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.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s pep talk for California
Editorial, August 28, 2012, Orange County Register
While California residents are justly proud of many elements of life in the Golden State, when it comes to public policy, California would do well to follow the lead of New Jersey. The Garden State’s tell-it-like-is governor, Chris Christie, has taken on public employee unions, overcome a significant state budget gap and advocated for lower taxes and fees. He recounted his successes to a breakfast gathering Monday hosted by the California Republican Party’s delegation to the Republican National Convention. Gov. Christie’s approach is perhaps the polar opposite of that taken by California Gov. Jerry Brown. Gov. Brown has remained closely aligned with the state’s powerful public employee unions, which did much to get him elected. He also is pushing to raise taxes via his Proposition 30 on the November ballot. (read article)

California Pension Deal Nears; Unions Furious
By  Ben Adler, August 27, 2012, Capital Public Radio
Democrats are promising “comprehensive pension reform” that will save tens of billions of dollars over the next few decades.  Assemblyman Warren Furutani says the deal won’t please everyone. Furutani: “Some folks that are out there that are just straight anti-pension, we’re never gonna satisfy them.  The unions are gonna have to look at reality in terms of what’s going to exist for the future for them.” Brennand: “I’m just kind of pissed off.” SEIU’s Terry Brennand calls the proposal one of the largest rollbacks of pension benefits in California history. Brennand: “The fact that in certain instances here they’re going to allow unilateral implementation – they’re going to do away with collective bargaining – is offensive to all of my workers and is going to anger them immensely.” A vote is expected on Friday. (read article)

Costa Mesa City Councilman Accuses Union Thugs Of DUI Setup
John and Ken Show, August 27, 2012, KFI Radio
(listen to audio)

Caller who accused Costa Mesa councilman of drunk driving is linked to police union law firm
By Tony Saavedra, Elysse James and Michael Mello, August 26, 2012, Orange County Register
The mystery caller who falsely accused Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer of driving drunk is a private investigator linked to a law firm that worked for the Costa Mesa Police Association. Dispatch tapes obtained by The Orange County Register identified the caller as Chris Lanzillo. Lanzillo is a fired Riverside police officer who according to a published report got a medical retirement and became a private investigator. Lanzillo worked sometimes for the Upland law firm of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, which until late last week represented the Costa Mesa police union. Costa Mesa City Councilman Jim Righeimer and his wife Lene address accusations of drunk driving during a press conference at city hall Firday. Righeimer had been given a sobriety test outside his home on Wednesday evening after a caller told police the councilman had been driving recklessly. The union and city are tied up in contract negotiations. At a news conference Friday, Righeimer blamed employee unions for the “911” call that sent an officer to his home to conduct a sobriety test. Righeimer had just arrived from a local bar, where he had two Diet Cokes. He passed the test, and now wants the District Attorney’s Office to look into the incident, noting a similar event in Buena Park in 2010. (read article)

Fire and Police Unions Use Their Clout in California’s Capitol
By Dan Walters, August 27, 2012, Sacramento Bee
The police officers and firefighters we taxpayers employ to protect us are, sad to say, bullies in the political realm. Their unions trade on their status as “first responders,” their power to grant campaign endorsements and their ability to raise and disburse campaign contributions to demand extraordinary political favors. A case in point was the incredibly generous retirement benefits that legislators and then-Gov. Gray Davis gave so-called “safety members” in 1999 – 90 percent of their salaries after 30 years, plus lifetime health care. Local governments felt compelled to match the state’s benefits, and soaring retiree costs now figure prominently in their fiscal woes, including three city bankruptcy filings. The current legislative session demonstrates anew the fire and police unions’ clout in an election year. Take, for example, what happened when Speaker John A. Pérez proposed union-backed legislation to sweeten the pension pot for police and firefighters even more. (read article)

UC, CSU research assistants would get union rights under newly passed bill in California State Senate
Associated Press, August 25, 2012, San Jose Mercury News
A bill approved by the state Senate would give University of California and California State University research assistants the right to collective bargaining. SB259 by Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat, was approved 46-27 Thursday. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a fellow Berkeley Democrat who presented the bill, said it would extend the same rights and benefits enjoyed by teaching assistants to research assistants. It would affect 14,000 research assistants in the UC alone. Republicans objected to the bill, which they said would further drive up rapidly rising college costs. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Twin Peaks, blamed most of the extra cost on benefits and pay for university employees who belong to public employee unions. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of September to act on the bill. (read article)

California Politicos, Unions Play Pension Roulette
By Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, August 25, 2012, NBC Southern California  
“Money” — to paraphrase a famous political dictum — “is the mother’s milk of pension reform.” I don’t mean the money that sky-rocketing pension obligations cost the already anemic state and local budgets. I mean the money that will be spent to pass and defeat pension reform if it finds itself on the ballot. And there’s a good chance it will. Frustration is running high over the inability of state and local leaders to contain and restructure ballooning pension costs. Pension reform has become a central focus of political debate; it’s a hot potato for both Sacramento and California local governments –and it is of critical importance to the state’s powerful public employee unions. They’ll use all the resources at their command to block any reform proposal they don’t like. (read article)

Prop. 32: What really scares California’s big unions
By Larry Sand, August 24, 2012, Los Angeles Times
Michael Hiltzik infers in his column Sunday that Proposition 32 is a big lie — because it prohibits both corporations and labor unions such as the California Teachers Assn. from extracting involuntary political contributions from the paychecks of workers. Hiltzik argues that its prohibition of corporate deductions is of minor impact, but that union political fund-raising will be crippled. He is amazingly untroubled by the fact that taking such payroll deductions for political purposes without consent is patently immoral. Why should a worker have some of his forced union dues spent on candidates or causes that he doesn’t agree with? As Thomas Jefferson said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” Oddly, Hiltzik seems concerned only that the CTA and other public employee unions maintain the ability to build massive political war chests so they can pour tens of millions of dollars into the same types of independent spending efforts that so offend him. (read article)

The huge cost of public employee unions: Spending we can’t sustain
By Michael Marlow, August 24, 2012, New York Daily News
With Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, the conventional wisdom is that the presidential election is now a referendum on the size of government. If so, it’s a national stage for a debate that has already been taking place in state capitols from Albany to Sacrame`nto about the burden of public sector unions. Neither conservatives nor liberals disagree that these unions raise wages and employment for their members (i.e., firefighters, teachers and police). But research I recently completed finds a solid empirical relationship between public sector unions’ concentration and the size and cost of state government, suggesting that what’s good for the public sector employee goose might not be good for the taxpayer gander. Over the last three decades, union membership in the private sector has fallen precipitously, from 24.2% in 1973 to just under 7% in 2011. Over the same period, public sector union membership jumped by 14 points, from 23% to 37%. The different directions of these trend lines have much to do with the nature of public sector employment. For instance, unlike the private sector, public sector wages that exceed an employee’s productivity don’t directly threaten employment. (read article)

Three Major California Police Unions Denounce Police Negotiations Playbook
By Tony Saavedra, August 24, 2012, Orange County Register
Three major California police unions have denounced the hardball negotiation tactics depicted in a primer posted on the website of Upland law firm Lackie, Dammeier & McGill since they were revealed by the Watchdog last week. None of these unions are represented by the firm, which is made up of former police officers.  Lackie Dammeier boasts that it represents more than 120 police associations, including 19 in Orange County. Some of the primer’s suggestions for negotiating with cities and counties: cast decision-makers as anti-public safety until they fall into line; convince residents their safety is at risk; and basically hound the city or county officials until they give in. The firm also talked about work slowdowns, advising law enforcers to canvass the whole neighborhood for a burglary call. The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs sent us a statement from its president criticizing the firm, saying that the tactics depicted in the primer are not “good faith” bargaining. “The AOCDS board resolved to denounce Lackie Dammeier, and if asked, AOCDS informs other law enforcement associations of its serious misgivings about the … firm and the unethical tactics which its associates employ,” union president Tom Dominguez said in the statement. (read article)

AFL-CIO goes door to door in swing states ahead of GOP convention
By Kevin Bogardus, August 23, 2012, The Hill
The AFL-CIO will have its members out knocking on doors early this year to counter the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The nation’s largest labor federation is planning to knock on 640,000 doors in 23 states over the weekend for a massive canvassing campaign. Labor unions have traditionally begun their political efforts on Labor Day, but are starting a week early to coincide with the GOP convention. Joining in the canvassing effort will be MoveOn.org and Workers’ Voice, the AFL-CIO’s super-PAC. Workers’ Voice will also be sending out direct mail to 240,000 senior citizens taking direct aim at Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and his vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the union ground game would help Democrats and President Obama win the election this fall. (read article)

Union members deserve say in how dues are spent on political purposes
By Rick Berman, August 23, 2012, Las Vegas Review Journal
With unemployment at 8.3 percent nationally – 12 percent in Nevada – many businesses and individuals are tightening their belts and doing more with less. That’s not the case for Big Labor. While employees are struggling and working hard to make ends meet, labor leaders are living high on the hog – on union member dues! AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and his union cronies are doing quite well for themselves. Laborers International Union of North America Local 872, in Las Vegas, spent more than $105,000 on events and catering, and another $174,442 on “logowear” in 2011. On the payroll, at least 11 officials bring home healthy six-figure salaries. (read article)

Amended Death Benefits Bill for California Police and Firefighters Is Still a Giveaway
Editorial, August 22, 2012, Sacramento Bee
A report issued by Moody’s, the nation’s top municipal bond rating agency, is sending chills through budget offices of cities across California. For good reason. Moody’s Investors Service said Friday that it expects more California cities to seek bankruptcy protection or default on bonds. Fitch Ratings, another bond rating firm, issued a similar warning on Monday. Given the risk to investors, Moody’s says it is going to reassess the financial positions of the California cities it rates, approximately 20 percent of the state’s 482 cities. If the reviews trigger downgrades in bond ratings – and that is the expected outcome from these reassessments – it will substantially raise the cost of municipal borrowing, putting even more stress on struggling local governments. (read article)

The Economic Impact of Public Employee Unions in California
By Jim Tapscott, August 21, 2012, Ramona Sentinel
We are all aware of the several cities in California that have recently been forced to declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is usually due to a company or person allowing its obligations to exceed its abilities to pay them back. This is exactly what these cities and counties have done and this is just the beginning. There are several other cities in California that are also on the brink of insolvency. Meanwhile our governor is begging us for a tax increase to cover our “$16 billion shortfall.” Have you wondered what these governments have obligated themselves to that has caused this circumstance? In almost every case, it is their underfunded obligation to their employees’ retirement, medical benefits and salaries or all of the above. How did this happen? The short explanation is the incestuous relationship that exists between the public service unions and the politicians who run our government. Is that term too strong for you? Following is my explanation of the relationship. You decide if it’s too strong. (read article)

Proposition 32 would provide free choice for union members
By George Hawkins, August 21, 2012, San Diego Source
With November elections just months away, in addition to all the advertisements for candidates seeking elected office, voters will once again see a plethora of promotions for and against initiatives. In the San Diego area, there are also about a dozen school bond funding proposals, including the third in the last 15 years by the San Diego Unified School District. There are several state-wide initiatives as well, including Propositions 30 and 38, which would require some higher-income people to pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes. Another, Proposition 32, which opponents are calling a “paycheck protection” measure, could be as important as any in recent years. The paycheck protection moniker is misleading. Paycheck protection has come to mean requiring union members to pay their dues directly to the union rather than have those dues deducted automatically from the employee’s paycheck. Proposition 32 is different. It says unions must allow members to decide affirmatively that they will contribute to the union’s political arm but does not otherwise affect the collection of union membership dues. (read article)

I Guess California’s Public Safety Unions Just Get Whatever They Want
By Jon Fleischman, August 19, 2012, FlashReport
Today there is a very important article for you to read in the FlashReport by longtime FR contributor Bruce Bialosky.  Bruce, a certified public accountant, pens a lot of sobering material bringing into question the sanity of many policies enacted by politicians at both the state and national levels.  In his column today, Bruce shines a bright spotlight on a particularly egregious piece of bad legislation that has almost finished winding its way to the Governor’s desk — only a State Senate floor vote remains for Assembly Bill 2451.  AB 2451 represents a giveaway to public safety unions that reminds me of SB 400 back in 1999 which allowed for the outrageous practice of granting retroactive pension increases. (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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