fellow union leaders had any solution to the crisis, he said he had not been asked for one. That’s the game. Instead of offering positive, workable solutions that might save their members from the devastating pension cuts now being imposed in bankrupt Central Falls, union leaders for years have offered sniping criticism, political threats and media campaigns to stir up the troops and halt reform. (read article)

Rhode Island Public Employee Unions Want Governor to Protect Pensions
By Mallory Moretti, September 15, 2011, WPRI-TV
While local lawmakers are busy trying to find a solution to the state’s pension reform, local labor unions are worried that solution will infringe upon their benefits as state employees. Those unions are calling for R.I. Governor Lincoln Chafee to keep the promise he made while running for governor to protect their pensions and not allow their benefits to be reduced. “The governor made specific commitments when he campaigned for governor that he would not change benefits for retirees and active employees,” said NEARI Executive Director Bob Walsh. However, Gov. Chafee stays true to the fact that he’s been “very consistent” when it comes to his position on the matter. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of PensionTsunami.com, 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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