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February 16, 2012

National/Politics

GOP proposal for federal pension cut holding up agreement on payroll tax
By Bernie Becker and Mike Lillis , The Hill,  02/15/12 10:15 PM ET

A GOP proposal to cut federal pensions is the last major sticking point holding up a payroll tax package deal, according to a Democratic aide. Democratic leaders are universally opposed to the Republicans' plan to offset an extension of emergency unemployment benefits by cutting some federal pensions – with some saying it's a deal-breaker.

How much do federal employees earn?
By Ed O'Keefe and Eric Yoder, Washington Post, 6:00 AM ET, 02/16/2012

….. According to figures kept by the Office of Personnel Management, the average salary for a full-time federal employee working on a permanent appointment was $76,231 as of September 2010, the most recent date for which the figure has been released. Since federal salary rates have been frozen since then, the current figure would be close to that, probably slightly higher due to longevity raises many employees continue to receive. … Under President Obama’s plan to increase retirement contributions by 1.2 percent in the next three years, a federal employee making $50,000 would pay an additional $600 annually.

Employees Looking Out for Their Benefits
BY: HEATHER KERRIGAN | Governing.com FEBRUARY 15, 2012

Big or small, governments face the challenge of providing benefits that meet employee needs at a sustainable price. A number of state and local governments are instituting the help of employee benefit committees: voluntary groups of union and non-union employees that discover what benefits are most important to employees, align those with available funds and assist with benefit negotiations. Some of the committees have an additional responsibility of educating employees on any year-to-year changes, including cost. These committees don't replace unions or the human resources departments. Rather, the committees supplement them with their exclusive focus on employee benefits and attention to their colleagues' wants and needs.

Obama in Wisconsin: The Soft Economics of Low Expectations
John Nichols, The Nation, February 16, 2012 - 12:30am ET

…. Obama’s Wisconsin speech eschewed any discussion of the brutal battle over the future of organized labor that has played out in the state since last February, when Governor Scott Walker (who skipped Wednesday’s factory visit) attacked collective bargaining rights. That was frustrating, but hardly surprising. Obama has kept the Wisconsin union fight at arms length from the start, avoiding visiting the state from the time Walker launched his initiative until a year and a day after the first major demonstrations.

Scott Walker, Obama Meet Up On Tarmac In Friendly Encounter
By KEN THOMAS, AP   02/15/12 01:31 PM ET  

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, facing a Democratic recall effort for his attempts to curb union rights, has given President Barack Obama a friendly tarmac welcome in Milwaukee. After Air Force One landed and Obama deplaned, the governor presented him with a Milwaukee Brewers' jersey that bore the number 1 and Obama's name.

Obama to unions: See you later / His labor allies are undermined as the president signs a law that will discourage workers from organizing
BY JOSH EIDELSON, Salon.com WEDNESDAY, FEB 15, 2012 11:30 AM

On Tuesday President Obama signed a bill that will make it harder for workers to form a union.  This bill, the FAA Reauthorization Act, passed Congress last week despite an outcry from major unions.  Dozens of House Democrats voted for it, as did most Democratic senators. To appreciate what that means, try to imagine a Republican president and Republican Senate majority leader signing off on a bill with pro-union language despite thundering objections from most big businesses.  Your imagination may not be good enough to picture that, which tells you everything you need to know about the asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to labor. …. The White House is unlikely to expect tremendous blowback from the bill, given that the AFL-CIO took no public stance on the FAA deal.  An AFL-CIO spokesperson declined to comment, but the federation’s silence may be related to the lack of unanimity among the 22 unions in its Transportation Division: While most were opposed, a few came out in support of the bill.

Mitt Romney returns to native Michigan, blasts unions, Obama

7:33 PM, February 15, 2012 |   Detroit Free Press

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney returned to his native state of Michigan and took firm aim at organized labor. “I’ve taken on union bosses before and I’m happy to take them on again,” he told a crowd crammed into a furniture company facility. “I sure won’t give in to UAW.”

Home health industry fights minimum wage rule

By Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY, Feb 16, 2012

Home health care companies are leading the fight against an Obama administration proposal to require them to pay their workers the minimum wage, despite data showing that the industry was one of the few nationally to maintain profits during the worst of the recession. One of the industry's leading companies, Home Instead Senior Care, spent at least $362,000 in 2011 fighting the proposal while it also touts an almost 19% return on investment for potential franchisees, according to the magazine Franchise Business Review. …. A Labor Department proposal issued in December would require home health care companies to follow federal wage and hour laws regarding their workers.

Related USA Today: High turnover affects home health care quality

U.S. Jobless Claims Are Lowest Since 2008
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, February 16, 2012

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving. The Labor Department said that weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. It was the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of claims since March 2008.

Foreclosures on the Rise Again
Thursday, 16 Feb 2012 |  By: Diana Olick, CNBC

After a year-long reprieve from rising foreclosures, the numbers are going up again. One in every 624 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing in January, up 3 percent from the previous month, according to a new report from RealtyTrac.  Foreclosure activity froze in many states in 2011, due to processing delays after fraud, or so-called "Robo-signing," were uncovered in the fall of 2010.  The thaw is now on.

General Motors moves to 401(k)-style pension; adds week vacation for white-collar workers
1:30 PM, February 15, 2012  DETROIT FREE PRESS

General Motors is shifting more senior salaried workers to an exclusively 401(k)-type pension, granting all white-collar workers an extra week of vacation and tweaking year end bonuses that could be larger for some, but not all salaried workers.

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’
By Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post: February 15

Merit pay for teachers, an idea kicked around for decades, is suddenly gaining traction. … The Obama administration has encouraged states to embrace merit pay, highlighting it as one step that states could take to compete for more than $4 billion in federal funds through the Race to the Top program.  …. “Rewards are very effective for some things — simple things, mechanical things,” he explains. “But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work very well.” Teaching, of course, is one of those jobs.

Look Familiar?
BY MIKE CARVALHO | AFSCME blog, FEBRUARY 15, 2012

You’ve probably seen the new What People Think I Do/What I Really Do internet meme making the rounds this week. It’s a distinctive black chart with six pictures in which people depict how others view their profession. There’s one for journalists, teachers, graphic designers, grad students, stay-at-home moms and a host of other careers. Now there’s one just for public service workers.

State/Local

Arizona Senate to consider 2 of 4 bills on public employee unions
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, : February 16, 2012 - 4:01 am

The Arizona Senate on Thursday is scheduled to consider two of four pending Republican-sponsored bills on public employee unions. One of the bills scheduled for debate Thursday would prohibit a government employer from paying an employee for union activities. The other would prohibit deductions from government employees' paychecks for unions and other outside groups without annual authorizations.

AZ: Aggressive Anti-Union Bill On Life Support In Arizona
NICK R. MARTIN, TPM,  FEBRUARY 15, 2012, 2:12 PM  5974 37

A proposed law that would devastate public unions in Arizona appears to be stalled in the state Senate after Republicans said they failed to come up with enough votes to pass it. The measure, which would strip collective bargaining rights from government workers throughout the state, sailed through two Senate committees earlier this month and seemed likely to become law because Republicans control two-thirds of both houses of the legislature. Unions scrambled to find a way to defeat it but none expressed much hope of success. On Tuesday, however, two Republican leaders in the Senate told the Arizona Guardian (sub. req.) they don’t have enough votes to keep the bill alive.

AZ: Brewer's Personnel System Plan Now at Legislature
Wednesday, 15 Feb 2012, 3:30 PM MST By PAUL DAVENPORT, Associated Press

….. Key provisions of the 275-page proposal would make it easier to fire and discipline most state executive-branch workers and give the governor hiring and firing authority over more agency directors. … Sheri Van Horsen, president of an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local that represents state workers, said Brewer's proposal would obliterate important protections for workers and taxpayers.

Arizona Supreme Court lets AHCCCS cuts stand
Mary K. Reinhart - Feb. 15, 2012 11:15 PM The Republic |

The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to review an appeal challenging cuts to the state's Medicaid program, letting stand an enrollment freeze that has locked thousands of poor residents out of government-paid health insurance.

CO: Attempt to topple TABOR on tap
02/15/2012 08:20:38 AM MST By Tim Hoover, The Denver Post

Inside a federal courtroom today, enemies of Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights will be poised to attempt the constitutional-law equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. Backers of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TABOR will be at a hearing, trying to survive the state's motion to dismiss their suit. The hearing, all observers agree, marks the first hurdle in what could be a historic moment in constitutional law. Most observers also say the lawsuit is a long shot. …. The lawsuit, which could have implications for citizen initiatives nationally, was filed by a group of 34 current and former state legislators and local officials — mostly Democrats. Led by state Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, the plaintiffs argue that TABOR's requirement that all tax increases be approved by voters violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee that all states have a republican form of government — one where elected officials govern — rather than a direct democracy where citizens do.

FL: Unions sue over plan to privatize prison health care system
By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald. Thursday, February 16, 2012

Two labor unions have filed suit against the state Department of Corrections in an effort to prevent privatizing health care for all 100,000 inmates in the Florida prison system. … The lawsuit was filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Federation of Physicians and Dentists/Alliance of Healthcare and Professional Employees. … "The move to the privatize prison health services was done through illegal channels and will not stand in a court of law," said Jeanette Wynn, president of AFSCME Council 79. "This callous political overreach was rejected by Leon County courts last year and will surely be struck down a second time."

FL: Bill to allow random drug tests of state workers dies in Budget committee
Miami Herald, Feb 15, 2012

A bill that would have allowed random drug tests for state workers died in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. Sponsored by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, the bill (HB 1205) faced bi-partisan opposition on grounds that it violated the Constitution and would invite more lawsuits for a state already swimming in litigation.  “If I think if something is blatantly unconstitutional, I have a duty to vote against it,” said Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West.

FL: Sen. Greg Evers says why he voted no to prison privatization
By: DEBORAH BUCKHALTER | Jackson County Floridan,  February 15, 2012

… Evers said he was worried that, if the prisons were privatized down south, that jobs in prisons to the north might be open to “bumping” by senior employees as the Department of Corrections tried to make places for the people who wouldn’t be absorbed by a private company taking over the prison. “I think we would have seen, in a matter of months, people in our community readily losing their jobs as people from the privatized prisons have to move to keep a job and bumping other employees, who are our neighbors, with less time of service.”

IL: WAC’s Lewis appointed to County Board
By Marty Touchette, Daily Review Atlas, Feb 15, 2012 @ 05:52 PM

… Finance Committee Chairman Mike Pearson said the contract with AFSCME was a good deal, but his "only concern was the cost" as the deal moves forward. The agreement called for no raise for the 2010 fiscal year, 1 percent for 2011 and 2 percent increases for 2012-2014. The 2011 increase was retroactive and will require county officials to crunch payroll data to determine back pay in a time-consuming process.

KS: Budget Overhaul Splits Kansas GOP
By DOUGLAS BELKIN, Wall Street Journal, FEBRUARY 16, 2012

Gov. Sam Brownback's ambitious drive to reduce the size of Kansas' government has triggered a Republican Party family feud in one of the nation's reddest states. The Kansas legislature this week has debated key elements of Mr. Brownback's agenda, which includes legislation that would flatten the state income tax, overhaul school financing, place Medicaid recipients into a private managed-care system, replace the state pension system with a 401(k)-style model and cap annual state spending growth at 2%. In the year since the governor took office, he already has cut more than 2,000 jobs and created an Office of the Repealer to reduce regulation.

MD: Perkins hospital workers rally for more jobs
By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun, 8:17 p.m. EST, February 15, 2012

Workers at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup held a rally Wednesday to urge state lawmakers to add more jobs at the troubled mental facility where three patients were killed in a 14-month span. ….  The workers, members of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, rallied in front of the hospital waving green signs that said "Budget for Safety." They were joined by Perkins CEO David Helsel, who was brought on three months ago to help stabilize the facility. Helsel wore a green AFSCME scarf to show solidarity with workers.

MD: Editorial - Belling the No-New-Taxes Cat
New York Times, February 15, 2012

Credit Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland with political courage in daring the Legislature to face up to the state’s neglected roads and transit needs by, yes, raising the gasoline tax. It was last increased 20 years ago with no index for inflation. State lawmakers, fearing the voters’ wrath, have neglected this responsibility ever since. In his State of the State address, Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, bucked the no-new-taxes delusions with a blunt reminder that, sooner or later, taxpayers must pay for the services they enjoy.

MI: Detroit Finance Study Team Closed Sessions Barred by Judge
February 15, 2012, 2:59 PM EST  (Bloomberg) –

A Michigan judge permanently barred a review team studying Detroit’s finances from using closed-door sessions. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, appointed the 10-member group in December after a preliminary study by the state treasurer found the city was in “probable financial stress.” The financial review team is considering whether Michigan’s largest city needs an emergency manager. …. Robert Davis, an official of a union that represents city employees, sued Snyder, the state treasurer and the review team, contending the group is required under Michigan law to hold meetings open to the public. The defendants said the group isn’t a public body as defined under Michigan’s Open-Meetings Act.

MI: Some Washtenaw County employees getting raises while others asked to make concessions
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:58 a.m. AnnArbor.com

A handful of top Washtenaw County officials are in line for pay raises, just months after rank-and-file employees made millions in concessions to help balance the county's budget. That angered labor union leaders who attended Wednesday night's meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. "Shame on some of the highest-paid employees of the county for taking an additional raise for themselves when they should be setting the example," Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052, said after commissioners voted on the issue.

MN: Dayton stresses jobs, unity in State of the State address
By Bill Salisbury and Megan Boldt, Pioneer Press  02/15/2012 11:13:56 PM CST

….. In his second State of the State address, delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate, Dayton didn't unveil any new policy initiatives or propose more spending. But the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor tried to set a more harmonious tone for a legislative session that got off to a prickly start after the Republican-controlled Senate removed one of his top appointees from office and he vetoed the first four bills the GOP-led legislature sent to his desk.

MN: Ely Union Votes In Favor of New Employee Contract
Feb 15, 2012 at 5:26 PM CST (Northland's NewsCenter)-

City employees in Ely voted Wednesday evening in favor of a new contract agreement after union workers filed an intent to strike nearly a month ago. For nearly five hours Wednesday, a mediator worked, behind closed doors in city hall, with representatives from both sides. ….. The biggest stumbling block in negotiations has been employee contributions to health care coverage. … AFSCME Local 1490 union spokesperson Ida Rukavina says the terms of the contract will be in place for the next two years.

NY: CSEA President Donohue, leadership re-elected
February 15, 2012 | 1:54 PM | By Colby Hamilton, The Empire

CSEA, the state’s largest public employees union, announced its leadership team was reelected without opposition. “These are some of the toughest times CSEA has faced in our 102 year history, but there is only one way to go and that is forward,” said the union’s reelected president, Danny Donohue, in a statement.

NY: County Exec’s words stir CSEA ire
By GIB SNYDER February 16, 2012 The OBSERVER

A tough job may have just gotten more difficult. The mediator who will be assigned the task of bringing the positions of CSEA Chautauqua County President Rose Conti and County Executive Greg Edwards to some sort of compromise will have a job that just may be growing tougher by the day. The CSEA issued a release Wednesday calling some of Edwards' recent remarks about Conti mischaracterizations that were unprofessional, unwarranted and unfair.

OH: Command officers' pact OK'd by Toledo council / Contract 2nd to end pension plan 'pickup'
BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT, Blade, 2/16/2012

….. The administration is also locked in a dispute with its biggest union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 7, which represents 759 mostly service workers. …. Meanwhile, AFSCME Local 7 has yet to sign a contract ratified by both sides. The union and the city are at odds over a clause regarding bonus payments to offset an increase in employee pension costs. The dispute hinges on which employees are entitled to receive the $750 payments; the city maintains they are only for employees hired before 2009. Union leaders say all employees are entitled to the $750.

OH: Canton retire-rehire bill could top $1 million
CantonRep.com, Feb 16, 2012

City Council is expected to vote later this month on setting aside roughly $1 million to ensure the city can pay accrued and unused vacation and sick time to 30 former employees. …. The former employees, which include both union and non-union positions, have filed appeals or grievances through the Civil Service Commission or one of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) unions in an effort to regain city employment.

OR: Leaders don't want to close prisons
11:21 PM, Feb. 15, 2012 |  Alan Gustafson, Statesman Journal

Gov. John Kitzahber and key legislators are defusing a memo put out by Oregon's new corrections director saying the agency might have to close multiple prisons because of budget cuts. On Wednesday, Kitzhaber signaled his intent to avoid prison shut downs during a meeting with the leader of a union representing prison employees. "He made a commitment that it is not his intention to see any prisons closed," said Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon AFSCME, short for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

OR: Workers sue state over health model
10:56 PM, Feb. 15, 2012 |   Statesman Journal

Five Oregon state workers have filed a federal class-action lawsuit over a newly established employee wellness program, claiming that the effort violates their civil rights and privacy. … The five employees who filed the lawsuit earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Eugene include three state Department of Corrections officers and two Oregon State Police senior troopers. One of the corrections officers, Sgt. Michael Van Patten, is president of the Association of Oregon Corrections Employees union.

Pennsylvania Auditor General says proposed budget cut would force layoffs in his department
Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 2:37 PM  By JAN MURPHY, The Patriot-News

Auditor General Jack Wagner did something this week he has never done before in the seven years he has held that office: He issued a notice to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13 to alert the union that layoffs within his department might be necessary later this year. …. David Fillman, executive director of AFSCME 13, confirmed that the union has received the furlough notice from the auditor general. He said he has received no other notices about layoffs from any other departments.

WI: Unions rally to kick off Walker recall state tour
By Chris Hubbuch | lacrossetribune.com | Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wisconsin labor leaders kicked off a statewide tour Wednesday night in La Crosse to mark the one-year anniversary of a Republican-backed bill that curbed collective bargaining for public workers and call for the ouster of Gov. Scott Walker. … “It’s all about taking our government back — the middle class taking our government back,” said Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. “It’s not just public unions.”

Wisconsin’s Walker Piles Up Record of Massive Job Loss, Attacks on Civil, Workers’ Rights
by Tula Connell, Feb 15, 2012, AFL-CIO blog

….. “Losses to Working Families Under Gov. Walker” highlights the effects of Walker’s actions, including large-scale job loss, attacks worker’s fundamental freedoms, loss of employment protections and benefits, the transfer of wealth to the 1 percent, loss of quality public education, increased taxes on low-income Wisconsinites, loss of health care coverage, loss of citizen access to the courts and the loss of honest, clean and open government. Here are a few of Walker’s “accomplishments.”

WI: 'At-will' employer status returned to committee
By Chris Welch, Union, 2/15/2012 11:10:00 AM

A proposal to more formally designate Jefferson County as an "at-will" employer while retaining an employee grievance process was sent back to committee Tuesday by the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors. ….. Prior to the meeting, Highway Department AFCSME Local 655 President Ann Jenswold sent a letter to every supervisor asking them to vote against the proposed ordinance.

WI: Proposed state Medicaid changes gain some support from feds
DAVID WAHLBERG | Wisconsin State Journal | Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:37 pm

The federal government Wednesday confirmed its support of some proposed changes to Wisconsin's Medicaid program but said more details are needed before it can grant approval.

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