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March 15, 2012

National/Politics

AFL-CIO Endorses Obama, Puts Money on National Worker ‘Conversation’ / Unions hopes 400,000 activists will hold back flood of Super PAC money
By David Moberg, In These Times, Wednesday Mar 14, 2012 10:05 am

In a case of news that carried significance but no surprise, on Tuesday the AFL-CIO's general board
unanimously endorsed the re-election of President Barack Obama at their meeting. After delivering their endorsement, union leaders then chatted by telephone with the president "about the need to build an economy that works for everybody," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said…. "He's put out bold initiatives to bring people back to work, brought revenues back into our economy, and has a vision for this country that stresses opportunity and fairness," said political committee chair and AFSCME (public workers) president Gerald McEntee, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. "We think he's a good man."

Related:
News & Observer: AFL-CIO 'enthusiastically' endorses Obama for re-election
ABC News (blog): AFL-CIO, Labor Unions Line Up Behind Obama
Washington Times: Labor set to roll up sleeves and work for Obama re-election

Obama Wins Backing Of AFL-CIO
by Scott Horsley, NPR, Morning Edition, March 14, 2012
(Lee Saunders interview @ 3:05)

On Tuesday, President Obama received the endorsement of the nation's largest organized labor organization, the AFL-CIO. Collective bargaining has been under attack in several states, which has drained union resources. But labor leaders say that's made them more determined than ever to keep Obama in the White House.

Jobs and the Economic Recovery, by the Numbers
BY MIKE CARVALHO  |  AFSCME blog, MARCH 14, 2012

The Department of Labor released the monthly employment report on Friday, and the numbers show the an economy that’s continuing to improve, but slowly. Unemployment held steady at 8.3 percent and February marked the third consecutive month with a net gain of more than 200,000 jobs. With more than 1.2 million jobs added in the last six months, this marks the best six-month stretch since 2006. But while the overall picture is improving, continued public sector job losses are dragging down the recovery.

AFL-CIO Reserve Fund wants to know who will succeed Buffett
By Josh Funk, Associated Press, March 14, 2012

A group of Berkshire Hathaway investors from the AFL-CIO wants to require the company to reveal Warren Buffett's successor. The labor union's AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted a proposal that Berkshire shareholders will vote on at the annual meeting this May. The proposal would address something many Berkshire shareholders have worried about for years because so much of the company's success is attributed to the 81-year-old Buffett.

Unions to hold their own political convention
SAM HANANEL, The Associated Press, March 14, 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Union leaders upset that this summer's Democratic National Convention will be held in right-to-work North Carolina plan to stage their own political gathering in a more union-friendly state. Labor officials say the idea of holding a separate "labor summit" a few weeks ahead of the convention won wide support Wednesday at the AFL-CIO's annual winter meeting. Most unions are still planning to attend the Charlotte convention, but more than a dozen trade unions are boycotting it.

Recession caused large drop in labor disputes
G. Scott Thomas, Bizjournals.com, Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 1:00am EDT

History suggests that management and organized labor are less combative when the economy turns sour. New figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics prove the point. Fifty major strikes and lockouts occurred at American corporations during the four-year economic downturn (2008-2011). That was 38 percent below the total of 80 major work stoppages in the previous four-year span (2004-2007), a period characterized by slow economic expansion.

AFL-CIO Takes On Voter ID Laws
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE, New York Times (blog), March 14, 2012, 5:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. — A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials on Wednesday denounced the voter identification laws enacted in a dozen states and vowed to mount their biggest voter registration and protection efforts ever to counter these laws, which they said could disenfranchise millions of voters. Union leaders, gathered here for their annual winter meeting, held a news conference to attack the laws, saying that Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures had enacted them to make voting harder for numerous Democratic-leaning groups, including students, minorities, elderly and the poor.

Watchdog: IRS should probe tax returns of group led by Grover Norquist
By Rachel Leven, The Hill,  03/14/12 12:00 PM ET

A Washington watchdog alleged Wednesday that Grover Norquist’s tax reform group filed inaccurate tax returns in 2010. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on the IRS to investigate Americans for Tax Reform's (ATR) returns.
The group, founded and led by Norquist, is best known for the signed pledge it has elicited from numerous GOP lawmakers to never vote to raise taxes. ATR filed $4.2 million in independent expenditures with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2010. But ATR only claimed $1.85 million in political activities for that time period, according to the complaint filed by CREW Wednesday with the IRS.

Senate Republicans Warn IRS Against Scrutiny of Tea Party
By Jonathan D. Salant, Bloomberg News, March 14, 2012

Senate Republicans today expressed concern that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny in deciding whether to grant them tax-exempt status. … Anti-tax Tea Party groups have backed Republicans, and gaining nonprofit status would allow them to engage in political activity while keeping their donors hidden, unlike traditional political action committees. They are applying for social welfare status under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which means that political activity can’t be their primary focus. Other nonprofit groups such as Crossroads GPS, affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove; and Americans for Prosperity, funded in part by Koch Industries Inc. executives Charles and David Koch, spent more than $130 million on the 2010 elections, with more than $120 million of that going to elect Republican congressional candidates. The money helped the Republicans to a net gain of 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats.

Think tanks still look for Koch cash
Anna Palmer, Robin Bravender, POLITICO, 3/14/12 11:38 PM EDT

Conservative groups are scrambling to distance themselves from a Koch money controversy, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop cashing checks from the billionaire brothers who fund many right-leaning operations in Washington….The scandal has made waves beyond Cato, in the halls of other major think tanks over the potential politicization of the academic world. Think tanks churn out ideologically driven reports and studies but are able to assert influence in Washington because they are viewed, at least generally, as independent of the donors who support them. But despite the raw nerve, several right-leaning groups, including The Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Energy Research and the American Enterprise Institute, said what happened at Cato couldn’t happen at their institutions. And instead of coming out strong for their fellow think tanks, these groups and others are keeping their distance in hopes that they won’t be dragged into the controversy.

Business-backed ALEC's relations with conservative lawmakers riles Democrats
by Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio, March 15, 2012

… ALEC is best known for bringing together legislators and corporations to write model legislation, drafts that are meant to inspire bills introduced at the state level. ALEC's approach has been effective: Over more than three decades, the organization has become a key player in a broader effort to advance conservative ideas in state houses across the nation. To government watchdogs and liberal groups, ALEC is no joke. They say ALEC behaves like a lobby but doesn't register as one. They point out that corporations pay thousands of dollars to have a seat at the table with friendly lawmakers, and that its model-bill writing process happens in secret….

GOP frosh to back millionaires’ tax
JAKE SHERMAN, Politico, 3/14/12 8:50 PM EDT

Freshman Republican Rep. Rick Crawford will propose a surtax on millionaires Thursday morning, a crack in the steadfast GOP opposition to extracting more money from the nation’s top earners.

Senate OKs highway bill
BURGESS EVERETT, Politico, 3/14/12 1:16 PM EDT

After weeks of delays and haggling over amendments, the Senate passed its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill Wednesday, with a 74-22 vote. Now all eyes shift to the House, where Speaker John Boehner has indicated he may consider the Senate bill, or something similar to it.

Public Rebuke of Culture at Goldman Opens Debate
By SUSANNE CRAIG and LANDON THOMAS JR., New York Times,  March 14, 2012, 8:00 pm

Criticism by Greg Smith, a largely anonymous 33-year-old midlevel executive who resigned Wednesday, sent ripple effects through Wall Street….The article reignited a debate on the Internet and on cable television over whether Wall Street was corrupted by greed and excess. By noon, television crews crowded outside Goldman’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. More than three years after the financial crisis, the perception that little has changed on Wall Street — and that no one has been held accountable for the risk-taking that led to the crisis — looms large in the public consciousness. While it was an unusual cry from the heart of a Wall Street insider, many questioned whether it would prompt any change.

Private Businesses Fight Federal Prisons for Contracts
By DIANE CARDWELL, New York Times, March 15, 2012

Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, does not have to worry much about its overhead. It uses prisoners for labor, paying them 23 cents to $1.15 an hour. Although the company is not allowed to sell to the private sector, the law generally requires federal agencies to buy its products, even if they are not the cheapest….Although Federal Prison Industries has been around for decades, its critics are gaining more sympathy this year as jobs, competition and the role of government have become potent political issues….In addition, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is resuscitating a bill to overhaul the way the prison manufacturing company does business, proposing to eliminate its preferential status.

State/Local

AZ: Supporters find another avenue for anti-union bills stuck in House
Luige del Puerto, Arizona Capitol Times, March 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

With two anti-union bills stuck in the House, supporters are hoping to rescue the legislation by amending another measure to carry the controversial provisions. The amended measure, HB2103, now contains provisions from the two stuck Senate bills, including a prohibition on automatic salary deductions for union dues unless public employees expressly authorize them each year and …

CA: Cash-strapped California city gears up for battle with unions over pension reform
By William Lajeunesse, FoxNews.com, Published March 14, 2012

Facing an ocean of debt, San Diego is offering voters in June a potential lifeboat: public employee pension reform….The initiative would force new city workers into private-sector style 401(k)s. Current employees would pay more, and their retirement payments would be based solely on base salary – not accrued sick leave and vacation time, often used to inflate pension pay….“We are the ones being demonized by Carl Demaio every day, acting as if we are the ones with the six-figure pensions,” says Joan Raymond of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Average workers aren’t the issue, Raymond said. It's white-collar managers who draw the big pensions.

CT: Foxwoods Is Fighting for Its Life
By MICHAEL SOKOLOVE, New York Times, March 14, 2012

Even at one of the world’s largest casinos, the odds don’t always favor the house, raising doubts on whether the model for casino gambling can be fixed…. It would be easy to look at what has occurred at Foxwoods and think, Here are people who fell into money and didn’t know how to handle it. Which happens to be true. But how the casino reached this point, and the challenges its owners and operators now confront, is part of a much larger story — one involving the gradual relaxation of moral prohibitions against gambling, a desperate search for new revenue by state governments and the proliferation of new casinos across America. Casino gambling has become a commodity, available within a day’s drive to the vast majority of U.S. residents. Some in the industry talk of there being an oversupply, as if their product were lumber or soybeans….

Del. lawmakers eye union seats on benefits panel
Associated Press, Mar 15, 2012 2:38am

DOVER, Del. (AP) — State lawmakers are considering a bill that would place representatives of public employee labor unions on the State Employee Benefit Committee. A bill scheduled for a vote in the state Senate on Thursday would expand the composition of the benefits committee to include two union representatives. Those representatives would be chosen by governor from the state teachers union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware and the Delaware State Troopers Association.

FL: Billion-Dollar Florida Battle Shows Pension Challenge
By Michael C. Bender, BusinessWeek, March 14, 2012

A court order forcing Florida (STOFL1) to forgo $1 billion it planned to take from state workers to shore up its budget is the latest sign of the difficulty of reducing government-backed retirement benefits. Of 41 U.S. states that made significant pension changes in 2010 and 2011, at least 13 have faced court challenges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kentucky State Pension Contacts SEC Regarding Millions Paid to "Secret Agents"
Edward Siedle, Forbes, 3/14/2012 @ 2:30PM

Two days ago I submitted to the SEC a report that I had written entitled, Report of Independent Counsel to SEC: Placement Agent Abuses at Kentucky Retirement System. In a press release today the Kentucky Retirement Systems, angered at the findings in my report, announced to the world that it had forwarded my SEC report …drum-roll … “to the SEC for its consideration.” They could have saved the postage. After 30 years of dealing with public pension boards, I continue to be amazed at their wildly irrational and defensive responses to legitimate, especially expert, criticisms. In my report, I concluded that approximately $14 million in undisclosed payments made in connection with the state pension’s investments—millions secretly paid to agents that provided little or no services to the pension—should be recovered. In my opinion, which should come as no surprise (since I am a former SEC attorney), public pensions cannot afford and should not be paying “secret agents” millions for doing virtually nothing.

MD: Lawmaker offers bills to improve Md. pension system
March 13, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | herald-mail.com

For the second straight year, Del. Andrew A. Serafini has offered a package of bills that he said could improve the state’s pension system. Two of his bills would change the system from defined contributions to defined benefits, while another would require counties to pay a portion of pension costs for employees of school boards, community colleges and libraries — if their median salaries exceed statewide medians. …. Sue Esty, representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of Maryland, also opposed Serafini’s proposals, saying they’d lower benefits for employees.

MD: Unions Accuse County of Bullying on Pension Issue
By Bryan P. Sears, Catonsville Patch, March 14, 2012

Bill would eliminate decades-old practice of counting overtime toward pension benefits at the same time the county and a union are negotiating the issue in a new contract….Union officials said Tuesday that a bill to change how pensions are calculated for county employees who belong to one union is little more than a bullying tactic used by county officials. At issue is a bill that would eliminate overtime from final pension calculation for employees belonging to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—mostly snowplow drivers and vehicle maintenance workers and employees who maintain the county sewers. "You have to understand, we are the lowest paid county employees," said Norman Anderson, president of AFSCME in Baltimore County.

MI: Our view: The motive behind teacher union dues legislation
Midland Daily News | Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:49 am

Republican lawmakers are trying to paint a bill they passed last week prohibiting local school districts across the state from collecting union dues as being beneficial to taxpayers in terms of cost savings. … But the reality is that this move will not save schools any money, nor will it free up “limited resources.”  …… Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, — one of a number of Republicans who voted against this legislation in a rare show of party division — gave the public a better idea about the reason for this legislation in a Michigan Capitol Confidential CAPCON article last week. He was quoted as saying: “I couldn’t see how this was going to help the kids,” Green said. “My impression was that this was more about just sticking our finger in the eyes of the MEA (Michigan Education Association). I’m not a big fan of the MEA and on a lot of bills I’ve voted with the rest of my caucus. But I just didn’t feel comfortable supporting this one.”
MI: Editorial: The Message of Motown / Detroit and its public unions head toward bankruptcy.
Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2012, 7:18 p.m. ET

… Legacy costs are bankrupting Detroit just as they crushed its automakers. Firefighters can retire at 55 and earn 70% of their highest salary plus a 2.25% annual cost-of-living inflator in perpetuity. The result? Employee benefits alone now make up about half of the city's general fund. Health costs have grown by more than 60% since 2008 while the city's pension bill has quadrupled to $200 million. Since state law and collective-bargaining agreements bar the city from modifying worker benefits, Mayor Dave Bing earlier this year announced plans to lay off 1,000 workers, saving $14 million. But according to a report by Ernst & Young, Detroit could lay off 2,200 workers and still run out of money by July. Getting rid of all 11,000 city employees wouldn't solve Motown's problems. That's because the city, which has twice as many retirees as workers, is spending more on retirement benefits than wages….

'Right to work' battle over unions expands in Minnesota
JIM RAGSDALE and JENNIFER BROOKS, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 15, 2012

The bitter fight over unions that has swept across the country in the past year is erupting in Minnesota, as legislators begin toiling over a controversial proposal that would alter the nature and diminish the might of organized labor in the state. More than 1,000 sign-wielding union workers and supporters poured into the Capitol on Monday, urging legislators to reject a proposed "right to work" constitutional amendment that is turning Minnesota into the latest Midwestern flashpoint in what has become a grinding clash between powerful unions and groups trying to break their grip on workplaces.

Related:
Politics in Minnesota: GOP's internal battles over right-to-work continue
ScrippsNews: 'Right to work' battle over unions expands in Minnesota
St. Cloud Times: Right to Work debate riles Minnesota Capitol
Duluth News Tribune: Minnesota right-to-work bill advances on split vote


MS: Miss. Legislature divided on workers' comp. bill
Laura Tillman, Associated Press, 6:16 PM, Mar. 14, 2012  

The Mississippi Legislature is split on a bill that would make changes to the state's workers' compensation law. Opponents say it would tilt the scales against workers, but proponents say it would return fairness to a system that currently favors workers. The House defeated its bill Wednesday 62-52, but the Senate voted 38-13 in favor, meaning the issue will stay alive further into the 2012 session.

Related:
Baltimore Sun (blog) Senate plows through budget, turning back GOP
vtdigger.org :Midway point: Vermont House and Senate poised for April 27 adjournment

MT: Judge rejects one argument against tax-refund referendum
By CHARLES S. JOHNSON, Helena Independent Record, Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:00 am

A state District Court judge Wednesday dismissed a key argument in a challenge of a November 2012 ballot measure on tax refunds, but he hasn’t ruled yet on the remaining issues. In an order Wednesday, District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena concluded that Legislative Referendum 123 does not constitute an illegal appropriation of money by ballot issue. Some unions and a group representing agencies serving the elderly had argued in their court challenge that the ballot measure amounted to an illegal appropriation of state money. Challenging the lawsuit were the MEA-MFT, Montana AFL-CIO, Montana Public Employees Association, Montana Council 9 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Montana Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Related:
The Missoulian: Judge dismisses part of challenge to Montana ballot measure on tax refunds
Billings Gazette: Judge throws out key argument in unions' effort to get issue off ballot

MT: Council asks for skate park committee
Laurel Outlook, Updated: 3:34 pm, Wed Mar 14, 2012.

At the March 6 City of Laurel council meeting, Kat Stokes reported to aldermen that the proposed skate park, brought to the council and park board only a week earlier, is already generating interest from residents and grant foundations….Action items…The council unanimously approved these resolutions 8-0 March 6 with no public comment or council discussion:… Resolution No. R12-11, a resolution of the City Council approving a three-year agreement between the City of Laurel and the Local Union, known as Local 316 American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

NH: House Again Passes Right-To-Work Bill
WMUR Manchester, UPDATED: 5:55 pm EDT March 14, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- Organized labor groups in New Hampshire are calling action taken Wednesday on a right-to-work bill a victory for unions, even though the bill passed the House. The right-to-work bill, which allows non-union workers at union shops to avoid paying dues, passed by a vote of 198-139, far short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto.

Related:
Associated Press: Support for repeat right-to-work bill diminishing

New Yorkers Say “Tier It Down” to Tier 6 Retirement Plan
BY CLYDE WEISS  |  AFSCME blog, MARCH 14, 2012

Hundreds of New York’s finest – first responders, law enforcement personnel, nurses and teaching assistants – rallied with supporters last weekend in lower Manhattan to tell Gov. Mario Cuomo that their retirement security should not be undermined to make up for the excesses of Wall Street.
NY: CityTime Contractor to Pay City
MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL,  Wall Street Journal, Updated March 14, 2012, 11:42 p.m. ET

Science Applications International Corp., the lead contractor on New York City's scandal-tarred CityTime project, has agreed to pay $500 million in a deal that would spare the firm criminal charges in what federal prosecutors called the largest fraud ever committed against the city... The Virginia-based company won't face prosecution if it avoids criminal activity for three years, according to the agreement. It will also undergo independent monitoring of some policies and practices.

NY: Rev. Billy leads protest over Cuomo's Tier 6 prop
John Bayles, Downtown Express, March 14, 2012

On Sat., March 10, Reverend Billy of the Church of Life After Shopping led a raucous crowd as they protested Governor Andrew Cuomos’s proposed Tier VI Pension Plan. Members of DC 37, the largest pubic employee union in New York City, joined Rev. Billy. The “People’s Microphone,” a device that originated during the Occupy Wall Street movement, was used to voice opposition to Cuomo’s plan, which union members said would “result in reduced benefits” as well as an increase in the retirement age.

NY: Statewide casino expansion close to being approved by lawmakers
Tom Precious, Buffalo News, March 14, 2012
March 14, 2012, 10:23 PM

....Silver said the emerging deal would keep employee pension contributions unchanged for workers making under $45,000 annually -- up from the $30,000 proposed by Cuomo. For those making more than $45,000, it would raise the current 3 percent contribution rate to as much as 6 percent, depending on salary...."This is about redistricting," said Fran Turner, legislative and political action director at the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state workers union. "This is about sacrificing the retirement for real people for [politicians'] own self-interests in redistricting. The two issues are linked."

Related:
Wall Street Journal:  Cuomo, Lawmakers Reach Mega-Deal on Pensions, Gambling
Bloomberg: AFL-CIO Says Cuomo Pension Plan Unfair to New York State Workers
Albany Times Union (blog): Details emerge on new Tier VI pension proposal

NV: State workers union asks for resignation of Nevada employee benefits director
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Last Updated: March 14, 2012 - 8:39 pm

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A state workers union is calling for the director of Nevada's Public Employee Benefits Program to step down. Active and retired public workers are upset over higher insurance premiums and deductibles implemented last year at the recommendation of executive director Jim Wells and staff to meet an $80 million shortfall.

OH: Kasich offers wide-ranging reforms; tax cut could be 5 percent
Joe Vardon  and  Catherine Candisky, Dispatch, Wednesday March 14, 2012 1:39 PM

A budget revision rolled out today by the Kasich administration includes what could eventually wind up as a 5 percent income-tax cut for all Ohio taxpayers, Budget Director Tim Keen said. …. But Kasich is also putting forth as part of his swath of proposals a Management Efficiency Plan that includes $113.5 million in spending cuts and a host of government program consolidations. ….Kasich also is pushing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s school plan calling for removing seniority from staffing decisions, eliminating ongoing teacher contracts, sharing some local tax revenue with charter schools and giving school officials authority to extend the school day or school year without teacher input.  Teacher unions and other critics say the proposal is similar to Senate Bill 5, a measure slashing public employee unions that was overwhelmingly repealed by voters in November.

WI: Complaints target role of non-profits in depending Walker
Jackie Allen, UW Badger Herald, Updated Thursday, March 15, 2012 1:14:56 a.m.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed complaints Tuesday against three tax-exempt organizations claiming they violated federal revenue codes for non-profit groups by participating in the political campaign for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. WDC Director Mike McCabe said the campaign filed the complaints on the basis that the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the MacIver Institute violated the federal Internal Revenue Code that prohibits charitable organizations from participating in a political campaign.

WI: Don't appeal ruling on back pay, Milwaukee County panel says
By Steve Schultze of the Journal Sentinel, March 14, 2012

A divided Milwaukee County Board committee recommended Wednesday that the county forgo an appeal of a judge's ruling that would mean payment of at least $4.5 million in back pay with interest to 1,800 county workers. After an hourlong, closed-door session, the Judiciary, General Services and Safety Committee voted 4-3 against appealing the ruling to the state Appeals Court. The back pay would cover losses due to 22 days of unpaid furloughs imposed on employees in early 2010 by Gov. Scott Walker while he was still county executive. Walker justified the emergency action, saying the county was facing a $15 million projected shortfall. The county ended the year with a surplus. The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission said Walker should have bargained with the county's largest union, District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.